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States Cut Grants as Students Borrow More Money for College

Aug 12, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Rising unemployment rates and other symptoms of the ongoing recession continue to drive more people to attend college and look for ways to pay their bills, causing an uptick in state and federal financial aid applications. However, states are also hurting for money to meet financial aid requests and other budget demands. According to the Associated Press, 12 states have made significant cuts to state grant programs so far this year, with additional cuts likely. At least anecdotally, these cuts are already leading to more reliance on student loans, especially among groups that, according to a brief published this week by the College Board, may already be finding themselves overburdened with debt.

This week, the College Board released some new numbers on student debt loads and borrowing habits, culled from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, data released every four years by the Department of Education. Students at for-profit colleges are the most likely to borrow (96 to 98 percent graduate with some amount of loan debt), have the largest average debt loads at graduation, and are also some of the poorest college students (students at for-profit schools received 19 percent of the Federal Pell Grants disbursed in 2007-2008 despite making up only 7 percent of the college-going population). With additional sources of need-based aid drying up, these students may find themselves even more burdened with debt.

Students at other types of schools have also had to do more borrowing in recent years, according to the study. A full 59 percent of college students graduate with some amount of student loan debt, including 66 percent of bachelor's degree recipients. While most students took on manageable amounts of debt, 10 percent of students at four-year public schools, 22 percent of students at four-year private colleges, and 25 percent at four-year for-profit colleges borrowed more than $40,000 to attend college.

The average loan debt of undergraduate students in 2007-2008 was $15,123 (this is all students, not graduates), up 11 percent from the last time the survey was conducted. While increases in loan burdens were most modest at four-year state and non-profit colleges, reductions in state grant programs that are often earmarked for students at state colleges or nonprofit private colleges could send these numbers climbing.

You may want to consider statistics on student debt as a factor in your college search, but keep in mind that there are alternatives to borrowing. Scholarship opportunities exist for students at every type of college pursuing many different types of degree programs.

And remember, there’s no need to rely on expensive student loan options to pay for your college education. For more information on finding free scholarship money for college, conduct a Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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New Service Helps Recession-Proof Student Borrowing

Aug 11, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Student loans have received a lot of attention lately, especially in light of the ongoing recession. As average student debt increases and post-graduate job prospects become less certain, borrowers are struggling to make payments and avoid default on their loans. Meanwhile, lenders are tightening credit requirements or opting out of the student loan industry altogether. While Congress and President Obama are contemplating additional reforms to student lending on top of recent fixes that have provided some help to borrowers, relying on loans to pay for school is still a scary idea for many students.

However, there are some innovative private sector solutions students may want to consider. Alternative lending programs, such as peer-to-peer lending have received much publicity lately, as has a new program called Student Choice that makes it easier for students to find private loans through credit unions. On top of this, BridgeSpan Financial has launched a new service called SafeStart, which acts as insurance for students' Stafford loan payments.

In exchange for a down payment of $40 to $60 per $1,000 they've borrowed, SafeStart will extend an interest-free line of credit to students facing financial hardships in the first five years after graduation, allowing them to continue making payments on their Stafford loans and avoid defaulting or seeing loan amounts balloon as interest accrues during a forbearance period. SafeStart will cover up to 36 loan payments in the first 60 months of the loan, provided a student's loan payments exceed 10 percent of their monthly income.

Currently, SafeStart is only available for Stafford loans, and not PLUS loans or private loans. Stafford loan borrowers already have several other options for repayment if they find themselves struggling, including the new federal income-based repayment plan, which allows borrowers to only make payments if they meet certain income requirements and forgives remaining loan balances after 25 years. Students can also apply for temporary forbeareances if they need, though interest on the loans will still accrue.

Going to college doesn't have to break the bank or saddle you with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Check out the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search where you’ll discover you qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships in just a few minutes, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest

Aug 10, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Many scholarship essay contests have broad and open-ended questions, designed to allow applicants a great deal of leeway in crafting their responses and allowing their writing to shine. But sometimes it's nice to have more structure to a writing scholarship, too, especially if you're skilled at literary analysis and argumentative writing. Luckily for the English and composition nerds out there, there are scholarship providers who are happy to oblige with contests asking applicants to read a novel and write an essay response. One of these is this week's Scholarship of the Week, the Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest, sponsored by the Ayn Rand Institute. Interested students just need to read the novel "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand and write an essay response to one of three prompts for a chance at up to $10,000 in scholarship money. There's one catch: The novel is nearly 1200 pages long, so you'd better really like reading.

