How students apply to college when they don't have internet at home

Some students don't have reliable access to internet—and this presents unique barriers to applying for college, Steven Melendez writes for Fast Company

In 2014, roughly 94% of college applications were completed online, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).

However, students with limited financial means may not have consistent and reliable access to an internet connection, Melendez writes, and there are signs that this presents a major barrier to applying for college. Low-income students—individuals who receive application fee waivers because of their family income—tend to apply to just one college, according to research from the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success. This is much lower than the nationwide average of roughly four to six colleges. 

Why students don't complete college applications

Students who don't have internet at home try to snatch moments of internet access from the resources they can find, such as computers at school, libraries, or a friend's house, according to research by Kristan Venegas, a professor of clinical education at the University of Southern California. But she points out that these resources typically aren't sufficient for helping students complete college applications.

"Libraries have computers, but there's a 30-minute limit," Venegas says, adding, "Imagine having to fill out your college application in a 30-minute window."

According to Venegas' research, many of these students do have smartphones. But they may have limited data plans and be forced to rely on public Wi-Fi. And many college applications still aren't optimized for mobile access. Some of the ways that colleges and other organizations are reaching these students include:

  • The College Board sends paper mail and text messages to students with helpful reminders and advice about filling out college applications and the FAFSA;
  • The University of California's Higher Education Research Institute is testing a Facebook-hosted community app for students to receive guidance on financial aid; and
  • The Common Application plans to integrate its application with Google Drive, so that students can upload and access application materials, such as recommendations, from any internet-enabled device. 

Innovative colleges are using "nudge theory" to encourage students to finish paperwork. Is your institution?

(Melendez, Fast Company, 5/3). 

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