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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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Student Loan Bill Approved by House

Mar 23, 2010

by Administrator

In addition to the expansion of health coverage for Americans, another significant change has been made and another major economic issue addressed with the termination of the bank-based system of federally subsidized student loans.

With a vote of 220 to 211, the controversial bill, HR 4872, was passed by the House on Sunday and is expected to gain Senate approval within a few days. The bill, known best for the health-care provisions it contained, also addressed and closed the twenty year debate over whether to include private lenders in the federal student loan system.

Most of the savings expected to be derived from this major change (estimated at approximately $61 billion over the next decade) will be used for increasing the value of the Pell Grant for low-income students. Historically black colleges and community colleges are also expected to benefit from the savings this program offers. The House passed a similar bill in September of 2009, but didn't garner enough votes to pass the Senate. This time around, it was packaged with the health-care measure, and the amount dedicated to education has been reduced.

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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Student Loan Bill May Become Part of Health Care Package

Mar 12, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

To compensate for stalled negotiations on both health care legislation and a bill that would overhaul the country's student loan program and improve college students' access to federal aid, Democratic leaders proposed a solution yesterday that would move both of those hot-button issues forward—combine them, and pass them as one.

Both the comprehensive health care bill, which would guarantee health insurance to 30 million uninsured Americans, and the student loan bill, which would replace private lending with direct lending through the government and increase Pell Grant maximums, have faced opposition as Democrats work to pass both through Congress before the November mid-term elections. To kill two birds with one stone, Democratic legislators proposed bundling the two bills into one last night, not only to give the proposals a better chance at passage, but to keep them alive long enough for a vote by the full Senate and House.

An article in the New York Times yesterday describes the strong support a dual measure already has among the Democrats, suggesting that adding the student loan bill to the more expansive health care legislation would improve the health care bill's chances at passage. (Providing college students with more access to federal aid is undoubtedly more popular and less controversial than crafting a reasonable health care bill.)

The student loan bill had already passed in the House. Recent predictions have the government saving about $67 billion by going to direct lending; that new funding would go toward Pell Grants and other education programs. (A rise in the number of people attending college and seeking aid in the weak economy has raised the projected cost of new Pell Grants to $54 billion from $40 billion, according to the New York Times.) The student loan bill has been a consistent goal of President Obama's, as lenders have come under fire for a lack of oversight,  rising student loan default rates, and contributing to excessive debt among college students. Effectively, the bill would put an end to direct-to-student private loans, which students can borrow without even informing the financial aid office, and which can be taken out for more than the student’s cost of attendance for the academic year.

The private student loan industry has obviously not been very supportive of the bill, and Republicans have questioned whether giving the government control over the student loan industry is really a wise choice.

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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Know Your Tax Benefit Options This Filing Season

Feb 3, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Whether you're an independent filing your own taxes, or a dependent whose parents or guardians are covering a good portion of your tuition, it's a good idea to be aware of the tax credits and tax benefits you and your family members could be eligible for this filing season.

The federal government has estimated that up to 2 million tuition-paying Americans will receive as much as $2,500 back on their taxes when they file in both 2010 and 2011 by taking advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit. That credit was established through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The American Opportunity Tax Credit, which can be claimed for tuition and certain fees you pay for higher education in 2009 and 2010, is targeted at low- and middle-income families, and isn't available to single filers earning more than $90,000 a year or couples earning more than $180,000. Even those who owe no taxes due to how little they make may receive refunds of up to $1,000.

The American Opportunity Tax Credit expanded (and renamed) the already existing Hope Credit. How did the two compare? 

  • The Hope Credit applied only to the first two years of college. The American Opportunity Tax Credit can be claimed for expenses for the first four years of post-secondary education.
  • The American Opportunity Tax Credit is a $700 increase over the Hope Credit.
  • The term "qualified tuition and related expenses" has been expanded to include expenses used for "course materials," which means books, supplies, and equipment needed for a course of study.
  • A qualified, nontaxable distribution from a Section 529 plan during 2009 or 2010 now includes the cost of the purchase of any computer technology, equipment, or Internet access and related services, if such purchases will be used by the beneficiary of the plan and the beneficiary's family during the time those beneficiaries are enrolled in an institution of higher education.

