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Financial Aid Perfection Syndrome – and How to AVOID It!

Have you experienced a reluctance by your financial aid office to award financial aid to prospective students until everything in the student’s file is “READY” to go and everything is perfect? Aid officers often don’t like to extend a projected financial aid award. When this is the case, you may be experiencing “Financial Aid Perfection Syndrome.”

Perfectionism often leads to missed opportunities. To ensure you meet your recruiting goals, it’s important to send your estimated financial aid packages to your prospective students as early as possible. You can make that happen by using the following strategies:

  1. Use estimated Pell Charts. The U.S. Department of Education is sending out projected confirmation pages when students apply for aid, so you should too. Information can, and should, be sent with estimates. The FAFSA confirmation page ONLY includes the Federal Pell Grant and Loans. It doesn’t include state aid, campus-based aid (SEOG and Work-Study) or institutional aid. The initial confirmation page numbers can seem low, especially for a higher-cost institution. This may dissuade applicants from continuing with your admissions process. Get your award out early to eliminate that initial fear.
  2. Use an award/verify approach to awarding aid. Unless your financial aid office catches some egregious error or encounters a “C” code on the FAFSA, you should always use an award, then verify the approach to your packaging and awarding policy. There is often a reluctance with financial aid administrators to award without having all the tax information available for students selected for verification. A student can always be selected, even after they have been awarded. It’s more important to send the estimated award out to students and parents. It encourages them to complete the remainder of the process. The verification process can be particularly daunting, so help students see what they may be eligible to receive. Having a dollar amount in front of them encourages them to complete the process.
  3. Don’t let your system be a detriment to you. If updates to your financial aid software are not ready by the time the new FAFSA is opened in October, and you begin accepting students, find ways to work around your system. Go ahead and use estimated figures and then update. Make sure you communicate with students that the information is an estimate – JUST do it!
  4. RANK, RANK, RANK – Gather information from your prospective students on their awards. How are students reacting to the financial aid awards from your institution? Conduct training with your admissions and financial aid staff on how to most effectively discuss financial aid awards with students. The information provided by your staff directly from the student is most helpful in evaluating the effectiveness of your awards and will give you invaluable insight into projecting shortfalls with your packaging policy.

These details can be very impactful for your class of incoming students! Getting awards out early, overcoming system limitations and helping students understand their financial aid awards are key to recruiting a successful class of students.