"Reader's Digest" does this feature every month where they do "X Number of Things Your (Insert Professional Career Here) Doesn't Tell You." Yes, I subscribe to "Reader's Digest" so shut up. I figured I would do one that is tangentially related to my job and hopefully it won't turn into a bitch-fest because that's no fun for anyone. One of my biggest pet peeves about the information that goes out to parents and students about higher education is that it is all homogenized as if every school and Admissions department is the exact same. This isn't true, so generic advice is what parents get. The advice given is either from people who don't really know the answers they are giving (the lack of knowledge I find in some high school counselors can be frightening at times) or are so far up in the hierarchy of a school they have no idea what useful advice to give. So here goes. Here are things your higher education professional doesn't tell you about student aid.
Everyone wants college to be paid for completely. Your child deserves a
full scholarship like every other child deserves a full scholarship.
It's no fun to tell your child "no," but if your child is looking at a
$40,000/year school and you can't afford that then you are only hurting
your family and the child by pretending you can afford this. Much like
it is not the job of a mortgage banker to subsidize the cost of a house
you can't afford, a college can only do so much to subsidize the cost of
a $40,000/year education. Sometimes even if your child wants to buy a
Lexus, you have to buy the child a used Honda instead.
It's not always the place your child goes to get an education. It is
the education your child chooses to get at that institution. There's no
point in chasing a degree from a "name" college if your child can
succeed at a university that is more affordable and gives the child the
same opportunity to succeed in life.
letter/email/fax a Financial Aid counselor receives begins with some
form of "Thank you for the generous financial aid award offer. We are so
happy that X college offered the money and we are grateful..." followed
by an appeal for more money. So excuse the counselor if it seems like
there is a bit of an eye roll. If the award offered was truly that
generous then you wouldn't be asking for more money. It's the "It's not
you, it's me" of higher education and blowing smoke up a counselor's ass
isn't going to get you further. Be honest, be straight and if you can't
afford it, then be honest and straight with yourself.
Speaking of asking for more money...sitting down with a counselor or
even the Director of Financial Aid won't necessarily get you more money.
It's not 1965 and a face-to-face meeting is no longer more effective
than a well-written appeal or letter. Oftentimes it is a matter of
budgeting and consideration with the Admissions Counselor on whether the
student deserves more money or more money should be offered. Writing a
letter or an email allows this process to begin, while a face-to-face
meeting only serves to waste the time of two people.
Students who have succeeded the first or second year in college often
will come to see if they can get more money for their good grades. You
aren't seven years old and getting "A's" on your report card anymore.
It's college and the money you were given is based on the college's
anticipation that you would get good grades and be a contributor to the
community. Doing so only reinforces you deserve the money given to you, but doesn't necessarily qualify you for more aid. If additional scholarships
are what you want, the specific department within your major is your
better bet. Academic departments like to reward students within that
department who succeed with some of the departmental scholarships they
have. I would usually try there first.
6. When writing
an email or sending a phone call, do wait 24 hours for a return phone
call or email if specified in the voicemail. Calling back repeatedly and
not leaving a message in a desperate attempt to not have to wait 24
hours isn't going to get your call returned more quickly and writing an
email after a voicemail will not either. Every college has caller ID and
knows the phone number that has called repeatedly without leaving a
message. Often it won't be 24 hours before your phone call is returned,
but that message is left on the voicemail to protect the counselor who
may get busy in the meantime from the expectation the phone call should
be returned immediately.
7. This is more of a general
rule for life in general. If you have left a voicemail for someone to
call you back, always check your voicemail before calling that person
back. In the field of customer service or in the field of life, there
are few things more frustrating than answering a question in a voicemail
only to have the person asking the question call you back and ask the
same damn question again. If you expect the courtesy of a call back,
then extend the courtesy of checking your voicemail.
Financial Aid counselors do have favorite students. The best way to not
become a favorite student is to be a pain in the ass and require
constant maintenance. Questions are fine and that's why your Financial
Aid counselor exists, partly to answer questions. When a parent
constantly calls and asks questions answered previously or has new
questions on a regular basis rather than putting all questions into one
email it becomes obnoxious.
9. Regarding being a pain
in the ass. I find that many students/parents who become a pain in the
ass actually end up receiving a lower level of service. It's not
intentional, but whereas the squeaking wheel gets the grease, the
squeaking wheel also is ignored in favor of wheels that don't squeak if
given the opportunity. This is also a lesson in life also.