Other important facts before you file for an American Opportunity Tax Credit:

  • The credit is claimed using Form 8863, attached to Form 1040 or 1040A.
  • You have to choose between tax credits. You cannot claim the tuition and fees tax deduction in the same year that you claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit or the lifetime learning credit. (You should choose which one will offer you the best refund. It's fine to take advantage of all of your options.)
  • 60 percent of the American Opportunity Tax Credit is nonrefundable, so if your credit exceeds your tax, the difference isn't refunded to you.

Make sure you and your family are prepared this tax season, because the federal government does offer perks to going to - and paying for - higher education.

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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FAFSA Moves Toward Simpler Form

Jan 5, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

It's January, which means it's time to start thinking about completing a new FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) for the 2010-2011 school year. This can be a long, complicated process for parents and students, but the Department of Education has begun taking steps to make the form easier to complete.

In a presentation to high school students and school counselors in Washington, DC today, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other officials demonstrated the 2010 FAFSA, which went online January 1. While the paper form remains roughly the same length, at 107 questions, changes have been made to the online application to allow applicants to skip several questions that don't apply to them. A few other changes have also been made to make the website easier to navigate and the form easier to complete. These steps will hopefully speed up students' application processes and reduce confusion.

Progress is also being made on syncing the FAFSA and tax information from the IRS. In late 2009, the Department of Education announced that beginning in 2010, some students would be able to access a new tool that would allow them to import their 2008 tax information into a 2009-2010 FAFSA. The tool is expected to go live later this month, with work continuing on making the feature available to everyone.

According to Nextgov, one of the main barriers still remaining is a conflict between state FAFSA deadlines and the dates 2009 tax information will be available on the IRS website. Currently, previous year tax information goes online in the middle of the year, after many state deadlines have passed for FAFSA filing. The Department of Education and the IRS are working to find a solution to this problem to make the data transfer tool more widely useful. Other tweaks are likely to be made once the pilot program gets underway.

Legislation currently in Congress may further simplify the FAFSA by eliminating additional questions that many deem unnecessary. While the financial aid application process is likely to remain long and complicated for the foreseeable future, concrete steps are being taken to make it shorter and simpler, and it appears the movement is gaining momentum.

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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FAFSA Available Starting Tomorrow, Jan. 1

Dec 31, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

One of the most important steps you'll need to take in the financial aid application process is applying for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The Department of Education starts accepting the FAFSA Jan. 1 of each year, which just so happens to be tomorrow. So start your new year off right by filing that financial aid document, or filing a renewal FAFSA if this isn't your first time. State financial aid deadlines fall as early as February, so it's best to get a head start and know how much funding you can expect come next fall.

Both the FAFSA and renewal FAFSA are available online through Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education. Completing the FAFSA online will speed up processing and leave less time for you to worry about how much financial aid you'll be receiving. Remember that it doesn't cost anything to fill out your FAFSA - the FAFSA is free - and some agencies will charge you for filling the application out for you. Once you complete the online form, you’ll be able to check its status, make any corrections as needed, and print your Student Aid Report once that is ready. (Your Student Aid Report summarizes what you've filled out on your FAFSA, and provides you with an Expected Family Contribution, or the total you and your family would be expected to come up with to fund your education.) If you aren’t comfortable filling out your FAFSA online, you can submit a paper form, but it does take longer to process than the online form.

In order to complete your FAFSA, you'll need the following:

  • your Social Security number
  • your driver’s license number (if you have one)
  • your bank statements and records of investments (if you have any)
  • your records of untaxed income (if you have any)
  • your most recent tax return and W2s (2008 for the 2009-2010 FAFSA)
  • all of the above from your parents if you are considered a dependent
  • an electronic PIN to sign the form online

We have a number of resources available to those filling out their FAFSAs and preparing to apply for federal aid. Browse through our site so that you know exactly where to begin, what to expect, and how to file the application successfully, because if you do make mistakes you may delay the processing of your FAFSA. Happy New Year!

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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Tool Syncing FAFSA with IRS Data to Debut in January

Dec 4, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

For students used to syncing just about every website they visit with Facebook, the amount of manual data entry involved in applying for financial aid can seem completely alien and unnecessary. In fact, many students who would qualify for aid either fail to complete the FAFSA or do so incorrectly, due to the confusing and time-consuming nature of the application process.

