By Sarah Henry
UW-Madison Financial Aid Director Susan Fischer answers questions regarding the current system and how to prepare students to repay loans.
How do you advise students to seek out financial aid?
Fischer: We do a lot of things to try to keep our website up to date. We do high school nights where someone from UW- Madison (or Edgewood or Oshkosh) [is] committed to push access and let families know that there is aid available in some way, shape or form for most every school that you go to. We [also] call a high school guidance driving workshop where we try to get all high school guidance counselors from around the state to come [learn] how [the aid process] will work next year.
How do you prepare students who have used financial aid to pay it back?
Fischer: [Students] have to go through an entrance counseling, which is number one. In the future, I would like to let students know how much they owe on an annual basis. [Students] can always look it up on a federal site called the National Student Loan Data System for Students. When students are not here any more there is an exit counseling process that is not required but encouraged.
What is the grace period UW students have post graduation to begin repaying loans?
Fischer: It is a federal program so you have six months from the time you graduate anywhere. Depending on the kind of loan you have, some loans may gain interest. Your connection as a borrower will be with the Department of Education, not with the school. They are the people you repay.
How do you advise students regarding how much aid they should accept?
Fischer: Take all the grants you can. Regarding loans, we are obligated to award everything someone is eligible for. The common wisdom out there is you should not borrow more than what your first year’s salary will be, total. Just because we offer it to you does not mean you should take it if you can avoid it. However, if you accept the award in July and it is clear by November that you need to borrow the full amount, you can.
With rising tuition costs, how would you “solve” the problem of student debt if it were up to you?
Fischer: Go to a school you can afford. The best deal is almost always [an] instate public [school]. Starting freshman year in high school, parents need to start working with their kids to start planning. Families need to be realistic, students need to be realistic.
For more information, visit http://www.finaid.wisc.edu/index.htm.