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Helping Students Use FinAid

Financial aid administrators and guidance counselors often find FinAid to be an invaluable tool for advising families about financial aid and related issues. Students and parents want instant answers 24 hours a day. FinAid provides the answers they need and even answers the questions they have not yet thought to ask.

FinAid provides the same high quality information you would give, if you only had the time to answer all their questions. All of the information is carefully reviewed for accuracy before it is added to the site. FinAid places the highest possible priority on service to students and their families.

In addition to providing a considerable amount of material about financial aid, FinAid includes links to every other major financial aid web site. Links to third party web sites are categorized and annotated so students will know what they'll find before they visit a site. Only organizations that pass a background check are added, in order to safeguard students from harm. FinAid provides a one-stop guide to all the best financial aid resources on and off the Internet. Instead of having to recommend a few dozen web sites, you can recommend just one:

When using FinAid to counsel students, it is best to direct the routine questions to FinAid, so that you can focus on the more exceptional situations. FinAid answers even the unusual questions, but students with complicated questions often need more handholding.

The most popular sections of FinAid are featured on the site's front door. Most students visit the Scholarships and Loans sections. The scholarships section includes links to all of the high-quality scholarship databases that are available for free on the web. The loans section includes information about federal and private loans, a guide to managing debt and links to some of the best lenders. Students also tend to visit the sections that focus on particular student characteristics, such as the international, disabled, female, minority, older and gay and lesbian student sections. The female student and international student sections are among the most popular sections of the site. There are also sections for graduate, medical, law and business school students and sections for athletic scholarships, field-specific scholarships. There is also a section of information about government aid programs and school financial aid office web sites.

Among parents, the most popular section is the Financial Aid Estimation Calculator, which computes an estimate of the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The prepaid tuition, savings plan designer and saving for college sections are particularly popular with parents who want to save for their children's college education. The tax credits and deductions section provides information about the Hope Scholarship and other programs instituted by the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. Parents might also want information about parent loans and private loans, as well as tuition payment plans.

If you want to take a more active role in guiding students to specific sections of FinAid, consider the mistakes students often make. If they think they can't afford college, point out the aid available from the federal government and direct them to the Financial Aid Estimation Calculator and the Scholarships and Loans sections. Tell them about some of the common myths about financial aid and how to avoid scholarship scams. Many students do not understand interest compounding, so show them how to use the loan calculators. When they see how much interest they will have to repay over the life of the loan and what salary they'll need in order to repay the debt, it will make them think twice before borrowing too much money.

When talking to parents as part of an early awareness project, tell them that the greatest asset they have is time and that they shouldn't squander it. Given enough time, regular contributions to a savings plan can grow into a substantial college fund. Demonstrate this with the savings calculators. The parents will probably want to know how to maximize their eligibility for financial aid. It is better that they learn about the legal tips for free, than pay a financial aid consultant hundreds or thousands of dollars for advice of a questionable nature.

At a financial aid night, you might find it helpful to start your talk with a quote or joke about financial aid. It will release some of the stress, yielding a friendlier atmosphere.

The glossary can help explain some of the more arcane financial aid jargon they will encounter. You may be used to the alphabet soup of acronyms and specialized terminology like "need analysis", but to them you're speaking a foreign language. The glossary will help.

FinAid also reviews more than 400 books about financial aid in its bibliography. Every book is categorized, so you can find books about every topic.

If the student still has unanswered questions, tell them about the Financial Aid FAQ. The FAQ is a collection of answers to frequently asked questions about financial aid. If the FAQ doesn't have the answer, the Ask the Aid Advisor service lets the student submit questions to financial aid professionals across the country. To date this service has answered more than 10,000 questions.

If you feel an important topic is not covered by FinAid, please let us know so we can add a section to cover it. FinAid is constantly growing as a result of feedback from educators like you.


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