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Not Enough Financial Aid? You Still Have Options!

May 25, 2011

Not Enough Financial Aid? You Still Have Options!

by Radha Jhatakia

There are many factors that affect where, when and if students attend college, the most important being financial aid. So what can a student do when he or she hasn’t received enough funding?

If you need financial aid to make college a reality, contact the financial aid offices at the schools you’re considering before applying. Find out the costs of tuition, room and board, and other college living expenses and defray these costs by applying for as many scholarships and grants as you can. The college will be more likely to help fill any financial gaps if you’ve shown initiative and determination.

Another method is writing formal letters to financial aid administrators. Describe your financial aid situation (including hard numbers), your home life, factors affecting your ability to pay for college and things that you could not put on the FAFSA such as a home mortgage or other payments that your parents need to make. Fax this letter, mail it by certified mail and email a copy to each school as well. If the school cannot offer you free money, they can sometimes offer an additional loan of some sort.

If all else fails, call the colleges and schedule appointments with the deans or heads of the financial aid offices. Some colleges have tuition waivers which allow students with special conditions to be exempt from paying tuition. If the school does not offer this option, you can still seek out non-school loans through banks or private companies. These loans often have higher interest rates, require co-signers or do not have grace period to pay off loans after graduating; in my opinion, however, the cost of not getting a college education is much higher than amount of these loans.

Radha Jhatakia is a communications major who will be transferring to San Jose State University this fall. She’s had some ups and downs in school and many obstacles to face; these challenges – plus support from family, friends and cat – have only made Radha stronger and have given her the experience to help others with the same issues. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, reading, cooking, sewing and designing. A social butterfly, Radha hopes to work in public relations and marketing upon graduation.

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Meet Scholarships.com's Virtual Interns: Radha Jhatakia

May 20, 2011

Meet Scholarships.com's Virtual Interns: Radha Jhatakia

by Radha Jhatakia

Hi all! My name is Radha and I’m one of Scholarships.com’s newest virtual interns!

In high school, I was a well-rounded student – high GPA, honors classes, extracurricular activities and volunteer work...you name it, I did it – but after getting accepted by both the University of the Pacific and the University of San Francisco, limited finances and financial aid prevented me from attending either school. To save money to put toward transferring, I instead enrolled in De Anza College and Evergreen Valley College to complete my gen eds. It wasn’t easy (De Anza was a distant commute and made it difficult for me to take the classes I needed to transfer) but I amassed enough credits to transfer after two years. I didn’t get into my first choice (UCLA) and my second choice (Berkeley) did not have my intended major so I enrolled at UCSB, where I was accepted into the Honors Program and received plenty of financial aid. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out as planned when my transfer status affected my major so I am back at EVC but transferring to San Jose State University in the fall. Whew!

I’ve always enjoyed writing (I hope to write a book someday) and I believe my interest in working with others – plus my excellent persuasion abilities – will lend itself to a career in public relations. Being a Scholarships.com virtual interns complements my goals perfectly: It’s an excellent opportunity to gain experience in something I enjoy doing and since I’m always looking for scholarships to pay for school, writing for a website that helps students do just that seemed ideal. Hope you’ll all enjoy reading my opinions and advice just as much as I enjoy sharing them!

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New Book Takes on Graduation Rates at State Colleges

September 10, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

A new book is shedding light on graduation rates at state colleges, and also causing a stir with its findings and recommendations. The book, Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities, was written by William G. Bowen, a former president of Princeton University, Michael S. McPherson, a former president of Macalester College, and Matthew M. Chingos, a graduate student at Harvard University. It shows many of the nation's top public schools are coming up short when it comes to graduating students in four years, especially low-income and minority students.

The book analyzes the four-year and six-year graduation rates of students at 21 flagship universities and 47 four-year public universities in Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia.  Among the findings, the authors reveal that flagship universities, typically the most competitive and prestigious in their state university systems, graduate only 49 percent of their students in four years, with other state colleges having even less success.  The six-year graduation rates for both sets of schools are better, but vary widely based on several factors discussed in the book.

