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Rachel's Resource Review: The U.S. Department of Education’s studentaid.gov

Published:  January 15, 2013
Publication Image

Screen capture of studentaid.gov homepage taken 1/15/2013.

There is an abundance of free resources available to students and families to learn about the college-going process, but they haven’t been vetted or organized in a practical way. Over the next few months, Higher Ed Watch will be reviewing these resources to help students, families, guidance counselors, college access professionals, and others choose the ones that meet their unique needs. Read more about this initiative here

Welcome to a New Year and the commencement of financial aid season. The 2013-14 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is now available, and students and families are already logging on to complete the application. Since almost every college uses the FAFSA to determine aid eligibility and financial aid packages, millions of current and prospective students fill one out every year.  But due to the complexity of our federal financial aid system, the process for learning about and applying for financial aid can be intimidating and overwhelming. This year a new U.S. Department of Education web resource—studentaid.gov—provides students and families with clearer information about federal financial aid and the financial aid application process.

Background:

The Education Department’s Federal Student Aid office launched studentaid.gov last year after embarking on a multiphase process to clean up and combine existing federal student aid websites. The redesigned site aims to establish a customer-focused web experience for students and borrowers.

Target Audiences:

  • Students (both traditional and nontraditional) and families who want to learn more about FAFSA and federal financial aid.
  • Guidance counselors, college access providers, and financial aid administrators interested in providing plain-language resources to students and families.
  • Federal student loan borrowers navigating the complexities of repayment.

User-Friendliness:

The home page for studentaid.gov is organized into five content areas that students can quickly drill down into depending on their needs. Because of this, the interface is a lot more stripped down than is typical of governmental websites.

The site is also mobile-friendly, so no matter the digital device students view it on, the content rebuilds itself to be readable. One of the biggest assets of the website is that it is available in English and Spanish.

Trustworthiness:

Since studentaid.gov was developed by the financial aid experts at the Department of Education, its content is highly trustworthy.

Content Highlights:

Drawbacks:

  • Due to the complex nature of federal financial aid, studentaid.gov remains text-heavy at times, which can be overwhelming to the reader.
  • Though the website looks more user-friendly, the content itself is still explained in a way that may not make it accessible to all students without a counselor or advisor to help navigate.
  • Since not every website related to Federal Student Aid has been redesigned, clicking on certain links will bring you to clunky governmental websites. The difference can feel jarring and doesn’t make it feel like a true “one-stop shop” just quite yet.

Final Word:

Studentaid.gov is impressive considering it’s a government website. Because it’s highly trustworthy, this should be one of the first resources that counselors and advisors send students interested in learning about federal student aid and the FAFSA.

Hopefully the changes made to this site bleed into all the other Federal Student Aid websites so that studentaid.gov really does become a one-stop shop for all student and borrower needs. Indeed, all of the federal government’s higher education websites, like College Navigator, should follow the lead of studentaid.gov and revamp their online efforts to be more consumer-focused. It would go a long way in putting students in touch with trusted information to help them make educated decisions on where to apply to and pay for college.    

 

 

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