Increasing the Take-up of Cal Grant Awards Through Improved Notification Letter

Each year, over 150,000 California high school students receive letters notifying them that they qualify for Cal Grants, grant aid for college that is assigned based on family income and high school GPA. Less than two-thirds claim their awards. The California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) believes this is in part because some students do not understand their eligibility. This study will investigate whether a simplified letter, in terms of both format and the use of language that behavioral science research suggests would nudge students to take action, will induce higher take-up of the Grants and will consider how different letters impact students’ college choices decision making. In 2017-18, students were randomly assigned (at the high school level) to receive CSAC’s usual notification letter or one of two variants designed with behavioral science principles in mind. CSAC is also working to modify its IT systems to randomly vary the number of follow-up e-mails students receive. Primary outcomes of interest include whether students create accounts in CSAC’s online portal, enroll in college, and claim their awards, as well as which type of college (community college vs. four-year) they choose. Analysis of these outcomes will occur beginning in Spring 2018. We are working with CSAC to design higher-touch interventions to be implemented in 2018-19.

RFP Cycle:
SLII RFP II [Feb 2018]
United States of America
  • Jesse Rothstein
  • Elizabeth Linos
  • Full project