Are we in the financial aid dark ages?

Last weeks WACAC (Western Association for College Admission Counseling) annual conference was exactly what we expected, informational.  Over 800 guidance counselors, financial aid administrators, college representatives and college planners attended the three-day conference. 

 One thing we and a few of our colleagues noticed was how many dedicated high school counselors wanted to learn more about how to help there students make college costs more affordable.  It’s not a secret that most families do not properly structure their college lists to include more generous schools or that the vast majority fill out a FAFSA incorrectly and miss out on funds.

 One of my colleagues (Lynn) called it “Financial Aid Black Out”

 “Unfortunately, too many counselors shy away from the financial side of college counseling, which boggles my mind.  Finding a financial match is just as important as pinpointing schools that offer wonderful academics.

 Too many uninformed families are picking schools blindly because they don’t know how to evaluate schools financially and they aren’t getting that information from counselors. This leads to tremendous disappointment and tears every spring when high school seniors get into schools without receiving adequate financial aid packages.

 Unfortunately, many high school counselors have told me that they deal with the financial aid issue by holding an annual financial aid night with two or three local college reps.

 I’ve gone to some of these financial aid nights and when I have my head has almost exploded. The college reps — who are often from the admission offices and not financial aid offices — stick with safe topics such as why parents need to fill out the FAFSA. Okay, that’s important, but knowing that you need to complete the FAFSA and possibly the PROFILE is a just a tiny fraction of the financial aid information that moms and dads need to digest.

 Parents want to know if schools are going to be generous to their children. To figure that out, you need to understand how to determine what the financial fingerprint of a college is. If you attend the typical financial aid night, you’ll never leave with the answers”.

 The good news is that several high school counselors have approached us the last few weeks to schedule a college planning workshop in the fall for parents of college-bound students.  In these tough economic times, it is vital that we partner with high school guidance counselors to assist them in providing their student’s families college and financial planning guidance to make college affordable.

 Sam Mikhail

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