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Higher Ed Group Slams Proposals for Three-Year Degrees

Jun 3, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Offering students a formal path toward a three-year degree has been a popular proposal for the last few years, with proponents of the idea describing it as a way to save college students some money, at least on room and board.

In an article in Inside Higher Ed today, one national organization has spoken out against formalizing three-year plans for students. Carol Geary Schneider, the president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, issued a statement today that was critical of cutting the college experience short. In her statement, Schneider said the higher education system can do better working on those struggling—or unwilling—to graduate in the traditional four years. (About 27 percent of students at public institutions and 48 percent at private institutions finish in four years.)

Beyond that, Schneider said it takes longer now to prepare students for the world off college campuses than it has in the past. Students are expected to know more today about global knowledge, for example, and need to boast a wide range of experiences outside of the classroom that would be difficult to fit in if colleges began offering three-year degrees. A criticism has been that offering students the three-year degree option might lead to some unprepared graduates who spent their summers working toward their accelerated degrees, rather than spending time at internships or other experiences that could not only serve as resume boosters, but as ways for them to explore fields of study.

Supporters of shortening students’ time spent in college have included Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former president of the University of Tennessee who wrote an editorial on the topic in Newsweek last fall. He said in his piece that the move would ease the dependence on federal and campus-based financial aid, and would free up precious time for students interested in moving into the working world faster or pursuing advanced degrees. Robert Zemsky, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education, said in Inside Higher Ed that pushing for a three-year degree could lead to positive changes in higher education. This leads to another debate: how useful general education requirements are to a student not majoring in the liberal arts.

Many schools already offer three-year degrees, whether officially via accelerated programming targeting those who have dual enrollment or AP credits or unofficially to highly motivated students. What do you think?

And remember, there’s no need to rely on expensive student loan options to pay for your college education. For more information on finding free scholarship money for college, conduct a Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Colleges Cut Costs Creatively

May 28, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

As colleges prepare for another academic year of tightened budgets, some schools have found ways to rein in costs more creatively than using wait lists for incoming freshmen, recouping revenue through increases in tuition, or introducing new student fees.

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education recently took at look at several of these colleges’ efforts to cut costs creatively, focusing a majority of the article on Middlebury College, where students make their own granola. The executive chef at the school decided several years ago that the rising cost of granola was a waste of money. Rather than cut granola out of students’ diets, he decided to get those students already working in the college bakery to help hand-mix and bake the oats for their own brand of granola made on site. The school ended up saving $27,000 in their food budget, which has already seen several budget cuts and could use the additional revenue.

Colleges elsewhere are looking for ways to pinch pennies as well. According to the article, a recent office-supply swap at Marquette University saved the school $10,000 over the last year, as departments used the school’s website in the same way one might use Craig’s List, to furnish and equip their offices and classrooms. At Miami University, a program called “Leveraging Efficiencies and Aligning Needs” allows focus groups to convene and look for potential savings on the Ohio school’s campus. They’ve come up with $16,000 in savings by no longer offering bottled water in campus hotel rooms and $66,000 in savings by asking students to switch their steam heaters off over winter breaks, according to The Chronicle.

Have you noticed your college cutting costs creatively, rather than going the traditional route of increasing tuition and fees? If you find yourself struggling with those rising college costs, know that there are options out there that have nothing to do with helping the college bakery cook up granola. Take a look at the resources we’ve come up with to help you manage college costs. We have tips on everything from saving money on books and supplies to preparing for those hidden student fees you may not have factored in when budgeting for your first year on campus.

And don't forget, you should pay for your college education with as much free money as possible! Find as many scholarships and grants as you can before turning to student loans. Visit the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today where you'll get matched with countless scholarships and grants for which you qualify, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Survey Shows Students Lack Accurate Financial Aid Information

May 25, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

A recent survey of high school students found that students are not only ruling out certain schools based on “sticker price” alone, but that many also overestimate how much financial aid they will be receiving to attend the college of their choice.

According to the survey, the high school seniors who participated were starting their college searches with inaccurate information on financial aid basics, the net cost of college, and general comparison shopping. The findings came from “Student Poll,” an initiative from the College Board and the Art & Science Group marketing firm that polled more than 1,600 high school seniors between November 2009 and January 2010.

