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Financial Aid Directors: We Are Here! We Are Here! We Are Here!

One of the most important unclaimed, untapped and underutilized resource for college students is the financial aid director. These folks have spent years (some decades) doing what they do and are an amazing resource for families and students that are struggling with the financial aspect of their college experience.

Likened to the Whos found in Dr. Seuss’ fable of “Horton Hears A Who”, college financial aid directors are persistent in having their voices heard and sharing the “good news” of what the financial aid office can do for you. While they may not have an Eiffelberg Tower (found in Who-ville) in which they can perch to make their shouts heard, you can be assured that they are using every last resource, no matter how small, to prove that they can be the most helpful of all.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with a financial aid professional to gain some insight about how they help families traverse the financial aid process and make college more accessible. I hope you find my interview with him to be informative and helpful.

Mr. Randy Green is the Director of Financial Aid at Wittenberg University (a private liberal arts school located in midwest Ohio). Mr. Green eats, sleeps, and breathes financial aid and has done so for over two decades. He was recently recognized by his peers at OASFAA for his service to the financial aid community.

(Q) Mr. Green, as a financial aid director, can you give families some advice on the best way to approach a financial aid office or director about questions that they have regarding financial aid packages, scholarships, or awards?. Do you and your counterparts prefer face to face meetings, emails, phone conversations, or all of the above? Can you give an example of how NOT to approach the financial aid office for help?

(A) My first bit of advice is to encourage families to contact their financial aid office if they have questions, regardless of how they do it. Some families may be reluctant to do so, but the more that the financial aid office knows about a family’s situation, the more likely they will be able to help.  Having said this, there are some general recommendations that I always offer: be nice (we’re on your side), be persistent (if you don’t understand the answer, ask again in a slightly different way or simply ask for clarification), use email (although not as personal, you may receive a more timely response and you will simultaneously have the correspondence documented). There are also a number of situations to avoid: if you’re angry about something, wait a bit until you cool down; if you have a question or request, ask it as soon as possible – there are some financial aid processes that take days or weeks to complete, so if you wait until the last minute to make the request, you may not like the response.

(Q) The economy has been slowly recovering and experts state that we are no longer in a recession. Given this outlook, have you witnessed a positive impact with the families and students in which you serve? When it comes to college costs, how have financial aid directors been able to help families through these uncertain economic times?

(A) While the recession may have technically ended in summer 2009, financial aid offices are certainly still seeing fallout from it.  Many of the resources we set aside at my institution to help families through difficult times have been fully committed, but we are constantly working with our university advancement colleagues (those nice folks who raise money for us) to save those students we can.  A few weeks ago one of our alums contacted me and asked if we could use an extra $2000 – I offered a resounding “Yes!”, he donated it through our website, and I allocated it to two young men in dire straits within two days. Working at a relatively small college allows me to know where the needs are and to respond quickly when opportunity presents itself. If these two families had not shared their situations with us, I would not have been able to assist them.

(Q) A good number of students are in the midst of their college search process and will hopefully be narrowing in on that perfect school. Do you have any insider tips or suggestions that you can provide to help them navigate the financial aspect of this journey?

(A) We are closing in on a crucial part of the college search process, when families will be receiving financial aid packages from the schools that are still on their lists.  My first suggestion, to every family, is to file the FAFSA form.  While designed to award federal aid, its results are also used by state, local, and university aid programs, so to cast as wide a financial aid net as possible, families really do need to file the FAFSA.  In addition to this very broad net, they might try a little fishing in the local pond – look at the list of scholarships won by last year’s graduates and approach those donors, because you know for certain that they awarded scholarships to students (probably) much like the students graduating this year.  Finally, make use of the scholarship search sites available on the Internet, but be careful not to provide certain information such as Social Security Number, etc.

(Q) FAFSA season is upon us. Do you have any helpful words of encouragement for families so that they can properly prepare for that magical moment?

(A) The federal government has worked very hard, and effectively, to make the FAFSA a simpler process. Although the questions one student has to answer may be different from the questions a different student has to answer, the best advice I can offer is to take the FAFSA one question at a time. The whole financial aid process can be daunting, but if it is examined step-by-step, it is eminently doable.

(Q) What is the most important piece of advice that you can give to students that are going to college and finding it difficult to cover the associated expense?

(A) I suppose I will cheat a little and offer two “most important” pieces of advice. 1) Keep your perspective: it is easy to fixate on one part of what is, most likely, the most important decision in your life thus far.  Every school you look at has something different to offer.  2) Keep moving: there are many steps to the college search process, starting with the initial data gathering through figuring out how you’re going to pay for it, and all the way to learning to live with a sloppy roommate, but to get to each new step you have to complete the previous one.  And remember, there are people at the university who will help you along your way.

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  1. […] recently did an interview with a leading financial aid guru. You should definitely check out the article to gain some insight for the best way to approach a financial aid office. Also, if you are on the fence about […]


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