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February is Financial Aid Awareness Month

Feb 4, 2016

by Susan Dutca

What makes February so lovely? It is Financial Aid Awareness Month, and since filling out the FAFSA is stressful - much like taxes - several higher education institutions and financial aid organizations have jumped on board to provide informational sessions for families and students as they navigate through, and apply for financial aid through the 2016-2017 FAFSA. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of students applying for, and receiving financial aid for their college education at a four-year-degree-granting institution has increased from 80% to 85% from 2007-08 to 2012-2013. Because of this, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) will be hosting a new topic weekly through a social media campaign that allows parents and students to ask questions about the FAFSA. To participate, NASFAA asks families to send their questions via Twitter using the hashtag #FinAidFeb to receive tips and advice, as well as the common mistakes to avoid. The social media campaign will take place on Wednesday, February 3rd from 7-8 pm ET and Friday, February 5th from 1-2 pm ET. Those interested can simply follow @NASFAA on Twitter or visit them at their website for full schedule and details.

According to the Salisbury Post, help is on the way on "FAFSA Day" at Catawba's College Library, where financial aid officers and specialists are working with seniors and their families to complete the FAFSA. Between February 22 and February 26, local North Carolina State Employee Credit Union branches will also help students complete their FAFSA. Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, IL is holding a similar series of events throughout February. In light of "FAFSA Frenzy", the Missouri Department of Higher Education is calling for an effort to educate and assist prospective college students, and Webster University is offering sessions on February 28 on its home campus, as well as at its St. Louis region on February 6 and 20. According to the school's statistics, more than 80% of its student population receives financial aid. The college is providing incentive for attending the event by offering attendees the chance to win a scholarship.

When attending any FAFSA informational session, bring your 2015 W-2 forms, and copies of your 2015 tax forms, if they're ready. If you haven't filed your 2015 returns yet, bring any statements of interest earned in 2015, any 1099 forms and other forms necessary to complete your taxes. Later on you may need to go back to your FAFSA and make corrections once the tax returns are filed. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool will help you make accurate corrections within a few weeks of your tax file date.

Tro Onink, CEO of Stratagee and an expert in financial planning, cautions parents about IRA contributions for 2015.Though it may lower tax bills for 2015, it affects the children's financial aid eligibility for the 2016-2017 year. As explained by Onink, individual retirement account (IRA) contributions is factored back to the adjusted gross income (AGI) when financial formulas are used to determine student's financial aid eligibility. When the expected family contribution is calculated, IRA contributions are factored into the adjusted gross income, plus HAS, 401k, 402b and other retirement contributions. He cautions that these formulas would "presume that they [parents] have used that money they're setting aside for retirement to pay for college instead." On the upside, you do not have to record the value of the IRAs as an asset. So what's Onink's main advice? If for example, you invest $10,000 into retirement plans in 2015, your children's financial aid amount could decrease by $2,500 in 2016-2017. Essentially, when you make an IRA contribution, you will be paying more than half the amount you save in taxes when it comes to college expenses. He advocates to save for retirement but be cautions that "just because your adjusted gross income is lower, your income for financial aid purposes will be inflated."

Read more on Financial Aid Information and Financial Aid tips this season as you fill out your FAFSA and don't forget to see how you can supplement federal aid with free money in scholarships.

Credit is attributed to Troy Onink, who has been featured by Forbes, InvestmentNews, myStockOption

Going to college doesn't have to break the bank or saddle you with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Check out the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search where you’ll discover you qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships in just a few minutes, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Pay Attention to Big Changes in FAFSA, 529s, Financial Aid

Dec 28, 2015

by Susan Dutca

Understanding the financial aid process, much less filing a FAFSA, can be tedious and daunting. With over 130 questions and requiring more than 30 minutes to complete, students may procrastinate, or completely avoid completing a FAFSA. With pending changes for the upcoming years - such as an earlier deadline - some experts claim the process won't necessarily get easier or more affordable, if not done correctly. Terry Savage, an expert writer for the Chicago Tribune, claims the new FAFSA will be more "intrusive than federal tax forms because it not only asks about income but also the assets of parents and students." Savage outlines some tips and general information on how to prepare for the changes, including early application and knowing the logistics of 529s, financial aid, and FAFSA:

