Designing Emergency Aid Applications that Reduce Barriers to Entry

Research shows that, despite colleges having accessible funds, many students are unaware that they are eligible for emergency aid grants through their institution or believe the application process is too burdensome to apply.

Emergency aid grants provide basic needs securities for students, funding necessities like food, transportation, housing, and childcare. However, the underutilization of these funds shows that there is an opportunity for institutions to both better communicate emergency aid resources to students and minimize the application barriers.

6 Considerations for Reducing Application Barriers 

Keep application criteria broad.

Having application criteria that is too rigid can exclude a large number of applicants from applying for and receiving aid. Create application criteria that allows students to share basic information about themselves and context about their need, but only to the extent that they feel comfortable. 

Minimize required paperwork.

Assuming students have access to their family financial information can deter many students from even inquiring about emergency aid. Create an application that only requires basic information about the applicant and does not require any information about their background or family’s financial situation. 

Refrain from asking students to “perform their poverty.”

When assessing need, asking students to share detailed personal information explaining their home life, the reasons behind their current situation, or any other information that is not critical to assessing need should be eliminated from the application process. In many ways, asking for detailed personal information creates unwarranted bias, as a student’s “worthiness” of emergency aid is now based on how well they told their story rather than understanding that they are simply experiencing need. 

Make applications accessible via mobile devices.

To make emergency aid applications more accessible, offer digital applications that limit the need for in-person visits or scanned documents. Students are much more likely to have access to their phones than a computer, and transportation challenges may restrict their ability to apply in person. 

Offer multiple ways to receive funding. 

Students may not have access to a traditional banking system or may be unbanked entirely, so offering multiple payment options, such as pre-paid cards or checks, will help with funding accessibility. 

Craft a communication strategy that reaches students where they are. 

Build a communications strategy that shares emergency aid information on multiple platforms, including the school’s website, via emails and newsletters, through text marketing, and partnerships with campus organizations. Also, be sure to utilize messaging that resonates with students, ensuring they understand their needs are valid and that their institution can provide emergency assistance grants, not loans.  

While emergency aid grants provide relief for students experiencing financial challenges, institutions must first make it a priority to build an emergency aid program free of barriers. Remember that students are applying for assistance because they are in a vulnerable situation, and the application process should not add additional unnecessary burdens. 


Connect with us today to learn more about building an equity-centered, accessible emergency aid program at your institution

Are you an administrator? Get in touch with us at to learn more about how you can bring equitable emergency aid to your institution today.

Are you a student? Contact or click the blue bubble in the bottom-right corner of for assistance.

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