September 5, 2008
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is preparing a lawsuit against Goal Financial, the student loan company that also runs the website eStudentLoan.com. According to the New York Times, Goal Financial stands accused of misleading consumers about loans, and offering them gifts such as iPods to influence their choice in lenders. While other lenders accused of dishonest practices have repented and agreed to follow a code of conduct outlined by Cuomo, Goal Financial has not, hence the pending lawsuit.
Goal is accused of misrepresenting loan terms to promote private loans over low-interest federal Stafford loans, as well as failing to disclose their ownership of eStudentLoan on the latter's website. The company also allegedly failed to disclose that all lenders listed on the eStudentLoan loan rate comparison feature were companies that had paid a commission to Goal Financial.
While Cuomo's investigation of the student lending industry has undoubtedly made borrowing less risky, students should still proceed with caution and carefully vet the quality of the lender they choose to use. If you need to take out student loans to help fund your education, be sure to do your research. First and foremost, explore all federal student financial aid opportunities. Start by completing the FAFSA on the Web and visiting with your school's financial aid office. It would also be beneficial to conduct an extensive scholarship search at this point, as well, since you never know where you might find money for college.
If you do find you need to borrow a private loan, research several lenders, and if your college's financial aid office maintains a preferred lender list (which should consist of lenders that are actually preferable thanks to Cuomo's earlier investigations) take a copy. Begin evaluating your options, but be wary of anything that sounds gimmicky or too good to be true. Carefully research any loan before you apply.
Find out which banks have the best rates and repayment options, and whether you'll need a cosigner to get approved. Apply to one loan at a time and give yourself plenty of time for processing, since many student loans need to be approved by the bank and certified by your college before funds can be disbursed. Many lenders will let you know within a day or two whether your has been pre-approved or rejected so that you can move on to the next application if necessary.
September 4, 2008
For many students, the college experience can be a financial minefield. Even if they manage to avoid the lure of blowing their financial aid check on a plasma TV or a brand new car, there are thousands of other potential pitfalls. These include the credit card companies lining the main drag of campus offering free college t-shirts to anyone who signs up for their card; your first dorm or apartment to outfit and decorate; and then all of the opportunities for shopping, dining, and entertainment that a college town provides. And we haven't even gotten to the actual act of paying tuition yet! Even if your scholarship search was fruitful and you were able to find money for college, there's still the chance of overspending and winding up turning to less wise solutions to make it to the end of the term.
So how are students supposed to survive college without unnecessary credit card or student loan debt? Many schools are offering money management courses and one-on-one financial counseling services to help students be more judicious with their college funds. I can certainly think of some lessons I could've used as an undergrad, like "3 AM is not dinner time," its corollary, "espresso is not an adequate substitute for sleep," and of course, "you don't have to buy it just because it's on sale." Being forced to budget out just how much that 10-block drive to class (plus the 15 minutes of circling the "good" parking lot for a spot) actually cost me that last year of school would've also been helpful.
Now students at numerous colleges in several states can choose to educate themselves and avoid learning similar life lessons the hard way. Unfortunately, many of these programs go under-publicized and under-utilized, as budgeting honestly isn't fun, and many students may be afraid that setting a budget means giving up their college lifestyle, staying at home, and having to go on a budget diet. However, the Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that students can benefit immensely from financial literacy courses, and anecdotal evidence suggests these students take on less debt and have an easier time transitioning into the "real world" after graduation. Courses are often offered to incoming freshmen or graduating seniors, with counseling services typically being made available to any students currently attending college. If you're interested in finding out about how to stretch your college fund, student loans, or scholarship money further, check with your college to see if they offer any of these services.
September 3, 2008
Don't forget about spending money when planning for college costs. This advice comes from Alabama's Birmingham News, which spoke with some students, parents, and financial aid administrators in the state about dealing with expenses that fall outside of paying tuition and room and board. However, Alabama students and families are by no means the only ones not sure how to deal with how much living at college will cost.
Financial aid offices typically figure a few thousand dollars into a student's cost of attendance estimate to cover such expenses as gas, car maintenance, toiletries, clothes, entertainment, and food and drinks not from the dining center, but actual experiences vary widely among students. Some college students certainly choose the spartan lifestyle of staying in the dorm, using their meal plan, and biking around campus to attend free school-sponsored activities. Others fail to resist the urge to splurge, doing their studying at the all night diner just a short drive from campus or swinging by the mall for some retail therapy and a movie after a particularly grueling week of class. I was certainly in the latter category, despite my best intentions of being thrifty and only spending what I earned working at my work-study job (work-study, for those unfamiliar, is a campus-based aid program that is more easily used to cover living expenses than tuition).
