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Five Tips for Maximizing Merit Aid

July 11, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out the bottom line when it comes to the cost of your college education is definitely stressful. With everything that goes into determining your financial aid package (your parents’ income, your earnings and your family’s net assets), it’s important to understand that merit aid (aid based on a student’s attributes like (academics, athletics, extracurriculars, etc.) is available to student regardless of their “need.” New federal rules are blurring the distinction between scholarships awarded on merit and grants awarded because of a student’s financial need – for instance, a growing number of colleges now award “need-based” aid to students from families earning six figures! – so we’ve compiled a few helpful tips to maximize your chances for merit aid and increase your overall financial aid package.

  1. Fill out the FAFSA. Federal rules have changed and college aid officials are now allowed to award need-based aid to students whose parents earned decent salaries last year but have recently been laid off; institutions can also make accommodations for a family’s unique circumstances, such as high medical bills.
  2. Apply to schools where you’d rank at the top. While your dream school might be an Ivy League, you should apply to at least a few colleges where your GPA would put you in the top 25 percent of the student body.
  3. Do the research. If you’re interested in a college, find out what it has to offer when it comes to merit aid. You might qualify for more awards than you think!
  4. Before making a final decision, compare net prices. Consider the cost of attendance in its entirety, including tuition and fees, room and board, books and transportation. The school that offers the most in merit aid might not be the best choice; sometimes the college offering the largest merit scholarship might have the highest net price because its tuition is higher.
  5. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Believe it or not, you have leverage when it comes to negotiating your merit aid package. If you have received admission letters from two or more universities and your first choice has a higher net price than your second choice, contact your first choice institution (which one is “that institution”...first or second choice?)! Some schools might be willing to match the merit aid offered, which would provide you the opportunity to attend your first choice school for less money!

Can you think of any tips that we might have missed? If so, please add them to our comments section! For more information on finding money for college and how to properly fund your college education, check out Scholarships.com Financial Aid section.

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Connecticut College Study Finds Oreos Are Just As Addictive as Cocaine, Morphine

October 16, 2013

Connecticut College Study Finds Oreos Are Just As Addictive as Cocaine, Morphine

by Suada Kolovic

The diet of a typical college student likely includes a few high-calorie staples like pizza, Top Ramen, French fries and cookies. And as unfriendly to your health and waistline those options are, high-fat/high-sugar foods are also comparable to drugs in their addictiveness. Take Oreos: A new study shows that “America’s favorite cookie” is as addictive as cocaine and morphine.

Connecticut College students and a professor of neuroscience have found that lab rats eating Oreos activated significantly more neurons in the brain’s “pleasure center” than cocaine or morphine. “Our research supports the theory that high-fat/high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do,” said neuroscience professor Joseph Schroeder. “It may explain why some people can’t resist these foods despite the fact that they know they are bad for them.” The student behind the study explained that she wanted to expand upon this research and explore how foods with high fat and sugar content contribute to obesity in low-income communities. “Even though we associate significant health hazards in taking drugs like cocaine and morphine, high-fat/high-sugar foods may present even more of a danger because of their accessibility and affordability,” said neuroscience major Jamie Honohun. (For more on this study, click here.)

What do you think of the study’s findings? Let us know in the comments section.

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Study: Majors Are More Important Than Where You Went to College

September 10, 2013

Study: Majors Are More Important Than Where You Went to College

by Suada Kolovic

With fall semester in full swing, high school seniors are mere months away from deciding where they’ll spend the next four (or more) years. And while there are multiple factors to consider when making such a major decision, most would argue that prestigious universities and high-earning salaries are intrinsically tied...or are they?

According to a recent study by College Measure, students who earn associate degrees and occupational certificates often earn more in their first year out of college than those with traditional four-year college degrees. Examining schools in Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, the study found that short-term credentials such as two-year degrees and technical certificates were worth more than bachelor’s degrees in a graduate’s early years. College Measures President Mark Schneider said, “The findings challenge some conventional wisdom, showing for example that what you study matters more than where you study. Higher education is one of the most important investments people make. The right choices can lead to good careers and good wages while the wrong ones can leave graduates with mountains of debt and poor prospects for ever paying off student loans.” (For more on this study, click here.)

It’s important to remember that the study focuses on short-term gains as opposed to long-term/lifelong earnings. It’d be interesting for College Measure to reexamine their findings over the next few years but what do you think of its current report? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section!