  • Earlier application dates: Many people can recall the last-minute rush to apply for FAFSA and the anxiety that accompanies it. A big change in the FAFSA for 2017-2018 academic year is the earlier application. Students will be able to file as early as October 1, 2016, as opposed to January 1, 2017. Additionally, you will be able to use a FAFSA retrieval tool to directly and electronically access tax information from the IRS, after filing a 2015 tax return. The income you will report on your 2015 return will, in turn, affect your financial aid for the 2017-2018 academic year.
  • 529 Plans: 529 plans are college savings accounts that are exempt from federal taxes and were designed to help taxpayers set aside funds for a designated beneficiary. While any U.S. citizen or resident alien of at least 18 years old may open a 529 account, beneficiaries are typically children, grandchildren or younger relatives. Assets in a 529 plan owned by either the student or their parents count as need-based aid but plans owned by grandparents or other people do not count as assets. If money is withdrawn from the accounts of grandparents or other relatives, there is a penalty in the following year's financial aid package. Savage recommends you do not withdraw from your 529 account until your junior year in college, after filing the FAFSA for that year. Withdrawing from the 529 is not penalized so long as you are paying for "qualified expenses," including tuition, room and board, books, and other miscellaneous fees. Withdrawing from a grandparent-owned 529 plan is considered direct income to the beneficiary. There is a 10 percent penalty and taxes for withdrawing money to cover any other costs, unless the student receives a scholarship, dies, or is disabled.
  • Family assets preferred over child assets in financial aid scheme: UTMA custodial accounts are considered student assets - such as property, real estate, fine art, or future inheritances - which could have a large impact on financial aid eligibility. However a custodial 529 plan of a dependent student is treated as a parent's asset on the FAFSA - meaning less impact on the dependent students' financial aid eligibility. It is recommended that custodial accounts be spent for the child's benefit prior to the FAFSA filing year or transferred into the custodial 529 account.
  • Income-driven assets: In addition to providing all income information on the FAFSA through parents' tax returns, assets such as capital gains also count as income. Savage notes that "selling stocks and taking gains" the year before filing can impact what the student will receive in financial aid. For example, taking $3,000 in capital losses can reduce parental income, Savage states. The result of student income will reduce financial aid on a "dollar-for-dollar basis" which consequentially may become a disincentive for students to work and support their education.
  • Take the time this winter break to review the FAFSA changes so as to be better prepared and gain the most in financial aid for your college education.

    Credit is attributed to Terry Savage and the experts at the Federal Student Aid website. Savage is one of the country's most prominent advisers and a best-selling author on personal finance, corporate boardrooms, academia, the markets, and the economy. Federal Student Aid (studentaid.ed.gov) is a free website and source of information provided by the office of the U.S. Department of Education.

    And remember, there’s no need to rely on expensive student loan options to pay for your college education. For more information on finding free scholarship money for college, conduct a Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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The War on (Study) Drugs

Misuse of Prescription Drugs a Very Real Concern in Higher Ed

Nov 10, 2015

by Susan Dutca

Every student has their own way of dealing with the stresses of college life and academics, even if it may require popping a small blue pill before a final exam. What does it take nowadays to crack down on the books and get As? Studies reveal that many college and high school students have turned to recreational drug use such as abusing ADHD medication to help land good grades.

Considered to be one of the most dangerous legal drugs, Adderall is now causing twice as many deaths as street drugs. According to the Huffington Post, prescription drugs such as Adderall and other ADHD meds are "the most dangerous legal drugs among young people in college and high school." On college campuses, students perceive ADHD medications as "relatively benign substances". These meds are being stolen, swapped and sold regularly on campuses nationwide, doubling the amount of student ER visits and deaths.

How exactly are students getting their hands on Adderall and similar stimulants? Experts claim students know exactly what to say to receive a legal, insurance-subsidized prescription. However, not every student with access to the drug actually uses it. Many students simply sell it for profit - as much as $300 a bottle.

While there is certainly an ongoing issue with illegal drugs, there is also an issue with dangerous prescription abuse in the classroom. Some point to the mislabeling of normal child immaturity as the culprit for excessive use of ADHD medication. Who is most responsible for the easy access of these drugs? Should drug companies be just as responsible for distribution and marketing as the physicians for misdiagnoses? Do we blame parents and teachers who cannot adequately control hyperactive children? Or do we simply hold students responsible for their actions? Would informing kids of the dangers of recreational drug use have any positive effect on the situation? In your opinion, how can the issue of misdiagnoses and distribution be resolved to lessen students' ability to gain access to these drugs? Also, if you are passionate about public policy, public health or medicine, check out some of our medical scholarships to help fund your college education.

