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The Pros and Cons of Graduating Early

January 20, 2012

The Pros and Cons of Graduating Early

by Radha Jhatakia

Much of the time, college students who are able to get the classes they need and have an education plan are able to graduate early. Graduating early can be a blessing or a curse depending on how you look at it; it worked for my fellow virtual intern Jessica but how do you know if it's right for you? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. Do you have job offers lined up after graduation?

2. Did you go to college close to home?

  • If you said yes, then graduating early wouldn’t be a tough transition but if you attended college further away, graduating early may be more difficult. Many if not all of your friends were will still be in school and you’ll also miss out on the senior graduation programs.

3. Did you take out loans to pay for college?

After you answer these questions, you should be able to determine if you should graduate early or not. Just remember there are pros and cons to both and you should choose the path that’s right for you.

Radha Jhatakia is a communications major at San Jose State University. She's a transfer student who had some ups and downs in school and many obstacles to face; these challenges – plus support from family, friends and cat – have only made Radha stronger and have given her the experience to help others with the same issues. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, reading, cooking, sewing and designing. A social butterfly, Radha hopes to work in public relations and marketing upon graduation.

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Is Your Dream School Affordable, Too?

December 2, 2011

Is Your Dream School Affordable, Too?

by Scholarships.com Staff

When an acceptance letter arrives from your dream college, your first instinct may be to scream, cry and jump on your couch with Tom Cruise-caliber flair. Feel free to give in to those urges – hey, you earned it! – but realize you will soon have to figure out how to pay for your education. Can you really afford this school, not only while you’re attending but after you graduate as well? A new list from Kiplinger says your dream school could be a reality after all.

The list, which rates how well colleges actually do in making themselves affordable, includes schools with students who graduate with less than $20,000 in student loan debt on average. The Washington Post’s Daniel de Vise also weighed in, supplementing Kiplinger’s findings with data from the Institute for College Access and Success. Here’s what he found were the most affordable institutions based on the average amount of debt graduates carry:

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Scholarships.com’s Awkward Back-to-School Photo Contest

September 15, 2011

Scholarships.com’s Awkward Back-to-School Photo Contest

by Scholarships.com Staff

Ah, the first day of school. You meticulously selected your outfit, you styled your hair just right but when you smiled for the camera, all that awesomeness translated into...complete and total awkwardness. It may be tempting to dispose of the evidence but don’t burn those negatives or delete those jpegs just yet: Those images could earn you $1,000 or a Kindle for college through Scholarships.com’s Awkward Back-to-School Photo Contest!

To enter Scholarships.com’s Awkward Back-to-School Photo Contest, simply “like” Scholarships.com on Facebook and upload your amateur, school-related photo (first day, class, prom, graduation, etc.) to Scholarships.com’s Facebook wall, making sure to tag yourself and Scholarships.com in the image. Following the October 31st deadline, the Scholarships.com Team will post our top finalists and users will have one week to vote for their favorite photo via comments and likes. The person who submits the photo receiving the most votes will win $1,000 and the individuals who submit the second and third highest-scoring images will receive one Kindle each.

Starts: September 15th

Ends: October 31st

Number of Awards: 3

Amount: $1,000 for one first-prize winner; one second- and one third-prize winner will be awarded one Kindle each.

Step 1: “Like” Scholarships.com on Facebook.

Step 2: Post your school-related to Scholarships.com’s Facebook wall, making sure to tag yourself and Scholarships.com in the image. These photos must be amateur (i.e., not professionally taken), can be current or from years past and must feature the person submitting the photo.

Step 3: The Scholarships.com Team will select the top images submitted and let our fans choose a winner via their comments and likes.

Step 4: You may enter as many times as you want but please limit your photos to one per day. Those who do not observe this step or who do not tag themselves and Scholarships.com in their photos will be disqualified. You must also adjust your Facebook privacy preferences to allow Scholarships.com to message you should you win.

This scholarship competition is offered by Scholarships.com and is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.

For more information and official rules, please click here.

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Students and Families Unprepared for College, Financial Aid Application Process

February 10, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Despite recent trends of more students across the country enrolling at institutions of higher learning, many students and their families remain mostly uninformed and unprepared to navigate the college and financial aid application process, according to a report issued yesterday called "Planning for College: A Consumer Approach to the Higher Education Marketplace."

The report, from MassINC, a think tank in Massachusetts, looked at decisions students and families need to make when applying to and paying for college, and the information they need to make those decisions. It found that students and parents currently have great difficulty "getting the most out of their col­lege dollar," as the price of higher education only continues to rise.

Perhaps even more alarming is that families have started borrowing more to pay for college, without considering risk and the rate of their return. Related to increases in student borrowing amounts, an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday looks at the idea that doctoral students finish faster if they take out large loans. The most obvious answer why is that taking out more student loans allows the students to take more classes, and quit part-time jobs that may have been reducing their college costs. It's a choice students must make every day - should you sacrifice some comfort to reduce your student loan debt, even if it means taking longer to complete your degree? It's a personal decision, but students should be aware that they'll be expected to start repaying any debt once they graduate.

