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by Scholarships.com Staff

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:

  1. The benefits of higher education: Why go to college?
  2. The costs of college: What can you expect?
  3. How to pay for college: What's involved in funding your education?
  4. How to navigate the forms and processes involved: What exactly is a FAFSA?

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.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Students in three states could be seeing major changes in their funding for college in the next two school years. Colorado students attending religious schools will now have access to additional state funds, based on a U. S. Court of Appeals ruling that overturned a state law limiting funding to students attending "pervasively sectarian" institutions. Colorado Christian University successfully appealed a state decision to deny its students access to state financial aid programs based on the university's emphasis on religion. Colorado also may be changing admissions and scholarship criteria at state universities. If Amendment 46, an anti-affirmative action initiative passes in November, the state will have to do away with all educational programs designed to benefit minorities specifically.

Additionally, faced with an inability to fund all of the students who qualify for TEXAS grants, the state of Texas is looking at increasing eligibility requirements to target grants at higher-performing students, instead of simply high-need students, according to a Dallas News article.

Meanwhile, private colleges and universities in Wisconsin plan to ask the state for a $4 million increase in aid to help students with the greatest financial need afford college in the 2009-2010 school year, a plan the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel backs. 


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Brazos Higher Education Service Corporation, Inc., the fourth largest holder of guaranteed student loans and the largest nonprofit loan provider, will not be able to issue new student loans to college students this fall. The company had initially announced in March that it would suspend providing Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) student loans, but after emergency legislation passed this summer to help FFELP lenders, it looked like Brazos may be able to stay in the game. However, they recently issued a news release stating they would not be able to provide new loans to students this fall, citing the short amount of time between the passage of the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act and fall semester loan disbursement dates. "We have simply run out of time to secure financing to disburse loans as soon as they are needed," said Brazos CEO Murray Watson.

In another blow to many families' pocketbooks, the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA), the state's nonprofit student loan agency, also announced that it would be forced to suspend its student loan services in the fall. With continued uncertainty in the availability of FFELP Stafford Loans and private student loans, now more than ever students are encouraged to keep in touch with their financial aid offices, and also to explore alternate ways to find money for college.  Many universities and state governments are continuing to look at adding new grant programs, with North Dakota being the latest to introduce legislation to provide a new $2000 state grant to its residents attending college in-state.

In addition to grants, scholarships remain excellent resources to pay for school.  Students can conduct a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com to find out instantly which scholarship opportunities may be open to them.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

While a change in or loss of employment can be a powerful motivator for many people to go to college to learn new skills and gain new credentials, funding your education can seem impossible with no steady source of income.  At the same time, with a deepening recession and a still-growing unemployment rate, the job market is not favorable for many who have been laid off, especially those who lack a college degree.  Luckily, campus-based aid programs can help make attending college possible for the unemployed.  Several community colleges and at least one private college are now offering tuition discounts for members of their communities who were recently laid off.  Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, PA has been making headlines recently by announcing the revival of its program that waives tuition for prospective students who have recently lost their jobs.  The college has rolled out this tuition waiver in past recessions, allowing displaced workers to attend full-time or part-time and pay only student fees, which are currently $28 per credit.  Student financial aid is available to help especially cash-strapped students cover the cost of fees, as well.  Students are able to take 12 credits tuition-free each term, but must register after students paying full price.  A similar program is being offered at Bergen Community College in Paramus, NJ.  Reading Area Community College in Reading, PA also offers recently unemployed students a one-semester-only tuition waiver covering the cost of up to 13 credits.  All of these community college tuition waivers, as well as one offered by Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, MI are profiled in an article in Inside Higher Ed.  Other schools may offer discounted tuition or additional college scholarships or grants for students who have lost a major source of income due to the recession.  Nearly all colleges are able to offer some additional assistance if students or their parents are facing financial hardships, though, so don't assume college is out of reach just because you don't live in Southfield, MI or Paramus, NJ.  Talk to your financial aid office and see what they can do to help.  And taking some time to conduct a free college scholarship search couldn't hurt, either.

