If you have college-bound children, you probably spend a lot of your day worrying about how you could possibly afford to help them pay for their degree. We won’t lie — it is a huge investment, considering student loan debt reached $1.75 trillion in this country last year. The good news is there any many free resources online to help guide you through the process, maximize your financial aid, find scholarships, and more. Get going.
First, the big ones
If you’re looking for a comprehensive overview of financial aid as a whole, including definitions of all those pesky acronyms, how to figure out if your student is eligible and what the process is like, then don’t miss these two powerhouse sites.
StudentAid is the official website of the federal student aid program, and ultimately, where you’ll apply for financial aid via the online Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
FinAid, published by financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz, isn’t much to look at, but it’s packed with tons of information, calculators, FAQs, and more. This is a must-visit for anyone starting out in the college process.
Blogs to bookmark
Staying on top of what’s new in the world of financial aid is important if you want to improve your aid eligibility, stay in the know about student-loan rates and get the best bang for your tuition buck. These bloggers do a great job of breaking it all down.
There is so much valuable information from financial aid counselor Jodi Okun at College Financial Aid Advisors that her blog is just the start. She also hosts the popular weekly #CollegeCash Twitter chat.
Discovering a scholarship is the first step toward winning one. The Scholarship Coach blog from U.S. News & World Report keeps students and their parents updated on new awards, upcoming deadlines and programs that target specific types of students.
As its name implies, Financial Aid News is a bit more newsy than the others on this list, as it gets more into the government’s role in financial aid and other higher education topics and debates.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the financial aid applications themselves, Grantford Financial Aid Consultants’ blog will help you decipher some of the terminology and offers tips on mistakes to avoid. The site also has a lot of other useful information about the financial aid process.
The most desirable kind of financial aid is “gift” aid — grants or scholarships that don’t have to be repaid. Here are two of the biggest and best scholarship search services, although there are many others worth exploring.
Fastweb (the sister site to FinAid) is, in my opinion, the best scholarship search engine around. It’s been around since your teen was in diapers. Fill out a profile to receive customized scholarship results based on the student’s criteria.
The scholarship search at The College Board (better known as the maker of the SAT) is also a good bet for finding awards from both colleges and universities as well as private organizations.
If you liked this article, you might also like:
- College financial aid: A timeline for high-school students and families
- 10 ways to save on college textbooks
- How to leave college with less student loan debt
- 10 things college students should learn about money
- Money tips for new college graduates
- College financial aid packages: What parents need to know
Mary Fallon says
Before students apply to any college or post-secondary school they should use the school’s net price calculator to get a personalized estimate of their net price (sticker price minus free grants). The most accurate and detailed NPCs ask 30 to 40 questions, which takes less than 12 minutes to answer. Not all schools are using these most accurate of NPCs but at least 1,500 colleges have posted them. The most accurate NPCs not only reveal a student’s estimated free grants but also work-study, federal loans, military aid and monthly loan repayments after graduation. Visit all your preferred colleges and then compare the deals colleges expect to offer you and apply to those whose aid estimates best fit your budget. Also, every year apply for aid. You can prepare a federal student aid application one of two ways – either on the US Dept. of Education’s website OR by getting professional help from a fee-based FAFSA preparation service such as www.fafsa.com. Just like income taxes, the federal government offers students two ways to prepare this form because it can be complex for some. However don’t let its complexity deter you from filing a FAFSA because on average students get $26,000 in aid (grants, loans and work study).