By tamaraOn December 1, 2013, the office of Federal Student Aid launched its new Financial Aid Toolkit for high school counselors and other college mentors. I have to admit that I didn’t pay too much attention to the website at the time, especially with classes winding down and the holidays quickly approaching; I just took a quick glance and noted that the overall look was very clean and professional. I did, however, make a note in my calendar to come back in January to give it a whirl. When I logged back onto the site, I was not disappointed. In fact, I haven’t been this excited about a college resource tool in a long time. It’s obvious the U.S. Department of Education put a lot of thought into creating this toolkit. The website is easy to use and hosts a wealth of knowledge on a variety of college planning topics. Here are just a few of the sections that I found most valuable. Learn About Financial Aid Yes, this section covers some of the items you would expect to find on the Federal Student Aid website, such as links to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and guidance on completing it, but it also has some good resources under the ‘Preparing for College’ area. Teachers and counselors can find support for underrepresented students, as well as a variety of graphics and handouts that demonstrate the importance of college and career planning. There are also several links to organizations that can help you plan a financial aid night or network with others in similar positions. I personally found the ‘Do You Need Money for College?’ handout to be very helpful, as many students and parents are unfamiliar with the various federal grant and loan programs available. Conduct Outreach If you’re new to your position, or want to add something new to your college planning presentations, be sure to browse this section of the Financial Aid Toolkit. There are helpful tips on hosting a college or financial aid night, such as when and where to host the event, which speakers to include, and how to advertise the event. You can even order a number of publications in bulk, to help reduce your costs. Don’t forget to check out the ‘Social Media Outreach’ section, too. Most students live on Facebook, Twitter and other social sites, so including a social media plan in your financial aid outreach is a must. Be sure you connect to the various Federal Student Aid social forums to stay current on important topics and to easily share content with your students. Search Financial Aid Tools and Resources This is probably my favorite part of the new Financial Aid Toolkit. If you need something for an upcoming college event or financial aid night, you can easily search for specific materials for your target audience. Simply select what type of resource you are looking for, the audience, topic, and the time of year. For example, I selected handouts for high school students on the FAFSA for the spring and received 11 results, including a flier on financial aid myths and how to determine if you are a dependent or independent student. It’s a quick and easy way to add valuable resources to your guidance office, college resource room, or to include at upcoming events. Overall, I am very impressed with the new website and the resources provided. I know I will definitely be using the Financial Aid Toolkit in future presentations and taking advantage of the many free handouts provided. If you work with high school students, I encourage you to set aside some time and familiarize yourself with the website, as well. I promise that you won’t be disappointed.