Any college student who receives financial aid knows the drill. Folks in the financial aid office look carefully at many of the numbers that define a college student’s life — from income to GPA. Financial aid is reserved for those who need the funds the most and maintain good grades, while moving through a degree program in a reasonable amount of time.

Financial aid is also one big reason that some people are able to attend college — and ultimately land a good job in the hopes of remaining financially stable. Julia Dennis just left her job as a financial aid professional for a community college in North Carolina. She offered to share how she used math in her job.

Can you explain what you did for a living? I awarded financial aid (grants, loans, scholarships, and work study) to college students.

When did you use basic math in your job? Mostly adding and subtracting, but also some division and a small amount of multiplication. Here’s an example.

Students are federally required to maintain a 2.0 or higher cumulative GPA and at least a 67% cumulative completion rate. Being able to look at the number of completed versus attempted classes and know at a glance whether the student hit the 67% mark is decidedly helpful. (When it’s close, I always break out the calculator or adding machine to be certain.)  The student also is required to complete their degree in 150% of the allotted time for their program. In other words, if their program is 100 credit hours, they have to complete their degree by the time they have finished attempting no more than 150 credit hours. Math is helpful for that as well.

Did you use any technology to help with this math? Some things I can do without it. For the numbers that look close, I always use a calculator or an adding machine.

How do you think math helped you do your job better? Sometimes students are right on the line. Being able to do the correct calculations to determine their eligibility for aid means the difference between that student going to school or not. In my job, the usefulness of math is a no-brainer.

How comfortable with math do you feel? I’ve always been comfortable with math. I scored higher on the math portion of the SAT than the English, which was weird because English was my favorite subject. I am one of those weird people who actually enjoys balancing the checkbook. I like the preciseness of it.

What kind of math did you take in high school? I took Algebra II, Geometry, Trigonometry and Pre-Calculus. I can’t say I loved it, but I did pretty well at it.

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do the math you used in your job? No new skills required. Most financial aid math involves things you learned in grade school.

Anything else you want to mention?  If math is something you enjoy, then being a financial aid professional is something you might want to consider as a career. On the other hand, it’s important to be good with people too, since so much of being a Financial Aid Counselor or Director is having to give people bad news. You have to be prepared for lots of misplaced anger and a fair amount of stress and overtime.

Stay tuned for more details about financial aid math, along with repaying student loans! 

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