When you tell families about the cost of your school, you probably see a few looks like this:
It’s hard to avoid sticker shock but by hosting a financial aid night, you can help families understand that affording your school is possible and show them that you’re there to help them do it. We sat down with Alisa Evans, founder and managing partner of Mission Enrollment, to talk through the why, who, how, and what of hosting a financial aid night at your private school. Once you’ve got the essential elements of hosting a financial aid night down you can let your creativity take it the rest of the way. Here’s what you need to know:
Why You Need a Financial Aid Night
You may live and breathe financial aid and know the process like the back of your hand, but your families likely don’t. Luckily, many current parents probably used FAFSA or some other financial aid program while they were in college and have a little bit more know-how than past generations may have, but there’s still a lot of groundwork to be laid so they understand the nuances of your school’s system and process. Your goal should be to ease your families’ fears and demystify the financial aid process.
Financial aid can be complicated, but it shouldn’t be a secret. If families know how financial aid works and how to apply, many of their fears will dissipate. If you can hold their attention with the right information and speak to how they’re feeling, they’ll be much more invested. Providing more information on financial aid opportunities can also help you keep families around, which means increasing your retention rates. Once you ease the fears about tuition with new and returning families, they’ll see the proof that financial aid is possible for them. And they’ll stick around with you for as long as they can.
Building Your Invite List
There are three categories of families that you should invite to your financial aid nights. You should invite:
1. Prospective families
Send an invite to everyone in your admissions funnel. Make sure every family that wants information on financial aid gets it. You can even set up an automated email with financial aid info or a link to your upcoming financial aid night, or a recording of a past one, for families who requested info on financial aid via their application or inquiry form. With SchoolAdmin’s student enrollment management system, you can filter your list of applicants or incoming students by those who have requested information on financial aid on their application or inquiry to make this step easy.
2. Enrolled families who have requested or received aid in the past
Invite any families at your school who have requested aid in past years or received aid. You could also pull a list of families with multiple late payments which may indicate that they need a little extra financial assistance this year and invite them to your event. Keep in mind that your invite list will likely change depending on the needs and resources of your school. You know what you can offer, and you can keep this list small if needed.
3. Your community at large
You can use financial aid nights as a way to reach your community and generate more interest and find new top-of-funnel families. One way to do this is to host an event with your consortium or with a feeder school.
Getting The Word Out
Here are a few of the best ways to do get the word out about your event:
Send an email
Create an invitation template for financial aid nights so you can send out personalized invites in a communication plan built out in your school admissions software or send emails in bulk.
Text message reminder
Send registered families a text reminder the day of the event. You can also send a follow-up text with the webinar recording in it so they can watch it again later and refer back to it if they have questions down the road.
Advertise + use social media
If you’re looking for net new inquiries, you can advertise your event on Nextdoor. You can also use paid ads to reach new families, or put event details and announcements on your social media pages for more visibility.
Have your parent ambassadors forward your email invite to some of their coworkers or neighbors.
Formatting Your Virtual Financial Aid Event
You may want to host your event as a webinar as opposed to a meeting in Zoom. Finances are a private subject and using a webinar format will give attendees more privacy and confidentiality. When families register to attend, you as the host will receive information on who’s attending including names, email addresses, and anything else you ask. But other families will never see who else has registered. This gives families a sense of security and may help them feel more comfortable asking questions. When you get to the Q&A portion of your event, attendees can ask questions anonymously and chat directly with you as the host without the rest of the group seeing it.
Six Pieces of the Puzzle: What to Share at a Financial Aid Night
Here are six essential things to cover at your next financial aid night::
1. A warm welcome
The welcome will set the tone for the whole presentation. This is an opportunity to share who you are as a school and set a solid foundation to communicate how financial aid works and where it comes from. Make it clear upfront that financial aid comes directly from the school in most cases, and you don’t have an infinite amount of money to give out. Show families that it’s important for them to decide if they truly need aid and if they should apply.
2. Share high-level statistics
You can start your event by sharing statistics about the amount of aid you give out at your school, the average family’s income that applies for aid, or who you normally provide aid to. This can relieve some of the tension for parents. It also helps families feel encouraged about their likelihood of attending your private school because they can see that other families just like them are receiving financial help and have made it work.
3. Clearly communicate deadlines
It’s important to communicate early and often about deadlines for financial aid. Stress the importance of the dates, and why you need the documents at specific times. This will help families feel a sense of urgency and responsibility to get things done on their end so they don’t miss out on financial aid and can help you move forward with decisions in a timely manner.
4. Walk them through login steps
Parents tend to struggle with the login information. Make it clear how and where parents should log in, share the URL, and explain the way your system works to avoid confusion and repetitive phone calls down the road.
5. Highlight common questions
Pick two or three difficult questions that you often see people make mistakes on. You might want to talk about how to document unusual expenses or highlight a couple of common questions. Proactively address common mistakes or points of struggle so you can reduce the need for making calls or reaching out later to have families clarify or fix things.
6. Make a list of the exact documents you need from families
Make a specific point to share exactly what documents you need from families, and when you need them. You can even share why you need them and provide a visual of what they look like for parents that are doing this for the first time. Additionally, it helps to provide clear instructions on how to upload the documents.
When to Host Your Financial Aid Night
Since it’s mid-November, some of you may be thinking you’ve missed your window to host a financial aid night. But families are applying for financial aid later this year than they have in years past so you still have plenty of opportunities to host an event in December. Even if families have already started or submitted their applications, there’s still time for them to apply for financial aid. Plus if you move forward with an event, you can always record it and put it on your website for families to watch at their convenience.
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