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by Scholarships.com Staff

On August 1, the new GI Bill will kick in, bringing with it increased education benefits for people who have served in the military since 2001. At least in theory.

The new GI Bill covers an undergraduate student's full tuition and fees at any four-year state college anywhere in the country, which is a more generous benefit than the veteran aid students received under the old GI Bill. Eligible students will also receive an additional monthly housing stipend and, thanks to the recently approved HEA Technical Corrections legislation, these benefits won't be counted as income for purposes of determining federal student financial aid eligibility.

The GI Bill also includes a new program that gives veterans benefits at private colleges and allows schools to match federal VA benefits for their students. More than 1,100 private colleges signed up to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which should allow veterans to attend a larger number of institutes of higher education at little cost.

However, the formula for determining benefits under the Yellow Ribbon Program has been mired in controversy since its announcement, and as the deadline for the GI Bill to go into effect nears, many people are looking at the wide disparity in Yellow Ribbon benefits nationwide and scratching their heads.

Veterans attending private colleges can receive up to the full amount of tuition and fees at the most expensive public college in the state from the government, with their institution agreeing to assist with additional tuition costs at Yellow Ribbon schools. But the amount the federal government will cover varies widely from state to state, with government benefits ranging from just over $2,000 to just under $40,000, depending on how the department of Veterans Affairs calculated the maximum in-state tuition in each state.

These differences have caused some private schools to limit their Yellow Ribbon participation, meaning many veterans may still be on the hook for most of their college costs if they choose to attend private colleges. The wide variation in benefits also can cause confusion and uncertainty for veterans considering attending private universities but unsure of the financial aid they'll be eligible to receive.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Yesterday, President Obama announced a new focus on community colleges in a speech delivered at Macomb Community College in Michigan. Obama pledged $12 billion to improve facilities, increase enrollment, and boost graduation rates at the nation's community colleges, a shift in education policy from the traditional focus on K-12 education and public universities. In addition to the proposed federal funding increase, Obama's speech also called for community colleges to graduate five million more students by the year 2020.

Community colleges have already seen increased enrollments and publicity in recent years.  According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, community colleges saw the greatest enrollment boom since the 1960s during the first half of this decade. The current economic downturn has prompted even more first-time college students and unemployed adults to enroll at community colleges this academic year. Community college officials and the Obama administration hope that the increased attention paid to community colleges will prompt more students to consider enrolling, either as a path to a career training degree or certificate, or in order to transfer to four-year colleges.

Beyond Presidential endorsement, there are many other incentives to pursue a degree at a community college. Tuition is typically much lower at two-year schools than at private colleges or state colleges, and courses are often offered with the scheduling needs of working adult students in mind. Additionally, numerous scholarship opportunities exist specifically for students pursuing two-year degree programs. Community college students can do a free college scholarship search to learn more about funding opportunities available.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

College rankings, such as those published this week by Princeton Review, always generate media buzz and factor heavily into students' decisions ("Do I really want to go to one of the top 20 party schools?"). However, rankings are not everything, nor is cost (even in a recession), and in your college search, you may find that many colleges offer things that can't be easily quantified.

Rising high school seniors returning from their first round of campus visits and newly admitted undergraduate students who have gone through orientation and registration have likely experienced some of this. In addition to offering good financial aid, academic programs, extracurricular activities, and dorm food, the best colleges will also entice students to imagine themselves living on campus and being a part of the culture there. While prestige is certainly nice, your college experience will be enriched by feeling as though you are engaged with those around you and like you really belong to the campus community.

How colleges try to create this impression varies greatly. I've seen tongue-in-cheek Facebook groups for several colleges, including my alma mater, declaring students' decisions to enroll were based on receiving a free t-shirt, but gestures like this can make a difference. The small liberal arts college my sister ultimately chose to attend offered a package of cookies from the local cookie factory to students who took a campus tour, which we happily munched on while driving home from an impressive campus visit. The most interesting college freebie I've heard of comes from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, which sends each incoming freshman a box of Walla Walla onions. That definitely makes a unique impression!

This has us wondering: Have you received anything cool from a college you've visited or chosen to attend? What unconventional things have caught your attention during the process of choosing a college?


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by Scholarships.com Staff

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

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

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

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

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


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Textbook Buying Tips

August 13, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Both for students starting college for the first time in the fall and for undergraduate students returning for another year, textbooks are too often an unwelcome and unexpectedly large expense. With your scholarship awards and hard-earned money already going towards tuition and room and board, it's difficult and unpleasant to have to shell out well over $100 for a book you're unlikely to even enjoy reading. There are ways to ease the pain of college textbook purchases, though.

Start Early and Get It in Writing: With classes starting up in August or September at most schools, your professors and the bookstore staff probably already know what books will be needed for fall, even if the textbook section of the campus bookstore isn't open for business yet. If you have your fall schedule figured out, now is a good time to start tracking down textbooks. First off, get a book list for each course as early as possible. This could take some doing, as not all professors in all departments have the courtesy to make book lists and syllabi available on a course website. Typically, professors have to get lists to the bookstore, though, and the bookstore is generally supposed to make this information available to students. If you can't find this information anywhere, don't be afraid to ask your professor through a polite e-mail.

