Q&A With Heidi Carl, Chair of the Career Path Awareness for Financial Aid Administrators Thought Force

By Maria Carrasco, NASFAA Staff Reporter

A new NASFAA thought force is seeking to change how others view the financial aid profession. The Career Path Awareness for Financial Aid Administrators Thought Force has the mission of changing the perception of the financial aid profession from an accidental career to a chosen professional pathway.
Heidi Carl

“Despite being pivotal to the success of postsecondary institutions, the role of a financial aid administrator is often perceived as something other than a distinct and viable career path for would-be future professionals,” the thought force charter states. “Instead, it is frequently a position that talented individuals ‘fall into’ by happenstance and then learn to love, grow, and find success in.”

One of the primary goals of the thought force is to analyze the current perception and awareness levels of the role of financial aid administrators among prospective candidates – which includes college students and professionals looking to switch their career path. Additionally, the thought force will develop a framework to amplify the visibility of the financial aid administrator as a career, and will collaborate with other higher education associations to promote the financial aid profession. 

Chair of the thought force, Heidi Carl, said part of the reason she joined the thought force was due to her experience meeting with financial aid administrators when she was applying to college. She wants future students to have those opportunities as well. 

“For me, it's about making sure there's a future generation of people who can do that for the students of tomorrow,” she said. “That there are people who want to do this work because they believe in the importance of it, and they want to be there to help students.”

Heidi is currently the executive director of financial aid at Purdue University. She has a history of volunteering for both NASFAA and the Midwest Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (MASFAA). 

Read on to find out more about Heidi’s mission for the Career Path Awareness for Financial Aid Administrators Thought Force.

What is the issue this thought force is trying to address?

This thought force is primarily focused on how to build recognition and interest in financial aid as a very distinct and viable career path. How do we get a common, public knowledge that financial aid is something you can do for a career? A lot of the work for this thought force is really about building a brand or a story about financial aid. 

How do we go out and make that brand a household name or household story? Such as “You should be a teacher,” “You should be a nurse,” “You should be a financial aid professional.” How do we help either high school students, college students, graduate students, and anyone out there in the space understand that this is a career path? This is something that they can do just like all other career paths. This thought force is focused on that initiative, and the challenge of writing our story and coming up with our brand.

What are you hoping the group accomplishes?

What we hope to accomplish first of all, is a survey of the landscape to understand the perceptions about financial aid so we know where we're starting. The hope is that we will really develop a strategy and a framework to be able to elevate the visibility for our profession. We also want to promote the visibility and make sure that students seeking higher education, whether that's a bachelor's or a master's degree, understand that the financial aid profession is something that will be a rewarding career choice. 

Part of that, too, will be identifying who our partners are in this space. Who are the other higher education associations or HR associations that we can partner with to help tell our story and to help reach people in higher education who maybe are in a different area and aren't loving it? How do we partner with them to promote financial aid as a viable career path?

What concerns do you have about the career path of the profession?

Part of it is visibility. Financial aid is not really seen as a career path. One of the things that our committee will need to do is think about how do we build that building block of a career path? What are the things that students need to be proficient in as they study? Because you often hear from many people in our profession that they fell into financial aid. But did they fall into it via any set of majors? Is it math? Is it accounting? Is it communications?

I always joke that the financial aid profession doesn't have an appeal — it doesn't have all the jazz of working in residence life and interacting with students day-in and day-out, or working in student life and doing activities and fun events. But financial aid does have all the jazz, because it's about students and helping them find the pathway to higher education so they can have all the fun in residence life, and participate in student activities. And if it wasn't for the assistance from dedicated financial aid staff, they wouldn't even get on our campuses. How do we help tell that story that we're one of those building blocks in that whole progression of student development, and that we’re just as crucial as all of the fun and exciting pieces? 

Part of the concern too, is that there's some negativity because anytime you're dealing with money and taxes, people automatically get a pit in their stomach. How do we demystify financial aid to show the positive? How do we focus more on the service to students, the service to families, and the service to the institutions that we work with? And how do we show the vital role that financial aid offices play in all of the recruitment and the retention of students? That's part of the work that this committee will have to do.

Have there been any unique challenges for this thought force?

We've just had our first meeting. Definitely as I think about things, the survey will probably be a challenge because one of the conversations we had as a group is who do we survey and who is our audience that we're trying to create visibility to. One of the conversations we had is that we're already going to need to brainstorm who it is we're trying to reach. 

I often think of this in product development. If you've got this great new product, you can't just go out and say, “Buy it, it'll help you.” You have to figure out who it is that needs your product. 

Why did you decide to serve on this task force?

I believe in the work that we do as a profession. I was a high school kid who knew I wanted to go to college, but didn't see the path forward because I came from a single parent, small business-owner home. My mom always stressed that you're going to college, but there was never the second part of that conversation of how we are going to afford it. 

I remember going on a couple of college visits. My high school counselor knew my family and the struggles that my mom had, and that college was a priority. He knew I was going to have to figure out how to pay for college and always made sure that I met with the financial aid professionals on the three different college visits. I just remember how kind, caring, and approachable they were. 

The other piece for me is, we talk about this a lot in our profession, that sometimes why we work so hard is more about our community and our family of fellow professionals. I want to be able to help tell our story to young professionals or young individuals who are looking for a place to fit. I know today people don't always start a career and work in it for their whole life. That's kind of a thing that my parents did. But even I have changed positions a few times and I even danced a little bit in the admissions space for a while. I found myself coming back home to financial aid. 

We need to take the fire that all of us have in our passion for the work that we do and spread it to others. I do believe in the work that we do, and I believe in trying to find a way forward to uncover our light and let it shine brightly for the work that we do.


Publication Date: 12/7/2023

Debra B | 12/7/2023 12:38:46 PM

Great initiative and long overdue. I look forward to hearing more!

Blake D | 12/7/2023 11:32:49 AM

It really is meaningful work and needs to be promoted. This is on the right track!

Megan B | 12/7/2023 10:52:02 AM

Amazing! Love this initiative!

Elijah H | 12/7/2023 10:37:38 AM

Thank you for leading this important work, Heidi!

Justin Chase B | 12/7/2023 9:36:10 AM

Looking forward to this! Thank you for your work, Heidi!

Yolanda T | 12/7/2023 9:5:04 AM

I totally agree with the initiative set forth. Much success and I look forward to positive outcomes.

Brenda B | 12/7/2023 8:43:48 AM

Well said Heidi! Great comments! Thanks for your leadership on this initiative!!

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