Prize

  • 1 first prize: $10,000
  • 3 second prizes: $2,000
  • 5 third prizes: $1,000
  • 20 finalists: $100
  • 20 semifinalists: $50

Eligibility: High school seniors and current college students worldwide are eligible to apply. Applicants must be enrolled in high school or college at the time their applications are submitted.

Deadline: September 17, 2009

Required Material: Completed essay of 800 to 1,600 words written in response to one of the three prompts provided on the contest website. Essays will be judged on both style and content, with a particular emphasis on understanding of the philosophic themes of the novel. Essays may be submitted online or through the mail.

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.

And don't forget, you should pay for your college education with as much free money as possible! Find as many scholarships and grants as you can before turning to student loans. Visit the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today where you'll get matched with countless scholarships and grants for which you qualify, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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U.S. Military Academy Tops Forbes Best Colleges List

Aug 7, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Following the lead of U.S. News, several other publications have entered the college rankings game in recent years. Yesterday, Forbes revealed its second annual list of America's best colleges. Ranking first was the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY, followed by Princeton University. While Princeton typically does well in college rankings, the appearance of West Point in first place is something of a surprise in the college rankings world. Forbes touts its rankings as being focused on a college's ability to meet students' needs, a factor that includes post-graduate student loan debt (20 percent of the ranking), and the U.S. Military Academy is tuition-free.

As is the case with other college rankings, these should be taken with a grain of salt. Forbes' rankings also draw heavily on data from Ratemyprofessors.com (making up 25 percent of each school's score), a website whose primary metrics for rating professors include "hotness" and "easiness." Similarly, a portion of the Forbes ranking is influenced by the number of graduates appearing in publications like Who's Who in America (12.5 percent), whose significance and methodology have been questioned repeatedly, at least once within the pages of Forbes itself.

Much of the information included in the Forbes rankings is useful, though, such as graduates' average salaries, the likelihood of graduating in four years, and graduates' average student loan debt load. However, when checking out these or other rankings, be aware that the criteria used by publications or the sources they use to determine their rankings may be irrelevant to you and your needs. Think carefully about which factors are important to you when choosing a college and base your choices on those. There are many free tools to help you in your college search, so it's a wise idea to look beyond top colleges lists when making your decision of where to apply.

Going to college doesn't have to break the bank or saddle you with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Check out the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search where you’ll discover you qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships in just a few minutes, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Three Steps to Avoid Long Lines at the Financial Aid Office this Fall

Aug 6, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

We're nearly a week into August, and for many students, that means that back-to-school preparations have begun. Whether you're picking out notebooks and extra-long twin sheets, or trying to squeeze one last trip or a few more hours of work into your calendar, now is a good time to start looking ahead to the fall term if you're in college. This includes thinking about financial aid. One of the least pleasant aspects of the start of the semester is finding yourself in the line for the college financial aid office as it grows to epic proportions the first week of class.

Luckily, at most colleges the fall rush has not yet started, so if you have some extra time now, you can take steps to make sure you won't find yourself standing in a packed office and trying not to panic on the first day of class. From a financial aid office veteran, here are three things to check into now to avoid waiting in line later.

First, if you are applying for federal student financial aid, by now you should have filled out a 2009-2010 FAFSA and received a financial aid award notice from your college's financial aid office. If you're still waiting to complete a FAFSA or hear back from your school, now would be a good time to take care of these things. You may want to call your college's financial aid office, or check your account online if you have the option, to make sure that everything is in order for timely disbursement of your fall financial aid. Ask if you have any other paperwork you need to complete (such as verification or a master promissory note), especially if it is your first time receiving financial aid. Double check disbursement dates, as well, so you know when you are due to receive the money.

Second, if you've won any scholarship awards (and we hope you have!), now would be a good time to make sure you know when you will be receiving the funds, whether the checks will go to the school or to you, and whether you will need to sign anything or wait for the school to do any additional paperwork before you receive the money (the financial aid office may need to recalculate your aid based on the scholarships you've received). Many scholarship providers notify you of disbursement arrangements or include this information in their official rules, so review correspondence with them, as well as information they've published. If you have questions, you can check with your college and the scholarship provider.

Finally, make sure you will have sufficient funds to cover your bill and make arrangements if necessary to take care of whatever costs grants, scholarships, or federal student loans do not cover. Your parents may want to take out a PLUS loan, or you may want to take out a private loan to cover whatever gap is left. You will want to do paperwork for these as soon as possible, as processing times may take up to a few weeks, especially once things get busy. Many colleges also offer payment plans if you'd like to pay the rest of your bill without borrowing, but you cannot afford to do so all at once.

