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by Agnes Jasinski

As the city of Chicago begins to adjust to the news that the 2016 Olympic Games will go to Rio de Janeiro, it could be a good time for you athletes to begin evaluating your options for sports scholarships at your intended college next fall. Just remember this: you don't need to be an Olympics-caliber athlete to win athletic scholarships, or even Youth Olympic Games-caliber for that matter. (The first ever Youth Olympic Games will be held in Singapore in 2010 for athletes ages 14-18 competing in 26 summer sports.)

Traditional sports scholarships are very competitive and usually come directly from the college you hope to play for. While those awards will usually be the most generous, unless you're playing at a high enough skill level to be recruited onto a team or have wowed your intended college's coaches with your abilities, it's going to be tough to land a full or even partial sports scholarship. Lucky for you, sports scholarships from outside organizations aren't always all about athletics.

Local leagues and organizations in sports ranging from the high-profile like baseball and golf to the more obscure like fencing and marksmanship offer many awards based on criteria that have nothing to do with that sport. If you enjoy bowling as a hobby, contact your local league. They could have an award for bowling enthusiasts who don't necessarily plan to bowl on the college level but may have stellar academics or an impressive community service record. If you do intend to play your sport in college but on the club or intramural level, your chances of landing a private scholarship could be even better, as sports scholarships will often ask for a commitment to the sport you're being awarded funding for playing or having an interest in, even if that commitment means you continue playing the sport for fun and not for competition.

Check out our examples of athletic scholarships, but don't rule out academic scholarships when applying for funding. If you're a good enough athlete to compete for awards based on athletic skill, you'll need a minimum GPA set by the NCAA to not only get some funding but to play on a college team. For additional information about sports scholarships and awards based on different criteria, try conducting a free college scholarship search to see all of the awards you could be eligible for.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Soon enough, financial aid application season will be upon us, and you'll need to know how to navigate the process so that you don't make any mistakes that could delay that application, and your funding for college. The first and important step will be getting ready to fill out your FAFSA, which the U.S. Department of Education starts accepting starting Jan. 1 of each year. If you take away anything from this blog though, remember this: FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It should never cost you anything to fill it out.

The easiest way to fill out your FAFSA will be online, directly through the Department of Education's website at www.FAFSA.ed.gov. In your research you may find sites that charge to prepare your FAFSA for you, like www.FAFSA.com. That site, run by Student Financial Aid Services, Inc., charges a fee of $79.99 to prepare and advise you about your FAFSA, and while studies have shown that professional help through the financial aid process does lead to some positive results and more generous aid packages, with some time and effort you can become a FAFSA expert, too, without the added cost. Your intended college's financial aid office will also be happy to help you - for free - if you come across any roadblocks or feel like you've make a mistake when filing your FAFSA.

The Department of Education's site will walk you through the FAFSA application process, even allowing you to come back to your application if you find that you don't have all the necessary paperwork handy. While some students have reported feeling intimidated by the process, you won't be awarded financial aid from your college if you don't fill it out. And if you're uncomfortable filing the FAFSA online, you can also submit the paper form through the mail. (This could delay your application somewhat, though.)

Remember that you should never feel forced to pay to apply for and receive financial aid. Also avoid scholarship search engines that charge you to come up with a list of awards you may be eligible for, and awards that come with large processing fees attached. Scholarship scams are unfortunately a common occurrence, but if you know what to look for, you should have a positive financial aid experience. Browse through our site for more information on filing your FAFSA, and conduct a free scholarship search to see scholarships you may qualify for to supplement your financial aid package - all without paying a dime.

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FAFSA , Federal Aid , Tips

Tags: College Tips , FAFSA , Financial Tips , Tips

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by Agnes Jasinski

Financial aid programs that are simple and transparent are most effective for low-income students when it comes to not only getting those students to apply for the aid, but getting them enrolled in college at all, according to a scholarly paper released this week.

