By Devin Valencia
Millions of current and prospective college students are in need of financial aid. So why do millions of students fail to take advantage of the scholarships and other financial aid available to them each year? Or, more importantly, what can we do to get this aid into the hands of these students? Last year - in response to a call to action from MTV, the College Board and John Legend - I came up with the idea for My College Dollars, a Facebook app that provides a solution for school funding, giving students an easier way to finance their education.
A few years ago I was one of those struggling students on the hunt for financial aid. With no idea where to start or who to turn to, I decided to take on the FAFSA application. To my surprise, the application looked like it was written in Latin and needed a dictionary just to answer the first few questions. I felt overwhelmed, and though I was given the opportunity to attend college, I was worried I would not be able to afford it. I was fortunate enough to work my way through the FAFSA application and get the money I needed to pay for school, but I always thought there had to be an easier way.
Then last year I came across a story on MTV with John Legend talking to college students about a contest on making college more affordable. I was intrigued by this story and was determined to take on this challenge. I decided, though not having any background in computer programming, to come up with a Facebook application that would provide support on how and where to find and apply for financial aid. Being one of those struggling students in the past, I realized just how common this need for financial aid was. I also found it inspiring that MTV and the College Board were actually turning to students for insights and ideas on how to make college more affordable to all.
A few months later I found myself in Austin, TX working with innovation firm frog design on creating my app. After a weeklong intense workshop on perfecting my final presentation, I, along with two other finalists, had the opportunity to present our final project to MTV and the College Board. After public voting and committee judgment, I was awarded the winner of the College Affordability Challenge. Winning this challenge has been life changing and knowing that this app will help students access the money they need for school is forever rewarding.
It's really easy to use. The app utilizes information already in a Facebook profile (like age, gender and state), to match students with the financial aid opportunities most relevant to them. Students - and potential students - can also search for scholarships and start a calendar with relevant deadlines. Additionally, there are video tutorials from experts on how to try and secure the most money possible. MTV's also going to reward some early adopters by giving away tickets to the "Video Music Awards" and thousands of dollars in gift cards to help pay for college expenses.
My College Dollars will be important for students for years to come because it will provide information that is not always easily accessible to students and will render a helping hand on getting started with the financial aid process. By combining a social media tool that students are already familiar with, along with information on school funding, students will feel at home when navigating this tool.