The transition to college for both traditional and non-traditional students has the potential to be a daunting moment in your student’s life.
When various obstacles and struggles are intertwined with this transition, student success can be negatively impacted (Shreiner, Louis, & Nelson, 2012). In an effort to be proactive rather than reactive, it is critical that your student identifies and builds rapport with campus advocates and allies who can support them in this transitional moment; it is this advocacy that will help your student identify strategies, services, and resources to persevere in difficult times.
Traditionally, when we think of student advocates, our attention is drawn toward faculty mentors, academic advisors, and student life staff, yet we overlook the financial aid (FA) counselor as part of this support team. Your student is not only responsible for balancing their life academically and socially but also financially.
Students assume that the appropriate time to connect with their FA counselor is when they are informed of an outstanding balance needing resolving. It is often that students have not met or have had limited interactions with their FA counselor, only encountering their counselor when they are unable to register for fall or spring courses due to a financial hold preventing them from successfully registering. This approach to FA and financial literacy is passive and we seek to encourage students to be action driven.
In a recent article, Roberts (2022, October 4) discusses the importance of parents not shying away from conversations about financial well-being. These conversations should occur early and often, well before your student arrives on campus, to prepare them for conversations with FA advocates at their institution. Once your student enrolls at a college or university, they will be assigned a FA counselor. Developing a relationship with this counselor should be a top priority. Begin recognizing this FA counselor as a FA advocate who is a partner in conversations surrounding the value of the institution chosen; how to manage the cost associated with that value; the shared responsibility between the student and parent; and payment, financing, and repayment strategies (Sallie Mae, 2022).
As soon as your student enrolls at the college or university of their choice, they should set up an initial meeting with their FA counselor. It is here that a student has an opportunity to begin to build rapport and establish a relationship with this FA advocate who will support them across their four years at the institution. How a student defines affordability is unique to each student and it is in this initial meeting that your student and their FA advocate can discuss the relationship between affordability and value. How does your student maximize the value of what the institution offers in ways that transcend beyond cost?
According to a recent report published by Sallie Mae (2022), 42% of families express the need for help while planning to pay for college but are unaware of where to go for that type of help. While scholarships are one path to paying for college, nearly 50% of families believe the faulty assumption that scholarships are only for gifted students. When it comes to borrowing, half of college-bound families plan to borrow but are unaware of their options to do so (Sallie Mae, 2022). This data is amplified for first-generation students and their families who have less experience engaging in the process of paying for college.
This data from Sallie Mae’s College Confidence 2022 report articulates a clear need for students and families to build a foundational understanding of financial literacy. This begins with your student building a connection with their FA advocate. It is about shifting focus beyond the dollar amount your student and your family owes the institution to partnering with this advocate to understand the importance of completing the FAFSA, exploring internal and external scholarships to ease the burden of tuition, and truly understanding their financial aid package, breaking down what it means at a micro-level – financial expectations this semester- and macro-level – financial expectations across 4 years of college.
Paying for college is a shared responsibility between a student and their family. However, your student’s FA advocate – their counselor – shares in that responsibility by educating and guiding your student through the challenges that arise with paying for a college education. This requires trust between the student and counselor, and that trust is built through an ongoing partnership that must be initiated by the student. Far too many students ignore this partnership and do not include their FA counselor in the web of their support network. Challenge the norm and encourage your student to establish this relationship and trust with their FA counselor, providing them the space to advocate for your student’s financial well-being as you collectively share this responsibility to pay for college.
Roberts, P. A. (2022, October 4). 5 reasons to talk with your kid about college financing now.
Sallie Mae (2022). College confidence: What American knows about paying for college.
Schreiner, L.A., Louis, M.C., & Nelson, D.N (2012). Thriving in transitions. A research-based
approach to college student success. National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Student Transitions.