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by Emily

Nearly 17% more students completed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) between January and June 2008 compared to the same period in 2007 according to a report released last month by the Department of Education.  Several states, including California and North Carolina, have seen an even more marked increase, with at least 20% more students applying for federal student financial aid for college this calendar year.

This increase in applications for financial aid is largely attributed to the rising cost of a college education, the recent loan crunch, and the general economic downturn, which are all making it more difficult for families to completely cover the cost of tuition.  More people may also be applying for financial aid due to increased awareness of its existence, thanks to recent news coverage of financial aid issues.

Aside from longer lines at the financial aid office in the fall, this news is likely to have little impact on students attending college this year (although you may want to apply early for a work-study job lest you discover that the only available job is on the receiving end of that financial aid line).  Aid programs with limited funds, such as state grants and campus-based programs like Perkins Loans and work-study jobs, could potentially be exhausted a bit earlier this year, but students still procrastinating on applying for financial aid should still fill out a FAFSA if they haven't missed their school's deadline.  Federal aid, such as Stafford Loans and Pell Grants, is still available to late applicants, and as long as they haven't missed any deadlines, students could still manage to receive awards given on a first come, first serve basis.

For students considering financial aid for the 2009-2010 academic year, we recommend deciding early whether you intend to apply for federal aid (not sure?  Use a college cost worksheet to estimate your actual cost of attendance), researching your school's financial aid and scholarship application deadlines (especially since some institutional scholarships are need-based), doing your taxes as soon as possible, and completing the FAFSA on the Web in January or February (or as far in advance of the deadline as possible) to ensure that you're considered for all the aid for which you're qualified (to get an idea, you can use the Department of Education's FAFSA4caster).  Also, continue to conduct regular scholarship searches and to apply for scholarships, since scholarships continue to be the best way to make up the difference between what college costs and what you can afford to pay for school.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

The Scholarship of the Week for this week is the Fleet Reserve Assocation Americanism Essay Contest, a scholarship essay contest for students in high school and junior high.  Contestants need to write a scholarship-worthy essay of 350 words or less on the theme "what the United States flag stands for."  Applicants should submit their completed scholarship application packet to their nearest FRA branch, which does not necessarily need to be in their home state.  Essays are first judged at the local level, with winners progressing to regional and national finals.

Prize:

The Grand National Prize is $15,000 U.S. Savings Bond, with $5,000, $3,000 and $2,000 Savings Bonds awarded to the first, second and third place winners in each grade category. Certificates and other prizes are awarded at the branch and regional levels, as well.

Eligibility:

All students entering grades 7-12 in the fall, as well as home schooled students at an equivalent grade level, are eligible for this scholarship.

Deadline:

Entries must be postmarked by December 1, 2008.

Required Materials:  

     
  1. A 350-word essay response to this year's prompt
  2.  
  3. A completed cover sheet, which can be downloaded from the FRA contest website
  4.  
 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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by Scholarships.com Staff

Earlier this week, Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick asked his state's wealthiest universities (such as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to help bail out the Massachusetts Education Financing Authority (MEFA), which announced last week that it would not be able to provide loans to over 40,000 students this fall.  However, as an article published today in The Chronicle of Higher Education explains, many parties regard this request as well-intentioned but highly problematic, mainly due to recent lawsuits and legislation regarding potential conflicts of interest in relationships between colleges and student loan providers.  The Massachusetts state treasurer, who vetoed the governor's request to invest money in MEFA, stated that bailing out MEFA was not a good investment and could set a dangerous precedent for use of state funds.  While several colleges said they would consider investing in MEFA to help them provide enough loans to be able to receive assistance from the federal government, none have yet said yes, and many express concerns about what people will think of their relationship with the lending agency once the economy recovers.  When viewed in light of last year's preferred lender list scandal, such hesitation is understandable.

