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Everything you need to make your event a success

Financial aid workshops and seminars are a vital source of information for the families of students who are planning to attend college. Here are some key steps in organizing and hosting a successful financial aid event.

Choose a suitable date, time and venue

  • Avoid conflicts with other school functions or holidays.
  • Choose a weeknight and an appropriate time to accommodate working parents.
  • Select a place that encourages the greatest participation. Make sure that any site other than your school is easy to reach and has ample parking.
  • Be sure the space can accommodate the number of anticipated attendees and the equipment you need.

Address the audience

Tailor the workshop to your specific community of students and parents. A general financial aid workshop covers the concept of financial aid, describes the types of programs available and details the application process. You may want to address additional, more specific subjects.

You may also want to have translators present to help families whose first language is not English. Some schools have separate events for non-English-speaking families. 

For high school seniors:

  • Plan the event for the fall application season.
  • Be prepared to give lots of specifics on issues such as completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE® and other forms, as well as the financial aid timeline (.pdf/60KB). Requires Adobe Reader (latest version recommended).
  • Consider hosting an additional open lab night in January to actually work on the FAFSA with families.

For high school juniors:

  • Plan the event for spring of the junior year.
  • Be prepared to provide an introduction to financial aid rather than getting into specifics. Do plan to cover scholarship searches and scams, consultants, and resources such as books and websites.

Select appropriate speakers

Invite a speaker or panel of speakers who can address the financial issues facing your students and their families. Speakers may include:

  • You or another school counselor.
  • A financial aid representative from a local two- or four-year college.
  • Representatives from:
    • Your state or regional Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (ASFAA).
    • Your state Education Savings Program (ESP).
    • State agencies and not-for-profits.
  • Current college students.

It is generally not a good idea to include private financial planners; they may have a bias toward the products they sell.

Remember that you are the expert on what information your students and their families need and how best to deliver it to them. Help your speakers personalize their talks for your community's needs.

If you choose not to make a presentation, you should act as a point person for the speakers and serve as facilitator for the event.

Make sure your speakers know the:

  • Date, time, location and type of workshop.
  • Audience type and size.
  • Basic facts about your school or district (such as what percentage of students go on to college and the socioeconomic background of families in your area).
  • Desired length of their presentation.

Ask your speakers:

  • What equipment they need.
  • What topics they intend to cover.
  • If they would like to have a question-and-answer period.
  • If they would be willing to answer follow-up questions via email (if so, put their email address on a handout).

Follow a timeline

  • Publicize your event as soon as you've scheduled the date, through school and community calendars, newspapers, websites, bulletin boards and email.
  • Send invitations to parents two to four weeks before your event (earlier, you risk them forgetting; later, they may already have plans).
  • Confirm details such as arrival time and equipment needs with the speakers a few days ahead of time.

Create handouts

  • Provide a simple outline of the evening's program that can also serve as a future reference. Allow space for note taking.
  • Locate financial aid information that you can print out. Look on the websites of educational associations (such as the College Board), state agencies and colleges.
  • Offer presentations on how to fill out the FAFSA and other forms in the languages that are dominant in your area.
  • Include an evaluation form and encourage attendees to fill it out that evening. Their feedback will help you plan an even better event the next time around.

Consider other factors

You may want to:

  • Schedule a break.
  • Offer simple refreshments.
  • Provide child care in an adjacent room.
  • Arrange for a giveaway. The local college may have notepads, pens or other small items available.

Prepare for the event

  • Arrive early.
  • Ensure everything is in order.
  • Test the sound equipment.
  • Establish a welcoming tone by greeting parents and students warmly as they arrive.