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5, 4, 3, 2, 1…Happy New FAFSA!

2011-2012 Application Available Tomorrow

December 31, 2010

5, 4, 3, 2, 1…Happy New FAFSA!

by Alexis Mattera

Ladies and gentlemen, prospective and current college students, I (or the federal government, rather) give you the 2011-2012 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Hooray!

Vacuum up the confetti because it’s time to get down to business. January 1st marks the first day college-bound seniors, continuing undergraduate and graduate students, and their parents can begin filling out the FAFSA online. Completing the FAFSA is a vital part of the college process: The Department of Education uses it to determine eligibility for federal student financial aid for college. This aid includes federal grant programs (such as the Pell Grant), federal work study, and federal student loans; it is also used by states to determine eligibility for their college aid programs, such as state grants. Colleges also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for the need-based aid programs they administer and, finally, many scholarship opportunities request FAFSA information as part of their application processes. Even if you think that you won’t qualify for free money in the form of need-based college scholarships and grants, you should still apply. At the minimum, the vast majority of students qualify for Stafford Loans, low-interest federal student loans that represent one of the best deals in borrowing and paying for school.

Submission deadlines vary by state (verify yours sooner than later here) so, as with any sort of college funding, we recommend you complete the FAFSA as early as possible because funds do run out. For more information, visit the official FAFSA website or review our federal aid pages. Happy filing (and New Year)!

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Fee Increase? No Problem!

Students Willing to Pay Up for Needed Projects

January 13, 2011

Fee Increase? No Problem!

by Alexis Mattera

Scenario: You’ve been accepted by College A and College B - your two top choice schools - and have been awarded generous financial aid packages by both. You decide to attend College B but one year in, a project is announced that would increase the fees you’re paying...on top of the already hefty sums of tuition, books and housing. Are you on board? If so, you’re in good company.

State funding for colleges isn’t what it used to be so when a school needs new dormitories, laboratories and classrooms, students have become more willing to fund these endeavors because they will benefit their educational experience. In Colorado, mandatory student fee increases range from 18.5 percent (University of Colorado at Colorado Springs) to 611 percent (Mesa State) since 2006 but current students are readily handing over the cash…even though the majority will have graduated long before the projects are finished.

"I won't be a student here when the projects are complete, but I do know my degree will only gain in value," said Sammantha O'Brien, a student at Metropolitan State College of Denver. Brad Baca, vice president of finance and administration at Western State College in Gunnison, agrees. "We're in a very competitive environment and having high-quality amenities and facilities is an important factor," he said. And if the upgrades aren’t reward enough, students at these schools are more informed and involved: At Western State, for example, 40 percent of the student population participated in the fee vote – a record turnout.

What do you think, readers? Would you pony up the dough for a dorm you won't live in or an academic building in which you’ll never hear a lecture?

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Give the Best Buy Scholarship Your Best Try!

This Scholarship of the Week is Due Wednesday

February 14, 2011

Give the Best Buy Scholarship Your Best Try!

by Alexis Mattera

Wouldn’t it be great if one of your favorite stores put money into your wallet instead of taking it out? I’d say so and so would Best Buy: Through February 16th, in fact, the electronics giant is accepting applications for its @15 Scholarships.

Best Buy @15 Scholarships are available to current high school students in grades 9 through 12 who plan to enroll in a full-time undergraduate course of study at an accredited two- or four-year college or university or vocational-technical school in the Unites States. A total of 1,000 students will each receive $1,000 scholarships. So if you’re a high school student who plans to attend college, has solid grades and is involved in community service or work experience, you'll want to check out this award.

For more information about this opportunity, click here or try our free scholarship search to find other scholarships to help you pay for school.

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Obama (Sorta Kinda) Keeps His Promise

Changes in Higher Ed Funding Afoot

February 15, 2011

Obama (Sorta Kinda) Keeps His Promise

by Alexis Mattera

While "Honest Barack" doesn't have quite the same ring as our 16th President’s nickname, we have to give him credit for keeping his promise to privilege spending on education and research...for the most part: Some potentially painful cuts could slice through the higher education pie relatively soon.

First, the good news. The 2012 budget blueprint reveals the maximum Pell Grant (currently set at $5,550 per year) would not be slashed by $845 as originally expected and funding will continue for financial aid programs including AmeriCorps, the Perkins Loan and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant Programs and academic research agencies. The Education Department's overall budget would grow by 4.3 percent in 2012 under the President's budget but despite this positive information, it won’t be all unicorns and butterflies for college students. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the administration had to make some "tough choices" to maintain the current level of funding and compensate for future spending. For example, the department's 2012 budget calls for ending a three-year experiment allowing students to qualify for two Pell Grants in a calendar year and use this funding to attend college year-round, as well as eliminating the subsidy in which the government pays interest on graduate student loans while the students are in school; the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership Program, the Byrd Honors Scholarships and the TEACH Grant program would also be eliminated.

