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PhD Admissions Tumbling in Tough Times

March 31, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

In a bad economy, many recent college grads and laid off workers decide to make the move to go back to school.  A number of current undergraduate students are also hoping to delay entry into the working world until the economy improves.  Many of these prospective students will apply to graduate programs, hoping to land financial aid like a fellowship or assistantship on their way to a master's or doctorate degree.  However, many programs that traditionally come with stipends attached are cutting enrollment, as their cash-strapped institutions try to find ways to reduce their operating costs.

A recent piece in Inside Higher Ed explains that while terminal master's degrees and other programs in which students commonly pay full tuition are still admitting large numbers of students, and in some cases even increasing enrollment, programs that typically give out more money than they receive, such as doctoral programs, are reducing admissions due to reduced budgets.  While some master's programs and professional degrees come with fellowships, assistantships, or scholarship awards, the bulk of graduate financial aid goes to PhD students.  These students typically serve as teaching or research assistants, receiving free tuition and a stipend in exchange.  With university-wide cost cutting measures and rapidly shrinking departmental budgets, many institutions simply can't afford to offer as many of these generous aid packages as they have in the past.  And rather than admitting and not funding doctoral students, these schools are choosing to admit fewer students in order to maintain their funding commitments to current and future students.

If you applied this year and didn't get in, at least you can console yourself with the knowledge that it was a particularly bad year for PhD applications.  Whether it's your first time through the process or your second, if you're thinking of applying next year, start your college search early and consider sending out extra applications, especially if you're hoping for university funding.  Competition may be fierce, and if the schools you want to attend decide to admit fewer students, applying to more schools will boost your odds of being admitted and winning scholarships, fellowships, or assistantships.  If you're seeking a degree that may or may not have funding attached, such as a master's degree or professional degree, be sure to look into outside aid, such as scholarships for graduate students.

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House Votes to Postpone PLUS Auction

April 1, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Earlier this week, the House of Representatives passed a "technical corrections" bill that would make several changes to the Higher Education Opportunity Act passed last year.  Most of the changes are minor corrections, such as fixing typos or clarifying language, but the bill also includes two major fixes that would help borrowers if signed into law.

One of the corrections taken up in the bill was a move to postpone the controversial PLUS loan auction program by a year.  Under the auction plan, lenders would bid to service PLUS loans in each state, a move that made much more sense when proposed in 2007 than when enacted in 2009.  Bids for the auction were due this week, but so far it has generated little interest from most lenders and a statement from major lender Sallie Mae saying they had no plans to participate.  Congress hasn't scrapped the plan entirely, but tabling it for a year will hopefully allow it to be revisited under more favorable, or at least different, conditions, and in the meantime will allow parents and graduate students to continue borrowing as normal.

The other much talked about provision would provide relief to people currently repaying their student loans who have defaulted in the past.  The credit crunch has made it difficult for borrowers who are now making payments on time to move out of default and have their credit rehabbed and federal aid eligibility reinstated.  Guarantee agencies have had trouble finding borrowers willing to buy up the rehabbed student loans and allow the default status to be removed from the borrowers' credit.  A provision in the correction bill will allow the federal government to buy up rehabbed loans under the same authorization they're currently using to buy up other loans from student lenders.

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The Recession and College Admissions

April 2, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Earlier this week, we blogged about the recession making getting into a PhD program more difficult for prospective graduate students.  Prospective undergraduates are also facing a changing admissions landscape, but the picture for them is more complicated. Articles about colleges' admission conundrums have abounded this week as acceptance letters and financial aid notices make their way to anxious high school seniors.

Top schools with big endowments and generous financial aid packages, such as virtually the entire Ivy League, are facing increased applications and some of their lowest admission rates ever.  Meanwhile, other private colleges are admitting more students than last year, and also putting more students on their waiting lists.  Many state colleges and community colleges are also seeing increased interest and jumps in enrollment, and schools with limited resources are forced to turn away a larger percentage of applicants.

All of this adds up to a lot of uncertainty for students, and for colleges trying to create next year's freshman class.  Many sources are saying it also means increased flexibility for some students in terms of negotiating admission or financial aid at their top choice schools.

