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Community Service Rewarded through Campus-Based Scholarships

January 2, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you've started volunteering as part of a New Year's resolution, or just because it's something you enjoy, chances are you were thinking more of other people than of yourself when you signed up.  However, the altruistic nature of community service doesn't mean that there are no tangible rewards.  Volunteering makes a great line on a resume and a college application, and is also excellent scholarship essay fodder.  As an added bonus, a growing number of colleges and foundations are awarding substantial amounts of scholarship money for students who devote their time and energy to helping others.

An article on Forbes.com profiles several of the most generous campus-based community service scholarship programs.  Several of these include full-tuition scholarships for students who have participated in volunteer programs in the past or who are interested in making community service a major part of their college experience.  Drew University in New Jersey has recently unveiled a brand new civic scholarship program, following in the footsteps of The College of New Jersey, which also offers a sizable service learning award.  Dozens of other colleges also offer similar scholarship opportunities, many of which are funded through the Bonner Foundation and AmeriCorps.

These full-tuition service scholarship awards can be wholly merit-based or partially need-based.  One reason for colleges' increased interest in service learning awards could be due to their potential to help students feel more involved and thus become more likely to succeed in college.  The Forbes article cited Pat Donahue, director of the civic scholarship program at The College of New Jersey, as saying that service learning has helped retain several at-risk students who are otherwise less likely to complete a degree than many of their peers.

Service scholarships have also been described by some as the new athletic scholarships for a generation of students devoting more time to service than to studying or sports.  As athletic and academic scholarships are as much contingent on future success as on past experiences, so are service scholarships, which often require students to continue volunteering and participating in special courses and activities throughout their college careers.

To find out more about the Bonner Foundation, AmeriCorps, and other community service scholarships, conduct a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com.

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2009-2010 FAFSA Available Tomorrow

December 31, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Though it's a day off from school and work, New Year's Day is often seen as a day to get down to business.  While you're starting in on your New Year's resolutions, opening up a new calendar, and packing up the holiday decorations, there's one more thing that college students and college-bound high school students should consider doing.  The Department of Education starts accepting the 2009-2010 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (more commonly known as "FAFSA") on January 1.  State application deadlines start happening soon after, beginning with Connecticut's February 15 priority deadline.  So while you might not be starting school until August or September, you want to be applying for financial aid right now.

What You Need

In order to complete a FAFSA, you will need the following documents: 

     
  • your social security card
  •  
  • a driver's license if you have one
  •  
  • bank statements and records of investments (if you have any)
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  • records of untaxed income (again, if you have any)
  •  
  • your 2008 tax return and W2s
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  • all of the above for your parents if you are considered a dependent (to determine dependency status, check here)
  •  
  • a PIN number to sign electronically (go to pin.ed.gov to get one)
  •  
 If you've applied before, you can fill out a renewal FAFSA, which will let you skip a few questions.  You will still need your tax, savings, and investment information for the new year, though.

If you do not have your tax information yet, and most likely you don't, you can use your 2007 tax information to estimate 2008.  That way, you have a FAFSA on file and once you've done your taxes for the new year, you'll be able to submit a correction online.  While that might seem like more work, it's the best recipe for maximizing your state and campus-based aid packages.  If things changed drastically for your family in 2008, apply for student financial aid with the information you have, then talk to your school's financial aid office to adjust your information accordingly.

Why You Should Apply

Completing a FAFSA is an important step in funding your education if you don't plan on paying for everything out-of-pocket.  The FAFSA is used by the Department of Education to determine eligibility for federal student financial aid for college.  This aid includes federal grant programs (such as the Pell Grant), federal work-study, and federal student loans.  It is also used by states to determine eligibility for their financial aid programs, such as state grants.  Colleges also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for the need-based aid programs they administer.  Finally, many scholarship opportunities request FAFSA information as part of their application process.  Even if you think that you won't qualify for free money in the form of need-based college scholarships and grants, you should still apply.  At the minimum, the vast majority of students qualify for Stafford Loans, low-interest federal student loans that represent one of the best deals in borrowing for school.

Where To Get More Information

Start on the FAFSA homepage and go through the links under "Before Beginning a FAFSA" to get started, especially if this is your first time filing.  You'll find information about application deadlines, required documents, applying for a PIN, and other things you need to know about to begin.  If you don't want to wait until tomorrow, 2009-2010 worksheets are already available on fafsa.ed.gov.  The ambitious among us can even fill out a worksheet now, then copy the information into their FAFSA on the Web beginning tomorrow.

We also offer a wealth of resources on financial aid at Scholarships.com.  Check out the financial aid section on our Resources page for further reading.

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More Americans Applying to Canadian Universities

December 30, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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Two Ten Footwear Higher Education Scholarship

December 29, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Picking up a part-time job at the shoe store in the mall might not have felt like an important career move at the time.  But on top of the extra cash and discounted footwear, you can also bring home $3,000 a year in scholarship money.  Two Ten Footwear offers a renewable college scholarship to students who excel academically, demonstrate financial need, and work in footwear, leather, or other allied industries.  If you're a high school senior or undergraduate student and you've spent at least 500 hours in 2008 helping people choose between ballet flats and stilettos and searching the back room for one last pair of size 7 sneakers, you may be eligible for this week's Scholarship of the Week.