Going to college doesn't have to break the bank or saddle you with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Check out the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search where you’ll discover you qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships in just a few minutes, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Keeping Your Recommendation From Being A “Wreck”-omendation

Nov 2, 2015

by Christina Zhou

When it comes to college applications, most students worry more about whether or not their grades are high enough, whether their essays are well-written, or if they have enough extracurricular activities. Recommendation letters are often lower on the list of priorities and are often hastily asked for close to the deadline. However, recommendation letters are often one of the most common ways to distinguish between quality applications. Below are several ways to avoid getting tepid recommendation letters that make your otherwise quality application look lackluster.

  • Ask early. Teachers are often very busy, and quality recommendation letters take time and effort to write. Asking them right before the deadline is both inconvenient and inconsiderate. They may flat out turn down your request, and if you don't have backup options, you may miss out on applying for certain schools. Even if they do, they will most likely not do as good a job as they could have done if you had asked sooner.
  • Teach them about you. If they agree to write a recommendation letter, you should provide them with a copy of your resume. If you don't have a resume, a short summary of yourself will do. You might also want to refresh their memory of your performance in class.
  • Choose wisely. Ask a teacher that you had for a class fairly recently - junior year is probably best. The exception to this is if you have a teacher that you have had for multiple classes and/or have built up a very good relationship with. For example, you can ask your band teacher for a recommendation if you have been in band for many years and performed well. If you are applying with a specific major in mind, or if you are applying to a major-specific program, it would be a good idea to try and get a recommendation from a teacher that teaches that subject.
  • Ask in person. This is so important! You can email to meet with them to talk about it, but the actual request should be done in person. Recommendation letters are time-consuming to write, and also require a level of connection. Too many recommendation letters sound like fill-in-the-blank forms.
  • Going to college doesn't have to break the bank or saddle you with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Check out the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search where you’ll discover you qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships in just a few minutes, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Is College Football Stealing Your Education?

Oct 19, 2015

by Susan Dutca

To date, roughly 70 percent of college students graduate with approximately $30,000 in college debt. What accounts for the increase in college tuition and debt burden? A short by Brave New Films titled The Big Came: College Football Stealing Your Education claims that college athletics, particularly football, may just be the problem. Since 2000, state universities across the nation have increased their tuition by 30 percent. Schools with strong football programs have increased tuition by as much as 65 percent. Studies reveal a correlation between student fees that feed directly into athletic programs and force tuition hikes. Ohio University for example, has athletic fees that run $48 a credit hour. That is about $6,000 of financial aid and scholarships that goes into paying for schools' athletic programs.

How does this affect school budgets? Many universities have taken to cutting faculty and degree programs, such as the University of Akron, which cut 215 jobs and $40 million dollars from their budget and yet, tuition did not go down. Head Football Coach Terry Bowden was signed to a $2 million contract, which comes out to $400,000 a year. When compared to the average adjunct professor salary of $25,000, it is important to consider the allocation of money within higher education. According to the Huff Post, most state coaches are the highest paid public employees.

Supporters of collegiate athletic programs argue that there's immense profit, but this is debatable as it's been found that Division I athletic programs lose $11 million a year on an operating basis and much more when capital and indirect costs are included. Athletic programs may not be as self-supporting if "the vast majority require a subsidy from the institution" to survive. Students will pay separate fees and higher tuition to cushion the deficit - these fees will not help fix classrooms or hire faculty. Alumni who donate to schools are typically donors to athletic programs rather than student or academic scholarships. It may make sense that the revenue generated from winning teams would feed directly into the athletic program and yet, those same programs remain in deficit.

In your opinion, do you think collegiate athletic programs are distorting expenditures and neglecting other important areas in higher education? Leave us your opinion in the comment section below. If you are an dedicated, passionate and talented athlete, check out some of our sports scholarships.

Going to college doesn't have to break the bank or saddle you with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Check out the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search where you’ll discover you qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships in just a few minutes, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Video Gaming: The Up-And-Coming Collegiate Sport

Oct 8, 2015

by Susan Dutca

This past Saturday at 9 a.m., players arrived at the University of Cincinnati's basketball arena for a two-day tournament hosted by the UC's League of...Legends? Yes: The university now considers League of Legends an official club sport, just like soccer or rugby. With 14,000 people watching the tournament online, the event became one of the largest collegiate e-sports events with participants competing for a $2,000 cash prize. But is it a game or is it a sport?

