FAFSA is a pervasive topic in higher education. Let’s talk about it some more.

If you work in admissions, you know that helping students efficiently navigate their journey to enrollment is crucial ––– and a discussion with them about FAFSA is inevitable. 

“Completing the FAFSA can seem like such an overwhelming task,” said Gina Morlock, an account director at Net Natives who previously worked as an admissions officer at Neumont College. “But, doing all we can to support them through the process is just one more way to create a long-term connection with students and their parents.” 

In Morlock’s role, she would build relationships with prospective students and their families for 18 months. Based on her experience, here are Morlock’s three tips for helping students and families navigate financial aid.  

1) Start the conversation early.

With all kinds of students, come all sorts of challenges. Morlock came to understand those challenges quickly at Neumont.

“It was nice to talk to students from all over,” she said. “At Neumont, about 80% of our student body were from beyond our state. And the journey of applying to college, being accepted, securing funding, and making their way to attend classes on our campus could be especially difficult for them.”  

In Morlock’s mind, the main challenge is effectively breaking down the financial barriers of the cost of the program. By ensuring students and their families understand the full scope of their degree program’s ROI, financial commitment becomes a more digestible conversation. 

 Her solution? A vetting call:

“Getting a feel for what financial needs a student has will allow admissions officers to provide additional resources and information in time for them to take full advantage of those opportunities,” Morlock added.

Some examples of this are when scholarship applications are due sooner than you’d expect. And for students who have had parents in the military, their parents may be able to sign over their GI Bill education funding to their children. 

In order to prepare for these possibilities, you’ll want to gather key information in the vetting call. Here are the questions to ask:

  • Does the student have a passion for the degree of choice? 
  • Does the student have financial and emotional support from their family?
  • Will they require housing?
  • Do they have the credentials to qualify for the program?
  • Are they FASFA- or scholarship-eligible?

“It’s important to have this conversation before the student even has their first conversation with financial aid,” Morlock said. “A vetting call may help streamline your admissions process and ignite better relationships with students and families.”

2) Meet students where they are (digitally, that is).

You might be thinking Morlock’s advice sounds time-consuming — especially because the current generation may not be as willing to communicate via email and phone calls. But there is another, faster way to communicate with them.

“At Neumont, we had a texting tool where we could communicate with students via text,” Morlock said. “It looked like I was texting them with my phone, but it was actually a portal. Having access to that kind of tool helped me connect quickly with prospective students.”

With the aid of a texting tool, she could set up meetings with students and their school counselors, or text reminders about things like sending transcripts. 

But that’s not the only way to meet students where they are.

For Morlock’s team, Discord was a surprising, yet effective, way to speed up the process of answering questions and building relationships.

“Discord is another tool we would use to connect with students about FAFSA,” she said. “During my time, the financial aid and admissions channels were a popular place for students to ask questions. It’s really about finding where students are already communicating and meeting them there.”

3) Leverage your relationship with financial aid

In addition to building relationships with students and their parents, Morlock also is a believer in developing a strong rapport with the financial aid office.

“For me, it was important to build a strong and trusting relationship with those in financial aid, because we shared a common goal with each other: to enroll as many students who qualified by providing that prospect with a positive and memorable experience,” she added.

Here are some of Morlock’s strategies for cultivating this kind of connection:  

  • Keep in contact by meeting with a financial aid representative weekly to go over the status of the students you’re both working with. 
  • Identify next steps by making a list of prospective students to follow up with –– this will help move them down the funnel.
  • Have fun! That’s right –– it’s important for the admissions team and financial aid team to build a relationship with each other in engaging ways. You can do this through team-building activities outside of work, or coming together at student events, so students see a united front.

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