Ad campaign taps Instagram influencers to push FAFSA completion

Hoping to boost the number of prospective and current college students who complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, the U.S. Department of Education has enlisted Instagram influencers to try and get students’ attention.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the social media campaign taps Instagram users with large followings to encourage students to apply for the FAFSA, using the hashtag #ButFirstFAFSA, which currently appears on about 1,000 posts. The #ButFirstFAFSA posts tend to “carry an inspiring tone,” sharing how college has opened doors but would not have been possible without financial aid—and the FAFSA.

Meeting students where they are

One influencer participating in the campaign is Dagny Zhu, an ophthalmologist based in Los Angeles. Zhu wasn’t contacted directly by the Education Department; a service called The Gramlist reached out to her instead. “The Gramlist probably found me on Instagram and found that I had a following of mostly high-school or college students going into medicine,” she told The Chronicle. The Gramlist touts itself as an “influencer discovery and activation platform” that connects influencers to brands and agencies.

Commenting on the campaign, Education Department Spokesperson Liz Hill said in a statement that “the department recognizes that we have to meet students where they are to help them reach their educational goals.”

To date, only 40 percent of high school seniors have submitted a FAFSA form for next year’s aid cycle, and the deadline is June 30, according to the National College Access Network’s FAFSA tracker.

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