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The Heat is On: Summer's Hottest Financial Aid Questions

Jun 24, 2019 8:44:21 AM / by Jensen Collins

Every summer, anxious students inundate the Financial Aid Office with questions, and the staff are spread thin. As the school year approaches and tuition bills come due, students want frequent status updates, especially when they'll receive their financial aid. It can be difficult for  financial aid staff to provide individualized student attention, although that is often what students want and need. We've analyzed the 9 most popular topics asked to our financial aid chatbots to offer you insight into your students' most common questions. This way, you can anticipate your students' needs and, more importantly, explore solutions that will ease the burdens of summer rush. 

SUMMER HEAT MAP: Top 9 Financial Aid Categories 

The Heat Map below displays the % of student questions in each category. For example, a whopping 30% of student questions are related to "contact" information. Below, we detail "frequently asked" student questions for each category and share ideas for scale solutions (spoiler alert...chatbots!).

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1. Contact Information

It may not come as a surprise that #1 topic is your office contact information. Students want to know how to contact you in order to ask questions and submit documents. Making sure that your phone number, email address, live chat platform, and fax number are easily accessible is a simple way to serve your students, while reducing your staff's burden.

Perhaps more interesting, a sizeable percentage of your students need to contact a different department although they may not be aware of this mistake.  Students often have questions about admissions, tuition, or student services, but aren’t sure where to start. Questions about how to pay an ebill, for example, should typically be directed to the Bursar, but are often directed to financial aid chatbots. Some of our schools solve this problem by adding Bursar contact information to their chatbot's "brain". Others have multi-department chatbots that can not only recognize questions for other departments, but also guide students to the appropriate resource if not answer the question outright.

 

2. Financial Aid Awards

“Award” is the second most common financial aid topic. More specifically, students want to know when awards will be received (44%), how to find award information (27%), and the award amount (9%).

In addition, 20% of students have specific questions about the different types of aid listed on their award letters. “What is the difference between a subsidized and unsubsidized loan?” or “What does work-study mean?” A chatbot can field these commonly repeated questions on an infinite scale, thereby freeing your staff for higher value activities.

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3. Financial Aid Applications

When students ask about financial aid applications, they ask about application processes (57%) and deadlines (29%), especially for the summer semesters. To effectively manage the summer rush, make sure all deadlines on your website are up-to-date. A well-maintained chatbot can guide students through the FAFSA application, scholarship opportunities, and private loans while providing insight into upcoming deadlines.

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4. Financial Aid Disbursements

When students ask about financial aid disbursements, they want to know one thing: When will I get my financial aid? Simply providing a date range or general timeline can quickly ease their minds and reassure them that their financial aid is on the way.

 

5. Financial Aid Eligibility

According to our data, this is a major contributor to the summer rush as students want to know their eligibility for summer aid (38%).

International student pose over 1/3 of eligibility questions for summer aid. Our schools typically program their chatbots to guide these students to scholarship and other funding opportunities since the FAFSA application is only available to United States citizens.

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6. Office Information

This topic includes questions like “What are the hours for the Financial Aid Office?” and “Where is the Financial Aid Office located?” Quick, easy-to-access, and 24 hour responses to these questions allows students to easily address a common pain point in this process. 

 

7. Financial Aid Options

Students want to know what aid is available to them. Can they get loans? Scholarships? Grants? Financial aid staff know the answers to all of these questions and can provide personalized assistance, but chatbots can help students start their research. This way, students can quickly access and review more basic information, then contact the financial aid office for more detailed, higher level questions.

 

8. Financial Aid Amount

Students asking about award amounts often want to increase the amount (42%) or are curious about the average amount of financial aid (32%). Nearly 1/5 of students are interested in changing the amount of the award. Chatbots can inform student about the financial aid appeal process or guide them to the appropriate resource or service. 

9. Appointments

When students need personalized help, they ask our chatbots how to make an appointment. If your office makes in-person appointments, consider booking them online or through a chatbot. This takes the administrative burden off of your staff. If you do not take appointments, chatbots can share your  walk-in hours and financial aid advisors availability.

 

Solving Seasonal Scale

Chatbots are an excellent tool to adjust to fluctuating demand because they automatically scale with the seasons.

With a trained chatbot, all of the most common questions are answered year round, regardless of the volume of questions. Chatbots can define subsidized and unsubsidized loans, help students fill out the FAFSA, and estimate when awards and disbursement will be received. The wait time is short whether students have 50 or 5,000 questions, and the cost is evenly distributed year-round.

When students need more personalized help, chatbots can direct them to a real person, and financial aid staff will have time to build relationships with these students. Schedule a demo to see how an Ivy.ai chatbot can help you adjust to seasonal demands.

 

Jensen Collins

Written by Jensen Collins

Jensen is an AI Data Researcher at Ivy.ai, responsible for chatbot maintenance.

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