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Colleges Accused of Misleading Students About Financial Aid Applications

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out how you're going to pay for your college education can be daunting. And while no one would argue that filling out the FAFSA is an important piece of the financial aid puzzle, it seems that some colleges might be making the process more complicated...and costly.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland alleged this week that more than 100 universities – including dozens of elite and Ivy League institutions – may be violating the law by telling potential applicants that they have to spend money filling out an unnecessary form. In a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Cummings said 111 universities required a financial aid form developed by the College Board to be considered for any financial aid. Fifty-eight of the schools told applicants that they had to submit the $25 PROFILE form "in order to secure any type of financial aid, including federal student aid," Cummings wrote. The other 53 directed applicants to "submit both the FAFSA and the PROFILE to obtain federal financial aid, although they do not clarify what each form is used to assess." And while Cummings insists that these schools appear to be in violation of the Higher Education Act, some college officials have defended their use of PROFILE, stating that because it takes into account factors the FAFSA doesn't — like home equity and some business income — it allows universities to make fairer decisions on who needs aid the most. Meanwhile, Cummings has requested a meeting with Duncan to figure out what steps need to be taken to ensure that colleges are not creating unnecessary barriers to federal assistance. (For more on this story, click here.)

With all the outrageous fees students already must endure, what do you think of universities adding an additional one? Are you for filling out a form that costs you $25 if there is a chance you might get additional aid or against forking up more money than necessary? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.


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by Suada Kolovic

In an interesting turn of events, the New Jersey teenager who sued her parents for tuition and living expenses has reportedly returned home. I guess growing up and moving out while you're a teenager and still know everything doesn't always pan out!

Morris Catholic high school senior Rachel Canning claimed her parents “constructively abandoned” her, mostly because she would not break up with a boyfriend they didn't approve of. She moved out of their house on October 30th and had been living with a friend’s family since then. In her lawsuit, Rachel had been seeking a declaration of non-emancipation, or continued financial dependence on her family. (Basically, she wanted the court to order her parents to award her $654 weekly in child support and access to an existing college fund – an order the judge refused last week.) Though Rachel has returned home, the lawsuit has not yet been dropped but the family's lawyer has confirmed that the conflict has been resolved. (For more updates on this story, click here.)

While all the hoopla surrounding this story will surely die down in the coming weeks, do you think there could be long-term negative effects on Rachel Canning’s future?


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Knock, Knock. Who’s There? Your Admissions Essay.

More Colleges Posing Offbeat Essay Questions

February 26, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

When you envisioned your college application process, I’m sure you thought you were more than prepared. This was the moment you were told to draw on your strengths and articulate every achievement – countless community service hours, a stellar GPA and the fact that you were senior class president – and every sentence would be so perfectly and meticulously thought out that who you were would just leap right off the page. You prepared your answer on why you belonged at your dream college and pinpointed what you had to offer...until you reviewed the actual application and found a serious curveball: I doubt you expected a joke could get you in!

In addition to traditional essay prompts, more and more institutions are jumping on the unconventional question bandwagon and are interested knowing not only why students want to gain admission but just how creative they can be when challenged. Here are some far-from-average questions schools are asking this year:

University of Chicago

  • Tell us your favorite joke and try to explain the joke without ruining it.
  • How are apples and oranges supposed to be compared? Possible answers involve, but are not limited to, statistics, chemistry, physics, linguistics, and philosophy.

University of Virginia

  • What’s your favorite word and why?
  • “To tweet or not to tweet.”

Brandeis University

  • You are required to spend the next year of your life in either the past or the future. What year would you travel to and why?

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  • What do you hope to find over the rainbow?
  • Why do you do what you do?

Wake Forest University

  • Give us your top ten list.

Soon-to-be college applicants, what do you think of this approach to the admissions essay? Are you a fan of the challenge or frustrated by the fact that you are expected to impress them with your achievements and extracurricular activities and be witty, too?


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Which Colleges Are Worth the Sticker Price?

