Navigating college aid process, billing

Dennis Kelly - Contributing columnist

Sometimes the difference between selecting one college over another is how effectively one navigates and comprehends the information presented and the various means for sharing this information, often via digital media.

Information presented to prospective students and parents is often complicated, quantitative, full of unfamiliar verbiage and, at times, lacks a readily available glossary of terms required to educate oneself on the topics and processes.

Higher education races to keep pace in this high tech world in which multiple entities are pulling out all the stops in order to gain our attention.

It is naïve for those in higher education to believe everyone has acquired the necessary skill set needed to comprehend this barrage of information and navigate all the technology-based service options on Web pages and other digital media, such as pop ups, clicks and live chat features.

Understanding college financial aid and billing is an education in itself.

During my first vice presidency, our college consultant walked me into a room and presented a table full of letters and forms.

I asked, “What’s all this mess?” He replied, “It’s all the paperwork required from your college for each student to fill out if they wish to pursue scholarships, understand award letters and pay their bills.”

That display and explanation years ago had a great impact on me and, since then, I have worked to minimize the number of forms and letters required, while streamlining the financial aid and billing process.

My advice to prospective college students and their families is to:

• Organize a file for each college or university that has accepted you. Avoid mixing information at all costs, as you may confuse yourself and share information with the wrong college or university.

• Submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to each institution to which you have applied. Usually, after you are accepted, your award letter is prepared. Remember, an award letter is the aid you qualify for, so approving or rejecting loans is your choice.

• Read and reread each letter you receive and let no question remain unanswered. Involve your admission counselor and financial aid staff from the respective schools of interest until you fully understand each award and its criteria.

My next three columns — in March April and May — will focus on scholarships, award letters and the billing statement. This intentional timing is generally in sync with the months each letter is actually finalized and sent to prospective/incoming students.

Dennis M. Kelly is Senior Vice President for Enrollment Management at Wilmington College.

Dennis Kelly

Contributing columnist