Paying off any kind of debt can be an uphill battle. Now take that hill, cover it in a sheet of ice, throw on a half foot of snow, add some money-hungry debt collectors chasing you, and you have what can be imagined as the student loan debt repayment process.
Depending on where you land after graduation, this debt can stick with you for years, and like your college career, it takes careful planning and precise organization to be successful. Fortunately, there is a bevy of financial aid information and resources made available by U.S. colleges and universities that can help you along the way, perhaps salting down that slippery slope.
The most essential aspects of a successful financial aid counseling program are the entrance and exit interviews which are intended to help students understand their loans and explain how they can effectively manage and repay them.
While many universities offer an abundance of workshops, one-on-one interviews, group seminars, and other informational resources, some schools choose to do the bare minimum, only providing a link to the web page where an online version of the entrance and exit interviews can be completed.
Although not terrible, this online form is found on a government-run website which is hardly engaging to say the least. In any case, the online form should be accompanied by more extensive information if graduates are expected to excel in repayment. The worry here is that students will rush through the online form and be left without the necessary information to properly manage their student loan debt.
It is required by law for schools to have these entrance and exit interviews, so every institution has them in one form or another. However, some schools are far better at implementing these practices than others, and LendEDU is here to tell you who they are.
The following list contains the schools who chose to minimize that risk by taking a more head-on approach in assisting students with their daunting financial aid payment plans.
The Top 50 Financial Aid Counseling Programs
1. University of South Florida: 98
At the top of our list is the University of South Florida who carry an extensive amount of financial counseling resources. The Bull2Bull Financial Education program is perhaps the most impressive of its kind, touting several different informational opportunities like coaching sessions on money management and student loans, workshops on budgeting, and several on-campus events, one of which is specifically geared towards exit counseling. One of the main reasons the program enjoys so much success is because of its peer-to-peer formatting. This allows for a more open dialogue, and as said by the university, “no one understands students better than students.”
2. Duke University: 96
Coming in as our runner up is the esteemed Duke University located in Durham, North Carolina. The financial aid counseling unit at Duke provides both large group sessions and individual counseling for its students. While the former is available at specific times throughout the spring semester, individual sessions may take place daily between morning and afternoon. Duke received a higher placement on our list because it seems to encourage in-person counseling as opposed to the online version. Additionally, the exit loan counseling home page is very neatly done, allowing users to navigate with ease – something several schools fell short of.
3. Fashion Institute of Technology: 95
In third is the Fashion Institute of Technology, better known as FIT. The institute requires students with Direct Stafford Loans to attend in-person counseling sessions, which they host throughout the semester. Additionally, the school provides students with a personalized folder and specific instructions from their loan team in regard to individual financial plans.
4. University of Alaska, Anchorage: 93.5
Similar to Duke, the exit counseling home page for The University of Alaska, Anchorage is layered with helpful information. The page features information regarding exit counseling group sessions and in-person, one-on-one advisement meetings with financial literacy coordinators. The page provides all you need to know about completing the requirements without being too overwhelming, making for easily digestible information.
5. University of North Texas: 93
Students at the University of North Texas also enjoy diverse assistance with their financial aid planning. Students have the choice of either attending a group exit counseling session or scheduling a one-on-one counseling appointment with a financial adviser at UNT’s Student Money Management Center. However, a link to the online form is also available if students are unable to attend any of the in-person sessions.
T-6. George Washington University: 92
The administration at George Washington University has made it mandatory for the Class of 2020 to attend one-on-one counseling sessions to discuss their obligations surrounding financial aid repayment. The fact that the school has made it mandatory for students to attend in-person meetings is the reason for GW’s top ten placement. As discussed earlier, the online method can be seen as ineffective due to the ability for students to rush through it. During in-person meetings, however, students tend to be more engaged and are able to relay questions off an actual person.
T-6. Virginia State University: 92
Just like George Washington, Virginia State University makes in-person sessions mandatory for students as a part of their exit counseling. Sessions run for one week between morning and mid-afternoon, each one running for one hour. Furthermore, the webpage includes only the information necessary to complete counseling, leaving out any confusing or uninformative material.
