June 3, 2008
June 17, 2008
The government recognizes the dire financial circumstances of numerous undergraduate students, and slowly, steps are being taken to change things for the better. Three new federal grants have been created within the past two years, the maximum Pell Grant award has risen and interest rates on undergraduate Federal Stafford Loans will begin their gradual descent this fall. But…where does that leave graduate school students?
According the Council of Graduate Schools, the number of students seeking master’s and doctoral degrees is expected to rise by 12% between 2006 and 2014, and many of these students will need financial aid. While certain aid does not apply to graduate school students, plenty of assistance is available to those who know where to look. Here are just a few options:
Federal Aid Unfortunately, graduate school students are not eligible to receive federal grants, but federal aid in the form of federal work study and low-rate student loans (Stafford and PLUS) are still an option. And while the recently passed College Cost Reduction and Access Act will not lower loan interest rates for graduate school students, those who borrowed before July 1, 2006 will see a substantial drop in their bill. Variable interest rates on federal loans will decrease from 7.22%to 4.21 % this year.
Scholarships and Grants Numerous scholarships and non-federal grants are not just available to graduate school students, they are restricted to them. Companies and organizations frequently offer aid to graduate school students who display an interest in work that aligns with their goals. After all, these scholars can be the future innovators of their industry. To find scholarships you may be eligible to receive based on your year in school or major of interest, try conducting a free college scholarship search.
Employer Assistance Students who commit to working for a certain employer may be lucky enough to receive full or partial compensation for an additional degree. This is often the case with hospital staff, educators and employees who could help their companies profit through new skills and certifications.
June 26, 2008
On Tuesday, a Senate panel approved a budget that would increase, among other things, the Pell Grant funding for the 2009 school year. Currently, students who demonstrate financial need—as determined by a Department of Education's FAFSA calculation—can receive no more than $4,300 in Pell Grant money, but not all eligible students receive the full sum. For the upcoming year, the Pell Grant cap will be $4,731. If the Senate panel’s budget is approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee and by the Senate, students could be eligible for up to $4,800.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Senate panel’s bill would also provide new funding for the TRIO program, a seven-part financial aid initiative created to aid students from disadvantaged backgrounds and those facing circumstances that might hinder their academic pursuits. Additionally, it would provide colleges and universities with more money to pay for the Perkins Loan forgiveness program, one wherein colleges cancel the loans of students who enter select public service fields.
Today, the new initiative will move from the Senate panel to the Senate Appropriations Committee, and, if approved, it will be voted on by the Senate. Any differences between the Senate and House versions will have to be ironed out, and, only then, will President Bush have the option of signing.
June 27, 2008
Kathy L. Hardy, her two daughters and two other associates are being charged for having allegedly taken out numerous fraudulent private student loans since 2005. The five women were accused of having received a combined sum of more than $690,000 by filling out over 70 student loan applications, reported U.S. News.
Though many of the loan applications were denied, a number of lenders, including Sallie Mae, the biggest student lender in the business, lent tens of thousands to the applicants. By using stolen Social Security numbers and the information of victims whose names resembled their own, the five women were able to slip by lender verifications.
The FBI's investigation into the matter began when one of the victims complained that someone had taken out a loan under her name. Upon further investigation, it was found that the women alleged to have been at fault had stolen numerous identities—including one that belong to a deceased person—to collect money.
The case raised concerns that the stealing of identities to obtain private student loans may be too simple. Because private student loans are easier to obtain than Federal Stafford and Perkins Loans, and because private student loans are not sent directly to colleges and universities, the potential for fraud may be considerable.
To minimize the chance that similar problems will arise in the future, a congressional provision that would force student lenders to forward loans directly to schools is being considered. The suggestion has received mixed reviews from lenders who, one hand, would like to eliminate the possibility of fraud, and, on the other, want to facilitate the borrowing process for potential customers.
July 3, 2008
A college education is an expensive purchase. It’s certainly an investment, but an expensive one nonetheless. Many students are forced to take out thousands in student loans to afford college, but some are so close to paying for school that accumulating college debt on account of minor need would be a shame.
For many such students, tuition installment plans may be a good option. Certain colleges and universities allow students to split up their semester or trimester payments into monthly installments. They pair up with one or more tuition installment plan companies which administer the services, and make the option of enrolling available to those who are interested.
