Lost Without a Map: A Survey about Students' Experiences Navigating the Financial Aid Process

11 October 2012
By Healey C. Whitsett with Rory O'Sullivan on behalf of Young Invincibles

Students in America increasingly rely on loans to finance their education, and they are borrowing increasing amounts. College affordability has become one of the signature policy challenges facing our country. A crucial component of limiting the price students pay for college is simply providing them with better information. Earlier this year, NERA and Young Invincibles (YI) surveyed high-debt borrowers about the problem. The results were striking: over two-thirds of respondents expressed some misunderstanding or surprise about their student loans, particularly relating to repayment terms, monthly payments, and interest rates.

In this new report, NERA and YI followed up with an even larger survey to dig deeper into the role of information in the financial aid process. NERA and YI again targeted high-debt borrowers, who reported receiving higher than average grant aid. With help from YI's partners, NERA surveyed over 27,000 people with at least some higher education about their experience with financial aid. This report focuses on a subset of about 13,000 respondents who received financial aid and are either current students or recent graduates of postsecondary degree programs. The survey results tell a discouraging and familiar tale: financial aid is extremely important to ensure college access and completion, but many students with financial aid desperately need a better information "roadmap" to help them navigate the process.