In a Nutshell: Fastweb launched in 1995 as the first online scholarship search platform. And it has continued to evolve into a broader resource for students and families searching for college funding. In addition to scholarships, Fastweb informs users how to apply for federal financial aid and make smart decisions regarding private student loans. Fastweb empowers students to make informed decisions about college, avoid burdensome debt, and start their careers on solid financial footing.
In the 2019-2020 academic year, the average yearly college tuition price was $30,500, according to EducationData.org. That represents about half of the 2018 median household income, which was $61,937, according to Census Bureau estimates. And the class of 2018 carries an average student debt of $29,200 — which is 2% higher than the previous year.
Student loan debt is a widespread economic problem in the United States, and it has a significant financial impact on many individuals. Scholarships can help keep debt lower, but many prospective students don’t have the time to spend searching and applying for them.
Fastweb was established in 1995 as the first scholarship search website. Since then, it has expanded its services beyond scholarship searches and matching. Today it also helps college hopefuls with the application process for college admission, financial aid and student loans, and even part-time employment and internships.
“We don’t want people graduating with a ton of student loan debt,” said Kathryn Knight Randolph, Associate Content Editor at Fastweb. “That’s not helpful to start life with.”
Part of Fastweb’s mission is to provide financial education for students who otherwise lack the resources to make the most informed decisions regarding paying for college. Through its services and resources, Fastweb eases the financial strain of higher education and ensures students can earn a degree while minimizing student loan debt.
Users can get started by answering a few basic questions, including location, GPA, colleges of interest, and potential majors. Students can immediately start finding scholarships and funding opportunities to help them secure a college education and a better financial future.
“We like to say that we take the ‘search’ out of the scholarship search for students,” Randolph said. “They just fill out a profile, and they have all these opportunities that would be a perfect fit.”
Financing is a Significant Factor in Every College Search
Choosing a college can be a major life decision. And it may depend on which degrees an institution offers, the quality of education, the institutional and campus culture — and just as importantly, funding.
“A lot of students think about the college first. They ask ‘Where do I want to go to school?’ and ‘What’s next?’” Randolph said. “But they should be thinking about their finances first, including ‘What can I afford?’ and ‘Who’s paying for this?’ And then look for the college.”
However, Randolph advised against limiting options based solely on apparent affordability. Students can and should apply to schools they’d like to attend but don’t think they can afford on their own.
“They can apply to a school that, financially, looks like a huge reach for them, but that school is notorious for awarding a lot of merit scholarships, making it more affordable,” Randolph said.
At the same time, students must also apply to other schools within their financial means, including community colleges where they can earn general education credits before transferring to a four-year institution.
If students earn a scholarship, all their schools of choice may be within reach. Otherwise, they’ll have plenty of options to choose from because they based their search on reliable financial information.
“Think about what you can realistically pay for college before you start getting into the search,” Randolph said. “If your parents are helping you pay for college, have conversations with them. If they’re not, knowing that ahead of time is also very helpful.”
Scholarship Opportunities Fit Diverse Student Needs
When signing up for Fastweb, the more information students supply, the better the platform can match them with opportunities they may otherwise miss. For example, when college-bound students enter information about their parent’s place of employment, they may find they have access to scholarships for children of employees.
Many niche opportunities appear in the Fastweb database, which is curated by a dedicated research team. The database consistently provides high-quality opportunities for students seeking scholarships.
“We have a team of real people who are combing through our database to ensure every scholarship is legitimate, and that every scholarship is still active,” Randolph said. “And they are out there finding new opportunities as well.”
That means students have a wide range of scholarship options. Many applicants gravitate toward high-profile and low-effort awards like the Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway. These operate on a sweepstakes-style model. Users submit their names and, hopefully, win without any effort.
However, because of the ease of entry and the magnitude of the prize, the pool of entrants is large, making the chances of winning minuscule. It’s better to apply for scholarships that offer smaller prizes and require more effort. That means the applicant pool is smaller, increasing the chance of success.
Of course, not every student can earn a full ride to college. And limited financial means as a young adult can cause missed opportunities and lower earnings later in life. But federal financial aid and private student loans can supplement scholarships and ensure students receive an education to advance their careers and financial well-being.
Resources Help Students and Parents Navigate FAFSA and Private Loan Options
“The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is complicated,” Randolph said. “We simplify it for students and for parents who have never filled it out before. We try to make it a little less daunting by providing expert advice on how to do that.”
Fastweb’s FAFSA information hub includes FAQs and a comprehensive list of all deadlines. It also hosts additional informational articles and resources so students and parents can educate themselves on the program.
“We make it a simple and encouraging process for people, so they don’t feel like it’s an overwhelming form,” Randolph said. “You can do it, and there are plenty of resources out there if you need help, including us. That’s what we focus on with our financial aid.”
Alongside federal student aid, Fastweb connects students to private lenders who offer funding for higher education. Fastweb also provides education on loans, rates, lenders, smart borrowing practices, repayment plans, and other crucial knowledge for making an informed borrowing decision.
“If you do need more funding after you search for scholarships and you’ve applied for financial aid, we also have a student lending center to line students up with private student loans that would best fit their situation,” Randolph said. “In terms of student loans, we advise students never to borrow more than their expected annual salary when they graduate. And that’s hard to do. You don’t necessarily know what you’re going to do at age 15 or 16, but you could look at the average salaries for college graduates the first year out of college and say, ‘Don’t borrow more than this amount.’”
Fastweb: Facilitating Financial Stability Beyond College
Beyond providing funding, Fastweb offers students more options to maintain financial stability in college. Its deals page offers discounts at major retailers, including Target, Amazon, Priceline, and J. Crew, making college living more affordable and less financially stressful.
“It covers everything from clothes to travel to Broadway shows,” Randolph said.
Students can also use Fastweb to find employment while enrolled in school. It hosts information about local jobs near colleges, freelance opportunities, and seasonal work during holidays and summers. Fastweb also connects students to internships, which will look good on a résumé after graduation.
No matter how students decide to fund their higher education or manage their finances during college, they should also complete the FAFSA form. Whether they can pay for college through earnings or scholarships, filling out financial aid paperwork at the very beginning is the first step.
“You never know what’s going to happen, and you never know if you’re going to qualify for aid or not,” Randolph said. “So many people think, ‘I’m not even going to qualify for aid, why would I even fill this out?’ It’s important for everyone, especially right now.”
Taking on student debt isn’t the ideal way to fund college. However, it is a viable option in certain circumstances.
The New York Federal Reserve reported in 2019 that graduates with a bachelor of arts degree earn an average of around $30,000 more a year than those with only a high school diploma. So although student debt may be unavoidable for some, taking on some debt now may be a substantial investment in future financial success.