Students and parents who receive steady paychecks and those awaiting college scholarship or grant awards may benefit from the tuition installment plan option. Such plans are interest free, but, unfortunately, they are not cost free. Individuals who use tuition installment plans usually have to pay administering companies annual enrollment fees or finance charges, ones that usually average between $30 and $60. Certain participating colleges may also ask that those enrolled pay a large portion of their college tuition and fees up front.
Students considering a tuition installment plan should contact their college financial aid office to find out if the plan is available and, if so, what fees are involved.
July 9, 2008
Dorms are filled to the brim with students your age, and therein lies their charm. But after finding a group of people you enjoy spending time with, their appeal slowly fades. Dorms are cramped, noisy, and, eventually, old news. But before you can hug your RA goodbye, you need to find an apartment, and that takes some planning. The following tips can help you find the best-suited home at a reasonable price.
Determine Boundaries. Before the apartment hop begins, establish a general search boundary. Off-campus apartments may be cheaper, but, depending on location, the class hike may be substantial. Decide which is the bigger priority, finance or location, and be realistic about how far you are willing to walk—in boots on a rainy, snowy day—to your perfect residence.
Get a Head Start. If you attend a large state school, chances are, you have options. But you can only be as picky as the time allows. Begin your apartment search early, around December or January. If you wait until the summer months to find an apartment for the upcoming year, you may find your options slim. Stake your claim before someone else can.
Look at Reviews. What you don’t see when you visit an apartment—the unreachable repairman, the stinky, bug-ridden basement—may come back to haunt you. One of the best ways to gauge a potential home is by seeking out feedback from previous tenants. Reviews of landlords and apartments can frequently be found in campus newspapers, both on and offline. You may also want to ask around. Satisfied and disgruntled students alike are often willing to let you know what they think.
Budget. When budgeting, you have to consider paying for school, for residence, for food, for leisure, for holiday gifts, for transportation, for emergencies and so on. If you're an apartment penny pincher, it's best to limit surprises. Ask landlords about any city or tenant fees that may be tacked on to the lease, and find out if if gas, water, parking or an internet/cable package are included. If you don’t plan to stay on campus during the summer months, also ask about a 10-month lease option. The need for apartments drops during the summertime, and many students have a hard time finding individuals willing to sublet at full price. By asking the right questions and budgeting accordingly, you can avoid many such problems down the road.
July 17, 2008
According to West Virginia’s The State Journal, a recent poll indicates that Americans are prioritizing the affordability of a college education over other factors. Though criteria such as scholastic quality, distance and diversity were also critical, the cost of a school topped the list as most important.
With college costs continuing to outpace inflation and graduates finishing school with growing debt, families are beginning to realize that attending schools within their means may be more important than attending ones of greater prestige. A recent report from the National Center for Education Studies (NCES) stated that during the 2005-2006 school year, 46 percent of first-time, full-time students who sought a degree took out student loans, a few graduating more than $100,000 in debt.
The Chronicle of Higher Education Gallop Poll indicated that, though there were conflicting views over whether the government or the public should be responsible for much of the cost, most agreed that colleges should contribute to the solution by spending a larger percentage of their endowment funds.
As the media focuses on problems of national debt, controversy has grown over the use of annually increasing endowment funds acquired through donations to colleges. Though endowment contributors frequently create stipulations about who may or may not receive their scholarship money, the public has pointed to the questionable nature of storing funds and increasing tuition, especially during a time when debt has become a growing problem for students.
July 22, 2008
Technology, rental programs, and new laws could finally reverse the trend of rising textbook costs, according to a recent article in U.S. News and World Report. Students, parents, and professors alike often recoil at the astronomical pricetag of some textbooks, especially for introductory courses students are required to take. For many, textbook purchases can represent the last hurdle in the race to pay for school, as students who have managed to find money for college tuition and housing still may not be able to foot a textbook bill of several hundred dollars per semester.
Now, a combination of factors may finally bring some relief to students in this predicament. In recent years, schools and private companies have piloted textbook rental programs that have been met with a great deal of enthusiasm from students who are now able to rent many of the general education textbooks that they would likely sell back to the bookstore at the end of the semester. E-books and open source projects have begun to catch professors' attention as alternatives to requiring students to purchase an expensive hard copy of a textbook.
