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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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Getting Sick at College: How to Cope

September 16, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

As students begin the fall semester, news of the H1N1 swine flu virus spreading across college campuses is everywhere. But whether the flu has hit your college or not, getting sick at school is a real concern and can quickly derail your semester.

Living far away from home, many college students aren't well-equipped to take care of themselves and stay on top of their coursework while ill, especially if they contract something more serious than a cold. While the flu's getting all the attention now, other common illnesses can put students out of commission for days, or even weeks, causing them to miss class, miss work, and get behind on projects that are crucial to their success in school. Missed work due to illness can even jeopardize your financial aid. Part of taking care of yourself when you're sick at school is taking care to minimize the impact of illness on your semester.

Beyond attending to your immediate needs (seeing a doctor, getting rest, etc.), the most important thing to do if you get sick is to contact your professors, preferably before you miss a class or an assignment. If you're really ill and need to miss more than one class or an important assignment, quiz, or test, the earlier you establish communication, the better it will go. If you have a diagnosis, you can share it, but don't go into the minute details of what your body is doing and don't assume that because you're sick with something verifiable, your professors will instantly cater to your every whim. A doctor's excuse doesn't always go as far as demonstrated willingness to take responsibility for your missed work and to work with your professor to get caught up. Most instructors will be willing to provide you with information and course materials from missed classes, and depending on circumstances and how you approach the situation, they may allow you to make up work, as well.

If you're going to miss a lot of school or you have professors unwilling to budge, contacting your academic advisor is a good step, as well. A note from an advisor carries more weight than a call from a student, and if you lack the time or energy to address each professor personally and immediately, talking to your advisor can save you some time. They can also give you advice and information on what to do about missing class, and help you keep from falling behind.

Finally, once you're healthy, back in class and taking care of your missed work, there may still be other matters to attend to. Even if you have tried your hardest, you may wind up with too much work to catch up in a class. If talking to your professor and your advisor about incompletes and other options doesn't bear fruit, you may need to drop classes or you may see your GPA suffer.  If you have scholarship awards or other financial aid, lower grades or less than full-time enrollment can have an impact on your eligiblity for these awards. Be aware of the GPA and enrollment requirements for your scholarships and grants (even some student loans) and if you are in danger of not meeting them, talk to the scholarship provider or your financial aid counselor to find out your options. Your financial aid office is also a good place to stop if illness has generated medical bills or lost income for you--they may be able to adjust your aid package to help you deal with these expenses.

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Survive the Bad Economy, Part IV: Keep Positive

September 17, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Despite all the news you read about the economy on a daily basis, there are reasons to stay positive and believe the situation is and will continue improving. There are still dozens of scholarships out there that you're probably qualified for, and although the admissions process has become more competitive, the level of funding available to high school seniors and beyond has remained solid. The economy won't keep you from going to college, especially if you plan ahead and apply for your financial aid packages early via FAFSA. The longer you wait, the less funding there will be and the harder it'll make your decisions on which college to attend.

New scholarships are being posted all the time. A recent blog post described two such opportunities in two Michigan communities, a region that has been hit fairly hard with economic effects. Both awards are very generous, and could serve as a lesson not to rule out local scholarships when you're looking for ways to pay for college. Although some schools have had to scale back their budgets, local scholarships have remained in tact as private organizations only want to help you get to school even more in a struggling economy.

Even if the economy hasn't recovered by the time you graduate, chances are the positions you'll be applying for won't be as scarce as jobs affected by layoffs. Entry level jobs are more readily available because it's less expensive to hire a new graduate than someone with decades worth of experience. Internships are also plentiful, since they unfortunately often offer a less-than-generous stipend or no payment at all, so if you're able to abandon the summer job next year, consider finding an internship that fits your field and interests. Internships are a great way to pad your resume, as even entry level jobs want to see that you've had some experience in your chosen field in the real world.

Although there's no guarantee you'll land a great job right out of college, that guarantee has never existed, even in the best economy. The cost of attending college is worth that risk, and the pros outweigh the cons in a climate where more people are going to college than ever before. You'll make more money and have more diverse career opportunities than high school graduates entering the job world. There are many options to cut college costs, from attending school in-state or working through school. Consider community college, as many specialize in programs that are in high demand right now. Any excuse on why you should put off college can be dealt with, so file those applications and get yourself on a scholarship search to overcome the biggest hurdle: paying for your higher education.

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Study Shows FAFSA Help Boosts Financial Aid Packages

September 23, 2009

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.

