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In our second installment of Secrets from the Inside, we spoke with Brad Barnett, Senior Associate Director in the Office of Financial Aid & Scholarships at James Madison University.

Briefly, what do you think is the most exciting or attractive feature of your institution?
JMU is a beautiful campus located in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley. Outside of the sheer beauty of the campus, I think one of the most exciting features of JMU is that we have kept that “small campus” feel even though we have grown to around 17,000 students. Our low student to professor ratio and average class size of less than 30 students are a true testament to the JMU efforts.

What is the single most important piece of financial aid information you think students should know?

Follow the prescribed deadlines and rules, and have patience. Going through the financial aid process can be time-consuming, but students who pay attention to the details will successfully navigate this process. Remember, financial aid officers are here to help.

Secondly, learn to budget. Too many students are starting college without any idea of how to manage their own money, even a task as basic as balancing a checkbook. Having these skills intact will truly help a student be more successful in college, as well as after graduation.

What is the most common financial aid mistake you see, and how can students and their families keep from falling into that trap?

The financial aid process can be a little overwhelming, especially for first time students. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form is not the most user-friendly document, but it is the one we are required to use for federal and state aid at public colleges in Virginia. Paying attention to the details ensures deadlines are met, questions are answered completely and accurately, and students do not miss out on maximizing their aid potential. Understand that applying for financial aid requires a time commitment and organization and you will minimize the risk of losing out on aid by missing the details.

What is the most creative cost-saving method you’ve heard about from students?

I have been teaching financial literacy on a college campus for about the past decade. In all that time, the most creative cost-saving method I’ve heard of is donating plasma. It seems like donating plasma has become a way for students to earn some spending money with minimal work, while providing a much-needed service to others.

What is your favorite cartoon character and why?

I consider myself nothing more than a big kid when it comes to cartoons, and Bugs Bunny and Wyle E. Coyote are two of my favorites. Bugs is creative, always finding a way to outwit his opponents. However, when it comes to perseverance, Wyle E. Coyote takes the cake. This character never reaches his goal of catching the Road Runner, but that doesn’t stop him.

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