Obama said, "Education is an investment that we need to win the future...and to make sure that we can afford these investments, we’re going to have to get serious about cutting back on those things that would be nice to have but we can do without," but student advocates, like Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, were quick to show their displeasure. "It is regrettable that the administration is proposing to maintain Pell by making cuts to other student aid programs that provide much needed funds to students," he said.

The information above merely scratches the surface (check out Inside Higher Ed’s article for all details) but it’s enough to get the conversation started. What do you think of the proposed budget? Will the changes impact your ability to pay for school? Would you propose a different course of action?

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Scholarship Scam Spotting 101

February 16, 2011

Scholarship Scam Spotting 101

by Alexis Mattera

Applying for scholarships requires hard work, creativity and time...not boatloads of cash, frustration and empty promises. Each year, however, students are duped into ponying up exorbitant application fees for scholarships they aren’t even guaranteed to win. This is just plain WRONG, people – scholarships are supposed to be free money for college! – and while we’re betting you’ve already checked out our pages on scholarship scam prevention, the Washington Post recently published some refresher info:

  • Filling out the FAFSA is 100-percent free and you can do it either online or on paper. If you would like to fill it out online, be sure your search terms are correct: A seemingly small typo like "FASFA" can direct you to sites that ask you to pay to file...and the forms they have are sometimes the wrong ones.
  • It's legal for for-profit companies to charge for providing scholarship information but it's illegal for them to collect fees but never provide the information, misrepresent themselves as government officials or guarantee they'll get the student full funding for college.
  • Voice any concerns about an organization to a high school or college counselor; they've been there and done that and can point you to the truth.
  • If you are alerted that you're a finalist for a contest you've never entered or if credit card/banking information is requested online, go no further unless you are positive the organization is legit.
  • Don't give in to anything branded as a "limited time offer" or "exclusive opportunity." They're just high-pressure sales tactics.
  • Investigate the success stories presented at seminars. These so-called "satisfied customers" could have been paid to give glowing recommendations so ask for a list of at least three local families who used the service and contact them directly to make sure the organization delivered on its promises.
  • If you do find a legitimate organization that requires payment, get in writing how much the service costs, what exactly the company will do and the refund policy.

College is expensive enough so save those application fees for books and other college expenses: All Scholarships.com’s services – from the scholarship search and college matchmaker to financial aid information and college preparation tips – are available completely free of charge. You’re welcome!

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Why Students Drop Out of College

New MSU Study Cites Key Risk Factors

February 17, 2011

Why Students Drop Out of College

by Alexis Mattera

It may seem counterintuitive to work hard throughout high school, score well on your standardized tests, get accepted to your first-choice college and wrangle enough financial aid to pay for your education only to drop out before graduation but it does happen. What causes this academic 180? That’s what researchers at Michigan State University revealed in a new study.

The team, led by MSU assistant professor of psychology Tim Pleskac, used a mathematical model to analyze surveys from 1,158 freshmen at 10 U.S. colleges and universities. The surveys listed 21 "critical events" and students were asked whether any of the events happened to them in the previous semester; later, the students surveyed were asked whether or not they planned to drop out. Among the top risk factors reported were depression, loss of financial aid, tuition increases, unexpected poor marks and roommate issues. Other "critical events" like family deaths, failure to get into a specific program of study, significant bodily injury and addiction, however, were less likely to impact a student’s decision to leave school. "Prior to this work, little was known about what factors in a student’s everyday life prompt them to think about withdrawing from college," Pleskac said. "We are now better suited to think about what students we should target in terms of counseling or other assistance to help them work through these issues."

Would any of the factors listed above effect your choice to drop out of college? If they did, do you think you would eventually return to obtain your degree?

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College Costs (Literally) an Arm and a Leg

Parent Offers to Become Live Cadaver to Pay Off Children's Student Loans

February 28, 2011

College Costs (Literally) an Arm and a Leg

by Alexis Mattera

There's been a lot of talk about Harvard lately – its reinstatement of early action, a graduate winning the Best Actress Oscar, another Winklevoss lawsuit against Facebook, etc. – but this next story doesn’t fall within the boundaries of its ivy-covered campus...and not that far away, either. An arm’s length, shall we say?

Desperate to pay off their children's $20,000 worth of student loans, a Boston-area parent recently posted on Craigslist that he or she was willing to sell their body parts to combat the mounting debt. The posting did not include a name, gender or exact location but listed the "live cadaver" was 5 feet 10 inches tall, 200 pounds and had all organs in working order. "If you eliminate my children's student loans, I will give you my life!" the poster wrote. "Take my blood, take my plasma. Drill into my brain, my leg, my arm. Tap my heart, my liver, my kidney," the poster wrote, adding, "I am very very serious."

