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The FAFSA: New Year Means New Application

by Alexis Mattera

Though it’s a day off from school and work, New Year’s Day is also a day to get down to business. While you’re starting in on your New Year’s resolutions, opening up a new calendar, and packing up the holiday decorations, there’s one more thing that college students and college-bound high school students should do each January. The Department of Education starts accepting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (more commonly known as "FAFSA") on January 1 each year. State application deadlines fall soon after—as early as February in some cases. So while you might not start classes until August or September, you want to start applying for financial aid as soon as the FAFSA is available each year.

In order to complete a FAFSA, you will need the following:

  • your social security number
  • a driver’s license if you have one
  • bank statements and records of investments (if you have any)
  • records of untaxed income (again, if you have any)
  • your most recent tax return and W2s (2012 for the 2013-2014 FAFSA)
  • all of the above for your parents if you are considered a dependent
  • a PIN to sign electronically (go to pin.ed.gov to get one)

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Muchas Felicidades, Excelencia in Education

Nonprofit Campaigns to Improve College Graduation Rate Among Hispanics

September 8, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

Right now, a mere 12 percent of all college graduates are of Hispanic descent. Those stats are no bien, if you ask me, but Excelencia in Education is poised to do something about it today when it unveils several nationwide plans to improve college completion among Hispanics.

According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Excelencia in Education says that 50 groups will be joining the campaign; the official policy document will be released in March. "We know everyone has to increase their numbers, but we have so much farther to go," Deborah A. Santiago, vice president for policy and research at Excelencia, said of the Hispanic population. Santiago knows her stuff: The policy brief Excelencia will release today states that young adults who are Hispanic are less likely to be enrolled in college than are other young adults and in 2008, the college-going rate for Hispanic high-school graduates between the ages of 18 and 24 was 37 percent and for all 18- to 24-years-olds, the proportion of Hispanic people enrolled in college was just 26 percent.

Is it possible to increase these numbers? Santiago and her team obviously think so, as does President Obama, who has promised the U.S. will be the world leader in overall college-degree attainment by 2020. To reach that goal, Excelencia says, 3.3 million more Hispanic people than are now projected to complete college would have to earn degrees in the next 10 years. Excelencia will also track the college-completion progress of black and white students on an annual basis in addition to their work with Hispanics, using this year’s the statistical report as a baseline.

We know Scholarships.com is visited by students of many ages, locales and ethnicities so we’d like to hear what you think regarding this matter. What do you think of Excelencia in Education’s plan? Obama’s goal?


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Credit Card Crack Down

SUNY Adopts Credit Card Reform Agreement

September 10, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

Ah, the emergencies only credit card. Sounds great in theory but when a student’s cash flow is low, the term “emergency” can take on an entirely new meaning (some sweet new sneakers or a floor dinner at Chez Fancypants, perhaps?). If Mom and Dad aren’t too keen on the idea – maybe they’ve been there, done that and have the credit score to prove it – there hasn’t been much they could do to prevent their child from stopping by the student union during the first week of classes and signing up for myriad cards and repercussions…until Andrew Cuomo stepped into their corner.

Reuters recently posted an article detailing the State University of New York’s agreement with the New York Attorney General to adopt practices to protect students from unnecessary debt. SUNY, with 465,000 students on 64 campuses throughout the state, is the first university in the country to adopt this sort of reform, which calls for mandatory financial literacy programs to educate students on loans, credit cards and finances in general to minimize the nearly $4,100 in credit card debt and $20,000 in loans that most four-year college students graduate with. Letters have also been sent to the state’s approximately 300 higher educational facilities insisting that they evaluate any existing contracts with credit and debit card companies, prohibit the sharing of students’ personal information with card companies without authorization, limit on-campus marketing and never accept percentages of charges imposed on students.

When I began my freshman year at UConn in 2001, I made the decision not to sign up for a credit card for one simple reason: I knew that when I tired of my wardrobe or dining hall food, it would have been all too easy to bust out the plastic. That being said, I knew plenty of people who were tempted by the free t-shirts and bottle openers and they would have surely benefited from Cuomo’s reform and tips like these. Now to our readers: Have any financial wins or woes from your college days you'd care to share? Would you have made different choices if more information was available? Were the sneakers worth it?


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Employers Want the Everyman (or Woman)

State College Graduates More Desirable for Entry-Level Jobs

September 15, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

Andy Bernard brags about graduating from Cornell any chance he gets. Granted he is a television character on “The Office” and over the top in every way possible but you will encounter people like the Nard Dog all throughout your life; don't get us wrong, getting into and graduating from a school like Cornell is definitely something to be proud of but if your school of choice lacks the perceived prestige of an Ivy, such comments can be trying to hear. Here's a reason why you could be the one smiling a tad brighter after graduation in spite of that.

