HKS Authors

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As US college costs continue to rise, governments and institutions have quadrupled financial aid. Yet, the administrative process of receiving financial aid remains complex, raising costs for families and deterring students from enrolling. In two large-scale field experiments (N = 265,570), we test the impact of nudging high-school seniors in California to register for state scholarships. We find that simplifying communication and affirming belonging each significantly increase registrations, by 9% and 11%, respectively. Yet, these nudges do not impact the final step of the financial aid process – receiving the scholarship. In contrast, a simplified letter that affirms belonging while also making comparable cost calculations more salient significantly impacts college choice, increasing enrollment in the lowest net cost option by 10.4%. Our findings suggest that different nudges are likely to address different types of administrative burdens, and their combination may be the most effective way to shift educational outcomes.


Linos, Elizabeth, Vikash Reddy, and Jesse Rothstein. "Demystifying college costs: how nudges can and can't help." Behavioural Public Policy (March 2022): 1-22.