Held Hands In Grade School
By Mona Ghuman, Client Training
Manager, Citibank – The Student Loan Corporation
How many times have you caught yourself asking, “Why don’t
students just read the information I provide them with?” Most
Financial Aid Administrators ask themselves this question numerous times
throughout a day. You may feel you give them so much valuable information
in the form of pamphlets, flyers, booklets and even web addresses, but
you continuously receive calls or revisits to the office with questions
such as, “What is the PIN website?” These repeat questions
may cause you to wonder, do students actually read the informative pamphlets
and booklets they’re given or do they just throw everything in
the backseat of their car once they leave the FA office? If you were
able to look underneath your student’s passenger seat, you may
find last year’s FAFSA instructions stuffed away in an old biology
book. Surprised? Think about the very first time you were introduced
to Financial Aid. Was it the first day at work in a FA office? What
did you think? Most would agree that the information was overwhelming
and confusing! Financial Aid has so many diverse areas that it can become
complicated the very first time it is introduced.
Now think about the explanation you expected from the individual who
was training you. Did he/she just tell you to instruct students to sign
at the X and disregard the remainder of the document? They probably
didn’t. Most would agree they received a thorough line-by-line
explanation of each FA document and it may have taken more than once
to feel comfortable with that document. Students feel the same way.
At times we get into a routine and become so comfortable with the material
that we just assume the student understands. At other times we just
don’t have time to explain the documents and FA process to them.
In reality, they are just as confused as you may have been the very
first time you saw a MPN or a verification worksheet.
So, what can you do to walk students through the FA process without
holding their hands? The easy way out is to say, “Well, if they
don’t read the information then it is their loss because I don’t
have the time to walk them through every document. I will just have
them sign at the X.” However, teaching students to help themselves
is an option we all have. Below are some techniques and resources you
can offer students to help reduce the number of repeat visits and calls.
- Eliminate the amount of paperwork. Financial Aid
offices are supplied with pamphlets and booklets that contain a bundle
of valuable information for both students and parents. However, some
students may feel overwhelmed with the amount of paperwork they are
given and end up thinking the FA process is tedious. This may cause
them to experience anxiety and become confused as to where to begin.
Try thinking of an easier and simplified technique to help the student.
Come up with a packet that includes all the necessary paperwork. Most
FA documents can be completed online and don’t need to be supplied
to students in the paper version. Instead, include brief step by step
instructions which include a screen shot of the home pages. For example,
Step 1: Apply for a PIN, provide a brief explanation of what a PIN
is and include the web address along with the screen shot of the home
page. Remember the old saying? A picture is worth a thousand words.
Usually an image may be more influential than a significant amount
of text. Try not to include too much information about each step.
Keeping it short and brief with the vital information may encourage
the student to actually read through the instructions rather than
ask you to complete it for them.
- Hold FA Workshops. Holding large FA workshops
may be helpful because you will be able to reach a number of students
and parents at once in a concentrated period of time. Questions may
come up that others may not have thought of which in turn may eliminate
repeat calls into the office or even revisits from the students and
parents. Not only will this save you time, but it will comfort the
students that they are not the only ones going through the FA process
and may even be able to help each other through the process.
- Live Chatting. Including a live chat or live messenger
link on your schools FA page may be a useful resource for students.
Many younger students are very tech savvy and would prefer communicating
to an FA Advisor through instant messenger to get questions answered.
This is quick, simple and informal.
- Develop a Forum page. Some students may feel more
comfortable asking for advice from other students who have already
been through the FA process. Developing a web page where students
can ask each other questions about their experiences may be effective
in eliminating repeat calls and revisits.
- FAQ Page. Developing a link that directs students
to a Frequently Asked Questions page may aid in eliminating those
- Automated Service. Many companies are moving towards
automated answering services where customers can choose from a list
of topics in order to receive automated answers to general questions.
Questions such as websites or deadlines can be extremely useful to
include in an automated service.
- Hold back on sending numerous long emails. Students
who get emails from the FA office may automatically delete them and
later walk into the office asking, “I got an email from you,
but I didn’t read it and I was wondering what you need from
me.” Instead, send short infrequent emails with the subject
heading describing what the email is concerning.
Holding a student’s hand through the FA process can be minimized
or even eliminated so you have time to concentrate on other areas around
the office. Try to apply one or all of these techniques in your office
without jeopardizing the level of service you provide to your students
and parents. Challenge yourself to find ways to continue to provide
your students with outstanding service while being able to find ways
to teach students to help themselves.
Mona Ghuman is a Client Training Manager with Citibank
- The Student Loan Corporation. She regularly presents seminars for
Financial Aid Offices and Conferences across the country.