Best Financial Aid Reviews 2016
Acquiring the financial resources to fund years of higher education can seem like an uphill battle. Just when you think you've got it under control, a new semester begins and a whole new set of fees are billed. Fortunately there are resources at your disposal to help you save money and cover the big things like tuition and other smaller expenses.
Some of the sites on our list function on a state-by-state basis in conjunction with universities and colleges while others are focused on a broader, more national scale. To make things a little easier and to ease the confusion of what pertains to whom, we've compiled a list of some of the best money-saving sites. We've personally tried out many of these resources and can assure you that they offer a wealth of financial advice.
Considerations When Choosing a Financial Aid Resource:
Do your best to keep these points in mind when scouring the financial aid resources:
- Can I limit my search to specific states or institutions?
- Does it require any type of financial background or history from my parents?
- Are there reviews or ratings from other students readily available?
- Is a membership required or can I use it free of charge?
Saving For College
- Overview of 529 plans
- State-by-state search and comparison functions
- Free college-cost calculators
- Reviews and ratings of each savings plan
- Q&A section
- Content may some readers
Saving for College has many of the things you've come to expect from a college financing and comparison site. It'll provide you with the knowledge and a basic overview to start saving plus additional information on 529 savings plans, ranked in terms of the best and the worst. In case you're not familiar with it, a 529 plan is a savings plan offered on a state or institutional level and it's intended to ease the financial burden on families by setting aside academic funds years in advance. On average, most states offer this sort of plan although it may be called something different like a "savings" or "prepaid" program. Once you have a solid understanding of which plan will work best for you, try out the college-cost calculator to start figuring the numbers. Its state-by-state comparison function is guaranteed to save you time and the site also features a number of handy college cost calculators to give you a better understanding of how much you'll really need to account for.
Verdict - Superb
This site is an invaluable resource to consult on the path towards higher education. Not only will you learn about ways to save money but it also has financing options. The one con attributed to this site is the amount of information thrown at you all at once. This may overwhelm some readers but nonetheless it has useful content that comes in quite handy throughout the college process.
- Includes info on over 5,900 colleges and universities
- User-friendly website
- Free to create an account
- Practice questions for entrance exams
- Planning oritented
- Not many tools for saving money or FinAid
To most high school graduates, the College Board is known for administering the SATs and all secondary education testing. While this is one of its primary functions as an institution, it also serves as a resource for university costs, scholarships, and financial aid programs. College Board services over 7 million students by providing them with the tools and information necessary to succeed post secondary schooling. Apart from its comprehensive resources, the College Board also functions as an advocacy group for some of the world's leading institutions. Through their research, they're able to connect more students with the tools they need to be successful in the working world. Moreover, the College Board conducts lengthy research and makes the data available for students to explore in a variety of areas.
Verdict - Superb
College Board is the foremost place to start whether you're a parent helping your college bound child or a student just starting out in the pursuit for higher learning. The site is limited in terms of its resources on financing. While it does have information on financial planning, it will direct you to other links and institutions established for that purpose alone. So you can expect to be directed to external sources if you're in the market to apply for financing or loans.
- Ask the Aid Advisor
- Provides info about scholarships, loans, and other aid
- Over 30 different calculators
- Complete list of college saving programs
- User interface can be difficult to navigate
- Too many links that are misleading
Deemed as "the best place to begin a search," it's no surprise this site made it onto the list. If you haven't already made a stop to see the FinAid website has to offer then you've been missing out. This comprehensive resource provides an extensive database of information on things like scholarships, loans, and other forms of financial aid to help pay for college or university studies. As an added resource, FinAid features custom calculators on the site to better determine the cost of regular expenses you're likely to incur. What's really unique about its tools is that it also has a tailored 'Ask the Aid Advisor' section to tackle those more complicated questions which may not be present in the FAQ section. The only drawback about this site is that the web page itself is a bit tricky to navigate. There are many resources available, but it takes some time and practice to locate them.
Verdict - Great
FinAid is a suitable place to begin searching for scholarships, loans, and other options to pay for college. It has an extensive database to get questions answered in a jiffy, plus the personalized advisor tool to tackle some of those more complicated scenarios. One thing that you may notice is that it has quite a lot of external links. While sites like this may seem spammy, we still see value in the information that is presented.
- Lots of helpful information on student financial aid
- A glossary of unfamiliar terms
- Everything is categorized to find exactly what you want to know
- At times, information may be too confusing
- Some links are misleading
- Not all information is easily accessible
Federal Student Aid is sponsored as part of the U.S. Department of Education. It is one of the largest and most extensive providers of financial aid to students around the nation with over $150 billion in federal grants, loans, and work-study funds distributed annually to an excess of 15 million students. Directly on the Federal Student Aid site you can pick up tips and tricks to prepare for college, determine the level of financial or monetary aid you qualify for, and techniques for managing your resources responsibly. To better assist first timers, it features a helpful glossary of legal terms as well as neat categories to quickly locate your particular area of interest. Overall, the platform provides clear and direct content to get you the information you need promptly.
