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Coping with College Aid Cuts

August 19, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

As the start of the fall semester approaches, students across the country are finding themselves in a precarious position when it comes to financial aid. As we've previously mentioned, several states have been forced to make deep budget cuts this year, canceling or reducing funding for scholarships and grants, in some cases after award notices have already been sent to students. This has left students scrambling for last-minute student loans, and in some cases facing the difficult decision of whether to take a semester off while trying to procure alternate funding.

The Wall Street Journal and U.S. News both feature articles this week that offer up alternatives for students who have come up short on funding for the fall. While scholarship opportunities are still available for the coming academic year and should be pursued, students who need immediate sources of funding may want to check out private loans, peer-to-peer lending, and emergency loans and other aid offered by some universities and state agencies. Reducing to part-time enrollment or transferring to a cheaper school are also last-resort options that may be better choices than taking an entire semester off or putting tuition on a credit card.

An appeal to your college's financial aid office can also produce more financial aid, especially if your financial situation has changed since you completed the FAFSA, or if your parents were turned down for a federal PLUS loan. Additional loans, and even some grant aid, may be available if you ask.

In addition to trying to find new sources of funding, some college students are also petitioning their state legislators to get grant and scholarship funding restored.  Lawmakers in Utah have listened, promising to reinstate full funding to the state's New Century Scholarship program, whose awards they had previously planned to cut nearly in half. Students in Michigan also may yet get a reprieve from budget cuts, as the governor of Michigan and numerous state legislators are vowing to do what they can to keep the state's popular Promise Scholarship program intact.

Even if states manage to find funding for grants and scholarships this year, the next fiscal year could also prove challenging. Students in cash-strapped states who are planning to rely on state scholarships to pay for college may want to start looking into alternate funding now.  One of the best ways to do this is to start with a free college scholarship search.

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Latinosincollege.com Launches Survey of Hispanic Students

August 27, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

A Web site that aims to help more Hispanics graduate from four-year colleges has kicked off a research campaign to find out about those students' perspectives on higher education to make services for them more effective.

Latinosincollege.com will offer the survey, designed with the National Society of Hispanic MBAs, for the next few months on their site. The questions, which target high school, college and MBA students, explore students' thought processes in choosing careers, whether they apply for scholarships and how many receive them, and where they seek out their career advice. Also included are questions specific to students' experiences as Hispanics, namely how they feel about assimilating and maintaining their identities post-high school. The site's founder Mariela Dabbah said she hopes the results will make it easier for outside organizations to find more ways to help Hispanic students succeed in college and the workplace.

The site is geared toward the college-bound with blogs by educators and high school and college students, a resource guide that includes posts on topics like leadership development, managing a social life, money and time in college, and being the first in the family to attend college. Students also have access to other students and professionals, with "Ambassadors" responding to questions. The Ambassadors, who mentor high school students applying to college, attend youth workshops to learn about issues and concerns on the minds of those pursuing a higher education.

Dabbah came up with the site as a response to her own experiences looking for a job as an immigrant from Argentina and the lack of information for a population that she felt was being underserved. According to the site, Hispanic students have the highest high school dropout rate of any group at 50 percent and a college enrollment rate of 20 percent. A study done several years ago by the Pew Hispanic Center showed that although the number of Hispanics going to college was slowly rising due in part to the rapidly growing population, they were still half as likely to finish their bachelor's degrees as white students.

Joan Sotero Alvarez, a blogger on the site and assistant principal in the Progreso Independent School District in Texas, struggled to earn his bachelor's degree. He felt the pressure as the first in his family to finish college, resulting in several failed attempts at the state's entrance exam. Eventually, he was not only a successful undergraduate, but completed a master's degree as well. Today, he mentors students in Texas and Mexico who are at risk of dropping out of school. "I don't see failure in my students; I see hope," he says.

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Make a Good First Impression with Your E-mail Address

September 1, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Just about a decade ago now, e-mail addresses were created as a reflection of how cool you were, or how funny you could be within the constraints given by AOL or Yahoo!

Today, e-mail addresses are less a novelty than a necessity, used with everything from shopping online to applying to jobs. No one will deny you a scholarship or financial aid if you have a goofy e-mail address, but it's best to get an early start now before you enter into the job world. In a tough economy and competitive job market, something as simple as an e-mail address could drop your resume to the bottom of the pile, or worse, fail to get past the employer's spam filter. Potential new hires spend so much time crafting that perfect resume and paying extra to print it on the fancy paper that topping it off with PartyGrl124@email.com seems counterproductive.

