Austin, TX,
09:26 AM


College prep nets students an ultimate South By Southwest (SXSW) experience

Filing Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step toward obtaining college financial aid. Turns out, it was also the lucky ticket to one of the hottest sessions at SXSW 2016.

It was nearly impossible to gain entrance to the SXSW keynote by First Lady Michelle Obama. It was limited to a select group of VIPs. But among them, sitting front-row center, were 81 high school college-bound seniors. They were selected for successfully completing their FAFSA and encouraging their friends to do the same on Twitter.

It was fitting the students were on hand to listen to the First Lady and her panel guests: entertainment mogul Queen Latifah, music legends Diane Warren and Missy Elliot, and actress Sophia Bush. The focus of the panel was empowerment through education and the #LetGirlsLearn initiative.

The students had all attended a Financial Aid Saturdays (FAS) program put on by the Austin Chamber of Commerce Quality of Life Foundation. The “What are You Doing Saturday?” sessions, supported by State Farm, provide free FAFSA application assistance to prospective and current college students and their families.

The program was established after statistics revealed central Texas students were enrolling in college at a significantly lower rate than the 68 percent national average. A lack of understanding about the FAFSA application process was a main reason. Since the program’s beginning, it has helped increase the number of direct-to-college high school graduates. It's also enabled more students to pursue their post-secondary dreams.

The local FAS program and the SXSW experience was definitely empowering. For one, it solidified her motivation. “Since fifth grade, I was like, ‘I want to go to Harvard or Columbia.’ I’ve always had that mindset that college was going to be in my future”, said Emily Catalan.

Another student shared that because of FAS, she was accepted to several schools. She was overwhelmed, but thankful she had several good options from which to choose.

Hundreds of students are heading to their college selections thanks to resources and support offered by the Austin Chamber. That assist will help them realize their dreams in college and beyond.