The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators dedicates February to taking the mystery out of financial aid for students.
Many students have heard that financial aid money is out there, but figuring out how to get it seems more like a mystery for The X-Files than something they can do. That’s why the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators uses February, Financial Aid Awareness Month, to help connect its members with students and demystify the financial aid process.
“The first mistake that a lot of students and families make is thinking that they can’t afford college,” said Allie Bidwell, senior reporter at NASFAA. “Getting financial aid, whether grants or work study or loans, can make a difference. A lot of families don’t know where to turn to get help.”
This year, for Financial Aid Awareness Month, NASFAA launched a social media campaign designed to get students to connect with local financial aid administrators, who could give them practical information on applying for and getting aid.
“When you talk about this in the higher-education community, it can be a bit of an echo chamber, and not really reach the students,” Bidwell said. “We are encouraging our members to host their own events. The point is really connecting with students. They’re teaching them what you need to do to get aid the first year, or to continue getting your aid the next year.”
NASFAA has also asked members to use their own social media to highlight the activities they’re hosting. The goal is to capture this data and share it as examples of what members can do in the coming years.
“Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi recently hosted a FAFSA [Free Application for Student Aid] session,” Bidwell said. “They had a great name for it: ‘Roses are red, donuts are yummy; do yourself a favor, and apply for some money.’ They had donuts and had the students fill out the FAFSA forms, which you need to do every year.”
She added that the University of California-Santa Barbara was sending its financial aid officers to the dorms to host sessions. “They are meeting them where they are,” Bidwell said, noting that some students find the financial aid office intimidating.
NASFAA Helped Mobilize Members
NASFAA represents more than 20,000 financial aid officers at nearly 3,000 colleges and universities, so the organization has the potential to reach a great deal of students during the month. NASFAA tried to maximize this reach by communicating with members prior to the campaign’s February kickoff.
“Our members generally know,” Bidwell said, as this is the fourth year NASFAA has celebrated Financial Aid Awareness Month. “But we like to remind them in January. We started promoting it in our daily newsletter. We sent out emails to our members at the institutions to provide them with resources that NASFAA has, resources they could share with their students. We wanted them to be able to hit the ground running.”
While it’s too early to know if financial aid applications have increased as a result of the campaign, Bidwell said NASFAA is pleased with the response so far from member institutions participating. “Students are showing up to these events and are showing interest,” she said.