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by Emily

Paying for college can be a struggle.  Nobody wants to repay student loans forever, not everybody is going to land a full-tuition scholarship, and federal student financial aid seldom takes care of all college costs.  If you're a parent or relative looking ahead to cover college costs for a child, finding scholarships is a great step now, but you may also want to consider college savings plans.

Read below for information on 529 savings plans, which are one of the most popular and diverse options for college savings.  If this is not for you, check back tomorrow for more information on other savings options.

529 Savings Plans While 529 plans have sustained average losses of 21 percent in the last year, they can still be a good idea, especially if you choose your plan carefully and have plenty of time to save.  Many 529 plans allow you to move your savings into a much more conservative portfolio when the student nears college, an option they're sure to publicize based on the recent behavior of the stock market.  While there are limits on how many changes can be made to a 529 plan per year, the plans are otherwise quite flexible and varied, so it's easy to find one that works for your situation. Plus, 529 plans can be taken out in the parent's name, rather than the student's, so they will only minimally affect a student's financial aid eligibility.

Additionally, contribution limits are high, income limits are nonexistent, minimum contribution requirements tend to be low, and many states offer a variety of incentives for residents who contribute to their plans.  As an added bonus, many 529 plans can accept contributions from anybody anywhere, not just the people named on the account, and several programs have been created to take advantage of this.  For example, some plans allow a portion of credit card purchases or purchases at certain stores to go towards a particular student's 529 plan.

Prepaid Tuition Savings Plans If you're hesitant about sticking money for college in the stock market with uncertain returns, another type of 529 plan is also gaining popularity.  Prepaid tuition plans allow families to contribute a fixed amount now in exchange for a certain portion of tuition being covered in the future.  Many states do this for their state colleges and universities, and the Independent 529 plan, which is accepted by over 200 private colleges, also fixes contributions to portions of future tuition.  Both of these varieties eliminate worries about tuition inflation, though if tuition actually goes down between now and when the student starts college, a prepaid plan might not be the most lucrative option.

The Down Side 529 plans do have drawbacks and limitations.  Money must be spent on education, and the expenses that qualify are limited to undergraduate tuition, fees, educational expenses like books, and now computers. However, if the student is enrolled at least half-time, money from a 529 plan can also go towards room and board, so even if your student earns a full-tuition scholarship, it's possible to still take advantage of 529 savings.  Money must stay in a plan for at least 3 years, so if you're saving for a college sophomore, you're out of luck with these.  However, you can transfer the unused portion of a 529 plan to another family member without incurring the heavy withdrawal penalties, and it may also be possible to use the funds towards graduate or professional school.

Plans also vary from state to state, so your state's plan might not have the best benefits for you, or might not offer as sweet a deal in terms of tax breaks or low fees as the next state over offers its residents.  Luckily, you can shop around among a variety of plans, including ones offered by several other states.

529 plans are not the only college saving option, though they remain the most popular and perhaps the most well-known.  Check back tomorrow for information on the rest of the pack.


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by Emily

Students currently enrolled in grades 9-12 are eligible for this week's Scholarship of the Week, The Humanist Essay Contest.  The Humanist, a magazine published by the American Humanist Association, sponsors this annual scholarship essay contest for high school students.  Applicants are asked to submit an essay of 1,500 to 2,500 words dealing with humanist themes in any subject or field of inquiry.

Essay judging will be guided by the definition of humanism found in each issue of The Humanist magazine. Other criteria include originality of thought, sense of emotional engagement, clarity and quality of presentation, amount of research evidenced, and future potential shown by the author.

Prize: $1,000, a three-year membership to the American Humanist Association, and an invitation to present the winning essay at the annual AHA conference

Eligibility: Students residing in the United States or Canada who are currently enrolled in grades 9-12

Deadline: April 3, 2009

Required Material: A completed scholarship essay of 1,500 to 2,500 words submitted to The Humanist via email

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.


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by Emily

Community service projects benefit those around you, provide valuable learning experiences, and add an impressive dimension to your resume.  They also provide numerous opportunities for community service scholarships, such as this week's Scholarship of the Week.  The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes seeks to award young people who initiate significant service projects as elementary or high school students.

The Barron Prize is awarded to young people who have created a service project that has positively affected other people, animals, or the planet. The project should go beyond fulfilling a school requirement or overcoming a personal challenge and should touch the lives of others and be capable of inspiring others to also make a difference.  Students interested in applying will have to write a scholarship essay describing their project, and will also need three letters of recommendation and a letter from an adult nominator who is familiar with their work.

Prize: $2,500 to be applied towards the winner's higher education or continuing their service project>/p>

Eligibility: Applicants must be between the ages of 8 and 18 by April 30, 2009 and must be legal residents of the United States or Canada.  Students must be nominated by an adult who is familiar with their project and must be nominated as individuals, not as groups.

Deadline: April 30, 2009

Required Material: The student nominee and the adult nominator must each complete an essay of no more than 1,500 words describing the nominee's service project.  Applicants must also provide three letters of recommendation. Additional reference materials are also welcome.

