PHILADELPHIA, October 4, 2023 – Benefits Data Trust (BDT), a national nonprofit modernizing access to government assistance, today released Wyatt®, a digital advisor helping students and families apply for financial aid for college by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Wyatt communicates over text message to help high school seniors and other first-time filers complete the FAFSA, the gateway to federal Pell Grants and other financial assistance making college more affordable.
Wyatt is backed by research and powered by artificial intelligence to answer questions about the FAFSA. Students can securely text Wyatt questions and receive customized responses. Wyatt uses behavioral science to motivate students to fill out the FAFSA, combining reminders and assistance, using natural language processing, over text message chat.
Four in 10 high school seniors did not complete the FAFSA last year, leaving $3.6 billion in Pell Grants on the table.
“Ensuring that cost is not a barrier to higher education and training is essential for America to have the high-skilled workforce we need to create a growing, inclusive economy,” said Trooper Sanders, CEO of Benefits Data Trust. “Wyatt is a scalable solution to help more students, especially students from low-income backgrounds and first-generation college applicants, navigate the FAFSA and secure financial aid for college.”
The new FAFSA, for students enrolling in college for the 2024-25 academic year, incorporates the most significant update in decades to the form, submission processes, and eligibility formula. As a result, existing resources to help students and families complete the form are obsolete. In addition, the FAFSA will be released in December instead of its typical October 1 release. While the changes greatly simplify the FAFSA, the debut of a new form – combined with this year’s shorter timeline for completion – will present challenges. The compressed timeline will strain the system of one-on-one FAFSA support provided by educators and others, as more students rush to complete the form in a shorter window. Last year, 4.5 million students – including more than 1.3 million high school seniors – completed the FAFSA between October 1 and December 31.
Additionally, the delay will significantly squeeze the timeline for colleges to issue financial aid decisions to students, and for students to make financially informed decisions about their college options.
“We recognized a pressing need to get up-to-date, quality FAFSA tools and information into students’ hands,” Sanders said. “With Wyatt, students are a text message away from answers to their FAFSA questions – and that much closer to earning a college degree and launching their career.”
To update Wyatt with guidance specific to the new FAFSA, BDT collaborated with uAspire, a national nonprofit working to improve the economic mobility of underrepresented students by increasing access to financial aid and postsecondary pathways.
BDT is also collaborating with Common App to share information on how to access Wyatt with all students and counselors who use the Common App platform.
“We are really excited to partner with Benefits Data Trust to connect our over 1.3 million applicants and their families with this helpful resource for FAFSA completion,” said Jenny Rickard, President & CEO of Common App. “We know that one of the biggest barriers to college access is affordability, and this tool will help students, especially first-generation and low-income students, understand the new FAFSA process and secure the funding they need for college.”
Students applying for financial aid for the 2024-2025 academic year may take the first step in the FAFSA process now. Students can sign up for Wyatt today at www.GetFAFSAHelp.org to be notified when the FAFSA becomes available, get advice on how to create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID – the login needed to submit the FAFSA – and to get helpful tips as the new FAFSA opens in December.
First released in 2019, Wyatt has helped more than 30,000 students complete the FAFSA and secure nearly $40 million in federal grant aid. Research has found that students who use Wyatt have higher FAFSA completion rates compared to similar students who do not. In particular, low-income students are 34 percent more likely than their peers to fill out the FAFSA with Wyatt.
Wyatt is made possible with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and MacKenzie Scott.
About Benefits Data Trust
Benefits Data Trust (BDT) improves health and financial security by harnessing the power of data, technology, and policy to provide dignified and equitable access to assistance. Together with a national network of government agencies and partners, we efficiently connect people today to programs that pay for food, healthcare, and more while helping to modernize benefits access for tomorrow. A nonprofit since 2005, BDT has secured more than $10 billion in benefits for households across the country, helping to reduce hunger and poverty and build pathways to economic mobility. Learn more at bdtrust.org.