Members of the higher education community were concerned about this, as well, so when Congress renewed the Higher Education Act last year, they included a provision to update the FAFSA to make it easier for families to complete. The proposed changes will go into effect in 2010, and some students could be seeing a simpler FAFSA as soon as January.

Under the new system, students completing the FAFSA on the Web will be able to automatically fill in their FAFSA with relevant information from their previous year's tax return. Starting in January, select users who click on "Fill Out Your FAFSA" will be asked if they'd like to access the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to do so. From there, they can enter their Federal Student Aid PIN then be taken to the IRS website where they can retrieve their tax information and click "Transfer Now" to automatically fill in the applicable lines on the FAFSA form. Dependent students will have to repeat this process for their parents' information.

While it still involves multiple steps and websites, the new process is a significant improvement over the current process of hunting for your tax return, begging your parents for their tax returns, sorting through pages of numbers and instructions, and carefully transcribing numbers from one form to another each year. The Department of Education hopes that the more automated and streamlined FAFSA will reduce errors and encourage more students to apply for federal student financial aid.

Only a small group of students who are filing a FAFSA for the current academic year will see the new FAFSA completion options in January. The option will be available for all FAFSA filers for 2010-2011 in July. Although you may be stuck filling out your FAFSA the old way next year, you can at least take some comfort in the knowledge that this will be the last time.

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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The First Step Doesn’t Have To Be the Hardest

Nov 17, 2009

by Derrius Quarles

Greetings, my name is Derrius Lamar Quarles and I am currently a freshman majoring in psychology with a biology and public health minor at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. I am originally from Chicago, Illinois and went to high school not too far from Barack Obama’s home. Recently I have been featured on CNN, BET, and in the Chicago Tribune discussing various topics ranging from my journey as a foster child in Chicago to my matriculation at Morehouse College. However, the most exciting and acclaimed topic has been my success in applying for and winning scholarship money—$1,145,000 in total.

This accomplishment has won me the titles “Million Dollar Man” and “Million Dollar Scholar,” titles that I accept gratefully and with a sense of responsibility to help others achieve their goals of attending and paying for college. I can vividly remember writing the goal “Win a million dollars in scholarship money” on a sheet of notebook paper and having many people help me manifest that goal. I hope not only to help high school students learn how to apply for scholarships and win them, but to inspire middle school students to attend college, motivate elementary school students to become scholars, and encourage preschool students to become whatever they want to be. We are all born with the ability to capture our dreams, but few ever learn how to synthesize their dreams into goals, which, unlike dreams, are achievable. It’s like the concept of potential and kinetic energy. We all have potential energy (dreams), but potential energy on its own cannot do any work. We have to learn how to apply force (turn dreams into reality) so that our own potential energy can be turned into kinetic energy that can help us accomplish our goals.

A few years ago I dreamed of going to college, knowing nothing of what I needed to do in order to gain acceptance and how much college would cost. I avidly believe that if I did not make the decision to turn that dream into a goal by learning about the requirements, tailoring my class schedule to make it more rigorous, doing well in my classes and, most of all, asking for help from others, I would not be attending Morehouse College. For many, the decision to turn a dream into a goal is the hardest step, but it does not have to be, and neither does making the decision to turn your dream of paying for college into a goal. Start out by researching which colleges you would like to attend and how much they will cost. Once you have done this, research whether the institutions offer scholarships for such things as academics, community service, sports, leadership, coming from a disadvantaged background, or residing in a certain state. All institutions will offer some form of aid for their applicants, so make sure you are aware of any scholarships or grants you are eligible for from the college you plan on attending. The next step is completing your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which becomes available Jan. 1 of every year. After that, you should start locating other resources for searching and applying for financial aid, including your high school and free online scholarship databases such as Scholarships.com. Once you start doing these things, you will actually be turning your dream into a goal and you will soon realize that the first step does not have to be the hardest.

About the Author:

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 a 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 first in a series of posts Derrius will write for Scholarships.com on how he was able to fund his education, along with advice about the scholarship application process.

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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Survey Shows Students Know Too Little About College Aid

Oct 22, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Can college students correctly answer basic questions about federal student financial aid? Researchers from CALPIRG, the California Public Interest Research Group, sought to find out, asking California community college students three questions about financial aid. The results of the survey were published this week. The majority of students did not do so well, with over half of students answering one or zero questions correctly.

