Students can now schedule one-on-one financial meetings through Starfish

Sean Yoder
February 18, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The staff at the Sokolov-Miller Family Financial and Life Skills Center hope to expand their number of one-on-one meetings, which are a great way for students to get extra help for their specific financial situation.

“Many students who come to us for one-on-one counseling actually first heard about us during a first-year seminar,” said Daad Rizk, director of the Sokolov-Miller Family Center.

These students, she explained, often have more questions than can be answered through online resources or are worried about their financial situation.

The Sokolov-Miller Family Financial and Life Skills Center is now accessible through Starfish, and the center’s staff hope to help students be successful during their time at Penn State and bounce back from any hardships. A link from the financial literacy website will take students to the Starfish scheduling system, where they can schedule a meeting with a staff member or a student ambassador of their choice.

The meeting can be in any form that’s most convenient for the student regardless of the campus they attend: a Zoom call, phone call, email or in-person visit.

“Everything that we talk about with students is confidential,” Rizk said. “Even among us here at the office, we don’t share names, just scenarios and if we needed to discuss finding possible solutions.”

Most consultations last for just an hour, but there is no limit to the number of times a person can visit the center for one-on-ones. Some students come to the center every year until they graduate, Rizk said.

“We try to stay with a student until they are comfortable with their financial decisions,” she said. “We invite students to come back until they are at that point.”

While students are able to choose what information they share, those attending their first one-on-one should know their basic financial situation, things like approximate incomes and expenditures, how much financial aid and scholarships they are receiving and how much they owe in student loans. Most of that information is available in LionPath, which the Sokolov-Miller Family Financial and Life Skills Center accesses with the permission of the individual student and reviews student data to make sure students fully understand their financial records. 

A peer or staff member will then work with students to figure out their financial goals and what their best options are. Rizk stressed that the center does not make decisions for students, they only give them enough information and guidance to make the student comfortable with their own decisions.

Allison Probst, a program associate with the center, has coached numerous students one-on-one. Her advice is to not get overwhelmed by the big picture and instead just start with the basics, like a budget. Then, along with a little bit of help, students can start getting a better picture of their finances and make a plan for when they graduate.

“We really pride ourselves on being approachable and having a safe space that you can share,” Probst said. “You can talk about any goal you have in life that is related to finances.”

She recalled a case from last year where a student was on the verge of graduating and had a job offer — typically a reason for celebration. But the offered salary was low and the student asked Probst to help her look over a budget and help figure out how to live on such an income.

Probst encouraged the student to try negotiating her salary and helped her with a little bit of negotiating roleplay.

“She emailed me over the summer and told me she was able to negotiate the offer up another 28%” Probst said. “Which is huge. That was something she wasn't even considering. She just wanted to get some eyes on her budget and see what she should be doing with her money after graduation.”

Nicole Halbrendt is a student ambassador at the Sokolov-Miller Family Center and recalled her very first one-on-one appointment — a senior in their final semester who was very stressed about their current financial situation and the ability to repay student loans.

“I met with him almost every week after our initial meeting to work on budgeting and preparation for post-graduation,” she said. “We celebrated wins like improved habits that would give him more room to save towards his future expenses and student loan payments. I watched him change from a student unsure if he would stay at Penn State for this semester, to a more empowered individual who was more prepared to complete this chapter of life and move to the next.”

Other than budgeting, Halbrendt said many students are curious about credit cards and loans. She encouraged students to take advantage of the one-on-one sessions because it helps them become financially secure and independent.

“I want students to have enough for the essentials, but almost even more so I want to help them pursue their passions. Whether it’s vet school, a yoga teacher certificate, or a financially independent life living somewhere new, it brings me a lot of joy to help students reach their goals.

Last academic year the center tallied 388 one-on-one appointments, and 136 during the fall 2019 semester.

The Sokolov-Miller Family Financial and Life Skills Center offers services to the entire Penn State community and is part of Penn State Undergraduate Education, the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at undergrad.psu.edu.

Last Updated February 18, 2020