The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the key that unlocks federal, state, and, sometimes, institutional financial aid to millions of students annually. Increasing FAFSA completion should be a community-wide effort. Districts can play a vital role in ensuring schools have the information, training, data, volunteers, and capacity they need to improve FAFSA completion rates. Districts should start by setting a FAFSA completion goal, either at the district-level or for individual schools. Districts should also work with their state to gather student-level FAFSA completion data or help schools develop their own data tracking systems. The district can work with schools to engage a variety of community partners to help students complete the FAFSA and can provide training for volunteers and school personnel. Additionally, the district can support schools by creating a communication toolkit and assisting with family and student outreach.

How does the strategy create more equitable access and opportunities?

Students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and first-generation students are less likely to file the FAFSA, and as a result, forgo financial aid that could support their transition into college. Intentional FAFSA outreach will ensure all students have the necessary support to complete the form, spur conversations about postsecondary plans, and reduce equity gaps in college enrollment and persistence.

What outcomes or benefits are associated with the strategy?

What are the budget implications for implementing the strategy?

Generally, FAFSA completion is a low-cost investment. Depending on the existing resources and capacity for your district, the size of your district, and your district’s current FAFSA completion rate, the total cost will vary for implementing a FAFSA completion strategy.

Potential costs may include:

For reference, NCAN has previously offered FAFSA completion grants to districts that range from $10,000 to $50,000 depending on the scope of the initiative.

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How will the strategy limit significant recurring costs while ensuring long-term sustainability?

A key part of this FAFSA completion strategy is to recruit and leverage volunteers and community organizations to help with outreach and completion efforts. Establishing cross-sector ownership of the FAFSA goal and building buy-in from stakeholders throughout the community will require up front work, but once partners are on board, they are easier to sustain. Similarly, educating students and families about the FAFSA will get easier over time as families learn about the importance of FAFSA and available supports to complete the form. Investment in the production of communication materials and training for staff will support engagement with future cohorts.

What is the anticipated timeline for launching the strategy?

An outreach and support campaign can be launched in 3 months. The FAFSA opens on October 1 each year, so determining FAFSA leads, recruiting volunteers, and implementing a communication strategy should begin in the summer and early fall. Once the FAFSA has opened, schools will need to begin running workshops and tracking completion data. Monitoring progress toward the goal and individualized outreach will need to continue into the spring semester through graduation.

What internal and/or external capacity (e.g. personnel, infrastructure, training, etc.) is needed to launch the strategy? To monitor and sustain it?


  • District and school personnel to serve as leads for the FAFSA completion strategy
  • FAFSA training for school personnel and volunteers
  • FAFSA communication strategy and toolkit
  • FAFSA completion data tracking system
  • Volunteer recruitment and management

Monitor and Sustain

  • District and school FAFSA completion leads
  • Continued volunteer engagement and support
  • Professional development and FAFSA training
FAFSA Outreach - Postsecondary Education - Invest Forward
Increase Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) - Invest Forward

What are the first 3-5 steps to take to implement the strategy?

  1. Set an ambitious, yet realistic goal for increasing FAFSA completion. This goal can be district-wide or individualized for each school.
  2. Determine school-level FAFSA completion leads who will track FAFSA completion and help recruit volunteers in their community.
  3. Work with the state to access student-level data on FAFSA completion or develop your own FAFSA completion tracker.
  4. Share a FAFSA completion calendar with important dates and a communication and outreach strategy with schools
  5. In collaboration with school leads, recruit partners and volunteers and train counselors, school staff, and volunteers on FAFSA completion.

What are potential challenges for implementing the strategy?

  1. Challenge: Counselors and other school staff have limited capacity and may have limited training on helping students file FAFSA.
    • Solution: Partner with community based organizations, libraries, churches, local higher education institutions, and tax preparation agencies to recruit volunteers to help students and families complete the form. Also consider recruiting current college students to serve as near-peer FAFSA support mentors.
  2. Challenge: Not all students are eligible to file a FAFSA and identifying those students can be challenging.
    • Solution: First, districts should work with the state to access student-level FAFSA completion data. School leaders can then identify students who have not completed the FAFSA and collaborate with counselors and community based organizations to provide individual outreach to students to either help them complete the form or identify other financial aid programs they qualify for. Depending on the state, additional options may be available for undocumented students to access financial aid.
  3. Challenge: Some students and families do not want to file the FAFSA due to privacy concerns or the belief that they will not qualify for funds.
    • Solution: Communicate early and often with families about the purpose and benefits of the FAFSA. Leverage community partners to reach out to all families and ensure information is available in multiple languages. Districts can create additional buy-in using an incentive campaign to build a collective effort from schools and students to reach the FAFSA goal.

What are models of schools, districts, and/or organizations that are successfully implementing this strategy?

  • Denton Independent School District in Texas increased FAFSA completion by nearly nine percentage points in one year with a strategy that included incentives to students, a messaging campaign that highlighted the maximum Pell Grant award, an on-site FAFSA advisor, and a basic FAFSA training for all school staff that interacted with seniors. Learn more about Denton and other NCAN FAFSA Completion Challenge participants through these case studies.
  • Grand Prairie Independent School District in Texas utilized parent ambassadors to help other families complete the FAFSA, and Vancouver Public Schools in Washington recruited student FAFSA ambassadors to help their peers file the form. Read more about these successful districts and others in ESG’s Fast Track FAFSA: Strategies in Action resource.

What are some additional resources for districts/states interested in implementing this strategy?

  • The NCAN FAFSA Resource Library is filled with FAFSA completion resources including topics like a planning calendar, training and capacity building, communication, and accessing data.
  • Form Your Future is a national campaign to increase FAFSA completion and offers a FAFSA Completion Tracker, a guide to filing the FAFSA, and completion resources by state.
  • Arizona, supported by the Helios Foundation, created a playbook for increasing FAFSA completion.
  • The DREAMer’s Road Map app helps undocumented students find scholarships and explains which states offer aid to undocumented students. TheDream.US is the nation’s largest college access and success program for DREAMers.