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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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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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    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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    Obama Modern Day Robin Hood? Steal from the Hardworking, Give to the Poor

    Jul 10, 2015

    by Scholarships.com Staff

    Under the Obama administration, the motto “work hard, play harder” is continually being redefined to “work hard, pay harder”. According to The Wall Street Journal, a new plan is being finalized that will allow millions of low-income Americans to slash their monthly student-debt bills, in turn raising taxpayer costs for the government’s mushrooming student-loan portfolio. This week the Education Department proposed to expand eligibility for the Pay As You Earn program, which sets borrowers’ monthly payments as a small share of their income.

    Education Department officials report that six million more Americans will become eligible this autumn for PAYE. The program caps monthly loan payments at 10 percent of discretionary income, defined as the amount above 150 percent of the poverty level. Well-paid graduates and those working minimum-wage jobs will be paying equivalent proportions of their income towards their student debt. While low-income borrowers who have incurred an unusually large federal debt reap the benefits of the revised program, a majority of college graduates and taxpayers will continue to suffer.

    With a current outstanding student debt of $1.2 trillion, the White House continues to give people an economic incentive not to repay a loan. Because these loans are issued regardless of the borrower’s ability to repay, opponents of PAYE say the loans fund basic living expenses with tens of thousands of borrowers consuming aid even when they’re not enrolled for courses. Universities have also taken advantage of the flawed program, offering to pay student’s monthly bills under PAYE while simultaneously raising tuitions. The loans are turning into six-figure grants, debts the taxpayers incur.

    Is the Obama Administration setting a double standard, promoting income equality, yet essentially paying young people not to pursue higher incomes? Is PAYE a program that allows those enrolled to take advantage of the system, while punishing those who work hard for their money?

    Working after high school IS NOT getting you a financial jump on your college peers. You are instead creating self-inflicted wounds to your livelihood when you could be one of the six million new applicants prospering from Obama Hoods thievery. It makes absolutely no sense not to apply for financial aid with curriculums that allow you to maintain a job, programs that ease (or even lift) the burden of financial debt, and give you the opportunity to earn a degree to fulfill your childhood dreams! No individuals of any race, age, gender, or income class have an excuse to not get their degree, seeing expert assistance is as quick as completing your Scholarship.com profile.

    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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    Understanding President Obama’s Student Aid Bill of Rights Initiative

    Mar 13, 2015

    by Suada Kolovic

    The financial aid process can be a daunting one but if you're planning on attending college any time soon, you should know that there are tons of federal student aid options available. From Pell Grants to Perkins Loans to the FAFSA, the funding is out there but your eligibility to receive aid depends on your level of need and, subsequently, how much aid you are eligible to receive. Translation: For the majority of students, loans are inevitable. But don't fret just yet because President Obama announced the Student Aid Bill of Rights initiative to help student borrowers with the challenging student loan process.

    What it does:

    • Helps borrowers keep track of their student loans. For years, consumer groups and colleges have been warning that borrowers with more than one servicer are losing track of their loans — and winding up in default as a result. The Education Department acknowledged those concerns last fall, when it adjusted some institutions' "cohort default rates," or the share of borrowers who default on their loans within a certain time frame.
    • Make it easier for borrowers to file complaints involving their student aid. Right now, borrowers can file complaints with a variety of agencies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Defense Department. But there isn't a centralized website where all borrowers can lodge their grievances against lenders, servicers, debt collectors, and colleges.

    What it doesn't do:

    • Prevents students from overborrowing in the first place. Many of the challenges that student-loan borrowers face in loan repayment are the result of unmanageable debt. After all, if borrowers could afford their loan payments, they wouldn't have to turn to income-based repayment or deal with debt collectors.
    • Overhaul student-loan debt collection. They want the government to handle debt collection itself. But the president's plan merely talks of "raising standards" for student-loan debt collectors, and it’s pretty vague about what those higher standards would look like.

    For more on the president's Student Aid Bill of Rights, head over to The Chronicle of Higher Education. . What do you think of the president's attempt to ease the financial burden associated with student loans? Share your thoughts in the comments section. And don't forget, going to college doesn't have to break the bank! Check out our Financial Aid section for more info on federal funding and while you're there, conduct a free college scholarship search where you'll get match with countless scholarships, grants and other financial aid opportunities!

    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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    Obamas Free College Proposal Raises Questions

    Jan 20, 2015

    by Ben Archer

    Sure, anything Obama proposes is going to have detractors across the aisle politically. Perhaps due in part to his recent and seemingly more and more frequent use of executive action or just plain old typical partisanship, our president can scarcely do anything these days without intense scrutiny. Naturally, among the chief concerns of Obama’s opponents on the matter is the increase in taxes that would be necessitated by such action. But let’s discuss the other aspect of offering "free" college for all first.

    Some people (perhaps none more than those who had to work before, during and/or after attending college to pay for the education and experience they received) may feel as though it would be beneficial for anybody who attends college, community or otherwise, to have some "skin in the game". Certainly, there is a certain psychological aspect to consider; the potential subconscious assignment of value to things that are "free" vs. the ones for which one has worked and saved to attain, isn’t there? Definitely a point worth discussing and possible consideration when discussing the cost of college. Naturally, not all prospective beneficiaries of the "free college" plan would respond in the same way. Certainly, there are many who would take full advantage of such a program and benefit greatly from the opportunity, but would they comprise a large enough portion of the qualifying applicants to the program for it to be viable and sustainable?

    Of course, there is also the debate about funding of such a plan. We all know that there is no "free" college or anything else in this world, so who ends up paying for the college education that the students in question would receive through such a plan? Should the taxpayers at large, whether they have kids or not, have already paid for their children to attend college, etc. be required to pay for other people and their children to attend college? Is this the only or, more importantly, the best solution to the problem of the rising cost of post-secondary education? Does anybody have a better idea?