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education on the survey suggested something needed to be done to address students’ perceptions on the costs of college. Although the federal government will soon require all schools to provide prospective students with net-tuition calculators that will offer those students a clearer picture on what they would pay in tuition after any scholarships and grants, many of the respondents in this survey said they were not using similar calculators already available. Of those who did use calculators, most came from wealthier families; students from low-income families were less likely to use them.

The survey also found the following:

  • Nearly 60 percent of students reported looking only at the sticker price of an institution before taking financial aid into account; 28 percent had considered the net tuition price of a school after taking into account what they might receive in financial aid.
  • Related to parents’ influence on college choice, 26 percent of students said their parents insisted they attend the most affordable option, 40 percent said their parents insisted they apply to a more affordable school, and 22 percent said their parents ruled out a school that was outside their budget.
  • About 64 percent of white students expect to receive merit aid; about 50 percent of Hispanic and 45 percent of African American students expect to receive merit aid.
  • About 60 percent of students who scored 1250 or higher on the SAT expect to receive merit aid.
  • Students expect grants and scholarships to cover 35 percent of their college education costs, loans to cover 21 percent, family or personal savings to cover 17 percent, and another 24 percent to come from their own or their parents’ earnings during college.

Despite the wealth of information out there, it seems that high school students are still unprepared and not equipped with realistic expectations when it comes to navigating the financial aid process. Are you nervous about where you should start? Check out the college cost calculators we provide, and cultivate relationships with financial aid administrators, as you can never be too prepared when it comes to determining how much your education will cost, and you’ll pay for it once you’ve got that information.

And remember, there’s no need to rely on expensive student loan options to pay for your college education. For more information on finding free scholarship money for college, conduct a Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Should More Changes Follow Switch to Direct Loans Program?

May 14, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

July 1 marks the official date that colleges, if they haven’t already, must transition to the recently approved Federal Direct Loans Program. Schools will no longer offer students the option of having private banks or credit unions handle their federal loans; federal loans will now be coming directly from the U.S. Department of Education. Advocates of the student loan bill have said this will make the process more seamless and fair, with the government taking responsibility for keeping interest rates manageable. And private loans will still be available via the traditional channels, although those loans are typically offered at higher interest rates.

The student loan debate has been a constant in the world of higher education, as legislators and administrators look for ways to reduce the debt of graduates. This week, The Christian Science Monitor considered student loans in a different way. Is it ethical to send students out into the world with all this debt, especially when they may not be making enough in their chosen careers to pay back those loans in a timely fashion? Are student loans moral?

The Christian Science Monitor piece looks at the history of the student loan industry, questioning whether it was ever right for Congress to increase borrowing amounts to current levels, or to offer students described as “in need” much easier access to federal loans through the re-authorization of the Higher Education Act in the 1990s. According to the Project on Student Debt, student loan totals only continue to rise. The average national debt for graduating seniors with loans rose from about $18,650 in 2004 to $23,200 in 2008. Meanwhile, employment prospects have not increased at comparable levels; by 2009, the unemployment rate among new graduates hovered near 11 percent, the highest on record.

It isn’t just a case of telling college students not to borrow so much. Student loans are often a necessary evil, and while debt can be minimized some through scholarships and grants, most students will end up taking on some amount of debt. The Monitor questions whether there should be more strict limits on borrowers that exist in other scenarios where credit checks and expectations that borrowers will be able to pay back what they borrow are enforced. There is no guarantee of a job after college, after all, so why shouldn’t the fact that a student is unable to pay off more than the minimum on their credit cards be taken into account more when they take out loans? (On that note, the U.S. Senate has approved an amendment that would lower “swipe fees” that banks charge college bookstores when students use their credit cards for purchases.)

Student loans are a hot topic, and will continue to be. What do you think? What else can be done to reduce graduates' debt, especially among those graduates who are not entering high-paying fields?

