Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Handy Hints for College-Bound Parents

By:  Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

Last week, we talked about things students and counselors should keep in mind as we continue the march towards May 1, when most students will finish up their plans for attending college.  We certainly didn’t mean to leave out parents—we just ran out of room!  Here are the key roles, and key ways, parents can make the transition to college a smooth one.

Call the financial aid office  There’s been incredible media coverage in the last two weeks about financial aid offers—specifically, that many parents can’t read a financial aid offer, and if they can, they can’t compare financial aid offers, since no two are written the same way.

I’m sorry to say this is absolutely true.  Even parents of college seniors have a tough time sorting out what part of the offer is grants (and doesn’t have to be paid back) and which part is loan (which does.)  If the parents who have been at this for four years still can’t make sense of these forms, what are newbie parents to do?

Simple—call the financial aid office.  Parents are scared to do this, because they think that if they say something wrong, they’ll lose their aid, or get their child kicked out of school.  This won’t happen—in fact, while the folks in financial aid have a reputation for being about as warm as The Wizard of Oz, the truth is, they want to do everything they can to make sure students come to campus in the fall.  Getting them to call is going to take some work, but it really can be more than worth it.

Jump starting Mom and Dad to make that call is easier if you give them a head start.  Tell them to call, and simply say, “We’re thrilled my child is coming to college in the fall, and I just want to make sure I understand the financial aid offer.”  At that point, they tell the financial aid officer what they see, and ask them about the things they don’t know.  The aid officer will do everything they can to make sure all parts of the package are clear.  That’s their job.

If this doesn’t convince the parents to call, this should.  The moment a parent calls a financial aid office, the first thing—THE FIRST THING—the officer does is open the student’s file, to determine if the college has any new funding to offer the student.  Other students have called the college to say they aren’t coming after all, and if those students had grant money, that grant money can now go to someone else.  Most of the time, it tends to go to those who ask.  This is free money, waiting for the asking.  All you have to do is call.  Just ask the parent who made a call, asked one question, and got an extra $10,000 in grants.

Visit campus Once the financial picture is clearer, it would be great if Mom and Dad could invite their student to take another tour of campus.  This isn’t always possible, but it can go a long way to make everyone more confident about the student’s college choice—and that’s never a bad thing.

You don’t have to take the official tour, but if you haven’t, it’s not a bad idea.  If they have an admitted students program, that’s a great way to get to know the other families who will be part of the college community.  But even an informal visit can go a long way to reinforce the idea, this is really happening.  And that’s pretty great.

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