Since schools are hurting financially and admissions offices are as nervous as students this year about their decisions, students who are able to pay full freight (either out-of-pocket or through a generous outside scholarship award) may face an advantage getting off the wait list, since several schools admit to considering ability to pay when deciding whether to admit waitlisted students. Students who have received an acceptance letter from their dream school, but have been offered larger amounts of institutional aid from other colleges may also have more options this year. Students in this boat may want to let their favorite private colleges know about their dilemma to see if they can get a slightly better offer.  Many schools may be willing to drop a couple thousand extra dollars on you if it will secure your tuition payment.

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House and Senate Pass 2010 Budget Outlines

April 3, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Yesterday, the House and Senate both passed outlines for the 2010 federal budget.  Both propose about $3.5 trillion in spending and preserve many of the priorities of President Obama's budget, including more spending on federal student financial aid. A conference committee will hammer out the differences between the two packages and create a compromise budget.

On financial aid, the main point of contention continues to be the proposal to eliminate the bank-based Federal Family Education Loan Program and switch to federal Direct Loans for Stafford and PLUS loans.  The language of the House budget outline paves the way for the elimination of FFELP by instructing the Committee on Education and Labor to find $1 billion in savings through the budget reconciliation process.  The Senate bill does not include such a provision, and instead includes (largely symbolic) language promoting a student lending system built on competition and choice.

After an outline is agreed upon, then specific spending legislation will start to emerge, and the fate of FFELP, as well as the proposed expansions to Pell Grants and Perkins Loans, can be determined.  So far, it appears that many of these changes, as well as healthcare and environmental reform, are on their way to becoming reality.

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The Changing Face of Community Colleges

April 7, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

For current and future college students, April is a time for big, and potentially painful, decisions. Right now prospective college students are beginning to sort through their acceptance letters and financial aid offers and current students are starting to think about how to pay for school next year.  If the financial picture is much bleaker than you'd hoped, but you're hesitant to commit to the two-year school as a money-saving option, here's some information you may not have known about the community college experience.

Just like four-year schools, different community colleges offer vastly different experiences, and in fact, depending on your major and location, you can potentially get many of the things four-year schools offer for much less money.  For example, did you know that some community colleges offer on-campus housing, and others offer a selection of four-year degrees?  Other community colleges have articulation agreements with area universities, as well, so you can spend two years paying next to nothing for credits that can potentially transfer to some of the most expensive and prestigious schools in your area.

These programs can be a great deal, since community college tuition tends to be much lower than private colleges, or even four-year state colleges and universities.  With on-campus housing, international student classmates, innovative educational programs, numerous online courses, and challenging coursework, the right community college can start to feel a lot more like the "traditional" college experience, but at a fraction of the price.

So how do you find community colleges with sweet deals like fancy apartments or four-year nursing degrees? Just do a little research.  Start with a college search in your area and see what's available. You could land the educational deal of a lifetime.

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Even in a Recession, College Pays

April 8, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Nervous about shelling out big bucks for a college degree in this economy? Here's a compelling reason to go to college: data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2008 indicates that higher education attainment still translates to a lower rate of unemployment and a higher salary.  A handy graphic here breaks it down.

The annual average unemployment rate for adults over 25 with only a high school education was 5.7 percent in 2008, 5.1 percent for adults with some college but no degree, and 9.0 percent for those with no high school diploma or GED.  Just finishing a degree at a community college drops the average unemployment rate to 3.7 percent, and getting a bachelor's degree reduces it to 2.8 percent.  The drop in unemployment was less substantial for master's, professional, and doctoral degrees, with rates for those ranging from 1.7 to 2.4 percent.

Graduate and professional degrees really pay off in terms of increased salaries.  Median full-time earnings for 2008 ranged from $426 per week for those with no high school diploma to $1,555 per week for those with doctoral degrees. Those with a diploma or GED but no degree could expect to make $591 to $645 per week working full-time, compared to $736 with an associate's degree. Median income rises rapidly from there, with four-year degree recipients making $978 per week and master's degrees and professional degrees resulting in median earnings of $1,228 and $1,522.

While these figures are for all adults age 25 and older in a wide variety of lines of work, they still present a compelling argument to at least consider a degree.  Choosing the right college and doing a thorough scholarship search can help make higher education affordable, as well as lucrative.

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College Students' Credit Card Debt Increasing

April 16, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

While an increasing number of college students received financial aid in the 2007-2008 academic year, that calendar year students also ran up more credit card debt.  The average college student owed $3,173 on credit cards in March 2008, compared to $2,169 in 2004.  This information comes from the student lender Sallie Mae, which has been tracking students' credit card debt since 1998.