And don't forget, you should pay for your college education with as much free money as possible! Find as many scholarships and grants as you can before turning to student loans. Visit the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today where you'll get matched with countless scholarships and grants for which you qualify, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Making the Choice: Tips for Comparing Financial Aid Packages

Apr 15, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

As students begin evaluating their offers of acceptance from colleges, one factor may weigh more heavily than any other on the tough decisions of choosing the right school - financial aid. The financial aid opportunities School A offers to incoming freshmen that School B does not may be what makes or breaks the decision on where a student will enroll, even if School B is the student's "dream school." Comparing financial aid offers is then an integral process in the decision-making process, and unfortunately you don't have a lot of time to send your notice back to each school you've been accepted to. Here are some tips to navigate the process, and help you determine how to find the "best value":

  • Compare the scholarships and grants available at each school. Have you already been offered either, or has the school simply notified you of your eligibility for more free funding?
  • Compare student loan amounts. What may seem like the best offer at first may actually be anchored by a significant amount of student loan debt. Student loans should be your last resort as far as covering college costs.
  • Compare your expected family contributions. Schools may handle this piece of information differently, and may even accept more information about your family's financial situation after you've received your financial aid package. It's fine to question a school's offer, especially if there are big discrepancies between what each school is offering you.
  • Compare the tuition and fees of each school, and what that financial aid package covers. Some schools may offer you what appears to be an impressive amount of aid based on the cost of tuition alone, and you already know college costs include a lot more than that base price - fees, books and supplies, and room and board, for example.
  • Be aware of what you're eligible to receive next year. Some schools may offer a more impressive financial aid package to incoming freshmen, and pad students' offers the following year with more student loans. Do your research. Compare average student loan debts at each school, talk to students already attending each school, and be frank with your financial aid administrator.
Some students may have been lucky enough to have been accepted into a program that has offered them a tuition-free education. A recent article in USA Today took a look at colleges that offer to pay the tuition of all new students, despite all you've already read about tuition and fee increases across the country. Some are military schools that require a commitment from you to serve in the military post-graduation, but others are schools where there exists a need for new graduates, either due to the school's locations or lack of graduates in certain fields of study. Webb Institute, the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, and the College of the Ozarks, for example, all offer tuition-free educations to students. Do you know of more? Tell us about them!

And remember, there’s no need to rely on expensive student loan options to pay for your college education. For more information on finding free scholarship money for college, conduct a Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Scholarships.com's Kevin Ladd to Speak on CollegeWeekLive.com Today

Mar 24, 2010

by Administrator

Today, at 7PM EST, Scholarships.com's own Kevin Ladd will be giving a presentation on the scholarship search, focused primarily on high school juniors. The webcast will be hosted and produced by CollegeWeekLive.com, a site that offers virtual college fairs featuring all sorts of presentations from colleges, financial aid professionals, and much more. There is a College Chat, Student Chat, information on federal aid such as the FAFSA and even video chats.

Today, Kevin's presentation will address scholarships and the importance of beginning your search early, citing scholarships offered throughout a student's high school years as well as the benefit of having familiarized yourself with the financial aid and scholarship search process long before your senior year. In fact, there are some scholarships specifically targeting high school juniors for which you won't qualify if you put off searching for financial aid until your senior year in high school.

The earlier you begin searching for scholarships, the better chance you have of finding the best ones and being awarded free money for college. For more on this and to "virtually" visit some college halls while you are at it, check out CollegeWeekLive.com and don't forget to be there at 7PM Eastern Time to see Kevin's presentation on finding scholarships. If you do miss it today, you can search for it in the College Week Live archives tomorrow and thereafter, but if you catch his live presentation today, you will be able to text any questions you might have.

And don't forget, you should pay for your college education with as much free money as possible! Find as many scholarships and grants as you can before turning to student loans. Visit the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today where you'll get matched with countless scholarships and grants for which you qualify, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Asian Education Superior? First Cars, Now College...

Mar 10, 2010

by Administrator

Perhaps, for the time being, American colleges (see Harvard, Princeton, Yale, etc.) are among the most desirable in the world, but there is some concern that this might not always be so and that perhaps this shouldn't be taken for granted.

