Financial Aid 101

Tips and etiquette for meetings with your Financial Aid office

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By: Erica Shafer
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Financial aid offices and financial advisors are often challenged with the task of bringing bad news to students who are literally banking on good news. Institutional guidelines and federal regulations control the majority of their professional decisions and their advice to students-- no matter how much they like you. However, despite the limitations these offices have, you may want to consider the value of a good relationship with your school’s financial aid office. Often times a bad experience with financial aid can be avoided all together if the proper preparedness and etiquette are in place. So, building a strong rapport with your financial aid office may be more important than you think.

Financial Aid Etiquette 101

Be respectful of your advisors time

Advisors are busy. Your advisor’s day can be filled with lots of meetings and several students to take care of. Therefore, it’s key to start your relationship with your advisor off on a positive note by scheduling an appointment ahead of time instead of dropping in. Also, don’t forget to call and cancel if you can’t make the appointment (but make your appointment if it’s possible).

Prepare for your appointment

Unfortunately, financial aid advisors are not mind readers. They will answer the questions you ask them but if your questions are vague you may end up leaving the office with vague answers. Before your appointment, make sure to review your financial aid package so you can speak clearly about your awards, loans, and other aspects of your current financial situation. Also, review your school’s financial aid website for policies and procedures. The clearer the questions you ask, the clearer your advisors answers will be.

Avoid emergency situations

By setting up regular appointments with your financial aid advisor (I usually recommend at least one at the beginning of each school year) and becoming knowledgeable about your school’s financial aid policies and procedures- you should be able to avoid most emergency situations. Common emergencies tend to be not having enough money for next month’s rent or not being able to enroll in future terms because you have a past-due balance. As stated above, your financial aid office is hard at work on several students’ accounts, so your inability to plan ahead does not constitute an equal emergency for your financial aid office. Not sure if it’s an emergency? Educate yourself on financial fundamentals.

Keep it classy

It’s ok to disagree with your financial aid advisor and/or your university’s financial aid policies; everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, make sure you are handling your discontent maturely. Keep in mind that advisors and other financial aid staff have institutional and federal rules to follow, so when you find yourself unhappy about a policy, you should thank the staff member for their time and assistance and then let them know that you would appreciate the opportunity to speak with their supervisor for additional clarification. If a school’s policies and procedures were built on logic and fair-mindedness, they should have no issue being transparent with you.

Foster relationships

Remember the names of the people you speak with in your financial aid office. By building quality relationships with your financial aid advisors you don’t have to continually introduce yourself and your background to staff members. Also, if someone tells you something that ends up being inaccurate and you don’t know who that person was, it’s difficult to report the issue to the office’s managers.

Master your relationship building skills with your financial aid officer and you might find yourself being called about a scholarship opportunity that is perfect for you and your situation. Making it easy for your advisor to remember your face and your respectful ways may bring you to the front of their mind when new funding becomes available.

Erica Shafer is the Associate Director of Financial Aid at Colorado College. She has worked in the field of financial aid for six years and enjoys it immensely. As once an undergraduate student who utilized financial aid herself and now both a graduate International MBA candidate and a financial aid adviser, Erica has been able to gain a vantage point of the financial aid arena which spans the outlooks of all parties involved in the financial aid process.
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