Research shows students who complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) are more likely to go on to college. But millions of students eligible for financial aid do not fill out the FAFSA – leaving billions of dollars on the table and their potential unfulfilled.

The Kresge Foundation asked Wonder’s Robert Perez and Tamara Murray, could stories help encourage more students to fill out the FAFSA?

Heartwired Insight and Strategy

Stories have the power to change behavior, but it has to be the right kind of story. Research on students and families – especially students from low-income families and first-generation college goers – turned up lots of barriers: they are overwhelmed, believe the FAFSA is a test or requires a credit check, aren’t sure if they’re eligible for financial aid, and worried about getting “flagged” in the system due to immigration status. Flooded with negative emotions, students and families were avoiding the FAFSA altogether.

The right kind of story modeled the desired behavior and helped students and their families navigate their fears and uncertainties.

Wonder worked with Kresge’s city-based partners to interview students about the good, the bad and the ugly of filling out the FAFSA. The authentic advice from peers would help to calm students’ fears and help them understand what to do when faced with a problem filling out the form.


The interviews formed a national story bank, which Kresge and its partners can repurpose into presentations, social media content and informational resources for students and their families, including

According to Krista Jahnke, Kresge’s education communications officer:

This story bank continues to be a go-to resource for us as we work to encourage more students to file a FAFSA. Working with so many different cities to find great student stories was a big and complex undertaking, but the Wonder team structured the process in a way that was easy for the cities to participate and made the road bumps along the way minor.

The finished stories are beautiful and have helped Kresge and our partners put real faces on what can be a really dry subject.”