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States Cut Grants as Students Borrow More Money for College

August 12, 2009

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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Coping with College Aid Cuts

August 19, 2009

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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Scholarships for the Unemployed

August 20, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Over the course of the last year, a number of colleges and universities have begun to offer scholarship opportunities for people who have found themselves out of work and in need of further education or job training. Yesterday, U.S. News profiled several newer community college programs, including several full-tuition scholarships, but even more awards are out there. Here's a run-down of some of the scholarships for displaced workers that we've found.

Community College Scholarships: Scholarships for recently unemployed students offered by community colleges are the most common. Colleges in several states are offering free tuition for one to two semesters, or even more, for displaced workers. Some, such as Oakton Community College in Illinois and the Community College of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania stipulate certain degree or certificate programs for their tuition benefits, and others, like several community colleges in New Jersey, will allow students to enroll in any course with empty seats. Others are offering partial tuition discounts, such as Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Minnesota. Michigan has launched a state-wide No Worker Left Behind program, which provides up to two years of free tuition for unemployed and underemployed workers at state community colleges. Students can also apply the credits towards an undergraduate degree at a state college or university. To qualify, students must be pursuing degrees that will lead to employment in high-demand occupations.

Undergraduate Scholarships: This summer, DeVry began offering scholarships to students who have enrolled at one of the seven schools owned by DeVry and who have lost their jobs in the last 12 months. As one example, the Employment Gap Scholarship gives students $1,000 per semester towards their tuition at DeVry. Many other four-year schools have also launched generous aid programs, or even offered full-tuition scholarships, for new and returning students who are facing economic difficulties. A number of these scholarships and grants may be available to displaced workers, especially if you now qualify for a Federal Pell Grant after losing your job. Scholarships for adult students are also worth looking into. While only a few are specifically for the recently unemployed, several are designed to generously aid adults who are enrolling in undergraduate programs.

Graduate Scholarships: In addition to offering free career center services, several universities are also aiding their alumni through tuition discounts on graduate programs and additional certification and training. Manchester College in Indiana will allow students who fail to find a job or a graduate program within six months of graduation a year of free coursework. Similarly, St. John's University in New York allows laid off alumni to attend its graduate programs for half price.

Government Benefits: Recently, the Obama administration began a national push for states to grant full unemployment benefits to recipients who choose to enroll in a college degree program, as incentive for unemployed workers to attend college. Additionally, financial aid adminstrators have been instructed to use greater lattitude in dealing with financial aid appeals from students who have lost their jobs, which could result in more federal grant money for returning students.

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Business Student Lists Piece of His Future on eBay

August 21, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The rise of the online auction service eBay has prompted people to attempt to sell just about anything they can affix a price to. So while it's not surprising to find some pretty out there listings from time to time, it's still not every day you see a student auctioning off a stake in his future.

A college student in Georgia attempted this week to fund the last 18 credits of his Master of Business Administration degree through an unusual source: selling a share of his potential earnings on eBay. The student, Terrance Wyatt of Clark Atlanta University, has been paying for college with financial aid for the last six years, but according to his eBay listing, he found himself $10,000 short of his funding needs this year.

So, being a business graduate student, he began looking for a way out of this financial quandary by marketing himself and seeking investors in his future. While his listing has been removed (eBay frowns on the selling of intangibles or the use of the site for fundraising), Maureen Downey's Get Schooled blog for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the partial text of the ad, as well as more information about the student.

While eBay may not have been the best venue for Wyatt's ad, his idea of seeking investors in his future is not so far-fetched. Recently, a number of peer-to-peer lending sites have launched, allowing students and individuals to arrange for anything from straightforward student loans to buying shares in a student's future success. These alternatives to alternative loans are still operating on a small scale and relatively unknown, but students like Wyatt may find the funding they need through such programs.

There are also scholarship opportunities for MBA students, and really anyone who has come up a bit short on financial aid.  Business school scholarships and scholarships for graduate students could easily bridge the gap for students who need more money and want to avoid student loan debt. Depending on your school and your program, you could even land a fellowship or assistantship that could fund your graduate education.

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New Scholarship for Alabama Transfer Students

August 27, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Attending community college is a great way to save money on the first two years of higher education, but for many students, paying for school after they transfer to a four-year college or university can still be difficult. Now, transfer students in Alabama will get help with their last two years of school, thanks to a new state scholarship.

Alabama has launched a new scholarship program for graduates of the state's two-year community and technical colleges that will allow them to receive a bachelor's degree for free. Alabama State University and Alabama A&M will each award 250 two-year full-tuition scholarships starting this fall, with the number of available scholarship awards to double to 500 apiece next year.

Initial funding for the scholarship program comes from the state's Education Trust Fund, and is part of the settlement in the 28-year-old Knight v. Alabama segregation lawsuit.  Knight, the lead plaintiff in the suit, is now a state representative and vows to do what he can to ensure continued funding for the program as long as he's serving in the state legislature.