Disparities by common demographic factors, namely race and socioeconomic status, were found in the research for the book, and were most pronounced among male students. However, the most striking differences come in terms of schools' selectivity. Some of these disparities include:

  • Graduation rates of 82-89% for the most selective and second most selective categories of schools and most competitive category of students (3.5+ high school GPA and 1200+ SAT score), but graduation rates of only 59% for the same category of students at the least selective schools.
  • Graduation rates of above 70% for all students at the most selective schools, regardless of GPA or test scores.
  • The disparity between the graduation rates of the most and least competitive students at the least selective schools was only 11 percentage points, while the disparity between students of similar ability at schools of different selectivity ranged 21 to 30 percentage points.
  • The least competitive group of students (GPA of less than 3.0 and/or SAT of less than 1000) did better at the most selective schools (71% graduation rate) than the most competitive students did at the least selective schools (59% graduation rate).

These results have many questioning the effectiveness of academic scholarships and other merit-based aid, especially in light of the University of Texas at Austin's recent decision to stop sponsoring the National Merit Scholarship Program. More so, though, they have experts, including the book's authors, wondering what is causing this disparity in graduation rates.

Price plays a huge role for students of low socioeconomic status, pushing them to attend the least expensive (and often least selective) schools or to opt out of four-year colleges entirely. Rising costs also could play a role in dropout rates among poorer students, so the availability of financial aid for all four years is crucial to graduation.

One of the biggest problems identified in the book is a phenomenon dubbed "under-matching." Highly qualified students are aiming low in the college application process, attending less selective schools with lower graduation rates when they could easily be accepted to and graduate from more selective schools with higher graduation rates. Students most likely to under-match are low socioeconomic status students whose parents did not attend or did not graduate from college. The higher a student's income and parents' level of education, the less likely the student is to under-match.

Based on this information, the authors suggest that schools focus their efforts on encouraging students to graduate in four years and to remain in school until they graduate. Keeping tuition low is a part of this, as are readjusting requirements to make graduating in four years more doable and, above all else, making it clear that students are expected to graduate in four years.

Graduation rates are gaining attention from other corners, as well. Washington Monthly included graduation rates in their recently released college rankings, and another study published this summer by the American Enterprise Institute compared graduation rates at colleges.The Education Department is also doing its part to make information on graduation rates available to students who complete the FAFSA on the Web.

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Colleges Request Shorter, Less Formal Application Essays

September 23, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

For students beginning to pen those college application essays, some good news appeared in today's Inside Higher Education: several competitive colleges are shortening length requirements for the essays they ask their applicants to submit.  Along with the request for briefer essay responses, colleges are increasingly looking for informal and honest responses from students, welcome news to anyone who doesn't view formal writing as their greatest academic strength.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has replaced a long-form essay (500 words) with several shorter and less formal essay responses of 200 words or less. The University of Pennsylvania has taken an opposite tack, combining two separate essay questions into one, but reducing the overall amount of writing students need to do for their application. Other schools that use the Common Application are also increasingly favoring shorter essay responses in their supplemental materials.

Whether universities ask for long essays or short ones, their admission officials seem to want similar things from applicants. Rather than a carefully crafted application meant to highlight an applicant's scholastic and extracurricular abilities, along with his or her impeccable grammar and excellent writing style, colleges are asking to actually get to know the student behind the application. A number of application questions adopt an informal tone to solicit a less stilted and more informative response, even using humor (or the closest thing to humor one can expect to find in college admissions). Some application questions go so far as to plead with the student to answer honestly and reveal some of their personality. This represents a change from what most students have been told to expect when it comes to college admissions, and it also represents a conscious move by admissions into a system that can less easily be gamed by students willing to invest in coaching.

After a months long college search filled with research, campus visits, and correspondence, students already have a lot invested in each application they complete. The intensity of the college application process often prompts students to stifle creativity and rely too heavily on outside help, in some cases employing college admissions consultants or intensive writing coaches (perhaps even ghostwriters) to help craft an application that reflects less what the student brings to the table than what those around the student understand colleges to want.  By requiring more informal responses and fewer formal essays, colleges hope to circumvent this problem, while getting a better sense of whether each applicant is a fit for their institution, which is what the application process is supposed to determine in the first place.

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Conference to Explore Standardized Testing Debate

September 24, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Thousands of college admissions staff, high school counselors, and higher education professionals will gather in Baltimore today through Saturday to discuss topics that include the economy's effects on colleges and the much-debated topic of standardized testing and its relation to the admissions process.