Prize:

Scholarship awards of up to $3000 renewable for up to four years, plus one award of $15,000 per year, also renewable for four years

Eligibility:

Applicants must be U.S citizens who have worked in footwear, leather, or allied industries for at least 500 hours in 2008, or the children of employees who have worked in qualified professions for at least two years.  Applicants must also demonstrate financial need, determined by completing the FAFSA.  Students attending or planning to attend an accredited two or four-year college, university, nursing or vocational/technical school are welcome to apply. 

Deadline:

February 16, 2009

Required Material:

Completed online scholarship application and supporting materials submitted on the Two Ten Footwear website.

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.

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Application Essay Advice

December 24, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Continuing on the college admissions theme from yesterday, there's a great piece in the Wall Street Journal about the dreaded college application process.  If you're still struggling with those application essays or the thought of the college interview has you panicked, you might want to check out their tips from admissions officers at several competitive private colleges.  Two things struck me when reading their tips.  First, most of this sounds a lot like what I told my students as a college composition teaching assistant.  Second, this advice can easily extend to writing effective scholarship essays.

Most of the advice falls into the category of "be yourself."  Colleges aren't necessarily looking to admit the most indisputably brilliant students in the country, but rather individuals who will contribute to the campus community.  The best tips the Wall Street Journal article offers, at least as far as admissions essays and writing scholarships go, are to choose essay topics that are meaningful to you (even unconventional ones) and to avoid polishing essays to death.

While it's tempting to go straight for the most impressive or altruistic thing you've done if you're asked to describe an experience, admission officials say it's better to go with a topic that actually reveals something about your character.  This definitely goes for scholarship applications, too.  In a stack of essays about volunteering in South America, your story about convincing your peers in the rural Midwest to walk the 12 blocks to school rather than drive may stand out more than you think.  A seemingly mundane essay topic can be interesting if it's written well and it has a clear purpose.

As far as writing well goes, proofread (at the very least, check spelling and grammar and take out notes to yourself or your parents before submitting) but don't adopt such a formal style that all personality is lost.  As long as an essay is written well and isn't way too informal (avoid slang, cursing, and stories of sex, drugs, and bodily functions), your essay is probably professional enough for most admission offices and scholarship essay contests.  Even when you're applying for a law scholarship, writing like a lawyer isn't necessarily the recipe for success.

For more essay-writing tips, check out our resources section.  To find somewhere to use this advice, you may want to use our college search and our scholarship search.

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Scholarships , Tips



Early Applications Up, Regular Applications Down at Many Colleges

December 23, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

While there has been much speculation that economic woes would drive students away from more expensive schools, generous financial aid packages, such as those offered by many Ivy League schools, may be driving early applications up.  It's speculated that students whose resources have been reduced and whose options may be limited are vying for any college seat with a full-tuition scholarship attached.

Early action and early decision college application deadlines have now passed at the majority of competitive private colleges.  As the schools begin sorting through these applicants and making admission decisions, many are reporting that numbers are up, in some cases way up.  Stanford University has seen early action applications increase 18 percent this year, while early decision applications have increased by 23 percent at Duke University.  Other selective schools, such as Yale and Northwestern, have seen similar increases, as well.

While regular applications have held steady at Harvard University, other private schools that have seen a surge in early applications have heard from fewer regular decision applicants.  The regular admission pool may have thinned due to students paring down their lists or choosing less expensive state colleges as safety schools.  This could be good news for all of the early applicants who may find themselves bumped into the regular admission pool, though many schools are worried that fewer applicants could ultimately mean fewer enrolled students, especially if more students follow the money to the most affordable schools.

If you're a high school senior still in the process of applying for college, you may want to check out the articles appearing in The New York Times and The San Jose Mercury News this week and consider modifying your college search to take advantage of shifting application patterns.  If you're in the market for a private college and you have the time and money to put together a couple extra application packets, it could pay off, especially if you're able to wait until April or May to make your final decision as to where to go.

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Students for Change Essay Writing Scholarship

December 22, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Barack Obama's victory in the November election is regarded by many as a historic event.  Whether or not they voted for him, a large number of people feel personally affected by his election as President.  If you have something to say about the importance of this event and what the next four years might bring, expressing your opinion could net you $1000 in scholarship money through this week's Scholarship of the Week, an essay contest sponsored by NLS Publishing.

The Students for Change Essay Writing Contest is seeking scholarship essays of 1000-2000 words that describe, "what the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American President, means to you and your family."

Prize:

Three $1000 scholarship awards

Eligibility:

High school seniors, graduate students, and undergraduate students may apply.  Applicants must be attending college full-time at an accredited United States college or university, or must be planning to enroll full-time in the fall of 2009. 

Deadline:

January 20, 2009

Required Material:

A typed, double-spaced essay answering the prompt, accompanied by a contest entry form.  Essays may be submitted via a variety of methods.

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.

