by Leigh Bagwell, Coordinator of School Counseling at the Department of Education
For many educators, this fall has been a whirlwind like no other as this year marked a new chapter for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which opened on Oct. 1 — months earlier than in the past. FAFSA is the critical tool to allow Tennessee students to qualify for both state and federal aid, including a required part of the TN Promise scholarship and it must be submitted by Jan. 17, 2017.
Across Tennessee, schools have partnered with the Tennessee Department of Education, Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC), Regional Economic Development Initiative (REDI), tnAchieves, and the Ayers Foundation to make the early FAFSA opening an event of its own. Called TN FAFSA Frenzy, this push for FAFSA submission has energized high schools and postsecondary institutions statewide to ensure as many students as possible complete the FAFSA to access the resources they need to succeed in postsecondary.
Last year, Tennessee led the nation with a statewide FAFSA submission average of 70.4 percent. That number is nothing short of impressive, but some schools like Meigs County High School have taken the 2016-17 TN FAFSA Frenzy by storm. Their current FAFSA submission rate is a whopping 82 percent, after only four weeks. How did they do it and what are they continuing to do to make their FAFSA submission rate climb? THEC connected with Meigs County counselor Carmen Choat to hear about how their strategies for a great TN FAFSA Frenzy season.
How did Meigs incorporate the early FAFSA deadline into your college access work?
For the past several years, we have hosted a Senior Signing Day. This event usually falls in the middle of the statewide College Application Week. We treat it almost like an athletic signing day and challenge all seniors to complete at least one application during the event. This year, in addition to our Senior Signing Day activities, we added a FAFSA Frenzy event where we had numerous postsecondary institution representatives host sessions with students to assist them with completing their applications.
Our 125 twelfth grade students completed or partially completed approximately 287 applications during the Senior Signing Day portion of our event. After lunch on that same day, we held FAFSA Frenzy sessions with students and their parents. Many of those same postsecondary representatives and other financial aid representatives assisted our students and the numerous parents who attended with completing the FAFSA.
We were able to complete and/or partially complete approximately 88 FAFSAs during that event. Following our Senior Signing Day and FAFSA Frenzy, I have been following up with students who were absent on that day or who were unable to complete the FAFSA. As of today, we have 100 percent of our 125 seniors have completed at least one application to a postsecondary institution and 82 percent of students have completed the FAFSA.
Could you share some tips for others who are planning a FAFSA Frenzy event at their schools?
Some of the tips I would share with others who may want to plan a similar event would include:
- Assist students with establishing FSA ID’s prior to the event.
- After assigning students to a session time for the FAFSA part of the day, send that information home to parents, along with a “What to Bring” list and instructions on “How to Establish an FSA ID.”
- Send out a call from the school to all seniors and their parents to remind them of the event, stress the importance of attendance at the event, and encourage parents to attend if possible. This has drastically increased our participation over the past few years.
- Solicit teachers who are willing to help facilitate sessions. We use those teachers who mostly have seniors so that all other students are not disturbed during the event.
- Establish a strong partnership with representatives from postsecondary institutions. The event could not be successful without the assistance we receive from the partners that attend every year. We usually send out “Save the Date” invitations to them in May so that this event can get on their busy calendars. We also provide them with a nice lunch on the day of the event.
- Provide transcripts to the postsecondary admission representatives on the day of the event so that student applications can be processed completely.
- Encourage faculty members to wear their college colors to support the event and allow students to wear a postsecondary t-shirt.
- Promote the event on social media outlets for the school.
Governor Bill Haslam proclaimed January 12, 2017 as TN FAFSA Frenzy Day. Although TN FAFSA Frenzy officially began in October with the opening of the FAFSA online form. TN FAFSA Frenzy Day is focused on assisting as many students as possible with their FAFSA prior to the Tennessee Promise FAFSA deadline on January 17, 2017. During TN FAFSA Frenzy Day, volunteers from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, nonprofits, and Tennessee higher education campuses will visit public high schools to help students and families complete the FAFSA.
Professionals interested in volunteering at a school on TN FAFSA Frenzy Day should contact Diane LeJeune of TSAC at Diane.LeJeune@tn.gov. All schools participating in the day are encouraged to use #tnfafsafrenzy and #keepyourpromise on social media to commemorate their events. More information can be found here.