What Does Out of Pocket Really Mean?

We’re recruiters. Our titles may differ, but our jobs have the same goal: to recruit students to our College/University. Personally, I was offended when someone first told me this with such a blatant disregard for my personal style of work. I don’t like to think of myself as a “salesperson” but at the end of the day we are working to “sell” our school to people.

So how does this translate to the financial aid package? Well, it’s that time of year when families want to know what it’s going to cost their student to attend for the first year. For some, the number won’t be a determining factor and for others it will be the biggest influence on their choice of where to attend. No matter the influence, it is important to remain honest and ethical in your explanation of the aid a family is being awarded.

Some counselors are more involved in the process of determining scholarship amounts, recipients, additional grant and loan opportunities, etc. Others are only trained minimally (or possibly not at all) to explain what is listed on their financial aid package.

  • First, it is important to understand the material a student receives from your institution and what it means. Meet as a team or individually with your financial aid office if you have any questions or discomfort with the financial aid process and awarding.
  • Secondly, try to familiarize yourself a little bit with how other colleges’ financial aid packages may differ from yours. Each school’s format and content may be different which can be confusing to students and their families when trying to review and compare offers.
  • Third, it is oh so important to be honest with a family about their package. First generation students especially may not understand that an award of $2000 for Federal Work Study is something they have to work hourly to earn. Students may see scholarships and not realize the original amount they were told about was the cumulative amount across four years and that 1/8 of it will be awarded each semester.
  • Fourth, explain the “Out of Pocket Cost” in addition to the payment options that have been factored in before that amount. Did you list their $5500 in federal student loans as a form of aid, but not explain that they’ll have to pay that amount back? Did you use general costs for housing, but they’ve contracted for a single room with a higher price?
  • Fifth, is the package you’ve offered official? Was the student selected for verification? Do they still need to complete additional criteria for a scholarship? Does their amount depend on their final transcript information? What possible changes could occur from now until Enrollment?

What we see as obvious and easy to understand may be very over-whelming to a student and their family. Please remember to use basic explanations, go over every piece of the award if they have questions or concerns, and take your time to help the family understand their investment. None of us want to “lose” a student due to financial aid, but it’s more important to keep their trust by being transparent than trying to hide any information. Remember that your programs and involvements may be a worthy investment, but at the end of the day, that needs to be their decision.

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