Financial aid offices grapple for the attention of students who are already overloaded with upcoming moves, busy class schedules and a new, unfamiliar setting. It’s vital that the financial aid team is able to reach students. Financial aid provides one of the most fundamental services for most students, and for many, it’s the key to attending college and finishing a degree.
As the National Center for Education Statistics reminds us, students are responsible for funding tuition at an average of $14,292 at public institutions or $33,047 at private institutions. That’s a lot to contend with as a student, and your office needs to be able to connect these learners with funds quickly and effectively. But how to do you reach students and break through the other distractions vying for their attention?
Here are some dynamic and affordable ways to educate new and returning students about financial aid options:
Campus-Based FAFSA Sessions
Many students don’t realize that they can file the FAFSA immediately after January 1 even if they (and their parents) don’t have their tax return information. Still other students balk when they see the rows of financial questions on the FAFSA, and put it off until later. Later often comes after the FAFSA deadline, when it’s too late to fund the next year’s costs. Your invitations should include the following call to action from the official blog of the U.S. Department of Education: “Some types of financial aid are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so we recommend you complete the FAFSA as soon as possible.”
Prompt students to take action by hosting FAFSA filing sessions at a campus coffee shop or in your financial aid office. Recruit Resident Advisors (RAs) to hang up flyers in the student dorms reiterating FAFSA timeframes, priority cut-offs and other important dates related to financial aid. Then host another session once tax season rolls around, so that students can update their completed FAFSA applications with their tax returns.
Social Media and SMS Notifications
Students can get so caught up with their upcoming school year that they simply neglect to follow up with their financial aid and scholarship applications. How can your office snag their attention and create a sense of urgency around financial aid literacy? Well, the average college student spends a whopping 3.6 hours a day on their mobile devices, according to a survey by College Explorer and re:fuel. And the text message open rate is 98%, compared to only 22% of emails.
The best plan of attack to reach students? Text messages and social media – both will reach them on that metal extension of their arms – their smartphones.
Create a timetable document of noteworthy scholarships and financial aid deadlines. Include inspirational quotes with calls to action to get students excited about these milestones. Queue these posts up on your office’s social media accounts, and ask students to opt into mobile notifications and SMS reminders. If you don’t have a system for contacting students via text message, look into StudentVerification, a financial aid platform that allows schools to send financial aid updates via SMS.
Student Loan Profile Blog
Many college students have a difficult time translating the language of loan terms, especially if they are fresh out of high school. Many scholars get into financial trouble down the road when they accept more financial aid than they need without understanding their future payment obligations.
Use your office blog to help translate the terms of common loans into simplest terms. Create weekly posts that simplify and explain aid like Direct Subsidized Loans, Federal Perkins Loans, and Direct PLUS loans, with their associated pros and cons. Blast these posts out via social media and to your SMS subscribers for increased financial aid awareness.
Ready to get students engaged for the upcoming academic year? Use digital learning materials and community-based learning sessions to promote greater financial aid literacy and action. These extra efforts will go a long way toward helping your students’ educational dreams come true.