>The focus of the annual National Association for College Admission Counseling conference this year is the many different views on college admissions entrance exams. A study from NACAC released earlier this year showed that while the impact of extensive test prep tutoring programs was not very significant on standardized test scores - minimal on the SAT and inconclusive on the ACT - that impact was enough to suggest that lower-income students who couldn't afford tutoring were still at a disadvantage. The handful of extra points on a standardized test could mean the difference in whether you're accepted into a school that has a minimum cut-off in their admissions standards.

Prior to that study, NACAC had released a report suggesting the standardized testing system was broken, and that colleges should consider doing away with test scores as part of their admissions processes. That report found that standardized test prep benefited the wealthy and those who could afford it, and made high school students focus too much of their energies on testing strategies rather than the rest of their academic profiles.

On Saturday, the conference will host a "mega session" to revisit those studies and reports, and to come up with recommendations and potential alternatives to the existing standardized tests. The session will also revisit the recent release of "Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities," a book that analyzes graduation rates at state colleges and the disparities that exist among different races and socioeconomic statuses.

This afternoon, the conference features a session on strategies for SAT preparation. Tomorrow, the schedule includes a session on curriculum-based tests and their effects on students and the admissions process. The association will also be discussing the release of its new textbook, Foundations of Standardized Admission Testing, which is targeted at admissions professionals and explores both best practices and the controversies surrounding standardized testing. This is the 65th year of the conference. If you happen to be attending on any of the days, visit Scholarships.com, an exhibitor at the event.

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Common Application Alternative Debuts to Debate

September 25, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The Common Application, which allows students to fill out one form and send it to participating schools, has been around for a while. A competitor, the Universal College Application, came out with a similar form in 2007 that attempted to draw more public schools into the mix. (The Common Application is used by nearly 400 private and public colleges, and includes additional requirements specific to schools that include elements such as essays and recommendation letters with their applications.) This week, another competitor has come into the fold, with claims that this new application will be even more accessible to public institutions and students intimidated by the college application process.

The SuperAPP, which will be offered by the online high school transcript delivery system ConnectEDU thanks to their recent acquisition of college applications company CollegeZapps, aims to take the common application a step further. The new form will not only allow applicants to fill out several forms at once, but will include software to point students to sections of college applications specific to each school. Colleges that use the SuperAPP would also not be required to ask for supplemental materials, as in the case of the Common Application, increasing the pool of potential schools who use the new form. At first, the SuperAPP will be most accessible to high school students already using the company's online high school transcript network. The announcement from ConnectEDU was made at the National Association for College Admission Counseling Conference (NACAC) in Baltimore Thursday.

The point of all common forms is to simplify the application process. The SuperAPP's developers claim the original Common Application is not as easy for students to fill out as it suggests, since students are still asked to send in additional paperwork once they're done with the basic form. In an Inside Higher Ed article today, the Common Application's defenders say its requirements prevent an open admissions policy, and that the company's mission isn't profit but a system that emphasizes judging applicants based on the whole package, which often includes outside recommendations and personal statements. In response to an increase in applications per student, some schools using the Common Application have made their essay requirements more lax, allowing for shorter responses in their supplemental materials.

No matter where you apply, whether you'll be asked to fill out a common online form or come up with an entirely unique application package for each college you're applying to, make sure you keep yourself organized so that you don't miss any deadlines or make an easy mistake. Make a list of everything you'll need to send to each school, as missing any elements could send you directly to the rejection pile. For more information on college requirements, start off with a college search to start narrowing down your choices and determining what you'll need to do for each application.

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SAT Score Choice and the Common Application

October 6, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

For high school seniors entering the last leg of the college search this fall, questions and frustrations are bound to arise, and the early source of confusion this year appears to stem from standardized testing. The final SAT and ACT test dates before college applications are due take place this month, meaning more students will soon have their first encounter the College Board's SAT Score Choice program, which allows students to choose which SAT Scores they want to report to colleges.

On the surface, Score Choice seems like a great innovation and a source of stress relief for students, and it might prove to be such if it were accepted by all colleges. However, a number of colleges and universities require applicants to report all scores from all standardized tests taken, and this is where students are running into problems.

