Free Resources for College Financial Aid

Free Information on FAFSA, Grants, Scholarships, and More

Mother and teen lounging on bed with open laptop and jars containing money going over financial aid information

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The world of college financial aid can be overwhelming. Even for those who have already been through the process of filling out the FAFSA, changes and updates can almost make it feel like they’re starting back at square one. Here are some free online resources to help make the undertaking a bit easier.

Key Takeaways

  • Financial aid is money students receive to help pay for college. Financial aid comes in the form of loans, grants, scholarships, and more, and sometimes it does not have to be paid back.
  • Filling out the FAFSA is an important first step in applying for financial aid, but there are other grants, scholarships, and more that can help you pay for a college education.
  • Free resources include the Financial Student Aid website, CareerOneStop, Scholarship America, and more.

Federal Student Aid Website

Federal Student Aid is an office of the U.S. Department of Education, and its website is the logical first place to start. The site provides detailed guidance on preparing for college, choosing a school, types of financial aid, who gets aid, applying for aid with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and how to repay student loans.

The site offers advice and information for both students and parents, including checklists for academic and financial preparation. Types of aid, including grants, scholarships, work-study jobs, and requirements for becoming and remaining eligible, are detailed. As well as information on filling out the FAFSA, the site provides an estimator tool, which helps you estimate your future eligibility for aid. A section on loan repayment covers such topics as consolidation, deferment, forgiveness, delinquency, and default.

The FAFSA form is available starting on Oct. 1 for the following school year. In order to complete the FAFSA, you will need the following:

  • Social Security numbers of the student and the parents/guardians
  • Driver’s license number if you have one
  • Alien Registration Number if you are not a U.S. citizen
  • Federal tax information or tax returns including IRS W-2 information for parents/guardians and Form 1040 (or applicable tax return) if you are a dependent student
  • Records of untaxed income—including child support, interest income, and veterans benefits—for the student and parents/guardians
  • Information on cash holdings; bank account balances; investments, including stocks, bonds, and real estate (but not the home in which you live); and business and farm assets for the student and the parents/guardians

The FAFSA asks several questions that help determine whether the student is a dependent student, including ones regarding age and marital status.


In order to electronically sign the completed FAFSA, the student or parent/guardian must create an FSA ID, which consists of a username and password.


The U.S. Department of Labor sponsors the CareerOneStop website, which lists more than 8,000 searchable scholarships, fellowships, grants, and other financial aid opportunities. (It also offers a lot of career-related guidance, including skill and interest assessments, information on job training programs, and a database of job postings.)

College Scholarship Websites

It makes sense to find and apply for as many scholarships as you can. Unlike some other forms of financial aid, scholarships don’t have to be repaid. Merit-based scholarships are earned by meeting or exceeding standards set by the scholarship sponsor. Some scholarships may be based on financial need. Other scholarships are geared toward a particular group of people, and some are available because of where you or your parents work or went to school. allows you to search for scholarships, grants, and loans without requiring you to register or log in. It also provides information on higher education-related topics such as application essay writing and the cost of books.

Scholarship America

Scholarship America describes itself as the "largest nonprofit, private scholarship organization" in the U.S. The Scholarship America Hub matches you up with applicable scholarships.

Other Free Online Resources


Finaid—which is affiliated with Fastweb, another scholarship search site—has a wealth of information about financial aid. The easiest way to get started looking for helpful pages is to check out the Quick Links at the bottom of the page, where the very large number of topics is divided into such categories as loans, military aid, calculators, and educators.

529 Savings Plan Websites

While and the College Savings Plan Network are two websites that focus primarily on 529 savings plans, they also offer information on saving for college and how that impacts financial aid for students.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is need-based financial aid?

Need-based financial aid is based on the candidate's ability to afford a college education. If a student's household income is low, they may be in a position where they need help paying for college because their family does not bring home enough money to afford it. The threshold for affording college is determined by the FAFSA, which results in the student's expected family contribution (EFC).

How do you appeal for college financial aid?

If you're denied financial aid, you can appeal it by learning the process for appealing that particular loan or grant. You may need to provide a written statement outlining why you were incorrectly denied financial aid, outlining the circumstances that make you eligible. You may need to provide documents like medical bills, bank statements, and more, showing you are a candidate for financial aid. There may be other steps involved and the process can take weeks or months.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Federal Student Aid. “Filling Out the FAFSA Form.”

  2. CareerOneStop. “Scholarship Finder.”

  3. Scholarship America. “We Have One Passion. Every Student.”

  4. Federal Student Aid. "What Does Need-Based Mean?"

  5. Federal Student Aid. "What Is My Expected Family Contribution (EFC)?"

  6. Finaid. "How To Appeal Financial Aid Award Packages."

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