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by Emily

Student financial aid programs in several states may soon fall victim to sweeping budget cuts necessitated by the recession.  Ohio, Florida, Michigan, and California are all considering proposals to reduce or eliminate some state student aid programs, including popular grants and scholarships.

Ohio and Florida are both making slight changes to rules in existing aid programs, resulting in less aid for some students, but mostly leaving financial aid intact.  Florida is capping their Bright Futures scholarship so it no longer covers all of students' tuition or tuition increases, while Ohio is changing rules in their Ohio College Opportunity Grant to focus aid towards tuition and fees at public schools.

California and Michigan, however, are making far more sweeping cuts.  California has proposed eliminating CalGrants, a popular state grant program, for incoming college freshmen and cutting CalGrants for current college students.  Michigan may eliminate the Michigan Promise scholarship and make sweeping cuts to several other state financial aid programs, including work-study.  Students in both these states could find themselves suddenly thousands of dollars short on college financial aid.

While federal stimulus money has mitigated some of the damage in many states, in Michigan it has also played a large role in the proposed cuts to financial aid, according to The Detroit News.  Since a provision in the stimulus legislation prevents states from drastically reducing funding to higher education institutions, Michigan may be forced to turn to cutting state grant and scholarship programs to make up some of their budget deficit.

While some state aid and loan forgiveness programs are being reduced or eliminated, financial aid is still available.  Many college are actually increasing their budgets for university scholarships, and private foundations are still offering scholarship aid, as well.  Federal student financial aid has also seen some increases in the last two years.  Money is still out there if you know where to look, and a great place to start is doing a free college scholarship search.


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by Emily

With unemployment continuing to rise, college savings funds still performing poorly, and some states being forced to make cuts to grant and scholarship programs, many students are likely to be facing a very different financial situation when it comes to paying for college in 2009, as opposed to 2008.  Students who have experienced a significant change in their financial circumstances since completing the FAFSA, such as a loss of income and savings, can appeal to their college's financial aid office for a chance at more need-based college scholarships and grants.

Yesterday, U.S. News ran an excellent article by Kim Clark detailing the do's and don't's of appealing your student financial aid award, according to college financial aid administrators.  According to Clark, appeals are up this year and are more likely to be granted, as administrators take into account how drastically the financial landscape has changed.  If you are thinking of requesting a professional judgment appeal, here are some things you should do: 

     
  • Send a letter detailing changes in your circumstances and why you need more aid.
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  • Don't make demands for grants, but do explain how much help you need.
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  • Provide documentation, including pay stubs, medical bills, tax forms, or whatever helps show how things have changed since your 2008 tax return.
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  • Apply as early as possible.  While many colleges are increasing financial aid offerings, much aid is still first come, first serve.
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  • Write the letter yourself or have your parent write it if you are a dependent student and aren't comfortable doing it yourself.
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  • Tell the truth and don't lie or embellish--if caught, you could be fined or even jailed.
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 For more tips, you can read the entire article here.  If your circumstances have changed and you need more money for college, go beyond just requesting more aid from your school.  Update your Scholarships.com profile and do a scholarship search, paying attention to any new need-based scholarships and grants that may come up.  You could be eligible for more money than what is offered by your school, your state, and the federal government.


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by Emily

With President Obama's proposal to end the bank-based Federal Family Education Loan Program, there has been much speculation on what role would be left for banks in student loans, as well as which banks would be allowed to play that role.  An announcement made yesterday by the Department of Education indicates that at least four banks will remain involved in federal student loans for the forseeable future.

The Department of Education has selected four companies to service loans made through the federal Direct Loans program.  Sallie Mae, Nelnet, American Education Services/Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, and Great Lakes Education Loan Services will all be awarded contracts of five to ten years to manage the increasing volume of student loans the federal government owns.

The servicers selected will be responsible for the student loans currently in the Direct Loans system, as well as loans the federal government has purchased as part of the federal rescue plan.  If all federal student loans are moved into Direct Loans, these agencies will also service them.  For now, what this means for student borrowers is that you may be dealing with different people if you have questions about your Stafford loans next year.  However, if Congress eliminates FFEL, this news could become more significant.


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The Perks of Student Checking Accounts

by Jacquelene Bennett

Being a college student is stressful. The demands go beyond the classroom and university but despite all of those stressors, being a student also entitles you to some everyday perks – like being eligible for a student checking account at a bank.

So what do you get for having a student checking account? Here are a few reasons to consider opening one:

Fewer fees. Most of the time, student accounts aren’t charged monthly service fees (penalties banks charge for having insufficient funds in an account) or for making transfers from one account to another. Also the minimum amount of money needed to open the account is lower: Typically, you only need $25 to open an account versus hundreds.

Free necessities. When you open a student checking account, your debit card and first set of checks are gratis. Not bad for two things students use on a regular basis!

Rewards. Banks sometimes reward systems linked with the opening of student checking accounts. One of the reward systems my bank has is called "Keep the Change," where every purchase is rounded to the nearest dollar and the difference is automatically transferred to your savings account. After the first three months of transferring your change, the bank matches your savings and gives you the money in your savings account.