Finally, a bill currently under consideration in Congress would require textbook companies to provide professors with accurate pricing information before book orders are placed. This would allow professors to choose textbooks based on price, in addition to quality of information. The proposed law would also require publishers to provide unbundled versions of currently bundled textbook packages, which often have high prices due to the inclusion of workbooks or electronic content that many students and professors wind up electing not to use.
Cheaper textbook options such as these can help students save money in college, which is a relief for every student, whether they are paying with scholarship money, federal financial aid, or their own savings.
The Department of Education Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance recently released a report entitled Early and Often showing the financial aid community what can be done to help students and families better prepare to pay for school. The report provided recommendations on what information students needed to know before deciding whether to attend college, when the students needed to know it, and how it could best be disseminated to students and their families, stressing four categories of knowledge that students need to make informed decisions about attending college.
Students need to understand:
The Early and Oftenreport states that this process needs to begin as early as the sixth grade to ensure that students and families have enough time to devise a strategy for getting into and paying for college.
According to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, "Possessing timely and accurate information at each juncture of a student's college preparation timeline can dispel the hyperbole in the media and alleviate complexity, inform students of financing options, and ensure they make sound decisions."
The report asserts that "early information on the availability, eligibility, and variety of financial aid is essential to promote access and persistence. Every student should learn that funding an education requires a reliance on many sources: federal and state governments, institutions, private resources, and personal financial resources. Each of these sources can provide financial aid in the form of grants and scholarships, loans, and work-study opportunities.
Delivering information on the differences between need-based aid and merit-based aid will help students better predict which aid options will be available for them. Understanding the intricacies among such options is vital to successfully financing higher education."
Working with the strategies suggested by the Department of Education, websites such as Scholarships.com already provide the public with a wealth of free resources regarding a variety of financial aid.
By browsing our website's Resources section, students can find information in all four of the Department of Education's vital categories, especially paying for college and applying for financial aid. Additionally, our scholarship search can fill an important role, even early in the college planning process. Students can fill out a profile and conduct a free search, gaining valuable information on which scholarships may be available to them. This will help students get a better idea of how they will be able to afford college.
The full Early and Often report is available on the Department of Education website.
July 23, 2008
A survey released yesterday by the National Association of Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) indicated that 90 percent of financial aid administrators are at least somewhat concerned about the current student loan crunch. As lenders continue to opt out of Federal Family Education Loan Programs (FFELP) and to reduce the number of schools they make loans available to, many financial aid administrators remain concerned that students at their institutions may have decreased access to money for school. While overall administrators expressed confidence that the recent Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act will help students pay for college this year, 52 percent said that more needed to be done to make sure students will have sufficient access to college loans in the future, and more than half stated that they believe it will be more difficult for students to borrow additional private loans in the upcoming school year.
A number of schools are turning to the federal Direct Loans program to ensure continued loan availability for their students, while others are calling for other solutions to the student loan problem, putting an emphasis on federal student aid. Many NASFAA members stressed the importance of increasing access to federal grant programs and scholarship money in order for students to continue being able to afford a college education. NASFAA President Dr. Philip Day summarized this position, stating, "Too many students rely on loans to pay for their education. I do not accept the premise that student loans are here to stay, especially for needy students. If the student loan crunch has shown us anything, it is that our neediest students have no place in the student loan marketplace. We should help them find as many alternatives to borrowing as possible by providing them with grants and scholarships to meet their educational costs."
The survey also asked what financial aid administrators were doing for students and their families to help them find money for college. Many financial aid offices continue to maintain a preferred lenders list, despite recent media criticism and policy changes, something NASFAA stresses is both wanted and needed by families needing to find private student loans or new FFELP lenders on short notice.
NASFAA is also backing a new piece of legislation known as the Preventing Student Loan Discrimination Act, which if passed, will prohibit FFELP lenders from denying loans to eligible students based on the institution they attend, the length of their program, or their income level. These provisions will help students pay for school in the short term, but the report stressed that more needs to be done to make college affordable in the future.
The full survey is available through the NASFAA website.
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