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.


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by Emily

While April may be the cruelest month, March can be especially rough for students bound for college or graduate school.  Late March and early April are when admissions decisions and financial aid letters roll out for those not immediately accepted or rejected by their dream schools, and around now, things are getting pretty agonizing.  While a large part of March is consumed by waiting, even those who have already received good news may be consumed by the crushing dread of all the work to be done before September.  After all, if you get into a college or graduate school, you still have to figure out how to pay for it, what classes to take, what forms to complete, what to do with your life between now and then, and for many students, how to graduate on time, as well.  So, while you may still be waiting for a decision, there are things you can do in March to make April through August easier.

First, budget your time.  Figure out the things you'll need to do, and make a plan to get them done.  While you can't yet pick your classes or contact an unassigned roommate to figure out who is bringing the fridge or the TV, you can take care of other things.

If you haven't done so yet, complete the FAFSA.  If you did a FAFSA with your 2007 tax information, do your 2008 taxes and submit a correction.  Check your student aid report to see if you were chosen for verification, a process roughly equivalent to an audit of your FAFSA that is conducted by your college.  Colleges receive a glut of verification forms towards the start of the school year, and a delay in completing it can result in a delay in financial aid.  If you're not sure you've done everything you need to receive aid on time, contact the college to make sure.  It's better to find out now than to find out on the first day of classes when you need to buy books and find that you can't.

Keep searching for scholarships and submitting scholarship applications.  Deadlines are approaching rapidly, and available scholarships for the 2009-2010 academic year will only get more sparse as you approach the start of the fall semester.  This doesn't just go for high schoolers--if you're a soon-to-be graduate student with an acceptance letter in hand, but no assistantship or fellowship, don't count on funding emerging later. This can and does happen, but many schools make these awards with their admission decisions.

If you've received your financial aid award letter at your college of choice and it's come up drastically short, look into options for appealing it, especially if your financial circumstances have changed or if you've gotten a better offer from a different school.  You may also want to start shopping around for student loans. You might not be able to apply until summer (and you might not want to if you're currently applying for scholarships), but knowing what's out there now can help later.

If you take these steps now, then it will be easier to direct your spring and summer towards enjoying (or enduring) school, preparing to graduate, and figuring out your summer plans.  You'll also be less rushed and less likely to forget to do important things, like signing up to register for classes or mailing in a deposit on time.


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by Emily

Your part-time job can earn you more than a paycheck.  Students who are currently employed by KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, A&W, Long John Silver's, or other Yum! restaurant brands, or who are dependents of Yum! employees can earn a scholarship award of up to $2,500 through this week's Scholarship of the Week.

The Yum! Andy Pearson Scholarship, named in honor of the company's founding chairman, is a scholarship designed to assist Yum! employees or their family members who are seeking a college education.  Current high school, college, or graduate students with strong academic records, leadership experience, community involvement, work experience, or financial need may qualify for this scholarship.

Prize:

  • $2,500 to undergraduate students at four-year colleges or universities, as well as graduate students
  • $1,000 to students attending community colleges or vocational or technical schools
  • $1,500 bonus award to up to 10 students pursuing a degree in food service or hospitality
  • $2,500 to 40 Yum! Scholars of Excellence, past recipients who have maintained at least a 3.5 GPA

Eligibility:

  • All active U.S.-based associates with a minimum of 6 months of continuous employment with Yum! or its subsidiaries and an average of at least 15 hours worked per week over this 6 month period.
  • High school seniors, HS graduates, students who have earned their GED or students currently enrolled in full-time study at an accredited two- or four-year college, university, vocational-technical school or graduate school who have a minimum cumulative grade point average of 2.0 on a 4.0 scale.
  •  
  • Legal dependents of eligible Yum! associates, including spouses and unmarried children under the age of 19 (or under the age of 25 if the child is a full-time student).
  • Associates must remain employed by Yum! as of the date that the scholarship is paid.

Deadline: May 15, 2009

Required Material: Completed online application, including statement of educational goals and objectives, a summary of the applicant's work experience, current academic transcripts, the eligible Yum! associate's employment information, and the applicant's family's most recent tax information.

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.


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CollegeWeekLive

March 25, 2009

by Emily

Are you getting ready to kick off the college search, but unsure where to begin?  Today and tomorrow, prospective college students can participate in CollegeWeekLive, a free college prep event featuring college admissions and financial aid information from schools and experts across the country.  The event takes place online at CollegeWeekLive.com and kicks off today at 10 AM EDT, with the first keynote address scheduled for 11 a.m.

Participants in CollegeWeekLive will be able to visit virtual information booths and speak with admissions officers from colleges of all sizes in every part of the United States, as well as several online and international schools.  Current students from over 75 colleges will also be available to chat live and answer your questions about student life.

Admissions, testing and financial aid experts will also give live, streaming presentations throughout the day both days.  Topics range from athletic scholarships to standardized test preparation.  Speakers include Scholarships.com's Kevin Ladd, who will be sharing information and advice about finding and winning scholarships.  Kevin will be speaking at 5 PM Eastern tomorrow, so take the opportunity to hear what one of our scholarship experts has to say!

