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 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, Go Financial Aid’s blog will help you decipher some of the terminology and offers tips on mistakes to avoid.
Simple Tuition goes beyond dollars and cents and delves into college lifestyle topics, too. A fun read if you want to get your teen in on the college-cash research.
Take one look at the Student Loan Network site and you’ll immediately notice how service driven it is, all with the goal of cutting college costs.
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.
Full disclosure: I’ve studied college and financial aid topics as the managing editor of The CollegeBound Network for the past 14 years, so I’ve had the privilege of connecting with many of the experts mentioned above. My company publishes the U. Got It? blog — I hope you’ll add that to your list of financial aid hotspots, too.