Take Your Financial Aid Office from Slow to Sleek

June 16, 2015 heatherdunn

Most college financial aid offices resemble a bee’s nest. Financial aid officers buzz in and out on missions and students hover in the lobby waiting to find out if they can fund their future. Like a bee’s nest, your financial aid office can run like a smooth, efficient system where all members of the colony contribute and work together seamlessly.

If that doesn’t describe your office, never fear, we have 4 tips below to get you there…

1. Empower your students.

Knowledge is power, and it’s exactly the type of power you want your students to have. Make as much information available to them as possible in the format to which they’re accustomed: digital.

Start with a digital award letter that links back to your resourceful financial aid website. Here is a list of nine must-have elements for your financial aid website. The more students who answer their questions by reading your information online, the fewer you have calling or visiting the office every time they have a small question.

2. Remind your students.

Like anyone, students are forgetful. Instead of being annoyed that they aren’t remembering the FAFSA deadline or didn’t turn in that document after you asked for it the first time, build systems that remind students multiple times in multiple ways.

When you set an appointment with a student, use a system that will automatically send one to two appointment reminders. This will help prevent you from sitting in the office waiting for a no-show because the student forgot.

Schedule posts on your social media accounts to remind students of dates like the FAFSA deadline and other events specific to your college aid process.

3. Simplify for your students.

One sticking point for students is the verification process. After the student thinks he or she has submitted all necessary documentation, there’s a request for more. Now it’s back to dig through the old papers to re-submit or back to Mom and Dad to find more documentation – you can imagine their frustration.

As financial aid counselors, you spend precious time emailing students about what documents they need to provide, reminding students that they still haven’t submitted them (and that’s why they don’t have “their” money), and then indexing documentation into the system once you finally get it.

Shameless plug here: StudentVerification could be doing all of that for you. In one place, you can easily tell the system what students need to be verified and why. StudentVerification handles all notifications between students and staff and gives students a portal to easily submit docs (via mobile upload) and complete smart forms.

StudentVerification is how your students can do it right the first time.

4. Be open with students.

When we recently browsed students’ Tweets about their financial aid offices (see what they said here), we saw a lot of comments from students who seemed to think their financial aid officers didn’t care about them, that it was an us vs. them situation.

This simply isn’t true. Anyone can read through emails on the Financial Aid listservs and see how much time and effort financial aid counselors put into helping their students. Administering student aid is a big job, and it doesn’t always leave time for hand holding and excessive niceties.

But if you can find a way to communicate to your students that you really do care, you’ll probably find that the student behaves more like a partner than an adversary. In fact, we’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from students whose counselors give them our Open Letter from a Financial Aid Counselor, because students gain insight into the people who are helping them get aid. And that insight leads to appreciation.

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