September 4, 2008
For many students, the college experience can be a financial minefield. Even if they manage to avoid the lure of blowing their financial aid check on a plasma TV or a brand new car, there are thousands of other potential pitfalls. These include the credit card companies lining the main drag of campus offering free college t-shirts to anyone who signs up for their card; your first dorm or apartment to outfit and decorate; and then all of the opportunities for shopping, dining, and entertainment that a college town provides. And we haven't even gotten to the actual act of paying tuition yet! Even if your scholarship search was fruitful and you were able to find money for college, there's still the chance of overspending and winding up turning to less wise solutions to make it to the end of the term.
So how are students supposed to survive college without unnecessary credit card or student loan debt? Many schools are offering money management courses and one-on-one financial counseling services to help students be more judicious with their college funds. I can certainly think of some lessons I could've used as an undergrad, like "3 AM is not dinner time," its corollary, "espresso is not an adequate substitute for sleep," and of course, "you don't have to buy it just because it's on sale." Being forced to budget out just how much that 10-block drive to class (plus the 15 minutes of circling the "good" parking lot for a spot) actually cost me that last year of school would've also been helpful.
Now students at numerous colleges in several states can choose to educate themselves and avoid learning similar life lessons the hard way. Unfortunately, many of these programs go under-publicized and under-utilized, as budgeting honestly isn't fun, and many students may be afraid that setting a budget means giving up their college lifestyle, staying at home, and having to go on a budget diet. However, the Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that students can benefit immensely from financial literacy courses, and anecdotal evidence suggests these students take on less debt and have an easier time transitioning into the "real world" after graduation. Courses are often offered to incoming freshmen or graduating seniors, with counseling services typically being made available to any students currently attending college. If you're interested in finding out about how to stretch your college fund, student loans, or scholarship money further, check with your college to see if they offer any of these services.
September 5, 2008
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is preparing a lawsuit against Goal Financial, the student loan company that also runs the website eStudentLoan.com. According to the New York Times, Goal Financial stands accused of misleading consumers about loans, and offering them gifts such as iPods to influence their choice in lenders. While other lenders accused of dishonest practices have repented and agreed to follow a code of conduct outlined by Cuomo, Goal Financial has not, hence the pending lawsuit.
Goal is accused of misrepresenting loan terms to promote private loans over low-interest federal Stafford loans, as well as failing to disclose their ownership of eStudentLoan on the latter's website. The company also allegedly failed to disclose that all lenders listed on the eStudentLoan loan rate comparison feature were companies that had paid a commission to Goal Financial.
While Cuomo's investigation of the student lending industry has undoubtedly made borrowing less risky, students should still proceed with caution and carefully vet the quality of the lender they choose to use. If you need to take out student loans to help fund your education, be sure to do your research. First and foremost, explore all federal student financial aid opportunities. Start by completing the FAFSA on the Web and visiting with your school's financial aid office. It would also be beneficial to conduct an extensive scholarship search at this point, as well, since you never know where you might find money for college.
If you do find you need to borrow a private loan, research several lenders, and if your college's financial aid office maintains a preferred lender list (which should consist of lenders that are actually preferable thanks to Cuomo's earlier investigations) take a copy. Begin evaluating your options, but be wary of anything that sounds gimmicky or too good to be true. Carefully research any loan before you apply.
Find out which banks have the best rates and repayment options, and whether you'll need a cosigner to get approved. Apply to one loan at a time and give yourself plenty of time for processing, since many student loans need to be approved by the bank and certified by your college before funds can be disbursed. Many lenders will let you know within a day or two whether your has been pre-approved or rejected so that you can move on to the next application if necessary.
September 10, 2008
Despite the student loan credit crunch that has been repeatedly making headlines this year, students and parents in several New England states had little to no trouble finding money for college this fall, according to a survey conducted by the New England Board of Higher Education.
The survey asked financial aid administrators at 214 colleges and universities to assess the level of difficulty students faced finding financial aid, as well as the effectiveness of the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act passed by Congress earlier this year to ensure continued availability of Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) funds.
The survey found an increase in students borrowing unsubsidized Stafford Loans, as well as no major concerns over the availabilty of those funds through FFELP lenders. It also showed that more families have borrowed Federal PLUS Loans this year, possibly due to recent changes that allow families to defer payments until after students graduate. These changes seem to have mostly made up for the decreased availability of private student loans. However, some financial aid administrators are still concerned over continued availability of student loans, and caution that families may face difficulties making tuition payments in future semesters.