Subconsciously humans don't want to do something painful or
uncomfortable to do.
10. For divorced
parents...everyone working in higher education understands divorce is
difficult and the ability to communicate with an ex is not always easy.
That being said, it is not the responsibility of the Financial Aid
office to communicate payments due and other financially necessary
issues to the non-custodial parent who is responsible for paying part of
the tuition. We are not the middle man or a convenient way for you to
not be forced to communicate with your ex. It's not about you. It's
about your son/daughter's education. If that's not important enough to
call your ex, then why should it be important enough to your Financial
Aid department to make sure your ex understands when his portion of the
payment is due? FERPA requires only the custodial parents on the FAFSA
be notified of amounts owed to the school. Explaining to a Financial Aid
counselor on the phone you and your ex don't get along is no reason for
why the counselor has to become the mediator in your great battle to
get your shared child's education paid.
11. I have had a
parent tell me, "If you guys want to get paid, then you will call my ex
and say what is due from him." In response I would like to say, if you
want your child to go to school, then you will not be a child and
communicate with your ex. Finance and the Accounts Department at a
university see a bill either as paid or not paid. An unpaid bill has no
12. On a related note, if the child isn't
on speaking terms with the non-custodial parent it still isn't the job of the
counselor to be the mediator. Life is hard and sometimes you have to
talk to people you don't want to talk to for a greater purpose. If the
child wants to go to college and have that parent pay his/her portion,
then no relationship is required, but notification when the bill is due
will be required. You want it paid, forward the bill to the
13. What makes a person love this
job is working with parents and students to get that student into
college and see them graduate. It's nice to see students succeed and get
14. You don't know how many times I've
been asked, "Do you know anyone who would be good for X scholarship?" I
will always name one of my favorite students who hasn't been a pain in
the ass or one who has good grades. So please remember this when making
that phone call after you have had a bad day, don't understand your bill
because you haven't read it, and feel the need to have your balance
explained rather than attempt to understand why the balance is due by
viewing the bill.
15. It can be incredibly exhausting
and not fulfilling being the one handing out the money. Students/parents
remember their Admissions Counselor who recruited them, their coaches,
favorite professors and anyone else who helped them graduate. The person
who hands out the money and explains why you owe $5000 when you thought
it would only be $4000 needs a pick-me-up every once in a while.
Financial Aid often sees the worst part of the student/parent because
they are always talking money. It's nice to be appreciated every once in
a while by simply being thanked. It's so few and far between, that it's
16. Financial Aid counselors don't know
about scholarships at other schools. They don't know about every
scholarship available either.
17. Financial Aid
counselors are suckers for students who take their education seriously
and don't require mommy or daddy to call after they have had a
conversation they don't understand about Financial Aid. If you don't
understand, then don't waste our time and pretend like you will
understand. Just have your parent call.
18. Parents, if
you have an AGI of $270,000 and your husband loses his job taking your
AGI down to $220,000 then don't necessarily expect more Financial Aid
because you can't afford college anymore. Cancel the country club dues,
maybe lower your lifestyle demands a little bit. Someone who makes
$270,000 a year who can't afford college is seen as a person who wants
college further subsidized without having any type of sacrifice on their
part. That's how it is seen.
19. You don't know how
many parents who send their child to private school I talk to on a
yearly basis. These parents just can't afford college, though they found
a way to afford a $35,000/year private school because it was necessary
due to some medical or emotional issue. I've seen students with behavior
problems sent to horse camp or sent to boarding schools and their parents are happy to pay less for college. I've seen
students who have behavioral or educational issues sent to private
schools that cost $30,000+/year because "it's necessary." Pretend that
college is necessary too. It's frustrating to see a parent who finds
private schools necessary, but wants someone else to give them a break
when it comes to paying for college.
20. College is too
expensive. Few people disagree with this. It's expensive to run a
college though and I guarantee you that the person in middle management
you are talking to at the college isn't making as much money as you
think he/she is. College administrators like the Chancellor, CFO, etc.
make a lot of money. That doesn't always trickle down. When saying your
income was cut to $170,000/year and complaining you can't afford college
is a slap in the face to a person who earns half of that for his/her
entire household and is planning on sending his/her children to college
too. Know your audience and just generally understand how fortunate you are.