Though skeptical at first, UC's administration finally caved and are now seeing the benefits of the League. There has been increased visibility for video gamers across campuses, especially now that it's organized and holds educational value. Gaming competitions are legitimized through rules and regulations, though not yet under the rule of the NCAA. Furthermore, the U.S. government allows professional video gamers to use "athlete visas" to travel internationally to compete. With this trend, one may argue that video games aren't necessarily becoming more popular but rather it's a "formalization and institutionalization of what's always been present."

Robert Morris University in Chicago became the first U.S. college to make competitive gaming a varsity sport and offer video game scholarships up to half of tuition and housing, roughly $19,000. Video game sponsors helped RMU create the ideal gaming room with high-tech monitors, headsets and chairs so that students resemble fighter pilots. Though they fell short to the University of British Columbia in the 2015 North American Collegiate Championship, RMU competitors still received $15,000 in scholarships while UBC took home the $30,000 championship trophy.

What do you think about getting paid to game? If you are an avid gamer and want to be rewarded for your talent and passion, check out some video game and design scholarships to celebrate International Games Day on November 21st.

And remember, there’s no need to rely on expensive student loan options to pay for your college education. For more information on finding free scholarship money for college, conduct a Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Fixing FAFSA: Acquiring Financial Aid to be Easier, Quicker

Sep 25, 2015

by Susan Dutca

If you've ever had to fill out a FAFSA for college, you may have felt as though you need an accounting degree to understand it, much less complete it. With over 130 questions and averaging 30 minutes to complete, the complexity and tedium of filing for financial aid has been a barrier for students in attending college or receiving the financial aid for which they qualify. The Department of Education announced an initiative Monday to simplify the process and beginning in October 2016, students and their families will be able to complete a simpler FAFSA application.

Currently, students must wait until after most college application deadlines to apply for federal aid - the new FAFSA amendments will enable application as early as October 1 and better align students with college deadlines. The current January 1 application opens after many college application periods have closed and students may not know their entire financial aid package before committing to a college. With the new amendments, students will have a better understanding of the actual cost of their college education. Federal Student Aid awards $150 billion in grants, loans and other types of financial assistance annually. Sadly, about 2 million students enrolled in college who would qualify for a Federal Pell Grant never applied for aid. With the new initiative, the plan to improve the process of applying for federal aid will include:

  • Earlier application - Information for the FAFSA will be readily available around the same time high school students are searching for, and applying to college, meaning less pressure and stress. The current FAFSA application opens January 1 and cannot be completed until after April 15, when tax forms are due.
  • Simpler application - A new data retrieval tool will allow applicants to electronically access tax information directly from the IRS, after filing their 2015 tax returns. This means less income estimates and errors and more accuracy.
  • More students assisted - It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of students, especially first-generation and minority students, will apply for and enroll in college as a result of a simpler FAFSA. In 2013, roughly $45 million was left on the table in Pell Grants due to the complexity of the application.
  • More colleges assisted - As many as 3 million hours are spent annually by colleges and universities verifying FAFSA Information. With the new data retrieval tool from the IRS, colleges and universities will have less trouble verifying tax return information.
  • Do you think the new amendments to the current FAFSA will benefit students as they apply for financial aid earlier and with a simpler application? If you are interested in learning more about FAFSA, federal aid, grants and scholarships, read some of our tips on funding your college education.

    Going to college doesn't have to break the bank or saddle you with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Check out the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search where you’ll discover you qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships in just a few minutes, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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    Christian Extremists Protest at University, Claim Students are Bound for Hell

    Sep 24, 2015

    by Susan Dutca

    All was quiet on DePauw University's campus in Greencastle, Indiana on Wednesday until a group of Bible-carrying protesters arrived, shouting that students who engaged in "unholy behaviors," including homosexuality, excessive sexuality, drug and alcohol use, and masturbating, were going to hell. The group of confrontational evangelists, also known as "Bro. Jed's School of Evangelism" Campus Ministry USA, are allegedly known for organizing campus protests and are not affiliated with a particular church. Students ignored the protest at first but soon hundreds of students gathered, bringing gay pride flags and chanting "we have nothing to lose but our chains."

