Katie Kocsis became Niagara University’s director of financial aid in September 2013 at age 27. The woman she replaced, Maureen Salfi, retired the previous February after almost 36 years at NU.
So when Kocsis steps in to take the reins of the Financial Aid 101 session during next week’s Buffalo National College Fair from the individual who has presented it for each of the event’s 14 incarnations, she’ll be more than ready.
“At Niagara University, we really pride ourselves on working closely with students and families during every step of the financial aid process, so my seminar at the college fair is really an extension of that experience, and one that I’m very excited for,” said Kocsis, who has worked in NU’s Office of Financial Aid since 2007.
Presented by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, this year’s Buffalo National College Fair will bring thousands of high school juniors to the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center on March 21-22. The 30-minute financial aid workshop that Kocsis will lead is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
Kocsis, a two-time Niagara University graduate, has been an in-demand presenter over the past several months. In December, she was part of a panel of financial aid experts from independent higher education institutions that spoke in front of New York state policymakers at the Capitol in Albany.
This April, Kocsis will be in San Diego after receiving an invitation from Ellucian, one of the country’s leading provider of financial aid software and services, to present in front of approximately 7,500 attendees from 1,300 higher education institutions. Kocsis will discuss how Niagara University has incorporated automated financial aid packaging into its admissions process, which allows counselors more time to meet one-on-one with students and their families.
“In correlation with the university’s Catholic and Vincentian mission, we are doing everything that we can to ensure that our Office of Financial Aid offers first-class customer service,” Kocsis explained.
Kocsis acknowledges that she has seen a pronounced shift in the way that families are approaching their college search in recent years. She says there’s more of a marked interest in determining return on investment, a paradigm that Kocsis welcomes with open arms at Niagara University.
“Our president, Father Maher, has made access and affordability a major focus of his presidency,” said Kocsis, referring to the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., who began his tenure as NU’s 26th president one month before Kocsis was promoted. “We understand that students are concerned with ROI – and so are we. That, in part, is why 99 percent of incoming students receive financial aid at Niagara, and, last year alone, we distributed more than $45 million in institution-sponsored aid. When we have families come in to talk to us and we’re able to tell them how U.S. News and Money magazine and several studies refer to us a ‘best value,’ it really helps whatever preconceived apprehension they had melt away.”
Kocsis, now 32, represents the new face of college financial aid. She possesses the traditional attributes of someone in her position: she’s a tireless advocate for students and tapped into industry trends and best practices through membership in professional organizations. But Kocsis is also extremely caring, accessible and tech-savvy; she has leveraged her technological know-how to create opportunities for students to understand and control their own financial futures.
In the few years since Kocsis was elevated from assistant director, Niagara’s Office of Financial Aid has established a scholarship opportunity search website that allows students to search and apply for the lengthy list of endowed and current-use scholarships offered by the university. The site also highlights select local scholarship opportunities, such as those from organizations like the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, Hispanic Women's League and Greater Niagara Federal Credit Union.
Kocsis believes that going through her own financial aid process – twice – has also given her a leg up on understanding the needs of students and parents. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Niagara University in 2007, and attained a master’s degree in special education from NU in 2012.
Upon completing her undergraduate studies, Kocsis became a receptionist in Niagara’s Office of Financial Aid, later working her way up to assistant director and, eventually, director.
“I’ve seen every angle of this industry,” she said. “From going through it as a student and then working at the front desk and as assistant director, I’ve heard just about every type of question imaginable. I think those experiences, along with my background in education, have helped my ability to relate to students and their families.”