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Bright-Eyed and Bushy-Tailed: Counseling Incoming Freshman Students

August 15, 2013

Summer is soon coming to a close, and sadly happily, a brand new school year is just around the corner.  On most campuses, hundreds if not thousands of new students will be entering college for the first time.  Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, these incoming freshmen are excited about experiencing college life for the first time.  Young and eager, this is the time to lay the foundation of good student loan borrowing and repayment habits.

During my professional career, I have been fortunate to work in the Financial Aid Office at three different types of schools: a 4-year private university, a law school, and a 2-year public college.  Every student on each campus was unique, but all shared a common goal of completing their studies and earning their degree.  I felt that it was my duty as a financial aid officer to try to get the students through school with as minimal borrowing as possible.  Often that was easier said than done; as I’m sure it is on your campus.  But when counseling students who were interested in borrowing their loans, there were some questions that I tried to run through with the students and their families:

  • Does the student truly need the money?  Is the student using the loan funds to pay tuition, books, and/or housing?  Or are they borrowing the funds simply because they are eligible and the loan funds have been offered?  Many students borrow their loans simply because they think it is a required step in the aid process. Others borrow so they would have the money “just in case” something comes up.   If the rare emergency comes up, students can usually get their loan funds within 24-48 hours.  But once the loan is borrowed, the student almost never returns the unused funds.
  • Is Work-Study an option?    Work-study and other on-campus employment is a way students can put some walk-around money in their pockets.  At the end of the semester, working 10-15 hours a week can give students close to the same cash they would have had if they had borrowed the loans, all with the convenience of a flexible on campus work schedule, minus the extra debt.
  • What are the student’s long term goals?  Does the student plan on attending graduate school once they complete their undergraduate degree?  Financial aid options on the graduate level are minimal at best.  Chances are that student will need to borrow substantially to complete their graduate degree.  If borrowing is reigned in on as an undergraduate, that monthly loan payment down the road will be a bit more manageable.
  • Are alternative payment options available?  Families are unaware that many campuses offer monthly tuition payment plans.  These payment plans are designed to offer families the convenience of spreading out their tuition payments and help to reduce a student’s borrowing needs.  If you offer a payment plan on your campus, be sure to actively promote it to your students’ parents.  Also be sure parents are aware of the PLUS loan option.  PLUS loans are another way to at least shift some of the debt burden away from the student.
  • Encourage students to carefully consider their housing options.  On many campuses, incoming students do not have the option of living in a single-room dorm.  But as students progress, they opt for a single or even move off campus.  While roommates aren’t for everyone, having a roommate or two can cut housing costs significantly.  For some students, maybe even living back at home is an option.  If mom lives close to campus, does it make financial sense to move into a nearby apartment?

I hope these tips are helpful.  I’m sure many campuses already consider most if not all of these questions.  What are some other activities that you do on your campus to combat rising borrowing?  I would love to hear from you about what you are doing on your campus.

Christopher Earnshaw, EASFAA Territory Manager, Responsible Repay

Christopher Earnshaw, EASFAA Territory Manager, Responsible Repay

Chris began bringing Responsible Repay to school clients in the EASFAA region in March 2013.  Chris has spent a total of seven years working within 2-yr, 4-yr, and graduate level college financial aid offices.  Among many other duties, Chris oversaw the default prevention programs at all campuses and understands the struggle many schools are facing today. Chris also previously spent eight years marketing education finance options to colleges throughout the northeast, and served on and chaired several state financial aid committees.  Chris received his B.A. from Rhode Island College and M.B.A. from Providence College.

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