The start of a new school year brings with it a laundry list of “to-do” items for getting ready for the next financial aid season. Before you know it, SSS will be open for families to begin completing their PFS’s for the 2017-18 school year. Here’s my best advice for five things to be sure you do in order to be “season ready.”
- Get Your Head Checked — Meet with the head of school and do a quick review of the results of last year’s financial aid efforts. Be sure you’re on the same page with him/her regarding the key priorities for allocating this year’s aid dollars. Review policies or procedures that were challenging to implement or adhere to last year, and agree on a plan for addressing the most vital one or two this year. Establish protocols now for what to do if you need to go over the aid budget to meet your enrollment targets. Articulate what a successful financial aid season looks like and commit to a year-end assessment of the aid season in the spring before school ends.
- Tune Up Your Financial Aid Committee — Convene a “pre-season” meeting with your committee to go over roles and responsibilities, goals and priorities, and timelines for getting the work done. Be sure everyone knows and commits to a schedule for when the committee will meet during the peak season, and identify what will be accomplished at each meeting. Encourage your committee members to take advantage of training opportunities such as the SSS by NAIS Financial Aid Conference in Philadelphia and the SSS webinar series to build their skills and perspectives for best practices in financial aid decision making.
- Set Up Your SSS School Portal Account — In your School Portal account, set your document requirements, deadline dates, tuition and fees budgets, financial aid allocations, and professional judgment options. Make sure that any new financial aid staff in your office have appropriate access to the system and that any former financial aid staff no longer have access. Check out the Content tab in the Portal for recorded webinars on how to use the setup (and other) features available to you in School Portal. Taking just one hour to customize your account with your school’s preferences will save you countless hours on the back end when PFS’s come through the virtual door.
- Polish Up Your Policies — Take a deep look at your policy and procedures with a critical eye. Which policies need to be rethought, revised, or retired? What new policies need to be implemented to make your awarding practices more sound and defensible? What situations did you encounter last year that could have benefitted from having clearer policies (or any policy at all)? Set clear expectations for why and when certain policies can (or can’t) be exempted under certain situations. Be sure everyone involved in making financial aid decisions is on the same page with you and each other on how to handle difficult and sensitive situations.
- Be Sure to Speak Up — Schedule financial aid workshops or webinars that educate parents on the ins-and-outs of your aid process. Schedule meetings with the faculty and administrative officers at school to clarify key aspects of their roles and responsibilities related to the aid program. Be a vocal leader locally, regionally, and nationally by presenting at conferences and workshops, hosting practitioner meetings, and writing blogs or articles on financial aid and affordability issues.
Taking these steps will ensure that you start your season with clear direction from the head, a well-informed financial aid committee, administrative software customized to ease your workload, policy guidelines with buy-in and relevance, and communication strategies that share important information inside and outside your school. A great start to the season will go a long way toward a successful finish to it!