Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

FAFSA: College Preparation

Lindsay Hawkins, Lacy Pennington, Sherry Franklin, Ann Newman


This activity provides an opportunity for students to critically think about financial aid as a resource to help take away some of the financial burden from attending college. Students will work together with a teacher or facilitator to fill out the FAFSA (or OTAG for undocumented students). They will learn about resources to help guide and answer questions along the way. One key factor that students need to know is that they should complete and submit their application as close as possible to the release date each year because some financial aid is "first come, first served."

Essential Questions

  • What is the FAFSA?

  • In what ways does the FAFSA benefit students?

Learning Goals

  • Students will explore and evaluate benefits of the FAFSA.

  • Students will demonstrate their understanding and completion of the FAFSA process.

Materials List

  • FAFSA Student Anticipation Guide (attached; one per student)

  • FAFSA Student Anticipation Guide (Teacher Guide) (attached; one for teacher)

  • “The How-To Guide for High School Students” (available online in English, Spanish, and many other languages)

  • FAFSA Application for current year (online)

  • FAFSA Documentation Checklist (attached; one per student)

  • FAFSA Student Anticipation Guide (Extended) (attached; optional)

  • FAFSA Website List for Parents and Teachers

  • Chart Paper - 5 sheets

  • Markers

  • Laptops, tablets, etc. with internet access (one per student)


Ask the students to first think independently and then share their thoughts about the following question, “What are some resources to help you pay for college?”

Instruct students to divide equally into groups, or assign groups by numbering off or some other strategy. Each group will be assigned a poster. Students will engage in a Carousel activity using the question they just discussed as a starting point. Students brainstorm and list what they know about the categories displayed on the posters around the room, each labeled with one of the following categories: Work, Scholarships, Free Money, Loan, and Other. Provide each group a few minutes to record their ideas on the paper. The have the groups rotate. Repeat the process until all the groups are back at their original poster.

Give each group an opportunity to share information about each topic, and explain why each of these resources is helpful when paying for college.


Students will use the Think-Pair-Share strategy to explore the FAFSA.

Pass out copies of the FAFSA Student Anticipation Guide. Students will work individually to read and respond to each statement provided. Encourage students who do not know the correct answer to make an educated guess and “agree” or “disagree” with each statement.

Divide the class into pairs. Student pairs will discuss all questions and determine the best choice, “agree” or “disagree.” Pass out copies of "The How-To Guide for High School Students" or have students access it online. For each statement on the Anticipation Guide sheet, students will find the correct statement in the How-To Guide and record the answer along with the page number. Pairs will share correct answers in a whole-group discussion. Have the FAFSA Student Anticipation Guide (Teacher Guide) available to aid in discussion.

After the discussion, pass out a copy of the “FAFSA Student Anticipation Guide (Teacher Guide)” to all students so that they will have a set of statements with the correct answers for home use in filling out the FAFSA.

At the end of the class period, pass out copies of the FAFSA Documentation Checklist. Have students read through the list and highlight items that they will need to bring to class as they begin to fill out the FAFSA application.


Students will return to class with their required documents per the "FAFSA Documentation Checklist." Students will begin the process of creating their FSA ID and completing the FAFSA application online. You and your students are encouraged to use the resources listed below as guides to completing the form.


After students have completed their FAFSA application, they will complete a Two Minute Paper related to the application process and next steps. (The two-minute time limit can be adjusted to best suit the needs of your students.)

Students should address the following questions in their paper:

  • What did you think about the FAFSA process?

  • What further steps do you need to take to submit your FAFSA application? (Think about what you might need from your parents.)

  • What resources or further help might you need in order to complete your FAFSA submission?


To ensure that students have completed the tasks and understand how to use the FAFSA, each student will complete an Exit Ticket. The Exit Ticket confirm their progress toward completing the FAFSA. Remind students to check their email periodically because they should receive an email (sent directly to the student) containing their Student Aid Report (SAR) within two weeks of submitting their application. Students should double-check the SAR and report any errors online.

Research Rationale

Students who attend college after graduation and complete a four-year degree enjoy greater job satisfaction and better quality of life post-graduation, and college graduates have significantly better opportunities for upward career mobility and earning a living wage (Okerson, 2016). College readiness is a process, not a program. The reasons students do not matriculate to college are many and varied (King, 2012). To mitigate the college-going gap, high school students need both support and assistance in preparing for and attending college (Radcliffe & Bos, 2013; King, 2012; Sherwin, 2012). College admission processes are complex. Many students have no idea where to begin. King (2012) and Sherwin (2012) both notice students' need for appropriate steps and guidance to make sense of college entrance. Applying for financial aid and scholarships, navigating college admission requirements, participating in ACT and SAT workshops, writing the college admission essay, and securing needed recommendations are all college processes that often hamper students in securing admission. Alvarado and An (2015), Belasco (2012), and King (2012) all found that minority students, first-generation college applicants, and students whose families have low socioeconomic status (SES) rely more heavily on their schools for guidance. Also, school personnel understand that parental support and involvement is integral to any college readiness initiative, but low SES parents, who are most concerned about financial support, might see these costs as prohibitive to their child's entry to college (King, 2012). In a Chicago Public Schools study, students who received direct assistance by mentors in applying to colleges that matched their needs were admitted and received financial aid from colleges of their choice at a significantly higher rate than high school students who did not receive assistance (Sherwin, 2012). Overall, mentors feel more influential and beneficial when working on specific college readiness tasks with students, such as completing a FAFSA or studying for the ACT (King, 2012). Providing students with an intentional opportunity to understand the necessity and the steps to apply for financial aid will help create a college-going culture within the school and establish clear expectations that all students have the ability and opportunity to attend college.