Students’ Complaints About the Financial Aid Office (and What to do About It)

May 28, 2015


Social media has become the equivalent of giving every American citizen a bullhorn. Social causes, inspirational quotes, feedback and requests directed at businesses, and complaints – they’re aired on social media for all to see.

Some good has come of this hyper feedback-focused society, like backlash for unethical companies and support for social causes. The dark side, however, is that issues that used to simply cause private grumbling are now met with social media backlash. One clear example of this is the financial aid office, which has a large share of critics and complainers on Twitter. Below we discuss how colleges can leverage common student complaints to create a better financial aid experience for students and staff alike.

If you were to search Twitter for the term “financial aid office,” you would see most posts fall into 3 categories:

1. Financial aid office announcements, tips or reminders (kudos to these departments for using social media):


2. Complaints from students (often Tweeted at schools, like these ones we censored below):

3. Friendly jokes or compliments about the Financial Aid Office:

Some of which are actually funny:



Dissecting Student Complaints

Though some students’ Tweets were little more than complaints, there is something to be learned from the more specific Tweets. Below, we discuss how you can turn these students’ negative feedback (categorized into three main pain points) into improvements around the financial aid office. Or, if you want to learn how best to deal with complaints, read 9 Tips for Handling Parent and Student Complaints.

1. Process complexity, length and difficulty.

Financial aid is confusing, especially for students who aren’t familiar with the lingo and the processes. Without clear, simplified explanations, there are many things your students do not understand about financial aid. However, that doesn’t mean the burden of explaining every detail should fall on financial aid counselors. Tactics schools can use to empower students to be informed and give financial aid admin more time to spend actually counseling students include:

When students feel entitled to student aid without being willing to submit necessary documentation, it’s easy to feel frustrated. Of course, as financial aid professionals, it makes perfect sense that the government would request supporting documentation to determine who qualifies for aid. Do your best to remember that you are most often dealing with 17 and 18-year-olds, many of whom have not received extensive financial education either in school or at home. The more information you can give them about why you need documents and the clearer that information is so they understand what you need, the easier the process will be for everyone. Remember, knowledge is power.

2. Phone system complaints.

Millennial and Generation X students have grown up in an instant access world. Does that mean they couldn’t (or shouldn’t) learn patience? Of course not. But the fact is that they are used to being able to Google any information they need, fill out a form or live chat to make a request and text or Snapchat their friends for a nearly instantaneous response. They’re not accustomed to waiting, so if you funnel all financial aid information and processes through the phone system, you’re going to end up with irate students.

Giving students several access points to information and financial aid processes doesn’t have to mean more work for your staff. For example, the FAFSA verification process can actually be conducted much faster. Verification  is often a sticking point for students’ financial aid award process, as many do not understand why they’re being asked to re-submit documents or are not able to mail or fax docs in a timely manner.

Enter StudentForms, an automated software platform where the entire verification process can be completed, including document intake and form fills, quickly and efficiently. The system handles communications between students and staff, notifying each party when they need to complete the next step. Students love it, because they can complete the verification process conveniently from their phones. Staff loves it, because it is proven to save time and money.

3. Better paperwork options.

One of the biggest gripes on Twitter was the amount of time students spent waiting in the financial aid office, often just to turn in a piece of required documentation.

Another common complaint we saw was students saying the financial aid office lost their paperwork.

What both types of complaints boil down to is a need for a better document intake system. Human beings occasionally err, especially when they are organizing and indexing documents coming from up to thousands of students via fax, email, snail mail and in-person intake.

Having a singular point of document submission and form completion that is run by software means no more lost docs, no more incomplete forms (smart forms ensure students don’t miss a box) and no more waiting an hour to submit a document. StudentForms delivers this to college and university  financial aid offices.

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