In a review of more than a dozen studies looking at how to make college more affordable and attainable to the neediest students, the paper "Into College, Out of Poverty? Policies to Increase the Postsecondary Attainment of the Poor" from the National Bureau of Economic Research looked at the effectiveness of a variety of programs, including popular federal and private scholarships, Pell Grants and subsidized student loans. The paper concluded that the easier it is for students to apply, the more likely they will be to apply, and the more likely they'll be going to college as they wouldn't have the funding to do so without applying.

The information that students are intimidated by paperwork and financial aid information isn't surprising. A recent blog post showed the results of a recent study on how professional assistance while filling out the FAFSA boosts the number of students filling out the financial aid application and receiving generous funding. What was more surprising this time around was that certain programs lauded for their assistance of low-income students could be doing better, according to the paper.

An article in Inside Higher Ed today describes the authors' position on the Pell Grant in particular. While the program is effective in targeting low-income students who may not have had the opportunity to attend college otherwise, the amount of paperwork required to receive an award makes the program not as accessible as it could - and should - be. A piece of a recent bill passed in the House and now awaiting Senate action (the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009) would simplify the financial aid application process and potentially make low-income students more comfortable with the process.

The paper also concluded that programs tied to academic performance and that have a broad base when it comes to who can apply - even if the awards are not specifically tied to a student's financial need - are more desirable to low-income students. Why would the neediest students want to compete against a larger pool of applicants for merit-based scholarships? Perhaps the applications for these awards are less time-consuming or easier to manage. Inside Higher Ed gives the example of Georgia's HOPE program, which awards free public tuition to any student with a 3.0 GPA in high school.

The paper was written by David Deming of Harvard University and Susan Dynarski of the University of Michigan, with support from the Robin Hood Foundation. The Robin Hood Foundation is preparing to release a book on the topic: Targeting Investments in Children: Fighting Poverty When Resources are Limited. For more information on financial aid application strategies, including tips on filling out the FAFSA, browse through our site so that you're prepared when it's time to find money for college.


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by Agnes Jasinski

It's obvious the economy has had an effect on the world of higher education. While there have been reasons to remain optimistic - some schools have created new scholarships to compensate for students' increased needs for aid - many states continue to deal with deep budget cuts, which have had a trickle-down effect on students' financial aid packages. Some have been forced to consider shutting down merit scholarship programs; others have raised tuition.

Schools' athletic programs then aren't immune to the economy's effects. An article today in The Chronicle for Higher Education describes the potential trouble schools could be in if they have recently embarked on big athletic program projects, like new stadiums (University of Minnesota) or extensive remodeling (Oklahoma State). The article compared schools' spending on sports programs to that of homeowners now finding they've purchased properties they can't actually afford. New projects will probably stall until economic projections brighten, and schools may find that it's not so easy justifying pouring money into capital improvements to athletic facilities when those same schools are facing layoffs and budget cuts elsewhere.

Numbers and hard data showing how the economy has affected sports programs has been vague. While schools report anecdotes of slow ticket sales to sports events, others say their endowments remain strong and that their football stadiums are more full than ever before. Perhaps students and alums use sports events as diversions from the economy. Or it's schools with a lot of buzz surrounding their football programs that are doing well this season. Luckily for sports fans, many projects that have been in the pipeline since before the economy began faltering are being paid for through donations and private funding, rather than borrowed money that may be harder to come by and riskier to an administration unsure when things will return to normal.

Or maybe those schools with the big athletic programs are just adding more to their debt. Debt overall has risen at colleges. Over the last four years, the average debt has gone up more than 50 percent, according to rankings of 200 public institutions by Moody's Investors Service. At the same time, revenue at those schools has been down significantly. The Chronicle article suggests funding that has gone to sports facilities has at times been diverted from other campus sites that could use more work, like remodeling old dormitories or improving academic facilities. It can get difficult, though, to criticize spending money to improve programs that bring so much money into a school, especially at schools with high-profile athletic teams. Sports will always be an important piece of many big campuses, and student athletes should still go for athletic scholarships if they have the grades and the talent, since the situation would probably never get so dire that teams would be disbanded.