Verdict - Great
Student Aid is a one-stop shop for planning as well as managing your financial resources. To simplify the process, they've even made it convenient to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) directly on the website or learn about the best ways to prepare for college with loans, work-study jobs, and scholarships. If you're looking for a site that's compiled all the financial information on your behalf then definitely take the time to give this one a look.
Federal Student Aid
- Free to submit
- Determines eligibility for loans, grants, etc.
- Relatively easy and simple to complete
- Open to anyone
- Adheres to strict deadlines and guidelines
- Take into consideration your parents income and assets
FAFSA, which stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is an application you are required to fill out and submit annually in order to receive benefits like Pell Grants, federally backed student loans, and work-study programs. The FAFSA is typically completed entirely online and is one of the primary ways students demonstrating financial need pay for post-secondary education. This is one of the most important documents to complete in the financial aid process because most colleges and universities use your FAFSA as the basis for distributing monetary assistance. If you haven't reached the point where you're ready to apply for college, make use of the FAFSA4caster, and tools like it to get a general understanding of how much you'd receive. Then from there, you can come up with a financial plan.
Verdict - Great
Make it a point to complete the FAFSA, or at least check out the site if you're seriously considering financial aid as an option. Be aware however that the deadlines for financial aid are early in the year, so it's important to submit the proper information in a timely manner. Overall, the application doesn't take an excessive amount of time but it does ask some questions that may require information from your parent's taxes or financial history. For that reason, it's a good idea to first consult with your parent and then consider how their income will affect your chances of receiving assistance.
By now you should have a clearer understanding of the resources and sites availabe to you as a student. When you explore your options and make proper use of all discounts, plans, and deals available, earning that degree doesn't seem like such a major undertaking. For more, check out these guides on student financial aid.
Student Financial Aid FAQs
How do I know if I qualify for financial aid?
There are a few basic requirements you should meet before you contemplate filing for financial aid from the federal government. You must first qualify for the ability to receive a higher level of education by having either achieved a high school diploma, a GED or completed a high school equivalent education through an approved home school setting.
After this, you must either enroll or be accepted for enrollment in an eligible program or school. You need to have a valid social security number and if you are between the ages of 18 and 25, you need to be registered with Selective Service. You will also need to certify a need for financial assistance.
In addition to all of this, you must either prove that you are a US Citizen or a US National. If you are not, then you must have a valid green card, or an arrival-departure record, have battered immigrant status or a T-Visa.
If you meet these criteria and think you may need some additional financial support for your education, you should go ahead and fill out the FAFSA form and apply for federal financial aid.
According to the Institute for College Access and Success 47% of eligible students did not take out the federal financial aid that they would have qualified for, so it is important that even if you do not think you may qualify for financial aid, but you fit the criteria above that you go through the process anyway. The financial aid application process is a timely and cumbersome one; however, federal student loans offer much more flexibility as far as repayment options after you graduate than private student loans.
If you feel for any reason that you may have a need for additional financial support when it comes to achieving your higher education goals, you should consider federal aid first and then private student loans as a last resort option.
When should I apply for financial aid?
There are a number of types of financial aid available for college students. There are programs available under the federal government for both parents and students. In addition, there are state run financial aid packages as well as financial aid packages that are offered through individual colleges and universities. Because of these varied forms of financial aid, there is not one specific deadline for everyone.
The Federal Student Aid site, or FAFSA, provides an easy to use tool to give you an idea of the deadlines that you will have depending on where you live and when you plan to attend school.
No matter when your deadline, though, you should begin the process of preparing for financial aid almost immediately after you complete your process of applying for schools. There will be a number of pieces of information you and your family have to provide, and the sooner you can start the process, the better prepared you will be when you are ready to submit your application.
Amongst the information you will need to provide on your FAFSA form is income and tax information for the student as well as income and tax information for the parents. Because of this, it would be a good idea to prepare your taxes early for the years you are applying for financial aid. You do not need your full tax return to complete the form; however, you should have a good estimate of these numbers before you apply.
The FAFSA has about four pages of notes alone to help you fill out the information properly. Please make sure that you read and understand everything that you complete before you submit the form as any errors could lead to a delay in your financial aid package, which will complicate your admittance to your school of choice.
What is the difference between a federal loan and a private loan?
Student loan funding is split between federal and private loans. Federal loans are those that are regulated and supported by the US Government through its various agencies. Most federal loans have limitations as to how much a student or the student's parents can borrow; however, they also have the most flexible repayment options after graduation. Private loans are provided directly from lending companies like banks. These typically offer higher borrowing limits based on a cosigner's financials; however, they have much more stringent repayment terms once you graduate.
What is the difference between a subsidized loan and an unsubsidized loan?
You will see these terms when you come across federal loans and the difference is when the interest rate clock starts running. With a subsidized loan, the federal government pays the interest for you while you are still in school, so all of the loans that you borrowed while in school were not accruing interest over that period of time. If you have an unsubsidized loan, then the interest that you will be charged on your borrowings starts to accrue the day you borrow the money. You do not have to pay this interest while you are in school; however, when you graduate, you will see that the amount of loans that you borrowed will be higher than you thought and the difference is the accrued interest on the unsubsidized loans.