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by Scholarships.com Staff

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.

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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by Scholarships.com Staff

The global economic recession of 2008-2009 has had an impact on seemingly every aspect of life, especially large expenses like college tuition. There has been much speculation about the economy's effect on college financial aid, and as the fall semester gets underway at colleges across the nation, information is starting to emerge that helps paint a picture of paying for school in a recession. So far, the results are mixed.

While a poll by Gallup and Sallie Mae showed fewer students borrowing for college this year, a survey conducted by NASFAA, the National Association of Financial Aid Administrators, shows more students applying for and receiving federal student financial aid this year than last year. Additional data from the Department of Education also backs this up, showing 25 percent more borrowing in federal student loan programs this year.

The NASFAA survey of nearly 500 financial aid offices shows that in comparison to the same time last year, 61 percent of colleges and universities are seeing an increase of 10 percent or more in financial aid applications, with 63 percent of institutions also seeing a significant increase in Pell Grant awards this year. Only 8 percent of institutions saw no increase in aid applications, with only 5 percent reporting no increase in Pell awards. Also, despite 65 percent of schools seeing an increase in financial aid appeals by 10 percent or more, 51 percent saw an increase of 10 percent or more in the number of students with unmet financial need.

Additionally, the majority of colleges have increased institutional aid (such as scholarships and grants), with 74 percent of four-year colleges and universities offering some increase in aid. Community colleges were the majority of institutions not increasing aid, with many citing a lack of available funding as the reason for this decision.

Many of the changes found by NASFAA and the Department of Education can be attributed to the federal response to the economic downturn. The increased borrowing is most likely due to the increases in loan limits, with larger unsubsidized Stafford loans being made available to both undergraduate and graduate students in the last two years. Financial aid administrators speculate that the increased aid awards are likely due to a combination of the increasing unemployment rate, changes in rules for adjusting financial aid awards, and nationwide awareness campaigns to let those collecting unemployment benefits know they are eligible for increased financial aid for college.

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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by Scholarships.com Staff

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.

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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by Scholarships.com Staff

For students beginning to pen those college application essays, some good news appeared in today's Inside Higher Education: several competitive colleges are shortening length requirements for the essays they ask their applicants to submit.  Along with the request for briefer essay responses, colleges are increasingly looking for informal and honest responses from students, welcome news to anyone who doesn't view formal writing as their greatest academic strength.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has replaced a long-form essay (500 words) with several shorter and less formal essay responses of 200 words or less. The University of Pennsylvania has taken an opposite tack, combining two separate essay questions into one, but reducing the overall amount of writing students need to do for their application. Other schools that use the Common Application are also increasingly favoring shorter essay responses in their supplemental materials.

Whether universities ask for long essays or short ones, their admission officials seem to want similar things from applicants. Rather than a carefully crafted application meant to highlight an applicant's scholastic and extracurricular abilities, along with his or her impeccable grammar and excellent writing style, colleges are asking to actually get to know the student behind the application. A number of application questions adopt an informal tone to solicit a less stilted and more informative response, even using humor (or the closest thing to humor one can expect to find in college admissions). Some application questions go so far as to plead with the student to answer honestly and reveal some of their personality. This represents a change from what most students have been told to expect when it comes to college admissions, and it also represents a conscious move by admissions into a system that can less easily be gamed by students willing to invest in coaching.

After a months long college search filled with research, campus visits, and correspondence, students already have a lot invested in each application they complete. The intensity of the college application process often prompts students to stifle creativity and rely too heavily on outside help, in some cases employing college admissions consultants or intensive writing coaches (perhaps even ghostwriters) to help craft an application that reflects less what the student brings to the table than what those around the student understand colleges to want.  By requiring more informal responses and fewer formal essays, colleges hope to circumvent this problem, while getting a better sense of whether each applicant is a fit for their institution, which is what the application process is supposed to determine in the first place.

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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by Scholarships.com Staff

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?

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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by Scholarships.com Staff

For-profit career colleges have had a rocky history, being met with skepticism and criticism from traditional academic institutions, as well as undergoing a great degree of government scrutiny over the years, as some institutions have been revealed to engage in a variety of questionable practices. So, when the Government Accountability Office announced an investigation of proprietary institutions that participate in federal student financial aid programs, few in the education industry were surprised. The results of these investigations were released on Monday, and they indicate that in at least some cases, distrust towards career colleges may still be warranted.

For-profit colleges have higher student loan default rates than any other sector of higher education, with two-year cohort default rates topping 11 percent according to recently released annual Department of Education data, and four-year default rates clearing 23 percent according to the GAO report. By comparison, state colleges have two-year default rates of 6 percent and 9.5 percent respectively, with the default rates for private colleges falling even lower.

While acknowledging that much of this discrepancy is likely due to the different student populations these institutions serve, the GAO found that part of this high default rate could be connected to questionable admission and aid application practices at for-profit colleges. Under current federal law, in order for students to qualify for financial aid, they need to demonstrate "ability to benefit" from higher education. This means that they must have either earned a high school diploma or GED or passed a test indicating they are prepared for college-level instruction. Some of the proprietary colleges investigated by the GAO encouraged students to purchase high school diplomas from diploma mills to circumvent the testing process.

It appears that in at least one case, employees of a career college helped prospective students cheat on an ability to benefit test, even changing their answers after the fact to ensure their scores were high enough. GAO investigators posed as sudents at a school in the Washington, DC area and attempted to deliberately fail this test.  According to the report, they were given some of the answers to the test and also saw evidence of the school tampering with their scores to ensure that they passed and qualified for aid.

