Between 1980 and 2020, the cost to attend a four-year college rose by 180%1. For families, the ‘why’ behind the price increases – things like more student services, higher costs for service industries, and changes in state and local funding – doesn’t really matter. What does matter is whether they can afford to send their child to college.

As college tuition has increased, so has the need for financial aid. According to the Education Data Initiative, the percentage of students who get financial aid has increased by 18.8% in the past two decades. In fact, just over 8 out of 10 (83.8%) first-year students receive some form of financial aid, with the average student borrowing almost $12,000 per year to pay for school2

This increase in the need for financial aid, along with complex governmental rules requiring a mountain of forms and paperwork, has left many financial aid departments scrambling to meet the needs of students in a student-centric way.

Thankfully, the COVID-19 relief bill has helped by simplifying the FAFSA process – and many financial aid departments are looking for ways to streamline the process and offer the personal touch so many students want and need.

Here are some things that can help make your financial aid department more student-centric.

Use Cloud Technology

There is technology available that can create an easy student interface when dealing with the complexity of financial aid. Behind the scenes, this technology deals with all the complex rules for financial aid while allowing the student to see and understand the process in an easy-to-understand way.

For instance, with the right cloud platform, students can:

  • Sign documents
  • Upload documents
  • See how changing majors/dropping a class/failing a class will affect their financial aid

Students can access the platform from their laptops or smartphones, making the entire process faster and easier. 

Use Teleconferencing Technology

Since the onset of the pandemic, most people have become comfortable using teleconferencing. Adding this tool allows financial aid counselors to meet with students and their families without having to be there in person.

This is especially helpful to students who live too far from campus for a personal meeting or have family members with limited time who want to be involved in the process. 

When using teleconferencing software, counselors can:

  • Meet with students living far away
  • Meet with family members living in different locations from one another
  • Share the computer screen to explain how to use the school’s financial aid system
  • Answer questions in real-time

Use Financial Aid Counselors Wisely

As you add technology to streamline processes and reduce paperwork, financial aid counselors will have the opportunity to meet with students and talk about financial needs much earlier. A streamlined process means counselors can discuss such things as:

  • College major choice compared to student loan debt
  • Ways to pay for college without student loans
  • Scholarship applications
  • Whether the financial aid package is a good fit
  • Offer money management advice

Communicate Well and Often

Financial aid can be overwhelming, especially for students with no experience in that area.

Don’t throw words at students like Bursar, CSS Profile, or demonstrated need. Instead, use terminology students and their families are more likely to understand. Additionally, avoid using acronyms such as EFC, SAR, or BOGW without explaining. 

In addition to making sure that you use everyday language when communicating with students, financial aid offices need to be sure to communicate often enough that students know what is going on.

Communicate in a variety of ways, but especially communicate based on the preference of the student and their family. Consider using:

  • Email
  • Text
  • US Mail
  • Fliers
  • Social media posts

Remember, the more you reach out to students, the more likely you are to get a response.

Prioritize Financial Literacy

All students need a basic financial understanding, especially if they intend to take out student loans. A College Ave survey found that 14% of students did not understand that interest will increase their loan amount and two-thirds of students did not understand the financial terms associated with their loans or know what their monthly payment will be on their loan3.

However, even those who understand their loan may not have the necessary financial knowledge to stay out of debt, build their credit, or save money for an emergency.

Offering a holistic student financial wellness program can help students learn about:

  • Budgeting
  • Financial goal setting
  • Debt management
  • Building credit
  • Student loans/student loan payoff
  • Alternatives to student loans
  • Saving money
Keep Reading: The 25 Most Common Financial Questions College Students Are Asking

Solicit Student Feedback

Finally, if you really want to be student-centric, then ask students for their feedback. Use surveys, student advisory panels, or comment boxes to see how you are doing. Based on the feedback you get, you can continue to change office policies and procedures to help students understand the financial aid process.

iGrad can also help you make your financial aid department more student-centric with our holistic financial wellness program. 



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