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As May 1 approaches parents and prospective students will be sitting down to make one of the biggest decisions of their life (if they haven’t already): Where to go to college. For many the key factor in that decision will be the family’s finances and the financial aid packages offered to the student. In other words if college is in your family's immediate future, this weekend is a big deal.

"Evaluating financial aid packages and deciding on a school is a very personal decision for many families," says Kiersten Murphy, a counselor at Murphy College Consultants, LLC. "But when it comes down to it the decision is often made based on what both the parents and students can afford."

Families usually supplement paying tuition through student loans, which can be either federally or privately funded. However, Beth Guerard, a spokesperson for Sallie Mae (SLM), the nation’s leading student aid provider, says that families should first start searching for is "free money" to pay for schooling. Generally this comes in the form of scholarships and grants but unlike loans, this free money is financial aid that does not have to be repaid.

While there are thousands of grants and scholarships available each year, free money is not always so easy to find. Experts agree that students should avoid paying for reference books to locate funding that is available. Instead, seek out the many free online databases to pinpoint which aid can be applied for.

Here is MainStreet’s list of some of the best scholarship and grant databases online:


From SRA International, this site provides information on government and private funding as well as other resources.

Federal Domestic Assistance Catalog
Also known as the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA), this site provides a searchable directory of federal programs that provide assistance including formula grants and project grants.

GrantSource Service
From UNC Chapel Hill, this site provides a library of grant databases for both undergraduate and graduate students.

Philanthropy News Digest
This publication provides weekly updates on available aid.

Commerce Business Daily
The CBD provides notices of proposed government grants and aid.

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DHHS GrantsNet
This site provides information about grant opportunities through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Federally-Funded Research in the U.S.
Information about federally-funded research in the U.S. can be found at this site.

TRAM Research Funding Opportunities and Administration
This database contains research funding sources including a set of agency grant application forms and a list of university sponsored research offices.


FastWeb Scholarship Search
One of the largest free scholarship search sites, the FastWeb database provides automatic email notification of new scholarships that match the student's profile.

College Board's FUND FINDER
This site lists scholarships and other types of financial aid programs from 3,300 national, state, public and private sources. LLC provides a database of scholarships available to students.

NextStudent offers a free scholarship search as well as student loan products and services.

This site also provides a free online scholarship search service. The award listings include information about the awards and also allow students to look at a separate list of expired awards.

Another online reference that provides award listings available to prospective college students.

This database uses a simple one-page profile with keyword search to provide students with scholarships that they are eligible to apply for.