8. Benedictine College: 89
At Benedictine College in Kansas, the student financial aid office requires students to complete counseling in-person with a certified loan coordinator. Like many schools who make these in person meetings mandatory, failure to attend results in restriction to access of student transcripts. Although quite drastic, it is an effective way to get students in the door and ensure their readiness to meet repayment obligations.
T-9. Wesleyan University: 88
Next in our rankings is Wesleyan University, who has made it a priority to educate its students on debt management, budget management, and default prevention. Right at the beginning of the exit counseling home page, students are shown three separate dates where they can attend group seminars regarding the loans they borrowed. At these seminars, students are given personalized loan exit packets detailing the loans they borrowed and instructions for completing exit counseling.
T-9. Julliard School: 88
In addition to the required online form, the Julliard School strongly encourages students to arrange an in-person appointment with the Assistant Director of Financial Aid to discuss their exit counseling. Additionally, the exit counseling homepage provides a list of tips for successfully completing exit counseling, a list of things to do immediately after the completion of exit counseling, and several other resources for loan repayment including public presentations for graduating students that discuss debt management.
11. University of Toledo: 85
At the University of Toledo, it is “absolutely necessary” that students make an appointment with a counselor in the financial aid office for an exit interview. In addition to one-on-one interviews the University also hosts group sessions each term to review payment terms and assist with debt management. Furthermore, the loan options web page also provides links to websites like FinAid! – a financial aid guide, and tools like student budget calculators.
12. Michigan State University: 84
Students who attend Michigan State University have the choice of completing loan exit counseling in person, by mail, or on the internet. Although the in-person counseling sessions tend to be the most effective, giving college kids the liberty to choose how they want to complete their interviews can be very beneficial. The life of a college student is often very overwhelming and he or she often struggle to find time to complete everything on the agenda. Giving them the opportunity to choose how they complete this task can provide some much-needed relief. Furthermore, the web page provides links to student loan repayment plans and calculators.
13. Colorado State University: 83.5
The financial aid office at Colorado State University doesn’t even list the online form as one of the ways to complete exit counseling. Instead, students may attend a group session or stop by the Accounts Receivable office at any time during business hours. A third option is to complete the paperwork by mail, although the first two options are primarily suggested. Like Michigan State, CSU gives their students the freedom to complete counseling whichever way they choose, making college life a little less burdensome.
14. Northeastern University: 83
One of the main aspects that sets Northeastern University apart from the rest of the schools on this list is their Center for Financial Independence. The THRIVE Incubator, as they call it, is a financial literacy program meant for the expansion of personal financing and the promotion of entrepreneurial endeavors. In addition to a multitude of other opportunities, students are able to attend a one-time Exit Loan Counseling session hosted by THRIVE to better understand their financial aid payment responsibilities.
15. Suffolk University: 82
At Suffolk University, the financial aid office boasts an enviable financial literacy program called Get $mart which is available for all students. One of the features of the program is an online webinar called Wise Borrower which teaches students about student loans and financing. Additionally, the office of financial aid made available a Loan Repayment Presentation which can be accessed at any point in time.
16. University of North Florida: 81
At the University of North Florida students can seek assistance for issues ranging from admissions, academic records, registration and financial aid at One-Stop Student Services. More importantly, students can schedule appointments with Financial Aid Specialists at One-Stop to complete their counseling requirements in person. Although the online form is offered before the in-person suggestion, it is critical that the option still exists.
17. West Virginia University: 80
In order to better ensure the successful and comfortable loan repayment plans of their students, West Virginia University has partnered with Inceptia, a division of the National Student Loan Program. Inceptia’s free assistance involves customer representatives who reach out to students to answer any questions they might have about loan obligations and repayment plans. The university reiterates that Inceptia is not a collection agency and is 100% on the student’s side! Whether it is through e-mail, letters, or phone calls, a representative from Inceptia will be with you the whole way.
T-18. Endicott College: 79
Similar to WVU, Endicott partnered with a financial assistance program that is free of charge to all of their students. SALT, is a part of the American Student Assistance program and offers students tools in managing money and student loans. Some of the ways in which SALT helps students is by tracking your loans, finding you scholarships, finding internships and jobs, and doing interactive lessons that enhance financial literacy.
