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by Emily

Student loans and credit cards make up the two most dangerous, and often difficult to avoid, debt traps for college students.  While some amount of borrowing for college can make life easier for students, too much debt can make life nearly impossible for graduates.  The same goes for credit cards.  Having a card is great for emergencies and your credit rating, but running up a large balance while in college can really hurt, especially for students who were approved during days of easy credit and are now seeing rates soar and credit limits plummet.

However, Congress is working to make things easier for current credit card holders and also to make the choice of whether or not to open a credit account less nerve-wracking for new college students.  Legislation in both the House of Representatives and the Senate seeks to create a "credit card holders' bill of rights," curbing confusing and predatory practices by banks issuing credit cards.  While the bills have received bipartisan support, including a ringing endorsement from President Obama, there is still some concern about possible backlash in the form of even more stringent credit requirements for people who want to open credit card accounts.

Still, picking up a poorly screen printed t-shirt along with a new line of credit with an 18+ percent interest rate is a campus tradition unlikely to be missed by many.  With college students' credit card debt still on the rise as of 2008 and relief from private loans still nowhere in sight, any new consumer debt protection will likely be welcomed by many college students and recent graduates.


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by Emily

By now you've probably been told at least once to be careful what information you put online.  A survey conducted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling serves as a reminder of just how many people might be viewing your online presence, and just how high the stakes can be.

According to results published in Inside Higher Education, 26 percent of colleges admit to running students' names through search engines, while 21 percent use social networking sites, such as Facebook.  While this is far from everyone, it's still a significant portion of schools, and if you apply to even four or five, there's a chance that at least one of those schools has a policy of checking up on at least some prospective students.

This doesn't mean you need to agonize over the psychological implications of every single status update, though.  Schools that report viewing students' online profiles do so primarily in the context of reviewing candidates for prestigious scholarship awards or highly competitive degree programs, mostly to make sure nothing potentially embarrassing to the program surfaces when your name is announced.  Setting debates over privacy and potential discrimination aside for a moment, this information should give you an idea of what you should and should not post, and why.

If you're applying for scholarships or your college search is skewing towards the prestigious and highly competitive, you may want to have a chat with your friends about any incriminating photos they've tagged you in.  Similarly, you may want to avoid publishing any highly offensive or objectionable content on anything that appears high in a list of search results for your name.  All of this is good practice for life, since admission officers are hardly the only people who may think to look into your online life before offering you something you want.  Scholarship providers, internship programs, and future employers may all check out this information.

So before starting your scholarship search or writing your college application essays, do a search for your name and see what comes up.  If it's something that may embarrass you or hurt your chances of winning scholarships or gaining admission to your dream school, consider deleting it.  Maintaining a professional image online is going to benefit you in both the short and long term.


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by Emily

As Congress moves forward with a federal budget plan for 2010, rhetoric is ramping up on both sides of what is proving to be one of the most contentious budget debates so far:  whether or not to eliminate the Federal Family Education Loan Program.  President Obama initially proposed this move in his budget outline, saying that a move to Direct Loans would result in a savings of $48 billion, money that could be put towards expanding the Federal Pell Grant program.

After the Congressional Budget Office revised the estimated savings to $94 billion over 10 years, many members of Congress and several higher education professional organizations have been offering up tentative support for the plan.  Democrats on the joint budget committee have even begun paving the way for this portion of the budget to be eligible for reconciliation, a filibuster-proof process that will allow portions of the budget to pass with a simple majority vote in the Senate.

However, lenders and other groups have begun suggesting and campaigning for alternatives that would allow the bank-based student loan program to continue to exist while still cutting costs to some extent.  Concerns have been raised that Direct Loans will not be as efficient or as kind to borrowers in the long run, though the credit crisis has made the program especially appealing as FFELP has required repeated government interventions to avoid grinding completely to a halt.  With many schools voluntarily making the switch to direct lending based on the program's current stability, concerns have also been raised about a rapid expansion in Direct Loans overwhelming the program as it currently stands.  Others worry that eliminating FFELP may speed lenders' exodus from private loans, ultimately leaving many students in a worse place financially than they find themselves in now.