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Posted Under:

FAFSA , Financial Aid , Tips

Tags: FAFSA , Financial Aid , Need-Based


Attention Future FAFSA Filers: You Don't Need to Pay for Aid

October 1, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Soon enough, financial aid application season will be upon us, and you'll need to know how to navigate the process so that you don't make any mistakes that could delay that application, and your funding for college. The first and important step will be getting ready to fill out your FAFSA, which the U.S. Department of Education starts accepting starting Jan. 1 of each year. If you take away anything from this blog though, remember this: FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It should never cost you anything to fill it out.

The easiest way to fill out your FAFSA will be online, directly through the Department of Education's website at www.FAFSA.ed.gov. In your research you may find sites that charge to prepare your FAFSA for you, like www.FAFSA.com. That site, run by Student Financial Aid Services, Inc., charges a fee of $79.99 to prepare and advise you about your FAFSA, and while studies have shown that professional help through the financial aid process does lead to some positive results and more generous aid packages, with some time and effort you can become a FAFSA expert, too, without the added cost. Your intended college's financial aid office will also be happy to help you - for free - if you come across any roadblocks or feel like you've make a mistake when filing your FAFSA.

The Department of Education's site will walk you through the FAFSA application process, even allowing you to come back to your application if you find that you don't have all the necessary paperwork handy. While some students have reported feeling intimidated by the process, you won't be awarded financial aid from your college if you don't fill it out. And if you're uncomfortable filing the FAFSA online, you can also submit the paper form through the mail. (This could delay your application somewhat, though.)

Remember that you should never feel forced to pay to apply for and receive financial aid. Also avoid scholarship search engines that charge you to come up with a list of awards you may be eligible for, and awards that come with large processing fees attached. Scholarship scams are unfortunately a common occurrence, but if you know what to look for, you should have a positive financial aid experience. Browse through our site for more information on filing your FAFSA, and conduct a free scholarship search to see scholarships you may qualify for to supplement your financial aid package - all without paying a dime.

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Posted Under:

FAFSA , Federal Aid , Tips

Tags: College Tips , FAFSA , Financial Tips , Tips


Balancing Work and School Key to College Success

October 1, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Community colleges are becoming increasingly popular options for young people looking to save money on their college degrees. However, despite their initial college plans, community college students are statistically less likely to earn a degree within six years than students who enroll immediately in a four-year college or university.

A report released this week by Demos, a non-partisan public policy research and advocacy institution, looks at the role of financial obligations in college completion rates for community college students under the age of 24. The report points to two things students can do to beat the odds and achieve their college goals: enroll full-time and work no more than part-time.

One of the key findings highlighted in the report is that most community college students have thousands of dollars in unmet financial need, even after accounting for grants and student loans. The lowest income quartile of students had $7,147 in financial need on average after grant aid, and $6,544 in need after accounting for all financial aid. Virtually all students in this quartile had unmet need and 92 percent of these students still had unmet need after all scholarships, grants, and loans. The overwhelming majority of students in the bottom 50% of family income had unmet financial need, averaging nearly $5,000 even after all financial aid.

Based on the substantial amount of unmet financial need these students had, it's not surprising that most community college students worked through school. The report shows 84 percent of young community college students worked while attending college in 2007-2008, and 61 percent of these students worked more than 20 hours a week, despite research showing that students who work fewer than 15 hours a week are the most successful academically. Community college students are more likely than students at state colleges to work their way through school and to work more hours while attending school. Of students who worked, 63 percent said they would not be able to pay for college without work, and 72 percent said they worked to help pay their college costs.

Community college students are also increasingly likely to enroll part-time, despite full-time enrollment being a key predictor of college success. Over half of community college students enrolled part-time in 2007-2008, compared to 19 percent of state college students, and most of these students worked more than part-time, primarily at low-wage jobs that are unrelated to their major or field of study. Just over half of students who initially enrolled part-time left college after 3 years without earning a degree or certificate, compared to only 14 percent of students who initially enrolled full-time.

This report adds to the growing body of research suggesting that borrowing heavily or relying entirely on income from work are not the best way to pay for college. In order to succeed in community college or any higher education institution, students should strongly consider attending full-time and only working part-time. To do this, saving for college or finding additional financial aid may be required. Applying for and winning scholarships can become a major component of college success--not only can scholarships help students meet their full financial need, but students who earn scholarships are also more likely to earn a college degree.

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This Too Shall Pass, Freshmen: Adapting to College Life

October 15, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

It's a few months into your freshman year, and the homesickness may be setting in. Or you've found yourself at war with your first college roommate, who sneaks snacks from your cupboard when you're hard at work studying in the library.

So much of what you learn before you head off to college is related to the more rigorous academics you'll be tackling, or all the paperwork you need to fill out to make sure your financial aid application is filed completely and on time. These things are very important, and you will be faced with new adult-like responsibilities once you're on that campus. But what about the things your guidance counselors don't tell you?

