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Use the Web to Find a College (and Finance the Tuition)

Online resources can help make both choosing a college and getting aid to pay for it a lot easier

For high-school students bound for college in 2013and for their parentsits time to get serious about finding a college and figuring out how to pay for it. Get started with these resources.

Finding a College

The best college sites have search engines to help you locate schools in specific geographic areas or that offer particular degree programs, religious affiliations, size, selectivity, sports, and so on.

Itll help if you can establish a few priorities first. If you want to be within an easy drive of your hometown, for example, or if youre set on studying wildlife management in Northern California, use those factors to narrow your search results.

Many college sites require you to set up an account before you can access all of their available features. Also, make sure you understand how the site plans to use your personal information, and provide only the details youre comfortable sharing.

Here are three top sites to check out:

College Navigator (nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator): The database here covers thousands of colleges in the United States.

College Board (collegeboard.org): This site has articles, videos, and tools on finding a college, learning about careers, understanding and applying for financial aid, and more.

College Prowler (collegeprowler.com): Reviews, ratings, and feedback in various categories come from students themselves. The site requires a fairly de­­tailed registration for full access.

Finding the Funds

The cost of a college education has never been higher. Many college sites offer excellent tools and guidance on tuition and expenses, loans, grants, and scholarships.

In general, the best student loan deals are available through the federal government. Make sure you fully understand the terms of any loan agreementincluding extra fees, any grace period or deferment options, and interest rate capsbefore signing on. Here are some top sites to check out:

Student Aid on the Web (studentaid.ed.gov): The U.S. Department of Education developed this site. You can set up a customized ac­­count (My­­FSA) to research schools and scholarships (and get advice on avoiding scams); you can even apply for federal loans.

FAFSA (fafsa.ed.gov): FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the starting point for all federal student aid; all students applying for aid must submit a FAFSA form.

FinAid (finaid.org): This site does a remarkably good job of explaining the complexities of financial aid in a simple, straightforward way.

MeritAid.com (meritaid.com): Merit aid refers to grants, scholarships, and discounts that colleges offer to admitted students based on individual achievements (not need). The site lists merit scholarships available at hundreds of U.S. colleges.

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