I was an offender myself, and recall a great deal of anxiety surrounding that first e-mail address. I went with a variation of my birthday and a personal quality I believed I had, "funnie," spelled that way because the right way was already taken by another individual who believed they were just as funny. Once I discovered Gmail, I went with the straight first and last name combo, and the old e-mail address is probably still collecting spam somewhere. I was also blessed with a college e-mail address that I used to apply to internships or correspond with professors as an undergraduate, but as some colleges are no longer assigning freshmen their own e-mail addresses or run forwarding services; instead, many are left to their own devices.

More often than not employers now prefer that resumes and cover letters be e-mailed to them rather than sent through snail mail. So get yourself on a free email site and see what's available related to your actual name, like John.Smith@email.com or JohnSmith321@email.com. Even something as innocuous as showing your love for your pet or baseball or food (spaghettilover@email.com) could put off or even offend an employer. (What if they hate cats, the Cubs or spaghetti?) If you're trying to be funny, charming or original, you're probably trying too hard. Maybe it's not fair, or an example of e-mail discrimination. Or maybe a professional e-mail address makes you look more professional.

If you have a sentimental attachment to your old e-mail address or feel that the new, straightforward address infringes on your creative side, keep the old one as your personal address. If you want to change user names across the board, UserNameCheck.com will show you which names are taken and which are up for grabs.

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Washington Monthly Ranks Colleges on Social Good

September 3, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The Obama health plan isn't the only hotly debated controversy in which the of the social good is currently being invoked. College rankings also fall into this category with the release of Washington Monthly's annual rankings this month, which differ sharply from the better-known U.S. News and World Report rankings, and focus primarily on universities' contributions to the "social good."

Washington Monthly publishes two sets of rankings, one for national universities and one for liberal arts colleges, each year. This year, the top three spots in the magazine's national university rankings all went to schools in the University of California system: UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, and UC Los Angeles, respectively. The top three liberal arts colleges were Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, and Williams College. Amherst and Williams both appeared in U.S. News' top three, as well, but rankings differed sharply for many of Washington Monthly's other top schools, which included many state colleges, as opposed to the elite private colleges that dominate U.S. News.

A large part of the drastically different rankings comes from Washington Monthly's chosen methodology, which asks as much what colleges are doing for the country as it asks what they can do for their students. This is determined by looking at factors that include student involvement in national service, university involvement in research, and the social mobility attending college gives students.

The service index is achieved by looking at the number of current students involved in ROTC, the Reserve Officer Training Corps, as well as graduate participation in the Peace Corps. Research is determined by the university's production of PhD graduates, the number of degree recipients going on to achieve PhDs at other institutions, and other components such as research spending and faculty awards. The matrix is slightly different for liberal arts college, as many don't award PhDs and some don't provide data for all of the research categories. Social mobility is based on each school's ability to enroll and graduate needy students, determined by a calculation involving the percentage of students who receive federal Pell Grants and the school's undergraduate graduation rate.

Washington Monthly provides a more thorough description of their rankings system, as well as the rationale behind their decision to rank colleges, on their College Guide website. Other magazines participating in the college rankings game include Princeton Review and Forbes Magazine.

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American Copy Editors Society Scholarship

September 8, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Journalism students who have an eye for detail and experience in the copy editing field, whether it be on the school newspaper or at an outside internship, should check out this week's Scholarship of the Week, an annual award given by the American Copy Editors Society Education Fund. The single $2,500 top prize is named after longtime copy editor Merv Aubespin, also a former president of the National Association of Black Journalists. Runner-ups will be eligible for four prizes of $1,000 each. The online applications will be evaluated by a panel of experienced copy editors, so demonstrating an interest in pursuing a career in the field is important. Ideal candidates will boast both relevant coursework and experience in copy editing.

Prize: 1 first prize of $2,500; 4 runner-up prizes of $1,000

Eligibility: College students with a minimum GPA of 2.5 who will be juniors, seniors or graduate students in the fall, and graduating students who will take full-time copy editing jobs or internships.

Deadline: November 15, 2009

Required Material: Completed online application form that will demonstrate an interest in and aptitude for copy editing.

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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Now is the Time to Score Athletic Scholarships

September 8, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

With college football season underway, it's a good time for high school athletes starting their senior years to be making their decisions on whether they'll be pursuing sports on the college level. Athletic scholarships go a long way toward making those decisions easier, and even in a struggling economy, sports programs continue to set aside funding to better their teams. Better yet, even those who aren't the top soccer, baseball or tennis player on the roster are eligible for scholarship opportunities offered by local groups outside of the NCAA awards looking to reward students who balance their schoolwork with athletics.

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune points to several tips for talented athletes in the market for scholarships, including making yourself known to coaches and schools early and often and making sure your grades are where they should be. Most athletic scholarships require a minimum GPA for eligibility, even if you're the star of your basketball team. And even if you do get that coveted sports scholarship, you'll be expected to maintain a decent GPA to be eligible for continued funding and a spot on the team. Student athletes should also keep an open mind about schools they're targeting. Big-name schools are much more competitive, and unless you're one of the top athletes in your field, they may offer much less play time even if you do make the team than smaller colleges outside of Division I. A college search is a good place to start to learn more about colleges offering your sports program.

