The Cardinal Rules of Financial Aid (From Least Important To Most)

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1. DON'T PISS OFF YOUR FINANCIAL AID OFFICE.

Most law schools do not allot many staff members to man the financial aid office. As a result, only a few people have the honor of dealing with the hundreds of financially destitute students walking into the office each day. Additionally, law schools are commonly a part of a larger university and not usually a separate entity; thus, the financial aid office in the law school is often a "front" for the general financial aid office of the entire university. In turn, your financial aid officer may not have as much authority or wield as much decision-making power as you may think. Thus, save your "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore" speech for the long line at the DMV, because odds are, it's not going to get you anywhere at the financial aid office.



Getting angry at the law school financial aid representative does nothing but frustrate you and the rep. Remember that handing off your forms to your law school financial aid office is only the commencement of a demonic Rube Goldberg-like trail of bureaucratic hand offs: from the law school, to the main financial aid office, to the government, back to the school, to the bank, back to the government, then to some loan shark in the Bronx who will break your kneecaps if you default, back to the government, and again to the bank where it finally ends up back at the school. The reason your forms have been delayed may be because Bill at the main campus office spilled his Triple Non-Fat No-Foam Quasi Grande Vanilla Raspberry Nut Latte all over them, not necessarily that your financial office "forgot" (but don't necessarily rule that option out either).

Now here's what happens if you're nice to your financial aid office: It may let you know about a new kind of scholarship or low-interest loan. Or, if you're really a brown noser, the office may send off your forms to whatever agency they need to go to right then and there, shaving a few days or even a week off the waiting time. If you're ranting and raving about how much you need your money, realize that the financial aid office gets the same whining from almost every student who walks through the door and will spend more time trying to get you to shut up and get out of the office than giving you a time- or money-saving tip. Remember, behind the forms and policies, the people at financial aid are human, too.

2. FOLLOW UP ON EVERY CONTACT WITH THE FINANCIAL AID OFFICE OR ANY AGENCY OR PERSON YOU DEAL WITH WHEN DOING ANYTHING WITH FINANCIAL AID.

This means the school, the government, the bank, or that loan shark in the Bronx who's gonna bust your kneecaps.

Good assertive follow-ups are different from ticking people off. These calls serve two very mathematical purposes: They remind V bureaucrat that he or she was supposed to check, process, or do thing V for you. The calls also can serve as a confirmation of "z" information that you gave to Y bureaucrat.

Record all calls you make regarding financial aid. That way, if something bad happens, you can simply say, "Well, I spoke to 'x' bureaucrat regarding y issue on 'w' day. I reconfirmed 'z' information of 'y' issue with 'x' bureaucrat over the phone the next day."

3. MAKE A COPY OF EVERYTHING, EVEN IF YOU ALREADY HAVE A CARBON COPY.

Nothing is more damning evidence of a red-tape slip-up than a nice photocopy of a form that supposedly wasn't turned in or was lost. Even if you get a carbon copy of a form (say, a promissory note for a loan), make a copy of the top page that goes to the lender and the school. Generally (as is the usual way in school administration), the student's needs are overlooked and you wind up with the last carbon copy, which is barely legible. (They told you to press hard when you filled out the application, but you didn't listen, did you?)

4. THE PRIME DIRECTIVE: NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER TURN IN ANYTHING LATE.

In the world of financial aid, when you hand in something late, you are essentially saying, "Please, please, please delay my financial aid! I really don't want any money at all! Yes, I want to miss out on all the special considerations for scholarships! I don't care about eating this year!" Well, not exactly that... but close.

Remember the complicated chain of paper hand offs in Rule No. 1? Well, if you miss the beginning of the ride, you may just have to wait until everyone else gets a turn to ride the paper train before you get to go again. Few deadlines are as important and strict as financial aid, and if you miss one ... well, may the force be with you, 'cause that's all you'll have going for you. And if you do turn something in late, refer again to Rule No. 1: If you miss a deadline, it's probably your fault, and there's no point in whining to the financial aid office that your tax forms were late because you (while the deadline passed) were still trying to figure out a way to save a few bucks on your taxes.

Not only should you not be late, but as soon as a form can be turned in, fill it out and turn it in. Consider this: You will probably have to fill out forms for the school's internal use, forms for both, the government's use and the school's use, forms solely for the government's use, forms for assorted banks, and insurance forms for the prescriptions you'll need to calm you down after filling out the other forms. If you are late with a government application, for example, it is possible that the school will not allow you to fill out one of their forms until it receives confirmation of the government application. If you can't fill out the school's application, you won't be able to process the bank application. Being late often sets off a chain of delays over which you have no control.

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Not even Oppenheimer could have predicted such a devastating chain reaction. This will result in a few bad consequences. At best, you will get your money late (say, toward the middle of the semester). In worst-case scenarios, you may miss out on scholarships or low-interest loans (often first-come, first-served), or you may not get any money at all. -DORON AZRIALY, BOSTON COLLEGE LAW SCHOOL



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