Credit card options. When you enroll in a student checking account, most banks give you the option of obtaining a credit card through the bank. This credit card usually has a low interest rate but a low credit line. This is great for three reasons: It will limit your urge to spend, it will keep your payments manageable and it’s enough to help you start building a great credit score.

So those are the benefits of student checking accounts at most banks. You’re only a student for so long – take advantage of the perks while you can!

Jacquelene Bennett is a senior at the University of Redlands where her areas of study are creative writing, government and religious studies. When she is not studying or working, you can usually find her eating frozen yogurt or blogging about her day. She has a cactus named Kat and believes that Stephen Colbert is a genius. Jacquelene works hard, laughs hard and knows that one day you’ll see her name in lights.


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Cyber Monday Could Be a College Student’s Best Friend

by Jessica Seals

Waking up at 2 a.m. to stand outside in the freezing cold waiting for a store to open is a holiday tradition for some people. On the other hand, there are thousands of others who refuse to give up sleep to stand in a long line for an item that will sell out before they even get inside the store. That’s right: I’m talking about Black Friday and for those of you who are on tight budgets – aka almost all college students! – it may seem like this day is your only chance to get holiday presents at affordable prices...but it’s not.

After experiencing the fights over the most-sought after items every year on Black Friday, I decided to stop giving in to this “holiday” in favor of participating in Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving). Retailers have noticed that the number of online purchases is steadily increasing; therefore, they put some of the same sale prices that can be found in stores online. This is great for college students because they can spend the day after Thanksgiving with their families instead of arguing with strangers. Win-win!

I have become a Cyber Monday proponent because I prefer to do all of my shopping from the comforts of my own home – far away from angry shoppers who try to snatch items from my cart while I am not looking. As store lines continue to grow longer and the televisions and game systems sell out even faster, Cyber Monday is becoming a more attractive option. I can almost hear sighs of relief from college students everywhere who are trying to juggle countless end-of-semester commitments!

Jessica Seals is currently a senior at the University of Memphis majoring in political science and minoring in English. At the University of Memphis, she is the secretary of the Pre-Law Society, the philanthropy chair of the Phi Kappa Phi Student Council and a member of Professional Assertive United Sisters of Excellence (PAUSE), Golden Key Honor Society, Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, Sigma Alpha Lambda Honor Society, and Black Scholars Unlimited. She also volunteers to tutor her fellow classmates and hopes to attend law school in the near future.


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How Will You Fund Your College Education?

by Jessica Seals

Throughout my undergraduate career, I was lucky enough to be the recipient of scholarships and grants that helped cover my tuition and other fees. Thousands of other college students across the country also rely on this free money to pay for their education and we should all be taking note of the fact that many financial aid options that we have to help pay for college are being eliminated or being heavily restricted. For example, two years ago I was able to take summer classes and receive a Pell Grant because the government allowed students to receive it during the fall, spring and summer semesters. Now, students are only eligible to receive the grant two semesters out of the year which means that a student cannot put the funds toward summer classes if they’ve already applied them to the fall and spring semesters for that academic year.

Many people already decide not to enroll in college because they do not feel like they can afford it. Cutting down on the usage of the Pell Grant can force many students to skip summer classes and send them down a slippery slope, as more students will be forced to stay in school longer and accrue more debt from student loans. Classrooms will become emptier during summer sessions and colleges hard-pressed for funds could raise tuition to compensate. The problem will continue to spiral out of control and lead to more reasons why people opt out of attending college.

We all should become more aware of the decreases that are being made towards higher education spending. The changes affect all of us and if we can all become aware of them, we’ll be able to take (and guide others along) the necessary route to make sure that paying for school is a lot less stressful.

Jessica Seals is recent graduate of the University of Memphis, where she majored in political science and minored in English. She was the secretary of the Pre-Law Society, the philanthropy chair of the Phi Kappa Phi Student Council and a member of Professional Assertive United Sisters of Excellence (PAUSE), Golden Key Honor Society, Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, Sigma Alpha Lambda Honor Society and Black Scholars Unlimited. Jessica will be back at Memphis this fall to begin working toward her master’s degree in political science this fall; she ultimately hopes to attend law school.


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Is Not Struggling a Struggle?

by Kara Coleman

Recently, 22-year-old Taylor Cotter published an article on The Huffington Post about her success since she graduated from college in May. The odd thing about Cotter’s piece is that she doesn’t take the angle of a success story in a struggling economy – she feels that she should be struggling more!

Cotter talks about how many of her friends are working part-time jobs, living at home with their parents and/or having diets consisting mostly of Ramen; she feels that she is missing out on the post-college twentysomething life by having a ‘real job’ and a 401(k). Some readers – including myself – are appalled by Cotter’s tone. It seems to me that it would be the dream of every college student to find a full-time job directly after graduation but Cotter almost seems remorseful that she made herself marketable to companies who would hire her.

I have been living at home with my parents and working part-time jobs ranging from lifeguarding to tutoring to retail over the past few years to supplement educational costs. Now that I am preparing to move into an apartment with my friends next month, I know full well that I’ll be eating my fair share of peanut butter sandwiches and cereal; while I’m excited to begin this next phase of my life, I’m more so look forward to the day when I have a full-time job – the same situation Cotter is essentially complaining about.