If you're a current high school student thinking ahead to college, this is a great event to check out.  Learn about colleges you may want to attend without spending hours in a car, and hear what people in the know have to say about paying for school.  Students who register also have a shot at winning prizes.


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NPG Scholarship Contest

March 30, 2009

by Emily

Ever look around and think that there are just too many people?  NPG, a national organization devoted to population issues, is encouraging students to explore issues of population growth through their annual scholarship essay contest, which is this week's Scholarship of the Week.  High school seniors and current undergraduate students are asked to submit essays of 500-750 words addressing the issue of population growth within the United States.  Students are asked to format their entries as letters to their hometown Congressional Representative calling for the creation of a U.S. Commission on Population Growth.

Prize: First prize: $2,000 Second prize: $1,000 Third prize: $500

Eligibility: Applicants must be current high school seniors or undergraduate students who will be enrolled in college next year.  Students must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents attending a school within the United States.

Deadline: April 24, 2009

Required Material: Two copies of an original letter written in response to the essay prompt. The letter should be between 500 and 750 words, written in English, word-processed or typed double-spaced, and submitted through the mail. E-mailed or faxed essays will not be accepted. Essays must be received by NPG by April 24.

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.


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by Emily

Earlier this week, we blogged about the recession making getting into a PhD program more difficult for prospective graduate students.  Prospective undergraduates are also facing a changing admissions landscape, but the picture for them is more complicated. Articles about colleges' admission conundrums have abounded this week as acceptance letters and financial aid notices make their way to anxious high school seniors.

Top schools with big endowments and generous financial aid packages, such as virtually the entire Ivy League, are facing increased applications and some of their lowest admission rates ever.  Meanwhile, other private colleges are admitting more students than last year, and also putting more students on their waiting lists.  Many state colleges and community colleges are also seeing increased interest and jumps in enrollment, and schools with limited resources are forced to turn away a larger percentage of applicants.

All of this adds up to a lot of uncertainty for students, and for colleges trying to create next year's freshman class.  Many sources are saying it also means increased flexibility for some students in terms of negotiating admission or financial aid at their top choice schools.

Since schools are hurting financially and admissions offices are as nervous as students this year about their decisions, students who are able to pay full freight (either out-of-pocket or through a generous outside scholarship award) may face an advantage getting off the wait list, since several schools admit to considering ability to pay when deciding whether to admit waitlisted students. Students who have received an acceptance letter from their dream school, but have been offered larger amounts of institutional aid from other colleges may also have more options this year. Students in this boat may want to let their favorite private colleges know about their dilemma to see if they can get a slightly better offer.  Many schools may be willing to drop a couple thousand extra dollars on you if it will secure your tuition payment.


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The Brower Youth Awards

April 6, 2009

by Emily

Environmental issues are becoming increasingly important to people and governments worldwide.  Not surprisingly, many scholarship opportunities exist for students committed to improving their environments and the lives of those around them.  One such scholarship is this week's Scholarship of the Week, The Brower Youth Awards.

Since 2000, the Earth Island Institute has been sponsoring the Brower Youth Awards, which recognize young activists for environmental and social justice with $3,000 monetary awards and other resources to further their education and activism.  The awards were created in memory of David Brower, an environmental activist and the founder of the Earth Island Institute.  Students interested in applying should be between the ages of 13 and 22, and should be able to show previous leadership in an activist or community service campaign that has had a demonstrable impact on environmental or social welfare.

Prize:

$3,000 plus a trip to California for the awards ceremony and a wilderness camping trip, and the opportunity to continue working with the Earth Island Institute on future projects

Eligibility:

Students ages 13-22 who reside in North America and are current youth activist leaders 

Deadline:

May 15, 2009

Required Material:

Completed Brower Youth Award scholarship application, which can be requested online through the Brower Youth Award website.  Your application should demonstrate your leadership role in your project, as well as your project's environmental or social impact.

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.


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by Emily

This week's Scholarship of the Week is the Akash Kuruvilla Memorial Scholarship, an award created to keep alive Akash Kuruvilla's legacy of leadership, diversity, integrity and academia by rewarding students who share these same values.  One male and one female undergraduate student will receive a $1,000 scholarship award based on academics, extracurriculars, work and volunteer experience, financial need and a response to the question, "What does the phrase 'the American dream' mean to you, and how do you embody the American dream?"

Prize:

$1,000

Eligibility:

High school seniors and current undergraduate students who will be enrolled full-time in an accredited degree program in fall 2009.  Applicants must have a GPA of at least 3.5 on a 4.0 scale if high school seniors, or 3.0 on a 4.0 scale if current undergraduates. 

Deadline:

June 1, 2009

Required Material:

Completed scholarship application, copy of most recent academic transcript, Student Aid Report from FAFSA, résumé, two letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a 750-word scholarship essay on the American dream.

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.


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