Where to Search for Financial Aid Info

Start gathering information now so it does not become overwhelming.

Detective with magnifying glass

Parents of high school seniors are probably breathing a big sigh of relief just about now as they can see the light at the end of the financial aid tunnel. Everything has been completed, offers have been proffered, and now the only things left to do are pick a college, send a check, and start packing. But, for parents of high school juniors, the financial aid train is just pulling into the station.

This year is going to be particularly stressful as everyone adjusts to the new FAFSA availability date of October 1. Families previously had the luxury of waiting until January to file the FAFSA, but the downside of this delay was that financial aid awards often lagged far behind acceptance offers and made the decision process very imprecise. While this should be a good thing in terms of having better information on which to base a decision, it does create a time crunch for families that are already behind in choosing a college.

Good Places to Search for Information

  • The Federal Government: The best place to begin researching financial aid is to go straight to the “horse’s mouth” and learn about federal student aid right from the Department of Education. Although this is just one piece of the financial aid puzzle, it is an important one. Start here to learn more about the FAFSA, federal student aid, federal student loans, borrowing, budgeting, and the financial aid process. It is a great overview of what you can expect to encounter as you move down the college application road.
  • Your State Government: Another source of financial aid comes from the state in which you live. Rules are different for each state, and you might be eligible even if you don’t receive any assistance from the federal government. Look for information from your specific state agency.
  • Prospective Colleges: Colleges have financial information on their websites, but it is aimed at the average student. They can tell you what the average student pays to attend their institution, and what the average student receives in financial aid, but each individual situation is different. These figures can sometimes be misleading as well if the average student takes more than four years to graduate, or financial aid decreases after the freshman year. An easier way to compare college costs might be to use the College Scorecard, also sponsored by the Department of Education.
  • Search Online: This is where the search for information can get a little tricky. Always be aware of who is behind the particular website you are visiting, and try to determine if they have any reason to have a particular bias. Stick to reputable websites from industry experts, associations, and trusted sources. Beware of any site that asks you to pay money to obtain information, as most of this knowledge is readily available for free elsewhere.
  • Read Up: If you feel overwhelmed by trying to do all of this research yourself, it might be worthwhile to find a book that can take you through the entire process. Search for books about college financial aid, and look for something written by an author who has in-depth experience in the financial aid field.
  • Private Sources: Although many students might not recognize it, scholarships are also considered another form of financial aid. In some cases, they can be substantial. Although some colleges do include scholarships in their financial aid packages, most students will have to look to private resources for additional support. Don't just stick with the obvious scholarship opportunities available in your community, church or civic organizations. Expand your search and spend significant time online searching for scholarships that meet your specific capabilities. There are opportunities in just about every field imaginable, for every type of student and field of interest. 

    It’s never too late or too early to become more knowledgeable about this important topic. Don’t get left behind - jump on the train, and start learning about financial aid now!