The study also found that student credit card debt increases with grade level.  The average freshman owed $2,038 on credit cards, while the average senior owed $4,138.  The money is not just being spent on beer and pizza, either.  According to a supplemental survey by Sallie Mae, the vast majority of students (92 percent) report charging at least one educational expense, such as books, to a credit card.  This figure is also higher than in 2004, as is the percentage of students charging tuition to a credit card, which now stands at nearly 30 percent.  Students reported charging an average of $2,000 in educational expenses to credit cards.

Higher tuition, a poor economy, and difficulty finding private loans may have already pushed these numbers higher for 2009.  With high interest rates and the need to begin repayment immediately, credit cards are one of the worst ways to pay for school.  Scholarship opportunities and federal student financial aid should definitely be explored before students resort to charging tuition to a card.  A variety of grants and scholarships, as well as low interest student loans, can help students avoid credit card debt while in college, and keep their debt from consuming their entire salary when they graduate.  Before you reach for the plastic to pay your campus bills, spend a few minutes doing a free scholarship search.  You may be very glad you did.

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Anonymous Donations Fund Scholarships at Several Universities

April 21, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

In the past few weeks, at least nine universities have received donations of at least $1 million, with instructions that the money be used primarily to fund scholarship programs. The donations, which total at least $45 million, have been given to colleges across the country since March, according to the Associated Press.

While anonymous donations happen from time to time, this circumstance is still highly unusual, since no college officials know who provided the gifts.  Typically, the college knows the donor's identity but agrees not to reveal it.  However, schools benefiting from this wave of anonymous donations have been contacted by representatives of banks or law firms, rather than by the donors themselves, and have been asked not to attempt to ascertain the donor's identity.

The donations have largely been met with gratitude. They are well-timed, given the state of the economy and many colleges' current attempts to meet the increased financial need of students.  Families are experiencing greater need for financial aid, and colleges' endowment funds, including endowed scholarships, have lost large amounts of money, giving them fewer resources to use.

For students at these colleges, as well as other schools that have recently benefited from generous donations, the scholarship opportunities they provide could mean the difference between attending college and staying home.  However, these anonymous donors are not the only people out there dedicated to making a college education possible for students in tough times.  You can do a free scholarship search for information on more scholarship awards.

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Obama Signs National Service Bill

April 22, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Yesterday, President Obama signed into law a bill to expand Americorps, a national service program that provides small stipends to people of all ages engaged in volunteer work throughout the country.  The act, officially known as the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, paves the way for Americorps to grow in size from its present 75,000 volunteers to as many as 250,000 volunteers by 2017.

In addition to creating more volunteer positions, the Serve America Act will also increase the education stipend for volunteers to $5,350, the same amount as Federal Pell Grants.  This will enable more recent graduates and people currently attending college to participate in Americorps programs, which are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to employment in the current economy.

The national service bill, sponsored by Senator Kennedy, quickly made its way through both houses of Congress, receiving bipartisan support, as well as a ringing endorsement from President Obama, who has long been a proponent of community service.  Congress still needs to find funding for Americorps to begin to expand, but a provision to provide an immediate 25% increase in funding to the program was included in Obama's 2010 budget proposal.

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Student Loan Default Rates on the Rise

April 24, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Student loan default rates are rising for both federal and private loans as more recent grads struggle to find work.  The Wall Street Journal reports that the federal default rate is nearing 6.9 percent, the highest it's been since 1998.  Similarly, some private lenders are experiencing default rates that have already nearly doubled in just a year or two.

Loan repayment woes are expected to get worse as tuition continues to rise and the job market remains depressed.  Since student loans cannot be discharged through bankruptcy, borrowers are stuck with their debt no matter what happens.  Add in continued increases in the number of students borrowing to pay for school and the amount they borrow, and student loan defaults are poised to be a serious long-term problem whether or not the economy recovers quickly.

Borrowers do have some flexibility in negotiating their loan repayment terms, especially with federal Stafford Loans.  Borrowers of federal and private loans are also able to apply for a temporary forbearance, halting payments but not the accrual of interest, if they find themselves unable to pay.  However, reduced monthly payments now will mean either larger payments or more payments in the long run.

If you are looking at ways to pay for college, the best strategy is still to avoid student loans to the greatest extent possible.  Do a free college scholarship search and be sure to factor cost and available financial aid into your college search, as well.

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