21. Speaking of college
administrators. Few of them have guts and the intestinal fortitude to
talk to parents who appeal for more money and decline their appeal. The
difficulty of the situation is it is hard to get to these administrators
because they direct any questions to their underlings to be answered.
It's preached constantly to educate parents, students and be tough when
declining an appeal for more funds, but it's always a different story
when that administrator has to be tough.
parents, no matter how much you don't want to admit it your child is an
adult once he/she goes to college. He/she is having sex, doing drugs,
making the decision to attend class or not, and making daily decisions
you know nothing about. The student has to be treated this way and
allowed to fail if he/she starts to fail. There is a time to step in and
help your child, but delaying your child taking responsibility for
him/herself and his/her mistakes isn't helping him/her nor will it help
23. On a related note, your child will receive
correspondence from Financial Aid and saying, "Child X doesn't check
his/her email" or "Child X didn't understand the email so she/he deleted
it" is not a good reason for something requested to not be completed.
Don't be angry with me, be angry with your child. In the real world, not
answering an email or taking action on an email due to disinterest or
because that person didn't understand it is an easy way to get fired.
College is preparing a student for the real world, which involves
reading email. If your child can update his/her Facebook or Twitter
account, he/she can check his/her email hit the "forward" button to send
the information to you.
24. I mean really, your child
is a grownup. You may not like it and want to be the savior parent from
time-to-time, but I will treat your child like a grownup. If you don't
want your child treated like an adult it's probably best your child
isn't in college preparing for a real world where he/she will be treated
like an adult. I have had parents tell me their child's brain doesn't
form completely until the age of 25 and that's why email doesn't get
answered or a request isn't fulfilled. Regardless of the scientific
nature of this claim, you must empower your child rather than continue
to make excuses for why empowerment only will lead to failure. Failure
teaches lessons that are remembered.
25. Oh, athletes.
Athletes can be the best and they can be the worst. Your son/daughter
can hit a ball well? Congrats, but despite what he/she has been told
over his/her entire life this doesn't make her more important than a
student with a 3.70 GPA in my eyes. The best athlete is one who excels
in the classroom and on the field. The worst athlete is one who thinks
excelling on the field is the only purpose. Most likely your child won't be making
money as a soccer player, while the student with a 3.70 GPA will
probably succeed and give money back to the university.
I laugh when I read stories about students who graduate with tons of
debt and have an Art degree. It's not that I don't have sympathy for
them, but when you go to an expensive school and come away with a degree
there's no guarantee of employment. Again, school is too expensive, but
the price tag is right there for many schools and students choose to
purchase anyway. The media likes to jump on stories of unemployed
students who have $100,000 in debt, but what they don't pay attention to
is the Admissions Counselor who did/did not advise that student perhaps this
school isn't the best one for him/her.
27. Speaking of
student loan debt, there is no reason adult students should have the
same loan limits as dependent students who are the age of 18-24. The
cost is cheaper for adult students and all that happens is these adult
students use the additional loans to pay for expenses through a refund
check. Adult students should have lower loan limits than dependent
students from ages 18-24, rather than allow them to use school as a
secondary source of income. It only hurts the adult student that he/she
is racking up so much debt at a more advanced age.
The two main questions I receive from adult students are: (1) "How do I
apply for loans?" and (2) "When does my refund come in?" Trust me, I
believe many of these students are in school simply to take advantage of
the refund check. It's possible to graduate from a four year degree
program as an adult student with less than $10,000 in debt.
Many families have two students in college at one time. The fact that
you are calling me and saying you are helping your first child who
graduated from college pay back his/her loans so you want me more in aid
to compensate for having to pay back these loans is annoying. Why
should my school subsidize promises you have made to your children?
Don't make promises you can't afford and then expect someone else to
subsidize your other child's education as a result.
When receiving an email that says "Your password and login is
incorrect, please contact the IT department," don't call me and ask who
you should contact. It's right there. This goes for other departments as
well. I don't hold sway over your professor and what grade he gives out
nor do I know why Housing put you in a certain dorm. Universities and
colleges are big places. Just like someone who services your Bank of
America IRA doesn't know why you weren't approved for a loan, I don't
know why other departments do what they do.
31. I like
my job and I like dealing with parents/students. The 75% of
students/parents who aren't a royal pain in the ass make up for the 25%
that are a royal pain in the ass. And yes, I find those figures are