Seniors: Treat your financial aid officer well...

Right now and in the coming months, you and your family will have a lot of questions about financial aid. It's important to understand how financial aid offices work so that you can foster the best relationship with their representatives.

Financial aid offices are not set up like admission offices. They are often less well staffed, and they have the college’s existing student body to care for, as well as applicants and their families. So financial aid officers walk many tightropes simultaneously. They are charged with meeting the demonstrated need of each family in a way that is consistent with their college's guidelines. Typically they have an institutional aid budget they must stay within, and the pressures related to this can be significant. They must also disburse federal and state funds in accordance with law so must keep up with an ever- changing array of rules and regulations. What's more, they are audited annually, and the stakes are high— if they have not done their jobs well and kept excellent records, their college can lose a great deal of money that will then not be available for students who need aid.

What does this mean for you? You cannot ask a financial aid officer to hold your hand. You need to do as much as you can to master the process, and call him or her with specific and informed questions. That is how you will obtain the best guidance.

Please know that the vast majority of aid officers do their jobs because they care about helping families afford higher education. Many were able to get through college themselves because of financial aid. They want to make this work for you— within the legal and institutional guidelines under which they operate. So treat your financial aid officers well. And don’t forget to say thank you!

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