It isn't easy to be recruited for a full ride at a top university. A strategy of more students recently has been specializing in one sport, or getting involved in sports outside of football, baseball and basketball that get less attention to stand out more in the competitive world of sports scholarships. New sports scholarships in fields like lacrosse, for example, are becoming more common, and with new scholarships, the competition is often much less fierce than with more popular, established award programs.

For those who excel in both sports and athletics, straight academic scholarships may prove to be a good option as well, especially if you're a good essay writer.

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Introductions: Giving Your Scholarship Essay a Solid Start

September 11, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Unless you're lucky enough to happen across an extremely obscure and unusual scholarship with only one or two qualified applicants, you are going to have to face some competition to receive a scholarship award. In the case of essay scholarships that are easy to enter or that come with a substantial award, you may be facing quite a lot of competition. In fact, with many scholarship competitions, you may be up against so much competition that there's no guarantee a reviewer will even have time to completely read and digest each scholarship essay submitted. This makes your essay's introduction vitally important.

The first sentence of your scholarship application is your first, best and possibly only chance to capture your reader's attention. To have the best chance at winning scholarships, you need to know how to start your essay off right. The following are some tips to help you craft an eye-catching introduction that gets your foot in the door and gets your application the attention it deserves.

Put it in your own words. While starting with a quote is a common technique in speaking and some writing, it may not work best in a scholarship application essay. Leading with a quote shows the reviewer that you know how to read, but it doesn't tell much else about you or your ideas. Use your own words to begin, and if a quote supports or enhances your argument, consider bringing it in later in the essay.

Avoid clichés and tired phrases. One of your essay's goals should be to distinguish you from the competition, and it won't do this if it rehashes the same overused expressions that everyone else employs. Keep in mind that the scholarship reviewer will be reading hundreds or even thousands of applications. What seems clever or cute the first time doesn't seem that way after the 50th or 100th iteration. A good rule to follow is that if a phrase belongs on a bumper sticker or in an e-mail from your mom, it likely does not belong in your scholarship essay.

Establish a personal connection. If your experience gives you a unique perspective on the essay's topic, show your reader this. Most people are suckers for personal anecdotes, provided the stories are interesting and well-told. Make sure the story you tell fits these criteria and actually enriches your essay and contributes to your overall message. Don't get melodramatic and don't bog down your introduction in an overly long, detailed or irrelevant narrative, but if you've got a good story to tell to frame your essay, use it.

Say something new. Are you arguing something that falls well outside the typical series of canned responses? Consider leading with your thesis, or at least some of the information or realizations that guided your essay towards its thesis. There's no better way to stand out from a pile of fairly standard responses than to have something fresh and thought-provoking to contribute with your scholarship application.

With a solid introduction and a thoughtful and well-written response, you'll be well on your way to writing a scholarship-worthy essay.

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Survive the Bad Economy, Part I: Land a Scholarship

September 14, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

As unemployment rates remain high and budgets stay tight, more people are looking to wait out the struggling economy by going back to college. Competition then has become more fierce not only on the admissions level, but for funding to pay for those educations. While many schools are doing whatever they can to continue offering scholarships and grants, the economy has affected some schools' available funding. Good news is, scholarships do exist, and there are things you can do to have a better chance of landing one.

  • Apply early, and apply often. Scholarships wait for no one, and a later deadline doesn't mean you should wait until the very last moment to apply. Generous scholarships like the Coca-Cola Scholars Program have deadlines in October, for example. It's not a bad move to look ahead and start applying for awards beyond this year, either, to get an idea of funding you'll need in the future. To see scholarships that have deadlines this fall, conduct a a free scholarship search and see the dozens you could be eligible for.
  • Don't rule out local scholarships. While funding packages from your intended college are often more generous than outside awards, it won't hurt to supplement any funding you're awarded or have a backup plan in case what your school offers covers less of your fees than you thought. Local scholarships from your dad's employer or your local bowling league are also less competitive than college-based awards or the more well-known contests, and often look at things beyond your GPA and test scores to factor in things like community service, your experience with that organization and financial need. New scholarships are being created all the time, so check on your search throughout the school year for the most up-to-date results.
  • Stand out on the application. It's not too late to make up for that less-than-stellar grade in your high school Algebra class, especially if you're looking ahead to scholarship opportunities beyond your freshman year in college. GPAs matter from your entire high school career, so don't slack off when the senioritis hits. Don't be afraid of AP classes unless it's a subject you know you'd get a low grade in, and get involved in your school and your community as it's also not always about academics. Work on that resume by applying for internships that fit your intended major, and put in more hours of practice if you're going for a sports or music scholarship. It's never too late to make yourself a more desirable scholarship candidate.
  • Appeal your award. If you've done everything you can - filled out your FAFSA early, put together impressive scholarship applications - and you feel the financial aid you've been offered from your school is unfair or if your circumstances have changed dramatically since applying for government aid, you still have options. Schools are more likely to reconsider packages in the current climate, and you could be eligible for more grant and scholarship funding, the best kind that you don't need to pay back.

