Both websites are published by Mark Kantrowitz and are owned owned by Monster Worldwide, Inc. These are not government websites, so be sure not to be mistaken about that.
As an aside, there's a quick trick you can use for identifying a website. Official websites of the U.S. Government will have a domain name that ends with ”.gov”. If a site claims or implies it is a government site, but you do not see a .gov in the url, you should be suspicious (unless it is a state government site).
The “domain name” is the part in your URL bar (at the top of the browser) between the “http:” and the domain suffix (likely .com, .gov, .org or .net). If you see a .org at the end, you can assume that this is an organization. Non-profits are typically .org's, but not all .org's are non-profits (though they might want you to think that they are).
The ”.org” in Finaid's address indicates that Finaid is an organization. Likewise, the ”.com” in Fastweb.com indicates it is a commercial website. Fortunately, though it is commercial, they do not charge for their services. Funding for their site likely comes from endorsements and paybacks for the opportunities they refer to visitors.
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Information about Mark Kantrowitz is easily obtained from his website. His background is kind of bizarrely diverse. While he's the publisher of both Fastweb.com and Finaid.org, he is also the President of MK Consulting Inc which focuses on computer science, artificial intelligence, and statistical and policy analysis. Mark describes his education as ABD on a PhD from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU, a prestigious school for computer science). An important note is that ABD stands for All But Doctorate (which he does not explain). For this reason, Mark did not fully complete his PhD from CMU. His webpage is a glowing review of his broad set of achievements which are indeed noteworthy.
To us, it comes off as trying a bit too hard. No doubt, he comes under a lot of scrutiny with his sites and is a bright man. We guess that Mark benefits tremendously from his online “public” services. Among his other websites are “Kosher Cookbooks”, “Australian Aboriginal Art”, and “Testicular Cancer”.
Unlike some others who hype college loan and scholarship information Kantrowitz is actually quite highly regarded. In fact he was interviewed in early 2016 about the current student loan crisis and how it is worse than most think. In this interview he shares the results of his own study of how student debt impacts the borrowing student —- and how that impact affects the overall U.S. economy. He is genuinely interested in helping students increase their financial aid and graduate college with a debt load they can reasonably handle.
Monster Worldwide, Inc. is the mega-corporation (revenue in the hundreds of millions) for Monster.com. This isn't the Monster Energy Drink company. This is an online site for job postings and referrals. The Monster company trades publicly on the New York Stock Exchange. While businesses are of varying trustworthiness, a public company like Monster has a lot of government checks and balances. On the whole, this is a big boost of confidence in the services of Fastweb.com and Finaid.org.
The Wall Street Journal does mention fastweb in a 2015 article about getting scholarships even as late as May. Using sites like these can help to speed up a search for those resources. An example was given of two specific banks that were offering $1000 to $5000 to students who applied by mid August of that year. So don’t give up or ignore potentially useful sites like these just because you have already chosen a school.
News June 2018 Fastweb also maintains an interesting news site from which you can learn a lot. For example, are you a “Dreamer”? Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon) and his wife are donating $33 million to TheDream.US, which is a major scholarship program specifically for dreamers. This will be the largest grant that TheDream.US has ever received. They will be giving out funds to one thousand undocumented immigrants. The students must be graduates of a U.S. high school. The fastweb site also provides tips to improve your chances of winning a scholarship, like how to write a standout essay and more.
Update December 2017: There is also a new tab called “Deals & Promos” you can click to see what companies are offering special promotions especially for students. For instance, we looked for information for this update and learned that Dell is offering a 10% discount on some laptops and PC’s, JCrew can help your student wardrobe with 15% off your purchase, Tom’s is offering 10% off several items like glasses, shoes and other accesories and where would your wardrobe be without some new jeans? Levi’s will help you out with a 15% discount. And of course this information changes regalarly as sales don’t last forever, so it’s worth checking to see what’s up if you’re planning a purchase.
Update July 2017: Finaid also makes it easy to find online education programs that suit your interests and specific goals regarding the type of job you want to pursue. We clicked “online degrees” to see what we would find. What followed was a series of questions that were focused on subject areas, from the broadly defined to very specific, and then on what degree we were looking for, how much schooling we already had, whether we wanted something online or local, etc. This is important because it means that their search results should yield programs very well suited to your specific wants and needs.
Update March 2017 In the December update below we mention “Student Deals and Promos. This month you can get some tips that could save you a bunch of money. For example, under current deals it offers some very useful tax advice provided by TurboTax. You may not be thinking about taxes if you’re a student but this is good information you — and your parents! — can use. You (and they) might be surprised at the amount of tax benefits your family may be able to take advantage of. And amazingly, even if you don’t owe any taxes, one of the tax credits gets you a 40% refund check for the money you spent on your tuition, books and supplies and other fees! So you can increase your cash through scholarships and some excellent tax advice…
Update December 2016 As an added bonus for the holiday season (and perhaps beyond), fastweb has added a new section called Student Deals and Promos. So you can see special offerings from companies like Dell (need a ew laptop?), Overstock, Priceline and more — even a discount on new vehicles from General Motors. They also let you know about discount cards you’re eligible for as a student — some you may not have known about. Of course you should use your own judgment if you check any of these out and be sure you’re really being offered a bargain on a quality product. The site does not say anything about them vouching for any of these vendors, though of course they are well known.
News August 2016: Looking for assistance targeted specifically for women? Fastweb has created a new resource in 2016 called Scholarships for Women. Of course most scholarships are available to all students regardless of sex, but there are many that have a very specific focus. The scholarships for women include a very wide range of interests and availability in terms of the level of education involved.
Finaid provides some interesting information that you don’t always see. One involves the taxability of scholarships, a topic not often covered on sites about financial aid. It is worth reading if you are planning to go after lots of scholarships (which is a good idea!). The extensive database (they claim it’s the largest and most up to date) of scholarships is found at fastweb. It is there that you enter more detailed information about yourself so that they can match you with relevant scholarships. They will also notify you when new scholarships are found that are a good match for you.
Every other page of the signup process has an offer for you to consider. To their credit, no opportunities were automatically selected. Still, it's hard to resist the offers. The information is presented in a kind of sneaky way. For example, one such offer was from Devry Technical College. Many of these offers could be found nearly as easily through a Google Search.
If you found this article useful, you may also want to discuss and learn about other websites on the internet.
Our assessment: Mark Kantrowitz is a very bright man that runs effective websites which connect students with financial aid opportunities for school. In the world of online financial aid, Mark's websites are very helpful.