Student Finance – What You Need to Know

Finance DepartmentThe world of student finance can be complex, but it’s not something that our students have to tackle alone. Your campus has a Student Finance department on hand to help you navigate the system, offering guidance, plenty of information and as much help as you need. To try to give you a clearer understanding of how your campus student finance team can help, I had a conversation with Josee Martin, Senior Director, Student Finance for Carrington College.

So Josee, tell me a little about your background to get us started.

I’ve been in the student finance industry for 16 years; I started as an advisor in a campus department and worked my way up. I joined Carrington in this role four years ago. I guess the best way to summarize my job is that I have oversight over the Carrington College Student Finance departments.

Tell us how the campus departments can help our students.

Each campus department has a team of student finance professionals who are on hand to guide students through the financial aid process. If a student doesn’t have money saved up, or doesn’t have a support system to help them pay for school, they need to look for a method to help them pay their educational expenses.

We try to give students all the information available, so they can decide what’s in their own best interest. We try to present them with all the options that we are aware of for them to finance their education through federal, state, institutional and private resources. Typically they’ll complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA); it’s a multiple step process and we guide them through it.

Why do you have to ask for so much information during the process?

What we attempt to do, as financial aid professionals, is take a student’s life and put it into a formula. That’s why we come up with the questions that we do, because if something doesn’t make sense in their application, or in the information they provide us to document their file, we have to ask for extra documentation to support that information and have their file make sense. We can and do get audited; the auditor only gets to see what’s on paper in the student file – so while we might know the student’s situation, we have to have it documented in case of an audit.

It’s February, so what should enrolled students be thinking about now in terms of Financial Aid?

Our award year goes from July 1st to June 30th; so if a student is going to be in school on July 1st or later, they will need to apply for financial aid for the new award year. We recommend that they go-ahead and complete their renewal FAFSA for the upcoming award year when they are completing their taxes. It makes life easier for everybody is that application is done in good time. We connect with students directly to let them know that if they’re continuing their education, this is the time of year to get their taxes done. Then, two weeks later, that information can be imported directly into their renewal FAFSA.

How often should enrolled students meet with the Student Finance department?

Really it’s based on the length of your program. If you start a certificate program after July 1st and complete it before June 30th the next year, then you don’t need a renewal FAFSA. If you’re enrolled in a longer degree program, then we meet with students at the start of each academic year.

We definitely like to meet with all students before they graduate for an exit interview. We talk about repayment plans and options so they understand the importance of their commitment to repaying their student loans; federal loans go into repayment six months after the student leaves irrespective of whether they are working or not. We want to ensure the students have all information necessary for repayment success.

What’s the first question that most students ask in their first meeting with the team?

I think the most common question is probably “When do I need to start repaying the loan?” The general answer to that is federal loans go into repayment six months after you leave school, while some private loans do require small monthly payments while the student is still attending school. It all depends on your individual eligibility, which we explore after the initial FAFSA application has been completed.

We also get lots of questions about finance terminology, such as the difference between subsidized or unsubsidized loans for example. But our teams like getting questions – honestly we’d be more concerned if a student didn’t have questions.

So it seems like you offer a lot of advice.

We do; we know it’s a complex subject. And while it’s the student’s responsibility to actually complete and submit all required forms and applications, our Student Finance advisors can assist as much as possible. That’s why we have a lot of very patient, persistent, and flexible people on our Student Finance teams. If a student says to an advisor – “Could you please explain it all over again because I just don’t understand what you said” – the advisor will do just that; they will happily talk through the information line by line until it makes sense for the student.

So students shouldn’t feel bad about asking for more explanation?

Absolutely not. It’s okay to come back and ask the same questions again and again if necessary – we appreciate that sometimes it’s going to take going through things a few times before most students get it. It’s not a reflection on them or their academic skills. Let me give you an example…

Back when I was an advisor I had one particular student who I had to explain things to maybe 20 or 30 times. Guess what? He went on to graduate not just top of his program, he graduated top of all the programs in his graduating class which was more than 200 students!

We have some incredibly bright people in our programs, and that story just goes to show that what we think makes perfect sense in the financial aid world isn’t going to make perfect sense to students! We try to take all these complex federal aid processes and help simplify them. It is a complicated process, we know that, but it’s our job to take that process and make it friendly; something people can understand and walk through.

To speak with an advisor about your own personal situation or circumstances, visit your campus Student Finance department or call 1-877-206-2106.