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by Agnes Jasinski

As the Senate prepares to begin looking at similar measures recently passed by the House to stop or further regulate bank-based lending, student-loan companies have been looking for ways to lobby for their own cause, spending millions in the process, according to an analysis of federal records done by The Chronicle for Higher Education.

Earlier this month, the House of Representatives voted to approve the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009, legislation that would stop lending from the bank-based Federal Family Education Loan Program in favor of the Department of Education-run Federal Direct Loans Program by July 2010. Student-loan companies have understandably been feeling threatened, and have spent nearly $14 million over the last year and a half lobbying the government to abandon attempts to stop bank-based lending. The country's largest lender Sallie Mae, which handed out about a quarter of the nation's federal student loans last year, spent $2.5 million this year alone, according to the Chronicle. The Senate's version of the legislation could come onto the floor as early as this week.

While the legislation has strong support from the Obama administration, some  Democrats in Congress have voiced concerns about the potential for job losses in states that headquarter private loan agencies. Sallie Mae has reported it would need to lay off about a quarter of its workforce if Congress voted to end bank-based lending. Republican lawmakers have argued more broadly that the student loan industry, while it could use some tweaks, has served college students well and should not go under the control of the federal government.

So does the bill stand a chance? The Obama administration would like it to be a sure thing, as legislation to limit bank-based lending was a campaign promise during election season. The Congressional Budget Office claims it would save taxpayers around $87 billion, but that's a figure disputed by Republican lawmakers. Colleges and admissions officials seem to be on the fence, worried mainly about any delays in financial aid funding for their neediest students and potential costs to schools' already tight budgets. The bill's proponents argue that savings from the legislation would either go toward overhauling the financial aid system or higher education programs. While the Obama administration has urged lawmakers to avoid interactions with special interest groups, the upcoming arguments on the Senate floor will determine whether those lobbying dollars swayed any opinions.


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by Agnes Jasinski

The Common Application, which allows students to fill out one form and send it to participating schools, has been around for a while. A competitor, the Universal College Application, came out with a similar form in 2007 that attempted to draw more public schools into the mix. (The Common Application is used by nearly 400 private and public colleges, and includes additional requirements specific to schools that include elements such as essays and recommendation letters with their applications.) This week, another competitor has come into the fold, with claims that this new application will be even more accessible to public institutions and students intimidated by the college application process.

The SuperAPP, which will be offered by the online high school transcript delivery system ConnectEDU thanks to their recent acquisition of college applications company CollegeZapps, aims to take the common application a step further. The new form will not only allow applicants to fill out several forms at once, but will include software to point students to sections of college applications specific to each school. Colleges that use the SuperAPP would also not be required to ask for supplemental materials, as in the case of the Common Application, increasing the pool of potential schools who use the new form. At first, the SuperAPP will be most accessible to high school students already using the company's online high school transcript network. The announcement from ConnectEDU was made at the National Association for College Admission Counseling Conference (NACAC) in Baltimore Thursday.

The point of all common forms is to simplify the application process. The SuperAPP's developers claim the original Common Application is not as easy for students to fill out as it suggests, since students are still asked to send in additional paperwork once they're done with the basic form. In an Inside Higher Ed article today, the Common Application's defenders say its requirements prevent an open admissions policy, and that the company's mission isn't profit but a system that emphasizes judging applicants based on the whole package, which often includes outside recommendations and personal statements. In response to an increase in applications per student, some schools using the Common Application have made their essay requirements more lax, allowing for shorter responses in their supplemental materials.

