Gearing Up for Your Next Financial Aid Season

Vol. 11 No. 9

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The financial aid season is winding down, if not over for the 2013–2014 school year. You might be left wondering if your Financial Aid Committee made the best decisions possible. If you’re questioning the decisions made and the ease of transition of your financial aid software’s formula to your records and accounting software, then this summer might be a good time to shop around.

Business Officers don’t always have a choice when it comes to the financial aid software their school uses. In some schools it’s the ultimate decision of the Head or Admission Officer. We’ve even seen schools where the choice is left entirely to the Financial Aid Committee. However, you are almost always involved in the process, so there is no harm done in researching what software is available for private-independent schools. In fact, your Head and committee might welcome the effort. Chances are, if you’re seeing an issue with your award system, they’re seeing it too.

Let’s talk about your school’s mission. It’s at the heart of everything your school does. It fuels your school’s activities, its curriculum, the faculty and staff you bring on board, and certainly the students your school accepts. So, it’s only logical that the financial aid software your school uses should also match your mission. ISM has designed FAST, so we know all to well about the politics involved in making a software choice. There are numerous competitors attached to various associations, and we’re all trying to essentially sell the same product. Only the products really aren’t the same at all.

Of the four main competitors on the market, each one has a unique formula and system for determining awards. You’ll find most of the features and the functionality is uniform. The major difference is the theory behind the system. That theory is especially important as schools face family’s changing attitudes toward applying for aid.

You want to look for a service that strategically partners with your entire school. But, of course, strategic partnering means different things to different schools.

For some, it’s the size of the community backing the software that matters the most. These schools want to be a part of a large association because, for them, that means security. This makes sense for a lot of reasons. But, sometimes it doesn’t. What is most important to your school is staying honest with its mission and its culture, and that does not always mean using a system that is supported by a large association—if that organization does not share the same vision as your school, or you have to adjust your values to meet the association's standards.

For other schools, it’s important to partner with an organization with the same religious values. Such an organization will share the school's vision, its culture will mirror the school's.

And, there are those schools that choose to use the same software as other schools in their area in hopes of appealing to potential families by simplifying their application process. Meaning, there is one system for all the schools to which they’re applying. If your school is using a service for this reason alone, we encourage you to break free from the fear—parents respect your school’s mission, that’s why they're applying. If simplicity detours them, chances are your school wouldn’t be a good match for them anyhow. We can’t say this enough—what should matter the most to your school is that you’re using a system that works with your mission. Your mission is most likely very different than your competitions.

As the Business Officer, you probably care the most about finding a system that simplifies your job and that matches your school’s culture. If you’re finding yourself frustrated with the politics that come between those two things, you should take an afternoon this summer and put together some facts about the services available. We won’t take this opportunity to shamelessly plug our software, but we will give you a head start by providing you with the link to learn more about ISM’s financial aid software—FAST. It’s customizable to your mission … (OK, we had to just add that last little bit.)

Additional ISM articles of interest
ISM Monthly Update for School Heads Vol. 11 No. 1 A Conversation About Financial Aid, the Second Biggest Budget Item
ISM Monthly Update for Trustees Vol. 11 No. 1 Board Policy on Financial Aid
ISM Monthly Update for School Heads Vol. 10 No. 3 Editorial: The Importance of Knowing Your Financial Aid Formula
ISM Monthly Update for Admission Officers Vol. 11 No. 5 Financial Aid Award Notifications

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