By Amy Glynn
Hot topics in financial aid continue to be the advent of the early availability of the FAFSA and the use of prior-prior year tax data. Google ‘FAFSA changes’ and you’ll be hit with more than 525,000 search results. Google ‘prior-prior year’ and you’ll find an overwhelming 33,600,000 more. Now imagine you are a student trying to figure out what this all means to your dreams of going to college this year.
Look through a student’s eyes
Students and families who will be seeking financial aid support this year would be hard pressed to not have heard about one of these two things. However, just because students may have read a headline or even a full news article doesn’t mean that they really understand what changes are coming to financial aid in the next six months. With uncertainty or misinformation comes confusion and increased workload. Students and families can become confused and frustrated by changes they do not understand—do you blame them?
FinAid offices: be proactive
Students and their families are going to need your help wading through all the information and separating fact from fiction. Instead of leaving it to chance that they will find, read, and comprehend accurate information while scouring the web, aid offices need to be proactive in providing student-facing resources. That’s where you come in. In the same way aid offices educate on the differences between subsidized and unsubsidized loans, or when we transitioned to Direct Lending, this is another opportunity for student and family education.
Define your effective frequency
As we all know, educating is not a one-shot deal. Consistent, accurate information needs to be shared across multiple channels to be absorbed. Repetition can produce greater familiarity. In advertising, ‘effective frequency’ describes the predicted number of times a consumer must be exposed to a message before he or she takes action. You aren’t selling a product here, but the concept is important. How many times do you think students and families will need to be exposed to messaging about this year’s FAFSA changes before they take action?
Use all channels
We encourage you to begin to communicate and educate students early about this year’s FAFSA changes. Only you can define the cadence strategy that will work for your specific FinAid Office and student audience. How many of these options are at your disposal? As you choose your channels, keep this in mind: even if it seems far-fetched (Instagram??) you need to get your message out where your students are.
- Events and town halls
- Physical or virtual Q&A sessions
- Posters and flyers in student lounges and common areas
- Social messaging: Twitter chats, Facebook posts, Instagram
- Notices in your newsletter and on the student portal
- An open letter to students hosted on your FinAid site
Complimentary student awareness tools
To help you get started, we’ve included a draft of a student-facing awareness communication below. You can cut and paste the copy into your website or use it as the starting point for an email to students.