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by Scholarships.com Staff

Last month, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation revealed plans for a new grant program that would focus on improving rates of college completion for low-income students.  The first recipients of the grants were announced Tuesday, primarily consisting of organizations that either study or promote college preparedness and completion among the foundation's target groups.  While few of the grants awarded will translate directly into college scholarships for first-generation, low-income, or minority students, many of the programs receiving funding are intended to help these students go to college and create success.  Currently, only 25 percent of low-income students finish college, and each year high schools produce over 560,000 college-eligible graduates (most whose parents make less than $85,000 a year) who will fail to earn a college degree within 8 years, according to research cited by the New York Times.  The Gates Foundation's stated goal for this grant program is to eventually double the percentage of low-income students completing a college degree or certificate program by the age of 26.  The Chronicle of Higher Education explains that the grant initiative will have a three-pronged approach: "making the case to policy makers, educators, and business leaders about the need for increasing college-completion rates; accelerating success in remedial education; and ensuring that young people have the financial, social, and academic support to succeed in college."  Coupled with the existing Gates Millenium Scholarship Program, which helps disadvantaged and minority students pay for school, these Gates Foundation grants have the potential to ultimately make not only attending college, but earning a degree and achieving college goals possible for the majority of American high school graduates.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Amid all the bleak news about college affordability, family finances, and the economy in general, it's nice to hear something good every now and then.  And there is good news out there.  Despite financial hardships, many colleges are not only continuing to offer generous financial aid packages, but are actually expanding scholarships, grants, and tuition waivers for needy and deserving students.  As a taste of what's out there for students across the country, we're presenting a roundup of campus-based aid programs announced this week.  Conduct a college search on Scholarships.com to learn more about these and other schools committed to helping students enroll and stay enrolled.  While you're at it, be sure to start a free college scholarship search to find more ways to fund your education.

A number of cities, states, and universities offer promises, guarantees, or other commitments to cover four years' full tuition for financially needy or academically gifted students.  While a wave of these scholarship and grant programs were launched in financially better times, more are still being unveiled in the current economic climate.

Manchester College in Indiana has rolled out a "Triple Guarantee" that promises to make college more affordable and less stressful for its students.  Qualifying students are guaranteed a combination of federal, state, and institutional aid up to the total cost of tuition and mandatory fees for four years.  Students with a 3.3 GPA or higher who qualify for the Pell Grant are guaranteed full-tuition grant aid.  On top of paying tuition for four years for needy students, the college also guarantees four-year graduation for everyone who meets progress requirements, and will allow qualified students who need a fifth year to attend for free until they graduate.  Finally, the school also guarantees a year of free tuition for additional coursework or certifications for students who fail to find a job placement or a spot in graduate school within six months of graduation.

In a similar vein, St. John's University in New York is also offering a substantial tuition discount to unemployed alumni.  Graduates of St. John's who were laid off in the economic downturn can return to college to pursue a graduate degree for half-price.  Alumni will also receive free career counseling services and see their application fees waived for graduate programs.

Finally, Texans get multiple pieces of good news.  More students at Rice University will be able to graduate debt-free, as the university has expanded its no loan program to families making up to $80,000 per year.  Students with family incomes over the $80,000 threshhold who still qualify for need-based aid will not be asked to borrow more than $10,000 in student loans for four years.  Lamar University is also making college more affordable for Texans by unveiling the Lamar Promise, which will cover tuition and fees for all freshmen and transfer students who qualify as "dependent" students for federal aid whose families make less than $25,000 a year.  Students who make more are likely to also receive substantial financial aid packages.  Tuition assistance will come in the form of state, federal, and institutional financial aid.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

While many colleges are finding the funds to expand their financial aid offerings in response to economic woes, state higher education systems have not all been so fortunate.  Michigan and New Jersey are both considering cuts to their state scholarship awards, the Michigan Promise and New Jersey STARS programs.

In the face of a $1 billion budget shortfall, Michigan may have to do away with the state's promise scholarship, in addition to making several other tough financial decisions.  The Michigan Promise offers residents up to $4,000 per year towards tuition and fees at state colleges and universities.  If the proposed budget cut goes through, the class of 2009 will be the last group of high school students to have this award available for college.

When faced with budgetary woes, the state of New Jersey also turned to its state academic scholarship programs, New Jersey STARS and New Jersey STARS II.  However, rather than scrap the programs entirely, the legislature has voted to make them more selective.  STARS, which pays for tuition and fees at community colleges will now be available to only the top fifteen percent of New Jersey high school graduates, while STARS II, which helps STARS scholars go on to complete a four-year degree at a state college, will only be available to students who maintain a GPA of 3.25 or higher.  The amount of funding for STARS II, previously the total cost of tuition and fees, will now be capped at $7,000 per year.

>While cuts to college scholarships and grants are discouraging, they are still rare and are happening mainly at a state level, as states struggle to balance budgets in the face of a continuing recession.  Scholarship opportunities are still out there, and students who find their planned sources of funding drying up or diminishing due to the recession are encouraged to keep up their scholarship search.


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Graduating On Time: It CAN Be Done!

by Shari Williams

Before starting school, I didn’t know very much about college life but now that I will be in school a year beyond my expected graduation date, I know what I could have done to enter the real world sooner.

