Of course you want to be a superstar – endowed with the admiration of your colleagues, the respect of your bosses and the appreciation of countless students and their families. Well, it’s possible, if not easy. We’ve seen it happen.
At CampusLogic, we interact with a lot of financial aid (FA) directors. One of us has even been a director. In the course of our company mission to solve problems for financial aid offices, we have seen directors face their fair share of trials, and not all directors react the same. We have watched certain superstar directors mitigate what could have been a massive ordeal into a nonissue, making their job look like an art form.
To these directors, we salute you. For all FA directors: we observed the greats, and we took notes. For you. Because our commitment to you and your industry’s betterment goes beyond our software solutions (though we do make some very smart solutions).
Without further ado, here are the attributes great financial aid directors exhibit:
At the helm of the financial aid department, a top-notch FA director will steer through issues with a clearly defined vision and values. The director’s vision tells financial aid admins where the organization is going; his or her values lay the path for how to get there. The department’s values are what will guide financial aid officers’ decision making and united all counselors to what it takes to reach the vision.
Every counselor is a brand ambassador for the school, and a great FA director will set a standard of dedication to excellence that counselors can follow. Beyond a dedication to top notch customer service, a FA director with leadership skills will take care to define and communicate the culture to the office. This creates a team atmosphere and injects personality into what is often a by-the-book job.
It isn’t just CampusLogic’s software solutions that have financial aid directors turning an appreciative eye to technology. “Millennials are the most educated generation in American history. Far more members of this generation are going to college than of past generations,” says Dionne Searcey, author of the New York Time’s Marketers Are Sizing Up the Millennials. Millennials are adept with and accustomed to utilizing technology in every area of life and expect to be able to interact with brands – such as colleges – via that technology, when and how they choose.
Extraordinary financial aid directors are continuously finding new ways to reach their student population through technology such as interactive websites, digital award letters, student self-service platforms, text alerts and more. Furthermore, the great director endeavors to help more students even in the face of a lower budget and sees automated software as a way to both improve efficiency and give students the autonomy they expect. For millennials, there is nothing less attractive than an institution with Luddite tendencies. An exceptional FA director knows this and gets students the information they need where they need it – on the face of a screen.
An outstanding FA director will display and exhibit integrity. A director gets it done; an exceptional director gets it done right. Compliance to current standards is an ongoing battle as laws, regulations and student circumstances change constantly. An excellent FA director must have both a large foundation of financial aid knowledge and a willingness (and ability) to research regulations. The remarkable directors are confident enough to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll do whatever it takes to find out.” The same directors have built a network of associates and resources with whom they can confer to determine solutions and successful strategies.
Analytics have come to play a bigger role in financial aid than ever before. Financial aid directors are being held responsible for their departments’ part in achieving enrollment goals. As such, a great director is able to collect data on trends in financial aid to determine its impact on enrollment behavior and use the information to improve departmental effectiveness, predict expenditures and budget requirements and analyze strategies to better serve students.
Financial aid directors are basically a communication hub themselves. Other departments’ goals and directives, complaints and demands from students and their families, and concerns and requests from financial aid counselors all flow to and through the financial aid director. An extraordinary FA director takes in all this information and translates it into better policies for employees, students and the school, communicating effectively to get buy-in and cooperation from all involved parties. Communication with both internal and external parties requires excellent customer service and negotiation skills, all of which are facets of a talented communicator.
You Can Do It!
We all have room for improvement, and networking with other financial aid directors is a great way to pick up tricks of the trade as well as observe the qualities that are effective (and ineffective). What do you think are the most important traits of a successful financial aid director?