But don't assume the worst and rush out to borrow an extra $10,000 to cover unforseen expenses. Instead, practice some basic money management. Take an honest look at your spending habits and how much you'll realistically want to scale them back to save money. Then look at how much you can earn while in school without getting off-track for graduation, and start figuring out how to make up any differences between the two. A summer job or an extra scholarship award or two could give you enough money to survive the next 9 months without having to resort to student loans to fix your car, get you home for Christmas, or feed you until you land a new job. As a recent grad who looked to borrowing as the easy way out of tight financial situations, believe me, those little loan amounts add up.
September 2, 2008
Aspiring artists, break out your pens for this week's Scholarship of the Week, the Christophers' Poster Contest for High School Students. The art scholarship competition, which carries a grand prize of $1000, encourages high school students to create an original poster featuring the text "you can make a difference." Just by using your artistic talent in two-dimensional or computer-generated art to create a poster, you could be $1000 closer to funding your education, without having to worry about GPA, test score, or financial need requirements.
The Christophers is a non-profit organization founded in 1945 for the purpose of using media to encourage people to make positive changes in their community. 2008-2009 is the 19th year they've helped students pay for school through this poster competition.
Prize: 1st prize is $1000, 2nd prize is $500, 3rd prize is $250, and five honorable mentions receive $100 each.
Eligibility: High school students currently enrolled in grades 9-12.
Deadline: January 19, 2009.
Required Materials: One 15" by 20" poster and a completed application form, which is available on The Christophers' website. Posters must include the words "you can make a difference" and be the original work of one student.
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.
August 29, 2008
An article that appeared yesterday in the UK's Times Higher Education carries an important reminder for students attending college on both sides of the pond: don't trust spell check to always suggest the right word. The publication's recently revived contest for the best college exam bloopers asked professors to submit anonymous examples of some of their students' worst for-credit writing. Most of the entries highlighted in the article are a case of students accidentally using a different word than what they meant.
If you're not the best speller, you may want to take these examples to heart and remember to use the dictionary to look up the meanings and spellings of words you're not sure of, rather than simply relying on a spell checker or guessing. For example, "academic" and "epidemic" may sound similar, but they carry very different meanings. And don't think these mistakes are something that only the stereotypical stuffy tweed-clad British professor will notice--anyone in the business of evaluating writing is likely to pick up on errors of meaning in essay writing.
This advice applies not only to essays you'll write for introductory college courses, but also to college applications and scholarship application essays, as well. Many students run their entries for scholarship essay contests through a spellchecker of some sort (though some don't even do that), but a surprising number of students fail to take the next step and make sure that the words they're using mean what they think they mean. Over-reliance on the thesaurus can produce a similar effect. While the denotative meanings of two words may appear to be closely related, their connotations could be worlds apart.
August 27, 2008
The city of Akron, Ohio plans to introduce a scholarship fund to encourage its high school graduates to stay in the city for college. Akron's plan follows in the footsteps of other cities with similar programs, such as Kalamazoo, Michigan, which gained national attention with the launch of the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship in 2005. An anonymous donor contributes to the Kalamazoo Promise fund, which offers free tuition to graduates of Kalamazoo high school attending college at local schools, such as Western Michigan University. At least 19 cities have followed suit in the last three years, according to the Associated Press, with many relying on private donors to provide scholarship awards.
But no donors have come forth in Akron, so the city is trying something new: leasing its sewage system to a private company, then using the money to establish a scholarship fund. The measure, which has earned the somewhat derisive nickname "stools for schools," is up for a vote in November. While any additional scholarships for high school students are welcome, this measure does come with some drawbacks. Up to 100 city employees in Akron may find themselves without jobs in an already tough economic climate and many residents have issues with the city choosing to privatize public works.
Additionally, students may not be interested in the scholarship anyway. Presently, only 600 Akron high school graduates attend the University of Akron, and the proposed tuition plan will only subsidize what's left of tuition after students' other scholarships are taken out, leaving them with the guaranteed responsibility of room and board. The scholarship committee is also throwing around the idea of attaching a thirty-year residency requirement to the scholarship money, converting the scholarships to student loans for all students who choose to leave Akron before retirement.