Colleges with the Highest Return on Your Investment

March 28, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

With all this talk about possible Pell Grant cuts, acceptance rates plummeting and universities facing serious tuition hikes, which schools are worth the outrageous sticker price of about $200,000? According to PayScale.com’s annual survey of colleges with the highest return on investment rates, Harvey Mudd College tops the list with a 8.8% annual return. PayScale.com’s data is pulled from 1.4 million pay reports from persons who obtained bachelor's degrees in the last 20 years, for more on their methodology click here. Check out who made the cut below:


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by Suada Kolovic

High school students, as you move further into your senior year and really start making decisions that will shape your future – what college you'll attend, how you'll fund this endeavor and what you’ll possibly major in – it dawns on you: “OMG, I’m officially an adult.” And with that realization comes the fact that very soon, you'll no longer (legally) be the responsibility of your parents. Well, not everyone is willing to accept that as their reality: A New Jersey teenager who was financially cut off following her 18th birthday is suing her parents for immediate support, current private school fees and future college tuition.

For months, Rachel Canning has been living with the family of her best friend and classmate, Jaime Inglesino, whose father, attorney John Inglesino, is bankrolling Rachel's lawsuit. Rachel, an honor student who plans on becoming a biochemical engineer, has asked the court to order her parents to pay an overdue $5,306 bill from Morris Catholic High School, finance her living and transport expenses, and grant her access to an existing college fund. Her father, Lincoln Park town administrator and retired police officer Sean Canning, says that his daughter would not abide by a set of household rules and was therefore cut off financially. "She's demanding that we pay her bills, but she doesn't want to live at home. We're heartbroken, but what do you do when a child says, 'I don't want your rules, but I want everything under the sun and you to pay for it?'" (For more on this story, click here.)

While it's not unheard of for young adults to take legal action against their parents, what do you think Rachel's case? Should parents be financially responsible for their child's college education? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.


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by Suada Kolovic

The decision to pursue a law degree is not one that should not be taken lightly. Analyzing your hopes and needs prior to applying will help you decide whether it’s worth your time, effort and money. It’s also crucial to examine the possible downsides: crippling student debt, high unemployment rates and declining starting salaries. At this point, if you’re still interested in studying law, you might want to consider a law school that’s offering the country’s first “risk-free” juris doctor program.

Following a recent trend among law schools to attract prospective students, the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University announced that beginning this spring, a student who decides to not continue law school after successfully completing their first year of studies can graduate with a Master of Legal Studies (M.L.S.) degree without taking any additional courses. And although students with this degree will not be permitted to sit for the bar exam, this approach will provide students with a foundation in law without preparing them to practice. “The new opportunity removes at least some of the financial and personal risk inherent in a large educational undertaking and comes at a time when people appreciate more guarantees,” said Craig M. Boise, Cleveland-Marshall’s dean. He added, “For these students, the first year of law school might have seemed like a waste and a hard-to-explain item on their resumes. Now they can leave with a master’s degree that we believe will be attractive to employers.” (For more on this story, click here.)

Law school hopefuls, does the “risk-free” J.D. program at CSU’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law help quell your anxieties given the weak legal job market? Do you think this program (which is essentially one-third the cost and time of a traditional law program) would be viable or not? Let us know in the comments section.


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Congrats! Or Not…

With False Acceptance Emails on the Rise, Be Sure to Double Check Your Admissions Decision

March 26, 2014

by Mike Sheffey

Imagine receiving an email from your dream college or university congratulating you on your acceptance. It's a great feeling, right? Now imagine receiving a follow-up email from that same school stating that admissions decision you waited so long to hear was sent in error. Worst. Day. Ever.

This unfortunate scenario has been a reality for many students, as the number of colleges sending out acceptance emails by mistake has increased in recent years. Gone are the days where you could determine your post-secondary fate by the size of the envelope in your mailbox; now, admissions decisions are often released first electronically but the system is far from foolproof. Technology isn't all it’s cracked up to be sometimes and people aren't perfect...but when you're dealing with students' futures, these mistakes should never happen.

For the colleges that have been messing up: GET IT TOGETHER! These emails are nothing more than an added comfort so if you can't get it right, don't do it at all. This isn't a small error: It's a life-changing one. As a center for higher learning, you need to care about your future students a little more. If you can spellcheck an email, you can also check to see who it's going to.

So students, if you've received an electronic admissions decision, just double check before starting the celebration. Look elsewhere online, email somebody or call the school directly as soon as possible. The last thing you want is a false sense of relief. Once you're sure, however, go crazy – getting into college is a big deal and should be treated as such!

Mike Sheffey is a senior at Wofford College double majoring in computer science and Spanish. He loves all things music and has recently taken up photography. Mike works for an on-campus sports broadcasting company as well as the music news blog PropertyOfZack.com. He hopes to use this blogging position to inform and assist others who are seeking the right college or those currently enrolled in college by providing advice on college life, both in general and specific to Wofford.