    Of course, at first glance, the idea of providing everyone with the opportunity for a free post-secondary education is very appealing to those who can't afford college. This would be, at the very least, a "leg-up" for those who don't have the money to pay for college; a chance to prove to themselves and perhaps to a school to which they might later transfer, that they possess the dedication and aptitude to earn a degree. But with the country still in tremendous debt and many college grads being forced to take jobs that don't require a college degree at all, is this a practical solution? Would students who were not paying take the opportunity for granted due to the lack of having invested any of their own money in the endeavor? Is this a solution that will actually accomplish the goal of providing education to those who need but cannot afford it? There are still many questions yet to be answered and, as always, we would love to offer our comments section for you to annotate and contribute to this debate.

    So, what do you think? Should community college be free? Do you think students will do as well in such a situation as they would if they were required to pay tuition? How would you propose supporting such a program? C'mon, speak up and tell us your thoughts!

    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 It Forward Plan Draws Serious Criticism

    Jul 21, 2014

    by Suada Kolovic

    When it comes to paying for a college education, it seems as though students have two options: deal with impossibly high payments while they're in school or crippling debt for years afterwards. Well, Oregon students were provided a third option last year when legislators approved the Pay it Forward plan that would allow students to attend state colleges without paying tuition or taking out student loans but would instead commit a small percentage of their future incomes to repaying the state. It turns out, however, that said plan isn't the saving grace for college students afterall.

    First proposed by students at Portland State University, Pay It Forward has drawn serious criticism since Oregon passed a law to study the idea. According to a report by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, analysis shows that the plan would leave most graduates deeper in debt than if they had taken out loans and would throw colleges’ balance sheets into uncertainty. Here are some of the more prevalent points in the association’s report but for a more detailed look, click here:

    • Pay It Forward does not account for non-tuition costs like room and board.
    • Students who generally rack up the most debt – those at for-profit and private nonprofit institutions — would not be eligible for the program.
    • The program would have “enormous” start-up costs.

    Early estimates suggest that Oregon would have to take about 3 percent of a former student’s earnings for 20 years for it to work. With that being said, what are your thoughts on Pay It Forward? Do you think it’s too soon to tell if this is a viable option for other states to adapt?

    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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    Consider Consolidating Your Private Student Loan Debt

    May 13, 2014

    by Suada Kolovic

    If you're a recent college graduate, chances are you'll have to start paying off your student loans sooner than you think. And even with the economy in a slump, don't expect a free pass on not paying them back. So while keeping track of the multiple loans you've accrued during your college career is tasking, it's important to understand your options. An often overlooked possibility is private loan consolidation. Aren't familiar? Allow me to explain.

    A consolidation loan can simplify the loan repayment process by allowing the borrower to combine several types of loans into one. And often, the interest rate on a consolidation loan is lower than the rate on a typical student loan. Until recently though, few banks have offered consolidation loans for private student debt. Why? According to a report last year by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, part of the problem was the high cost of marketing to potential borrowers and finding adequate financing to provide the loans. But that may be changing: In January, Providence, R.I.-based Citizens Bank said it would begin offering private consolidation loans which could signal that change is afoot nationally. Wondering who should consider a consolidation loan? It's an ideal option for students who have finished school, are gainfully employed and have been making on-time payments on your private student loans for at least a year or two. The real advantage of refinancing is the chance to get a lower interest rate on your debt and to simplify their monthly payments into a single bill. (For more on this story, click here.)

    For more information on student loan consolidation, borrowing responsibly and tips on repaying your student loans, head over to Scholarships.com financial aid section.

    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!

    Comments (0)

    Popping the Bubble: How to Keep Up on Current Events in College

    Aug 28, 2013

    by Mary Steffenhagen

    The crisis in Syria! The Bradley Manning sentencing! The fracking debate! Yet another random act of violence!

    The media bombards us with information and news every second of every day – a sensory overload of grim stories and political biases. It's overwhelming but college can become a sort of bubble, a relaxing retreat from the cares of the outside world. You don’t see the news unless you turn on your own TV or radio or follow a news site or newspaper. With all the other fun things to do, who’s got time to be depressed and bored by other people’s problems?

    It’s incredibly easy to feel that what you see on CNN doesn’t affect you – a college student in America – but it does. You may not live in a small village in the Middle East but actions cause ripples and what happens across the globe may, in any small way, touch your life. Some events will affect you directly. For example, President Obama recently signed a bill to restore lower interest rates on student loans: This directly affects you and me, who will now be paying a 3.4 percent interest rate on our loans as opposed to the previous 6.8 percent.

    Current events are nearly always incendiary topics as well. You will encounter a diverse range of people in college with a diverse range of ideologies...and a shrug and a “Whatever, I don’t really care about that” won’t get you off the hook in discussions anymore. It’s important to know where you stand and even more important to do your research, so as not to form a hasty assumption. First off, it will help you not to look like a buffoon or needlessly offend others and secondly, being able to form and articulate a well-thought argument is an invaluable skill!

    Lastly, being cognizant of “the outside world” is an important development in the whole messy process of becoming an adult. Forming opinions, arguments and worldviews – and having them challenged – is a necessary part of life...especially in an environment such as college, where it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them. So don’t let college become a bubble and cut you off from the vital circulation of ideas and news. Get (and stay) informed!

    Mary Steffenhagen is a junior at Concordia University of Wisconsin who is majoring in English with a minor in business. She hopes to break into the publishing field after graduation, writing and editing to promote the spread of reliable information and quality literature; she is driven to use her skills to make a positive impact wherever she is placed. Mary spends much of her time making and drinking coffee, biking and reading dusty old books. In an alternate universe, she would be a glassblower.

    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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