By Jeremy Tiers, Senior Director of Admissions Services
3 minute read
It’s October, which means colleges and universities have started flooding high school seniors and their families with FAFSA emails, letters, postcards, and text message reminders.
What are you doing to make your messages stand out from the crowd?
And, how are you making this part of the college search process easier, knowing that students and families say financial aid and the FAFSA continues to be the hardest, most confusing part.
Your answers to both of those questions should involve three keywords that I’ve been repeating a lot this year – Humanize, empathize, and personalize.
Start by recognizing that while the term FAFSA may be familiar, many students and families don’t know what it means. Because of that, you should never approach talking about the FAFSA and financial aid as a one-time conversation.
Here are some additional tips that will help you generate more action and engagement:
- If you’re sending an email (or a series of messages) have it come from the student’s admissions counselor and not a general Office of Admissions or Office of Financial Aid account. Same thing goes for any letter(s).
- Be sure and narrow the focus of any message to one thing. Do not try and cram every possible piece of information into one communication.
- Use a conversational tone throughout, avoid using big words and acronyms, and make sure the words you do use sound like you’re talking with the reader in an empathetic way versus throwing a ton of information at them.
- Pay close attention to your email subject line. Consider using something like, “Don’t forget to do this”, “Super important college reminder”, or “Doing this can make college cost less”.
- Personalize your message. For example, you might mention that even though filling out more forms isn’t fun, the FAFSA is the most important financial aid form (i.e. this is what the federal government uses to determine what grants, work-study, and loans you qualify for, and it’s the only way to receive any money from the government to help with college). You could also mention the FAFSA may determine a student’s eligibility for other forms of financial aid through the state, your school, and/or private scholarships.
- You could debunk some common FAFSA myths and offer “pro tips.” Those might include that the FAFSA is 100% free to complete; You don’t need a computer to fill it out – you can do it on your phone or get a paper copy; It usually takes less than an hour if you have all your documents; You don’t have to wait for your family to file their tax returns before you can fill out the FAFSA; Never assume you won’t qualify for any aid because your family earns too much money. You won’t know for sure until you complete the FAFSA.
- You could include a checklist of all the documents/materials that students and families should gather in advance.
- If you want to create some urgency, mention that some states and colleges/universities grant money on a first-come, first-served basis.
- Send a similar but slightly tweaked version of any message to recognize your different senior populations (i.e. inquiries/prospects vs. applicants vs. admits).
- Send a separate personalized message from the admissions counselor to the parent(s)/family that mentions the email or letter you previously sent the student as a way to make sure everyone is in the loop and feels like they’re getting a personal touchpoint.
- At the end of any message, reiterate that the admissions counselor knows how stressful all of this can be, and is ready to help or connect them with financial aid colleagues who can…there are no silly questions.
- Along with that, mix in some non-transactional calls to action (i.e. ask a direct question to spur engagement). Some examples could include, “Have you and your family talked about the FAFSA and come up with a plan for it?”, or “What’s the biggest question you have about financial aid or scholarships?” Also consider mentioning that if their family isn’t planning to do the FAFSA, that’s okay, but you’d still like to know that.
- Follow up your email two or three days later with a short, direct text message that alerts students to the email and encourages them to check it out.
- Offer to have a 1-1 phone call or video chat with the entire family if they would find that more helpful than going back and forth on email.
If you’d like to talk more about any of those bullet points, or if you’d like an outside set of eyes to look at one of your FAFSA messages, shoot me a quick email or connect with me here.
And if you found this article helpful, forward it to someone else in your campus community who could also benefit from reading it.