5 Ways for Getting Smart About Financial Aid

sign with questions about financial aidThe internet is a wonderful thing, you can find the answer to just about any question. The problem is that are usually so many answers that it’s overwhelming and it’s almost as bad as not knowing the answer at all. So here are five ways for learning about financial aid without wading through page after page of search.

 One  Quick Overview

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Don’t want to spend a lot of time synthesizing pages of information? For a quick overview that hits the critical issues, read Troy Onink’s Guide to FAFSA, CSS Profile, College Financial Aid and Expected Family Contribution. If you haven’t read anything about financial aid, this is the place to start.

 Two  Visual Aids

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Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words and here are two infographics that can help guide you through the financial aid maze.

For a long-term view, you know, the kind that reminds you of all the stuff you didn’t do but should have, check out the Financial Aid Roadmap. The road begins with childhood and ends with post-college. It has a nice graph showing the relationship of how much aid you can get relative to how hard it is to get.

Southern New Hampshire University has an infographic titled “Navigating the Financial Aid Process” that is more focused just on the FAFSA and federal aid. It also provides some sense of scale for how much the student loans represent.

 Three  Sources of Help

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You know you have to fill out the form but could really use some help in how to fill out the forms. These three sites provide the help.

You should start by going to the source of the greatest amount of aid, FAFSA, at Student Aid on the Web. In the About Us Section, you’ll find the latest resources for federal financial aid. It includes a PDF explaining exactly how they calculate the Expected Family Contribution.

If you are looking for some in-person help filling out the forms, there are various organizations that offer free events to help fill out the forms. Some of the better state websites will keep a list of such events. “College Goal Sunday” is a national effort to help students fill out the FAFSA and lists locations by state.

The FAFSA Help Guide takes you through filling out the FAFSA by showing each screen of the online application. You have to fill out contact information to get the PDF version but you can use the website version without having to give your information. You can go through the online version to see if it’s worth the trouble to download the PDF.

 Four  Sites to Bookmark

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These are sites that you should go to first when you have any questions about financial aid. More than likely, they’ll answer your questions.

Student Aid on the Web-like this one is a surprise. It’s where you go to fill out the FAFSA and has all the latest information on changes in financial aid.

KnowHow2Go-a national campaign to provide students with the guidance needed to prepare for college. Under the Juniors and Seniors section you’ll find information on Costs and Financial Aid. You can also find a breakdown of resources by state.

NASFAA-the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. These are the people at the colleges who actually handle your financial aid application and hopefully award you the financial aid you need. Be sure to check out their tuition discounts page.

23 Places to Get Help with the FAFSA-if none of the other websites are helping you, try some of the resources listed here.

 Five  Topics to Ponder

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These articles will give a feel for some of the issues related to financial aid.

How to Spot a Lousy Net Price Calculator. All colleges are required to post a net price calculator to help students estimate the actual costs of college. In this post, Lynn O’Shaughnessy provides tips on what to watch out for.

The Real Deal on Financial Aid. This is straight from the horse’s mouth. Muhlenberg College explains the realities for most colleges today and preferential financial aid.

Can Outside Scholarships Impact My Financial Aid? You have to report any outside scholarships as part of your financial aid application and the result isn’t always good.

Paying for College: How the Financial Aid Formulas Work Forbes Magazine explains how the different financial aid formulas will treat your assets.

Why Your EFC Should be how You Start Your College Search. This is a basic explanation of “Expected Family Contribution” and how it affects everything about financial aid.

 

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Resources for families to better understand college financial aid and paying for college.

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