Specifically, not all schools that require the Common Application, an application shared by many private colleges and intended to simplify the application process, share policies on reporting SAT scores, yet the Common App currently doesn't allow students to self-report different SAT scores to different schools. This has left students unsure of how to address what should be one of the easiest sections of their college application (after all, it's just transcribing numbers).

New York Times writer Jacques Steinberg took up this question for the paper's blog The Choice, and his answer should help students get over this bump and onto the more difficult parts of the Common Application, like the application essays. The advice he received when posing this question to the executive director of the Common Application was to simply leave the section blank. The College Board echoed this in a written statement.

Basically, since colleges will receive the official SAT scores (or ACT scores) you report to them when you take the test, they don't need you to also self-report on the Common Application. The question is asked only because some colleges take self-reported scores into account to get the ball rolling on the admissions process while waiting for your official scores. So if you're completing the Common Application and have multiple test scores that you don't plan to report to every college on your list, you can safely abstain from self-reporting your SAT scores.

However, the jury's still out on whether Score Choice will ultimately be worth the hassle it's begun to present to schools and students this year. Opting to withhold your lowest test scores may not make that big a difference in your admissions prospects, anyway, since taking the SAT multiple times was popular before withholding scores was even an option. In fact, some schools use your highest scores from all test dates, even dates with lower composites, when considering your application for admission or university scholarships, so withholding the test score where you finally nailed the verbal but completely tanked on the math section could conceivably hurt your prospects slightly in some cases.

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Transfer Students: Start Early for Fall Admission

October 7, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

While prospective college freshmen are already beginning to fill out their college applications in preparation for fall application deadlines, transfer students traditionally enjoy a bit more leeway. However, the sharp state budget cuts and larger enrollments in community and state colleges this year may mean that students planning to transfer from a two-year to a four-year school will want to get their applications together as early as possible this year.

California, a state whose severe budget crisis has made it something of a canary in the mineshaft for most funding issues this year, has recently begun turning transfer students away in droves from its four-year public colleges. The reason: the state university systems have had to cut back enrollments across the board, and after many decisions had already been made for the academic year now underway, in order to deal with a sharp decrease in available state funding for the current fiscal year.

This means that many conditionally admitted transfer students have been told they need to wait a year or look elsewhere, simply because they didn't correctly complete all the necessary steps far enough ahead of time to secure seats in state universities for the fall and spring semesters this year. This leaves students applying last-minute to pricey private colleges, vying for seats in courses that likely won't even count just to kill time until the next admissions cycle, or even dropping out for a semester or more.  The state's budget picture shows no signs of improving, meaning transfer students will likely need to contend with the same situation next year, as well.

While other state university systems haven't had to cap or reduce enrollments or close budget holes to the same extent as California, a decrease in funding coupled with an increase in interest in state and community colleges may still result in wrenches being thrown in many students' transfer plans. More students at community colleges will make it harder for some students to get into classes they need to complete to successfully transfer to a four-year college. More students applying to state colleges means available seats may fill up faster and transfer applications may be delayed. It can also mean stiffer competition for financial aid, such as transfer student scholarships. Like in California, it could also mean that students whose transfer applications are not perfect the first time may see their plans derailed, or at least delayed, much more easily than in previous semesters.

Because of these concerns, students who are planning to transfer from a community college to a state college (and also students considering a move between four-year schools) will want to stay in touch with their academic advisors this year and complete all required steps as quickly as possible. Make sure you are applying for admission and aid well ahead of deadlines, and make sure you're meeting all requirements to ensure a smooth transfer process. Staying on top of things this fall can save you headaches, and possibly money, when it's time to switch schools.

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The State of College Admissions 2009

October 20, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Most high school seniors are now entering the last leg of their college search and selecting the colleges to which they plan to apply. Many are already beginning the college application process, especially if they plan to meet rapidly approaching early decision or early action deadlines at their top choice colleges. For students looking for a last bit of data with which to game the college admissions system, the National Association for College Admission Counseling has just released their annual State of College Admission report.  Included below are some highlights.

Competition: The report shows that, on the whole, while most colleges and universities aren't terribly selective, they appear to be becoming slightly more selective on average as they deal with larger numbers of students applying for admission. Between 2001 and 2007, the average acceptance rate at colleges and universities surveyed declined from 71.3 percent to 66.8 percent. Colleges largely seem to be expanding enrollment to meet increasing applications, though, with the growth in applications (24 percent) only slightly outpacing the growth in enrollment (20 percent) between 2002 and 2006.

