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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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Attention Future FAFSA Filers: You Don't Need to Pay for Aid

Oct 1, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Soon enough, financial aid application season will be upon us, and you'll need to know how to navigate the process so that you don't make any mistakes that could delay that application, and your funding for college. The first and important step will be getting ready to fill out your FAFSA, which the U.S. Department of Education starts accepting starting Jan. 1 of each year. If you take away anything from this blog though, remember this: FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It should never cost you anything to fill it out.

The easiest way to fill out your FAFSA will be online, directly through the Department of Education's website at www.FAFSA.ed.gov. In your research you may find sites that charge to prepare your FAFSA for you, like www.FAFSA.com. That site, run by Student Financial Aid Services, Inc., charges a fee of $79.99 to prepare and advise you about your FAFSA, and while studies have shown that professional help through the financial aid process does lead to some positive results and more generous aid packages, with some time and effort you can become a FAFSA expert, too, without the added cost. Your intended college's financial aid office will also be happy to help you - for free - if you come across any roadblocks or feel like you've make a mistake when filing your FAFSA.

The Department of Education's site will walk you through the FAFSA application process, even allowing you to come back to your application if you find that you don't have all the necessary paperwork handy. While some students have reported feeling intimidated by the process, you won't be awarded financial aid from your college if you don't fill it out. And if you're uncomfortable filing the FAFSA online, you can also submit the paper form through the mail. (This could delay your application somewhat, though.)

Remember that you should never feel forced to pay to apply for and receive financial aid. Also avoid scholarship search engines that charge you to come up with a list of awards you may be eligible for, and awards that come with large processing fees attached. Scholarship scams are unfortunately a common occurrence, but if you know what to look for, you should have a positive financial aid experience. Browse through our site for more information on filing your FAFSA, and conduct a free scholarship search to see scholarships you may qualify for to supplement your financial aid package - all without paying a dime.

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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FAFSA , Federal Aid , Tips

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College Tips , FAFSA , Financial Tips , Tips

The State of Federal Student Financial Aid

Mar 3, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

With all the talk about spending and stimulus legislation and bailouts, it can be easy to lose track of what benefits taxpayers can actually expect to receive. Most likely, everyone knows that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, perhaps better known as “the stimulus,” will create jobs through funding “shovel-ready” projects and will put a little extra in paychecks through a tax rebate that will take effect this summer.  You probably also know that there’s also financial aid in there for education, but you may not be sure exactly what.

Frankly, so much federal legislation and talk of change has been floating around in the last two years that anyone who last paid a tuition bill as recently as 2007 probably doesn’t even recognize financial aid in 2009.  To help, we’ve prepared a breakdown of where student financial aid stands currently.

Pell Grants. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act increased the maximum Federal Pell Grant award from $4,731 for 2008-2009 to $5,350 for 2009-2010.  The maximum Pell award will go up again in 2010-2011 to $5,500 under this legislation.

The income threshold to qualify for federal grant programs also increased.  Now students with an expected family contribution (a number determined by completing the FAFSA) of up to $4,671 (up from $4,041 this year) can qualify for Pell grants.  They will not receive the whole award, but even the minimum award has increased—from $400 for full-time students in 2007-2008 to $976 for the same group in 2009-2010, due in part to the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which increased all Pell awards by $490.

Students qualifying for Federal Pell Grants can also pick up additional college funding through Academic Competitiveness Grants or SMART grants, which include Pell eligibility in their criteria.  Many non-federal college scholarships and grants also use Pell eligibility to determine awards, so the newly Pell-eligible will definitely want to do a scholarship search to see what’s out there.

Work-Study. More students will also see “federal work-study” on their financial aid award letter in 2009-2010 thanks to the economic stimulus legislation.  More money is available to work-study programs that allow students to get a part-time job on (or occasionally off) campus and count the income as financial aid.  Work-study programs provide great job opportunities for student workers, and since the money is given in the form of a paycheck, students can use these funds to pay their tuition bills or to cover living expenses.