No matter where you apply, whether you'll be asked to fill out a common online form or come up with an entirely unique application package for each college you're applying to, make sure you keep yourself organized so that you don't miss any deadlines or make an easy mistake. Make a list of everything you'll need to send to each school, as missing any elements could send you directly to the rejection pile. For more information on college requirements, start off with a college search to start narrowing down your choices and determining what you'll need to do for each application.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Thousands of college admissions staff, high school counselors, and higher education professionals will gather in Baltimore today through Saturday to discuss topics that include the economy's effects on colleges and the much-debated topic of standardized testing and its relation to the admissions process.

>The focus of the annual National Association for College Admission Counseling conference this year is the many different views on college admissions entrance exams. A study from NACAC released earlier this year showed that while the impact of extensive test prep tutoring programs was not very significant on standardized test scores - minimal on the SAT and inconclusive on the ACT - that impact was enough to suggest that lower-income students who couldn't afford tutoring were still at a disadvantage. The handful of extra points on a standardized test could mean the difference in whether you're accepted into a school that has a minimum cut-off in their admissions standards.

Prior to that study, NACAC had released a report suggesting the standardized testing system was broken, and that colleges should consider doing away with test scores as part of their admissions processes. That report found that standardized test prep benefited the wealthy and those who could afford it, and made high school students focus too much of their energies on testing strategies rather than the rest of their academic profiles.

On Saturday, the conference will host a "mega session" to revisit those studies and reports, and to come up with recommendations and potential alternatives to the existing standardized tests. The session will also revisit the recent release of "Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities," a book that analyzes graduation rates at state colleges and the disparities that exist among different races and socioeconomic statuses.

This afternoon, the conference features a session on strategies for SAT preparation. Tomorrow, the schedule includes a session on curriculum-based tests and their effects on students and the admissions process. The association will also be discussing the release of its new textbook, Foundations of Standardized Admission Testing, which is targeted at admissions professionals and explores both best practices and the controversies surrounding standardized testing. This is the 65th year of the conference. If you happen to be attending on any of the days, visit Scholarships.com, an exhibitor at the event.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A new study out today shows that it literally pays off to ask for help if you're feeling lost while filling out your FAFSA. The National Bureau of Economic Research has found that low- and moderate-income financial aid applicants who received help from professional tax preparers when filling out their FAFSAs not only received more generous aid packages, but were more likely to apply for aid compared to those navigating the process independently.

The FAFSA can be daunting, and it isn't surprising to hear many students are intimidated by the process or skeptical that they will  receive any need-based aid at all. Still, it's rare to see data on such anecdotal topics. The study was based on results from three groups. One group received help from several H&R Block tax professionals; the second received some financial aid advice, but did not receive personalized assistance; the third received no help in completing their FAFSAs. The results showed that it isn't enough to tell students to fill out the FAFSA and give them the form. The group with the most personalized assistance fared best in terms of how much funding they were approved for, and more generally, whether they would be going to college at all.

The federal government and higher education advocates have been working for years to come up with ways to simplify the financial aid application process. The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009 that recently passed in the House of Representatives includes a clause that would streamline the application and make it easier to understand for students. The study suggests that students who have trouble filling out applications or who avoid the financial aid process altogether for one reason or another are significantly less likely to go to college. Often the financial aid students receive is a determining factor in the campus they'll find themselves come fall, and if you don't apply for the need-based aid, no one is going to hand you any or often even urge you to fill out that FAFSA application.

Researchers from the study hope the results will lead to programming and services where students are not only told to fill out the applications as part of the college admissions process, but receive automatic assistance in completing their FAFSAs. If you're nervous about doing it on your own come Jan. 1 when the applications first become available for processing, ask for help. Browse through our site to find tips on landing the most free money and filling out the application correctly, as the smallest mistake can lead to delays in not only the processing of your FAFSA, but in the awarding of scholarships, grants and student loans that you're relying on to pay for that college degree.

