Should I Become a Financial Aid Advisor?
Financial aid advisors, also known as financial aid counselors or officers, help students and their families understand their financial aid options and guide them through the application process. They are responsible for reviewing and evaluating completed applications and participate in budgeting and disbursing awards. Many financial aid advisors also act as liaisons with private grantors, government agencies, lenders and banks. They present students with different financial aid options, repayment plans and expense planning.
Most financial aid advisors are full-time employees in public and private higher educational institutions including professional schools, universities, colleges and junior colleges. These professionals may not work as many hours in the summer as they do during other times of the year. In addition, they often benefit from free or discounted tuition where they work. With additional experience and education, financial aid advisors may advance to a leadership role in their institution's financial aid department.
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree, occasionally a master's degree|
|Degree Fields||Counseling, education, finance, accounting, public administration, communications|
|Experience||1-3+ years of experience in the field|
|Key Skills||Strong verbal and written communication skills, knowledge of federal and state financial aid policies, proficiency with Microsoft Office suite, student information systems, PeopleSoft and/or other financial aid systems|
|Salary (2015)||$36,316 per year (Median)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, HigherEdJobs.com, Payscale.com.
Step 1: Get a Bachelor's Degree
Most employers require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree, although the degree can be in any major. Certain majors may be more relevant and provide some of the essential skills needed in a financial aid advising position. These majors include communications, finance, statistics and business. Students could also select multidisciplinary electives, such as financial reporting, investment principles, administrative processes or government operations, which can develop the knowledge necessary for this role.
- Gain relevant experience while attending school. Most employers require experience for this position. While in school, students who qualify for work-study can get a student job at their school's financial aid office. There may also be opportunities to work/intern during the summer. These opportunities allow students to familiarize themselves with the financial aid cycle and learn about its common components, processes and policies.
- Develop strong communication and people skills. A key responsibility for a financial aid advisor is advising students and parents on sensitive and complex topics, therefore, being an able communicator will ensure that both verbal and written exchanges between parties remain clear and effective. While in school, students may take advantage of public speaking and writing courses to build strong verbal and written communication skills.
Step 2: Gain Experience
Upon graduating, individuals can find entry-level work in financial aid offices or similar settings to obtain the experience required to become an advisor. Jobs that relate and/or can transition into a financial aid advisor position include financial aid assistant, budget analyst or financial aid analyst. Graduates can also build relevant skills working as admissions aides or student administrative systems assistants. Experience in business management, accounting or government work could also prepare individuals for this career.
- Get familiar with common programs and systems. Employees usually receive on-the-job training for the software programs used in that particular office. However, being familiar with a variety of commonly used software programs may give candidates a competitive edge as less training would be required. Some vendors, such as Datatel, offer free online courses that teach basic and advanced aspects of that program.
Step 3: Seek Advancement Opportunities
Once an individual receives adequate training through a combination of education and entry-level work experience, opportunities for advancement into a financial aid advising position are usually offered. Employees may either be promoted or can seek opportunities where available. Positions at smaller schools or those located in more rural locations may be less competitive with less experience requirements.