Finding Help on Campus: Bursar
Settle your accounts
What is a bursar, anyway? "I think that has something to do with money," says Bill McGlone, a junior at the University of Maryland-College Park. "I usually go deposit tuition checks there," says senior Jennifer Nguyen. Her friend, Patrick Tarectecan, sitting next to her in the campus food court, admits, "I have no clue what that is."
Well, Patrick, even if you haven't heard of the bursar, you can bet he's heard of you. The bursar's office keeps financial records for all students at a university--sending out bills and collecting payments for tuition and room and board, issuing financial aid reimbursement, and tracking charges on a student's account from different parts of the university, such as health insurance or dining accounts. Given a variety of names, including the director of student accounts and manager of student financial services, this person can answer questions about your college bill and help out if you're having trouble paying it. "My job is to make it financially as simple as possible," says Scott Moses, the bursar at Western Washington University, by trying to make the bills easy to read and being available to answer student and parent questions.
The bursar doesn't hand out money--that's a job for the financial aid director--but at most schools the office can help students budget by setting up a deferred payment plan that splits bills into regular chunks. Though the plans usually cost between $40 and $100, it's "a cheaper option than getting a late fee" that can be as much as 5 percent of the unpaid bill, says Mike Landi, the bursar at the University of Maryland. And, he adds, unlike paying late or not at all, "it keeps the students in good standing with the university."
If a payment plan won't solve bill-paying problems, bursars will often help students apply for more financial aid. Most offices have counselors who will go over options with students and even take them to the financial aid office. Suellyn Hull, the bursar at the University of Arizona, says her goal is "making sure that money isn't the thing that keeps students from going to class."
This story appears in the April 18, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.