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House Passes National Service Bill

Mar 19, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

A bill to expand AmeriCorps and create new community service opportunities has passed the House of Representatives.  The Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education, or GIVE, Act passed today with bipartisan support in the House, and a similar bill, named the Serve America Act, has also been approved by the Senate education committee.  It will move to the Senate floor early next week, where it is expected to be met with a similar level of enthusiasm.  National service has been a priority of the Obama administration, so expect to see opportunities for community service expand shortly.

Over the course of five years, the bill will appropriate $6 billion to AmeriCorps, increasing positions from 75,000 to 250,000 and also increasing education stipends to $5,350--the same dollar amount as Federal Pell Grants.  The GIVE Act also includes provisions to encourage middle school students to volunteer, as well as funding to increase volunteerism on college campuses.  The GIVE Act will create volunteer programs focused on issues that have become major priorities in recent years, such as education and healthcare.

This legislation is heralded as the largest expansion in national service since the Kennedy administration.  While AmeriCorps and other volunteer programs pay far less than a full-time job, many students have been showing increased interest in them due to the education stipends and living allowances they provide, as well as the opportunities for service and unique experiences volunteers gain.  People serving full-time in positions affiliated with AmeriCorps or other programs also qualify for a new federal loan forgiveness program, which forgives Stafford loan debt for public service employees after ten years.

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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Alternatives to Employment for College Grads

Mar 18, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

New college grads may face an especially tough time due to the recession.  The growth in anticipated new hires, which is measured twice a year by The National Association of Colleges and Employers, has been slowing since it reached a high in spring 2007, falling almost flat in the fall.  The numbers for spring 2009 show that for the first time in years, businesses actually anticipate hiring fewer college graduates this year than last--22 percent fewer, in fact.  According to The Boston Globe, the business and finance sectors have an even bleaker outlook, as does the northeastern region of the United States.

With this dim hiring picture in mind, soon-to-be college graduates are looking at alternatives to the traditional workforce. Additional education, teaching fellowship programs, and volunteer work are all proving popular. If you're a college student staring graduation in the face, keep in mind the increased competition and start researching and applying sooner, rather than later.

Graduate programs, including ones offered by business schools, are seeing increased enrollment as many students choose to either delay their entry into the workforce or push up their long-term plans to attend graduate school.  Graduate students can potentially land full-tuition fellowships or assistantships, as well as generous scholarship awards.  Many graduate degrees can help recipients become more competitive when they do enter the workforce, even if the economy does not recover substantially.

Similarly, teacher certification programs, such as the popular Teach for America, are seeing an increase in applicants.  These programs offer a stipend, as well as teacher certification, and in some cases a master's degree in education, in exchange for a commitment of one or two years teaching in a low-income school or a high-need subject.  Other programs exist with similar benefits, including teaching fellowships in several major cities such as New York and Chicago.  College students or recent grads who want to teach but don't want to pay for more school may want to consider these options.

Other volunteer programs, like AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, also are seeing more applicants.  Such programs often come with a stipend or living allowance, as well as student loan deferments or even loan cancelation or repayment benefits.  Students can also participate in many of these programs while still in college or while pursuing graduate degrees.  If you're interested in an alternative to the post-collegiate rat race, there's no time like the present to start considering your options.

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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Don't Spend March Waiting: Take Action Now for Fall Financial Aid

Mar 17, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

While April may be the cruelest month, March can be especially rough for students bound for college or graduate school.  Late March and early April are when admissions decisions and financial aid letters roll out for those not immediately accepted or rejected by their dream schools, and around now, things are getting pretty agonizing.  While a large part of March is consumed by waiting, even those who have already received good news may be consumed by the crushing dread of all the work to be done before September.  After all, if you get into a college or graduate school, you still have to figure out how to pay for it, what classes to take, what forms to complete, what to do with your life between now and then, and for many students, how to graduate on time, as well.  So, while you may still be waiting for a decision, there are things you can do in March to make April through August easier.

First, budget your time.  Figure out the things you'll need to do, and make a plan to get them done.  While you can't yet pick your classes or contact an unassigned roommate to figure out who is bringing the fridge or the TV, you can take care of other things.

If you haven't done so yet, complete the FAFSA.  If you did a FAFSA with your 2007 tax information, do your 2008 taxes and submit a correction.  Check your student aid report to see if you were chosen for verification, a process roughly equivalent to an audit of your FAFSA that is conducted by your college.  Colleges receive a glut of verification forms towards the start of the school year, and a delay in completing it can result in a delay in financial aid.  If you're not sure you've done everything you need to receive aid on time, contact the college to make sure.  It's better to find out now than to find out on the first day of classes when you need to buy books and find that you can't.

