Three critical junctures for collaboration between financial aid and admissions offices

Lisa Browning

Executive Consultant

May 8, 2012

Collaboration between the admissions and financial aid office at a college or university can be a critical step to increasing institutional efficiency, and improving student enrollment.In my work with campuses, I am often surprised that many financial aid offices understate their impact on the enrollment outcomes at their institutions. Financial aid officers often don’t realize how the knowledge and the data they hold can empower admissions officers. For this reason, it is critical that enrollment managers recognize the role that financial aid officers play in recruitment, as well as help foster a positive relationship between admissions and financial aid throughout the recruitment cycle.

To help enrollment managers, I suggest that there are three critical points in the recruitment cycle when the financial aid office and the admissions office need to collaborate.

Late August/Early September

Anyone who works in enrollment knows that this is a hectic time of the year, as new students are arriving for the first time on campus and returning students are settling in. However, it is important that the two offices carve out time to meet before the admissions team gets into the heavy travel season.  Agenda items for this meeting should include:

  • Effectiveness of the scholarship program
  • Effectiveness of the overall aid strategy
  • The awarding process, including communication between the offices regarding awarding
  • Areas to improve or adjust for the coming year
  • Recognition of the hard work that both offices have just completed and the enrollment outcomes for the year

The most important outcome of this meeting should be an awarding strategy for the upcoming year.

Late January/ February

This is the perfect time of year for the financial aid office to conduct annual training for admissions officers to prepare them for the awarding season and the future conversations they will be having with incoming students. Agenda items may include:

  • State program updates
  • Federal program updates
  • Changes to the FAFSA
  • Review of the verification process
  • Review of the appeal process

This is an opportune time for the financial aid office to develop and share a list of commonly asked questions for admissions personnel to use when they are visiting with families. These questions should include such things as definitions of common financial aid programs and current interest rates for student and parent loan programs, as well as an explanation of payment-plan options the school offers.

In a recent blog on following up on financial aid awards, my colleague Wes Butterfield outlined the strategies for effective follow-up phone calls. While admissions and financial aid staff are together in this meeting, I suggest the admissions counselors conduct mock phone calls with the financial aid officers and act as their coaches/mentors. The learning that will take place in this active exercise is immense, and it will better prepare your admissions team for those phone calls when packages start going to families. It will also help financial aid officers understand the importance of the student/admissions counselor relationship during the recruitment process.

Late March/Early April

By this time of the year, most of the awarding to new students should be underway, with the bulk of the packaging completed. In addition, admissions counselors should have had time to follow up with families and get a feeling for how they are responding to the awards. In an ideal setting, the admissions counselors will be recording ratings for each family’s response to the awards (e.g., 1=likely to enroll/ready to deposit, 2=still interested but not ready to make a decision, 3=not likely to enroll, 4=withdraw). During this meeting, the admissions team should report to the financial aid office their general sense of what they are hearing in the market, as well as present a summary report of their ratings based on their follow-up phone calls.

Financial aid should report data that will help admissions understand how well the current class is working through the financial aid process. This data should include numbers for:

  • FAFSAs received from the new student admitted pool
  • Students placing the institution in the first, second, or third position on the FAFSA (see this blog from Sharon Wilkes for more on how school placement on the FAFSA is a strong indicator of the student’s likelihood to enroll)
  • Awards completed to date
  • Students in the verification process
  • Number of awards yet to complete
  • Students who have not filed a FAFSA

Based on this information, new communication strategies or adjustments to communication plans may be made.

These suggested times and agendas for meetings among the financial aid and admissions teams are meant to be a starting point for closer, more strategic collaboration between these two offices. There are certainly more opportunities to meet, particularly during the awarding season, and I hope that these ideas will help you create meaningful meetings and agendas to help foster the relationship between your financial aid and admissions offices. If you have questions or other ideas that have worked at your campus, feel free to e-mail me or share your ideas in the comments.

About the Author

Lisa Browning offers a wide range of experience in the fields of enrollment management, financial aid, alumni relations, and development. Ms. Browning has worked for more than 12 years in higher education and offers her...

Read more about Lisa's experience and expertise

Reach Lisa by e-mail at Lisa.Browning@RuffaloNL.com.

Read More In: