There have been concerns and many formal and informal discussions related to making the financial aid notifications that students and families receive easier to understand. Like all professions, financial aid has its own terminology and this can affect the communication that takes place between colleges, universities and prospective students. Below are three ways to enhance this process.
1. Stop using the phrase Financial Aid Award Letters – Unless institutional scholarship money is being offered to the student, the title being used should be Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Results. Once students successfully complete a FAFSA, they are notified right then about the Federal Student Aid (FSA) programs that appear to be what the colleges they plan to attend can award them. Using the wording Financial Aid Award Letter creates an expectation that a special offer is being provided to the student until the family reads the details.
2. Eliminate the anticipation buildup of the release date for Financial Aid Award Letters – It is common during campus visit presentations for staff to announce the date the first batch of awards will be sent out. This adds to the confusion and false expectations of families who are waiting to hear about what monies will be available for college expenses. The ongoing mention about applying early should remain in place. Being careful not to imply that doing so will result in extra FAFSA funding, should be the approach with is utilized. Most families are not going to be awarded the limited SEOG and Work-Study funds available on campus. When they hear applying early is a benefit, they are anticipating scholarship funds.
3. Clarify Your Scholarship Awarding Process – If your admissions office makes the decision about first year students institutional awards, let families know about this process. This will eliminate families waiting for the Financial Aid Award Letter to see if a scholarship will be offered by the school or not. If the financial aid office is in charge of awarding scholarships, make sure this is covered on the website, in admissions and financial aid sections and covered during online and in person campus visits. Making this process more clear, is also an opportunity to outline that applying early gives you a higher chance for an institutional scholarship or not, depending upon your awarding policy.
Kenneth McGhee is a financial aid and enrollment management consultant.