Should I Become a Loan Counselor?
Loan counselors help students at postsecondary schools understand, qualify for, and apply for student loans. As part of their work, they may counsel students and their parents about financial aid resources, process student loan applications, maintain student records, and present educational events for students interested in taking out loans or managing student debt. Work is usually year round, with a possibility of reduced hours during the summer months.
Loan counselors need strong listening and communications, organizational, analytical thinking skills, along with the ability to read and understand complex financial aid regulations. They also need knowledge of spreadsheets, databases, and enterprise resource planning software.
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree; master's degree may be helpful for career advancement|
|Degree Field||Accounting, finance, or a related major|
|Experience||1-5 years of related experience, such as in higher education administration, customer service, or finance|
|Key Skills||Strong listening and communications, organizational, and analytical thinking skills; ability to read and understand complex financial aid regulations; knowledge of spreadsheets, databases, enterprise resource planning software|
|Median Salary (2015)*||$41,763 (for loan officers)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, *PayScale.com, O*Net OnLine, Job postings in January 2013
Let's find out how you can become a loan counselor.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
As is true with many entry-level administrative positions in postsecondary settings, loan counselors often need a bachelor's degree, and some employers indicate a preference for certain majors, such as finance or counseling. Other employers are more flexible about educational requirements, particularly if an applicant has experience.
Get a job in an academic office. Many schools hire their students as part-time workers in administrative positions. Some students, for example, work as resident advisors. An aspiring loan counselor could try to get hired in a financial aid office or another administrative office, such as the admissions, student accounts, or the registrar's office.
Step 2: Seek Entry-Level Employment
Aspiring loan counselors can begin their job search by applying for loan counselor positions at trade schools, community colleges, and 4-year institutions. Some may start out as assistants in financial aid offices or in other administrative positions in education facilities. Those who are unable to find employment as a loan counselor may benefit from working in sales, finance, or customer service in order to accrue experience before getting hired as a counselor.
Complete professional development training. Professional associations, such as the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, offer professional training in student aid issues. In addition, the federal government, along with various professional associations for educators and administrators, sponsor the National Training for Counselors and Mentors program, which provides free financial aid training to counselors.
Step 3: Consider Earning a Graduate Degree
Postsecondary education administrators have a better chance of advancement if they hold a graduate degree. Loan counselors who hope to eventually move into management or become financial aid directors might benefit from earning a master's degree in higher education administration, finance, or another field relevant to postsecondary financial aid administration.
Remember, to work as a loan counselor, you'll likely need a bachelor's degree and some experience in an administrative position. A graduate degree could help you advance in your career.