In the previous two blogs of this series, we discussed two other effective wants to improve your award letter:
In both blogs we touched on the importance of the award letter content, and in this blog we’ll really explore how the content of your award letter can lower student over-borrowing and increase financial literacy. That’s a big bill for the award letter, but we believe it’s up to the challenge!
Tip #3: Simplify Award Letter Content & Add Resource Materials
Normally you don’t hear “simplify” followed by “add,” but hear us out. The issue is this: students and their parents often struggle to translate the confusing financial aid jargon of the award letter. Combine that with student financial illiteracy, and there can be some serious fallout for students, parents and schools.
As our buddy Mark Kantrowitz says, “Parents should not need a PdD in economics to read financial aid award letters.”
So when it comes to content in an award letter, the first task is to simplify the wording.
Eric Johnson was brought on at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to shorten and clarify financial aid jargon to make collateral like the award letter more understandable. The following “Before” copy might be easy to understand for a financial aid employee. But in the “After” copy, you see how much friendlier and more accessible the wording can be.
Due to compliance, some school officials are afraid to use anything but the approved and standard verbiage. This is understandable, but shortsighted. If students or their parents don’t understand the content of the award letter, this can spark a variety of issues, including:
- Over-borrowing resulting in difficulty of pay-back and overwhelming debt
- Not borrowing enough and having to drop out
- Student loan default
Once the language of the award letter has been simplified, there is still the matter of helping students understand how much money they are receiving, how much of that money is loans versus grants, and how much money they’ll need.
First off, make sure you’re estimating your cost of living correctly. Then, clarify for students what each kind of funding is. According to Kantrowitz in this Forbes article, not all award letters clearly designate the offered loans as actual loans, instead abbreviating to “L” or “LN.” There is no information on interest rate or monthly payment either. This is in the name of brevity.
With an electronic award letter, you can have both brevity and explanation. Digital award letters can feature drop down sections that students and parents may choose to expand for more information or descriptions of the loan or grant type. Or parts of the letter can link to resources hosted on the financial aid website, including a glossary, sample figures to show what payments would be like at certain interest rates, a debt calculator and video content from actual students or staff explaining financial aid terms and processes.
While the burden of financial literacy should probably not fall on college and university financial aid departments, it has and it will. Many students are fresh out of high school and first generation college students. Nobody has taught them how to calculate what their interest or payments will be, the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans, direct versus indirect costs, or the variety of other things they need to know to make good borrowing decisions each year.
You can make the one-time investment in helpful, resourceful, educational content to host on your website. Then simply link to it in a relevant manner from the award letter. Make sure the content is understandable and accessible – videos work great for the Millennial generation!
If you are concerned that your SIS doesn’t offer a digital option so you can link to educational content, you are probably right. Most of them don’t. But AwardLetter integrates with most SISes to provide a fast and easy process for sending out digital award letters.
Create a digital and dynamic award letter than increases enrollment, helps students borrow more responsibly, and improves the student experience. We’re here to help, contact CampusLogic today at 602-643-1300.