FAFSA Experiments

NPSAS FAFSA Experiment (2016-Present)

The goal of this project is to investigate a set of interventions designed to address students’ lack of awareness about financial aid eligibility, FAFSA application procedures, and aid award rules related to enrollment intensity. The interventions involve sending information on the financial aid application process and amount of financial aid available to students via email and hardcopy letter. We hypothesize that clear, timely information will encourage FAFSA submission as well as better-informed enrollment choices. This capitalizes on a unique opportunity provided by NCES, in which a nationally-representative subset from NPSAS:16 is being made available for intervention and experimentation. We are focusing on students who were in their first, second, or third year in college during academic year 2015-16, and who gave their consent in the NPSAS:16 interview to be contacted for an external research study. While most financial aid efforts focus on potential students who are only considering college, navigating the financial aid process can be extremely difficult even for those who are already attending, and our interventions are designed to address these problems.


The H&R Block FAFSA Experiment (2007-2011)

Bettinger, Eric, B. T. Long, Philip Oreopoulos, and Lisa Sanbonmatsu. (2012) “The Role of Application Assistance and Information in College Decisions: Results from the H&R Block FAFSA Experiment.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 127(3).

Growing concerns about low awareness and take-up rates for government support programs like college financial aid have spurred calls to simplify the application process and enhance visibility. We present results from a randomized field experiment in which low-income individuals receiving tax preparation help were also offered immediate assistance and a streamlined process to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for themselves or their children. Treated participants were also provided with aid estimates that were compared against tuition cost amounts for nearby colleges. The combined assistance and information treatment substantially increased FAFSA submissions and ultimately the likelihood of college attendance, persistence, and aid receipt. In particular, high school seniors whose parents received the treatment were 8 percentage points more likely to have completed two years of college, going from 28 to 36 percent, during the first three years following the experiment. Families who received aid information but no assistance with the FAFSA did not experience improved outcomes. The findings suggest many other opportunities for using personal assistance to increase participation in programs that require filling out forms to become eligible.