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by Scholarships.com Staff

While it may be grabbing most of the headlines, the federal "Cash for Clunkers" program is not the only government grant program to run out of money well ahead of schedule this year.  The state funding allocated to Illinois Monetary Awards Program (MAP) grants, college financial aid awards for needy students, was slashed during state budget cuts this year. As a result, awards have been cut in half for all students and have been denied outright to over 130,000 students who applied after May 15, a significantly earlier cutoff date than previous years.

Typically, community colleges, who typically apply for financial aid later in the year and often have access to fewer financial resources, are likely to be the hardest hit.

Illinois isn't the only state forced to make cuts to its college grant programs. California and Ohio are among others that have recently gained attention for cutting aid to college students. If you live in a state that's been forced to reduce student financial aid, you still have options to pay for college. Before looking into student loans or considering a semester off, conduct a free college scholarship search. Scholarships, including state and local scholarships, are still out there despite the recession.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

We're nearly a week into August, and for many students, that means that back-to-school preparations have begun. Whether you're picking out notebooks and extra-long twin sheets, or trying to squeeze one last trip or a few more hours of work into your calendar, now is a good time to start looking ahead to the fall term if you're in college. This includes thinking about financial aid. One of the least pleasant aspects of the start of the semester is finding yourself in the line for the college financial aid office as it grows to epic proportions the first week of class.

Luckily, at most colleges the fall rush has not yet started, so if you have some extra time now, you can take steps to make sure you won't find yourself standing in a packed office and trying not to panic on the first day of class. From a financial aid office veteran, here are three things to check into now to avoid waiting in line later.

First, if you are applying for federal student financial aid, by now you should have filled out a 2009-2010 FAFSA and received a financial aid award notice from your college's financial aid office. If you're still waiting to complete a FAFSA or hear back from your school, now would be a good time to take care of these things. You may want to call your college's financial aid office, or check your account online if you have the option, to make sure that everything is in order for timely disbursement of your fall financial aid. Ask if you have any other paperwork you need to complete (such as verification or a master promissory note), especially if it is your first time receiving financial aid. Double check disbursement dates, as well, so you know when you are due to receive the money.

Second, if you've won any scholarship awards (and we hope you have!), now would be a good time to make sure you know when you will be receiving the funds, whether the checks will go to the school or to you, and whether you will need to sign anything or wait for the school to do any additional paperwork before you receive the money (the financial aid office may need to recalculate your aid based on the scholarships you've received). Many scholarship providers notify you of disbursement arrangements or include this information in their official rules, so review correspondence with them, as well as information they've published. If you have questions, you can check with your college and the scholarship provider.

Finally, make sure you will have sufficient funds to cover your bill and make arrangements if necessary to take care of whatever costs grants, scholarships, or federal student loans do not cover. Your parents may want to take out a PLUS loan, or you may want to take out a private loan to cover whatever gap is left. You will want to do paperwork for these as soon as possible, as processing times may take up to a few weeks, especially once things get busy. Many colleges also offer payment plans if you'd like to pay the rest of your bill without borrowing, but you cannot afford to do so all at once.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Rising unemployment rates and other symptoms of the ongoing recession continue to drive more people to attend college and look for ways to pay their bills, causing an uptick in state and federal financial aid applications. However, states are also hurting for money to meet financial aid requests and other budget demands. According to the Associated Press, 12 states have made significant cuts to state grant programs so far this year, with additional cuts likely. At least anecdotally, these cuts are already leading to more reliance on student loans, especially among groups that, according to a brief published this week by the College Board, may already be finding themselves overburdened with debt.

This week, the College Board released some new numbers on student debt loads and borrowing habits, culled from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, data released every four years by the Department of Education. Students at for-profit colleges are the most likely to borrow (96 to 98 percent graduate with some amount of loan debt), have the largest average debt loads at graduation, and are also some of the poorest college students (students at for-profit schools received 19 percent of the Federal Pell Grants disbursed in 2007-2008 despite making up only 7 percent of the college-going population). With additional sources of need-based aid drying up, these students may find themselves even more burdened with debt.

Students at other types of schools have also had to do more borrowing in recent years, according to the study. A full 59 percent of college students graduate with some amount of student loan debt, including 66 percent of bachelor's degree recipients. While most students took on manageable amounts of debt, 10 percent of students at four-year public schools, 22 percent of students at four-year private colleges, and 25 percent at four-year for-profit colleges borrowed more than $40,000 to attend college.

