Despite the possibility of earning free money for college, some current and prospective college students do not complete the FAFSA - perhaps because the form is "confusing and lengthy." Instagram influencers and college bloggers are stepping in and have teamed up with the U.S. Department of Education to encourage more students to fill out their FAFSA with the hashtag #ButFirstFAFSA.
To date, roughly 1,000 posts contain #ButFirstFAFSA and are marked with #ad and #sponsored to indicate that an influencer was paid to publish the content. Many of the posts contain "smiling young women - posing in front of their university, drinking coffee, reading a book." One ophthalmologist and influencer in Los Angeles captioned her photo, "Fantasizing about getting into your dream school? But first, FAFSA." According to Dagny Zhu, "Getting accepted to Harvard Med was an unexpected dream come true for me. But coming from a low-income, public-school upbringing, I had no idea how I would be able to afford a private-school education."
Zhu gained the opportunity to advertise FAFSA from The Gramlist, which is a platform dedicated to connecting brands to influencers. She was found on Instagram with a "following of mostly high school or college students going into medicine." Zhu never had any direct interaction with the Education Department. Fashion, fitness, and medicine influencers were also asked to curate similar content. Only 38 percent of high school seniors completed a FAFSA so far, with a looming June 30 deadline.
A new federal study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics surveyed a nationally representative sample of people to determine why many students never complete the FAFSA. While 65 percent of students or their parents filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, 33 percent stated they did not fill out the form because they thought they or their family could afford school or college without financial aid. Other students who did not end up completing a FAFSA did not believe they were eligible for financial aid, opted out of taking on college debt, were unfamiliar with how to complete the form, did not anticipate continuing their education post-high school, or found the FAFSA form "too much work or time-consuming." Do you think that having social media influencers advertise the FAFSA is a good strategy in encouraging students to apply for financial aid?