Before Toyota started shipping automobiles to the United states in ever-increasing quantities, General Motors ruled. The American car was king in the U.S. and led all other auto companies world-wide for three quarters of a century. That began to change in the 80's and now it is not uncommon, even right here in the heartland of America, to see more Japanese cars on your morning commute than those manufactured in the United St. Could we have learned a lesson from Japan? Taken a page from their playbook maybe and avoided the enormous failure and subsequent government bailout of what was once the auto sales leader for 77 consecutive years? There are those who believe education is set on a similar trajectory. Here are five things we might want to consider:

  1. Building Human Capital While college costs continue to rise in the U.S. and it becomes more and more difficult for high school grads to attend college, China is making sure its young people have an opportunity to get a post-secondary education. Apparently they, along with other East Asian countries, see a strong connection between the education of its citizens and its burgeoning economy and are working to build human capital to ensure continued growth and success.
  2. Policy May Set Pace China is set to outpace the U.S. not just in college grads, but also in world-class universities. This is primarily due to the amount of importance they place on education and the funding they commit to seeing that it succeeds. If we are to have any hope of keeping up with China, India and Japan in the coming decades, we may want to consider a similar approach and learn from the success of these programs and their dedication to higher education.
  3. Beware Hubris It's probably not a good idea to assume that, because there presently are no Asian institutions listed among the top 20 worldwide, there won't soon be. According to Yale's president, Richard C. Levin, there is likely to be some change in the coming years, with National University of Singapore one of the schools likely to break into the top twenty.
  4. Eyes on Asia It might be a good idea to take a serious look at some of the programs the most successful schools in Asia have implemented and consider building some of our own in select institutions, for a start. Getting students involved in more global, real-life situations and positions earlier, for example, might be something we should be doing more of.
  5. If You Can't Beat 'Em OK, it may be a bit early to admit defeat and, if we step it up a bit, maybe concession won't be necessary, but working with Asian universities could be among the key steps we could take to improve the quality of the education we offer in the U.S.

Going to college doesn't have to break the bank or saddle you with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Check out the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search where you’ll discover you qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships in just a few minutes, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Credit Card Act Goes into Effect Monday

Feb 19, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

New regulations that the federal government hopes will protect college students from excessive credit card debt by making it more difficult for young people to open multiple lines of credit go into effect Monday. The regulations, which fall under the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, were approved by Congress last May.

The key pieces of the act include the followin:

  • Creditors will be prohibited from issuing credit cards to anyone under 21 without the consent of that applicant’s parent or guardian, or proof that the consumer would be able to make the required payments on their own.
  • Creditors will be barred from offering students perks, such as coupons or T-shirts and book bags decorated with the companies' logos, for opening a new credit card account at campus events.
  • Companies will be required to disclose any existing relationships with colleges and universities annually to the Federal Reserve Board; colleges and universities will be required to disclose any existing relationships with credit card companies as well.

The regulations also included a strong suggestion to institutions of higher education that they provide education and counseling to students who may be struggling with credit card debt, or who may know little about managing credit card usage wisely.

Critics of the act since it was approved say that college students, who take on a slew of new responsibilities once they get on campus, should be treated as adults. For better or worse, students now are more apt to use credit cards to pay for their college expenses, and critics say they shouldn’t meet obstacles when using their credit cards for those costs. (According to a recent survey by student lender Sallie Mae, 84 percent of undergraduates have at least one credit card; 92 percent of those undergraduates use the cards toward college expenses. College students’ average balances are more than $3,100.) Some consumer advocates also say that while it's a good first step toward keeping students from incurring massive amounts of debt, it doesn't do enough, according to an article today in Inside Higher Ed. It fails to include any cap on the interest rate credit card providers can charge, for example.

We have a number of resources available to you about how to avoid credit card debt, make smart decisions about covering your college costs, and managing your money so that you're spending within your means. It may not mean much to you now, but it isn't all that easy to improve upon a credit score. The spending choices you make today will follow you down the line, so ideally, stick to one card if you need one, and if you find yourself in debt, pay off as much as you’re able to each month until you’re done.

And remember, there’s no need to rely on expensive student loan options to pay for your college education. For more information on finding free scholarship money for college, conduct a Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Middlebury College Plans to Place Ceiling on Tuition Hikes

Feb 16, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

The president of Middlebury College has introduced a plan that would cap the school's annual comprehensive cost increases at 1 percentage point above inflation, a proposal that would slow increases that have been running well above and independent of changes in the Consumer Price Index. The school's board is expected to approve the proposal prior to planning its budgets for the next year.