There are a lot of options out there to limit exorbitant loans (scholarships, grants and fellowships, to name a few) and consolidation can simplify the loan repayment process by allowing the borrower to combine several types of federal student loans and repayment schedules into one...but selling off one’s body parts piece by piece? We’re all for finding interesting ways to pay for school but this is just plain crazy. Would you ever consider taking this route to keep loan collectors at bay?

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University of Lies

College Website Found to Be Fake

March 1, 2011

University of Lies

by Alexis Mattera

Application fees, the non-refundable sums required to get your grades, test scores, essays and extracurriculars considered by a higher education institution, are often the first college-related expenses many hopeful students incur. The costs can add up, especially for students applying to multiple schools, but it’s a necessary sacrifice to start their collegiate careers off on the right foot. That's unless the check is made out to the University of Redwood.

A quick glance at the college’s website doesn't raise cause for concern – the photos are pretty, the mission statement is clear and the faculty directory is thorough – but a little digging revealed the information is copied nearly verbatim from the official site of Oregon’s Reed College. Reed's Kevin Myers said he had found serious mention of the University of Redwood on Asian higher-education blogs, a calculated move given the increase of Chinese attending college in the U.S. in recent years. He suspects the site is part of a scheme to collect application fees from prospective students in Hong Kong and Asia; after receiving said payments, chief technology officer Martin Ringle said "a shrewd scammer could wait several weeks, then issue a rejection letter, and the student would never know."

The good news is that Reed is fighting back. Go Daddy, the company hosting the University of Redwood site, shut it down but quickly re-enabled it once the "allegedly infringing material" (faculty member bios (which a Reed professor discovered) and school history, for example) was edited out. Ringle and Myers, however, said the infringement continues unabated, and Reed will continue its legal effort to squash the site for good.

We’ve written a fair amount about how to spot and protect against scholarship scams but this is the first we – or the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, for that matter – have ever heard of the copying of an entire school. Will this news change the way you research the schools you’re interested in?

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Sam Walton Community Scholarship Deadline Approaching!

This Scholarship of the Week is Due Next Monday

January 24, 2011

Sam Walton Community Scholarship Deadline Approaching!

by Alexis Mattera

Three grand can come in pretty handy for a lot of things but it’s especially vital for someone trying to figure out how to pay for college. If you’re a high school or home school senior, check out our Scholarship of the Week – the Sam Walton Community Scholarship – to ease three thousand financial worries.

To be eligible to apply for the Sam Walton Community Scholarship, an applicant must:
  • Be a graduating high school senior home school senior
  • Have at least a 2.5 cumulative high school GPA, and have taken either the ACT or SAT standardized tests
  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident of the United States
  • Not be a Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. employee or dependent of an employee
  • Demonstrate financial need by required documents
  • Plan to enroll in a two- or four-year U.S. college or university full-time undergraduate course of study (at least 12 college credit hours) in the fall semester. (The institution must be accredited and listed on the official website of the U.S. Department of Education with the exception of military academies; all school transfers are subject to accreditation approval.)

For more information on this college scholarship and countless others, try our free scholarship search today!

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Beware the Ides of March...and the New GRE Format

Changes Will Be Implemented August 1st

March 15, 2011

Beware the Ides of March...and the New GRE Format

by Alexis Mattera

Advice to heed today: Don’t leave your house if a soothsayer warns you not to, don’t run through the Tufts quad sans clothing and don’t study for the GRE using last year’s study guides.

Beginning on August 1st, graduate students to-be will make the acquaintance of the new Graduate Record Examination (aka the GRE). For those unfamiliar, the GRE is currently computer-adaptive and adjusts the difficulty of each successive problem based on the answer given to the previous question; the new version allows students to skip questions and return to them later (the computer just modifies the difficulty of the next part at the end instead), which prevents test-takers from losing time and could ultimately lead to a better overall score. As for the content, the writing section will include two pre-selected essay prompts that will require "more focused" responses, the math section will swap out a number of geometry problems for real-world data interpretation (bonus: an on-screen calculator will be accessible) and the verbal section will feature more reading comprehension but no more antonyms and analogies. GRE scoring will range from 130 to 170 rather than 200 to 800 per section but the cost of taking the test will hold steady at $160. There will also be changes to the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), but those won’t take place until June 2012.

What do you think of the changes to the GRE? For those who have taken the current version, which format appeals more to you? For those who are preparing, do you think you'll fair better, worse or the same when these changes debut?

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