T-18. University of Nevada, Reno: 79
The University of Nevada also employs the SALT program to assist their students in staying on top of their student loans. The program was brought to UNR by the Nevada Money Mentors who are a collection of students inclined to help their fellow peers in all things finance. The program offers workshops and seminars, some of which focus on financial aid and student loan financing.
20. Champlain College: 78.5
For students attending Champlain College, the Center for Financial Literacy and the accompanying LEAD program provide a wealth of information on financial literacy and management of student loans. The LEAD program, or Life Experience and Action Dimension includes everything from career positioning to personal finance with a specific concentration on student loan repayment. Equipped with these resources the students at Champlain should feel confident going into their financial aid payment plans.
21. Emory University: 77.5
In anticipation of graduation, students at Emory University are required to attend an exit interview conducted by the universities’ Student Financial Services. While many programs prompt students to contact the office themselves, the Student Financial Services at Emory reach out to students on their own. As stated previously, college students often have several obligations to fulfill whether it be at the beginning, middle, or end of their careers. The fact that the University takes initiative in contacting students gives them one less thing to do, perhaps making their lives a little easier.
22. Boston College: 76
In addition to the online exit interview, students at Boston College are required to attend any one of ten group exit loan counseling sessions in order to fulfill their requirement. The topics of discussion at these seminars revolve around consolidation, loan forgiveness, and loan repayment strategies. Although you are only required to attend one, the abundance of sessions offered gives students the opportunity to further enhance their grasp on managing student loans and financing.
23. University of Tampa: 75
Down in sunny Tampa warm weather comes hand in hand with proper financial aid counseling. The University hosts loan exit counseling presentations that are conducted by professional financial aid counselors to help students manage their fiscal responsibilities. Students who attend these presentations are far more likely to maintain a solid grasp on their student loan financing than those who don’t.
24. California State University, San Bernardino: 72
Although Cal State at San Bernardino suggests the online form first, they still provide thorough information on how to complete it. However, students don’t need to worry about the online version as the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships offers in-person entrance and exit counseling sessions as well.
T-25. Brandeis University: 71
Despite it being a smaller University, the fortitude of Brandeis University’s Office of Student Financial Services in no way mimics the size of their student population. At Brandeis, students have the opportunity to schedule an in-person entrance counseling session following their completion of the online form. The fact that students have the opportunity to meet with a real person following the online interview allows students to achieve better peace of mind when contemplating their loan repayment strategies.
T-25. Wilmington University: 71
The Wilmington University located in Delaware offers in-person exit interviews as an alternative to the online option. The University hosts sessions in November and December then again in March and April. The Entrance/Exit loan counseling homepage does not specify whether you have to be graduating or not to attend the sessions which means that any student may attend the seminars if they want to learn more about their financial aid obligations. Being that the topic can become quite overwhelming, it is never too early to start understanding what will be expected.
T-25. Iowa State University: 71
Similar to the preceding schools, Iowa State University also offers in-person sessions as an alternative to the online version. By setting up an appointment with a Financial Literary Adviser students can successfully complete either their entrance or exit counseling requirements as mandated by federal law and upheld by the Universities policies.
28. Indiana State University: 69
At Indiana State University, students with Federal Direct Stafford or PLUS Loans must complete counseling online. However, those with Federal Perkins Loans MUST complete exit counseling in person at ISU’s Office of the Controller. The University stresses in-person completion for the latter and does not allow for it to be completed online conveying a special regard for students with those stipulations.
T-29. Old Dominion University: 66
Marking the mid-way point in our list is Old Dominion University. Although information is limited, Old Dominion University does offer in person exit counseling if students are opposed to the online form. Despite the webpage being quite clustered, the fact that the University offers in-person counseling makes it superior to those without.
T-29. University of Northern Iowa: 66
Like Old Dominion, the University of Northern Iowa seriously lacks a proficient amount of information on their website. However, they make up for it due to the fact that they offer in-person counseling sessions at the end of each semester. Even though students will not be able to find any information on the University web page, they should feel certain that all of their questions can be answered in person with a financial aid advisor. Perhaps the absence of information might even encourage kids to get in the door of their financial aid office.