Posted Under:

FAFSA , Financial Aid , Tips

Tags: FAFSA , Financial Aid , Need-Based

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by Agnes Jasinski

Although need-based financial aid has remained steady at most colleges, some schools are looking at their merit-based scholarship programs as the next place to cut if budgets continue to shrink. Merit-based scholarships, which do not usually consider need, rely on GPA and standardized test scores as measures of students' academic achievement and potential for excellence on the college level.

A criticism has been that the awards go disproportionately to students of wealthy families who may have the resources to better prepare for tests and assistance outside of the classroom. However, cuts in merit-based scholarship programs may also affect the middle class, a group of students who may receive some funding, but due to their parents' combined incomes will receive far more in student loans than scholarships and grants compared to lower-income applicants. Perhaps that's how it should work, but middle-class families with steady incomes don't always have the resources left over to contribute much to college savings accounts like 529 Plans, especially in a tough economy.

Should merit-based scholarships then also consider some degree of need before disbursement? An article this week in The Chronicle of Higher Education described several schools looking to trim their merit-based scholarship programs, especially those that rely on state funding to exist. In Florida, the Bright Futures Scholarship Program will stop funding full public-college tuition in favor of a set amount based on credit hours. In West Virginia, Promise Scholarship awards will max out at $4,750 rather than the former full rides. In Michigan, a state that has been hit particularly hard in this economy, their own Promise Scholarship program may be cut entirely. The University of Texas recently announced it would no longer be sponsoring National Merit, a popular national scholarship program that students qualify for based on standardized test scores. Students there had been able to receive $13,000 over four years. The university promises an increase in need-based financial aid to assist those students who had been receiving National Merit aid but who also qualified for many of the federal need-based financial aid programs.

>With a limited amount of funding coming from both the state and federal level, schools have to decide how best to approach financial aid. The trend has been to place a higher importance on need, as the rationale is that many students who had been receiving merit-based scholarships would be able to afford college anyway, or be eligible for outside academic scholarships. And those who would have applied for need-based financial aid before the recession are only in need of more aid today.

One school is taking the Good Samaritan approach. At Pennsylvania State University's Schreyer Honors College, parents and the college bound who did not fill out financial aid forms but received the school's $3,500 merit-based scholarships for gaining admittance to the honors college are being asked to consider allocating that money instead to accepted students with a higher level financial need. In short, the money goes to students who really need it. Should it be more complicated than that?


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by Agnes Jasinski

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Sears Holdings Corporation is sponsoring the PRIMERO Hispanic Heritage Scholarship. The award, our Scholarship of the Week, is open to students of all ethnic backgrounds but was inspired by the efforts of Hispanic families helping their children become the first in the family to attend college. This is the first year the scholarship is being awarded, but Sears hopes to make it annual. Students who will be entering college and those continuing their degrees are encouraged to apply. There are GPA requirements and an online essay and application to fill out, but the grand prize - up to $10,000 to cover college costs - is a generous one. Minority scholarships, including the growing number of Hispanic scholarships, are some of the most common student-specific scholarships out there, so be sure to conduct a free scholarship search to view all of the scholarships you're eligible for.

Prize: One first prize winner will receive $10,000, one second prize will receive $5,000, two third prizes will receive $2,500 and 10 finalists will receive Sears-Kmart "Back to Campus" kits, valued at $250 each

Eligibility: Students between the ages of 16-22 who are enrolled in college seeking a bachelor's or associate's degree during the 2010 academic year, and are residents of the 50 states or Washington, D.C., with the exception of Maine. Applicants must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale and may not be an employee, officer, director or agent of Sears Holdings Corporation, the sponsor of the award.

Deadline: October 15, 2009

Required Material: A completed online scholarship application, along with an essay of 500 words or less in English or Spanish on a person of Hispanic origin who was a "first" in his or her industry or field, and how that person has been an inspiration to you. Entries will be judged on creativity, originality and the structure of the essay, relevance of the essay to the contest topic, demonstrated leadership/community involvement, and GPA.

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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