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Why Befriending Your Financial Aid Officer is a Must-Do

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

When you receive acceptance letters to colleges, you’re likely getting a financial aid award from those colleges, too — as long as you submit your credentials correctly.

Believe it or not, there is a face behind every financial award letter you receive.

They’re financial aid professionals, and it’s important that you get to know them during the college search.

What’s the point? They’re an integral part of helping you attend college.

3 Reasons Why You Should Get Friendly with Your Financial Aid Officer

 

They’re living, breathing human beings who can help you. Most financial aid professionals work at colleges and universities because they enjoy helping students. Get to know them, and maybe even send your favorite financial aid officer a Starbucks gift card. It could lead to some really great things.

Reason 1: They’re happy to meet with you.

During most college visits, you can request to meet with a financial aid officer. Do it. They can walk you through: 

  • Scholarships the school offers
  • Grants
  • Federal financial aid
  • Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) tips
  • CSS Profile guidance and tips
  • Student loans
  • And more!

If you can’t go to a financial aid professional’s office due to COVID-19, you should be able to do a virtual call. And if you can’t get an appointment with someone in the financial aid office, admissions counselors are well-versed in most financial aid topics and should be able to walk you through an award letter or answer basic questions about scholarships and loans. 

Reason 2: If they know you, they may work harder on your behalf. 

Are we saying they’ll give you more scholarships? 

No, but financial aid officers remember people who go the extra mile, and that’s true for any profession.

Consider this: Let’s say you’re extra appreciative and deliver a big fruit basket to thank your next-door neighbors for being awesome. Do you think your neighbors will be more willing to wash your car without asking? Rescue your cat? Mow your lawn?

What about other professionals? If you send a gift card and a thank you note to your dentist, insurance agent, etc., do you think you might be able to see them whenever you want? Might they offer special promotions to you? 

Maybe you’ll be the first person to receive an email from a financial aid professional: “Hi there! I just heard about this new scholarship opportunity and thought of you…”

It’s amazing what happens when you go the extra mile. 

Reason 3: They’ll help you with certain tasks.

Need help filing the FAFSA? Don’t have a clue how to approach the CSS Profile? A financial aid professional can sit you down and go over these tasks, step by step. They can help you or your parents fill them out.

If you can’t go to a financial aid professional’s office due to COVID-19, you should be able to conduct a quick video call with a financial aid professional.

 

How to Read Your Financial Aid Award Letter

Get to Know Them, Get the Best Info

It’s easy to say, “I don’t have time to get to know people in-depth during the college search.”

And it’s easy to procrastinate, deem it a hassle, whatever the excuse may be.

But you can get to know financial aid officers in just a few steps!

Step 1: Meet with a financial aid officer on a college visit.

When you set up your college visit, by all means try to schedule it with a real person — avoid scheduling a visit online. Clicking around on a computer doesn’t give you a chance to discuss your visit options in depth. You want to know exactly what your options are.

Same goes with chatting with a financial aid professional. Add them to the list of people to see when you’re on campus.

Can’t meet while on campus? Or can’t get to campus because of COVID-19 restrictions? Shoot for a virtual call (such as Zoom or Google Meet).

Fortunately, virtual calls offer a lot more flexibility than meeting with financial aid people on campus. You can ask as many questions as you want and can also schedule them from the comfort of your home, in your fuzzy slippers. 

You can also pick up the phone and call the old fashioned way.

Step 2: Ask great questions. 

No question is too silly. Here are some questions you may want to ask: 

Tuition, Room, Board and Fees
  • What are the tuition, room, board and fees at this school?
  • How much does tuition increase each year? Do scholarships increase to match the change?
  • Are there other extra expenses we’ll need to be prepared for, like activity fees, biology lab fees, etc.? Can you give us a list of those additional expenses?
Scholarships
  • What scholarships can I qualify for? How do I qualify for them?
  • Are there any merit-based scholarships available at your school?
  • What are the interview or audition requirements for certain scholarships?
  • Do I need to report outside scholarships? Will merit-based scholarships be “taken away” if I receive a large outside scholarship?
  • Where should I send checks for outside scholarships?
Grants
  • Can I receive grants? If so, what are the requirements?
  • What kind of need-based aid can I get?
Loans
  • How do loans work and how should I apply for them?
Financial Aid Awards
  • Can you explain in detail how a financial aid award is set up?
  • What will happen if our family’s financial aid situation changes while I’m at your school? Will you adjust the financial aid award?
  • When will I receive the financial aid award?
  • What is the deadline for applying for financial aid?
  • I’m undocumented. Am I still eligible for financial aid?
  • How does financial aid work if I study abroad?
  • Can veterans or children of veterans receive financial aid at your school?
  • Can I apply for financial aid in future years if I do not apply the first year?
  • How will the financial aid office help me and my family break down the costs?
  • What does the average student receive in financial aid from your school?
FAFSA and CSS Profile
  • What is the FAFSA?
  • What is the CSS Profile? Do I need to complete a CSS Profile?
  • How will we know if the FAFSA has been submitted correctly?
  • Will you help me file the FAFSA in person?
Net Price Calculator
  • What amount will I receive, using your school’s net price calculator or a financial aid estimator?
Work-Study
  • Will I qualify for work-study? How does work-study work here?
  • How is work-study awarded?

 

Paying for College: Your Financial Aid Checklist

Step 3: Treat the financial aid officer like a valuable resource. 

When I was an admissions counselor, sometimes parents and students treated me as a human information factory. Parents often asked rapid-fire questions, and let me tell you, there’s nothing worse than getting treated like an info fountain. 

Remember that financial aid professionals can answer your questions, yes, and also remember that they like to feel appreciated. 

Thank them. Follow up with a thank-you note, plate of cookies, etc. Develop the relationship throughout the year. Try as hard as you can to do that with the top three schools on your list.

Step 4: If you’re not getting enough information from your first contact, ask for a different financial aid professional.

Sent an email? Crickets? Made a phone call and left a voicemail and didn’t get a response back?

Unfortunately, it’s possible. Financial aid professionals work with hundreds of students. But not hearing back doesn’t mean you necessarily need to write that school off (though that’d be easy to do).

You can ask the admission office or financial aid office if you can work with someone else. It’s the same situation with your admissions counselor. If you’re hearing zip from the admissions counselor assigned to you, you can also request a new admissions counselor.

Better Relationships, Better Experience

A major part of the college search process (and one that some people forget) is that it’s about building relationships. Put relationships at the forefront of the college search and you’ll find it a much richer experience than you ever dreamed.

Author: Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock is the founder of College Money Tips and Money editor at Benzinga. She loves helping families navigate their finances and the college search process. Check out her essential timeline and checklist for the college search!