Visit Your Financial Aid Office Without Waiting in Line (It's Possible!)
Most students have to visit the financial aid office, and the wait can sometimes be horrendous. However, students can cut down their wait time, or even eliminate it, with a little bit of strategy. This article offers a few tips that can reduce wait time both outside and inside the financial aid office.
No More Waiting
Unless you're a prince regent or the child of a celebrity, you likely have to use financial aid to help cover your college costs. Going to the financial aid office can be a daunting task; the line alone is reminiscent of the DMV. Use some of these tips to cut your time in line and in the financial aid office.
Make an Appointment
Always call ahead. No matter what you're doing in life, if you want prompt attention, it's best to call ahead. Most financial aid offices will make appointments with you. If you do this, then you won't have to miss out on lunch because you were standing in line. Would you go to your doctor's office to be seen without calling for an appointment? No! If you had to go immediately, you likely went to the emergency room - and how long were you in that waiting room to get stitched up? It's simple: make an appointment to avoid the line.
Yes, this is an obvious suggestion, but many students fail to prepare before going into a warzone like the financial aid office. Have all your forms filled out, notarized (if necessary), checks written and questions ready. Make a checklist if you need to. By being prepared, you won't have to return with another form (and wait in line again), move aside to fill out your paperwork or return later with another question that you forgot to ask.
Know Your Stuff
Along the lines of being prepared is to know what you're talking about when going into your meeting. If they begin discussing Unsubsidized Stafford loans, ACG grants or Direct Loans, you better know which one you want in your financial aid package. Knowing financial aid terminology is like understanding Italian in Italy: you'll get where you want to go and you'll get there more quickly. If you wander in to the office and tell them you need money, but don't know the difference between a Subsidized and an Unsubsidized Stafford loan, they'll need to explain the loans, you'll need to decide which you're eligible for, etc.
It's a cliché, but the saying is true: you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Let's say you're stopping between classes to check the status of your financial aid package. You want to know if it's been applied to your account. When you arrive to the office, there are ten people ahead of you who may or may not have class to get to. If you begin scoffing, sighing and tapping your foot, the people ahead of you will only get annoyed. If you're nice, maybe someone will let you cut in front of them. In the financial aid office, it's always better to be nice. You may get annoyed, but an eye roll won't help your funds move any quicker. If you're friendly, the staff may learn who you are so you don't need to waste time showing ID, they may send e-mails with updates on your account and they'll want to help you.
Many financial aid questions can be answered in e-mail. In fact, some schools have financial aid offices that communicate primarily through e-mail. Try sending a message to your financial aid office to find out who can best answer your question. You may be surprised - it might not even be a question for the financial aid office (many colleges have separate offices for the bursar and the cashier).
Get There Early
The financial aid office opens the same time every day, goes to lunch the same time and closes the same time. Don't show up with five minutes left on a Friday - the staff will be annoyed and less willing to help. Get there early and other students (too lazy to get out of bed) won't be in line. You could be in, out and at breakfast before you normally get up.
Avoid the Rush
The beginning and end of the semesters are the busiest times for the financial aid office. In some cases, they may close down their office for walk-ins. If your questions don't need an immediate answer and won't affect your studies, wait a couple of weeks into the semester before going. Lines will be shorter and the staff won't rush you.
Choose a Financial Aid Friendly School
Awesome dorm rooms and sports facilities aren't the only things that should be checked out on your visit to potential colleges. Seek out the financial aid office. Is there a huge line at the door? Do they have time to speak with you at a random moment during the day, or do you need to come back in a half an hour? Is the school large, or is it a small college where the staff knows each student's name? This may seem ridiculous now, but when you need financial aid help, you'll be happy that you considered this ahead of time.
Work in Financial Aid
Here's an idea: infiltrate the financial aid office! It may sound like a spy movie, but if you're looking for student work, the financial aid office is usually looking for student clerks. If you work in the office, you'll be able to ask a quick question when there's a lull in work. And, just like when you're nice, everyone will know you and want to help you out. The added benefit is that student work is part of financial aid, so you can work closely with a financial aid officer to discuss how much aid you want to use toward work study and the hours you want to be in the office (hint: not the busiest times).
Now that you know how to save time at the financial aid office, get a jump on other students and find out when you should begin researching financial aid options.