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7 Reasons Why You Should Use FAFSA's Financial Aid Toolkit as a College Counselor

If you’re an independent education consultant, you need to have sound knowledge of financial aid to guide students toward opportunities they’re best suited for. College is a significant investment for families, and you need to know about the latest opportunities and be able to help them with financial planning (budgeting), matching students with appropriate aid opportunities, demystifying the application process and making aid more accessible, and giving students and parents the knowledge and tools to be able to make informed financial decisions. 


To help with this, we recommend using financial aid toolkits! These are comprehensive resources that give you information on the different kinds of financial aid available (federal, state, private, etc), eligibility requirements, the application process, and deadline information, and also provide training materials like articles, blogs, webinars, and workshops that make you — and the families you consult — more financially literate. One such resource is the Financial Aid Toolkit for Counselors, a digital resource offered by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA). In this blog, we will talk about the Toolkit and all it offers counselors. 


What is the FSA’s Financial Aid Toolkit?

Simply put, the FSA Toolkit is a one-stop-shop for counselors, college administration representatives, mentors, and other professionals to learn about federal financial aid. Here, you can receive training in different thematic areas related to financial aid (types of aid, loan repayment, eligibility, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid application process, and more), and learn how to conduct outreach. The Toolkit also has a resource library of articles, videos, and past webinars that counselors can access. 


In the following sections, we will discuss in-depth some of the important resources the Toolkit offers counselors.


What resources does the FSA Toolkit offer?


The FAFSA form

One of the most important tutorials available through the Toolkit is a guide to completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. FAFSA is an online form for all students who want to be considered for federal, state, and college financial aid. States and colleges use the information in the FAFSA form to determine students’ eligibility for grants, scholarships, work-study funds, and student loans. Through the form, students can pick up to 20 schools to receive their information, who then determine how much aid they are eligible for. The Toolkit has presentations, sample completed forms, and information on registering as a contributor to fill out students’ FAFSA forms online.


Information on the types of financial aid

The Toolkit has information on federal, state, and college financial aid and the forms it is available in (grants, loans, work-study funds, etc). Through articles, fact sheets, videos, and infographics, counselors can use the Toolkit to source eligibility information, the application process, how to avoid financial scams, and which scholarship search engines to use. The Toolkit also gives counselors a list of talking points they can use to discuss a particular topic with students. For example, for financial aid, the points cover the importance of spending the summer between junior and senior high school searching for relevant scholarships to avoid unnecessary stress during the fall.


Training for counselors

The FSA offers a mix of online and in-person training for counselors, including presentations available online and talks at professional development conferences and online webinars. The FSA also conducts training for college financial aid administrators (FAAs) to help them administer federal student aid programs in their schools. FSA records all their training sessions, which counselors can access here.


Increasing awareness of financial aid

The Toolkit includes a section dedicated to conducting outreach and helping counselors raise students’ awareness of financial aid. Here, counselors can learn how to structure effective presentations that introduce federal financial aid and debt repayment to students. Each topic comes with talking points that help counselors structure a conversation. For example, when discussing loan repayment, the Toolkit recommends that counselors brief students on the benefits of repaying student debt while in college rather than after so that the total interest accrued would be less than if they began paying some years after graduating. 


You can also find in-depth information available on hosting a financial aid event. Since these often require significant time and some money invested, the Toolkit gives you criteria to set a goal for and decide on outcomes from the event, choose the location and time, decide on whom to invite to speak, and helps you target specific demographics like parents, teachers, students, international students, military families, and borrowers. 


The FSA Resource Library

FSA maintains a library of 150+ published articles, blog posts, presentations, webinars, workshops, handouts, how-to guides, emails, resource templates, infographics, and other materials for public use. You can filter information by resource type, audience, and topic. For example, choosing “video” for “parents” who want to learn about “college preparation” yields videos and articles related to federal student aid, budgeting, and repaying student loans. 


Overall, the FSA Toolkit is a valuable resource for counselors to learn and help students make informed decisions about financial aid. Here are seven reasons why you should use it:


  1. You have access to all things related to federal financial aid in one place The FSA Toolkit is a comprehensive and up-to-date resource to help you stay abreast of the latest developments in federal financial aid. With accurate information about loans, grants, and work-study programs, you can help parents and students successfully navigate the financial aid landscape by informing them of the different kinds of financial aid available, demonstrating how to budget for college, and tips on repaying student debt.

  2. You can become a better counselor by using the Toolkit’s training material The Toolkit offers numerous modules and resources to gain a comprehensive understanding of federal financial aid, including hosting regular webinars (the most recent was held in January and was about federal student loan repayment plans), seminars, and workshops. Its resource library also has curriculum material that can be used to conduct professional development workshops for counselors.

  3. You gain a deeper understanding of college preparation While the FSA Toolkit focuses on financial aid, it dedicates a section to giving counselors the skills to better prepare students for college. This includes resources that bust popular myths that a college education isn’t very beneficial, explain how where and what students study impact their careers, and skills required in college, and provides access to free college search tools. 

  4. You can guide students in filling out the FAFSA form The FAFSA form is a crucial step in applying for federal, state, and college financial aid. Through the form, students can pick up to 20 colleges to receive their financial information, and state and federal aid agencies use it to decide eligibility. You can use the Toolkit’s resources (FAQs, video tutorials, sample filled forms, articles, etc) to learn how to fill out the form and apply to be a FAFSA contributor to fill the form on behalf of a student.

  5. You can become a financial aid educator Once you’ve gained a strong understanding of federal financial aid, you can use the Toolkit’s “Conduct Outreach” section to share information. The Toolkit has how-to guides on hosting events like FAFSA completion workshops and financial aid and college preparation seminars. It guides you with reaching your target audience and the kind of messaging to employ, selecting presenters, advertising the event, and assessing the event’s success.

  6. You can use the resource library to browse all material published by the FSA Articles and blogs, webinars and workshop recordings, presentations, videos, and other materials made by the FSA are publicly available online. You can use the dedicated search engine to filter the 150+ materials by resource type, audience, and topic.

  7. You can improve financial literacy among parents and students Student loan debt in the U.S. amounts to $1.75 trillion, and federal loan debts make up 92% of this amount. The Toolkit provides crucial training on loan repayment, including the importance of repaying loans early, interest rates and the effect of compounded interest on repayment installments, conditions for loan forgiveness, options for borrowers who default on payments, and resolving loan disputes.

Bonus — the Lumiere Research Scholar Program!

If you’d like to recommend a rigorous research program open to high schoolers, you may want to consider the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded by researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here. You can also reach out to us at contact@lumiere.education to know more, or to have a chat about possible collaborations!


Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students. Last year, we had 150 students on full need-based financial aid!


Kieran Lobo is a freelance writer from India, who currently teaches English in Spain.


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