Initially, 50 students have been awarded the scholarship, but the state is working to identify more eligible students. Students in Alabama who are planning to attend a community college then transfer to one of these two state schools will want to keep this scholarship in mind. Other local, state, and national awards are also available to students who are attending community college and planning to transfer to a four-year college or university.  More information on these and other scholarship opportunities can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search.

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University of Texas Stops Sponsoring National Merit Scholarship

September 2, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The University of Texas has announced plans to withdraw as a sponsor of National Merit, a popular national scholarship program that students qualify for based on standardized test scores. In an effort to focus on providing need-based financial aid, the university will no longer offer scholarships specifically for National Merit Scholars. The University of Texas, which was second only to Harvard University in the number of National Merit Finalists it enrolled, offered qualifying students awards worth up to $13,000 over the course of four years.

Texas is not the first major university system to choose to cease participating in National Merit, a program that offers $2,500 scholarships to high school juniors who do well on the PSAT, with the potential for honorees to receive much larger scholarship awards from partner companies and universities. Other institutions, including the University of California system, have previously chosen to withdraw sponsorship of National Merit, while many other schools have chosen not to offer awards specifically for National Merit winners.

National Merit has previously drawn criticism for its strong emphasis on high PSAT scores (other application materials are considered in selecting finalists, but semifinalists are chosen solely based on test scores). Students from wealthier families who have access to the best high schools and a variety of test preparation resources typically do best on standardized tests, such as the PSAT, which results in scholarship awards like National Merit skewing towards affluent students who need less assistance paying for college.

A University of Texas official cited similar reasoning in the university's decision to stop awarding National Merit Scholarships, stating that only one fourth of students receiving the scholarships typically bothered to apply for federal student financial aid, indicating the vast majority had access to other means of covering their college costs. The students who are most likely to be hurt by the loss of this scholarship opportunity will likely be helped by the increase in need-based financial aid that the university is promising.

University officials stressed that applicants who would have been eligible for this award will still be able to compete for other academic scholarships, and the undergraduate students currently receiving this award will continue to do so for their full four years of eligibility. Still, this announcement is likely to upset some students and to fuel the fires of the ongoing debate over merit-based versus need-based financial aid in colleges and universities.

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Veterans Face Financial Aid Delays

September 4, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The new Post-9/11 GI Bill went into effect on August 1, bringing expanded educational benefits for students who have served in the military since 2001. These benefits are supposed to be available to students for the fall semester, but a mounting backlog of applications has the Department of Veterans Affairs saying recipients should expect processing delays of up to 8 weeks.

This means that many veterans attending college may not receive their first payments from the VA until potentially October or even November, despite classes starting in August and September. So not only will their tuition and fees go unpaid, but they also will have to find other sources of funding for housing, books, and living expenses, which many veterans expected to rely on VA stipends to pay. While most colleges are working with their veteran students to arrange stopgap financial aid, the delayed payments still represent a huge problem for students going back to school after military service.

The application process for VA benefits under the GI Bill is somewhat complex and involves multiple steps between a student's initial decision to enroll in college and his or her ultimate receipt of a check from the VA. Students, schools, and the VA all need to complete paperwork to set up benefits, and May 7 was the earliest students could begin applying. In addition, current VA employees and new hires needed to be trained to process applications under the new program, so processing is taking longer than normal.

Add in the popularity of the expanded GI Bill benefits, the recession bringing students back to college in droves (with fewer financial resources available to them), and colleges across the country dealing with massive budget crises and increased demand for emergency aid, and you get the potential for disaster. More students are applying for benefits, the VA is less able to process these applications in a timely manner, and schools have more students in difficult situations to assist. All parties have fewer resources at their disposal to deal with the situation, making it still more challenging.

Still, vets who have found their benefits delayed should talk to the financial aid and veteran's affairs contacts at their school if they need additional financial aid to cover their expenses in the short term. While money is scarce, it is still available in most cases.

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Parents of Scholarship Recipients Asked to Donate Awards to Others

September 9, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Penn State University's Schreyer Honors College offers admitted students $3,500 per year merit scholarships, a common practice among state colleges that want to entice the best students to attend. Students at Penn State and their parents are doing something unique with these scholarship awards, though: they're giving them to other Schreyer students.

Parents of scholarship recipients who did not apply for need-based financial aid receive a letter asking them to consider making a donation in the amount of the scholarship their children received. The letter, penned by the parents of other Schreyer students, emphasizes the amount of unmet financial need some of their children's classmates face and asks them to consider whether they need the extra $3,500 in order to pay their tuition bill. If not, they are asked to give the money to students for whom the extra money could make the difference between attending college at Penn State and staying home.

