Financial aid is not what most people want to talk about with their new college friends, but it does come up from time to time. The topic is tricky to handle because, for some people, it is not even a part of their college experience while for others, it is the very reason they have a college experience, and you can never be sure what anybody’s situation is like. Nonetheless, financial aid does come up in unexpected places, and sometimes there is no avoiding it. While you should never make it the topic of conversation, other people may really want to talk about it because they are stressed about their own situation, or maybe they’re just nosy. When it does come up, here are some tips on how to survive unscathed.
Keep it conceptual.
Try to avoid talking about personal financial aid status as much as possible. Current events, general struggles, or even fable-esque stories based on personal experiences should be the go-tos. Talking about your personal financial aid situation (be it good or bad) will most likely lead to questions with which you are not comfortable answering (income bracket, stocks, property ownership). Focus instead on more general school policy or governmental changes, or how you feel about where financial aid is going. Topics like these are interesting, unlikely to get into any dirty details, and even offer a way out of what can often be a tricky conversation topic.
Even when you do keep things abstract it is very easy when talking about family finances for people to take things personally. It may also set some people off into ruminating about their own situations, and suddenly feeling a lot less social. You cannot avoid every situation, but there are ways to guard against setting off any bombs. Remember what you do know about people’s personal situations, so that you can avoid striking as many nerves as possible. Share your opinions if you feel comfortable, but know the difference between being honest and being inconsiderate.
Know your limits.
Perhaps most importantly be aware of your situation and thus what you can and cannot understand. If financial aid is not something you have many opinions on beyond your own status it is perfectly acceptable to just listen to what others have to say. Similarly if you are very aware of the financial aid policies of your school and within the government be conscious of how much you are talking and how others are responding to the topic. Financial aid is very important and keeping informed is great, but try to keep the conversation from being a lecture and/or personal rant.
Look for ways out.
If the conversation really is not working out for most people, see if you can be the hero and head off to another topic. Go from talking about your college’s financial aid to your college’s spending, or from FAFSA to other current events issues. If the conversation really is working out, then by all means go with the flow (and let me know how you did it)! It’s great if you and your friends can talk about financial aid on a general or personal level, so long as everyone feels comfortable.
Bottom line: Financial aid can be a tough topic, but it does not always have to be. With these tips you can have a beneficial conversation that leaves you and others relieved and more informed. Nonetheless in most situations it is probably a topic on which to tread lightly, so stick to more general and less personal ideas on the subject. See if you can inform and learn in the process, but don’t worry if it doesn’t work out! If you are really interested in having more open conversations about financial aid, try talking to a specific friend who will be receptive to the topic, try becoming more involved in your school’s financial aid office, or looking into student orgs.