Student loans are a financial aid resource used by the majority of Shepherd students, and while some students have had a good experience with the financial aid office, others feel under-informed.
According to colleges.fastweb.com, 62 percent of Shepherd University students are receiving student loans. Shepherd’s financial aid office is located in the basement of Gardiner Hall, with an entrance on the backside of the building. But getting a student loan can be complicated.
Nicky Barns, a psychology major, said that she had a hard time determining which loans to accept.
“Everything was over the phone and I don’t feel like anyone contacted me to tell me what I needed to take,” she said.
Sarah Kidwell, an elementary education major, echoed that statement when she described how she had taken out a student loan, but then received a refund at the beginning of the semester for more than she had taken out in loans. She feels that if she received more instruction on what loans to take out, she would not have been put in that position.
Sandra K. Oerly-Bennett, associate vice president for Enrollment Services and director of financial aid, once made aware of Kidwell’s situation, replied that if a student receives a refund check and has money left over after all of the college bills are paid, the money can always be put toward to cost of the loan by returning the money to the financial aid office. The loans are awarded by semester so if the amount of the loan taken out in the first semester is too much, the amount of financial aid received for the next semester can always be adjusted.
She went on to say that students are never locked into a set amount of financial aid. If a student has more loans than needed, she can always adjust her aid and receive less money in loans. On the other hand, if the student has previously declined a loan but later needed it, she would need to notify the financial aid office to apply again for the loan.
While many of the students interviewed felt that the financial aid office was knowledgeable and able to answer questions, there were a few problems with communication.
“They would say ‘we’ll get back to you,’ but never would,” said Ruthann Henderson.
She commented that while Shepherd’s financial aid office is an improvement over that of West Virginia University, they took a while to reply back to her questions.
Bennett responded that she was “unaware of any lapse,” in response time, but acknowledged that it may take one or two days to process a loan application. She says that it is best to apply early and applying a week before school starts may not be the best idea.
Email, calls, and letters are used to maintain contact with students across campus. Many different notifications are sent out to inform students if they are on track with their student loan eligibility.
The financial aid office provides many opportunities for students to gain a stronger understanding of the loan process, including during freshman orientation, and advisement and registration. Bennett stated that there is a financial outreach program that will tell each student his or her status in student loans. These estimates serve as a progress report for the student.