In its own study, the Wall Street Journal found that U.S. companies largely favor individuals with bachelor’s from large state universities over Ivy League and other elite liberal-arts schools for entry-level positions. Four hundred seventy-nine of the country’s largest public and private companies, nonprofits and government agencies participated and revealed state school graduates – top picks were those from Penn State, Texas A&M and U of I Urbana-Champaign were best prepared and most able to succeed.

Instead of casting a wide net for candidates, the WSJ discovered big employers are focusing more intently on nearby or strategically located research institutions. This way, they are able to form lasting partnerships with faculty and staff who can point them towards the students who could potentially become valuable employees: Those with the practical skills needed to serve as operations managers, product developers, business analysts and engineers. Ivy League or elite liberal-arts school grads, on the other hand, are top picks from recruiters who prize intellect, cachet among clients, critical thinking and communication.

The Andys of the world may still boast a bit, though: Cornell was the only Ivy League that made the study’s top 25.


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MTV’s New Groove

Music Channel and College Board Launch Financial Aid Contest

September 17, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

Current high school and college students are probably too young to remember when MTV actually played music videos. It was a glorious time for sure but after hearing this next announcement, I think they will like the network’s new direction just fine.

The NYT’s The Choice blog revealed that instead of launching another mind-numbing reality show, the music channel and the College Board have joined forces for the Get Schooled College Affordability Challenge. The contest – which is being underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – is open to current and potential college students interested in creating an innovative digital tool that will help more students obtain funds for school. The prize for the winning individual or team? A cool $10,000, as well as a $100,000 budget to bring their idea to life.

A statement released yesterday stated the contest was created to make it easier for students “to navigate what can be a confusing financial aid maze.” This metaphorical roadmap will definitely be a useful one: Each year, countless students are forced to postpone or abandon their dreams of higher education because they cannot pay for school but the Get Schooled creators hope their program will play a role in raising college completion rates.

The contest will run through December 17th so if you think you have what it takes to win, submit your idea here. Best of luck to all who enter!


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Save the Perkins!

Proposed Amendment Will Keep This Loan Alive

September 23, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

The Perkins Loan Program has played a vital role in the quest for higher education (mine included) since 1958 but in two years, it could end up just as extinct as dinos and dodos. Can it (and the dreams of countless students) be saved?

The Perkins, or as one supporter affectionately calls it, “the David among the Goliaths of other aid,” is used by 1,800 colleges across the country yet Congress hasn’t provided any new money for the program since 2004. In 2009 alone, colleges awarded 495,000 new Perkins loans at an average of $2,231 per student and its demise would shut out college access to low-income students and eliminate the jobs of campus officials and loan servicers who help distribute the funds. Representative John Spratt clearly understands the importance of the Perkins and is sponsoring an amendment to delay the program’s cancellation – so much so that he held a hearing in Washington yesterday discussing the Perkins’ significance; though it probably won’t pass this year, Spratt is optimistic that with the support of the House Budget Committee and the schools relying on the loans, the amendment has a shot at approval next year.

“By its very nature, the Perkins Loan Program provides schools the flexibility to provide additional aid to needy students. The importance of this flexibility cannot be overstated,” said Sarah Bauder, assistant vice president of enrollment services and student financial aid at the University of Maryland at College Park, in her testimony during the hearing. “Financial aid administrators work where the rubber meets the road and have a unique perspective that allows them to assess students’ and families’ ability to pay for college in ways that aid applications will never be able to assess. When aid administrators see students and families struggling with unique circumstances, they need some flexibility to deliver funds to ensure the success of these students.” One such student, Joseph Hill, also testified. The Georgetown senior stated that though he received $26,000 in scholarships, the Perkins was what made it possible for him to attend the school of his dreams. “Last week, I was talking to my mother, and without hesitation, she said, ‘It still wouldn’t have worked without that Perkins Loan,’ ” Hill revealed.

There’s a lot more to the history of the Perkins and the fight to save it (get the details here) and as a former Perkins recipient, I can’t help but root for this little amendment that could. I'm definitely making a t-shirt.


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Pay-Per-Click, Reinterpreted

Johns Hopkins Students Not Feeling New Fees

September 24, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

College students always looking for ways to stretch their money as far as it can go. This could mean getting meals strictly from the campus dining halls or doing laundry once a month instead of every week but if that means a little extra cash in their pockets or bank accounts, scaling back on luxuries (and even essentials) is an easy sacrifice to make. That being said, I can completely understand why some Johns Hopkins students are up in arms.