31. Minnesota State University: 65
Those with Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans at Minnesota State University also enjoy the privilege of being able to complete exit loan counseling sessions in person. Although they do not indicate whether they are group or one-on-one sessions, nor do they provide the exact dates for when these sessions might be, they do provide a number that you can call to find out. Despite the lack of information, Minnesota State reigns superior due to the existence of the in-person opportunity
32. Ursuline College: 61
At the leading women’s college of Ohio, Ursuline College, students are given the rare opportunity to meet with a bank representative to review all the information surrounding exit-counseling and ask any pertaining questions that they might have. The school allows students to fulfill their obligations through this method rather than doing it through the online method which tends not to be as informatory. Ursuline was placed lower on this list because bank representatives may not be as helpful or understanding as financial aid directors/counselors.
33. Johnson State College: 59
Johnson State College is one of five colleges located in the Vermont State College system and perhaps the only one with an adequate financial aid counseling program. At JSC, students are encouraged to attend group sessions for loan exit counseling with the online option suggested as secondary to the in-person.
34. Oregon State University: 48
At Oregon State University students have the opportunity to view a recorded version of the on-campus loan repayment workshop titled “The Road Ahead”. The 30-minute workshop discusses different types of loans, loan terminology, repayment options, loan forgiveness, and several other important facets of financial aid planning. Additionally, they send you off with an informatory packet covering the content of what was discussed in the workshop for students to reference whenever they need help.
T-35. Liberty University: 47
Faculty of the Student Financial Services at Liberty University made the effort to put together a video regarding student loans. The video which runs for about a minute and a half advocates for borrowing only what is needed, and walks students through a step by step process of how to manage their loans. The video also details what entrance and exit counseling is and describes how to go about completing it.
T-35. Beloit College: 47
In accompaniment to the online exit counseling form Beloit offers students a 51 page, university made presentation outlining everything there is to need to know about the obligation. Even though it is rather long, the PowerPoint contains all the necessary items such as loan definitions and borrower rights.
37. Grantham University: 46.5
At Grantham University, the office of financial aid also chose to create a videoto assist their students in planning for burdensome loan payments. The video is from the point of view of a student who asks if she needs to once again complete the entrance counseling requirements. Although the video is short, it provides much needed information and who to contact for further financial assistance.
38. Gettysburg College: 45
Similar to Beloit and Grantham, the admin at Gettysburg College also elected to make their own instructional video. The power of university bred videos like this is that it bares stronger relevance to those watching it and as a result may make students more engaged in the material. In addition to the instructional film, the financial aid page also provides resources like loan calculators and a bevy of other information.
39. Frostburg State University: 43
Over in the northeastern tip of Maryland, Frostburg State University supplies their students with a cash course sponsored by career services and the National Endowment for Financial Education. Some of the amenities offered by the course are customizable financial tools like Budget Wizard and numerous online financial education courses that can be conducted through an instructor or by self-study. Additionally, the school provides a “Know Before You Go Worksheet” which is a preparatory piece of information for students to read prior to completing exit counseling.
40. University of Southern California: 42
Intended as a supplement to the online form, the University of Southern California offers a cash course webinar specifically geared towards managing credit cards, reducing bank fees, borrowing loans responsibly and preventing identity theft. More importantly, this cash course webinar is MANDATORY for all undergraduates. Although some students may feel burdened by having to complete this, it is a sure-fire way for the faculty to ensure that the students understand their obligations.
41. University of Dayton: 39.5
The University of Dayton has six different tutorial videos featured on their financial aid home page intended to help walk students through the online form and the transcript needed to follow along. Although this appears to be the only form of instruction the university offers surrounding exit counseling, each video, which is about three minutes long covers all the necessary topics such as avoiding default, understanding your loans, and thorough repayment information.
42. University of California, Berkeley: 39
For those attending UC Berkeley the faculty has provided a link to the government made video instructing students on how to manage their student loans. Although the video may not evoke the personal connection made from university directed videos, it still lists out all the crucial information required to successfully complete exit counseling. Furthermore, the financial aid web page provides guidance surrounding repayment options and loan servicers.
43. Indiana University: 38
Although lacking an informational video and other specific instructions, the Indiana University student loan web page offers info on how much students can borrow and the several interest rates and fees that might transpire as a part of their loans. Despite not offering much on exit counseling there is a plentiful amount of information surrounding loans in general i.e. what they pay for and how to apply for them.