Comparison Shop and Buy Used: With book list in hand, make note of prices at the campus bookstore, any off-campus textbook stores in the community, and popular websites that sell new and used books. Try to find the best deal, and be sure to factor in shipping costs and how long it will take the books to arrive. While the used book stacks are always the first to go at the bookstore, this isn't the only place used books are available. Check local used bookstores, as well as online retailers. I've found books for literature classes at library sales, yard sales, and thrift stores too, so be on the lookout if you happen across any of these. There's nothing like picking up a $15 text for 15 cents.

Find It for Free: Got friends or older siblings who may have taken similar classes? See if they hung onto their books and could lend you one or two. You may want to try posting flyers in your dorm and common areas on campus, or utilizing free online classifieds for your campus and community. The end of the semester is often the best time for this, but it could still pay off now. Don't forget the campus and public libraries, either, especially if you have the option of checking out a book for an entire semester, or if you will only need a book for part of the term. Most colleges participate in pretty generous inter-library loan programs, and some let students keep books or renew books for fairly substantial lengths of time. If you can't borrow, you may also want to look into renting. While not free, textbook rental services are less expensive than purchasing new books, and you don't have to worry about trying to sell the books back at the end of the semester.

Apply for Textbook Scholarships: Many scholarship opportunities allow winners to apply costs towards any school-related expenses, including textbooks. Additionally, several scholarship providers offer students money specifically for buying books. Some are local scholarships and others are major-specific, but they are out there! Do a free college scholarship search today to find some textbook funds.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

It's August, which for many students means that back-to-school college planning is in full swing.  As you're figuring out your schedule for the next school year, you may be thinking of studying abroad.  For students seeking scholarship opportunities to fund a spring semester overseas, check out the Ashley Soulé Conroy Foundation Scholarship, this week's Scholarship of the Week.

The family of Ashley Soulé Conroy established this scholarship for undergraduate students after Ashley's untimely death on a trip to India.  The goal of the foundation is to establish a permanent fund to help other students achieve their dreams of studying abroad.  Scholarship awards will be based on merit, personal qualities, and/or financial need.

Prize:

Scholarships will be awarded in amounts of $500-2,500 for students participating in study abroad programs.  Scholarship money will go towards expenses related to study abroad for the semester in which the student participates in a study abroad program.

Eligibility:

Students currently attending college who have completed at least 30 credits with a GPA of 2.75 or higher, are enrolled in good standing at a college or university, and who plan to study abroad.

Deadline:

December 1 for spring semester programs, March 1 for summer semester programs.

Required Material:

Applicants must submit the following: 
     
  1. a completed scholarship application
  2.  
  3. proof of financial need (applicants fulfill this requirement by completing the FAFSA)
  4.  
  5. a résumé detailing work experience and interests
  6.  
  7. a 500-800 word scholarship essay on one of two themes:  essays should either tell about which place a student would most like to visit and why, or describe an experience that has shaped the student's life.
  8.  
 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 the award will find it in their scholarship search results.

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by Scholarships.com Staff

After spending some time on Scholarships.com or other college funding resources, you are probably familiar with basic ways to make a college education more affordable.  You can start saving early, consider attending a community college, search for scholarships, and apply for federal student financial aid.  You might be lucky enough to come across a school willing to give you a significant need-based or merit-based academic scholarship.  You may even have heard of certain Ivy League schools with mammoth endowments providing generous financial aid packages to their student bodies, which while impressive, probably doesn't help the average student.

We've recently come across news of three colleges that are committed to making an education extremely affordable to every one of their students.  While these schools offer unique and interesting money-saving programs, this is by no means an exhaustive list of innovative and affordable schools.  Conduct your own research, including a free college search on Scholarships.com to find out more about affordable colleges.

The New York Times ran an article recently about Berea College in Kentucky, a private four-year college that offers every student a 10 hour per week on-campus job, hand-made dorm furniture, and, oh yeah, free tuition.  While Berea doesn't have a football team or a multi-million dollar wellness center, the prospect of graduating debt-free is enough to attract a high-quality student body.  Unlike many colleges that select students based mainly on minimum GPA or SAT scores, Berea's students have to meet a maximum family income requirement, roughly equivalent to eligibility for Federal Pell Grants.

Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, TN recently announced a different plan to make a college education more affordable for its students.  Implementing a program similar to the one piloted by J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, VA, Volunteer State will now be offering its students an opportunity to take a full courseload of classes while only attending school one day a week.  Their "Full Time Friday" program will allow students to save on gas, daycare, and other expenses by only commuting to school one day a week, and can potentially afford students the chance to work a full-time job while also taking classes full-time.  While spending a 14-hour day on campus is not for everyone, it can be an attractive option for students who are looking to save time and money and to consolidate their class schedule as much as possible.

So if you think attending college is out of your grasp for reasons of time or money, look around first to see what's out there!  You might be pleasantly surprised!

