General Education

But First, FAFSA: Because Financial Aid Happens on Instagram Now

But First, FAFSA: Because Financial Aid Happens on Instagram Now
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Francesca Friday February 19, 2019

You wouldn’t turn down free Drake tickets, so don’t sleep on financial aid.

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Scrolling through Instagram this February brought mostly the usual trove of selfies, Valentine’s proclamations, aerial eggs benedict, and friends cooing over puppies and/or ramen bowls—peppered between ads hawking organic vegan home-delivery meal kits, and #spon celebs peddling tummy tea. Surprises no longer exist in social media.

But what if an influencer pitched something that's actually useful?

No, this isn’t a pyramid scheme (or multi-level marketing or whatever you’re calling it now). It’s the U.S. Department of Education’s latest campaign to spread awareness about FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Playing to popular millennial signals, #ButFirstFAFSA taps social influencers Emma Topp and Remi Ishizuka (among others) to tout the release of myStudentAid, a new app from the Office of Federal Student Aid that allows students to apply for financial aid from the convenience of a smartphone.

Pivoting from the generally smug deployment of #butfirst (a tag historically used to broadcast acceptable vices, like Netflix and matcha) #ButFirstFAFSA, smartly, gets to the point: education is important, the application process sucks, so let’s make one thing (financial aid) easier? With career-hungry young women front-and-center, FAFSA calls prospective college students to action, hyping the myStudentAid app to apply for grants, loans, work-study programs, and scholarships. The campaign also features a number of calendars promoting local, in-person workshops hosted at schools around the country.

According to the National FAFSA Tracker, an estimated $2.7B dollars in Pell Grants went unclaimed in 2018—a considerable, perhaps shocking, sum left on the table. With #ButFirstFAFSA, FAFSA wants to shrink what’s leftover of the $122B budgeted for financial aid each year.

Why Does Financial Aid Go Unclaimed?

When issues with accessibility, complicated jargon, and language barriers aren't already complicating the application process, many students skip FAFSA entirely, because they believe federal grants are only available to households with an income under $50,000. An unfortunately little-known fact—there’s no income cutoff to qualify for federal student aid.

To qualify for federal financial aid, you need following:

  • High school degree or GED
  • US citizenship or eligible non citizenship status
  • A valid social security number
  • Enrollment or acceptance in an elligible degree or certificate program
  • Registration with Selective Service if you’re a male between the ages of 18 and 25

You wouldn’t turn down free Drake tickets, a spontaneous bump to first-class on your next flight, or tell your phone provider, “no thanks" when you hit your next upgrade. So don’t sleep on federal aid, either. We’re talking billions of dollars overlooked every year because students are afraid of a little paperwork, or worse, don’t understand what they’re entitled to under the law.

High school graduates can rip through a whole season of Stranger Things in less than a day. Estimates show it takes less than an hour to fill out an application for federal aid. But First: FAFSA.