Harlan Cohen, who wrote the book "The Naked Roommate, and 107 Other Issues You Might Run into in College," has been making the rounds the last few weeks to inform college students - and their parents - that a few bumps in the road are normal. He describes the more realistic picture of the first one, even two, years of college as years of "discomfort," and that students will come across situations they may not have been prepared to encounter: that overly-rambunctious roommate that stays up late and keeps you awake, or the fact that you thought it'd be way easier to make friends on a campus of more than 20,000 students, all around your age.

Cohen suggests that getting through those difficult times will only make you stronger. The bad memories you may think you're collecting now will slowly become good memories, as one day we nearly guarantee you'll be talking about the "good old days" of attending college. The uneasiness you feel now will subside, and you'll start finding your niche. Take advantage of what college campuses have to offer, because chances are, there's something for every kind of student, no matter how diverse their interests. Some of Cohen's suggestions have included speaking up to disruptive or inappropriate roommates, taking care of yourself to avoid falling into a physical, mental or emotional slump, and forcing yourself to get our of your comfort zone somethings by joining a new student group or making connections with classmates.

Browse through our site for more tips on transitioning into that first year of a new college lifestyle and dealing with common roommate problems. Chances are the things you're experiencing are pretty universal, and easily remedied with a little faith that things will get better and giving yourself enough time to adapt to a new life on campus.

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More Students, Fewer Resources: For Community Colleges Popularity Comes at a Price

January 21, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you're planning to enroll in a community college sometime in 2009, be sure to plan ahead.  While in the past, late registration may have resulted in students not getting a class or two they wanted, increased interest in two year schools may produce an even more pronounced effect.  Community colleges across the country are receiving more applications and admitting more students for the 2008-2009 academic year than ever before, with some institutions reporting percentage growths in the double digits.  Many schools are seeing enrollment increases so dramatic that they lack the money and space to adequately accommodate the students turning up on their doorsteps.

Community colleges and four-year state colleges are contending with state budget cuts, declining endowments, and less fruitful fundraising efforts in the face of the worst economic situation in decades.  Meanwhile, the cash-strapped and the frugal are flocking to the least expensive educational options available, which are community colleges.  Community colleges are also seeing an uptick in nontraditional students, as the unemployed return to school for job training and certification to get back to work.  All of this adds up to a situation where more students need seats in classes, college services, and student financial aid than ever before, yet fewer resources are available to accommodate these needs.

While schools are doing their best to find space, add courses and sections, and increase campus-based aid where possible, budgetary difficulties are an unfortunate reality.  The economic stimulus bill currently in the works in Congress may help relieve some of this stress, but students should still be aware of potential snags in their college plans.  If you plan to enroll in a community college this summer or fall, here are some steps to take:

  1. Research costs and payment options now.  Do a scholarship search.  Many scholarships are available to community college students and some are awarded specifically to students at these institutions.
  2. Apply for admission and financial aid as early as possible.  While most community colleges have rolling admission, students who wait until the last minute to get in may find classes full and aid exhausted.
  3. Whether you're a new or returning student, register for classes as soon as you can and be sure to pay your bill on time, or early if possible.  If you get dropped or prevented from registering due to late payment, there's no guarantee a seat will still be there when you get your finances in place.
  4. Complete the FAFSA soon, even if you're not sure if or when you'll start college in 2009. FAFSA applications are up this year, as are most varieties of financial aid applications.  This could mean a lengthier processing time, both at the Department of Education and in your college's financial aid office.  The FAFSA is worth doing--many community college students don't apply for aid, even though they qualify.  Applying is free and having one on file can't hurt, even if you don't go to school right away.
  5. If your employer helps with tuition, find out beforehand whether they pay up front or reimburse you after the fact.  The earlier you know whether you need to come up with money on your own or the more warning they have before they need to pay, the better your chances are of being able to register on time.

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Scholarships.com Adopts Scholarship Data Standard

January 30, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Scholarships.com has become the first free scholarship search website to adopt the Scholarship Data Standard, a time-saving open data standard that allows college and college-bound students to apply for multiple scholarships by completing one form.

While many colleges and universities share a common application for admissions, currently students must apply separately for each scholarship offered by a different provider. This repetition can deter families from seeking out scholarships as an alternative to depleted college savings plans and expensive student loans. To make the scholarship application process more streamlined and accessible, the Scholarship Data Standard was developed by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and the National Scholarship Providers Association. Using the Scholarship Data Standard, a student can visit the Dell Scholars Program website, create an application file containing commonly requested information, save it to their computer and use it to quickly complete a later scholarship search on Scholarships.com.