What's emerging is a war of words between banks and the President.  In a speech on Friday, Obama characterized lenders as, "gearing up for battle," to which he responded, "So am I. . . And for those who care about America's future, this is a battle we can't afford to lose."  Considering the President's popularity and lenders' tarnished reputations from crisis after scandal after crisis over the last two years, we may see big changes happening soon in student loans.


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by Emily

This week's Scholarship of the Week is the Akash Kuruvilla Memorial Scholarship, an award created to keep alive Akash Kuruvilla's legacy of leadership, diversity, integrity and academia by rewarding students who share these same values.  One male and one female undergraduate student will receive a $1,000 scholarship award based on academics, extracurriculars, work and volunteer experience, financial need and a response to the question, "What does the phrase 'the American dream' mean to you, and how do you embody the American dream?"

Prize:

$1,000

Eligibility:

High school seniors and current undergraduate students who will be enrolled full-time in an accredited degree program in fall 2009.  Applicants must have a GPA of at least 3.5 on a 4.0 scale if high school seniors, or 3.0 on a 4.0 scale if current undergraduates. 

Deadline:

June 1, 2009

Required Material:

Completed scholarship application, copy of most recent academic transcript, Student Aid Report from FAFSA, résumé, two letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a 750-word scholarship essay on the American dream.

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 Emily

Student loan default rates are rising for both federal and private loans as more recent grads struggle to find work.  The Wall Street Journal reports that the federal default rate is nearing 6.9 percent, the highest it's been since 1998.  Similarly, some private lenders are experiencing default rates that have already nearly doubled in just a year or two.

Loan repayment woes are expected to get worse as tuition continues to rise and the job market remains depressed.  Since student loans cannot be discharged through bankruptcy, borrowers are stuck with their debt no matter what happens.  Add in continued increases in the number of students borrowing to pay for school and the amount they borrow, and student loan defaults are poised to be a serious long-term problem whether or not the economy recovers quickly.

Borrowers do have some flexibility in negotiating their loan repayment terms, especially with federal Stafford Loans.  Borrowers of federal and private loans are also able to apply for a temporary forbearance, halting payments but not the accrual of interest, if they find themselves unable to pay.  However, reduced monthly payments now will mean either larger payments or more payments in the long run.

If you are looking at ways to pay for college, the best strategy is still to avoid student loans to the greatest extent possible.  Do a free college scholarship search and be sure to factor cost and available financial aid into your college search, as well.


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by Emily

Analyses of the data published last week by the National Center for Education Statistics are already starting to emerge.  The Project on Student Debt has announced that a significantly larger portion of students borrowed private loans in the 2007-2008 academic year than in 2003-2004, according to the NCES survey.

Private loan borrowing increased by 9 percentage points, with 14 percent of students now relying on private loans, as opposed to 5 percent in 2003-2004.  Not surprisingly, more expensive schools saw the biggest increase in private student loans.  At for-profit colleges, the percentage of students borrowing private loans increased from 14 percent to 43 percent, while private non-profit colleges also saw a substantial increase.  Overall, 32 percent of students at schools charging more than $10,000 per year in tuition wound up borrowing private loans in 2007-2008.

While the credit crunch may slow the rate of private borrowing in the near future, these student loans still are regarded as the best or only option by some students.  According to the Project on Student Debt's analysis, 26 percent of private loan borrowers did not take out any Stafford Loans first, and 14 percent did not even complete the FAFSA.

Private loans generally carry the highest interest rates and least flexible repayment terms out of all student loans and most experts encourage students to avoid them if possible.  Explore other options for financial aid first, especially grants and scholarships.  You will also want to consider your potential debt loand when choosing a college.  Since students at more expensive schools are more likely to have to borrow private loans, students with limited financial resources should think carefully about the relative merits of a private college as opposed to a state college or community college before committing themselves to private loan debt.


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by Emily

Yesterday, President Obama signed into law a bill to expand Americorps, a national service program that provides small stipends to people of all ages engaged in volunteer work throughout the country.  The act, officially known as the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, paves the way for Americorps to grow in size from its present 75,000 volunteers to as many as 250,000 volunteers by 2017.

