Winner Takes it All: Do Financial Incentives Motivate College Planning Step Completion?

32 Pages Posted: 7 Jul 2022 Last revised: 21 Jul 2022

Date Written: July 20, 2022


In this study, we offer causal evidence that financial incentives can induce students to complete college planning steps. College Board launched a new scholarship program in 2018 to help students navigate the path to college. The BigFuture Scholarships program incentivized students to complete six key college planning milestones for a chance at winning scholarships, ranging from $500 to $40,000. Monthly scholarship winners were selected randomly among students completing the milestones, offering a source of randomization, which we exploit in this study. We find considerable impacts among early BigFuture scholarship winners on the completion of the subsequent milestones with early winners having about 16 percentage points higher rates of completing milestones that require FAFSA submission and applying to colleges compared to non-winners. These impacts are as large among traditionally disadvantaged students (i.e., low-income, underrepresented minority, and first-generation college students) and are similar to the impacts among their more advantaged counterparts. We also find some evidence that scholarship winners attended slightly more resourced four-year colleges compared to non-winners.

Keywords: financial incentives, college planning

JEL Classification: I21

Suggested Citation

Pender, Matea, Winner Takes it All: Do Financial Incentives Motivate College Planning Step Completion? (July 20, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Matea Pender (Contact Author)

College Board ( email )

1919 M Street NW
Suite 300
Washington, DC 20036
United States

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