Graduate uses Facebook to find financial aid

LAS VEGAS Fri Apr 8, 2011 9:56am EDT

1 of 4. Devin Valencia is shown in this February 2011 publicity photo released to Reuters April 7, 2011. V

Credit: Reuters/Handout

LAS VEGAS (Reuters Life!) - U.S. student Devin Valencia, the first member of her family to graduate from college, hopes others will do the same with her prizewinning idea for a Facebook application for finding financial aid.

The idea won the 24-year-old Nevada woman a national contest and a $10,000 prize at a College Affordability Challenge in San Diego, where the goal was finding ways to simplify the financial aid process.

Her idea uses demographic and personal data on Facebook to direct users to scholarships and aid that match their background and interests.

The application, which could be launched by the end of the year, also would allow young people to share information with other users about sources of aid.

"Kids feel discouraged, especially if they have no one guiding them," said Valencia, who graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2009.

Her parents did not go beyond high school and her father, an immigrant from Mexico, owns a taco shop in Las Vegas. When she wanted to go to college, her parents didn't know how to help.

"I made something that my kids could use someday," she said.

The challenge was developed by cable channel MTV and the College Board, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The prize was awarded on Saturday.

Two-thirds of students say they find applying for financial aid difficult, and up to 2 million students a year who may be eligible do not apply because they are unaware what is out there, said MTV spokesman Jason Rzepka.

"People have difficulty navigating the system. One way we can play a role is by making the process easier," he said.

(Reporting by Timothy Pratt, editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Ellen Wulfhorst)

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