However, while both sides of this issue have adopted positions based on sound principles and the belief in doing what will ultimately be best for students, thousands of students are still left in a lurch when it comes to finding money for college.  With the new Higher Education Act still sitting on President Bush's desk, and the school year fast approaching, many families, and not just ones in Massachusetts, may be struggling to find ways to pay for school.  It's never too late to start applying for financial aid, though!  Students who haven't yet done so should complete a FAFSA on the Web, which could potentially qualify you for federal grant programs.  Once you've received your financial aid award letter, be sure to talk to your school's financial aid office, especially if you plan on receiving loans.   Finally, students of all ages should also check out our free scholarship search, as there are scholarships being awarded year-round, and scholarship awards can be one of the best means of funding your education.


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by Emily

Earlier this week, I blogged about two community colleges whose students could save money by attending college full-time on Fridays.  One of the most significant savings of this program will be gas costs for commuter students. Full time Fridays are by no means the only way for students to save money on gas and car maintenance this fall, though.  According to a recent article in USA Today, several colleges are getting on the bandwagon of encouraging students not to drive to campus, including several colleges that are instituting a bike sharing program, one that's moving a bike shop into its student union, and one that's giving free bikes to students who opt not to bring cars with them to college.

So now more than ever, leaving the car at home may be a great way to save money in college, and use that hard-earned scholarship money for other expenses besides gas.  While policies to discourage driving have existed for years at some campuses, such as high parking permit prices ($300 is a number I've heard from students at more than one state college) and limiting access to on-campus parking through means such as parking permit lotteries and limiting parking to upperclassmen, many colleges and universities seem to be showing a far greater commitment to making it possible for students to easily get around without a vehicle.

So, freshmen, as you're starting to pack for school this fall, ask yourselves, "Do I really need a car on campus?"  Furthermore, look to see what your new college might be doing to help students get around town.  Is there good public transportation?  Are there bike racks outside campus buildings and bike lanes on campus or around town?  Does your school have a bike sharing program or a bike club or repair shop that will help you with maintenance and repairs?  High school seniors, these might be good questions to ask in your college search.

With our society becoming increasingly environmentally conscious, now could be a great time to propose a fuel-saving plan at your high school or college, as well.  More and more scholarships and grants are being awarded to students who create eco-friendly projects, so if you're sick of having to drive to school and you can propose a solution to the problem, start searching for available scholarships and grants to see if anyone's interested in funding your education, or at least your project.  Saving on gas, looking good for college admissions, and possibly getting some money out of the deal--what's to lose?

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by Scholarships.com Staff

For those of you attending college, this situation is probably very familiar:  new courses get posted, and something with a vague and obtuse title but a promising course number is listed in your major.  You may want to take the course, but you know that if you register without doing further research, your chances at having a stellar schedule will likely go out the window as you're stuck with a class you never meant to choose. I learned this lesson when I wound up in a course called "Language, Society, and Culture" that was listed as an American literature and culture elective but turned out to be an introductory linguistics course--something I had no interest in taking.

At various points in my college career, I often found myself cramming detective work into my already busy schedule as I tried to find out just what a course with an intriguing title was actually going to cover.  As I waited impatiently for e-mails from professors and ran all over campus looking for a mythical department secretary who once saw an early draft of a course description, I often wondered "why couldn't they just post this information online?"

A recent report issued by the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in North Carolina echoes this sentiment.  The report recommends that professors publish syllabi online and do so early, preferably right around when courses open up for registration, so that students get a better idea of the courses they're taking, the work expected of them, and the material they will need to cover, and thus will be more likely to succeed and less likely to drop the class.  Additionally, it also will allow students, departments, and other groups to make comparisons between professors easier, will aid in determining transfer credits (if your new school can see the number of papers you wrote for your half-completed English major, maybe you won't get stuck retaking Composition I), and will aid in the sharing of information among professors.  In other words, online syllabus sharing is a good thing for everyone and more professors should do it.

For those of you still working on the college search, this makes a great question to add to your list to ask during your campus visit.  Ask whether professors have resources available to post syllabi online and how many of them actually take advantage of the option. Little details can make a big difference when it comes to choosing the right college.