For more information on upcoming scholarships and other helpful financial aid tips, visit our College Resources. Tomorrow, we'll explore your options on keeping college costs low and looking at a school's program versus its reputation.

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Survive the Bad Economy, Part II: Keep Your Options Open

September 15, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Some students are college-bound before they even hit high school. They know they want to shoot for the Ivy Leagues, and map out plans to get there. But while there's a certain degree of pride that will come from landing a spot in the freshman class of that East Coast institution, the sticker shock that comes with attending a prestigious university is often inevitable.

This isn't meant to discourage you. Many private and expensive four-year schools offer generous financial aid packages to make up for the high cost of attendance there, and scholarship opportunities could offset some of those costs as well. But sometimes that isn't enough, especially in a struggling economy where parents are saving less for their children's educations and tuition costs continue to rise. If you're set on what you want to be when you grow up, consider looking at programs offered by schools rather than their reputations. Some smaller, less costly schools are known for certain fields, so do your research through a college search on schools that specialize in education, nursing or forensic science, for example, if you're sure about your future career.

Factor in your cost of living, as well. A college in a big city may seem like a grand adventure, but how much fun can you really have if you can't afford to leave your dorm room? A less expensive school in a college town may not seem very exciting, but most of those towns cater to young people, offering diversions outside of your academic calendar at a much lower cost to you than big cities. You'll also be competing against other students for part-time jobs rather than a few million city-dwellers. Look at your in-state options - you can still be far enough away from your parents' house that you'll get the privacy you're craving while enjoying home state tuition.

If you have your heart set on the big school that is perhaps just out of your reach financially consider doing your general education requirements at the local community college. Although you'll be sacrificing some of that typical college experience, two years in you could be ready to transfer to your dream school with fewer student loans and a better idea of what you want to study. Chances are you'd change your major several times your freshmen and sophomore years anyway, or go undecided until then. Just make sure your intended college will approve the courses you completed at the community college so that you aren't forced to retake any courses.

Tomorrow, we'll take a closer look at how low-cost options like community colleges can help you get the job skills and career opportunities that remain in demand in a tough economy.

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Survive the Bad Economy, Part III: Choose Wisely

September 16, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

While it is important to make sure you choose a career in a field you would be happy and fulfilled in, it doesn't hurt to do a little investigating as part of your college search before you make your decision to see which jobs are in high demand and recession-proof. Positions with nationwide shortages in fields such as nursing and education, especially in low-income and rural communities, also often come with a wider net of scholarship and grant opportunities as incentives to attract new students. And the college-bound are taking notice.

Many students once set on careers in business or real estate have begun reconsidering those decisions for safer options in the health care, information technology and "green" industries. Others who have already been through college but have been laid off in their intended careers are using the layoffs as a reason to return to school for more training in their fields or to launch brand new careers. A recent Reuters article described the story of an out-of-work mortgage broker struggling with the effects of a weak housing market who was going back to school to become an accountant.

Lower-cost, flexible options like community colleges can also help you get the job skills and career opportunities that remain in demand in a tough economy, and make you a more viable candidate when the job market improves. Over the last year, enrollments at community colleges have increased by as much as 25 percent, according to the American Association of Community Colleges, with many of those new students adult learners. A recent article in the The Chronicle of Higher Education described the new role of the two-year institutions as launching pads to get into jobs in local industries still hiring in a struggling economy. Macomb Community College, for example, has shifted its focus from preparing workers for jobs in the local automotive industry - a very uncertain field - to positions as nursing home aides and graphic designers.

Some words of caution: No amount of job security will make up for pursuing a career you dislike, so make sure that if you are considering going into a field for economic reasons that it's balanced with what you see yourself doing once the job market improves. If you're undecided about majors, take a variety of general education requirements so you get a good idea of what you like about one field over another. Good writing, math and science skills translate into a number of job opportunities, so even if you don't stick to positions in your major once you're out of school, a background in those subjects would be helpful. If you really are passionate about a particular field and can't see yourself doing anything else, the economy won't be struggling forever, so chances are that even if you do go into a riskier field things may have turned around by the time you graduate.

In our last part of the series tomorrow, we'll look at reasons to think positive despite the economy, and offer tips for recent graduates.

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