Nearly 200 students are protesting a new fee for classroom clickers, a technology that allows professors to gauge student understanding or opinion in real time by giving them handheld voting devices and taking polls throughout a class period. Students can pay per course ($13) or a one-time fee ($35) that covers all courses, all semesters; students must also purchase enrollment codes and the actual clicker devices, which cost between $20 and $30. Adding this cost to the already large amounts students spend on tuition, housing, books and other supplies may not seem like a lot but to a college student, it’s about the price of two movie tickets and some Chinese carry-out. The university, however, thinks the program adds considerable value to the education of its students: One biology lecturer found that since he started using clickers, class attendance and grades have gone up 30 percent.

Still, students are not down with the added costs and have created a Facebook page where they can voice their displeasure about everything clicker-related. Thought time: Would you pony up the extra cash if it meant better grades or would you rather keep it and splurge on a night out with friends instead?


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The Early Student Gets Admitted

Colleges See More Interest, Accept More Students Early

October 21, 2010

The Early Student Gets Admitted

by Alexis Mattera

Hiring managers and interviewers like to say “If you’re early, you’re on time and if you’re on time, you’re late” and over the course of the most recent recession, that motto has been unofficially adopted by admissions committees and prospective college students.

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC)’s annual “State of College Admission” report, many colleges (private and public) have reported increased interest from applicants in applying early and a jump in the number of students admitted this way. The former remained relatively the same as over the last two years but the latter – 65 percent of schools accepting more early decision applicants compared to 43 percent just one year prior – is pretty remarkable. The same can be said about the growing gap between the admissions rates for early decision and regular applicants at the same institutions: Colleges with early decision admit about 55 percent of all applicants, but 70 percent of early decision applicants, though only 7 percent of applications received take advantage of the early decision option. Another facet of the NACAC report is the overwhelming popularity of applying online, up to 80 percent in 2009 from 68 percent in 2007.

Does this mean schools are becoming less selective and simply rewarding the early birds in their quests for the worm? Not entirely…and not at all for the Ivies. The top criteria remain grades, the strength of the high school curriculum and admissions test scores but what NACAC calls "demonstrated interest in enrolling" is also climbing those ranks. Does this info change how you plan to apply?


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The Deal with Debt

Who Owes What, Where and Why

October 22, 2010

The Deal with Debt

by Alexis Mattera

$24,000. To a recent graduate, that five-figure number could be 1. their starting salary at their first entry-level job or 2. the amount of student loan debt they have accrued while in school.

We’re going to talk about the second choice this morning, as a study by Peterson’s and the Project on Student Debt just revealed it was the average amount owed by graduates of the class of 2009. The study broke down debt levels by state and school (D.C. graduates had the highest while Utah students had the lowest) but did not include debt levels for graduates of for-profit schools because of a lack of data.

Arriving at these tallies didn’t come easy for the Project on Student Debt, which adjusted the averages initially recorded by Peterson’s ($22,500 and 58 percent of students who borrowed) because it felt they were too low when compared to the statistics recorded last year by the National Post Secondary Student Aid Study ($22,750 and 65 percent).

You may be one of the lucky students who scored enough scholarships and grants to have a degree in hand and no debt in sight or you may be flipping couch cushions in search of change to put toward your next payment but what do you think of these findings? A college degree certainly doesn’t come cheap these days!


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SUNY Albany Bids Adieu, Ciao and Do Svidaniya

Classics and Theater Departments Also Eliminated…But Why?

October 4, 2010

SUNY Albany Bids Adieu, Ciao and Do Svidaniya

by Alexis Mattera

Coptic, Ancient Greek, Latin and Sanskrit have long been considered “dead languages” but at SUNY Albany, a few more are joining that list in terms of majors. On Friday, language faculty members learned the university was ending all admissions to programs in French, Italian and Russian. Classics and theater are also being cut once current students in those programs graduate.

At least 10 tenured faculty members in language programs, 20 adjuncts and tenure-track educators were told they have two years of employment left in which to help current students finish their degrees. It came as more of a shock, however, that so many languages were being eliminated at the same time – not to mention that it was happening at a doctoral university that touts the motto of "the world within reach." How could this be happening, they wondered? University president George M. Philip cited deep, repeated budget cuts and the failure of the New York Legislature to pass legislation that would have given more control over tuition rates and the use of tuition revenue to the state's university systems.

If this news left me slack jawed, I can only imagine how faculty members in the impacted departments must be feeling. One French professor said no other university of the caliber and size of Albany has taken such drastic measures so why now and with this institution? If others are making it work, why can't Albany?


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