By: Alex Skarr, Senior Associate Consultant, FAS
Summertime in financial aid is the critical point when offices are reaching out to students with instructions on how they can complete their financial aid process with the school. Whether it involves completing the FAFSA, undergoing entrance counseling, or submitting verification documents, the clarity of communication from aid offices is paramount as aid administrators, we want to offer comprehensive guidance when communicating with our students, but the challenge often lies in maintaining readability. Increasing the focus on the readability of office communications can help simplify the enrollment process for new students and decrease customer service wait times for current students.
Challenges of Readability in Financial Aid Communications
Existing research on the readability of financial aid application instructions from 300 randomly selected institutions across the U.S. looked at the current state of financial aid communications. The research found that over 41% of financial aid application instructions were written at a 14th-grade level (Taylor, 2019). With the U.S. average reading level below 8th grade, a large portion of the population will find it challenging to comprehend financial aid communications. A lack of readability in financial aid communications can affect students in multiple ways. When the instructions on completing required financial aid processes are too complex, Students might bypass the process altogether. In 2018, more than half a million eligible students chose not to file a FAFSA, leading to over two billion dollars of unclaimed Federal Pell Grant money. By forgoing the financial aid process, students may drop out of the enrollment process altogether.
Confusing emails may also increase student questions, whether in person or by email. Having increased in-office visits can mean increased wait times for students with time-sensitive situations, and your staff will have less time to do the type of proactive counseling that increases student success.
Strategies for Enhancing Readability in Communications
So, what can aid administrators do to help? Here are a few suggestions to increase the readability of your office communications:
- Student Feedback: Before sending out mass communications consider seeking student input. Their insights can pinpoint any points of confusion allowing your team to quickly access areas of improvement.
- Readability Checker: Utilize a readability score checker. I typically use the one found at https://readabilityformulas.com/free-readability-formula-tests.php. This provides a readability score on many different scales.
- Consistent Language: Ensure that your staff uses consistent language across the board.
- Clear Actionable Steps: Give clear, actionable next steps to ensure students know how to progress through the financial aid process.
The clearer your communications, the higher the likelihood that students will be able to progress through the financial aid process at your institution. This means less individualized follow-up required from your counselors, a smoother billing and disbursement process, and less student frustration from aid being held up due to outstanding requirements.
ISAC FAFSA SYMPOSIUM
Presentation: A Focus on Language: Increasing Student Success through Readability
Tuesday, November 7, 2023 | Palos Hills, Illinois
At Financial Aid Services, we know that financial aid administrators are being called to do more than ever before. But by taking the time to ensure that your communications are clear, concise, and readable, you can help your office increase student satisfaction, reduce student wait times, and ensure that students truly understand the financial aid process.