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California Gov Signs Bill Allowing Higher Fees for Popular Community College Classes

October 11, 2013

California Gov Signs Bill Allowing Higher Fees for Popular Community College Classes

by Suada Kolovic

If you’re a high school senior and you don’t think a traditional four-year university is for you, attending a community college does have its perks. Whether you’re interested in completing your general courses or testing the waters with a major that you're not absolutely set on, community colleges offer students the luxury of figuring out their educational path for a fraction of the cost...or at least they used to: California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that would allow a handful of community colleges to charge inflated prices for in-demand courses. Let’s say it all together now: Booooooo!

The higher costs – $200 per unit instead of $46 – would only affect the shorter summer and winter sessions. Supporters insist that the pilot program would prevent more students from being shut out of courses they need to graduate but critics said that lower-income students would be denied the opportunity to obtain course credits essential to their educational success. "The state would be shifting the burden for funding access from the state general fund to the backs of students," said Vincent Stewart, the community college system's vice chancellor for governmental relations, after the California Legislature approved the measure. "Creating a pay-to-play fee structure, where students who have greater wealth and means can get on a fast track, is patently unfair."

Even with the rate per unit almost quintupled, the overall cost of studying at a community college is still considerably less when compared to traditional options but is it fair to charge more? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

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Top 10 Worst College Majors

July 18, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

With recent college graduates facing an unemployment rate of 6.3 percent and substantially lower starting salaries, we have to ask: What path should students take in order to flourish after graduation? And while there isn't one direct route that translates into post-collegiate success, H&R Block has compiled the top 10 majors with the highest unemployment rates for recent college graduates:

  1. Anthropology & Archaeology – 10.5%
  2. Film/Video & Photographic Arts – 12.9%
  3. Fine Arts – 12.6%
  4. Philosophy & Religious Studies – 10.8%
  5. Liberal Arts – 9.2%
  6. Music – 9.2%
  7. Physical Fitness – 8.3%
  8. Commercial Art & Graphic Design – 11.8%
  9. History – 10.2%
  10. English Language & Literature – 9.2%

What are your thoughts on the majors that made the list? Do you agree with the sentiment that these majors that aren't in high demand should be avoided or should students be encouraged to pursue their passion regardless of potentially high unemployment rates? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section. For more information on how to choose a major,the most popular college majors and 10 things to consider before choosing your major, head over to Scholarships.com’s College Prep section.

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Pay It Forward Plan Draws Serious Criticism

July 21, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

When it comes to paying for a college education, it seems as though students have two options: deal with impossibly high payments while they're in school or crippling debt for years afterwards. Well, Oregon students were provided a third option last year when legislators approved the Pay it Forward plan that would allow students to attend state colleges without paying tuition or taking out student loans but would instead commit a small percentage of their future incomes to repaying the state. It turns out, however, that said plan isn't the saving grace for college students afterall.

First proposed by students at Portland State University, Pay It Forward has drawn serious criticism since Oregon passed a law to study the idea. According to a report by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, analysis shows that the plan would leave most graduates deeper in debt than if they had taken out loans and would throw colleges’ balance sheets into uncertainty. Here are some of the more prevalent points in the association’s report but for a more detailed look, click here:

  • Pay It Forward does not account for non-tuition costs like room and board.
  • Students who generally rack up the most debt – those at for-profit and private nonprofit institutions — would not be eligible for the program.
  • The program would have “enormous” start-up costs.

Early estimates suggest that Oregon would have to take about 3 percent of a former student’s earnings for 20 years for it to work. With that being said, what are your thoughts on Pay It Forward? Do you think it’s too soon to tell if this is a viable option for other states to adapt?

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UVA Welcomes “Game of Thrones” Course

July 24, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

Are you one of the millions of Americas suffering from “Game of Thrones” withdrawal? Do you stay up late at night pondering how the Lannister’s will pay their debts next season? Wonder if Ser Gregor Clegane will turn into Cersei’s dream Frankenstein Monster? Speculate when winter will freaking come already?! Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait close to 10 months to get our next “Game of Thrones” fix...unless, of course, you’re at the University of Virginia: This summer, UVA is offering an English course on the wildly popular HBO show. Thronees rejoice!

According to UVA Today, the discussion-based class will be taught by associate professor of English Lisa Woolfork over four weeks this summer. The course will be divided between the first “Game of Thrones” novels and the first three seasons of the show. “One of the goals behind this class was to teach students how the skills that we use to study literature are very useful skills for reading literature and TV in conjunction,” Woolfork said. “‘Game of Thrones’ is popular, it’s interesting, but it’s also very serious. There are a lot of things in the series that are very weighty, and very meaningful, and can be illuminated through the skills of literary analysis.” (For more on this story, click here.)

