On the previous episode of Higher Education 101, the topic was financial aid and the challenges associated with financial aid for students, families, and the people who work in the financial aid department. Arguably the most important ingredient of all in the financial aid process is patience. Everyone involved in the process has to exercise and utilize some semblance of patience to get everything done. On the school side, professionals exhibit understanding from realizing that while they are the experts, some students and their families are experiencing financial aid for the first time. Rarely is the financial aid process absolutely smooth the first time around. There is always something to make things tricky.
One of the instances of the financial aid process being tricky is the follow-up to sending a FAFSA to the school a student plans to attend. It’s not enough to send a FAFSA to the school and expect to get money to pay for school (1). Schools utilize technology more than ever to communicate with students on all matters related to the college experience, and that includes financial aid. That means when the financial aid office contacts students through the school’s online portal, students have to make sure to check their information to make sure they are getting the documents requested from financial aid to the office in an effort to make their process as smooth as possible. While there are services which offer families to help with the financial aid process for a fee, that is not the way to go. Working with the college's financial aid department where a student plans to attend makes the most sense, especially since it is absolutely free (2). It's not like paying a professional to change your oil; that's sensible, especially when the alternative literally means getting one's hands, clothes, and body dirty as well as the time associated with simply fooling with the car. Paying a company to do the process of financial aid, especially when it isn't a sure thing that it will result in students getting financial aid, isn't a wise move and usually involves shenanigans that aren't worth the damn trouble (2).
There are too many times that the student will receive information on, say, June 1st, and they won’t respond with the proper corrections until a month or so later. That’s 30 days going by in which their information could have been processed and moved along to the next step, and When that happens, it tends to lead to students not getting their funds on time which has an effect on getting classes paid for, their room and board paid for, or having money to buy books, and it affects students potentially getting a financial aid refund.
The financial aid refund is one of the more fascinating aspects of being a college student (3). Stories range from people spending their refund on Jordans to people spending their money on hoverboards, or their significant others, or buying a closetful of clothes are told, and illustrated, each semester when students get their money. Some choose to be practical and put their money away somewhere, and others tend to give it to their families to make sure it’s not spent buying Jordans, hoverboards, clothes, or on the boyfriend or girlfriend. In fairness, it is likely the first time a student has that much money thrown on them right away, and since all of their educational expenses have been paid, they may think, “Oh, what the hell? I want the new Js, I want that new Michael Kors bag, it’s my money, I can get it.” Students have to be careful when it comes to getting the refund for a number of reasons.
One, if a student plans on adding a class in the semester in which they got a refund, the student has to use the refund to pay for the class they want to add. Two, if a student wants to take a class in an abbreviated term, they have to use money from the refund to pay for the course. Three, if a student wants to go to summer school, they have to use money from either the fall or spring refund to pay for summer.
It’s not as simple as walking back to financial aid to get more money. The school has already blessed a student with a refund, or refunds. Unless a student is willing to take out a loan, which should be a last resort, students should be very careful when they get refunds and not go try to buy up the entire mall.