How to Work Effectively with a College’s Financial Aid Officer
by Howard Freedman
Copyright 2019 Financial Aid Consulting. All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced mechanically, electronically, by photocopying or by any other means without expressed written permission of the author.
Howard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Financial aid officers and administrators are one of the most valuable and sometimes overlooked resources to help students and their families bridge the gap between college acceptance and how to pay for it.
Think of a financial aid officer as a person with many roles and responsibilities serving students and their families, college administrators, benefactors, and admissions officers at the same time. The ultimate results are to strike a balance by attracting and retaining students by subsidizing their costs of attendance with federal, state and institutional funds based on financial need and merit.
Financial aid officers are empowered to be decision makers by deciding how to manage available funds by remaining both firm and fair when justifying if a family deserves additional financial aid. Successfully dealing with financial aid officers involves preparation before and after acceptance especially if you decide to appeal your financial aid award. Look at it as a two-step process. The first step is gaining an overall understanding of how each college determines how financial aid is awarded. The second step is how to appeal your financial aid award after your acceptance for admission.
What are the Basics?
Completing financial aid forms actually occurs before acceptance. Financial aid forms such as the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) can be submitted at the same time as you apply but no earlier than each Jan. 1. The CSS Financial Aid Profile used by some private colleges for the institutional funds they manage is available in late October and may be submitted before Jan. 1 based on best income projections. Unlike the FAFSA, the CSS Financial Aid Profile requires more detailed information but allows you to describe special circumstances that can impact your ability to pay. In all cases, be prepared by understanding and complying with deadlines and do not rely on the financial aid office to answer questions that you should already know. Understanding key financial aid buzzwords will help you to better understand how things work and your strategies for maximizing your financial aid awards.
Buzzwords You Should Know
* Unmet Need-The difference between the Cost of Attending College and the EFC (Expected Family Contribution.) This is the amount on which the financial aid award is based.
* Need Blind-Colleges that make admission decisions without consideration of a family’s ability to pay or if they applied for financial aid.
* Need Aware-Colleges that take financial need and its ability to satisfy it when making admission decisions.
* Dependency Override-An option for the college to use Professional Judgment with proper documentation and explanation to override the dependency status of the student.
* Professional Judgment–The authority of a school's financial aid administrator to make adjustments to the data elements on the FAFSA and to override a student's dependency status based on supporting facts and documentation. This authority is also regulated by governmental requirements and guidelines subject to strict compliance audits.
Step 1 Visiting the college or making Initial Contact
Questions to Ask
* What is the Cost of Attendance and what does it include?
* Is the college “Need-Blind” or “Need Aware”?
* How much of a family’s unmet need is met?
* What is the average financial aid package?
* On average, how much do students owe after graduation?
* What percentage of financial aid comes from the school?
* How does early action or decision impact financial aid?
* How is a student considered for merit-based awards
* How much free or gift aid does the college award?
* Do the financial aid packages include alternative or PLUS loans?
* What information is required to appeal an award?
Step 2: Appeal Process
A financial aid award can be fully accepted or partially or fully rejected. Appealing for additional financial aid is not an automatic process. It will take work to justify your need with limited time to present it in a positive and convincing way. Financial Aid officers and administrators can use professional judgment to adjust awards in many ways as long especially if you are specific and well prepared.
* Stay positive, non-threatening or emotional
* Become familiar with the college's policies, available scholarships, and opportunities
* Never assume that the college has an obligation to award more financial aid
* Don’t compare your award to another student as each situation is unique
* Be open to loans and work-study to show that you are willing to assume some financial responsibility
* Provide a detailed analysis of your income and expenses to show cash flow and actual need.
* Be prepared to explain your consumer credit. Card debt. Was it the only option for emergencies or do you like to spend?
* Document unforeseen expenses, loss of employment, death, sickness and other items that have drained the family’s resources
* Avoid terms like: “It isn’t fair”; or “You owe it to me”
* Be prepared to share awards from other colleges and ask if they can match or beat them
* Mention any special affiliations, talents or needs for merit-based aid
* Ask about outside employment and work-study opportunities
* Ask when the decisions will be made and how you can follow-up
* Be sure to follow-up your meeting with a thank you note
What Happens If the College cannot offer more?
The family must decide on how much of a loan burden they can handle and always have a fallback college that may be more affordable. Though there are no guarantees of additional financial aid awards, remember the old adage that nothing ventured, nothing gained. Give it your best shot and hope for the best.