The average loan debt of undergraduate students in 2007-2008 was $15,123 (this is all students, not graduates), up 11 percent from the last time the survey was conducted. While increases in loan burdens were most modest at four-year state and non-profit colleges, reductions in state grant programs that are often earmarked for students at state colleges or nonprofit private colleges could send these numbers climbing.

You may want to consider statistics on student debt as a factor in your college search, but keep in mind that there are alternatives to borrowing. Scholarship opportunities exist for students at every type of college pursuing many different types of degree programs.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

As the start of the fall semester approaches, students across the country are finding themselves in a precarious position when it comes to financial aid. As we've previously mentioned, several states have been forced to make deep budget cuts this year, canceling or reducing funding for scholarships and grants, in some cases after award notices have already been sent to students. This has left students scrambling for last-minute student loans, and in some cases facing the difficult decision of whether to take a semester off while trying to procure alternate funding.

The Wall Street Journal and U.S. News both feature articles this week that offer up alternatives for students who have come up short on funding for the fall. While scholarship opportunities are still available for the coming academic year and should be pursued, students who need immediate sources of funding may want to check out private loans, peer-to-peer lending, and emergency loans and other aid offered by some universities and state agencies. Reducing to part-time enrollment or transferring to a cheaper school are also last-resort options that may be better choices than taking an entire semester off or putting tuition on a credit card.

An appeal to your college's financial aid office can also produce more financial aid, especially if your financial situation has changed since you completed the FAFSA, or if your parents were turned down for a federal PLUS loan. Additional loans, and even some grant aid, may be available if you ask.

In addition to trying to find new sources of funding, some college students are also petitioning their state legislators to get grant and scholarship funding restored.  Lawmakers in Utah have listened, promising to reinstate full funding to the state's New Century Scholarship program, whose awards they had previously planned to cut nearly in half. Students in Michigan also may yet get a reprieve from budget cuts, as the governor of Michigan and numerous state legislators are vowing to do what they can to keep the state's popular Promise Scholarship program intact.

Even if states manage to find funding for grants and scholarships this year, the next fiscal year could also prove challenging. Students in cash-strapped states who are planning to rely on state scholarships to pay for college may want to start looking into alternate funding now.  One of the best ways to do this is to start with a free college scholarship search.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

It's looking like federal student financial aid will be increased in the forthcoming economic stimulus package, at least based on the legislation presented in each house of Congress in its current form.  While the House stimulus bill contains more aid for education, the Senate bill also proposes higher education tax benefits and increases in Federal Pell Grant funding.

The House bill promises:

  • $15.6 billion to increase the Pell Grant by $500 to $5,350 and fully fund the increase
  • $490 million to Federal Work-Study
  • $12.5 billion over the course of 10 years to offer a $2,500 tax credit that will be 40% refundable for those who would otherwise make too little to qualify
  • $6 billion to higher education infrastructure
  • $1.5 billion to improve energy efficiency for colleges, schools, and local governments
  • $39 billion to school districts and state colleges
  • $25 billion to states for "high priority needs" which can include education
  • a $2,000 increase in loan limits on federal Stafford Loans

The Senate bill appropriates:

  • $13.9 billion to increase the Pell Grant by $281 in 2009-2010 and $400 in 2010-2011 and fully fund the increase
  • $12.9 billion to create a 30% refundable $2,500 tax credit
  • $61 million to Perkins Loans
  • $3.5 billion to improve energy efficiency and infrastructure on college campuses
  • $39 billion to school districts and public colleges
  • $25 billion to states for "high priority" needs which may include education

The House bill also includes money to improve financial aid administration and further assist student loan lenders, while the Senate bill will allow computers to be counted as education expenses towards which 529 plans can be used.  The bills are facing some Republican opposition, especially regarding education spending, as it's been argued that construction projects and increases to student financial aid will not directly and immediately benefit the economy.  As Congress and the White House continue to hash out the details of these bills, amounts are likely to change.  But for now, it appears that colleges and college students may receive a little extra financial aid from the government this year.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

As we mentioned last month, financial aid application deadlines are fast approaching for the coming fall.  While students technically have until June 30, 2010 to complete a FAFSA on the Web for the 2009-2010 school year, state aid deadlines happen much sooner with some occurring as early as February--this February.  So if you're waiting to do your taxes first or just generally procrastinating on your application, check the deadlines below to make sure you don't miss out on state or campus-based aid programs

     
  • Alabama:   Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • Alaska:  April 15, 2009
  •  
  • American Samoa:  Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Arizona:  March 1, 2009
  •  
  • Arkansas
       