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by Suada Kolovic

Applying to some of the top schools in the country is unquestionably unnerving but after months of stress, sleepiness nights and chronic stomach pains, it all seems worth it when you read those magical words, “Congratulations! You’ve been accepted.” Most would celebrate such an occasion with screams of triumph, followed by an immediate Facebook update or witty tweet sharing their enthusiasm...but what would the proper celebration be when you’ve been accepted to not one but all eight Ivy League schools? Ask Kwasi Enin.

Enin has hit the admissions jackpot, receiving acceptance letters from Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale. This outcome, however, wasn’t just luck, for Enin is quite the accomplished and well-rounded student: The William Floyd High School senior scored a 2250 on his SAT, is currently ranked 11th in his class, plays three instruments for the chamber orchestra, sings in an a cappella group, throws shot put and discus for the high school's track and field team, participates in student government and has had lead roles in school plays since the ninth grade. And although he’s yet to make a definitive decision as to where he will enroll this fall, there seems to be a frontrunner. "I think my preference is Yale," Enin said. "They seem to embody all the kinds of things I want in a college: the family, the wonderful education, the amazing diverse students, and financial aid as well. So I think Yale has all that for me right now. I still have to compare all these schools – these wonderful schools." (For more on this story, click here.)

Share your thoughts on Kwasi Enin’s story in the comments section and be sure to let us know where you’re headed this fall.


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Arizona Sues to Block In-State Tuition Breaks for Undocumented Students

by Suada Kolovic

Immigration disputes have long commanded top billing when it comes to our nation’s political agenda but as of late, it’s begun seeping into the educational realm as well: The state of Arizona has filed a lawsuit to block one of the nation’s largest community college systems from providing in-state tuition to young immigrants granted deferred deportation by the Obama administration.

Arizona officials insist that extending reduced tuition to those youths violates state law, which prohibits any immigrant without legal status from receiving public benefits. Meanwhile, college officials argue that lower rates were instated in September after concluding that work permits were already on the state’s list of documents needed to prove legal residency. With potentially thousands of individuals in limbo, the Arizona Board of Regents is looking into ways to lower tuition for these students without violating state law. Board members sent a letter to Arizona Senator John McCain and Senator Jeff Flake that, in part, read, “With Arizona at the forefront of the immigration reform debate, we routinely hear from hard-working, high-achieving undocumented students who have been brought to Arizona at a young age and have advanced through our K-12 system only to have their ability to further their education and contribute positively to our economy and society hindered by state and federal immigration laws." (For more on this story, click here.)

At least 13 states allow students who have lived in the county for many years without legal status to pay in-state tuition so what do you make of Arizona’s legal action to put an end to it? Do you support the decision or oppose it? Let us know in the comments section.


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by Emily

Recent economic hardships have derailed many families' college plans, prompting some to stop saving and others to start considering less expensive colleges.  For students still determined to attend a prestigious university, another option has been gaining traction.  According to an article in The Boston Globe, applications from American students are up at many of Canada's top universities, indicating a new surge in an already growing trend. 

Since 2001, the number of Americans attending Canadian universities increased by 50 percent, and based on current trends in applications and increased recruiting efforts, growth is expected to continue.  Americans choosing to study abroad in Canada are still eligible for federal student financial aid, even if they attend college abroad for all four years.  And even international tuition in Canada ($14,487 on average) is cheap right now when compared to private college tuition ($19,337 on average) and even out-of-state tuition at some state colleges in the United States.

 Studying in Canada also removes many of the traditional barriers faced by international students.  Many Americans studying in Canada can cheaply and easily return home for holidays.  Students are instructed in English at the majority of Canadian colleges and universities, signs around town will also be in English, and for the most part, accents are not even very pronounced.  Despite their proximity to home, though, students still benefit from being immersed in another culture, and since many of Canada's top schools are situated in urban settings, Canadian universities also present an opportunity to experience life in a big city.

 However, the bargain is dependent on exchange rates.  When the American and Canadian dollars are approximately equal in value, studying in Canada becomes relatively more expensive, as does living in Canada.  Also, while some college scholarships can be applied to tuition at Canadian universities, many stipulate that applicants must be attending college in the United States.  While studying abroad in Canada is an option to consider when looking for ways to get the most educational value for your dollar, be sure to weigh all your alternatives.  Regardless of where you wind up, though, there are scholarship opportunities and other ways to help pay for school.


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