The Massachusetts study also found that students and families had little knowledge of tax benefits and college savings plans, and how to compare them. For example, there are 118 different 529 Plans, and the resources out there do little in the way of pointing consumers to the advantages and disadvantages of each. Families and students also admit to knowing little about the actual sticker price of colleges, as that often depends on the funds available to assist incoming students, an unknown when those students first apply.

The report's authors suggest families and students must become more like "savvy consumers" who are able to understand and successfully manipulate the college and financial aid application process to their advantage. The process should also be made less complex, an idea that is already being explored by federal legislation such as the Higher Education Opportunity Act. Finally, families need reliable measures about the educational experience that colleges and universities offer beyond the annual rankings we see in the Princeton Review, for example. According to the report, while the U.S. Department of Education is providing increasingly consistent and accessible indicators, such as graduation rates, this branch of the college-bound decision remains the weakest.

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Student Veterans Finally Receiving GI Bill Benefits

March 5, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Most of the student veterans who had been affected by numerous backlogs and delayed payments of their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits have finally received those funds, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs office. The payments came at a critical time, as not only the students but colleges began to worry whether their military populations would be able to afford tuition at the schools this spring semester.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill, which went into effect August 1, offers expanded education benefits to veterans who have served their country since 2001. GI Bill benefits include money for tuition and fees, a stipend that covers living expenses, and the option of transferring education benefits to their family members. A problem that has plagued the program since its inception, however, has been has been a months-long backlog of claims to be processed by an understaffed Veterans Affairs office. The delay caused a variety of problems for more than 68,000 veterans who applied for the new GI Bill benefits in the fall; more than 26,000 veterans were still waiting for checks at the end of the fall semester.

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday describes how the Veterans Affairs office was able to catch up - hundreds of new employees were hired, and existing employees were reassigned to focus on the backlogs. All veterans who filed for benefits before Jan. 18 of this year have had those claims processed, according to the agency.

Still, problems remain. According to the Chronicle, the emergency funds issued by the agency while they were trying to get a handle on the problem will need to be repaid. About 68,000 veterans received those advanced payments last fall in the form of $3,000 checks while waiting for their benefits to be processed. The Veterans Affairs office has decided that the money can be paid back either through monthly repayments or through deductions from future benefit payouts. Some veterans also owe the agency because they have dropped courses since, or were mistakenly paid twice by the agency.

There will also be other changes to the present GI Bill. Several bills are moving through Congress that would change who receives benefits, including one that would allow veterans to use the benefits for non-degree programs. And to address any future backlogs, the Veterans Affairs office plans to move the processing of benefits to an automated system by the end of this year. Students worried about how they will be affected by new changes are able to visit a website for veterans that breaks down the process.

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Report Argues Flagship Universities Not Doing Enough for Low-Income Students

January 14, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

While state universities are held up as examples of high-quality college educations at affordable prices, not everyone who wants to go to college can afford them. A new report by the advocacy group The Education Trust looked at this concern and found that despite heavily publicized campaigns enacted in the last few years, public flagship universities still are not doing enough to enroll and assist low-income and minority students.

Public flagships tend to be relatively large, research-oriented universities and are typically considered the most academically challenging and highly respected public schools in the country. Contrary to private colleges, a central part of the mission of public universities is to educate the students of the state, including the ones who cannot afford to pay full freight. Concerns have repeatedly been raised that the makeup of public flagship universities has looked less and less like the makeup of their states over time, suggesting a failure to uphold their public mission.

The Education Trust published a report in 2006 that provided support for these concerns, showing that low-income and minority students were underrepresented at state flagships when compared to the states’ overall college-going populations. The new report, entitled Opportunity Adrift, revisits this issue and winds up reprising the initial report’s criticisms, saying that while universities have put more money toward recruiting and funding low-income and minority students, they still have a lot of room for improvement.

Between 2003, the year their first report analyzed, and 2007, the source of the current report’s data, minority students became slightly better represented at the nation’s 50 public flagship universities. However, the improvement was only slight and disparities continue.  Similarly, average financial aid has increased sharply for students in the bottom income quintile, while holding more or less steady for other income levels from 2003-2007. After adjusting for inflation, students with the lowest income received an average of 23% more institutional grant aid in 2007 than they did in 2003. However, about $750 million of flagship universities’ $1.9 billion total institutional aid goes to students with family incomes over $80,400, students who probably have significantly less financial need.

Despite the shift in aid priorities from merit-based awards to need-based awards, public flagship universities actually enroll a higher percentage of high-income students and a lower percentage of low-income students than they did in 2003. Budget woes of the last two years are likely to drive this gulf even wider as schools find themselves needing to enroll more tuition-paying students and states are forced to cut funding to aid programs that may help low-income students enroll in public universities.

