Why Admissions and Financial-Aid Professionals Should Work Together

chrisgeorgeFor many families, college admissions and financial aid are two parts of one process. Yet financial-aid and admissions professionals don’t always understand one another’s work. In a guest post today, Chris George, assistant vice chancellor for enrollment and director of financial aid at the University of Denver, explains why the two groups should work more closely together.

At a regional admission conference this past spring, I learned that the federal government had eliminated the six-month grace period before students begin repayment of their loans. As a director of financial aid, I knew this was incorrect. However, I doubt that any of the other conference attendees in the room knew that the presenter had confused changes concerning interest accumulation and capitalization with the repayment grace-period rules.

Let me be the first to admit that over the past three and a half years as director, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes about what factors are included in an expected-family-contribution calculation and I’ve struggled with the differences between the various options for income-based loan repayment. I have learned that staying abreast of changing federal, state, and institutional financial-aid policies is quite difficult. Fortunately, I have an incredibly talented staff, a strong network of fellow aid directors, and the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators to provide me with the information and resources to successfully navigate financial aid.

But what resources are readily available to college admission counselors to help them assist students and families through the financial-aid process? After all, if admissions officers and college counselors have bad information, so will their students.

Last September the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s national conference was here in Denver. Sitting through sessions and interacting with other attendees, I quickly learned that college admission counselors are seeking more information on the process of applying for and awarding financial aid, how students seek out private scholarships, and how to include financial fit in the college-search process. The meeting provided a great opportunity for me to learn more about the issues and topics facing my partners in the undergraduate admission office and the high-school counselors who help students in navigating the college-selection process. With no travel expenses to incur, I could easily justify attending the conference.

I see the annual NACAC and Nasfaa conferences as fantastic opportunities to learn more about the college-admission and financial-aid process, but in my experience it is unusual to find financial-aid professionals at a NACAC conference or admission professionals at a financial-aid conference. At the end of the day, college-admission counselors and financial-aid professionals are dedicated to helping students and families make the transition to college successfully. Over the past four months I have participated in a panel discussion about the financial-aid processes at an admission conference, and presented on how teaming up with the admission office helps to achieve institutional goals at a financial-aid meeting.

But it’s not just what college counselors can learn from financial-aid professionals. Financial aid is a key component of the college-decision process. It’s important for me, as an aid administrator, to learn about the students we are recruiting, what their motivations are for enrolling, and how admission offices are communicating with students, parents, and high-school counselors. I have attended sessions on parent engagement in the recruitment process, ways college-admission staffs can connect with high-school counselors, and how to communicate brand attributes, distinguishing programs, and financial fit at admission conferences.

Financial-aid offers depend on so many variables that can change from institution to institution and student to student. So much so that when I present financial-aid information at a high school or an incoming-student event, I warn attendees in advance that when asked a question, I am likely to respond: “It depends.” And without fail, as soon as I open the floor to questions, my answers begin with “it depends.” Shortly thereafter, a parent asking a question will say, “I know this will depend, but …,” hoping that I can provide better information if she first acknowledges the information will vary. The crowd then laughs along with me as I respond with “it depends …”

Yet it is important to remember that “it depends” does not lessen the anxiety the students and families feel about the college-decision process. My experiences at NACAC and Nasfaa conferences have reinforced my belief that many opportunities exist between the two organizations and their members. We can and should look for ways to share our knowledge and strengthen our partnership to assist high-school students and families in making a successful transition to college. For me, a strong partnership between the admission and financial-aid staffs has been and will be an essential component of our success in recruiting an incoming class.

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