Tax Benefits. One of the biggest perks of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is the creation of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which replaces the Hope Credit.  The tax benefits under Hope only went up to $1,800 and only could be taken for two years.  The American Opportunity Tax Credit can be used for four years, can fund up to $2,500 of college costs (100% of the first $2,000 plus 25% of the next $2,000, for a total of $2,500), and up to 40% is refundable, so people who don’t pay as much in taxes as they would qualify to receive in the credit can still get something.

Additionally, the income level at which the American Opportunity Tax Credit phases out is higher than the Hope credit, allowing individuals with incomes of up to $90,000 and married couples with incomes of up to $180,000 to take it.

Families will be able to start taking advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit on their 2009 taxes.

Other Benefits. Much more is included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  For example, students with 529 savings plans can now use that money to purchase a computer for school.  Additionally, states will receive billions of dollars over the next two years, with a portion of the money devoted specifically to funding projects at public institutions of higher education, as well preventing or reversing massive reductions in state education spending.

While student loans stayed the same in the stimulus, they did receive a boost in the fall through the continuation of the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act, as well as other recent legislation, including some new aid to lenders.

If you’d like to read more about how recent legislation has affected paying for college, our blog archives feature breakdowns of the 2007 College Cost Reduction Act, the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act, the 2008 Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act, the 2008 GI Bill, and more examples of what's going on with college in Congress.

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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Setting-Up a Scholarship 101

Sep 5, 2007

by Scholarships.com Staff

Many students are in desperate need of financial aid, and setting up a scholarship is a wonderful way to help them. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of a college education in 2006-2007 was $10,454 at public colleges and $26,889 at private ones. With Pell Grants capping at $4,310 this year, government money hardly cuts it. Here are a few things providers should think about when creating a scholarship.

One-Time Scholarship or Endowment?

An easy way to create a one-time or annual scholarship is to submit award information to a local scholarship foundation. It should be noted that annual scholarships (endowments) may require the provider to come up with more than $20,000. Ongoing scholarships are similar to bank accounts in that interest accrues on the initial deposit. The earned money then becomes an award. If winners are to receive a significant amount of money, a large initial donation may be required.

IRS watch

As long as scholarships are used for college expenses, they are usually tax-exempt. However, there are some IRS regulations, and they are particularly strict when it comes to corporate scholarship providers.

Who is eligible?

Scholarships are a great source of support to students who face difficult circumstances or enter underrepresented fields. Regardless of targeted recipients, providers should be clear on who they are looking for. There is no point in reading applications from students who won’t be considered. Criteria such as GPA, field of study, year in school etc. should be specific, but lax enough to give students a shot.

Advertising

With the help of Scholarships.com, advertising can be a cinch. Once a provider submits scholarship information, it will be made available to students who visit our site. To prevent providers from being inundated with applications from ineligible students, Scholarships.com will only show the scholarship to students who meet its eligibility criteria.

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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Federal Aid , Scholarships , Tips

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Perkins Loans

Aug 30, 2007

by Scholarships.com Staff

When it comes to loans, this is the real deal. The Perkins Loan program is a government and school funded program with the smallest interest rates, only 5%. Compared to other low-interest government loans and their high-interest private counterparts, the Perkins Loans are ideal for students who need on-the-spot funds.

Of course, the best of loans are not available to all. Seeing as these loans have the lowest rates, they are usually reserved for the neediest students. Luckily, needy graduate students are also eligible. They may have gotten the cold shoulder when it came to Pell Grants, but graduates still have options when it comes to low-rate government loans.

Even though the government puts forth a large amount of funding for Perkins Loans, the loans are still considered campus-based. This is because schools match some government contributions and are in charge of loan administration. They even have to apply to participate. Not to worry, most schools do participate in the program. Approximately 1,800 schools across the country provide students with financial aid in the form of Perkins Loans.

Students who are interested in the Perkins Loan should submit their FAFSA. Whether a student qualifies and how much aid they qualify for is based on their determined financial need and their school of choice. Undergraduates with the greatest need may be eligible for up to $4,000 in yearly aid; graduates may receive up to$6,000. Over the course of their education, undergraduate may borrow up to $20,000 and graduates can borrow up to $40,000 (this includes undergraduate loans.) Thankfully, if these loans add up, students have up to 9 months after graduating, withdrawing or dropping below part-time status to find repayment funds.

