Often times we ask how someone became interested in a particular job, or got into a profession. When I ask fellow financial aid experts how they came to financial aid, they often say that they just “fell into it.” Many of us were work-study or graduate students in a financial aid office and stuck with it after graduation. No matter how we came into financial aid, there almost always seems to be that one event or student that helped solidify our love for this noble profession. We love our jobs because we make a difference to our students and schools, despite the lack of credit for the work we do.
I came into financial aid in 2001 as a graduate student in the Office of Financial Aid at the University of South Florida. At first it was all fun, seeing behind the scenes and workings of college financial aid, awarding students, and talking them through regulations as a peer. Then came the day when I moved to a full time position. That first year as a full time financial aid professional is like spring training in baseball, only it is a year in length.
I always say it takes a year in financial aid before you really get a good understanding of how things work. It’s during that first year that many of us begin to wonder if financial aid was the right choice. We deal with the first of many irate students and helicopter parents, read several heart-breaking SAP appeals, and wonder if this is something we can do for the next “x” years. We may suddenly realize we are doing seven jobs at once, or that staff from other departments do not seem to be as pressured, deadline driven, or accountable as financial aid staff. But there is always that one moment when it becomes clear that it was the right choice, despite the issues we face there are numerous other students we never had to see - because they got everything they needed. Those students were in class, pursuing their dreams of a higher education, and you were a part of that success.
For me that moment occurred toward the end of my first year as a Financial Aid Counselor. Due to USF’s size, we would sometimes encourage students to assist themselves. We would often get requests for letters of proof of aid awards. Students would use these for rental agreements, car purchases, etc.; however, in most cases students were directed to log into their self-service and simply print off their awards to use as proof. In most cases this would work and be accepted. It was the one time it didn’t that left an impression on me. That memory is something I carry with me to this day.
You know that student, the one that seems to come into your office every day to check his aid status for the 30th time? Well, that student came into the office one day; in fact it was his second trip into the office. He was told to log in and print off his award notice, just as hundreds of students before him were instructed. I overheard him try to explain that his application specifically asked for a signed statement. When I asked him what kind of application, the student explained that he was applying for a special program for first time home buyers. Impressed that a college student was looking to buy a house I took him back to my office to learn more.
During our chat I learned that in his scholarship searches he came across some programs for first time home owners, and just didn’t have enough verifiable income without including his financial aid. Because of the nature of the program, he needed more than just a print out, so I made the time to help him write a letter that would present him in the best light to receive a mortgage. If he came to the FA office every day to check on things, I knew he would be the kind of homeowner that would keep track of his finances and would be as successful in home ownership as he was as a student. The next week he came in to check on his financial aid as unusual. I had almost forgotten about the letter and our conversation, until he handed me a letter. You see, what took maybe 10 minutes out of my day not only affected this student and his dreams of higher education, it affected his life in ways I hadn’t thought about when I decided to write that letter. My words don’t do it justice so I will let his words show you:
Not only was he the first in his family to graduate from college, but the first to own a home. To this day I have that letter in my desk drawer, to remind me on the bad days that I got into financial aid because I love working on behalf of students. Being just a small part of their success is worth all the bad days, irate students, helicopter parents and regulation changes combined.
Are you eligible to Vote?
The 2018 SASFAA election is just around the corner. If you have not paid your 2017-2018 membership dues, you should do so quickly. Eligibility for voting is based on being active member who has paid 2017-2018 membership dues. So don’t delay; pay your membership fees today.
The Nominations and Elections Committee is pleased to announce this year’s slate of candidates. Election information (including candidacy statements and professional involvement) for each candidate is available online.
I look forward to seeing all of you in Alexandria next month! The election results will be announced during the business meeting held at the conclusion of the conference on Wednesday morning, February 14, 2018.
Nominations & Elections, Chair
SASFAA Past President