As colleges continue to add online courses and to encourage online components in traditional courses, expect more professors to post syllabi online.  In the meantime, a little encouragement couldn't hurt.  Next time you find yourself in unfamiliar parts of campus trying to find out the reading list for a class that could potentially help you fulfill all your college goals, consider printing a copy of this report and giving it to the instructor in question.

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by Scholarships.com Staff

After spending some time on Scholarships.com or other college funding resources, you are probably familiar with basic ways to make a college education more affordable.  You can start saving early, consider attending a community college, search for scholarships, and apply for federal student financial aid.  You might be lucky enough to come across a school willing to give you a significant need-based or merit-based academic scholarship.  You may even have heard of certain Ivy League schools with mammoth endowments providing generous financial aid packages to their student bodies, which while impressive, probably doesn't help the average student.

We've recently come across news of three colleges that are committed to making an education extremely affordable to every one of their students.  While these schools offer unique and interesting money-saving programs, this is by no means an exhaustive list of innovative and affordable schools.  Conduct your own research, including a free college search on Scholarships.com to find out more about affordable colleges.

The New York Times ran an article recently about Berea College in Kentucky, a private four-year college that offers every student a 10 hour per week on-campus job, hand-made dorm furniture, and, oh yeah, free tuition.  While Berea doesn't have a football team or a multi-million dollar wellness center, the prospect of graduating debt-free is enough to attract a high-quality student body.  Unlike many colleges that select students based mainly on minimum GPA or SAT scores, Berea's students have to meet a maximum family income requirement, roughly equivalent to eligibility for Federal Pell Grants.

Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, TN recently announced a different plan to make a college education more affordable for its students.  Implementing a program similar to the one piloted by J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, VA, Volunteer State will now be offering its students an opportunity to take a full courseload of classes while only attending school one day a week.  Their "Full Time Friday" program will allow students to save on gas, daycare, and other expenses by only commuting to school one day a week, and can potentially afford students the chance to work a full-time job while also taking classes full-time.  While spending a 14-hour day on campus is not for everyone, it can be an attractive option for students who are looking to save time and money and to consolidate their class schedule as much as possible.

So if you think attending college is out of your grasp for reasons of time or money, look around first to see what's out there!  You might be pleasantly surprised!

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by Scholarships.com Staff

It's August, which for many students means that back-to-school college planning is in full swing.  As you're figuring out your schedule for the next school year, you may be thinking of studying abroad.  For students seeking scholarship opportunities to fund a spring semester overseas, check out the Ashley Soulé Conroy Foundation Scholarship, this week's Scholarship of the Week.

The family of Ashley Soulé Conroy established this scholarship for undergraduate students after Ashley's untimely death on a trip to India.  The goal of the foundation is to establish a permanent fund to help other students achieve their dreams of studying abroad.  Scholarship awards will be based on merit, personal qualities, and/or financial need.

Prize:

Scholarships will be awarded in amounts of $500-2,500 for students participating in study abroad programs.  Scholarship money will go towards expenses related to study abroad for the semester in which the student participates in a study abroad program.

Eligibility:

Students currently attending college who have completed at least 30 credits with a GPA of 2.75 or higher, are enrolled in good standing at a college or university, and who plan to study abroad.

Deadline:

December 1 for spring semester programs, March 1 for summer semester programs.

Required Material:

Applicants must submit the following: 
     
  1. a completed scholarship application
  2.  
  3. proof of financial need (applicants fulfill this requirement by completing the FAFSA)
  4.  
  5. a résumé detailing work experience and interests
  6.  
  7. a 500-800 word scholarship essay on one of two themes:  essays should either tell about which place a student would most like to visit and why, or describe an experience that has shaped the student's life.
  8.  
 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 the award will find it in their scholarship search results.

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by Emily

The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEA), approved by a joint committee earlier this week, passed both houses of Congress yesterday.  While members of the Bush Administration have expressed some reservations about the bill, the President is still expected to sign it into law.