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by Scholarships.com Staff

For those of you attending college, this situation is probably very familiar:  new courses get posted, and something with a vague and obtuse title but a promising course number is listed in your major.  You may want to take the course, but you know that if you register without doing further research, your chances at having a stellar schedule will likely go out the window as you're stuck with a class you never meant to choose. I learned this lesson when I wound up in a course called "Language, Society, and Culture" that was listed as an American literature and culture elective but turned out to be an introductory linguistics course--something I had no interest in taking.

At various points in my college career, I often found myself cramming detective work into my already busy schedule as I tried to find out just what a course with an intriguing title was actually going to cover.  As I waited impatiently for e-mails from professors and ran all over campus looking for a mythical department secretary who once saw an early draft of a course description, I often wondered "why couldn't they just post this information online?"

A recent report issued by the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in North Carolina echoes this sentiment.  The report recommends that professors publish syllabi online and do so early, preferably right around when courses open up for registration, so that students get a better idea of the courses they're taking, the work expected of them, and the material they will need to cover, and thus will be more likely to succeed and less likely to drop the class.  Additionally, it also will allow students, departments, and other groups to make comparisons between professors easier, will aid in determining transfer credits (if your new school can see the number of papers you wrote for your half-completed English major, maybe you won't get stuck retaking Composition I), and will aid in the sharing of information among professors.  In other words, online syllabus sharing is a good thing for everyone and more professors should do it.

For those of you still working on the college search, this makes a great question to add to your list to ask during your campus visit.  Ask whether professors have resources available to post syllabi online and how many of them actually take advantage of the option. Little details can make a big difference when it comes to choosing the right college.

As colleges continue to add online courses and to encourage online components in traditional courses, expect more professors to post syllabi online.  In the meantime, a little encouragement couldn't hurt.  Next time you find yourself in unfamiliar parts of campus trying to find out the reading list for a class that could potentially help you fulfill all your college goals, consider printing a copy of this report and giving it to the instructor in question.

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No Need to Wait - Start Your Scholarship Search NOW!

by Shari Williams

I am your average student. I got decent grades in high school, applied to college, got accepted to college, and paid for my education with multiple student loans. I have taken classes I loved (and didn’t love), been involved in extracurricular activities and clubs, and have truly grown as a person during my time in college. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive prestigious grants or scholarships to limit the debt I’ll surely incur after graduation.

There are many college students who are in the same boat...so what can we do? How can we afford the education we deserve? How can we make sure we have enough funds for books and food? How can we buy those super trendy shoes Kim Kardashian was just spotted wearing when we have loan payments looming? Okay, maybe the last question isn't as important but if you want to avoid student loan debt, start searching for scholarships.

And don’t just search – search early! There are plenty of scholarships out there and the more you apply to, the better your chances are of winning one. All awards are different but many scholarship providers begin their application processes at the beginning of the fall semester so start looking now to avoid missing important deadlines. I learned this the hard way: I found lots of perfect scholarships...after the deadlines had passed.

Whether you’re still in high school or a super senior in college, do me – and yourself! – a huge favor: Make scholarships a priority. You can do this easily by creating a Scholarships.com account; not only will you have access to an entire database of awards but you’ll also receive regular email reminders about new awards and due dates. With the college costs showing no signs of decreasing, every penny counts – just make sure they come without interest if you can!

Shari Williams is a junior at Towson University with a double major in deaf studies and broadcast journalism and a minor in entertainment, media and film. With experience in public relations, a love for music and a passion for acting, she longs to be a jack of all trades. A Baltimore native, Shari is an avid traveler and opportunity seeker. She hopes to become the next face seen on the morning news or the voice heard over the radio.


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Travel This Summer...for Cheap!

by Shari Williams

It's summer break, the perfect time for college students to travel. Sounds good, right? The thing is that although many of us like to travel, we can get discouraged by the costly expenses that come along with it. I actually felt the same way until I learned of several resources during my personal travels.

My favorite way of taking a leisurely (or even last minute) inexpensive trip is through AirTran Airways. They have a program called AirTranU: As long as you are between the ages of 18 and 22, you can ride to any destination that AirTran offers for between $49 and $99. You are allowed to bring a carry-on at no charge but no other baggage is permitted. This is perfect for long weekend trips but if you know that you will be staying at your destination for a while, I suggest packing your items in advance and sending them via UPS or another shipping company so you won’t have to worry about lugging your baggage around or – worse – losing it before it reaches baggage claim.

If you are not too keen on flying, Greyhound also has discounts specifically for college students with its Student Advantage Discount Card. By using the discount card, students can save 20 percent on online fares. If you buy your tickets early with the card, it could result in many inexpensive trips, whether you’re going back to college after visiting family or simply wanting to take a road trip of sorts with some friends.

As a student, there are so many ways to travel without emptying your pockets (Amtrak and Student Universe also have great deals) so make sure to take advantage of them while you can. Happy travels!

Shari Williams is a junior at Towson University with a double major in deaf studies and broadcast journalism and a minor in entertainment, media and film. With experience in public relations, a love for music and a passion for acting, she longs to be a jack of all trades. A Baltimore native, Shari is an avid traveler and opportunity seeker. She hopes to become the next face seen on the morning news or the voice heard over the radio.


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