Keep searching for scholarships and submitting scholarship applications.  Deadlines are approaching rapidly, and available scholarships for the 2009-2010 academic year will only get more sparse as you approach the start of the fall semester.  This doesn't just go for high schoolers--if you're a soon-to-be graduate student with an acceptance letter in hand, but no assistantship or fellowship, don't count on funding emerging later. This can and does happen, but many schools make these awards with their admission decisions.

If you've received your financial aid award letter at your college of choice and it's come up drastically short, look into options for appealing it, especially if your financial circumstances have changed or if you've gotten a better offer from a different school.  You may also want to start shopping around for student loans. You might not be able to apply until summer (and you might not want to if you're currently applying for scholarships), but knowing what's out there now can help later.

If you take these steps now, then it will be easier to direct your spring and summer towards enjoying (or enduring) school, preparing to graduate, and figuring out your summer plans.  You'll also be less rushed and less likely to forget to do important things, like signing up to register for classes or mailing in a deposit on time.

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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The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes

Mar 16, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Community service projects benefit those around you, provide valuable learning experiences, and add an impressive dimension to your resume.  They also provide numerous opportunities for community service scholarships, such as this week's Scholarship of the Week.  The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes seeks to award young people who initiate significant service projects as elementary or high school students.

The Barron Prize is awarded to young people who have created a service project that has positively affected other people, animals, or the planet. The project should go beyond fulfilling a school requirement or overcoming a personal challenge and should touch the lives of others and be capable of inspiring others to also make a difference.  Students interested in applying will have to write a scholarship essay describing their project, and will also need three letters of recommendation and a letter from an adult nominator who is familiar with their work.

Prize: $2,500 to be applied towards the winner's higher education or continuing their service project>/p>

Eligibility: Applicants must be between the ages of 8 and 18 by April 30, 2009 and must be legal residents of the United States or Canada.  Students must be nominated by an adult who is familiar with their project and must be nominated as individuals, not as groups.

Deadline: April 30, 2009

Required Material: The student nominee and the adult nominator must each complete an essay of no more than 1,500 words describing the nominee's service project.  Applicants must also provide three letters of recommendation. Additional reference materials are also welcome.

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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Sallie Mae Not Interested in PLUS Loans

Mar 13, 2009

by Administrator

It seems Sallie Mae wants nothing to do with PLUS Loans and it's possible many other lenders will be reticent to bid on the graduate student and parent targeted loans at the upcoming "auction". Supposedly, the government is not allowing lenders to make enough money on these loans for it to be sufficiently profitable so they are opting to invest their capital elsewhere.

Some are claiming this is a ploy to get a larger cut than what the government currently allows. This certainly isn't out of the question, and it seems likely that Sallie Mae would participate if the "price were right", but this is likely beside the point to those seeking financial aid for college. They just want to know how they are going to pay for school if nobody wants to underwrite their PLUS Loan.

There is no question it's difficult to get a loan for education these days and getting more so by the day. Naturally, it would be ideal if every student attending college next year could find sufficient scholarships, grants and other "free" money to pay for their entire education but we are all well aware that is fairly unlikely for most. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. It is rare that those who do, somehow, find a way to get through college without taking out loans are not quite surprised themselves. The key is to search for scholarships and to do so with the belief you can win. Because you can. You probably won't win them all, but you might win some of them, right? Improve your odds by applying to as many as you can from now until every deadline has passed! You may not get all of your tuition paid for (some of you will, though!) but that's no reason not to try, right? Some of you will be able to pay about half, or even more than half and that's huge. Even if you were able to get $3,000 a year? Or even $2,000? Maybe go to state school instead of that pricey private college you were going to attend. Now that $3,000 is much more substantial, isn't it? Consider all of these things and conduct a free scholarship search today and see what's available out there before you start looking at loans.

Back to PLUS Loans and Sallie Mae's absence from the upcoming auction. The idea is that lenders actually have to "bid" on the loans by stating their lowest acceptable federal subsidy rate they are willing to accept to make the loan. They have to give their absolute best offer in competition with other lenders, which should, in theory, benefit those taking out the loans. This "auction" format began just a couple of years ago and may already be on its way out, as President Obama has called for the elimination of the entire guaranteed-loan program. Naturally, this puts further strain on those still trying to move forward with the auction, which will now be without Sallie Mae, who makes 40% of PLUS Loans in the guaranteed-loan program. It is difficult to know how big an impact this will have on the event, but you can rest assured it does not bode well for students counting on PLUS Loans to fund their education.