    • For Academic Challenge - June 1, 2009
    •  
    • For Workforce Grant - check with your financial aid administrator
    •  
    • For Higher Education Opportunity Grant - June 1, 2009 (fall term); November 1, 2009 (spring term)
    •  
     
  •  
  • California
       
    • For initial awards - March 2, 2009
    •  
    • For additional community college awards - September 2, 2009 - date postmarked (additional forms may be required)
    •  
     
  •  
  • Colorado: Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • Connecticut: Priority deadline February 15, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Delaware: April 15, 2009
  •  
  • District of Columbia: June 30, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Federated States of Micronesia: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Florida: May 15, 2009 - date processed
  •  
  • Georgia: Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • Guam: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Hawaii: Check with you financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Idaho:  Opportunity Grant - Priority deadline March 1, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Illinois
       
    • First-time applicants - September 30, 2009
    •  
    • Continuing applicants - Priority deadline August 15, 2009
    •  
     
  •  
  • Indiana: March 10, 2009
  •  
  • Iowa: July 1, 2009
  •  
  • Kansas: Priority deadline April 1, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Kentucky: Priority deadline March 15, 2009
  •  
  • Louisiana: July 1, 2009
  •  
  • Maine: May 1, 2009
  •  
  • Marshall Islands: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Maryland: March 1, 2009
  •  
  • Massachusetts: Priority deadline May 1, 2009
  •  
  • Michigan: March 1, 2009
  •  
  • Minnesota: 30 days after term starts
  •  
  • Mississippi
       
    • MTAG and MESG Grants - September 15, 2009
    •  
    • HELP Scholarship - March 31, 2009
    •  
     
  •  
  • Missouri: April 1, 2009
  •  
  • Montana: Priority deadline March 1, 2009
  •  
  • Nebraska: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Nevada: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • New Hampshire: May 1, 2009
  •  
  • New Jersey
       
    • June 1, 2009 if you received a Tuition Aid Grant in 2008-2009
    •  
    • All other applications - October 1, 2009, for fall and spring terms;
    •  
    • March 1, 2010, for spring term only
    •  
     
  •  
  • New Mexico: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • New York: May 1, 2010 (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • North Carolina: Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • North Dakota: March 15, 2009
  •  
  • Northern Mariana Islands: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Ohio: October 1, 2009
  •  
  • Oklahoma: Priority deadline April 15, 2009 for best consideration
  •  
  • Oregon: Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • Palau: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Pennsylvania
       
    • All 2008-2009 State Grant recipients and all non-2008-2009 State Grant recipients in degree programs - May 1, 2009
    •  
    • All other applicants - August 1, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
    •  
     
  •  
  • Puerto Rico: Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • Rhode Island: Priority deadline March 1, 2009
  •  
  • South Carolina: Tuition Grants - June 30, 2009
  •  
  • South Dakota: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Tennessee
       
    • For State Grant - Priority deadline March 1, 2009
    •  
    • For State Lottery - September 1, 2009
    •  
     
  •  
  • Texas: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • U.S. Virgin Islands: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Utah: Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • Vermont: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Virginia: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Washington: Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • West Virginia: Priority deadline March 1, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Wisconsin: Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • Wyoming: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
 Additional information about federal and state financial aid application deadlines can be found on the official FAFSA website.  Deadlines for individual campuses may occur earlier than the deadline for your state.  Check with your college's financial aid office to find out deadlines for campus financial aid.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

The Senate passed their version of the economic stimulus bill Tuesday, and by late afternoon yesterday it was announced that a compromise had been reached between the House and the Senate. The compromise bill includes less funding than either version--$789 billion as compared to $820 or $838 billion, and one of the areas that faced cuts was education.

While the final draft of the stimulus bill has not been released--or necessarily written--yet, some details are emerging in media coverage. It appears that a Pell Grant increase has made it into the final draft, though the exact amount is still unknown. Federal Work-Study also receives a funding boost, though it's also unclear whether it's the full $490 million appropriated by the House. The $2,500 tuition tax credit has also survived, as have several other tax credits not related to education. Proposed increases to Perkins Loans and unsubsidized Stafford Loans appear to have been axed from the conference committee's version of the bill. States will receive some money to offset educational expenses and aid in school construction and renovation, though not as much as the House had appropriated.