According to an article in Inside Higher Ed today, the decision to come up with a proposal for a tuition increase cap came when administrators started talking a hard look at the ever-growing cost of a liberal arts degree. At Middlebury, the "comprehensive fee" of an education there - tuition, room and board - has reached past the $50,000 per year mark. And despite a record number of students applying to the school, administrators felt they should be forward-thinking rather than taking advantage of the current windfall of applicants. Those numbers won't keep up forever, after all. In a speech at the college on Friday, the school's president, Ronald D. Liebowitz, said there would eventually "be a price point at which even the most affluent of families will question their investment; the sooner we are able to reduce our fee increases the better."

A number of schools have tried to impose tuition freezes in the past, only to revert back to their old ways when budgets tightened. Princeton University tried in 2007; Williams College tried in 2000. Middlebury administrators, however, hope their cap is sustainable for the long term. Middlebury's increase for the current 2009-10 year was 3.2 percent, 3 points above inflation. The average annual increase for private, four-year colleges is 4.4 percent, according to the College Board. Critics of the proposal worry that cuts will come from elsewhere to make up the funds lost by the cap; the school loses about $900,000 for each percentage point increase it doesn't make. In the Inside Higher Ed article, Liebowitz said he saw revenue potential in the school's unique programming, and that the move could make the college even more desirable to applicants also applying to private colleges who are not considering tuition increase caps.

In 2008, only five colleges charged $50,000 a year or more for tuition, fees, room, and board. In 2009, 58 did, making $50,000 the new norm. Still, it could be worse. Tuition and fees increased by an average of 4.3 percent at private colleges and universities nationwide for the 2009-2010 academic year, according to data from the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Those figures, although much higher than the rate of inflation, were still lower than previous averages. In fact, those tuition increases were the lowest they have been in 37 years, despite the struggling economy. On average, schools also allocated 9 percent more to college scholarships and grants for 2009-2010 than the previous academic year.

And remember, there’s no need to rely on expensive student loan options to pay for your college education. For more information on finding free scholarship money for college, conduct a Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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The Scholarship Interview; "Making" It or "Breaking" It

Feb 15, 2010

by Derrius Quarles

Now that you have made your scholarship list, gotten your recommendations, written your personal statement, created your scholarship application packet and applied for scholarships, you may be receiving e-mails and calls notifying you that you have been selected for interviews. This is it! This is what you worked so hard for! The only problem is, for some students, the interviews will be it, literally. Each scholarship will have a certain number of winners; more students will be invited to interviews than can be selected as recipients. This is why the interview is so crucial; it will be the determining factor of who is in the final group of winners. If you want to be in that final group, you have to set yourself apart, just as you did in your personal statement.  Speaking of personal statements, which essentially are essays, I like to think of the interview as an essay. There is an introduction, body, and a conclusion. Like your scholarship essay, the interview says something about who you are, how informed you are of a topic, what your opinions and thoughts are, and how eloquently you can state those opinions and thoughts. So here is the interview breakdown:  Introduction - Your appearance, handshake, ability to make eye contact, ability to state your name, posture, and overall attitude all add up to a great introduction.

     
  • In every interview, your dress should be business casual, at the very least. Even if the interviewers did not specify a dress code, it is better to be overdressed than to be underdressed
  •  
  • The handshake should be firm, but not overpowering or held for too long
  •  
  • Eye contact is a sign of respect in American society, so always show respect by looking your interviewer in the eye
  •  
  • You should be able to say your first and last name confidently to each interviewer, maintain a good listening posture, and make the interviewers feel like you desire to be there and deserve the scholarship
  •  
 Body - This consists of the questions that will be asked of you. These can either be very open ended such as: “Tell us about yourself.”Or very direct such as: “What is your potential major?” Not only are your answers important but so, too, are the manner in which you listen and interact with the interviewers. 
     
  • The questions can get difficult, it is much better to pause and gather your thoughts before you answer than to answer prematurely
  •  
  • When the interviewers are talking give them your full attention and listen actively and be aware of your body language
  •  
  • Try to answer each question completely and give a complete answer, but do not talk unnecessarily or ramble
  •  
  • Do not be afraid to be yourself or throw some humor into your answers
  •  
 Conclusion - The time to wrap up everything you showed during the introduction and body of the interview. This includes keeping the same professionalism and great attitude you came in with, and reinforcing the answers you gave. 
     
