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Financial aid appeals: Tools for #admissions, financial aid and enrollment personnel to cope. #emchat

Enrollment professionals across the country spend much of the month of April responding to and reviewing appeals for additional financial aid. The flurry of appeals from prospective students and their parents has become part of the job. These appeals come in the form of letters, emails, phone calls and even personal visits to campus. Appeals are sent to multiple people (including presidents) and it would seem that no stone is left unturned when appealing for more financial aid.

Again, this has become the norm and a part of the process as natural as reading a viewbook or visiting for an open house.

Once upon a time I hated appeals. But, over the past 20 years, I’ve mellowed a bit. Mellowing does not mean I am any more generous in responding to an appeal and that I don’t say no! I’ve simply gained a greater appreciation for the process and the urge to appeal.

More often than not, the appeals are heartfelt and genuine. Students and families provide detailed information we can use to determine the worthiness of the appeal and it’s clear they’ve put some thought into it. It’s a pleasure to work with these families and we are frequently able to respond in a manner that addresses the appeal in an affirmative way. I really like working these families and find the conversations (and frequently the conversion to enrollment) very satisfying.

As gratifying as it is to work with the students and families who take time and care in crafting an appeal for more assistance, it’s not as much fun to work with the “let’s make a deal crowd.” Sadly, this group is growing and consuming more time; they won’t take no for and answer and sometimes are not even satisfied with a yes.  These students and families make multiple calls, send countless email messages, and leave voicemail messages at odd hours and they request a call back at an equally odd hour. These families are often well coached and know to “shop” the value of their argument for more financial assistance from stakeholder to stakeholder throughout campus.

Once upon a time managing these relationships and serving these families really got me down. I’d get frustrated and throw something; maybe even utter a swear word or two. But, over the years I’ve developed a couple of coping mechanisms to help me through.

Each of these items I keep on my desk this time of year as a reminder and to help me cope.  Here’s a picture of all of this great stuff and a description of how I use each follows.

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Red Tape—I keep a roll of red tape on my desk to remind myself that I am in a service industry and I am here to serve the students with whom I work and the institution I represent. The red tape is there to remind me that I need to cut as much red tape in the process review appeals as quickly as possible. I can’t put up too many hurdles or add to the anxiety a family is already experiencing in this process. Cut the red tape, I say!

Erase A-Hole—I work with plenty of pushy and unreasonable parents in this process. Some try to apply corporate negotiating tactics and some make threats about where their kid will go if we don’t act in a manner they’d prefer. Some ask to speak to someone else because of their dissatisfaction with my answer or unwillingness to accommodate their request. Some yell and shout (occasionally swear at me). Most think they are a lot smarter than anyone who works in admissions or financial aid. For these unreasonable and difficult parents, I keep a handy-dandy roller of Erase-A-Hole on my desk. While there are plenty of applications for this product, I use it as a reminder that I need to separate the students from the parents no matter how frustrating. A glance at my roller of Erase-A-Hole allows me to move beyond a frustrating call or shout-filled listening session with a parent to focus on the student involved and try to act in the student’s best interest.  Erase-A-Hole also make me laugh.

My little blue shovel—I don’t know how many of you have a little blue shovel, but I recommend you all get one ASAP. My father, a now retired Episcopal priest, introduced me to the little blue shovel many years ago. My dad told me that he carried one in his pocket and he’d get it out and begin shoveling whenever he was listening to something that simply was not believable. I suspect it’s no a coincidence that blue shovel has the initials of b.s. (It did take me some time to figure this out, though). Let’s just say that I find the blue shovel to be an important and useful tool when trying to discern the veracity of an appeal. Here are three examples during which the little blue shovel gets a workout:

Example 1: A family appeals for more aid “because they’ve received a better offer from another college.” When we request a copy of the award from the other college and the family responds that “it would be unethical” for them to share the other award letter, you might see that little blue shovel working over time.

Example 2: When a family appeals for more aid because XXX institution has offered them more financial assistance and “is now their first choice.” When we reviewing to which colleges the family has submitted the FAFSA and discover that claimed first choice college is not among them, you will see that blue shovel working.

Example 3: When a family tells me about the student who they know “who has the exact same profile and financial circumstances who received a larger financial aid award.” When we ask for the other student’s names and are met with crickets or the response of “It just wouldn’t be right to tell you that,” the blue shovel is at it’s best.

