First To FAFSA: How Utah Tech University Assists First-gen Students in Completing the Financial Aid Process
Marisa Thayn, Utah Tech University / The Center / November 17, 2023
Higher Ed processes and procedures can be complex and feel like a foreign language to first-generation students. FAFSA is no exception. We found at Utah Tech University that the barriers surrounding financial aid were directly affecting students' retention and completion rates. To combat this, we developed different strategies to assist our first-gen population through this complex process.
Fall into Financial Aid is an event held yearly in our first-generation space. Through this event, we collaborate with our Financial Aid office and bring counselors into our area. This event is typically held in October. It allows students to ask questions about their current year and get help with the following year’s application. Students come and sign into their account and counselors break down requirements in easy and clear steps.
Our partnership with financial aid continues throughout the year by utilizing a collaborative spreadsheet of first-gen students whose aid has not paid out. The First-gen office connects with financial aid on each student to get the remaining requirements. Next, we reach out to the students and give them a clear and straightforward process to finish. First Trailblazer, Rilee Wright (Junior, Utah Tech University), explains her experience utilizing this process:
"Doing my financial aid got confusing, but the First-gen office helped clear it up for me. They helped me figure out what I was missing on my application. Going through all the steps was incredibly stressful, especially trying to figure out on my own what was missing. The First-gen office helped relieve that stress and walked me through the entire process in steps that I could understand.”
Through collaborative partnerships, we can make students who are “First to FAFSA,” successful. When we take a team approach everyone wins. As an office, we continue to build relationships and partnerships across our campus and community. When we invite more to play on our team, we win for our students.