The number of applications colleges received continued to grow in 2008, with approximately three out of four colleges reporting an increase in applications over the previous year. Students also appear to be applying to more colleges on the whole, with the number of students submitting 7 or more applications growing from 19 percent in 2007 to 22 percent in 2008. This growth in applications, especially multiple applications, has resulted in a decrease in yield (the percentage of admitted students who ultimately enroll) by about 4 percentage points. However, a student's odds of getting admitted off the wait list remain largely unchanged, hovering around 1 in 3 for 2008.

Selection Process: Also included in the survey were questions about the criteria college admission counselors considered most important when reviewing college applications. The following criteria were given "considerable importance" (the highest level of importance in the survey) by college counselors:

  • Grades in college prep classes (75% of counselors gave it considerable importance)
  • Strength of high school curriculum (62%)
  • Admission test scores, such as SAT and ACT (54%)
  • Class rank (19%)
  • Criteria that received less importance in consideration were race, first-generation college student status, gender, alumni ties, high school attended, state or county of residence, and ability to pay.  Inside Higher Ed has an article with some nice charts comparing the level of importance given to all of the above criteria.

The Take Away: While there's a lot of attention given to schools that are more selective, the majority of colleges admit most students who apply. While more students are kicking the college application process into overdrive and applying to seven or more schools, these students still make up a minority of the college-going crowd. Additionally, while applications are increasing everywhere, the pace at which early applications are increasing at early-action and early-decision schools seems to be slowing.

Overall, the admission process is only as frantic as you make it. However, if you are applying to a lot of highly selective schools and the 1-in-3 chance of getting off the wait list if you wind up on it scares you, make sure you're putting your all into your applications. Get going on those application essays early and make sure to leave time for feedback and revision. Also, you'll want to approach your counselor for any letters of recommendation early--another item noted in the NACAC report was an increased workload for college counselors nationwide.

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Colleges Lure Students with Applications Resembling Credit Card Offers

January 29, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

High school juniors who took the PSAT this fall are likely beginning to notice a new phenomenon hitting their mailboxes at home: a wave of mailings from colleges across the country. To parents, the flood of viewbooks and application packets is likely reminiscent of the piles of credit card offers that often make up the bulk of their mail. Beyond sheer volume, there are other traits that college mailings share with credit card offers, and these were recently explored by The New York Times.

In recent years, colleges across the country have been sending out priority applications to entice students to apply and hopefully attend. The applications usually come in bright packaging, usually with some language that suggests the student has been singled out as someone of special interest to the college. Some examples the article gives are “Advantage Application,” Distinctive Candidate Application” and “Exclusive Scholar Application.”

Inside, students find a partially completed application and an announcement that the school has waived the application fee, and possibly some of the application requirements, for a select number of students, including the recipient of the application. In reality, most priority applications are sent out in batches of tens of thousands. The wording isn’t always strictly honest, either. One college, University of the Pacific, promised to waive application fees for its “Distinctive Candidate” applicants, but they don’t actually require an application fee from anyone.

Still, the applications are convenient for students interested in attending these institutions. Waived fees can save students $50 or more per application, and the option to substitute a graded high school paper for a freshly written college application essay can also be enticing. They can also provide an opportunity to learn about a college the student might have never considered otherwise. In fact, this is the reason many admission officials state for choosing to launch a priority application campaign.

However, some counselors are worried that the inundation of priority applications may encourage students to wind up only applying for college at schools that mail them priority applications. Students can also be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of mailings landing on their doorstep, especially when each application is a nearly identical, overly fluffy, and not necessarily true portrayal of the college and the applicant's chances of being admitted.  This can complicate the college search for students who, for whatever reason, aren’t able to visit or fully research each school that seems promising. Others in the higher education world worry that these applications represent a prioritization of selling the school, boosting enrollment, and increasing their U.S. News ranking (an increase in applications or in test scores of applicants can be a considerable boost) over their mission of recruiting and educating students who will thrive at their school.

What do you think of these applications? Did you receive any from colleges? Did they affect your college choice in any way?

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