The blue shovel is a very useful tool!

These three symbols/coping mechanisms represent important things we cannot forget when reviewing financial aid appeals in the coming weeks.

First, we serve students and should not make the appeal process any harder than it needs to be. Cut the red tape and remember you provide an important service.

Next, even when working with a pushy, overly demanding parent remember that it’s the students on whom we must keep our focus. Do your best to erase a difficult conversation to do what is in the best interest of the student. Erase the thought and keep focused on the student.

Finally, make sure you dig a little to see if it is necessary to use your little blue shovel. You owe this to your college to protect the college’s resources and not get tricked into offered aid that is unnecessary.

Do you have coping mechanism you use during this time of year?

W. Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmission

#College #Admissions and #holidays: Let’s align them and have one “Show your love day” #emchat

It’s high time we align our holidays and the college admissions process

As we approach St. Valentine’s Day, which is one of the stranger holidays we celebrate, I think those of us working in college admissions counseling should think seriously about giving more meaning to the day we celebrate on February 14.

I’d like to propose that we align Valentine’s Day (February 14) with National Candidate’s Reply Day (May 1). I’m serious (sort of).

Now, I know there will be objections about this dramatic acceleration of the college choice timetable. I’ll hear about student stress, workload and impracticality. Someone will probably complain to NACAC’s Admissions Practices Committee that I am undermining the Statement of Principles and Good Practices. I know this won’t be easy.  However, after more than twenty year in college admissions, I think there is some value to aligning the days on which we tell each other we’re in love with each other.

Maybe focusing on just one big day—the day we tell everyone who we love—will reduce stress. Deciding students can tell a sweetheart of their undying love and can send their enrollment deposit to the college of their choice. Let’s make this easier.

What do you think admissions and college counseling friends?

Can we make this work? Can Valentine’s Day and National Candidates’ Reply Date be combined into “Show your love day?” (Maybe some of you have more creative ideas for the name of the day; I am open to ideas).

I think we can do this.

Think about the benefits. Students get a jumpstart on securing a prom date by declaring their love in February—well before they would otherwise. And, we all (admissions officers, students, and college counselors) can enjoy the spring, which such a lovely time of year.

I also have some new design ideas to secure enrollment…think about the possibilities of asking someone to show your college some love on “Show your love day?”

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W. Kent Barnds @bowtieadmission

It’s “go time” in #college #admissions: Are you prepared? Here are some questions to ask yourself. #highered

The next six weeks involves the sprint to May 1, National Candidates Reply Date, and what has become the measure of success for many admissions offices nationwide. This time represents a mixture of emotions—ranging from exhaustion from reviewing files seven days and week, to the jubilation that results from a prospective student becoming a member of the Class of 2016. Whatever one’s feelings, the next six weeks can make or break an admissions officer’s success.

A few years ago I provided the admissions staff at Augustana College with a laminated card with 10 Questions they could ask themselves daily about their performance during this critical time of year. The questions themselves are not particularly innovative or cutting edge, but they serve as reminders of what is important during this time of year. I also hope they serve as motivators and guide best practices in shaping what admissions professionals do in an effort to close the class.

The little white card that I prepared for my colleagues includes the following

Am I doing everything I need to be to be successful?

  1. Are my questions to prospective students direct?
  2. Is the information I gather from a prospective student actionable?
  3. Is my message clear? Are my instructions clear?
  4. Is my follow-up timely and thorough?
  5. Is my customer service exemplary?
  6. Does my correspondence provide specific reasons to choose Augustana College?
  7. Is my communication timely and relevant?
  8. Is my counseling directive?
  9. Is my hunch informed?
  10. 10. Are my partners (faculty, staff, coaches, etc.) as informed and excited about Augustana as I am?

Is there anything on this list I need to do more effectively?

I find myself frequently pulling my own little laminated card out of my wallet to remind myself of these questions.  The light blue font on the beat up white card serves as a good reminder and a healthy motivator any time.

However, it all seems a lot more relevant and urgent now that the sprint to May 1 is underway.

What messages do you send during “go time.”

W. Kent Barnds a.k.a @bowtieadmission

P.S. If you stop me on the street and ask to see my card, I can assure you it is in my wallet as reminder of what I need to do to be successful and effective.