The Scholarship Data Standard will allow students to find, review and apply for multiple scholarships with just a few clicks. Emily Hilleren, the Director of Content at Scholarships.com, stressed the convenience of the Scholarship Data Standard, saying, “When you have to fill in the same basic info again and again, it takes time away from doing the parts of the application that matter most. Students have lives and jobs and coursework, too, and we're hopeful the data standard will help them win scholarships without giving up all of that.”

Scholarships.com is currently the only scholarship search website to allow students to upload Scholarship Data Standard files. A student can visit Scholarships.com and use saved data to create a user account and search a database of 2.7 million scholarship and grant opportunities worth over $19 billion. As more scholarship providers adopt the Scholarship Data Standard, Scholarships.com users will be able to use their Scholarship Data Standard file to complete scholarship applications across the Web.

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2009-2010 FAFSA Application Deadlines

February 3, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

As we mentioned last month, financial aid application deadlines are fast approaching for the coming fall.  While students technically have until June 30, 2010 to complete a FAFSA on the Web for the 2009-2010 school year, state aid deadlines happen much sooner with some occurring as early as February--this February.  So if you're waiting to do your taxes first or just generally procrastinating on your application, check the deadlines below to make sure you don't miss out on state or campus-based aid programs

     
  • Alabama:   Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • Alaska:  April 15, 2009
  •  
  • American Samoa:  Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Arizona:  March 1, 2009
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  • Arkansas
       
    • For Academic Challenge - June 1, 2009
    •  
    • For Workforce Grant - check with your financial aid administrator
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    • For Higher Education Opportunity Grant - June 1, 2009 (fall term); November 1, 2009 (spring term)
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  • California
       
    • For initial awards - March 2, 2009
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    • For additional community college awards - September 2, 2009 - date postmarked (additional forms may be required)
    •  
     
  •  
  • Colorado: Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • Connecticut: Priority deadline February 15, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
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  • Delaware: April 15, 2009
  •  
  • District of Columbia: June 30, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Federated States of Micronesia: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Florida: May 15, 2009 - date processed
  •  
  • Georgia: Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • Guam: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Hawaii: Check with you financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Idaho:  Opportunity Grant - Priority deadline March 1, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Illinois
       
    • First-time applicants - September 30, 2009
    •  
    • Continuing applicants - Priority deadline August 15, 2009
    •  
     
  •  
  • Indiana: March 10, 2009
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  • Iowa: July 1, 2009
  •  
  • Kansas: Priority deadline April 1, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Kentucky: Priority deadline March 15, 2009
  •  
  • Louisiana: July 1, 2009
  •  
  • Maine: May 1, 2009
  •  
  • Marshall Islands: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Maryland: March 1, 2009
  •  
  • Massachusetts: Priority deadline May 1, 2009
  •  
  • Michigan: March 1, 2009
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  • Minnesota: 30 days after term starts
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  • Mississippi
       
    • MTAG and MESG Grants - September 15, 2009
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    • HELP Scholarship - March 31, 2009
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  •  
  • Missouri: April 1, 2009
  •  
  • Montana: Priority deadline March 1, 2009
  •  
  • Nebraska: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Nevada: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • New Hampshire: May 1, 2009
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  • New Jersey
       
    • June 1, 2009 if you received a Tuition Aid Grant in 2008-2009
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    • All other applications - October 1, 2009, for fall and spring terms;
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    • March 1, 2010, for spring term only
    •  
     
  •  
  • New Mexico: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
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  • New York: May 1, 2010 (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • North Carolina: Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • North Dakota: March 15, 2009
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  • Northern Mariana Islands: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
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  • Ohio: October 1, 2009
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  • Oklahoma: Priority deadline April 15, 2009 for best consideration
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  • Oregon: Check with your financial aid administrator
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  • Palau: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
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  • Pennsylvania
       
    • All 2008-2009 State Grant recipients and all non-2008-2009 State Grant recipients in degree programs - May 1, 2009
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    • All other applicants - August 1, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
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  •  
  • Puerto Rico: Check with your financial aid administrator
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  • Rhode Island: Priority deadline March 1, 2009
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  • South Carolina: Tuition Grants - June 30, 2009
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  • South Dakota: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
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  • Tennessee
       
    • For State Grant - Priority deadline March 1, 2009
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    • For State Lottery - September 1, 2009
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  • Texas: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • U.S. Virgin Islands: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Utah: Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • Vermont: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Virginia: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Washington: Check with your financial aid administrator
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  • West Virginia: Priority deadline March 1, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Wisconsin: Check with your financial aid administrator
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  • Wyoming: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
 Additional information about federal and state financial aid application deadlines can be found on the official FAFSA website.  Deadlines for individual campuses may occur earlier than the deadline for your state.  Check with your college's financial aid office to find out deadlines for campus financial aid.

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