Smiling Woman

An Open Letter to Students from a Financial Aid Counselor

Dear Student,

You’re about to start college.

You are alternately ecstatic and terrified, hesitant and fearless. The joy of being accepted into college collides with the dread and anxiety of extreme change. The exciting adventure of college and liberty is also unavoidably the nostalgic bookend to your childhood.

There is so much to do – apply for housing, pick out classes, buy books, choose a meal plan and figure out how to pay for all of it. Forms to fill out, emails to read, phone calls to return, counselors to meet with. Maybe your parents do it all. Maybe you navigate this world of paperwork on your own. You call the financial aid office in a haze of confusion, a gust of frustration or a red-hot blaze of indignation – sometimes all three at once.

Know this: I want to help you.

I want you to attend our school as badly as you want to be here. Whether you’re navigating your FAFSA, jumping through the hoops of verification, lining up scholarships, seeking work study, or learning the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans, I genuinely want the best for you. Even on Fridays at 4:59pm, because…well that’s dedication.

Because I am committed to your success, dear college students, allow me to give you seven pieces of advice that will smooth your path to funding an education.

1. Be organized. I can’t stress this enough. The most organized you are, the less time you and I will spend chasing down information, and the quicker you can get your money in hand.

2. Be punctual. Submit your FAFSA on time. If it’s too late for that, then your best shot at getting funded before the semester begins is to adhere to numbers 1, 3 and 4.

3. Be kind. You’ll get a lot farther faster if you make your financial aid counselor your partner, not your punching bag.

4. Be prepared. Your professors will echo this sentiment. Have all of your information in front of you when you call or when you come in. It’ll speed up the process and prevent you from having to call or come back later.

5. Be creative. There are many unique scholarships for which you may qualify, with a little research and effort on your part. Do you parents belong to any clubs? Are you going to be the first person in your lineage to graduate college? Have you applied for regional or hometown scholarships? (These have a smaller pool of applicants, so you’re more likely to win.) Did you play an obscure sport? (I once knew a student who got a full ride scholarship through his bowling league.) And not all scholarships are limited to incoming freshmen, so continue to apply.

6. Be humble. Don’t dismiss any scholarship as not worth your application time. Unless you’re already making $250/hour, a $500 scholarship is worth the two hours it might take you to fill out some essay questions.

7. Be thorough. This is advice for your entire college career: You must be your own biggest advocate. Follow up with our office. Follow up with professors. Follow up with group members in your classes. Follow up with internship offers.

Financial aid is a process. As such, it comes with more requirements, rules and regulations than you can imagine, many of which change year to year. Some financial aid situations are straight forward and simple. Sometimes it’s like dumping the entire Scrabble bag of letters on the floor, and I’m scrambling to make a meaningful sentence for you before the time runs out.

But we financial aid counselors love what we do. We are a passionate bunch, the number crunchers and compliance junkies of the college staff. We count our success through you counting yours, so come in or call, and let’s figure out together how to fund your education.

Sincerely,

Your Financial Aid Counselor