Based on this information, it appears there's little reason to put your college plans on hold, but you might still want to devote an increased amount of time to finding scholarships. While it looks like students are still able to pay for school, changes in the student loan landscape may still leave some students without a plan B for covering college costs if their initial plans fall through.
Really, though, financial aid advice hasn't changed much. Now, as always, planning ahead is key. As always, a good college financing strategy involves doing the following: conduct a scholarship search, take time to complete the FAFSA, learn about and take advantage of all possible federal student financial aid, apply for university scholarships and campus-based aid, and only then consider applying for a private student loan.
September 11, 2008
Seven student loan lending agencies agreed to a settlement with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo Tuesday, following an investigation by Cuomo's office into potentially deceptive lending practices. This is the latest group of lenders to settle in an inquiry that's been going on for nearly a year, after accusations first came to public attention last October.
The seven lenders were Nelnet Inc., Campus Door Inc., GMAC Bank, NextStudent Inc., Xanthus Financial Services Inc., EduCap Inc. and Graduate Loan Associates LLC. The lenders agreed to abide by a code of conduct drafted by Cuomo's office, and also jointly donated $1.4 million to a fund established to educate students about financial aid processes.
A number of lenders were being investigated for deceptive marketing practices that included sending out mailings that looked like they came from the federal government or a student's current lender, offering gifts such as iPods or gift cards to entice students to sign up for their loan, and advertising loan rates for which the majority of borrowers would not qualify. Lenders agreed to cease deceptive lending practices and to include a disclaimer in all loan offers that will encourage students to exhaust all other options for federal student financial aid before borrowing a private loan.
September 16, 2008
As many as 29 percent of state university students and 43 percent of community college students require some amount of remedial education upon enrolling in college, according to the results of a study by the group Strong American Schools. The report, entitled "Diploma to Nowhere" was released Monday, and addresses the financial costs of remedial education (as high as $2000-2500 per student), as well as the psychological impact on students.
The study stresses the necessity of appropriate college preparation for students, which includes taking challenging courses and learning study skills in high school. The results clearly indicate that good grades and the basic college preparatory high school curriculum are not always an indicator that students are ready to tackle the challenges of attending college. As many as four out of five students in remedial courses maintained a high school GPA of 3.0 or higher, showing that even those who did well in high school weren't prepared for the kind of work students should expect in college.
While the report encourages educational reform and high school curricula that more closely match college standards, change can be slow in coming. High school students beginning the college search should be aware of the possibility of struggling in school or even having their stay in college prolonged by extra course requirements. The earlier you start the college planning process, the better, so start pushing yourself as early as your freshman year. Enroll in the most challenging courses possible, such as Advanced Placement or dual-credit classes, especially in areas like English and math, and avoid just coasting through your last year or two of high school.
More challenging coursework can lead to a lower GPA, but your impressive resume, your reputation as a hard worker, and your improved reading, writing, math, and study skills will likely make up for any difference in the long run. Being more adept at math, science, and writing can also increase your chances of winning scholarships, as your skills outshine those of your competitors who took the easy way out.
September 19, 2008
In order to reduce the amount their students have to spend on textbooks, more and more professors are using course material that can be found for free. With the advent of sites such as Google Books, which serve as valuable and easily accessible sources of full-text works that are no longer copyrighted, students can get their course material for free, rather than having to shell out $15 or more for a brand new copy of a book originally published a century ago. I noticed this trend gaining momentum throughout my academic career, especially in courses geared towards graduate students.
This option to access older literature online and save money is nice, but it still leaves students who don't want to spend hours hunched over their computers with the task of tracking down a hard copy of the book on their own, especially since my professors, at least, never seemed to place bookstore orders for texts they knew we could find for free. Buying a copy requires forethought and printing the complete text of a 200-page essay can eat up a student's morning and their on-campus printing budget. This scenario too often leaves students with less than a week to find, read, annotate, and understand a lengthy reading assignment for class.
The University of Michigan has just taken a step to make procuring books for class easier. They have purchased and installed a machine, dubbed the "ATM of Books," that can print and bind a book in a few minutes at a cost to students of around $10 per copy. This isn't much more expensive than buying a used paperback online or in the bookstore and is much faster and more convenient.
The Espresso Book Machine has access to the school's database of pre-1923 books, as well as websites that offer works that are not copyrighted, such as open-source textbooks. Coupled with trends in making more course-related content available online, such as Stanford's recent move to place engineering and computer science course materials online, widespread use of the Espresso Book Machine could revolutionize the way students get textbooks.
