Free text message app helping students prepare for college

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich (WOTV) – Are you a student planning to go to college next fall? Are you the parent of a student planning to go to college next fall? If you answer yes to either, there’s an app for you. It will send you reminders of what you should be doing when, how to access financial aid and other facts about going to college. And if you install it, first lady Michelle Obama will text you now and then.

Keeping future college students and parents up-to-date about the myriad decisions they need to think about before college is the goal of the Up Next text-message app. It provides personalized support about choosing and applying to a college, preparing for ACT and SAT exams, and applying for federal student aid and student loans.

Up Next was launched by the Better Make Room program that’s part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative. Its goal is to inspire young people to reach higher to complete their education beyond high school so that they can own their futures,” the First Lady wrote in an Education Week op-ed piece. “Our objective is to ensure that every student in this country understands how to pursue and complete their education, whether it’s at a traditional four-year college or a community college, or via a professional certificate or degree.”

Research already has shown Up Next increases the likelihood of a student to enroll in and attend college. Studies by University of Virginia Professor Ben Castleman, who created Up Next, showed 73 percent of students who received the texts enrolled in college immediately after high school, compared to 66 percent of those who did not receive the texts. Also, 68 percent of students who received the texts continued to their sophomore year of college, while only 54 percent of their control-group peers did the same.

Important changes to FAFSA

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Thornapple Kellogg High School counselor Nancy Iveson signed up for the app and got a text earlier this fall from the first lady. Up Next helps with figuring out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is “the most confusing part” of applying for college, Iveson said.

Some changes have been introduced by FAFSA this year. Previously, the first date students could apply for financial aid was Jan. 1. That was changed this year to Oct. 1. In connection with this, FAFSA is accepting income information from an earlier tax year than in the past. This year, students and parents can report their 2015 tax information rather than their 2016 income on the form.

Mrs. Obama was inspired to create Better Make Room because of her own difficult experiences applying to college as a first-generation college student. One of the goals is to help more low-income and first-generation students get to college.

The Better Make Room website includes a financial aid document that breaks down the costs of going to the college of a student’s choice. This includes the estimated cost of attending (tuition fees, housing and meals, books, transportation, etc.), as well as grants and scholarships, loan options, federal work-study and other payment possibilities.

Completing college and financial aid applications is the biggest tip of the iceberg for students and parents, but they should also be doing another step right now: applying for scholarships to help with costs.

Iveson’s advice is to not put it off, because that can lessen the chances of getting some scholarships.

“The sooner, the better,” she added.

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