One of the people who can be most helpful when determining how to pay for a college education is a professional college financial aid advisor. These professionals can help families navigate the sometimes murky world of financial aid. Going the college entrance route alone can be frustrating and confusing. That’s why many families turn to outside advisors for assistance.
But how do you know who to trust, and what should you ask once you have found someone you believe is reliable? Start with these questions.
What's Your Background?
Ask about the the advisor's experience: Have they ever worked in a college financial aid office? Do they attend conferences to keep up on the latest in the field, or lead any workshops or seminars as a recognized expert in financial aid? Is there a book available? Find out how many students the advisor has assisted, and ask if you can talk to some of them, or look for testimonials on their web page.
How Do You Work With Clients?
Some advisors will offer a complimentary initial consulting session to assess your financial situation and explain how they work with clients. Find out how they bill, and what is included in their fees. For example, you should expect to pay for their time and expertise in helping you complete the FAFSA, but you should never have to pay any type of additional fee for actually filing it because it is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
Obtain a written explanation of an advisor's fees before going forward.
When Can You Help With the Process?
Many families simply seek out a financial aid advisor’s assistance when it comes to completing the FAFSA, but some have a much longer relationship. They may start early in the school career to learn about saving for college and may make the financial aid advisor part of the selection process to help compare financial aid offers.
Although you can do a lot on your own, they can be of assistance in the search for scholarships as well. Some families even come back year after year to have the advisor submit the FAFSA so they don’t have to worry about any inconsistencies. It may also be helpful to consult an advisor to sort through student loan repayment options after graduation.
Can I Do This Myself?
A straight-shooting advisor should honestly tell you that you can indeed complete the financial aid process by yourself, but most families find a high degree of comfort in working with an unbiased professional.
While a particular family might be completing the process for the very first time, an experienced financial aid advisor may be working with hundreds of students every year and is very knowledgeable about all the ins and outs of financial aid. In addition, it can be hard to keep on top of changes in the industry when it is not your job to do so on a daily basis.
What Other Help Can You Provide?
It may be tempting to try to minimize upfront costs by only paying the advisor to complete the FAFSA, but it could be worthwhile exploring other ways this person can be of assistance. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to college costs. A few more dollars spent in working closely with a professional who is well-versed in this process could result in savings of thousands of dollars throughout a college career.
Form a Relationship
Become comfortable with this person, because you could work together for many years if you have several children in your family who will be attending college. You want to choose someone you don’t mind sharing your financial information with, knowing that is an important part of their job. There might be uncomfortable details about your marital status or your children’s dependency classification, but the more they understand the more help they can be.