How would you do? Students were asked to say whether the following three statements were true or false (the questions below are paraphrased from the report):

  1. I have to go to school full time to be eligible for financial aid.
  2. Taking more classes per term could increase my financial aid award.
  3. Financial aid can be used to cover expenses beyond tuition and fees, such as living expenses.

The answers:

  1. False. You do not have to go to school full time to be eligible for financial aid. Students enrolled at least half-time are able to apply for and receive federal student financial aid, including Pell Grants and Stafford Loans. Only 47 percent of students surveyed answered this correctly.
  2. True. If your tuition goes up, your aid award can go up, especially when it comes to federal work-study and low-interest student loans. Additionally, students who move from half-time to three-quarter-time or full-time enrollment can see an increase in Pell Grant awards and also potentially become eligible for more college scholarships and grants. Half of students answered this correctly.
  3. True. Financial aid can be used to cover college expenses including food, rent, car maintenance, books, computers, and other essentials. These items are included in the living expenses portion of the cost of attendance figure used by the financial aid office to calculate your aid eligibility. Students surveyed did the best on this question, with 54 percent answering correctly.

Knowing About Aid Can Boost College Success: At this point, it's becoming fairly well-documented that not enough community college students apply for federal student financial aid, despite the fact that many are eligible. While some students don't apply because their schools do not participate in federal aid programs, others don't apply because they don't know they're eligible for aid. The results of the CALPIRG survey suggest that this is a fairly substantial group of students. Namely, 13 percent of students surveyed didn't get a single question right, 44 percent of students answered only one question correctly, and only 2 percent of students who did not apply for aid got all 3 questions, compared to 10 percent of students overall.

Additionally, the survey shows that many students are loan-averse, with almost half of students saying they would drop a class or an entire semester than take out a student loan to cover books or other expenses, and students showing nearly as much willingness to put their books on a credit card than to take out a federal loan for books.  A full 57 percent of surveyed students saying they would only borrow as a last resort or would not borrow for college at all. With additional research suggesting that many community college students are not balancing work and college effectively and that their reluctance or inability to borrow is hurting their chances of graduating, more financial aid education is important.

Community college students are not the only college students who may need help learning about financial aid. If you found that you answered one or more question incorrectly, you may want to review information about paying for school. We have a wide variety of student resources available that can help you learn about financial aid programs and requirements and maximize the amount of aid you receive.

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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Community College Students Need More Access to Federal Loans

Oct 9, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Although community colleges nationwide have seen significant boosts in enrollment, a report released yesterday suggests many will be forced to put their educations on hold or find new sources of funding if their institutions continue blocking access to federal student loans.

The Project on Student Debt released the report, and despite their stance on promoting that students take on as low a student loan burden as possible, they say community college students are at risk for taking on riskier private student loans or watching their grades slip as they take on more work hours to cover gaps in funding because they aren't able to apply for and receive federal student loans. About one in 10 students in 31 states surveyed don't have access to federal student loans, and in some states, more than 20 percent of students can't get the federal loans. Minority students have less access to federal loans than other student groups, as the report found many minority students attending community colleges that don't participate in the federal student loan program.

Why have many community colleges moved away from offering federal student loans? In an uncertain economy, the answer is risk, according to the report. Defaults on student loans have begun to rise among not only community college students, but among all college students over the last few years. The report always says many community college administrators believe students shouldn't have to borrow to attend their schools. Tuition is lower, they say, and if students are saddled with large amounts of debt now, they could hurt their chances for qualifying for low interest rates and federal student loans if they were to transfer to a more expensive, four-year institution.

But some students do need the additional funding even at a low-cost option like a community college, especially in the current economic climate. According to survey results released by the National Council of State Directors of Community Colleges last month, about half of the nation's community colleges are expecting budget cuts and midyear reductions in their state appropriations. Many administrators in that survey also reported that stimulus money provided by the Obama administration went toward meeting existing budget deficits, and that they would be forced to raise tuition rates substantially despite record enrollments to make up for a lack of state funding. (The average tuition increase among community colleges is expected to be about 5 percent for the 2009-2010 academic year.)

While you should always exhaust your options with grants and scholarships first, student loans are often a necessary evil, and we have plenty of tips on how to go about applying for them and making sure you're getting the best rate possible. Never rely on credit cards to fund your education, or you'll run the risk of getting into more debt than you can handle not only post-graduation, but while you're still in school. Browse through our site for more information on your student loan options.

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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