A Hidden Financial Aid Secret

Last Updated Jun 1, 2009 8:35 PM EDT

Would your high school counselor flunk a test on college financial aid?

In a recent post, I suggested that many, if not most, high school counselors are shockingly ignorant about many financial aid basics.

I am even more convinced that I was right after reading a response to my blog post from a top dog at the mighty National Association for College Admission Counseling, which represents more than 11,000 high school counselors, independent counselors and college admission officers. On the official NACAC blog, David Hawkins, the director of public policy and research, grumbled, but did not refute what I said about the sorry state of financial aid advice coming from high school counseling offices across the country.

Here is part of what Hawkins had to say:

O'Shaughnessy gets partial credit for almost raising a legitimate policy concern...School counselors do need more assistance with financial aid counseling. NACAC research suggests that nearly all high schools rely on the school counselor to provide financial aid advice to students and families. Moreover, 80 percent of school counselors said that families expect them to assist with the financial aid process.

Most school counselors receive no pre-service and precious little in-service training on this issue.

I think many moms and dads would be shocked to hear this admission. Hawkins mentioned that NACAC is trying to shrink the knowledge gap by providing lots of materials to help motivated counselors bone up on their financial aid basics. I have seen some of the materials that NACAC distributes including its hefty textbook,which I have read. Unfortunately, some of these educational materials could have been written 10 or 20 years ago and they fail to reflect what's happening behind the scenes in college admission offices today.

What should you do with this information?

I'd argue that you should assume that the counselor at your teenager's high school probably is not an expert in financial aid issues. If he or she isn't, you're going to need to do a lot more research on your own.

Before you go to all that trouble, in my next post I'll share questions to ask counselors to judge whether they know their stuff.

School image by Paradox 56, CC 2.0.