While classes rooted in popular culture is not a new phenomenon on college campuses – Frostburg State University in Maryland has been offering “The Science of Harry Potter” as a three-credit seminar for years – what’s your stance on the educational value of offering such a course? Do you think colleges are pandering to students’ wants verses needs? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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College Students, Grab Those Scanner Guns: College Registries Are Becoming a Thing!

August 1, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

To my understanding, the general rule of thumb for a creating registry is as follows: any event marking a significant life change (marriage, baby, new home, etc.) warrants one. And while no one would argue that heading off to college would fit that description, only recently have college-bound students been encouraged to register for items that would smooth their transitions to college life.

Once reserved for brides and moms-to-be, big box retailers are opening up their gift registries to college students. Target rolled out a college registry in June and already thousands have signed up. "Our college-bound guests were looking for an easy way to manage lists and share them with friends and family online," said Jenna Reck, public relations manager for Target. "When we looked at the registry experience we already offered through the Target Wedding and Target Baby registries, we quickly realized that it was the right solution." The registry will be accessible year-round and is geared toward students in every stage of their campus lives. Other retailers including Bed Bath and Beyond, The Container Store and Walmart also have registries that cater to college students. (For more on this story, click here.)

What are your thoughts on college registries? Do you think they’re practical or tacky? Share your thoughts in the comments section. For more information on preparing for college and what to expect once you get there, look over our College Prep section.

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Five Unique College Majors to Consider

August 5, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

If you're heading to college in the fall, you'll be faced with a serious decision in the coming months: choosing the right major for you. And while there are myriad factors to consider when making your decision, reviewing the most popular college majors and the majors with the highest earning potential aren't bad places to start. But for those of you interested in something unique, USA Today has complied the list for you:

  1. Puppet Arts, University of Connecticut: If you're interested in an undergraduate degree in puppetry, UConn is your only option in the U.S. Getting in might be tough – enrollment is limited to 22 students – but graduates have gone on to work and perform in theatres, television shows and films.
  2. Bakery Science and Management, Kansas State University: KSU offers the only bakery science undergraduate program in the nation and graduates can pursue several jobs within the business. The school's website says bakery students can prepare themselves for "administrative, research, production, and executive positions."
  3. Viticulture and Enology, Cornell University: Though it only recently became an official major, students in the school’s viticulture program typically go on to work in wineries all over the nation.
  4. Secular Studies, Pitzer College: Phil Zuckerman, the school’s founder of the Secular Studies program, explained the degree’s main focus is about understanding secularity, secularism and secularization and how they relate to religion.
  5. Canadian Studies, Duke University: Duke is one of the few colleges in the nation to offer such a program and it’s operated like most history tracks.

Would you consider any of these far-from-mainstream majors? Do you think said majors would translate into success in the real world? Share your thoughts in the comments section. And for more advice on how to choose a college major and 10 things to consider before finalizing your decision, check out Scholarships.com College Prep section.

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Tech Mistakes to Avoid as an Online Student

August 20, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

Say what you will about Generation Y but one thing's for sure, they are one tech savvy group. Armed with smartphones, laptops and tablets, they are plugged in and on the go 24/7. And yet, so many students make the same tech mistakes repeatedly. (I’m looking at you, student who hasn't saved their work once in the past hour!) Luckily, U.S. News and World Report has compiled a list of mistakes to avoid when starting school as an online student, check them out below:

  • Not backing up your data: "If I had a nickel for every time a student came to me crying to me, I wouldn’t have to teach," says Margaret Reneau, an instructor in St. Xavier University's online graduate nursing program. Reneau recommends using the online file storage service Dropbox, which offers free accounts of at least two gigabytes. Other options include regular back-ups to an external hard drive or uploading homework to cloud-based Google Docs.
  • Not asking what browser is recommended for your program and courses: Check if your browser is compatible with the learning management system that your program uses and with the technical features in your courses.
  • Not checking your email: Check your school email regularly for important announcements or forward your school emails to your personal account if that's the account you rely on.
  • Not using apps: If your school offers an app, download it. Other apps such as Evernote can help with managing class work deadlines and projects.
  • Not downloading a free reference manager: Free academic software programs like Zotero and Mendeley help students save, manage and cite research resources. This can save students a lot of time by making it easier to collect, organize and share research.

For the full list of tips, head over to U.S. News and World Report. What do you think of the suggestions? Are there any you'd like to add? Share your thoughts in the comment section. And for more information on preparing for college, head over to our College Prep section!

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