44. Stony Brook University: 37
On their financial aid webpage, Stony Brook University provides a t-chart that outlines the Who, What, When, and How of both entrance and exit counseling. Opposed to other sites who choose to just list their information on top of each other, the layout of Stony Brook’s page makes for an easily digestible information system that can be comprehended by many. The site also provides the entrance and exit counseling guide made by the United States Department of Education.
45. Occidental College: 34
At Occidental, a private liberal arts college in Los Angeles, the financial aid administration chose to partner with Financial Counselor, an online information center designed to help students plan, organize, and assess their financial situations. The Financial Counselor program is preferred over the government run website due to its formatting and structure that is easier to navigate and comprehend.
T-46. University of Pennsylvania: 32
The University of Pennsylvania also adopted the Financial Counselor website as they too saw its capabilities as surpassing those of the government website. Additionally, on the Student Loan Exit counseling web page, UPenn makes an effort to specify the importance of completing this counseling. The University points to other reasons besides the federal mandate such as building good credit.
T-46. University of Arizona: 32
On the Scholarships and Financial Aid page for the University of Arizona students will find links to the United States Department of Education exit counseling guide and information regarding specific loans and their requisites. Furthermore, the page provides repayment options and a link to the loan-repayment calculator.
T-46. University of Louisville: 32
The information provided by the University of Louisville includes the government made Repayment video and a list of what the exit counseling session will review. The Financial Aid webpage lists things like debt management strategies, forebearance, deferment, and cancellation options, and available tax benefits as items that will be covered in the session. By prompting students with what they will be learning in their counseling sessions they become better enabled to digest the information at the time of exposure.
T-46. James Madison University: 32
In addition to the same video the University of Louisville provided for students, James Madison University also provides a bevy of links to assist their students in loan repayment. The Financial Aid page defines the main vocabulary words needed to understand loans such as default, deferment, delinquency, and forebearence while also providing links to items like the Top Ten Student Loan tips for Recent Graduates and a loan repayment estimator.
50. University of West Florida: 30
At the end of our list is the University of West Florida. Although it does not bare the amount of information anywhere near the schools higher up on our list, the University still provides the exit counseling guide created by the United States Department of Education. Additionally, the financial aid page provides a link that describes and outlines all of the loans that a student might receive. Opposed to other schools, UWF offers a lot more and for that reason, they made the list.
Complete Rankings For the Top 50 Financial Aid Counseling Programs
Advisement: The amount of one-on-one or group setting counseling available for students.
Programs: The amount and quality of online programs and webinars available for students.
Resources: The amount of information, online tools, or instructional guides provided.
LendEDU’s study of the Top 50 Financial Aid Counseling Programs was conducted by analyzing hundreds of U.S colleges and universities who demonstrated above average curricula. Our rankings were based on three parameters: (1) Amount of one-on-one counseling or group setting assistance; (2) Amount and quality of online programs or webinars; (3) Amount of information, online tools, or instructional guides provided.
The parameters were scored out of 50, 30, and 20, respectively. To come up with a score for each parameter a series of investigations were gathered on the corresponding criteria and added up, resulting in a final score.
A More Detailed Description of Each Parameter:
Amount of One-on-One Counseling or Group Setting Assistance Available: This was considered the most significant factor as the value of in person or face-to-face interactions was determined to be the most effective for financial aid counseling. Additionally, we believe that the online version is ineffective for the very reason that there is no one to moderate or facilitate the instructional forum. As a result, this parameter was scored out of 50.
Amount and Quality of Online Programs or Webinars: These were considered our second most important criteria due to the fact that colleges were employing very impressive programs and webinars that could almost compete with the in-person and group counseling sessions. Each school’s financial aid pages were examined to identify the programs they had available and the extent to which they would assist students in counseling. Due to the substance of these programs, this parameter was scored out of 30.
Amount of Information, Online Tools, or Instructional Guides: This was the last piece of criteria we used to examine the efficiency of schools’ financial aid counseling programs and was scored out of 20. Almost every school had written or provided links with these kinds of features, however, we did not believe they were as efficient as in-person counseling or online programs and webinars. Once again, we point to the fact that there was not anybody to regulate or mandate the completion or retention of this information and it was up to the student whether they read it or not.