While local scholarships are usually a great idea for students, they can stop being appealing if too many requirements are attached. My guess is that few students will want to have their entire lives planned out for them in high school, especially if a change in plans carries a financial penalty of tens of thousands of dollars. Whether or not this measure passes in November, many students from Akron will undoubtedly want to continue their scholarship search. And Scholarships.com is a great place to start, with our database of 2.7 million college scholarships and grants worth over $19 billion, without a 30-year residency requirement in sight.
August 26, 2008
California's community colleges system plans to begin offering $1,000 scholarships to many of its students in 2009, according to an article in Diverse Issues in Higher Education. The schools received a $25 million endowment in May from a foundation that supports education and the arts, and will receive matching funds of up to another $25 million after fundraising efforts this fall. These scholarship opportunities will help make college more affordable for anywhere from 1,250 to over 5,000 students annually, depending on the amount of money California community colleges are able to raise to contribute to the fund.
This is just one of several efforts being undertaken by California's community colleges in order to start tapping into alumni donations and building endowment funds to help students pay for school. The San Mateo Community College foundation has increased its staff and started publishing an alumni newsletter to solicit donations, and the Foundation for California Community Colleges, which will administer the new scholarship fund, is helping other schools devise strategies for fundraising.
As community college enrollment continues to increase and states continue to cut funding to community colleges in order to balance their budgets, it makes sense for community colleges to increasingly turn to philanthropic gifts to meet their students' needs. If other states follow California's example, attending college at a two-year institute could become a more attractive option for many students who are strapped for cash or coming up short on financial aid at a more expensive institution. In addition to scholarships administered by the colleges, community college students are also eligible to compete for many private scholarship awards.
To research community college options in California or other states, check out our college search tool. To find out about additional sources of scholarship money, fill out a profile on Scholarships.com and conduct a free scholarship search.
August 25, 2008
Are you an aspiring YouTube star? Does making your own music video sound like fun? Does winning up to $5,000 in scholarship money for making your own music video sound even better? If so, competing for this week's Scholarship of the Week might be for you!
The "Speak New Words" Music Video Contest will award first, second, and third place winners with prizes of $500 to $5,000 to help pay for school or other expenses. To enter, create your own music video highlighting 13 character traits you consider essential for change and upload it to YouTube, then register your original lyrics with the "Speak New Words" website. If you are interested in art, music, or poetry contests, this is a great scholarship opportunity for you!
There will be one $5,000 grand prize awarded to entrants ages 13-20, and one awarded to entrants aged 21+. Runners up in each age group will receive a $1,000 prize for second place and a $500 prize for third.
U.S. citizens ages 13 and up.
September 7, 2008.
An original music video 1-4 minutes in length uploaded to the appropriate website and YouTube group. See the contest details for more information.
August 22, 2008
If you're thinking about enrolling in a community college, it looks like you're not alone. Community colleges across the country are reporting increases in enrollment of up to 10% for the fall semester, with registration still ongoing at many schools. The present economic situation in the U.S. is prompting more and more people to consider attending college, while concerns about rising costs of living and potential difficulties finding money for college are causing more people to worry about how to pay for school. Additionally, community colleges continue to ramp up their efforts to attract students and provide high-quality education at an affordable price.
All of these factors combine to make community colleges an attractive educational option for many students. With new legislation in the recently reauthorized Higher Education Act requiring universities to make their transfer credit policies for undergraduate students more transparent, and a preliminary study being conducted by the Department of Education to identify some potential student concerns in the transfer process, it's also becoming easier for students to start at a community college, then later transfer to a four-year university.
There can be some drawbacks to community colleges, though. According to one study, community college students may be less likely to have concrete plans for just how long they will attend school and more likely to leave college without attaining a degree, but a large part of this could be due to community colleges attracting a more diverse group of students. Additionally, community college instructors are often not as experienced and credentialed as their peers at four-year schools, though students can still find themselves taking intro courses from adjuncts and graduate students at many state universities.
So if you're open-minded and willing to transfer, consider community colleges in your college search. Community college students enjoy lower tuition, take many of the same general education classes as their peers at public and private universities, are eligible for federal student financial aid, and in some cases even have the option to live on-campus. For many students they can be great ways to ease into college life without going too deep into student loan debt.
August 21, 2008
The results of a poll conducted by Phi Delta Kappa International and Gallup were released today, revealing current American attitudes towards education, at both the high school and college levels. The majority of respondents were in favor of increasing funding for and access to education at all levels.
According to the poll,
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