In addition to creating more volunteer positions, the Serve America Act will also increase the education stipend for volunteers to $5,350, the same amount as Federal Pell Grants.  This will enable more recent graduates and people currently attending college to participate in Americorps programs, which are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to employment in the current economy.

The national service bill, sponsored by Senator Kennedy, quickly made its way through both houses of Congress, receiving bipartisan support, as well as a ringing endorsement from President Obama, who has long been a proponent of community service.  Congress still needs to find funding for Americorps to begin to expand, but a provision to provide an immediate 25% increase in funding to the program was included in Obama's 2010 budget proposal.


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by Emily

In the past few weeks, at least nine universities have received donations of at least $1 million, with instructions that the money be used primarily to fund scholarship programs. The donations, which total at least $45 million, have been given to colleges across the country since March, according to the Associated Press.

While anonymous donations happen from time to time, this circumstance is still highly unusual, since no college officials know who provided the gifts.  Typically, the college knows the donor's identity but agrees not to reveal it.  However, schools benefiting from this wave of anonymous donations have been contacted by representatives of banks or law firms, rather than by the donors themselves, and have been asked not to attempt to ascertain the donor's identity.

The donations have largely been met with gratitude. They are well-timed, given the state of the economy and many colleges' current attempts to meet the increased financial need of students.  Families are experiencing greater need for financial aid, and colleges' endowment funds, including endowed scholarships, have lost large amounts of money, giving them fewer resources to use.

For students at these colleges, as well as other schools that have recently benefited from generous donations, the scholarship opportunities they provide could mean the difference between attending college and staying home.  However, these anonymous donors are not the only people out there dedicated to making a college education possible for students in tough times.  You can do a free scholarship search for information on more scholarship awards.


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by Emily

Students who are passionate about public health and also have a creative side may be interested in applying for this week's Scholarship of the Week, the Dr. Alma Adams Scholarship.  Adams Scholarships are awarded to students for their outstanding community service and use of artistic abilities to increase awareness about the toll of tobacco within underserved communities.  The awards recognize Alma Adams, a professional artist, educator, North Carolina state legislator and former board member of the American Legacy Foundation.

Up to two scholarships will be awarded each year to students who are pursuing a career related to public health and who have placed an emphasis on working with disadvantaged communities or groups that have been particularly targeted by tobacco advertising campaigns.  Adams Scholarships are awarded to students who have shown a commitment to educate members of these communities about tobacco and drug use, especially through creative campaigns.

Prize:

$10,000

Eligibility:

High school seniors and current undergraduate or graduate students planning to pursue a career in public health, health communications, social work, education, or a related field.  Applicants must demonstrate financial need and must have received a GPA of at least 3.0 in the most recent academic year.  Applicants should also have previous experience working with an underserved community, particularly working to prevent tobacco or drug use. 

Deadline:

April 30, 2009

Required Material:

A completed scholarship application, a personal statement of 500-600 words, a copy of your Student Aid Report and most recent transcripts, and samples of your originally developed health communication materials.

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 Emily

There was an interesting article in The New York Times today offering a rare behind-the-scenes look at a university financial aid office.  If you're still baffled by your financial aid award letter, or you just are curious to find out how it was created, this article is a good read.  While it focuses on Boston University, an elite and expensive private college, many of the processes discussed carry over to other schools, both public and private.

The article does an especially good job of explaining how financial need is determined, using the FAFSA, the CSS profile and an institution's policies.  It also includes a couple of concrete examples of financial aid packages and family circumstances that provide a valuable window into the logic behind determining financial aid awards, especially for families who may have received markedly different offers from different institutions.  While I'm not sure how universal the process of weighing aid so heavily in the favor of the top tier of students is, it definitely provides support for the idea of broadening your college search and applying to a wide range of colleges and comparing financial aid offers.

The complex nature of college financial aid awards, as well as the common practice of "gapping," where the school does not cover a student's entire financial need, also make a compelling argument for doing a thorough scholarship search.  While some of the largest college scholarships and grants come from universities, there's no guarantee you'll land a full-tuition scholarship anywhere you apply.  Winning scholarships from other organizations gives you more flexibility in where you attend college, as well as a greater level of certainty about how much help you'll receive.


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