The award letter experience is a key resource on a student’s financial aid journey. But while students, institutions, and the world around us has changed drastically, the award letter itself feels stuck. We reached out to Amy Glynn, CampusLogic’s VP of FinAid and Community Initiatives, for her thoughts on why, and how, award letters should change. Read on for her top 5 tips.
#1 — More Is Not Always Better
Oftentimes, schools try to keep award letters ‘simple,’ which is a great idea. But achieving simple doesn’t mean cutting the physical length of the award letter as short as possible. We’ve all been guilty of using these tactics: reduced font sizes, increased margins, complex tables. These are all ways to to cram A LOT of information into one or two pages. When it comes to an award letter, the result is often overwhelming to students. It’s true that we live in an era of Twitter, Snap Chat, and Pinterest, where decisions and opinions are shared instantly. But that doesn’t mean students won’t read content-dense documents to be able to make the right decision for them.
The Fix: Opt for clear, concise, consistent language, and provide links to resources where additional information is housed. Simplify the message, but ensure a wealth of material is available instantly for further research by the student/parent, if desired.
#2 — Education Is A Big Ticket Item
With the average cost at an in-state public college averaging $24,061, a four-year degree can cost a student about $100,000 with tuition increases. That’s more than most people will ever spend on a car. It’s more than some people will ever spend on a home. The average college student is 18-24 years of age, and higher education is asking them to make one of the largest financial decisions of their lives. They need to determine what school is right for them, and if that school is affordable.
The Fix: Provide resources that help students understand how much their education is truly going to cost; err on the side of over-communication. Webinars, infographics, booklets, data sheets, counseling…these can all help students understand options for financing their education.
#3—Too Much Industry Jargon
Award letters today are full of terms and abbreviations: FAFSA, COA, gap funding, and loans, for example. Language barriers are everywhere. Rather than waiting for students to adopt financial aid’s jargon-filled industry speak, shouldn’t we be keeping up with the times? Think about it: I often can’t figure out how to read my teenage daughter’s text messages. So why would I expect her to understand the financial aid words I have spent the last decade using? When your award letter needs to be accompanied by a glossary of terms, admit to yourself that students are going to be too overwhelmed and unable to decipher what’s truly important on it.
The Fix: Simplify wherever possible. Break down complicated, confusing terms into every day language. Give your award letter and resources to someone in a department other than financial aid and ask them for honest feedback.
#4—You Sent It On Paper? Really?
Paper and the US postal service are things of the past. We live in a digital time with students who are tech savvy. Keep in mind that 86% of people age 18-29 own a cell phone. More often than not when I walk across a college campus I see the tops of student’s heads instead of their faces. So why are we still mailing them award letters that are static and confusing? Or, why are we still emailing PDFs to smartphones? Imagine trying to calculate the cost of your education via a PDF where you can’t figure out what is a charge and what will be a credit.
The Fix: Transition to an electronic award letter in HTML that allows for inserted resources, hover text, and is mobile friendly.
#5—There Is More Than One Buyer
Decisions about college are most often family decisions. Whether the family is student and dad, student and mom, student and mom and dad, or student and spouse, the decision about where to attend school is very rarely made by one person alone. Don’t underestimate the fact that millennial students will also crowdsource opinions and ideas from their friends before making a decision.
The Fix: Consider the information needs of multiple audiences as you design your award letter. Develop templates based on program of study, dependency status, and delivery model.
An educational, personal, mobile award letter experience will drive financial literacy, reduce borrowing, improve retention, and boost enrollment yield.
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