More details will likely emerge over the next couple days as the bill makes its way back through the House and Senate for final approval. The stimulus package could be signed by President Obama as soon as Monday. While the stimulus will provide some help to most people attending college, it's not too late to find other ways to boost the funding to your own college education. Conduct a free college scholarship search to see what financial aid is out there.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

The Department of Education Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance recently released a report entitled Early and Often showing the financial aid community what can be done to help students and families better prepare to pay for school.  The report provided recommendations on what information students needed to know before deciding whether to attend college, when the students needed to know it, and how it could best be disseminated to students and their families, stressing four categories of knowledge that students need to make informed decisions about attending college

Students need to understand:

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

The Early and Oftenreport states that this process needs to begin as early as the sixth grade to ensure that students and families have enough time to devise a strategy for getting into and paying for college. 

According to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, "Possessing timely and accurate information at each juncture of a student's college preparation timeline can dispel the hyperbole in the media and alleviate complexity, inform students of financing options, and ensure they make sound decisions." 

The report asserts that "early information on the availability, eligibility, and variety of financial aid is essential to promote access and persistence. Every student should learn that funding an education requires a reliance on many sources: federal and state governments, institutions, private resources, and personal financial resources. Each of these sources can provide financial aid in the form of grants and scholarships, loans, and work-study opportunities.

Delivering information on the differences between need-based aid and merit-based aid will help students better predict which aid options will be available for them. Understanding the intricacies among such options is vital to successfully financing higher education."

Working with the strategies suggested by the Department of Education, websites such as Scholarships.com already provide the public with a wealth of free resources regarding a variety of financial aid

By browsing our website's Resources section, students can find information in all four of the Department of Education's vital categories, especially paying for college and applying for financial aid.  Additionally, our scholarship search can fill an important role, even early in the college planning process.  Students can fill out a profile and conduct a free search, gaining valuable information on which scholarships may be available to them.  This will help students get a better idea of how they will be able to afford college.

The full Early and Often report is available on the Department of Education website.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Following talks of purchasing FFEL loans and using a lender of last resort program to ensure student access to federal college funds, the Department of Education officially agreed on a temporary bail-out plan. For the next year, the Department has agreed to purchase loans federally subsidized student lenders have trouble selling at a profitable rate.

The credit crunch, caused in part by rising default rates and a decrease in federal student aid offered to student lenders, has caused about 80 lenders to leave the student market, reported the Los Angeles Times. Even the most important name in the market, student lender giant Sallie Mae, has threatened to pull out of the FFEL business. Attempting to ease fears that students loans would be difficult to secure, the Department of Education has been working with Congress on a regular basis to establish a quick and effective alternative.

The most recent announcement lays out an number of methods for ameliorating family and lender fears—at least temporarily. In a letter sent to Chief Executive Officers of student loan companies, Margaret Spellings promised that by July 1, 2009, the Department would purchase FFEL loans originated for the 2008-2009 school year. “Many lenders today do not have access to funds at a cost that justifies originating new loans. Our plan is designed to provide viability in the marketplace for lenders who step up and make loans in this difficult environment,” she stated.

To further assure that all students will have access to loans, the Department has agreed to put into play the Lender of Last Resort Program (LLR) which will be used to lend money to students who have trouble securing finances from weary lenders. Schools that choose to opt for the Direct Loan Program, a lesser used school loan program wherein students borrow directly from the government rather than from federally subsidized lenders, will also receive aid through a $15 billion boost in available funds. “This program should ensure that the market works for students needing loans this school year,” said Secretary Paulson of the Treasury.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Following a controversial House tactic for approving only a part of their veteran tuition bill, the Senate today agreed upon their bill in whole. Based on the Senate version, veterans who have served in the military for a minimum of three years following the September 11 attacks would receive enough financial assistance to cover tuition at the most expensive public college or university in their state. A monthly stipend to be used for housing costs would also be provided for eligible veterans. A more divisive bill amendment—one that would set aside billions for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars—was approved by Senate but denied by the House. Rather than accept the bill in its entirety, the House decided to break the draft into three parts, voting only against the war funding portion.

Complaining that they were duped into believing the government would pay for an entire education, numerous veterans felt that the funds they received were insufficient to cover much of their college needs. The original G.I. Bill of Rights, a law created after WWII, provided troops with enough funds to complete their degree. Though financial appropriations were periodically increased, the money they receive no longer pays for all or most of the average student’s postsecondary education.

To pass the veteran tuition bill, the Senate and House will have to first hash out their differences and send a unified version to the president. Both requirements may prove difficult. Even if both chambers compromise on their ideas, the bill will have to be approved by President Bush who publicly stated that he would not support federal student aid exceeding his $108 billion cap. He was quoted by the AP as saying, “I will work with Congress on these veterans' benefits .... But the $108 billion is $108 billion.”


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