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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More Early Filers for 2009-2010 FAFSA

Mar 12, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

More students are completing the FAFSA early for 2009-2010 according to data collected by the Department of Education.  By the end of February, more than 3 million students had filed their FAFSA for the next academic year, an increase of over 20 percent from the first two months of 2008.  As application deadlines approach, this flood of applications could slow, but right now it looks like there will be more demand for financial aid in the coming school year.

Federal student financial aid is becoming an increasingly attractive means of paying for college.  For starters, federal aid is up for 2009-2010--in the case of Federal Pell Grants, way up.  A combination of factors has boosted maximum grants to $5,350 in 2009-2010, while simultaneously raising the minimum award to $976 and the maximum qualifying Expected Family Contribution to $4,671.  Low interest rates and expanded federal loan cancellation and consolidation options are also making federal student loans more appealing.

Meanwhile, several other payment options aren't doing so well.  Private loans became harder to obtain in 2008, and also saw fairly substantial interest rate increases.  College savings plans, such as 529 plans, took big hits in the stock market, and even some prepaid tuition plans are struggling to guarantee payouts for upcoming years.  College endowments have also been affected by financial troubles, and some endowed scholarships may be reduced or unavailable for the coming academic year.

However, this doesn't mean the FAFSA is the only option for student financial aid.  Most states are maintaining funding for their scholarship programs, many colleges are increasing aid where possible, and scholarship opportunities are still out there--though many deadlines are approaching--for students who are willing and able to take the time to do a scholarship search and complete some scholarship applications.

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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Senate Passes 2009 Appropriations Bill

Mar 11, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The omnibus spending bill passed by the House of Representatives in February was approved by the Senate last night, and is expected to be signed by President Obama this week.  The bill includes more funding for Federal Pell Grants, fixing the maximum award at $5,350 for 2009-2010, a number that's already been widely publicized.

Other student financial aid programs also receive a funding boost for the current fiscal year, including the Federal Perkins Loan cancellation program and several federal scholarship and fellowship programs.  These increases aren't necessarily tied to larger award amounts, however.  Federal Work-Study, which received a boost in the stimulus bill, will see the increase put into effect in the 2009-2010 fiscal year under the omnibus legislation.

Funding was held steady for SEOG, another federal grant program, as well as new Federal Perkins Loans.  ACG and SMART grants actually saw a decrease in funding--now these programs have funding equal to the amounts they award, but no longer have large, unawarded funding surpluses.  The surplus money from these programs has been redirected towards Pell Grants.

The passage of this bill, which should represent pretty much the final word on education spending for the current fiscal year, comes just in time for colleges to begin sending out financial aid award notices to students who have completed the FAFSA.  If you still have your fingers crossed for a magic bullet for college costs, it's still not too late to kick your scholarship search into high gear and begin looking at ways to pay for school beyond federal aid.

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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Direct Lending Continues to Gain Popularity

Mar 10, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

According to US Department of Education data, over the last year colleges and universities have continued to leave the Federal Family Education Loan Program in droves, switching to the federally run Direct Loans Program.  Between February 2008 and February 2009, the number of schools issuing federal Direct Loans increased from 1,072 to 1,620, an increase of nearly 34 percent.

Direct Loans and FFEL are two competing programs schools choose between for the two most common varieties of federally funded student loans.  Both Stafford Loans and PLUS Loans can be issued and consolidated through either program (Perkins Loans are issued through separate loan programs).  Previously, FFEL was more popular, due in part to generous government subsidies that allowed participating banks to offer breaks on origination fees and loan repayment, as well as comprehensive programs to prevent borrowers from defaulting.

However, subsidy cuts and the collapse of credit markets in 2008 both took their toll on FFEL, as well as private loans, which are often issued by the same banks that participate in FFEL.  Many lenders left the program, and those still participating in FFEL could no longer afford to offer incentives to borrowers, and when the government stepped in to keep the system afloat last year, part of the deal involved taking other incentives and inducements (primarily ones involved in the conflict of interest scandals of 2007) off the table.  This ongoing string of troubles prompted more college financial aid offices to decide to make the switch to Direct Loans for Stafford and PLUS.

