5 Top Websites for Snaring College Financial Aid

college tuition
college tuition

Will you need a second job just to cover the costs of your kid's college education? It's not surprising if you do, given the beating 529 college savings plans took during the depths of the market's downturn a few years back.

By the time the equities bloodbath of 2008 wrapped up, a number of 529 plans had seen their stock investments lose 40% of their value -- and, in one case, as much as 65%, notes a Consumer Reports posting.

For parents looking for a way to make up for some of those lost tuition dollars, financial aid is just a few mouse clicks away.

Clicking for College Dollars

A host of websites exist to steer parents toward private- and government-sponsored student loans, grants and scholarships. Here are five notable sites to help cut through college aid information overload:

  • National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators: The site offers information under its "Students, Parents & Counselors" tab, where entities dole out financial aid, eligibility for financial aid, and a state-by-state look at various financial-aid programs available.

  • The College Board: The site not only offers an overview of financial-aid options, but comes through with such handy features as a scholarship search tool that scours more than 2,200 programs involving financial aid, scholarships and internships.

  • U.S. Department of Education: This site keeps parents and students up to date on changes to Student Aid programs, as well as a free application for federal student aid, or FAFSA, and a tool to get an early evaluation on financial-aid eligibility.

  • Studentaid.com: This comprehensive site is recommended by Mercyhurst College's student financial services department. Although it offers an extensive list of available scholarships, grants, and loans on a customized basis, it does charge a service fee for its report unless household family income is $40,000 or less. The site rightly notes that fibbing about your income level to qualify for its free report would not generate an accurate representation of the financial aid and other support your student would be eligible to receive.

  • Savingforcollege.com: In addition to scouring for grants, scholarships, and students loans, there's also the need for parents to sock money away for their kids' college education. Savingforcollege.com provides a wealth of information on 529 savings plans across the nation, as well as financial aid and scholarships.

Banks Are Jumping Into the Mix

Wanting to lure more customers to their student loans, banks are coming up with ideas to attract information-hungry parents and students. For example, Wells Fargo (WFC) recently launched WellsFargoCommunity.com, a free social-media-based site that addresses college planning topics from selecting a major to financing college to locating student housing.

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But as good as a bank's college savings and planning advice might be, it still faces stiff competition from other information sites that aren't looking to snag a customer to take out a loan.

For parents, it's time to do your homework on scoring the right mix to fund your child's college education. Think about that the next time you tell your kid to hit the books.

Motley Fool contributor Dawn Kawamoto does not own any stock in the companies mentioned. She is, however, heavily vested in her daughter's education and planning for the future. The Motley Fool owns shares of and has created a covered strangle position in Wells Fargo. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Wells Fargo.