Social Media and Financial Aid

Kind of sounds like an oxymoron—to use a media outlet to talk about private financial matters… but more and more schools are finding that social media is the best way to reach their students. From the beginning of the financial aid process there is a constant tug-of-war between financial aid and the student. From the FAFSA, to verification, to counseling, it seems like the cycle never ends.

Sending home financial aid literacy publications with the same look and feel as admissions materials, along with an award letter, creates value added in a successful recruitment process. These publications may be addressed to the student, but moreover it’s the parents’ eyes that are studying the financials. So when a school is trying to glean response on inform a student, what is the best avenue? Sending letter, after letter, after letter?

After a student withdrew from a college where I was Financial Aid Director, the campus postmaster showed me the pile of financial aid letters and postcards, no less than three inches high, that had been sent to his campus mailbox, never opened, never seen. This was an aha moment…

These aha moments are forcing campus offices to change how they communicate with students. First offices became accustomed to using cell phones and e-mail to communicate; now financial aid offices are utilizing Facebook, Twitter, webinars, online chat, and blogs to communicate with students. How colleges utilize these tools is the key—communication should be intentional.

Messages need to be timely, prudent, and interesting! Example messaging includes: new scholarship opportunities, deadlines, advertising financial aid workshops, and government grant and scholarship aid news.  The University of South Florida featured study abroad in a status update—an opportunity many students wouldn’t know they can afford!

Many students have Facebook linked to their smart phone, yet their campus e-mail is home to unread messages. Because of this, some schools go as far as to send students private messages through Facebook to let the student know the Financial Aid Office is trying to get in touch with them.

Another method colleges are using to engage students is a chat feature. Prairie View A&M University offers a “chat online now” feature to have instant access to a Financial Aid Agent.

Finding students where they are and gearing communication to fit their preferred social outlets while offering a sense of instant connectivity is the direction of higher education millennial communication.

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