Perkins Loans are a good option for quick aid, but before applying, students should take advantage of free funding options. Performing a free scholarship and grant search at Scholarships.com and browsing through school websites may eliminate the need for loans altogether.

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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Federal Aid , Financial Aid , Student Loans

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Pell Grants

Aug 29, 2007

by Scholarships.com Staff

Some of the best things in life are free, especially when it comes to financial aid. Students who fill out a FAFSA will quickly realize that a world of financial assistance is at their fingertips. Of all government aid, Pell Grants are definitely the sweetest. Providing aid to millions of undergraduate students each year, the Pell Grant is the largest grant program in the U.S.

Used loosely, a grant is a monetary award that does not need to be repaid. Graduate school grants tend to come with some research strings attached, but not the Pell Grants. All students who submit a FAFSA will be automatically considered for Pell Grants, and all they need to do is to fill out the admittedly pesky form. Information about whether they qualify for aid and how much aid they qualify for will be sent to students by their respective colleges. These school "award letters" will usually arrive sometime between March and April, though dates do vary.

Students who got into college by the hairs of their chinny chin chin need not worry about being ruled out for aid. Pell grant money has nothing to do with GPA, athletics, involvement, talents, and all other things that make the average student shudder. These awards are based mainly on financial need.

If you are raising your eyebrow suspiciously, you deserve a pat on the back: Pell Grants are not perfect. The government can help you, but only to a point. Aside from the financial aid eligibility issue, Pell Grants have fairly low caps. For the 2007-2008 year, the maximum Pell Grant award is $4,310, and this is not the award most students will receive. The amount of aid a student will receive depends on financial need, the cost of school attendance and the length of stay. The hourly status of a student is also considered. Students who can fit their schoolbooks into a purse will receive less aid than those who attend full time. Graduate school students, unfortunately, are not even eligible. Students who cannot attend with under $5,000 in grants may need to look elsewhere for financial aid. Students who show extreme need, graduate from a competitive school or plan to major in the math & sciences may be eligible for additional government grants. Those who don’t should consider applying for scholarships, non-government grants and fellowships. A great place to perform a financial aid search is Scholarships.com. With 2.7 million scholarships & grants worth over $19 billion, Scholarships.com has something for everyone.

For more information on Pell Grants, visit Student Aid on the Web.

For additional information on financial aid, visit the Resources Section of Scholarships.com.

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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College Grants , Federal Aid , Financial Aid

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Scholarships, Grants, Fellowships, Internships and Loans Explored

Aug 28, 2007

by Administrator

In the world of financial aid there are many different forms of assistance available to students and each serves a slightly different purpose than the other. Many students assume that words like scholarship, grant, fellowship, internship, and student loan are interchangeable. They are not, however, and the consequences of misunderstanding which form of financial aid you are looking for or receiving can be far reaching. For each variety of assistance there are different tax stipulations, service requirements, and repayment expectations attached. Any student on the hunt for financial aid should know what he’s looking for, what he’s found, what the award requires and how it will help him achieve his college goals.

Scholarships

Most scholarships are financial awards given to eligible students with no strings attached. Typically, if you win a standard scholarship, unless it is renewable, your interaction with the donor ends the day you receive your check. According to the IRS, if you are not pursuing a degree, the entire scholarship is taxable. For those students using the scholarship for college, any portion used for tuition, fees, books, and supplies is not taxable. Any funds remaining after your expenses are paid for, however, are subject to tax. There is not typically a service requirement or other stipulation attached to the scholarship upon receipt of the award, however, you should check to be certain. Scholarships are offered in many varieties—sweepstakes, essays, competitions—for traditional and non-traditional students alike. Occasionally scholarships require that you do a specified amount of community service after receiving the award.

Grants

Like scholarships grants are a cash award that does not need to be repaid. There are federal grants, state grants, and grants issued by private businesses and organizations. Many undergraduate students greatly depend on government grants to get them through college. Why shouldn’t they? As long as students qualify financially, all they need to do is fill out a FAFSA. Aside from the government sponsored grant program, most grants are awarded to graduate students who need help funding research or who intent to enter a specific field. Grant amounts range greatly. They may be $100, $100,000, etc. Graduate school grants are not typically used toward tuition, but rather, they are usually used for any expenses necessary to complete your research.

