Every once in awhile I get a student who comes into my office and asks the golden question: “What question(s) should I be asking right now?” This is great because it reminds me to go through the student’s comprehensive file instead of pigeonholing them into whatever query they originally brought to my desk. However, not every financial aid counselor might have the time (or the motivation) to make a comprehensive search through multiple information screens for you, so here are three good questions you should be asking about your financial aid:
Are there any deadlines I should be aware of?
This question covers all your bases–from deadlines for accepting your aid, to last day to turn in the paperwork required to process your aid, to when you should drop a class to get your money back. Another way to find out some of these details is to find and bookmark the Cashier’s calendar on your laptop. It is totally worth it for your peace of mind to create events on your personal calendar so that you know exactly what you’re doing and when. That way you can stay ahead of the game and know when you have to drop a class to receive a full refund, when payments are due if you’ve elected to create a payment plan, and when you will have to begin repaying your loans. Having a financial calendar–with reminders!–is key to less stress and financial success.
Are there any scholarships that I could be applying for?
I never cease to be amazed at how few students ask me about scholarships! I try my best to consistently make students aware of any upcoming institutional scholarship deadlines that I am aware of, but if I know a student is really working hard to fund their education without going into debt, I’m going to go above and beyond in trying to help them find relevant resources. I don’t know about your university, but we have two financial aid counselors and two support staff for 5,000 students, so unless a student is tracking me down and proving to me that they are putting their all into the scholarship search, I don’t have the bandwidth to take the initiative on my own for each individual. If you want the help, don’t be afraid to ask–but please note that politeness and belgian chocolate go a long way toward my–and probably most of my colleagues’–willingness to help (as opposed to unprofessional emails or asking me to do the work for you).
How will ‘x’ affect my financial aid?
Too often I find out when an angry student or parent calls me that they have received a bill from the university that they weren’t expecting. Why? Because they didn’t ever attend that Statics class they signed up for and decided to drop (but didn’t drop before the add/drop deadline) or because they’re now taking eight credits instead of 12 and they didn’t get as big a disbursement as they thought they would. And inevitably these calls come past deadlines, when there is very little we can do to remedy the situation. As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; before you make any major decisions regarding changes to your schedule, you should chat with your financial aid counselor. It’s important to know how the actions you may be taking regarding classes will affect your financial well-being; especially if you use some, or all, of your aid to cover your housing or other essential costs.
These are just three of plenty of great questions you can ask to get a better understanding of what is going on with your finances. It’s stressful and painful to feel totally out of control, but knowledge is power, so start asking some questions–and don’t forget to bring a chocolate bar with you!