Takeaway: Get2College in Mississippi hosted a drive-in FAFSA completion event as a way to offer socially distanced, in-person assistance to students and families.

By Jamese Carrell, Member Services Associate

A FAFSA drive-in was the talk of the virtual town at this year’s NCAN 2020 conference. And because of all the excitement around this type of event, we wanted to share with the larger network the inspiration and planning it will take to develop a drive-in event within your community.

To learn all about this type of event, we sat down with Get2College staff members Shannon Grimsley, outreach program director, and Danny Thompson, assistant director of GEAR UP outreach. Get2College is a program of the Woodward Hines Education Foundation in Mississippi and an NCAN member.

So what exactly is a FAFSA drive-in? In four short bullet points, here’s the best way to explain it:

  • The FAFSA drive-in will happen in an outdoor school space with strict COVID-19 guidelines. Appointments will be 45 minutes each.
  • Families will drive up (stay in their cars) to a tent and be greeted by a staff member, who will be socially distant.
  • Staff will conduct a FAFSA appointment similar to how they would in a normal (pre-pandemic) setting. Families will either be provided a tablet or laptop for screen-sharing to complete the FAFSA, which will be projected on a screen so that Get2College staff can monitor the responses.
  • Families and students will leave the appointment with newly created FSA IDs, (if not already pre-created) and a completed Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and Mississippi Aid Application (MAAPP).

Here’s what else you need to know about planning and hosting a drive-in FAFSA event:

What sparked the FAFSA drive-in idea?

This idea was born out of Get2College’s awareness of high student need and much of what they already knew about Mississippi students in rural areas and beyond, i.e., lack of access to stable internet and/or caring adults with financial aid application knowledge.

“We know how important it is to these students. They need this or they wouldn’t go to college,” says Thompson.

What was the planning process like?

When the idea for the drive-in workshop was shared and discussed, TJ Walker, director of the North MS Get2College Center, volunteered to pilot the drive-in at one of his area schools. Determining the location was easy; Walker had a pre-established relationship with the piloting high school. The staff knew transportation was a major barrier, so it was important to host the event in a central and accessible location.

Walker also cast a wide net to recruit staff members. Due to COVID-19, staff participation for this event was voluntary. Walker also sourced the group of staff volunteers to ask what supplies were needed, to really brainstorm and cross-check that they would have everything they needed to make the event successful.

What types of resources does it take to implement this type of event?

This FAFSA drive-in will take a place in a high school’s open parking lot area to maintain social distancing and other COVID-related precautions to ensure the safety of staff volunteers, students, and families. Below you’ll see a snapshot list of supplies needed to conduct a drive-in. Please note: This is not a finalized list, but rather a place to get started and items to consider. A major consideration is to determine materials needed for an outdoor event in your area, as weather conditions vary during fall across the nation.

Supply List (this list is not an exhaustive list):

  • Surge protectors
  • Paper
  • Tables
  • Chairs
  • Folders
  • Heat/cooling mechanisms
  • Face masks
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Gloves

Bigger-Ticket Items:

  • Mobile Hotspots
  • Tents
  • Generators
  • Printer(s)
  • Face shields
  • Laptops (or tablets)

What types of communications and marketing will you use to get the word out about the event?

The key to this work, particularly in rural areas, is relationships. Get2College staff cites the support of city officials, mayors, and school boards, who are helping to get the word out and secure buy-in for participation from families. The rural communities are tight-knit and they know what works.

For other communications during FAFSA season, Get2College uses Signal Vine, postcards, and social media – they even have FAFSA and social media toolkits (free for anyone to use).

What advice would you give to NCAN members who want to hold a FAFSA drive-in?

The first would be tap into partnerships. From our time speaking with Get2College, it was clear partnerships really helped scale their work and efforts. Find the trusted places and people in the communities of the families you are trying to reach.

Also, recognize that completing a FAFSA requires sharing sensitive financial information, so here’s where that trust aspect comes in again. Be sure to use communications and messages that create a sense of security and care.

We are appreciative to have been able to spend time with Get2College to get a sneak peek of this innovative FAFSA completion event and wish them a successful drive-in later this month.

For more coverage of Get2College’s drive-in FAFSA plans, check out this story from the Washington Post.

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