These practices allow students who wouldn't otherwise qualify for federal aid access to college instruction and money for school, but also can saddle students who are likely to be unable to complete and benefit from college coursework with large amounts of student loan debt. The Career College Association, which represents proprietary colleges, assures that these practices are not widespread and that strict standards are in place. However, the GAO still urges the federal government to provide more oversight of ability to benefit testing and financial aid disbursement at for-profit colleges.

If you're considering attending a career college, be sure to make sure its practices are legitimate and you are likely to enhance your earning potential by completing a degree or certificate there. Do your research about the school's reputation, the program's reputation and job and salary prospects for graduates of your prospective program.  Also, be wary about borrowing and make sure you don't get into a position where you've taken out too many federal or private loans to be able to pay them back. Attending a career college can help you land a better job or a higher salary, but this report indicates that there are still schools with dodgy practices out there, so diligence is still required when choosing a college.

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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by Scholarships.com Staff

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.

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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by Scholarships.com Staff

September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month. This annual event was started in 1968 by President Lyndon Johnson, and was initially known as Hispanic Heritage Week.  It was expanded to a month-long celebration of Hispanic and Latino history in 1988 by President Reagan. Schools, municipalities, and organizations nationwide take this opportunity to honor the culture and heritage of Hispanics in America and to celebrate the achievements of notable Hispanic Americans.

Hispanics were some of the first residents of what is now the United States of America, with Spanish-speaking settlers arriving in Florida and the Southwest in the 1500s. Currently, Hispanic Americans make up over 15 percent of the population of the United States, making them the second largest ethnic group in the nation. Hispanic Americans have played notable roles in events throughout the history of the country and many prominent figures in business, entertainment and government proudly claim Hispanic heritage.

As a result, there is a lot to celebrate in Hispanic Heritage Month. In addition to the achievements of Hispanic Americans, Hispanic Heritage Month also celebrates the independence of several Latin American countries, as the dates coincide with the anniversaries of independence of Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Chile and Belize.

There are even scholarship awards offered in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, including this week's Scholarship of the Week, the PRIMERO Hispanic Heritage Scholarship. This $10,000 award was created in recognition of the achievements of Hispanic families who put their children through college and is meant to help realize the dreams of students who are the first in their families to attend college. In addition to awards that specifically celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, a number of other Hispanic scholarships are also available to help advance the education and achievements of Hispanic Americans.

To find out more about scholarship opportunities for Hispanic students or more general scholarships for minorities, conduct a free scholarship search on Scholarships.com.

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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by Scholarships.com Staff

Despite some Republication opposition, The House of Representatives voted 253-171 to approve a bill Thursday 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. The bill, known as the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009, would also increase the current maximum Federal Pell Grant from $5,350 to $5,550 and provide for annual increases to the grant in the years to follow through a $40 billion pool of funding over the next decade.

The bill is expected to have more of a fight when it comes before the Senate, where even Democrats have voiced concerns about the potential for job losses in states that headquarter private loan agencies. Many Republican lawmakers argue that the student loan industry has served college students well, and oppose the government takeover.

Amendments to the bill that failed before its passage looked at ways to allow the private sector to continue student lending as a way to offer the college-bound more choice in financing their educations. Amendments that passed included strengthening support services to borrowers and making part-time students eligible for Year-Round Federal Pell Grants, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid and Administrators.

The bill would also:

  • use the projected $87 billion in savings from the move to direct lending to expand aid to students and colleges.
  • provide $10 billion in grants to community colleges as part of the Obama administration's American Graduation Initiative, a project that aims to nearly double the number of two-year institutions across the country.
  • overhaul the Perkins Loan program and expand its funding from $1 to $6 billion per year.
  • provide $8 billion in grants targeting early-learning programs over the next 10 years.
  • make interest rates on need-based federal student loans variable starting in 2012.
  • simplify the financial aid application process.

The legislation has broad support from the Obama administration. The president called the bill a "historic set of reforms," adding in a statement that the bill "will end the billions upon billions of dollars in unwarranted subsidies that we hand out to banks and financial institutions." Currently, about one-forth of students' loans come through the government's direct loan program.

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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by Scholarships.com Staff

High school seniors in a school district in Texas will receive $1 million in scholarships after their district was named the winner of this year's Broad Prize for Urban Education. The award is offered annually by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and is designed to reward notable gains in student achievement and in narrowing the achievement gap for poor and minority students. Aldine Independent School District, which serves the Houston area, won the top prize this year, after having previously been a runner up for the prize three times.

The Broad Foundation names five finalists each year and from them, chooses a winner for the $1 million Broad Prize. This year, the other finalists were Broward County, Florida (a two-time finalist); Long Beach, California (a former winner and three-time finalist); Socorro Independent School District in El Paso, Texas; and Gwinnet County Public Schools in the Atlanta, Georgia area.

Aldine won the prize based on a number of factors. The Broad Foundation cited the district's gains in breaking "the predictive power of poverty," as the district's predominately low-income students outperformed peers of similar backgrounds on state standardized tests. The achievement gap for both low-income and minority students has been closing at Aldine, with a 14-point reduction in the achievement gap for African-American middle schoolers in math over the last four years. Other successes included Aldine's recruitment of highly qualified teachers, engagement with students, and districtwide standardization of education practices and curriculum (many poor families move around within the district, so making what is taught in each grade more uniform across the district helps them keep from falling behind).

The scholarship awards will help further the success of graduates from Aldine, with $20,000 over four years going to students who enroll in four-year colleges and universities and up to $5,000 over two years going to students who enroll in community colleges. Students at other finalist schools will also receive scholarship money: each of the prize's four finalist districts will receive $250,000 to award to their high school students.

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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