This is nothing but good news for students: free digital course material, $10 bound copies of textbooks, and no worries about hunting all over for a book or printing a copy and losing pages. With the prospect of eventually spending as little as $40-100 on textbooks for a semester, students at the University of Michigan will be able to stretch their financial aid dollars further and dip less into their college savings for books. As online libraries of free textbooks continue to expand, hopefully other schools will invest in similar tools, cutting down on students' book expenses and making it a little bit easier to pay for school.
September 24, 2008
The National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC) plans to address questions of early decision admission and the role of standardized testing in the admission process in panels during their annual conference this week. In preparation, they have released the results of a survey showing that early decision admissions had begun to fall, as well as commentary on the state of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and American College Test (ACT) in college admissions.
A special panel convened by NACAC released a statement suggesting that standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT may play too prominent a role in college admissions. While the report emphasizes that standardized tests can play an important role in the admissions process, especially in helping students choose which schools may be a good fit for them, it also declared the importance of avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach to testing. This position represents a shift from previous NACAC commissions' stances on standardized testing.
Another survey released this week by NACAC highlighted other shifts in college admissions, namely a slowing of the increase in early decision admissions as compared to previous years. Many schools are giving students going through the college application process the option to make a binding committment to attend that college if accepted in a process known as early decision. Critics argue that this puts poorer students who are unwilling to commit to attending a college without receiving their financial aid package at a distinct disadvantage in being considered for admission. While many colleges still are embracing the idea, this shift in figures could show some hesitation on the part of admission offices or students regarding the still-controversial issue.
Additionally, the survey illustrated some doubt regarding a new practice of priority applications, which are sent to students based on a variety of criteria and are already partially completed. Priority admission applications are sent by the school, rather than requested by the student, and are typically sent out based on prior contact with the admissions office, test scores, or geographic location. Only 4% of these forms, which occasionally come with an application fee waiver, are sent to students based on economic status.
Other survey results showed that more students seem concerned with ensuring they make the right college choice, and that most students who apply to schools are given the opportunity to go to college. An increasing number of students are applying to more than seven colleges, and that about the same number of students as the previous year applied to more than three schools. Nationally, 68 percent of students who apply to colleges are admitted. Online applications also continue to gain popularity.
September 25, 2008
In the wake of the credit crisis of the past year, innumerable articles have been written about the impact on the student loan industry, as several student lending agencies have been forced to stop offering federal and private loans to students or at least scale back their operations considerably. Credit requirements have gotten more stringent for students whose lenders are still in business, and taking out a student loan is an even more time-consuming and uncertain process now than ever.
At the same time, the economic downturn that's accompanied the credit crisis is highlighting the difficulty students are facing repaying all of these student loans--loans they're being told now that they're lucky to get. Many students feel caught in a difficult position. Do they take out student loans, go horribly in debt, but get to ultimately pursue a fulfilling degree and a potentially more fulfilling career? Do they work full-time through school and take longer to get the degree and spend less time in their dream job? Or do they minimize debt by going to work sooner in a field that's easier to break into and requires less education?
According to the results of a survey published in the Boston Business Journal, that first option might not even be an option for many students. An online poll of 336 recent college grads revealed that 47 percent said that their career pursuits were influenced by their need to make student loan payments, while 25 percent reported putting future education plans on hold in order to minimize debt. While these numbers are the results of only one web survey, they still send a pretty clear message that avoiding student loans is a good idea when trying to pay your way through school.
Congress is advocating the wider adoption of college savings accounts, such as 529 plans, and more universities are retooling their financial aid packages to benefit more needy students and rely more heavily on scholarships than on student loans. Many of the nation's top colleges have made a commitment to helping all accepted students afford to attend, and other schools are offering larger scholarship awards to students who most need them, as well. For example, Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia just launched the Starfish Initiative, where anonymous donations are used to cover the remaining tuition balances of deserving seniors who might otherwise need to take out a substantial private loan or leave college.
But institutional aid and college savings accounts aren't the only options available to students. A vast number of scholarship opportunities are out there, and despite the scholarship myths you may have heard, you can fund a substantial portion of your college education with such sources. So start your scholarship search early and be persistent. While soaring college costs and a weak economy may make it harder to pay for school, they don't mean you have to stay home or be overwhelmed by debt. Do your research and find out what resources are available to help fund your education.
October 1, 2008
October 2, 2008
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