One thing I hear over and over again from college financial aid directors is they can’t help students researching schools when they don’t ask the right questions. Often, families will call in with just “How can I get more money?” Schools don’t answer that question, but they will answer questions about scholarships and grants if you give them specifics.
Here’s what your student needs to know to get help from college financial aid offices:
Get your questions ready first.
Preparation is everything. Before you call, think about what you really want to know. For instance, you may want to know if there are extra scholarships available for your major, if you need to fill out extra applications beyond the FAFSA, or whether they’ll consider the cost of living for the area you live in.
Note: The questions you ask before receiving financial aid offers are different than the ones you want to ask just after filling out FAFSA and when negotiating financial aid offers.
Study the college’s financial aid and overall website.
Even in the financial aid office, you are much less likely to get additional help if you don’t know much about the school or how their processes work. Be able to tell the financial aid office both why you want to go to the school and why you’re a good fit. Are you in the top 25% in ACT or SAT scores compared to last year’s first-year students? Do you have a special talent they like or come from a region they don’t have a lot of students from? Do you like their campus or had a great convo with a professor?
Having done your research will help give reason for someone to make extra effort to help you. You’re also giving them the information they need to look through database of on campus and off campus scholarships. If they don’t know what your talents and special attributes are in relation to their students, they can’t help you.
Ask for an on campus contact when financial aid is outsourced.
I’ve called schools to get information, and I found out they were outsourcing customer service to a call center. In this case, I needed to ask for any contact information for financial aid counselors or even directors on campus. You don’t need same day answers, so it’s best to wait for the person that can actually help you.
Be very specific if writing an email. Write out the exact questions you want to ask ahead of time and have your high school counselor read over the email first when possible.
Ask for an appointment in general.
Whether or not a financial aid office is outsourced, get an appointment. If the school is local, then go in person. Not only can you can get more help this way, but you will also see the office in person to see posted scholarship and job listings.
In addition to the schools you are applying to’s financial aid offices, you can check out a local one in your area. The you can familiarize yourself with a bit with how these offices work before calling.
Learn about other helpful offices.
The financial aid office isn’t the only on campus that can help you score money for college. For instance, if you're a first generation college student, there’s likely an on campus office that can help you with the college funding process and make suggestions for where to look.
- Start with the financial aid office on campus, but you should also check into what other offices on campus might be able to help you find funding.
- Always ask for an appointment with a financial aid counselor.
- If you have to email the financial aid office before getting an appointment, show your high school counselor the email first.
- Research the school and the financial aid office online and in person so you sound knowledgeable when calling.
- Have at least two to three well thought out questions ready to ask. When in doubt of what those questions should be, consult with your high school counselor.