New York Times bestselling author Wes Moore launched BridgeEdU with one goal in mind: To increase college access and completion rates for low-income and first-generation students.
The program, which began in Baltimore in 2014, uses a high-tech, high-touch academic support model to help students transition during their first year of college. But as Moore and his staff quickly discovered, the complex process of applying for financial aid can create roadblocks for even the most motivated students.
Case in point? Although all members of the inaugural class of BridgeEdU scholars reported that they had applied for financial aid, the staff soon discovered that a whopping 75 percent hadn’t completed the FAFSA, and most of the students had not created accounts with Maryland’s state grant agency.
The experience inspired BridgeEdU staff to create YesU — a mobile app released in 2016 that offers customized step-by-step support to students across the nation as they apply for financial aid.
“YesU does not stop at the federal financial aid process and the FAFSA; we make sure students get the information they need to apply for state aid,” said Moore, author of The Other Wes Moore, a book examining access and opportunity. “We also inform students about how to maximize their opportunities with college aid and private scholarships.”
High schools in Maryland, Indiana, California, and Michigan have piloted the app, and early results are promising. FAFSA filing rates have increased, and students report that YesU has given them a greater understanding of the financial aid process. Moreover, high school counselors report that the app has been instrumental in helping to increase financial aid literacy.
The app provides personalized guidance and features more than 75 short videos breaking down complex concepts, such as cost of attendance and estimated family contribution. It also allows students and parents to share information within the app and includes an encrypted document vault where families can store documents needed to apply for federal and state grants.
Additionally, YesU sends push notifications and text messages to help users stay on top of upcoming deadlines. And it provides guidance to students who need to navigate tricky situations, such as verification of their FAFSA data.
YesU is now available in the App Store and Google Play Store. Students who download the app receive free access to an exercise that uses College Scorecard data to help explore net price for the colleges of their choice. Individuals can unlock the app’s other tools from behind a pay wall. School districts, states, private foundations, and college access groups that purchase institutional licenses can provide their students with free access to all the app’s features.
“If we could get this app into the hands of students across the nation, we could be solving one of the many barriers to college entry and retention,” said Dr. Katie Pritchett, a senior education strategist with BridgeEdU.
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