Financial Aid Prospecting — Online
The Internet Is Loaded With Valuable Financial Aid Information, but Few Campus Web Sites Are Designed to Help Them Find It
Log on to any of the hundreds of college Web sites now available on the Internet, and you’ll find everything from virtual tours to online applications. But too few of these sites contain the information would-be college students seek most: The what, where, when and how of financial aid.
Around 83 percent of students applying to college will use the Internet to research information about schools in which they are interested, according to a recent survey conducted by Peterson’s, the college guidebook publishing giant. Of these students, 69 percent say they expect the Internet will be most useful in the search for financial assistance. That’s more than twice as many — 32 percent — who say the Web would be helpful in preparing and narrowing the list of colleges to which they might apply. Sites offering tips about scholarships, grants and loans can be of particular use to Black students, since roughly 63 percent of all African American college students use some sort of financial aid.
Of the 71 historically Black colleges and universities that maintain sites on the Internet, only about three dozen have sections devoted to financial aid. These financial aid pages range from the not so helpful — which generally reiterate of the college’s financial aid policies and tuition costs — to the excellent, which supplement useful, clear descriptions of the financial aid process with links to other sites on the Internet. Among the stellar examples, experts say, are Oakwood College’s “Easy 1-2-3” guide and Norfolk State University’s “Search for Free Money” (see Gleeming Web Sites, pg. 39).
The good news for college and university Web administrators is that upgrading an institution’s financial section can be done virtually expense-free simply by linking to Web resources already online.
The centerpiece of every financial aid Web page should be a link to the online Federal Application for Financial Student Aid, known as FAFSA, at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
The U.S. Department of Education maintains this site and processes the applications. This means that individual colleges and universities don’t have to make the investment in setting up their own electronic financial aid applications; they merely need to steer students who visit the school’s Web site to this link.
The obvious advantage to directing students to file their FAFSA online is the degree to which it expedites the process. About one in every seven FAFSA paper applications is delayed in processing because important information is either incomplete or inaccurate on the form.
Such delays can have a crucial effect on the amount of aid students receive, since much of the assistance available is awarded on a first come, first-served basis. For universities, these delays impede the process of enrolling new students and can add to administrative expenses.
At the Department of Education’s site, FAFSA applications quickly are checked by computers that can notify applicants almost instantly if they have left out information or have included responses that appear inconsistent.
By linking a college’s Web site to FAFSA, financial aid officers can encourage applicants at their respective campuses to fill out the forms electronically and thereby reduce some of the hassle caused by the delays.
In addition to its electronic FAFSA, the Education Department’s site posts an online version of its comprehensive Student Guide at www.ed.gov/prog_in-fo/SFA/Student Guide, the essential resource for families applying for assistance in paying for higher education.
Other useful sites that guide families through the process of applying for financial aid are:
n FinAid! at www.finaid.org. Created by a respected author of financial aid books in 1994, this site is the grandfather of student assistance Web sites on the Internet and still one of the best. In addition to useful explanations of loans, scholarships and military aid, the site offers an “Ask the Aid Advisor” feature. Students can e-mail questions about their own unique circumstances and quickly get an informed answer.
n National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators at www.nasfaa.org. The online home of one of the financial aid industry’s leading professional organizations, this site offers valuable information for anyone interested in financial aid, such as “Cash for College,” which offers crisp explanations of the process for students and families.
n College Is Possible at www.collegeispossible.com. Its name announces its optimism and a visit to the site confirms its usefulness. Broken into three steps — preparing for college, choosing the right college and paying for college — College is Possible offers higher education hopefuls clear descriptions and advice on how to navigate each part of the process.
n Adventures in Education at www.adventuresineducation.org/paying/ by the Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation, this site offers a useful explanation of the process of applying for student loans, is an excellent source for all aspects of the college application process. It particularly shines in its paying for college section, where it augments its descriptions of the financial aid process with in-school and after-school budget worksheets for students.
Show Them the Money!
Of course, if a financial aid Web site is truly going to help students, it also has to lead them to scholarships. There are five sites that list scholarships offered nationwide and can quickly determine a student’s eligibility.
At these sites, students complete short questionnaires about their backgrounds and interests. The site’s computers then provide students with the contact information for the scholarship programs for which they may be eligible.
The following sites, among the best on the Internet, offer students this service free of charge:
The College Board at www.collegeboard.org/index_this/fundfinder/html/ssrchtop.html. The testing service has rounded up more than 1 million scholarships through 3,400 programs. Students complete a personal profile on the site, and the computers match them to appropriate scholarships.
CollegeNet at www.collegenet.com/ mach25. Adorned with a sci-fi shot of a space shuttle “breaking the tuition barrier,” this site — managed by a Portland, Ore.-based company that specializes in offering online college application services — catalogs and searches more than 600,000 scholarships.
FastWeb at www.fastweb.com. Since 1996, this site has been one of the leading sources for scholarship information on the Internet. Students have access to more than 400,000 scholarships at this site. Their fasTOOLS section also offers students a useful budget planner for calculating their total college costs and future loan payments.
Sallie Mae at www.scholarships.sallie-mae.com. This student loan giant offers exclusive access to CASHE, the College Aid Sources for Higher Education scholarship list.
Scholarship Resource Network Express www.rams.com/srn/execsrch.htm. This site searches nearly 150,000 scholarships adding up to more than $35 million for higher education.
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