Are we all speaking the same language? Do you often find yourself in meetings with colleagues from other departments and wonder if you’re on the same page as everyone else? Do you get that blank look from students or parents when you are enlightening them about financial aid? If your answer is “sometimes” or “yes,” then you are not alone! Here are a few tips that can help you communicate in the same vernacular with your students, their families, and folks from other departments in your school. You can keep your secret language (and secret handshakes!) for your office or financial aid conferences.
Don’t assume everyone understands FinancialAid-ese (or: E-I-E-I-O)!
Even though we may use our acronyms and lingo daily does not mean that everyone has a clue what we’re talking about. Be sure to explain terms that may be unfamiliar to someone outside the profession. Strive for clarity especially with students and their families and always define the acronym you are using!
Your students especially need to understand the basics: grants vs. loans, what is an award letter, what is Work Study… Do you include definitions online? Is your Consumer Information clear with vocabulary and free from acronyms? Consider including a fact sheet or glossary with award letters or other mailings that may have confusing jargon. Have a financial aid glossary page easily accessible online with the most important terms. Do a “Did You Know?” or “Tip of the Week” post on your social media sites that includes financial aid definitions.
Interdepartmental communication matters, too!
Simple terms (to us) like “no show,” “census date,” or “disbursement” may mean something different to colleagues outside of your department. Does “no show” mean “never attended” to you but “showed up the first day and then disappeared” to faculty? Since the difference has an impact on financial aid, it’s important to collaborate with other staff and faculty to be sure you’ll all using the same definitions. How about “disbursement”? Does that mean funds are transmitted to a student’s account or a refund check is available? Clear up the confusion by collaborating with other departments to create an interdepartmental glossary all employees can understand. Have that glossary as part of your P&Ps and available online or via your campus network. Create a fun definitions game to have during in-service or hold a training during lunch. Keep in mind that changing regulations can yield new or changed terminology, which can contribute to the confusion, so your collaboration will need to be an ongoing effort.
Speaking of languages…
Do you have resources for a varied audience? As your school population becomes more diverse, be sure your school has information available that everyone can understand. Are you bilingual or do you know who in your school is bilingual and willing to help with translation when needed? At the very least, are you aware of online translators like Google translator? Do you provide FAFSAs and brochures in Spanish? What about resources for blind or deaf students? Is your office area accessible to handicapped students?
There’s no shortage of glossaries available to link to or use definitions from for your web or printed publications. Here’s just a sampling:
Federal Student Aid:
The College Board:
American Education Services:
English-Spanish Glossary (TG and the Department of Education):
FSAPubs.gov has Spanish and braille publications:
TG’s Spanish-Language Resources:
FinAid’s Ayuda Financiera del Estudiante en Español:
EducationQuest’s Information for Students with Disabilities:
This Tip of the Month was provided by your RMASFAA Training Committee