7 Expert Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Financial Aid Office

Expert alert! We spoke to Jeff Scofield, Director of Student Financial Services at Seattle University, on the topic of how students should deal with their financial aid office. We know financial aid can be a source of stress for our students, so we wanted to go directly to an expert to dispel some myths, offer some suggestions, and help students get the most out of their financial aid office. Here are Jeff’s seven tips. 

1. It all starts with the FAFSA, regardless of your family’s income level

The most common mistake we see is not applying for financial aid at all. Parents say “I didn’t fill out the FAFSA because I make too much money to qualify for any financial aid.” Well, of course you will. At the very least you’ll qualify for federally subsidized or unsubsidized loans, which are impossible to get without a FAFSA. 

2. There’s not much you can do that we can’t fix as long as you’ve started the process (FAFSA)

We were dealing just the other week with a student who started the FAFSA but put all of the parent’s income under the student’s income. We got the correct information from the student, sent in the FAFSA corrections, and had an updated fixed FAFSA in just a few days.

3. Don’t make us play referee (please!)

One of the things we can’t do is referee between the student and the parent, when students and parents have never had a realistic discussion about paying for college, what is possible, and what is not. Often these conversations happen after a student has committed emotionally to their dream school, and the financial aid office is stuck in the middle between the students’ dreams and parents’ realities. Trying to manage that conversation in front of the financial aid counselor isn’t the best place to have that conversation.

4. Find out how your school administers scholarships

The question to bring to your financial aid office is pretty simple: What scholarships do you have and how can I be considered for them? At many schools, like ours, students apply with one application to the admissions office that gets you considered for all merit scholarships. Other schools have an online system for applying for scholarships, it just depends. Find out how you considered for the school’s scholarships early in the college search process.

5. When in doubt about a scholarship, apply anyway

When I was working at the University of Hawaii we had an inquiry about a local scholarship that was supposed to award three scholarships, but only ended up awarding two. We asked why, and the answer was that only two students, total, applied. If any student had applied for that third scholarship, they would’ve gotten it. We see students bringing in large sums of scholarship dollars made up on small private scholarship funds. $1,000 here, $750 there. These aren’t 4.0 students, they just did a lot of work and applied everywhere.

6. Come meet us face to face, especially if you’re an independent student

About 25% of our students are trying to figure out how to fund their education on their own. That doesn’t mean they don’t have parents, but maybe they are first-generation English speakers and feel more comfortable working with us than the parents. Those are the people best served by coming to visit with the financial aid counselor, meeting face to face, establishing a report. We want to be someone they can count on. Now, “face to face” probably means a virtual on-line appointment.

7. Remember that we’re in this business to help you

Every school has a financial aid office. There are people there who are in the business because they like working with and helping students. That’s what brings them joy. Take advantage of those that are there to help you. We’re not auditors or the IRS. We tend to be nice, helpful people. Take advantage of our services.

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