Individual institutions have made marked improvements in enrolling and funding low-income and minority students and the report takes care to highlight their achievements. However, the main conclusion of the report's authors is that more needs to be done to ensure that high-achieving students from disadvantaged backgrounds continue to be able to access higher education that can help them improve their lives. Research has shown that low-income students are less likely to attend colleges that challenge them and are more likely to opt not to go to college or to drop out before completing their degrees. A growing body of work, including this latest report, suggests that recruiting and retaining low-income and minority students should be a primary concern for public flagship universities that want to uphold their missions of providing an affordable college education to their states' populations.

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Survey Shows Freshmen More Worried About Money, College Costs

January 21, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Everyone knows institutions of higher education have been impacted by the economic downturn. Students have been affected too, in the worst case scenarios paying more for their college degrees or facing financial aid shortages. A survey released today further defined just how worried college freshmen are about money, the cost of college, and finding a well-paying job once they graduate.

The annual survey by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California at Los Angeles polled nearly 220,000 first-time, full-time students at 297 four-year institutions. It showed that more students are relying on student loans to fund their educations and looking at schools that offer more financial aid opportunities. But there was also a mental shift. More students are concerned about getting good jobs after graduation, and how they're going to cover college costs in the first place. The survey also showed that fewer freshmen are majoring in business these days, with those numbers at their lowest since the 1970s. The recession could be to blame. Majoring in business may not seem as enticing as it once did as banks face folding or bailouts and the economy has yet to return to prosperous levels.

According to the survey:

  • 41.6 percent reported that cost was a "very important" factor in choosing which college to attend.
  • those reporting that an offer of financial aid was important in their college choice increased to 44.7 percent, up from 43.0 percent in 2008 and 39.4 percent in 2007.
  • 56.5 percent reported they were more likely to place high importance on choosing a college where graduates get good jobs, the highest level since the question was introduced in 1983.
  • 53.3 percent reported taking out loans, the highest percentage in nine years.
  • 4.5 percent reported having an unemployed father, more than at any other time in the history of the survey. Nearly 8 percent of students also reported that their mothers were unemployed, the highest percentage since 1979.

The respondents to the survey also seemed to have a feeling of social responsibility, perhaps due to not only the recession, but changes in the White House, or more simply, the idea that community service and volunteerism could make them better candidates on the job market:

  • 30.8 percent indicated that there was a "very good chance" that they would take part in civic engagement.
  • 56.9 percent who volunteered "frequently" as high school seniors indicated that there was a "very good chance" they would do so in college.

It's not a bad thing to worry about how you're going to pay for college. Often, tough decisions need to be made based on the financial aid available to you. Should you stay in-state, rather than pursue a degree at a private institution on the opposite coast? Should you consider community college to save money on those first two years? Finding money for college may seem daunting, but you do have options, whether that's being flexible in the college search or applying for as many scholarship and grant opportunities as you can.

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Rhodes Scholars Announced for 2010

November 23, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The latest group of Rhodes Scholars was announced by The Rhodes Trust yesterday, with 32 Americans chosen to receive two to four years of study at the University of Oxford in England, all expenses paid.  The Rhodes scholarships were created in 1902 through the will of Cecil Rhodes, who hoped to broaden leaders' minds by exposing them to different cultures, and the first group of Americans entered Oxford in 1904. It is now the oldest international fellowship offered, and the number of applicants who apply make it one of the most competitive academic and merit-based scholarships out there. This year, more than 1,500 students sought their college or university's endorsement into the program, and 805 received those endorsements, just the first step in the application process. The winners will enter Oxford next October.  So how do you apply for the prestigious award?

  • Candidates for the award must be endorsed by their college, and any rules or deadlines regarding that endorsement will be set by your Rhodes Scholarship institutional representative.
  • In addition to that endorsement, applications will require five to eight letters of recommendation, a personal essay, a certified transcript, a list of activities, photograph, and proof of citizenship. Deadlines fall in October annually, but as the process is involved, it's best to get an early start.
  • Committees in 16 U.S. districts across the country invite the strongest applicants to appear for interviews, where questions will explore the information you've given on your application.
  • Applicants are chosen based on the following criteria, set forward by Cecil Rhodes: high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership, and physical vigor. (You don't need to be a star athlete to fulfill that last criteria, just show a "fondness for sports.")

A group of international students is also chosen annually, with 80 scholars joining the Americans this year. If you're interested in an international experience but aren't interested studying at Oxford, there are hundreds of study abroad opportunities available in nearly every discipline, and nearly every country. Broaden your horizons, and know there are also study abroad scholarships out there to help you fund your time abroad.

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Making the Choice: Tips for Comparing Financial Aid Packages

April 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!

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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?

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