Fellowships

Fellowships are typically awarded to pursuers of graduate or doctoral degrees. Although providers don’t seek repayment, they will frequently ask that students perform research work as a part of the deal. The work may be tedious, but it is usually worth the effort; it is not uncommon for stipends, in addition to tuition coverage, to be a part of the fellowship package. Fellowships tend to be lucrative, and they can get pretty competitive. Students who demonstrate exceptional merit are usually the top runners.

Internships

Most students know the difference between a scholarship and an internship, however, for those that need clarification an internship is an opportunity to work within a business or organization that you would otherwise need a degree to hold a position in. While some internships offer monthly stipends for students participating in their programs, others are unpaid. There are many professions that require students to have participated in an internship program before they can be hired as an employee. It’s a good idea to find out how most professionals in your field of interest secured a position in their field because you will likely discover that without the help of an internship most would not be where they are today. When you are considering an internship there are several things to think about before you accept a position. Ask yourself: How will it help me? What is the time commitment? Is there a stipend? And of course, is there a possibility for employment after the internship?

Student Loans

Believe it or not, student loans qualify as financial assistance; however, loans are a form of low-interest debt that must eventually be repaid. There is a limit to how much financial assistance a student can receive from student loans which is usually determined by how great the financial need of the student is. For the students who do not qualify for a need-based grant but do not have enough cash to pay for tuition, student loans are a good option. An added benefit is that most loans do not begin accumulating interest until 6 to 12 months after you graduate and monthly payments are also delayed until then.

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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Making Sense of Your FAFSA Award Letter

Aug 21, 2007

by Scholarships.com Staff

That I needed to fill out a FAFSA was a given. All counselors advised students to search for aid, and it seemed wrong to miss out on the opportunity—especially when other students came home with awards. Admittedly, applying was a bit confusing (but worth it). After receiving my FAFSA award letter, however, I was totally mystified. There were columns for college grants, Stafford Loans, Perkins Loans and Federal Work Study. I didn’t know if I had to accept all financial aid, if I could request more or if this was just my receipt. Out of fear for signing away my future home, I was almost ready to not sign anything. Thankfully, things became much easier after the first year (although the FAFSA part was still confusing). Knowing the basics made the award letter much easier to read.

Your award letter only reflects how much aid you are eligible for.

Using the information provided in your FAFSA, the amount your family can potentially contribute to your schooling is weighed against the actual cost of attendance. The award letter will reflect all federal, state and university offers of aid. This includes scholarships, college grants, and student employment. Financial aid gifts such as tuition waivers, assistantships, fellowships, resident hall advisor compensation and scholarships from organizations may not be listed until a school is notified about them. Your award letter is not a receipt. You will not take on a $5,000 loan by not responding, but you may lose some award money if you don’t. You can take advantage of as much or as little of this money as you wish.

What You May Find

If you see any college grants in your letter, that’s a good sign. Government grants are basically free money, and you should take advantage of it. Student loans are also common. Students may see awards for Stafford, PLUS, and Perkins Loans. While government loans are not free awards, they are a good bet for students who need to take out additional funding. The government provides students with interest rates that beat those offered by private loan companies. Federal Work Study is another pseudo award. Many colleges and universities will find work for students who would like to earn money. While such work is unlikely to make a student rich—much of it close to or commensurate with minimum wage—it is easy to find, and it is flexible. You are not required to accept any or all aid offered.Students may choose to decline some or all of their financial aid. Those who only wish to take advantage of free grant money may turn down the loans and federal work study funds. If a student needs $3,000 but is only offered $1,000 in grant money, they may use up their entire grant award as well as some or all of their loan award.Students unsatisfied with awards still have options.

Government Assistance May Not Be Enough

Students who feel they need more may speak to financial aid officials and request additional funds. Sometimes, schools may offer additional aid to coveted students or to those with new financial difficulties. Schools are not required to do this, so going in with a temper is not the best approach. Those who find no luck may still apply for additional scholarships, college grants and loans. Free grant and scholarship money is best, but additional, government-subsidized or private loans are available. Schools usually have a preferred-lender list for those who need to borrow, but it is important for students to conduct personal research on the side.

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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College and the Economy , FAFSA , Federal Aid

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