There is no specific path which must be followed to become a financial aid counselor, although most people who work as counselors in financial aid offices start out as office staff and gradually acquire skills and knowledge which allow them to transition into counseling. Someone who wants to become a financial aid counselor should have good interpersonal skills, strong verbal communication abilities, and feel comfortable with numbers.
Financial aid counselors provide students and their families with information about financial aid. This includes assisting students as they apply for aid, helping students find programs for which they are eligible, and processing paperwork related to financial aid. The financial aid counselor acts as a translator between the often byzantine bureaucracy of the financial aid process and students who need financial assistance to go to college.
Although a degree is not required to become a financial aid counselor, an associate's or bachelor's degree can be very helpful. This is especially true if the degree is in accounting, communications, or a related field. Financial aid counselors also need to have an extensive knowledge of the financial aid programs available, and some may even come from careers at lenders and agencies which provide financial aid.
Someone who wants to become a financial aid counselor can start in high school with math and communications classes, both of which will come in handy as the student moves through college. After college, the prospective financial aid counselor can apply for office positions in financial aid offices. Students who are interested in financial aid as a career may want to make connections in the financial office while they are in college; for example, it may be possible to take a work-study job as a filing clerk in the office to get familiar with the environment. These connections may help a student seeking employment in an alma mater's financial aid office and can also be useful resume entries for positions at other colleges.
Once someone who intends to become a financial aid counselor is on the staff in the financial aid office, she or he can start absorbing information about student loans and the financial aid process. With experience, a staff member can become part of the counseling staff which provides assistance to students. Once someone has become a financial aid counselor in one college's financial aid office, these skills can also be applied to jobs at other colleges and universities if someone wants to move or find a new employer.
Another option for someone who wants to become a financial aid counselor is to apply for jobs with lenders and government agencies which provide financial aid assistance. From a position with such an organization, someone can apply directly into a counseling position at a financial aid office.