And don't forget, you should pay for your college education with as much free money as possible! Find as many scholarships and grants as you can before turning to student loans. Visit the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today where you'll get matched with countless scholarships and grants for which you qualify, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Watch for Scholarships that Charge Application Fees

Aug 5, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The fall semester is just around the corner, and in addition to the start of classes, students are also beginning to gear up for scholarship application season, the time from late fall to late spring when the majority of scholarship applications are due. If you are just starting your scholarship search, there are a number of things to keep in mind when deciding which awards to apply for. The size of the award, the application deadline, the amount of work required, and your likelihood of winning are all criteria you likely use in evaluating awards. One other thing to think about before putting together an application, though, is whether there will be any costs associated with the scholarship contest.

Every scholarship application will have some degree of cost associated with it, whether it's postage, time, or the costs involved in creating your application materials (for example, printing an essay or filming and editing a video). However, some scholarship applications are going to be more costly than others, and when a scholarship charges an application fee on top of the time, energy, and money you're already putting into it, it should be cause for some careful thought.

Scholarship opportunities are generally seen as altruistic offers made by organizations that want to help students succeed in college. Sure, many scholarships have a promotional nature, as there are few better ways to attract interest in a company than by giving something away for free. However, some companies actually charge students to apply for scholarships. For example, we came across one scholarship essay contest that offered a $500 award and charged a $15 application fee. The scholarship provider boasted of receiving 10,000 applications in a year, meaning they hauled in $15,000 and only gave away $500. Unless they're spending over $14,000 promoting the contest and paying people to judge the essays, it's reasonable to believe they're profiting off the scholarship in more ways than just boosting traffic to their site. Not necessarily the most altruistic endeavor, huh?

This isn't the only example of a scholarship contest charging a seemingly unnecessary application fee. Offers like this aren't necessarily scholarship scams, as legitimate awards are offered to people who apply. However, why would you pay money for something when there are so many other ways to get it for free?

And don't forget, you should pay for your college education with as much free money as possible! Find as many scholarships and grants as you can before turning to student loans. Visit the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today where you'll get matched with countless scholarships and grants for which you qualify, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Unemployed Grad Sues College for Tuition Refund

Aug 4, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

A recent college graduate who has failed to find a job since April has sued her alma mater. The student, Trina Thompson, filed suit against Monroe College, a career-oriented college in New York, asking to be reimbursed the full cost of her tuition, which was $70,000.

Thompson's suit claims that the Monroe College career center failed to do enough to help her find a job after graduation. As a result, Thompson is struggling to make ends meet and, according to the New York Post, facing the prospect of homelessness as her student loans are about to come due. While Thompson has been regularly submitting job applications and making use of resources such as job listings available through her college's career center, this has not been enough to find work. So she is suing Monroe College for failing to provide her with the leads and career advice she says she was promised.

While the merit of this particular lawsuit remains to be determined, it does raise questions about what students should expect from college, as well as what services colleges should provide and can promise to their students. Especially right now, when jobs are scarce and competition is fierce, current students and recent graduates are dealing with greater stress and desperation as they try to navigate the job market. Meanwhile, career centers have fewer contacts and resources to work with, as fewer places are actively recruiting or even hiring recent college graduates. As a result, many college career counselors are finding themselves nearly overwhelmed, as more students need to rely on more services for longer to try to find post-graduate employment.

Finally, this lawsuit serves as a reminder for college-bound students of more good questions to ask during their college search: What are the job placement rates for the school and the department, and what career services are offered to help alumni find work? Considering these things while choosing a college may make all the difference when it comes time to find a job after graduation.

And remember, there’s no need to rely on expensive student loan options to pay for your college education. For more information on finding free scholarship money for college, conduct a Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Scholarships.com College Engineering Scholarship

Aug 3, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Majoring in engineering can lead to a stable, lucrative, and challenging career, but it involves a lot of hard work and often more than four years of college with little free time to earn money to finance your education. Luckily, in addition to a good job, your engineering major can also land you college scholarships, such as this week's Scholarship of the Week. The Scholarships.com College Engineering Scholarship offers an annual award of $1,000 to an undergraduate student majoring in engineering. There are no GPA or test score requirements. To win, all you have to do is write a scholarship essay explaining what has influenced you to pursue a career in engineering.

Prize: $1000

Eligibility: Registered Scholarships.com users and current undergraduate students or high school seniors who will be enrolled in a two-year or four-year college or university in the coming academic year.

Deadline: September 30, 2009

Required Material: A completed online scholarship application and an essay of 250 to 350 words in response to the question, "What has influenced you to pursue a career in engineering?"

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.