At Towson, all freshmen receive class schedules assembled by the school. I didn't think to change the times of the classes (which were all at 8 a.m. Monday through Friday), nor did I research the professors. This turned out to be a huge mistake – I never was a morning person and I got stuck with some of the worst professors at Towsonmy school – as was the number of credits (12). I figured my university that I pay thousands of dollars in tuition to attend would know best, so I stuck with only 12 credits from then on. It was another oversight: Even though 12 credits is considered as full time, 12 credits is not enough to take every semester in order to graduate in four years without taking winter or summer classes. I had to figure this out myself and adjusted my class schedule accordingly.

I’m not saying you need to overload yourself with academics and never leave your dorm room – that’s not a college experience to remember! – but I am saying take as many classes as you can comfortably manage. If you have the means or have grants and scholarships, you can always take some classes over the summer or the next semester as long as it falls accordingly to your academic plan. Simply do what is best for you.

Graduating a four-year program in five years is not the end of the world but it is not something that you should shoot for, either. If you can handle five or more classes each semester, take them; you can also consider enrolling in a few online courses or opting to take a few classes pass/fail. Take what you can handle so that you can succeed.

Shari Williams is a junior at Towson University with a double major in deaf studies and broadcast journalism and a minor in entertainment, media and film. With experience in public relations, a love for music and a passion for acting, she longs to be a jack of all trades. A Baltimore native, Shari is an avid traveler and opportunity seeker. She hopes to become the next face seen on the morning news or the voice heard over the radio.


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Lending a Helping Hand Pays Off

by Shari Williams

Community service is something most of us have done at one point or another. For some high schools, it’s a graduation requirement but I believe serving your community is vital whether it’s mandated or not. The good news for college students is that not only does community service help others but it can also translate into money for school.

One renown program is AmeriCorps. Several colleges and universities take part in this program, providing information and opportunities for students to get involved. Each year, AmeriCorps gives students opportunities to participate in year-long service-learning programs. If a certain amount of community service hours are acquired by the end of the year, the student is granted a stipend.

Another option is the Fulbright Program. Fulbright has an array of grants included in their U.S. Student Program to students who have studied or are studying foreign language, music, business, journalism and public health, to name a few. Fulbright is an opportunity geared more toward soon-to-be or recent college graduates looking for more experience in their fields. Students live outside the U.S. with most expenses paid and full or partial tuition awarded. A special program opportunity that Fulbright offers is the Fulbright-mtvU Awards, which provide four grants to recent graduates studying outside of the country who will conduct research on international music culture. If that sparks your interest, they have many more opportunities to apply for.

Both AmeriCorps and Fulbright are awesome opportunities and are great ways to gain valuable experience. For more information on Americorps or Fulbright, visit www.americorps.gov and US.FulbrightOnline.org, respectively, or contact your college.

Shari Williams is a junior at Towson University with a double major in deaf studies and broadcast journalism and a minor in entertainment, media and film. With experience in public relations, a love for music and a passion for acting, she longs to be a jack of all trades. A Baltimore native, Shari is an avid traveler and opportunity seeker. She hopes to become the next face seen on the morning news or the voice heard over the radio.


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The Politics of Student Government and Greek Council

by Thomas Lee

In my last article, I mentioned some of my experiences with college political parties and gave a little advice on how to choose one. While the two main choices are College Democrats or College Republicans, there are other ways one can get politically motivated on campus.

One way is joining Student Government Association or SGA as it is called at many schools. SGA is a student-led body that usually has a president and senators who help make operational or financial decisions that affect student life. I was an SGA senator my sophomore and junior years and helped plan the budget on the financial committee. SGA was allotted a certain amount of money from the main budget every three-month grant period and the finance committee would then receive proposals from all the organizations and departments on campus requesting money for specific functions. SGA then usually granted money to campus functions and student events that would promote campus life. It wasn’t a perfect process, but when has politics ever been?

Although it might not seem political at first glance, campus Greek life also plays a large role in making decisions that impact non-Greek students. At Methodist University, we instituted a Greek Council my junior year, as there ended up being a total of two fraternities and two sororities by the time I graduated. Greek Council was a governing body made of members from all four groups. They helped promote SGA events and raised money for community causes, such as helping soldiers. Ultimately, Greek Council influenced the university board of directors to approve the construction of a four-house Greek village. Academic Greek clubs such as Alpha Chi also may help in campus and community service.

So just because you don’t identify as a donkey or an elephant doesn’t mean you still can’t rock the vote on your campus!

Thomas Lee recently graduated from Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina with a BA in political science and journalism. His father is an ordained Church of God minister and his mother is a private school teacher; he also has two younger sisters. Thomas’ interests include politics, law, debate, global issues and writing fiction and he believes in a personal relationship to Jesus Christ and a strong commitment to biblical morality and ethics. He currently resides in Washington, North Carolina and will be attending law school in the near future.


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