Key Considerations for Sending Missing Information Letters and Student Award Notifications

In my consulting work with ECG clients, I’ve noticed that many schools share some common challenges with regard to the timing, frequency and other aspects of sending missing information letters and award notifications to students. Here are some suggested strategies:

Missing Information Letters

1. Be specific AND succinct

The first thing to remember with missing information letters is that the wording should be specific. These communications are supposed to be preemptive, to keep students from having to come in or call your office with follow-up questions. Your letters should inform students exactly what information or documents they need to submit, where to submit them, and when. Generic notices generate more phone and email traffic than necessary. For example, if your letter simply says, “Your financial aid application is incomplete; please check the student portal to find out what’s missing,” that’s not specific enough.

Missing information letters should also be succinct. Traditional students, in particular, want all the information in a very small package. They want the financial aid office to tell them exactly what they need to do, and not a ton more.

2. Determine frequency based on the importance of what’s missing

The frequency and timing of these letters should be based on the importance of the documentation that’s missing. For example, let’s say your school is coming up on a priority deadline for FSEOG and there’s a junior who filled out a FAFSA, is Pell-eligible, and received an FSEOG for the last two years; but the student is missing something for verification. In that case, it might be appropriate to send a missing information letter once a week until the student submits the required documentation so he/she doesn’t lose out on the FSEOG funding.

On the other hand, if you’re a school that packages loans and you have a senior who hasn’t completed a promissory note but who has also never borrowed loans, you don’t need to harass them once a week with a missing information letter.

As much as possible, review a student’s aid history and trends, and send missing information letters based on those factors.

Award Notifications

1. Send initial AND revised award notices

Most schools send an initial award notice to their students, but many are less disciplined about sending revised notices when there’s a change in the award package.

My belief is that students should always be notified about what their award is. If a school doesn’t send a revised award notice, a student may not realize how much they have borrowed. For example, if a student’s parent is denied a PLUS loan and the school packages a Direct Unsubsidized Loan instead, the school should send a revised award notice so the student knows he/she is taking out more loans. Similarly, if a student receives an outside scholarship after being packaged with loans, the school should send a revised award notice so the student has an opportunity to decide whether to take less loans. Students aren’t financial aid experts and they may not realize that they don’t need their loan or they don’t want it. It may take them a week or two to figure out, “well, you know what, I’m getting a $3,000 refund so I really don’t need all these loans.”

2. Establish a regular schedule for sending revised award notices

It’s important to give students about 30 days after sending the initial award letter to let it sink in before sending any revised award notices. After that point, it’s a good practice to send revised notices, as needed, up to twice a month and preferably on a regular schedule, such as the 15th and 30th of the month or the first and third Monday. It’s a challenge because the more notices you send, the less value each one may have for the student. At the same time, you don’t want to send too few award notices and risk having students not know what their award is.

By establishing and maintaining a regular schedule for sending initial and revised award notices, you can train your students to expect them and hopefully pay more attention to them.

What are your school’s strategies for sending missing information letters and award notices?

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