Meet Wyatt: the Free FAFSA Chatbot for Students

| By: Pauline Abernathy, Chief Strategy Officer at Benefits Data Trust & Neeta Sonalkar, Director, Access Initiatives at College Board

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every aspect of life – for high school seniors and their families, it has created major uncertainties for college planning. Figuring out how to pay for higher education is a critical step for those looking to enroll in college in the next year. The good news is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the gateway to billions of dollars in grants and scholarships, it’s available now, and we can help high school seniors complete it.

Despite major progress in simplifying the FAFSA in recent years, many students and families still struggle with it. Research has shown that personalized support can greatly increase college enrollment and persistence, which is the percentage of students who return to college for their second year, but hands-on support is not available to every student when they need it. Now, amidst the pandemic, with most school-sponsored FAFSA assistance nights cancelled and many students physically separated from counselor and school supports, the need for personalized virtual assistance is greater than ever.

Benefits Data Trust (BDT) and College Board are proud to launch Wyatt, the texting chatbot that provides students with free, personalized assistance to complete the FAFSA. From November 2019 to February 2020, the chatbot was piloted with 380 high school seniors from across the nation who used it to successfully complete the FAFSA; they opted in through the College Board Opportunity Scholarship program. Wyatt is currently available to all students participating in the scholarship program, which is available for free to all high school seniors. It’s beneficial to fill out the FAFSA, because completing it is a concrete step that allows students to keep their options open, and it can have a serious impact on college enrollment, persistence, and completion, with long-term effects on income later in life. By building tools like Wyatt, our goal is to make the application process easier, less stressful, and, ultimately, to unlock funds that allow students to better afford college and open doors for their future.

Median earnings based on education level

What’s so special about Wyatt? High school seniors can talk to Wyatt 24/7 via text message. Another benefit? When high school seniors sign up for the College Board Opportunity Scholarship program, they can earn a chance to win a $1,000 scholarship for completing the FAFSA.

It may seem early to prepare for fall 2021, especially when the future looks uncertain, but completing the FAFSA early is beneficial. In fact, many states require the FAFSA for their own aid programs, some have deadlines in early 2021 or disburse aid on a first-come first-served basis. And the earlier that students complete the FAFSA, the more chances they have to earn the $1,000 scholarship.

Since September, over 15,000 students have signed up for free assistance from Wyatt. We hope to see those numbers grow to help as many students get closer to their greatest potential as possible. Learn how you can chat with Wyatt today: