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Dollar SignI don’t know about you, but financial aid is one subject that always makes me nervous. I have attended workshops, read books and viewed tutorials, but in no way do I consider myself an expert when it comes to people’s money. I do, however, feel a responsibility to provide families with reliable resources to help guide them through the financial aid process. There are a myriad of books, websites, seminars, etc. all claiming to hold the secret to getting the most financial aid. Many of these confuse, frustrate and even misguide families. Of course, there are trustworthy resources out there; but how do we know which ones to recommend? Before I endorse any websites, I research a number of factors. First, is the information up to date and close to the source?  Next, is it reliable and secure?  Last, but not least, is it free?  If the answers to these questions are yes, I test drive the site to make sure it is easy to follow and user friendly.

Below is a list of crucial financial aid resources that I feel confident sharing.

FEDERAL WEBSITES

https://fafsa.gov and http://studentaid.ed.gov
– FAFSA application
– Resources for students, parents, and educators
– Tutorials, publications, and worksheets for counselors
– FAFSA 4caster online tool to help families determine their  EFC

http://financialaidtoolkit.ed.gov/tk/training/nt4cm/resources.jsp
– Counselor training such as webinars, training materials, and other resources

STATE WEBSITES

http://www.calgrants.org (click on “Cash for College” tab)
– Free student/parent workshop information
– Financial aid training for counselors
– Dream Act training and resources

http://www.csac.ca.gov
– Resources for students, parents, and educators
– Publications including the downloadable Fund Your Future workbook

http://gotocollegenevada.org
– Resources for students, parents, and educators

OTHER

http://www.nerdwallet.com/nerdscholar/fafsa/guide
The recipient of “The College Knowledge Challenge”, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, NerdScholar is a comprehensive resource that helps students fill out the FAFSA. It is geared towards students and has a variety of tools, including a thorough tutorial and FAQ section.
– FAFSA tutorial
– FAFSA guide
– FAFSA FAQs

http://student.collegeboard.org/css-financial-aid-profile
– CSS Profile financial aid application and student guide
– Resources and downloads for professionals (click on “Profile for Professionals)

http://wacac.org/hsctoolkit
– Financial Aid presentation sample

College Financial Aid Offices
Students should always feel comfortable contacting their prospective colleges for campus specific information.

These are just a few of my go-to financial aid websites. Please feel free to leave a comment below, sharing any others you would highly recommend.

By Shan Schumacher