College Financial Aid: Dealing with a Financial Aid Counselor

By Peterson's Staff updated on Monday, April 07, 2014

It takes more than a great outfit and a dazzling smile to impress your financial aid counselor. If you want to build a positive relationship, take ownership of the college financial aid application process and all that it entails. How? Do your financial aid homework:

  • Know the school's financial aid application deadline
  • Meet with the school financial aid counselor sooner rather than later
  • Keep copies of everything you use to complete your college financial aid application forms
  • Check with the financial aid office to make sure your file is complete
  • Inform the financial aid office early about any outside scholarships you have received
  • Be on time for appointments
  • Contact your counselor if you have to cancel an appointment
  • Prepare an appeal letter, if necessary, that details your need with copies of federal tax documents or medical bills


College financial aid: Action items

As you work through the application process, gather and submit any supporting documentation that will substantiate your circumstances, and always confirm receipt of your request for aid. Be open to discussing any unusual circumstances and don’t hesitate to inquire about any flexibility with the interpretation of regulations -- just don't ask your counselor to break them!

Once you’ve submitted your application, final approval decisions can take some time. If you’ve appealed the financial aid package offered to you, be patient. Appeals committees typically meet just once or twice a month to render final decisions on appeals. Check with your financial aid counselor to find out when you can expect to hear the outcome of your appeal and if any adjustments were offered.

DOs when dealing with your financial aid counselor

Assertiveness, along with a good dose of politeness, is your friend. Hone those social skills before your appointment! Many schools will have you working with the same financial aid counselor every year -- that’s a long-term relationship. Above all else, be courteous.

Here are some tips you may want to keep in mind.

  • Do call ahead to make an appointment; walk-ins may not be assisted immediately.
  • Do make a list of questions for your counseling visit.
  • Do ask if there are certain requirements you must meet to retain your aid, such as a minimum GPA.
  • Do compare your or your family's expected contribution, as calculated by other schools, and ask your counselor to explain any differences.
  • Do find out about employment programs at your school.
  • Do respond to your financial aid award letter by the deadline.
  • Do ask what changes in your situation can affect your award.
  • Do inquire about the effects of external scholarships on your financial aid package.
  • Do thank your counselor(s) for assisting you.


DON'Ts when dealing with your financial aid counselor

Tough negotiating tactics during your financial aid interview might generate office gossip, but probably won’t earn you the best financial aid package available. You already know what you should do. Here’s what you shouldn't!

  • Don't try to compare your award with others; each situation is different, and your counselor can only discuss yours.
  • Don't discuss consumer debt. While your finances may be limited due to your or your family's spending habits, steer clear of thinking that consumer debt will be taken into account by your financial aid counselor.
  • Don't give up. Although you may not qualify now, you can always apply again next year.
  • Don't borrow just because you can. Remember that loans have to be repaid, with interest.
  • Don’t be ashamed to discuss your personal finances, including bankruptcy, child-support issues, medical expenses, etc.


Meeting with a financial aid counselor is an investment in your education, and could have an impact on the award package you receive. By keeping these tips in mind, you can ensure that you’ll put yourself in the running for the best financial aid package possible.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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