The university stresses that students are not being asked to give up their academic scholarships in this campaign. Rather, they ask that parents who can spare the extra money because their child received a scholarship would consider donating to help other deserving students who last year had more than $1 million in unmet financial need.

Honors colleges, even at large state universities, tend to be relatively close-knit communities of top-performing students who are engaged in their studies and their campus communities. It's not surprising, then, that parents of Schreyer Honors College students hit upon an idea to help their children's struggling classmates last year when the economy first began to sink into recession. The campaign was initiated by parents and supported by the university, which sends the letters on the parents' behalf.

Last year's appeal raised around $228,000, with over $120,000 of that going directly to 34 students who needed help paying for school. The remaining $100,000 went towards establishing an endowed trust to ensure that this effort continues helping students in the future. So far this year, the campaign has raised $13,000 from 11 donors.

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Baker Wins Scholarships.com Culinary Arts Scholarship, Vows to Battle Obesity

September 9, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Briana G. wants to create a "healthy Twinkie." While completing an Associate's degree in Baking and Pastry Arts, she became concerned about America's obesity epidemic and realized she wanted to learn to craft more forgiving sweets. To help her complete her degree in Food Science and Dietetics at Colorado State University, Scholarships.com has named Briana the 2009 recipient of the annual $1,000 College Culinary Arts Scholarship.

Scholarships.com has been awarding Area of Study College Scholarships since summer 2008 to help students like Briana meet their college and career goals. The competition grants a $1,000 scholarship each month to a high school senior or undergraduate student planning to pursue a career in one of thirteen areas of study, including Culinary Arts.

"These students have such creative ideas and reasons for choosing a particular major and, through this program, we are able to help them share these ideas and aspirations," said Kevin Ladd, Vice President for Scholarships.com. "The Area of Study College Scholarships help students pay for college and also challenge them to really think about why they want to study a given subject or go into a particular field."

Applicants are asked to compose essays describing what influenced their career choices. In her submission, Briana described reconciling her desire to make "delicious, eye-catching desserts" with her growing awareness of how poor diets contribute to obesity. Her goal now it to make healthy version of the "sweet treats that Americans love."

The Scholarships.com Area of Study Scholarships are open to all U.S. citizens who will be attending college in the fall of 2009, regardless of age, test scores or grade point average. To apply for the Scholarships.com Area of Study College Scholarships, students can visit www.scholarships.com, conduct a free college scholarship search and complete an online scholarship application.

A complete list of Area of Study scholarship winners, as well as their winning essays is available on our Student Winners page.

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Survive the Bad Economy, Part I: Land a Scholarship

September 14, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

As unemployment rates remain high and budgets stay tight, more people are looking to wait out the struggling economy by going back to college. Competition then has become more fierce not only on the admissions level, but for funding to pay for those educations. While many schools are doing whatever they can to continue offering scholarships and grants, the economy has affected some schools' available funding. Good news is, scholarships do exist, and there are things you can do to have a better chance of landing one.

  • Apply early, and apply often. Scholarships wait for no one, and a later deadline doesn't mean you should wait until the very last moment to apply. Generous scholarships like the Coca-Cola Scholars Program have deadlines in October, for example. It's not a bad move to look ahead and start applying for awards beyond this year, either, to get an idea of funding you'll need in the future. To see scholarships that have deadlines this fall, conduct a a free scholarship search and see the dozens you could be eligible for.
  • Don't rule out local scholarships. While funding packages from your intended college are often more generous than outside awards, it won't hurt to supplement any funding you're awarded or have a backup plan in case what your school offers covers less of your fees than you thought. Local scholarships from your dad's employer or your local bowling league are also less competitive than college-based awards or the more well-known contests, and often look at things beyond your GPA and test scores to factor in things like community service, your experience with that organization and financial need. New scholarships are being created all the time, so check on your search throughout the school year for the most up-to-date results.
  • Stand out on the application. It's not too late to make up for that less-than-stellar grade in your high school Algebra class, especially if you're looking ahead to scholarship opportunities beyond your freshman year in college. GPAs matter from your entire high school career, so don't slack off when the senioritis hits. Don't be afraid of AP classes unless it's a subject you know you'd get a low grade in, and get involved in your school and your community as it's also not always about academics. Work on that resume by applying for internships that fit your intended major, and put in more hours of practice if you're going for a sports or music scholarship. It's never too late to make yourself a more desirable scholarship candidate.
  • Appeal your award. If you've done everything you can - filled out your FAFSA early, put together impressive scholarship applications - and you feel the financial aid you've been offered from your school is unfair or if your circumstances have changed dramatically since applying for government aid, you still have options. Schools are more likely to reconsider packages in the current climate, and you could be eligible for more grant and scholarship funding, the best kind that you don't need to pay back.

For more information on upcoming scholarships and other helpful financial aid tips, visit our College Resources. Tomorrow, we'll explore your options on keeping college costs low and looking at a school's program versus its reputation.

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