Direct lending has also received an endorsement from the executive branch of the federal government.  President Obama has called for an end to the lender subsidies that comprise the FFEL program, and urged Congress to consolidate funding into one federal student loan program: Direct Loans.

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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The Humanist Essay Contest

Mar 9, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Students currently enrolled in grades 9-12 are eligible for this week's Scholarship of the Week, The Humanist Essay Contest.  The Humanist, a magazine published by the American Humanist Association, sponsors this annual scholarship essay contest for high school students.  Applicants are asked to submit an essay of 1,500 to 2,500 words dealing with humanist themes in any subject or field of inquiry.

Essay judging will be guided by the definition of humanism found in each issue of The Humanist magazine. Other criteria include originality of thought, sense of emotional engagement, clarity and quality of presentation, amount of research evidenced, and future potential shown by the author.

Prize: $1,000, a three-year membership to the American Humanist Association, and an invitation to present the winning essay at the annual AHA conference

Eligibility: Students residing in the United States or Canada who are currently enrolled in grades 9-12

Deadline: April 3, 2009

Required Material: A completed scholarship essay of 1,500 to 2,500 words submitted to The Humanist via email

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 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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Saving for College, Part II

Mar 6, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Continuing our theme from yesterday, today's blog post centers on more options for saving for college.  Yesterday, we discussed 529 plans, popular college savings vehicles that have been battered by recent financial troubles.  If you're considering saving for college but are not sold on a 529 plan, the most common alternatives are discussed below.

Coverdell ESA. Coverdell Education Savings Accounts are similar to 529 plans in most respects, but do have their own benefits and drawbacks. Rather than being sold by a state, they are sold by banks and brokerages, which can charge their own management fees. Because there aren't any state ties, there aren't any residency limitations, though there also aren't any state tax breaks for enrolling in a Coverdell ESA.

Coverdell accounts allow more flexible investment options and unlimited changes to investments. They can also be used to pay for high school and elementary school expenses, in addition to college costs. Otherwise, the expenses Coverdell and 529 plans can be used for are roughly the same: tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board if over half-time, and other qualified educational expenses.

One major limitation to the Coverdell ESA is the $2,000 annual contribution cap. This is the limit per account holder, not per contributor. Additionally, individuals must have an adjusted gross income of $110,000 or below to contribute, and $95,000 or below to contribute the full $2,000. Coverdell accounts are held in the beneficiary's name, so they can hurt the student on the FAFSA. They also must be used or cashed out by the time the beneficiary turns 30, and they go to the beneficiary no matter what, while 529 plans can be given back to the parent in charge of the account if the student chooses not to go to college.

Roth IRA. The Roth IRA, typically used as a retirement account, can also be used to save for school. As long as you're withdrawing contributions, rather than earnings, there is no penalty if you are using the money from your IRA for educational expenses. However, a college savings plan might be the better way to go if you're setting up an account specifically for your student (especially since contributions to a Roth IRA must come from income the beneficiary earned from working), and dipping into your retirement funds to pay for college is widely regarded as a less than ideal choice by financial experts. But if you choose to take it, the option is there.

UTMA. The Uniform Transfer to Minors Act allows assets to be given as gifts to minors without the establishment of a trust. While the options explored up to this point have been savings accounts or investments, UTMA covers everything, including property. An adult manages these assets in a custodial account until the owner reaches the age of 18 or 21, depending on the state. In the meantime, the funds in the account can be used to benefit the child, including taking care of educational expenses. Once the owner reaches the age of majority, the assets are theirs to use as they please. This can mean paying for school, or it can mean making less desirable financial choices.  Since these assets belong to the student, they would count against them for student financial aid.

Government Bonds. While typically regarded as the province of grandparents, government savings bonds (Series EE is the most common) are also an option for paying for college. Bonds can be purchased online or at banks, and redeemed later for cash. As opposed to stock market-based savings plans which can lose big during crashes, government bonds are going to continue to grow as long as there's a government to honor them. And if there's no longer a United States government, well, you might have more to worry about than paying for college.

Also, since no rules state that a savings bond must be redeemed for college costs, the money can be used towards paying off student loans, covering college living expenses...or partying it up during spring break in Mexico.

While EE Savings Bonds grow at a steady rate, they do grow very slowly. You're also limited to a purchase of $5,000 per calendar year. Since they're such a safe bet, they can be great gifts for high school students, but a market-based option might be a better way to grow savings and maximize returns for younger children.

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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