Need help paying for college? Check out Edvisors

By Lifestyle and Budget Consumer Reports

With the cost of college tuition rising, it's challenging for many students to pay for college, especially if you aren't familiar with applying for financial aid. I'm a rising college junior, and even while in high school I knew that there were other ways to pay for college than out of my own pocket. But I didn't understand what I needed to do and when I needed to do it.

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Lucky for me, my mother once worked as an college admissions counselor and had some familiarity with the process. "Whatever you don't understand, just Google it," she would tell me. Her motivation led me to find scholarships, forms of financial aid, and informative information online.

Websites can definitely be useful in informing students of college finances and aid, as I recall from my experiences using Fastweb.com, founded by college-finance expert Mark Kantrowitz. In June, Kantrowitz became senior vice-president and publisher of a new college-planning Web site, Edvisors.com. Kantrowitz says the new website, in development for a year, has content on more than 400 subjects, addressing various topics and information sought out by college-bound students. With classes just around the corner, you may find it helpful to navigate through Edvisors.com, or another similar website, for advice on your financial questions.

The Edvisors homepage is formatted in a very clear and concise way. Readers don't have to hectically dig for information. Instead, they can narrow their search and view articles within just six categories:

Plan Ahead. This section gives advice and information on how to properly save for college. It contains articles that mostly target those who have yet to attend college. Here you can find out about the value of a college education. The page also gives tips on how students and parents can team up to finance a college education.  

File the FAFSA. You can find out more information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) due dates and student qualifications in this section. A student can read tips on how to boost aid eligibility. Edvisors even provides a free, downloadable FAFSA tutorial for those who aren't sure how to properly fill out the form. This can be very helpful, especially for students preparing for their first year of college.

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Win Scholarships. Receiving a scholarship can help reduce college costs, thus allowing you to minimize any student debt. This section provides assistance on finding scholarships, and gives information on other forms of financial aid such as grants. What I personally found interesting was the Top Ten Tips on How to Win Scholarships. These tips can definitely help increase your chances of obtaining money. In order to view available scholarships, you have to create a free account with Scholarshippoints.com, a branch of Edvisors.com.

Work as you go. Working while in college can help finance your education. This section provides information on student employment and aid for students who also were or are in the military. You can learn the benefits of working while in college, and compare the pro's and con's of working on-campus versus off-campus. You also can find out what special programs and aid is available to those who provide military service.

Borrowing Money. This section provides students with guidelines on how to choose a student loan. You can learn the differences between a federal and private loan, thus allowing you to make a wise decision on which loan you want to take. The page also gives information on how to understand loan terms, so you won't fall into any unwanted binding agreements.

Pay it Back. This section gives information on how to manage your student loan. You can get advice specifically on how to pay back your private, federal, or parent loan. This can be very informative, especially since no on wants to fall behind on the bills. Defaulting on a student loan would show up on your credit report, affecting your credit score, and your ability to qualify for another loan or lease.

Read more from Consumer Reports on college financial planning, student discounts and related topics.

As with all new things, there is always room for improvement. While roaming the website, there were several features I wished to see. Some features would improve a readers' experience and the likelihood they'd return to the site.

Search box. As organized as the Web site is, I found myself wishing that I could type in a keyword and click search. Today, people simply type in a word onto a search engine and instantly get related information. It is a nice feature to have, especially for readers who tend to be impatient in finding answers.

Videos. A few graphics and diagrams were given here and there. But as I was reading through the FAFSA Tutorial, I found myself thinking "Wow, wouldn't this be more engaging as a video?" In video format, I believe the tutorial would gain a wider audience. Having a video would be a nice addition to any article.  

Interactive Pages. Interactive pages can help readers learn more. People tend to learn in different ways—some through visuals, others by reading, and some by hands on experience. Having interactive pages can help a reader understand a certain subject more. Even adding in short quizzes testing a readers knowledge on a certain subject can heighten a reader's experience.

There are certain things that I value when searching for information online. When you have a certain question in mind, you don't want long, boring, and descriptive answers. Instead, you hope to find an article that address your inquiry directly and clearly. So keeping that in mind, here are several features I really liked about the site:

"Help me" bar. With this bar you can search for specific articles and information by selecting from the drop-down menu one of several topics: the FAFSA, finding scholarships, borrowing federal loans, borrowing private loans, and manging loans.

And that's not the best part. Edvisors gives you the option to select who you are: a college student, a graduate student, a high school student, or a parent. This can be helpful in searching for information specially targeting a certain audience, tending to each individual's needs.

For example, when identifying myself as a college student, I was given the options to learn more about the FAFSA, the FAFSA pin, the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile, award letter, and school code. I decided to click on CSS Profile and learned that the CSS Profile is commonly used as a supplement to the FAFSA or instead of the FAFSA. It differs from the FAFSA in the amount of information it collects about a family's finances. Apparently the CSS Profile contains 50 percent more questions then the FAFSA. Readers can learn more about the application costs, deadline, and filing. The other categories were just as thorough in covering the information a reader may be in search for.

Glossary. The Student Financial Aid Glossary defines terms and acronyms most commonly used in student financial forms and other material. Most people use these terms and acronyms without realizing what it stands for.

Frequently Asked Questions. Sometimes other readers may have the same inquiry as you. Reading the questions that have already been asked may answer your question. If your concern is not addressed, Edvisors gives you the option to submit a question.

Social Media. With technology playing an increasing role in our lives, everyone seems to be connected digitally. Edvisors has several pages where they post articles and other valuable information. You can follow them on Twitter @Edvisors. They also have a Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ account. By doing this you can stay updated on smart college financial planning.

Marcy Robles

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