Going to college doesn't have to break the bank or saddle you with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Check out the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search where you’ll discover you qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships in just a few minutes, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Illinois Cuts College Grants for 130,000 Students

Jul 31, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

While it may be grabbing most of the headlines, the federal "Cash for Clunkers" program is not the only government grant program to run out of money well ahead of schedule this year.  The state funding allocated to Illinois Monetary Awards Program (MAP) grants, college financial aid awards for needy students, was slashed during state budget cuts this year. As a result, awards have been cut in half for all students and have been denied outright to over 130,000 students who applied after May 15, a significantly earlier cutoff date than previous years.

Typically, community colleges, who typically apply for financial aid later in the year and often have access to fewer financial resources, are likely to be the hardest hit.

Illinois isn't the only state forced to make cuts to its college grant programs. California and Ohio are among others that have recently gained attention for cutting aid to college students. If you live in a state that's been forced to reduce student financial aid, you still have options to pay for college. Before looking into student loans or considering a semester off, conduct a free college scholarship search. Scholarships, including state and local scholarships, are still out there despite the recession.

And remember, there’s no need to rely on expensive student loan options to pay for your college education. For more information on finding free scholarship money for college, conduct a Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Deadlines and Details: Things to Watch for When Submitting a Scholarship Application

Jul 30, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

As our annual Resolve to Evolve scholarship essay contest draws to a close and we move closer to the time of year when a number of other scholarship competitions begin accepting applications, we thought it would be a good time to review an often overlooked aspect of applying for scholarships: the actual act of submitting your scholarship application.

By applying for a scholarship, you are making contact with someone who could potentially award you money, so you want to make sure that your application makes a good first impression before the reviewer even gets to the content.  At the very least, you certainly do not want your application to wind up in the discard pile due to a failure to follow the contest's official rules. While official rules for scholarship opportunities can often come across as dense and full of legal language, you should still take time to review them and ensure your application complies before you spend the time, money, and effort involved in creating and submitting a scholarship application.

A good idea is to make a note for yourself of the requirements for each scholarship for which you intend to apply. Print off sheets or make a spreadsheet on your computer. Get organized. We suggest including the following items in your list of rules to note:

Eligibility Requirements: This may seem like a no-brainer, but before you apply for a scholarship, make sure you're actually eligible to win. Pay attention to details like age, grade level, and enrollment status, since your answer for these could be different from what you think, depending on the scholarship provider's cutoff dates. For example, a scholarship could ask for "currently enrolled" students as of summer 2009, but if your first class starts during the fall term, you may not be eligible to apply. If you are not sure whether you are eligible based on the official rules, it doesn't hurt to contact the provider and ask.

Length and Format of Submission: Once you've made sure that you are eligible to apply, make sure what you plan to submit is eligible to win. Your 20-page scholarship essay may provide a brilliant analysis of the subject matter, but if the upper limit for the contest is 800 words, you are not going to win a scholarship with it. Your scholarship application also can't win if you forget to provide appropriate contact info or include required items, so make a list of what you need and check off each item as it goes into your application packet. Similarly, you'll want to pay attention to any rules about file format, typeface, and other details that may disqualify you, or at least generate the impression that you didn't carefully read the rules.

Submission Method: Does this scholarship contest ask for applications to be submitted via e-mail, via a form on their website, or via postal mail? Do they request that you use a specific mail carrier, or avoid using others (some scholarship providers will include stipulations such as sending your application only through the United States Postal Service)? Do they want you to label your submission in a particular way or address it to a particular person or office? All of these questions are important not only to make sure your application gets to where it needs to go, but also to demonstrate your interest in the award and your ability to follow instructions.

Deadline: If your essay is to be submitted online, make note of the exact time of day at which the contest ends. Is there a time zone indicated in the official rules? You don't want to find yourself searching for a scholarship submission form on a website at 11:50 PM PST when the contest closed at 11:59 PM EST. If your esay needs to be submitted through the mail, check whether the application deadline is a postmarked by date or a received by date.  For example, our Resolve to Evolve Essay Contest requires that applications be postmarked by July 31, so students who are sending them overnight on July 30 are unnecessarily paying more for postage. Meanwhile, students who attempt to submit an application for a scholarship with a received by date of July 31 would not want to simply stick a stamp on it today and hope it's still accepted.

In the end, your application will still be judged primarily on its merit, provided it meets basic requirements.  However, closely following rules for each contest and showing that you have a legitimate interest in the scholarship as more than just a potential source of easy cash will improve your chances of winning scholarships.

And remember, there’s no need to rely on expensive student loan options to pay for your college education. For more information on finding free scholarship money for college, conduct a Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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