Lisa Barnett has been part of the RSI family for almost two years. Having started her RSI career in the Admissions team, Lisa moved to the Financial Aid department in May.
Thanks for your time, Lisa. Tell us about your career and what brought you to RSI.
I was in retail management for 23 years, but I needed a change. About 10 years ago, I went to work in the admissions department at a university. I was there for eight years before I joined RSI in the fall of 2016.
What made you choose a career in education?
I’d always wanted to work in education. I first thought about teaching, then I got a degree in Psychology, so I considered the counseling side of education. I did a lot of training in my retail management career. I was a regional/district trainer and really enjoyed that part of the job. So when the opportunity came up with the university, I took it. I enjoyed it, but I enjoy RSI so much more because I have more one-on-one contact with students. I get to see them start something and end it. I see how it impacts their lives.
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What do you do as a financial aid advisor?
We help students through the financial aid* process from start to finish. For independent students who already have an FSAID [Federal Student Aid ID], the process can take as little as an hour. For others, including dependent students or those who need to set up an FSAID, it might take a couple of visits over a few days. It can take 24 to 48 hours for an FSAID to be verified, and dependent students need to complete the FAFSA with their parents, so they may need to come back in with them.
What do they need an FSAID for?
They need their FSAID to be able to sign the FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid]. We help them along with any questions as they complete and electronically sign the FAFSA, which is the form used for federal and state grants and loans. We can’t complete the forms for them, but we are here for any questions and guidance that they need. After they’ve submitted the FAFSA, they will receive their financial aid results, and we will learn what they are eligible for.
What is the difference between a “dependent” and an “independent” student?
A dependent student is under 24 years of age, is not married, does not have children that they support and is not a veteran. An independent student is 24 years or older, or is married, has children, or is a veteran. This status tells us whether the application needs to be co-signed by a parent or guardian.
What do you enjoy most about this job?
It’s a bit of a long story. Our CEO just went to a conference and shared this story with us. The speaker at the conference is CEO of an organization with the mission to improve living standards for 1.8 million low-income New Yorkers. He talked about growing up in poverty in Baltimore and being raised by a single mom. The guy was smart. One of his high school teachers told him to apply to Johns Hopkins. He could not believe he would be considered, let alone admitted. One day he got a letter from Johns Hopkins and was surprised to learn he had been admitted. As he turned to the page about tuition, he was crushed, dejected, because there was no way he could pay that tuition.
A few days later, he got a call from the financial aid director. He explained he couldn’t afford to go. She invited him to come in with his mother. As she walked him through the financial aid award process, he started to see that overwhelming amount get lower and lower until he realized he could attend. He talked about how that was such a game changer for him, how his life would have been completely different if that call had not come. Thanks to the financial aid director, this guy is now having a huge impact on others like him.
He called Financial Aid the “Dream Keepers,” and that’s a neat way of putting it. Students have a dream, and we help them keep it. That’s what I love. I am making it possible for people to follow their dreams.
When does a student first meet you or your team?
Usually on their first visit to the campus. The admissions rep will take them on a tour and they will stop by our department. Whoever is available gives the student an overview of what we have available in financial aid, how it works, what the process is. We also do a quick pre-check to determine eligibility.
Do you have much contact with students once they’re enrolled?
We do have a lot of interaction with them from beginning to end. They stop back in with questions, or we see them if we have anything extra we need from them. Right before they graduate, students have to go to each department to get signatures. We have their loan information, and that’s when we do an exit interview. We explain the next steps for after they graduate, what they need to do about their loans in terms of starting to pay them back and their obligations moving forward.
What are the most common questions you get asked by students?
“Am I going to be able to afford it?” “Can I make payments?” “How much can I get in grant money?” “Are there any scholarships available?” Things like that. It’s all money-related!
Do you stay in touch with graduates?
We actually have a lot of grads who come back to the school just to say hi, or to let us know where they’re at because we get close with them. We also have graduates who come back to further their education in our associate degree program: our Mechanical Maintenance Engineering course.
How can students help you to help them?
Just be trusting. Understand that we’re all here for them, to help them reach their goal. Their success is our success. We understand that financial aid can be intimidating, but don’t think of it as a burden or a debt. It’s an investment in your future. We just genuinely want them to better themselves.
What’s your favorite student success story from your time at RSI?
When I worked in admissions, we had a student with a learning disability. There were some worries at first, but I took him under my wing. His admissions rep and I talked with all his instructors to let them know that they needed to work with him a little differently. They learned to work with him and he excelled. He became one of the top techs in one of his phases. We took the time to get to know him, and understand him, and we gave him encouragement every day. He walked the stage in April this year. We were so proud of him.
What advice do you have for students considering attending RSI?
I’d encourage them to come in, take a look around and listen to what the admissions staff has to tell them. Talk with our faculty. Our instructors are very good about talking to prospective students and telling them about their time in the field.
Don’t let the financial aid process be the reason you don’t come to school. It’s really nothing to be afraid of. For most people, it’s a normal part of being a student. We will do all we can to help you through the process, educating you on what you may be eligible for and informing you on your rights and responsibilities. We’re here to help in every way we can.
*Financial aid is available to those who qualify.