  • When the interviewers are done asking you their questions, they may see if you have any questions for them. Even if they do not ask if you have any questions, politely tell them you would like to ask them some questions. This shows you are interested in them, just as much as they are in you.
  •  
  • When you get up to leave the interview room, make sure that you shake every person’s hand in the room and thank them for the opportunity.
  •  
 In addition to having a good intro, body, and conclusion there are simple mistakes that everyone should avoid, the way you would try to steer clear of spelling and grammar mistakes in an essay. 
     
  1. Always show up early for an interview
  2.  
  3. Turn your cellular device on silent mode or off
  4.  
  5. Do not fidget your fingers or give attention to other items such as a pen while others are speaking
  6.  
  7. Never leave the interview without showing appreciation and stating that you look forward to communication in the future
  8.  
 You worked hard to be chosen for an interview, and you deserve anything that you are awarded. Unfortunately, someone will have to “break it”, so take this advice and come into the interview ready to “make it”.

Derrius L Quarles is a 19-year-old freshman at Morehouse College. He hopes to go to medical school after he graduates with a degree in psychology and biology and a minor in public health, and to one day work on the public health policies of his hometown, Chicago, and beyond. To help him achieve those academic and career ambitions, Derrius has won more than $1.1 million in scholarships, including a full scholarship to attend Morehouse, since graduating from Chicago’s Kenwood Academy High School with a 4.2 GPA. Derrius was awarded a Gates Millennium scholarship and won a number of other highly competitive awards, many of which he found while searching for scholarships at Scholarships.com. He is the first in his family to attend college, and spent his childhood in the foster care system before becoming the “Million Dollar Scholar.” This is the sixth in a series of posts Derrius is writing for Scholarships.com on how he was able to fund his education, along with advice about the scholarship application process.

And don't forget, you should pay for your college education with as much free money as possible! Find as many scholarships and grants as you can before turning to student loans. Visit the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today where you'll get matched with countless scholarships and grants for which you qualify, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Students and Families Unprepared for College, Financial Aid Application Process

Feb 10, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Despite recent trends of more students across the country enrolling at institutions of higher learning, many students and their families remain mostly uninformed and unprepared to navigate the college and financial aid application process, according to a report issued yesterday called "Planning for College: A Consumer Approach to the Higher Education Marketplace."

The report, from MassINC, a think tank in Massachusetts, looked at decisions students and families need to make when applying to and paying for college, and the information they need to make those decisions. It found that students and parents currently have great difficulty "getting the most out of their col­lege dollar," as the price of higher education only continues to rise.

Perhaps even more alarming is that families have started borrowing more to pay for college, without considering risk and the rate of their return. Related to increases in student borrowing amounts, an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday looks at the idea that doctoral students finish faster if they take out large loans. The most obvious answer why is that taking out more student loans allows the students to take more classes, and quit part-time jobs that may have been reducing their college costs. It's a choice students must make every day - should you sacrifice some comfort to reduce your student loan debt, even if it means taking longer to complete your degree? It's a personal decision, but students should be aware that they'll be expected to start repaying any debt once they graduate.

The Massachusetts study also found that students and families had little knowledge of tax benefits and college savings plans, and how to compare them. For example, there are 118 different 529 Plans, and the resources out there do little in the way of pointing consumers to the advantages and disadvantages of each. Families and students also admit to knowing little about the actual sticker price of colleges, as that often depends on the funds available to assist incoming students, an unknown when those students first apply.

The report's authors suggest families and students must become more like "savvy consumers" who are able to understand and successfully manipulate the college and financial aid application process to their advantage. The process should also be made less complex, an idea that is already being explored by federal legislation such as the Higher Education Opportunity Act. Finally, families need reliable measures about the educational experience that colleges and universities offer beyond the annual rankings we see in the Princeton Review, for example. According to the report, while the U.S. Department of Education is providing increasingly consistent and accessible indicators, such as graduation rates, this branch of the college-bound decision remains the weakest.

And remember, there’s no need to rely on expensive student loan options to pay for your college education. For more information on finding free scholarship money for college, conduct a Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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