Reactions to the HEA have been mixed, with many universities and organizations critiquing the bill's broad scope, increased requirements for schools, and timing, as it may be nearly impossible to implement all of the changes required by the bill in time for the 2008-2009 school year.  Especially under attack is the act's mandate for schools to provide students with legal alternatives to illegally downloading media, where possible.  While this could be good news for students, many critics fail to see how this provision relates to the bill's intended purpose of dealing with education funding and federal student financial aid.

Aspects of the HEA that have been praised are the allowance for a substantial increase in Federal Pell Grants (awards could reach $6,000 next year and $8,000 per year by 2014), the adoption of a code of conduct for financial aid offices when dealing with student loan agencies, the mandated simplification of the FAFSA (a two-page "FAFSA EZ" form should debut soon), and the general push for increased transparency regarding college costs, ranging from tuition increases, to student fees, to textbook prices.  All of these changes should make it easier for families to pay for school.

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by Emily

More students than ever are attending college. The economy's in a slump. Gas prices are through the roof. Rent keeps going up, especially in college towns. Everything is getting more expensive, including food. What does all this add up to? Housing shortages on college campuses, according to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. As many students opt to live in the dorms, as a way to save money in college by avoiding the cost of rent, gas, and food, as well as the time involved in getting to campus, many schools are running out of places to put all their students. For some students, this problem has been familiar for years--for example, during my sophomore year of college, my university wound up renting, and later purchasing, a hotel near campus to house some of their incoming freshmen--but for others, this phenomenon is new and surprising.

Many families are displeased at the thought of paying that daunting housing bill for their students to still be living off-campus and having to commute a mile or more to get to class. But placing students in a hotel or an apartment off-campus isn't the only makeshift housing solution being implemented by universities this fall. Other students will wind up in converted lounges, triple-occupancy dorm rooms, former office space, or recently reopened buildings.  Still some undergraduate students, like 725 University of Missouri attendees, may wind up paying on-campus rates for swanky apartments with full kitchens and plasma TVs thanks to the housing shortage on campus.

While many of these housing arrangements can be just as good as or even be better than traditional dorm space at some institutions, students should be aware of the potential for on-campus housing crunches at their schools. Incoming high school seniors who are starting the college search should decide early whether they want to live on campus in 2009, should be sure to ask questions about housing on their campus visits, and should apply for housing at the earliest possible date. Students currently living on-campus should also be proactive in procuring living arrangements for future semesters. Familiarize yourself with your university's housing policies and housing situation, and be sure you're taking all steps necessary to get the best on-campus housing possible.

Posted Under:

Back to School , College Costs , Tips


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by Emily

The new version of the Higher Education Act (HEA) is at last moving to the floors of the House and Senate for a vote. After seven years of waiting and debating, Congressional reauthorization of the HEA could finally happen in the next week, setting the stage for a number of changes in federal student financial aid for college students.

Among other things, the reauthorized HEA would:

  1. Set a ceiling on the maximum Federal Pell Grant of $9,000, and allow for students to receive Pell Grant funds year-round, instead of just during the traditional academic year. (The current maximum Pell Grant is $4,731.)
  2. Implement changes to make it easier for students to get information about their financial aid awards and to generally simplify the process by which students - particularly those from low-income families - can find money for college.
  3. Expand the Academic Competitiveness Grant program to part-time students as well as those seeking certificates and puts states in charge determining whether a high school program qualifies as a rigorous course of study.
  4. Make several changes in private student loans, such as: requiring lenders to provide up-front disclosures of loan rates and terms, require private loans to be certified by higher education institutions, and requiring colleges to establish Codes of Conduct to prohibit financial aid employees from receiving anything of value in exchange for advantages sought by lenders, such as placement on colleges' preferred lender lists.
  5. Require more disclosure of costs from both colleges and textbook publishers.

Many other changes appear in the 1,158 pages of the bill, which has been a long time coming.  The Higher Education Act is supposed to be reauthorized every 5 years, but it has been 10 years since the previous version passed.  The new HEA should help financial aid programs adapt to the present situation students face, and should help students better assess and plan for the costs of a college education.


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