    Protestors spewed slurs to students and passersby, calling men "evil" and women promiscuous as well as asking students how many STDs they had. DePauw University's president and student government representatives appeared as well to support students. President Brian Casey organized a campus gathering in Ubben Quad that same day to have students "show solidarity and support for one another." In his mass email, he acknowledged the First Amendment which "guarantees the right to free speech on public grounds - even for messages filled with hate and animosity." Initially, students had tried ignoring the protestors by not giving them a reaction; the demonstration intensified with speakers, music and a growing crowd. Only two students were detained, including one who threw coffee at the protestors and no one was arrested. Protestors were escorted off campus around 1:50 pm and the crowd slowly trickled away. The protests are suspected to have been held in opposition to Bi Visibility Day, observed September 23rd.

    Do you think the First Amendment protects the group's demonstration? Was the protest handled appropriately? Leave us your thoughts in the comment section. And if you're passionate about protecting people's rights, check out some of our law scholarships.

    And don't forget, you should pay for your college education with as much free money as possible! Find as many scholarships and grants as you can before turning to student loans. Visit the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today where you'll get matched with countless scholarships and grants for which you qualify, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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    Extracurricular Activities: Not Just Application Fillers

    Sep 14, 2015

    by Christina Zhou

    When it comes to choosing extracurricular activities, many students are concerned about whether or not the activity will look good on college applications. They end up either changing activities without commitment or stick with an activity that they don't particularly enjoy, but believe will look good to colleges. However, working or getting involved in clubs and sports can and should be fun! Below is a list of tips as to how you should approach high school extracurricular activities to help you obtain that much-desired college acceptance.

    • Join early. Building strong extracurricular activities takes time. Being in the program for a longer amount of time allows for more experience and better chances of obtaining leadership roles.
    • Think quality, not quantity. Someone who spent four years in their school's jazz band and was the first chair of their section will look more dedicated than someone who was in fifteen clubs but never did much more than attend meetings. Try to obtain leadership roles in whatever extracurricular activities you choose.
    • Pursue your passions. You may think your hobbies are too weird to impress colleges, but that's false. If you show enough dedication to an activity, whether it be basketball or making duct tape art, colleges will be interested. Remember, interviews are an important part of the college admissions process, and you will be asked to elaborate on your extracurricular activities. If you dislike what you do, it will show.
    • Don't forget about school! Although extracurricular activities are vital, grades and standardized test scores are also incredibly important. Be involved, but make sure to leave enough time for studying, as well as for some free time. Although it may feel like it sometimes, your time in high school does not need to be a non-stop pursuit of acceptance to college.
    • And remember, there’s no need to rely on expensive student loan options to pay for your college education. For more information on finding free scholarship money for college, conduct a Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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    High School , Just for Fun , Tips , Virtual Intern

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    High Stakes Testing

    Aug 24, 2015

    by Emily Rabinowitz

    Chances are if you’re on scholarships.com, you probably care about boosting your application to scholarships or colleges. The standardized test can be a huge plus for good test takers or a major stressor for others. Here are some general guidelines to help you make your testing plan and decisions easier.

    • Timing. There are many rumors about what dates have a better curve but essentially for the SAT or the ACT, it’s all about making the most of your studying. For instance, remember that if you schedule a test for January or June, you might also be studying for midterm and final exams. The May exams are also infamous because that’s when the Advanced Placement tests occur. However, many students take the subject tests that correspond with their AP classes during the May exam. It’s important to remember that not all subject tests are offered every exam date, so you’ll want to plan those accordingly. If you’re planning on taking the SAT, remember that the last date for the current version is January 2016. Finally, don’t wait too long to take the test. Many students do better their second or third time around, and you want to give yourself the chance to learn from your mistakes.
    • Studying. The ACT and the SAT are two distinctly different tests as some students will see greater variation between test scores than others. The general word of caution is to take a full practice exam before you take the real test. Try waking up early one weekend and replicating the exam scenario as completely as possible; this will give you the best estimate of your score. Remember that simple things like reading the newspaper or a challenging book can improve your score as well.
    • Stay Positive. Your score is not everything in your college or scholarship application. More and more schools are disregarding test scores in favor of essays, extracurricular activities and letters of recommendation. The worst thing you could do for your application is put all of your bets into your SAT or ACT score. So if you find yourself a terrible test taker, that’s okay. Find something else that you’re fantastic at, and make it noticeable. One of the best pieces of advice I got was that if a school turns you down because of your test scores, you probably don’t want to be there to begin with.
    • You are not a test score. Always remember that.

      Going to college doesn't have to break the bank or saddle you with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Check out the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search where you’ll discover you qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships in just a few minutes, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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