College is expensive, and many students are forced to take out student loans in order to cover tuition. 

Nearly 60 percent of U.S. adults who currently hold or have previously held student loan debt say they’ve delayed financial milestones due to their student debt, according to a Bankrate survey

A financial aid advisor helps students and families negotiate the complex world of financial aid for education. A financial aid advisor can help those searching for education funding find the maximum they’re entitled to and use their expertise to optimize and simplify the aid process.

Here is what a financial aid advisor does and what they can do for those searching for aid.

What is a financial aid advisor?

The job of a financial aid advisor revolves around assisting students and their families in the process of attaining financial aid for education and helping them choose the top options. Advisors help their clients plan for the cost of education and understand the available resources.

An advisor must have a thorough understanding of the aid process, from basics such as what aid is available and what it costs to more complex issues, such as how to maximize aid programs. Financial aid advisors use their extensive expertise to help clients get the most out of the process, aiding those who may not know the finer points.

Responsibilities of a financial aid advisor

A sharp financial aid advisor will understand a variety of issues pertinent to education funding, not merely the best process of applying for aid:

  • Evaluate financial needs and goals: An advisor evaluates a student’s financial needs, their available resources and their education goals to have a full understanding of the client and their expectations.
  • Find and apply for financial aid: An advisor assists clients in preparing federal forms such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as well as other available financial aid, such as loans, grants and various other local or national scholarships.
  • Maximize financial aid opportunities: A good advisor can also help students get the most money from the process, and understand the costs and benefits of having various assets such as UGMA/UTMA accounts, 529 plans and Coverdell ESA accounts. And an advisor can help direct students to lower-cost sources of funding.
  • Validate documentation: A financial advisor assists students in properly completing documentation for aid programs and ensuring that they’re complete.
  • Create an educational funding plan: An advisor can also help students and families understand the full costs of education, as well as how various financial aid packages, including need-based financial aid, can contribute to making education more affordable, ultimately helping them achieve their educational goals.

Those tasks are some of the most important for financial aid advisors, though some advisors may offer other services as needed by clients.

Qualifications of a financial aid advisor

A financial aid advisor needs a variety of qualifications that go beyond educational achievement, including the following:

  • Must thoroughly understand the aid process: The financial aid process can be quite complex, allowing for a well-versed advisor to squeeze some extra dollars out for students and families who qualify. By understanding the nuances of every step of the process, an advisor can be sure that clients are getting the most from it.
  • Must understand client’s needs: Advisors must understand what students and their families need from the process and their education. Getting access to a lot of money is not necessarily in clients’ best interest if their true intention is a lower-cost school, and vice versa. An advisor must understand clients’ needs in order to find solutions to them.
  • Must have a comprehensive understanding of funding opportunities: Advisors need to know how best to tailor a financial plan and available sources of funding to what their clients need. Good advisors will be aware of other funding sources, including local scholarships, federal grants and private student loans, that align well with their clients’ profiles.

In short, a good financial aid advisor will know how best to use the system to help students. Here’s how to choose a financial advisor who fits your family’s needs. 

Value of a financial aid advisor

A financial aid advisor can add tremendous value for students and their families. A good aid advisor has been through the process hundreds of times, while most families go through the process one or twice. So any individual family is unlikely to know the ins and outs of the aid process as well as an advisor could, even on the most common steps of the process.

But a financial aid advisor can really add value on other aspects of the process, for example, when it comes to the formulas and how existing assets can help or hurt financial aid. 

Similarly, a good advisor can also provide direction on other sources of funding that may be available to local students, including current student loan interest rates and the best lenders to work with. And an advisor may also be able to help set expectations on the process for families, too.

So, the best financial advisors will be highly knowledgeable in helping students and their families avoid common pitfalls, as well as help them get the most funding possible at the lowest possible cost.

Bottom line

A financial aid advisor can simplify and optimize the process of applying for financial aid, helping their clients access all the education funding they’re entitled to. By using the expertise of an advisor, clients can be sure they’re availing themselves of all existing aid opportunities. If you’re looking to find an advisor, Bankrate offers a financial advisor matching tool to match clients with advisors in minutes.