Isn’t that what college is for? Teaching us how to go from being dependent children to self-supporting adults? Or I could be wrong: Maybe it’s a time to either live with your parents or eat Ramen noodles. What do YOU think?

Kara Coleman graduated from Gadsden State Community College with an Associate of Arts degree and she is currently studying communications with concentration in print journalism at Jacksonville State University. Kara's writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children's author through Big Dif Books; she is also the editor-in-chief of JSU's student newspaper, The Chanticleer.


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Should You Commute to College?

February 24, 2012

Should You Commute to College?

by Kara Coleman

Traditionally, most college students live in dorms or apartments on or near their campuses to get the full “college experience.” But before you sign that rental agreement, you might want to consider living at home and commuting to school.

We’re all familiar with the stereotypical college student – eating Ramen noodles for every meal and taking out student loans to pay for books and tuition – but that doesn’t have to be you! My goal is to graduate from college debt-free so I live at home with my parents and commute to a university about 30 minutes away. Because I live at home, I am able to save myself rent and utility expenses and use the money I earn from my job to pay cash for my tuition and books. Some students prefer the feeling of independence that comes with living on your own (I mean, if you live in your parents’ house, you live by their rules!) but not taking out student loans will mean financial freedom after I graduate and get a real job.

The downside to living so far off-campus is that I’m not as connected to events and happenings at school as the students who live there are. It’s not always easy to make it to meetings and events when commuting from the next county but by no means does it deprive me of the college experience: I still attend football games, plays and seminars at my university, and hang out with friends between classes.

Is living home and commuting right for you? While it’s certainly not for everyone, it’s definitely an option that I encourage students to consider while making housing plans for the upcoming school year.

This summer, Kara Coleman graduated from Gadsden State Community College with an Associate of Arts degree. She is currently studying communications with concentration in print journalism at Jacksonville State University Kara's writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children's author through Big Dif Books.


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The Truth About Tuition Rates

by Kara Coleman

Did you know that if you are a business major, you could be paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars more for your college education than a political science major at the same school?

While certainly not a new concept, the number of schools with differential tuition rates has been growing steadily since 1980. At some colleges, juniors and seniors pay a higher tuition rate than do freshmen and sophomores; others charge students more depending on the field of study they are entering. The most common programs to be slammed with higher rates are nursing, business and engineering (the departments that cost the most money to operate) but some schools also charge special rates for students who are majoring in journalism, architecture, fine arts, education and physics. Just how many schools are doing this? A team from the Cornell Higher Research Institute found that 143 public colleges in the U.S. currently had differential tuition rates over the 2010-2011 academic year.

Is this fair? Students should choose their majors depending on their interests and talents but I can easily see where someone who wanted to attend their dream school might select a different field of study if it promised lower tuition rates than their first choice of major. Of course, most colleges still have a one-size-fits-all tuition rate so one must wonder if these schools benefit from other colleges charging more for certain courses of study. If I were considering nursing programs at two different public schools and the tuition rate at one was $250 more per semester than the other, the cost difference is substantial enough to take into consideration.

My university charges a flat, in-state credit hour fee. Could it be the next school to jump on the differential tuition rate bandwagon...or will it be yours?

This summer, Kara Coleman graduated from Gadsden State Community College with an Associate of Arts degree. She is currently studying communications with concentration in print journalism at Jacksonville State University Kara's writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children's author through Big Dif Books.


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See the World in the Summertime!

Exploring the Many Benefits of Summer Abroad Programs

August 10, 2012

See the World in the Summertime!

by Kara Coleman

Many universities across the country offer study abroad programs for students who wish to spend a semester in another country. Every student that I know of who has ever participated in one of these programs hails it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience...but what if you can’t afford to spend an entire semester overseas or you don’t want to interfere with your planned graduation date or schoolwork? Consider seeing the world on shorter-term trips during the summer! You’ll still get the experience of traveling and seeing what life is like in other countries without taking a lot of time off from work or school.

This past May, my university sent 10 students from its honors program to China for two weeks. Though they did do a few touristy things, they spent most of their time learning at Taizhou University. Because the Chinese academic year is different than ours in the U.S., the Chinese students were still in classes and the American students were able to jump in and study alongside them after their final exams had been completed at home. The best part? The trip was completely paid for by JSU!

You can also use the summer months to explore the world on a trip not associated with your college. Last month, I spent a week in Honduras on a mission trip, where I volunteered in a shelter for homeless children. I was able to experience firsthand what life is like in a third-world country and have plenty to tell my friends about when school starts back up later this month.

So where will you be at this time next year? Studying kung fu in a Chinese university? Playing soccer with kids in Central America? Or maybe something completely different? A whole world of opportunities awaits you – literally!

Kara Coleman graduated from Gadsden State Community College with an Associate of Arts degree and she is currently studying communications with concentration in print journalism at Jacksonville State University. Kara's writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children's author through Big Dif Books; she is also the editor-in-chief of JSU's student newspaper, The Chanticleer.


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