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How Small Private Colleges Are Responding to the Recession

December 19, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

We've said it before and I'm sure we'll say it again.  Despite the economy, money for college is still available.  A scholarship search, a visit to your college's student financial aid office, and a quick perusal of recent college news should all confirm this.  But if you're someone who needs additional empirical evidence, a survey conducted by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, a group representing private colleges (whose students typically rely more on institutional aid than state college students) also supports this conclusion. The results, which were published Thursday, show that only 8.4 percent of institutions surveyed have frozen or cut student aid for either this academic year or the next.

While not fantastic news, when taken in context with the rest of the survey's results, it is encouraging.  Nearly 68 percent of colleges reported a significant decline in their endowments and many colleges reported concerns over fundraising, tuition, and other sources of revenue.  Despite this, though, colleges seem to be putting their students' interests first when dealing with budget concerns.  For example, 31 percent of colleges surveyed don't yet have plans to increase tuition for 2009-2010, and at least two respondents specifically mentioned increasing student financial aid in their comments.  The most popular cost-cutting measures have been freezing hiring, restricting travel, and slowing construction.  Cutting student services, campus-based aid programs, and academic programs have been the least popular moves.

To find out more about how small private colleges are weathering the economic downturn, you can visit NAICU's news room.  To scope out private colleges near you, conduct a free college search on Scholarships.com.

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States Contemplate Cuts to College Scholarships

December 18, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

While many colleges are finding the funds to expand their financial aid offerings in response to economic woes, state higher education systems have not all been so fortunate.  Michigan and New Jersey are both considering cuts to their state scholarship awards, the Michigan Promise and New Jersey STARS programs.

In the face of a $1 billion budget shortfall, Michigan may have to do away with the state's promise scholarship, in addition to making several other tough financial decisions.  The Michigan Promise offers residents up to $4,000 per year towards tuition and fees at state colleges and universities.  If the proposed budget cut goes through, the class of 2009 will be the last group of high school students to have this award available for college.

When faced with budgetary woes, the state of New Jersey also turned to its state academic scholarship programs, New Jersey STARS and New Jersey STARS II.  However, rather than scrap the programs entirely, the legislature has voted to make them more selective.  STARS, which pays for tuition and fees at community colleges will now be available to only the top fifteen percent of New Jersey high school graduates, while STARS II, which helps STARS scholars go on to complete a four-year degree at a state college, will only be available to students who maintain a GPA of 3.25 or higher.  The amount of funding for STARS II, previously the total cost of tuition and fees, will now be capped at $7,000 per year.

>While cuts to college scholarships and grants are discouraging, they are still rare and are happening mainly at a state level, as states struggle to balance budgets in the face of a continuing recession.  Scholarship opportunities are still out there, and students who find their planned sources of funding drying up or diminishing due to the recession are encouraged to keep up their scholarship search.

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Despite Economy, Many Colleges Still Give Generous Aid

December 17, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Amid all the bleak news about college affordability, family finances, and the economy in general, it's nice to hear something good every now and then.  And there is good news out there.  Despite financial hardships, many colleges are not only continuing to offer generous financial aid packages, but are actually expanding scholarships, grants, and tuition waivers for needy and deserving students.  As a taste of what's out there for students across the country, we're presenting a roundup of campus-based aid programs announced this week.  Conduct a college search on Scholarships.com to learn more about these and other schools committed to helping students enroll and stay enrolled.  While you're at it, be sure to start a free college scholarship search to find more ways to fund your education.

A number of cities, states, and universities offer promises, guarantees, or other commitments to cover four years' full tuition for financially needy or academically gifted students.  While a wave of these scholarship and grant programs were launched in financially better times, more are still being unveiled in the current economic climate.

Manchester College in Indiana has rolled out a "Triple Guarantee" that promises to make college more affordable and less stressful for its students.  Qualifying students are guaranteed a combination of federal, state, and institutional aid up to the total cost of tuition and mandatory fees for four years.  Students with a 3.3 GPA or higher who qualify for the Pell Grant are guaranteed full-tuition grant aid.  On top of paying tuition for four years for needy students, the college also guarantees four-year graduation for everyone who meets progress requirements, and will allow qualified students who need a fifth year to attend for free until they graduate.  Finally, the school also guarantees a year of free tuition for additional coursework or certifications for students who fail to find a job placement or a spot in graduate school within six months of graduation.

In a similar vein, St. John's University in New York is also offering a substantial tuition discount to unemployed alumni.  Graduates of St. John's who were laid off in the economic downturn can return to college to pursue a graduate degree for half-price.  Alumni will also receive free career counseling services and see their application fees waived for graduate programs.

Finally, Texans get multiple pieces of good news.  More students at Rice University will be able to graduate debt-free, as the university has expanded its no loan program to families making up to $80,000 per year.  Students with family incomes over the $80,000 threshhold who still qualify for need-based aid will not be asked to borrow more than $10,000 in student loans for four years.  Lamar University is also making college more affordable for Texans by unveiling the Lamar Promise, which will cover tuition and fees for all freshmen and transfer students who qualify as "dependent" students for federal aid whose families make less than $25,000 a year.  Students who make more are likely to also receive substantial financial aid packages.  Tuition assistance will come in the form of state, federal, and institutional financial aid.

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