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"First Generation" Trains Its Lens on College Access

by Alexis Mattera

Many students think they know what it takes to get into the college of their choice but with record-low admissions rates, insufficient financial aid and increasing student loan debt, the path to higher education is not as clear-cut as it once was. Good grades and high standardized test scores aren’t enough anymore – the incoming freshman class at Berkeley, for example, includes an expert Ping-Pong player, an Irish dancer and a figure skater, as well as a TV star and a champion roller skater – but what if you don’t have the access to even that kind of basic information? The filmmakers behind "First Generation" hope to explain just that.

Adam and Jaye Fenderson's first feature film follows four students – an inner city athlete, a small town waitress, a Samoan warrior dancer and the daughter of migrant field workers – through as they apply to college and attempt to be the first members of their families to attend college. "First Generation" explores how, despite these students all possessing valuable attributes inside and outside of the classroom, the absence of college graduates in a family can result in a lack of financial support and a shortage of knowledge about the college admissions process as a whole.

Check out the trailer here when you have a minute and let us know what you think. If you are or will be a first generation college student, could you relate to the individuals featured? Do you think "First Generation" should be viewed by all students applying to college? Weigh in in the comments section!


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Don't Know Where You're Headed This Fall? These Schools Are Still Accepting Applications!

by Alexis Mattera

At this point in the year, high school seniors and transfer students know where they’ll be heading in the fall...unless they don’t. It’s not uncommon for a student to have second thoughts about the school they committed to or receive the news that they didn’t get off the wait list at their school of choice after enrollment deadlines for other potential schools had passed. If this sounds like you, you don’t have to put your post-secondary aspirations on hold: NACAC’s Space Availability Survey has revealed hundreds of schools that are still accepting freshman and/or transfer applications for the fall semester. Check out a sampling below:

The list will be updated regularly here – will this information help you in your college search?


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Concerned About Student Debt? Choose Your School Wisely

by Alexis Mattera

Cost plays a huge role in many students’ college choices. Depending on their financial situation, some students dismiss the schools with high tuition in favor of lower-cost in-state schools because they think it will save them money. In actuality, they could be doing themselves an economic disservice in the long run.

Using data from U.S. News and World Report’s most recent student debt survey of 25 top-ranking public and private schools, Reuters revealed that, on average, 53 percent of students surveyed received financial aid and at least half of students at most of the institutions graduated debt-free...but it depends on what school they attended: Princeton graduates, for example, owed only $5,000 at commencement while University of Michigan graduates owed more than $27,000 despite Michigan’s in-state costs being less than half of Princeton’s. How is this possible? Numerous schools including Princeton, Caltech, Davidson College and the University of Washington have eliminated student loans from their financial aid packages and others like Harvard, Stanford and UC Berkeley have capped contributions for students from low- and middle-income families. (Check out the entire article here, including this handy infographic.)

While it is difficult for many students to attend college without taking out some kind of loan – especially those attending state-run institutions which don’t have the fiscal means to eliminate debt – it is possible to avoid debt if you choose the right school. Thoughts?


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Want More Financial Aid Info? Help is On the Way!

Ten Schools Commit to More Financial Aid Disclosure

June 6, 2012

Want More Financial Aid Info? Help is On the Way!

by Alexis Mattera

With student loan debt now totaling more than $1 trillion, current and would-be college students need access to financial aid information more than ever before. The good news is that universities across the country are doing their best to make the facts as clear and available as possible in the near future.

Ten schools – Arizona State, Miami Dade College, North Carolina A&T State University, Syracuse, UNC Chapel Hill, Vassar and the state university systems in Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Texas – have committed to providing key funding information to all incoming students as part of their financial aid packages starting in the 2013-14 school year. The details will include the cost of one year of college, financial aid options such as grants and scholarships, estimated monthly payments after graduation on federal student loans and comparative data about graduation and loan repayment rates. According to the White House, this disclosure will play a vital role in making college more affordable for all students: "Too often, students and families face confusion when comparing financial aid packages, some of which do not clearly differentiate loans from grants, nor distinguish private vs. federal loans, making it difficult to compare aid offers side-by-side. Clarity and accessibility of information is necessary so that students and families can make informed decisions about where to attend college, so they can choose a school that is best suited to their financial and educational goals."

What do you think of this plan? Do you think it will help students better understand financial aid or is the effort too little and too late?


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Colleges Worry About End of Federal Aid-Based Ability Benefit

by Alexis Mattera

It may feel like we’ve skipped winter but federal aid is about to be put on ice for college hopefuls lacking high school diplomas or GEDs.

As of July 1st, newly-enrolled students will no longer be allowed to take an "ability to benefit" test or complete a set amount of credits without aid; instead, college students will be required to have high school diplomas or GEDs in order to receive federal financial aid. How will these students – many of whom are older, seeking training to find a new job, immigrants and students in states like California where the basic adult education budget has been cut – pay for school? College administrators anticipate they will turn to private loans...or give up on their degrees entirely.

David Baime, vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges, says the change “runs counter to the missions of many of our colleges,” as these schools view enrolling students without high school credentials as a key part of providing access to higher education: There are currently about 836,000 students without high school diplomas or GEDs enrolled at two-year public colleges nationwide and according to a limited 2006-2007 Education Department study, students without high school diplomas and GEDs were ultimately more successful in college and had higher GPAs than their classmates with high school diplomas, even if they failed the "ability to benefit" test. If would-be students have to get a GED before going to college and receive zero financial assistance while they prepare, Baime says many will opt out altogether.

What do you think of the new rule regarding federal aid? Do you think a high school diploma or GED is necessary to succeed in college?


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Recent Grads, Pack Your Bags!

Towns Lure Young Professionals with Debt Repayment, Tax Waivers

June 14, 2012

Recent Grads, Pack Your Bags!

by Alexis Mattera

Armed with degrees in their fields of choice, newly-minted college grads have the world at their fingertips...and, often, student loan payments lurking right around the corner. The job market isn’t what it used to be so what’s a recent grad to do to keep collectors at bay? A change of address may be in order.

Communities across the country are attempting to attract young professionals by offering incentives like paying down college loans and income tax waivers if they become full-time residents of specific cities or counties. Niagara Falls is putting an initial $200,000 behind the idea to, according to director of community development Seth Piccirillo, bring back the talent and brain power the city has lost over the last 50 years. (Here, graduates who have earned a two- or four-year degree or a graduate degree in the past two years can apply for up to $3,500 a year for two years towards repayment of their student loans.) Farther west in Kansas, 50 counties have established Rural Opportunity Zones (ROZs) authorized to offer the following financial incentives to new full-time residents: income tax waivers for up to five years and/or student loan repayments up to $15,000. To date, program manager Chris Harris has received 338 applications – 75 percent of which have qualified for one or both incentives.

Read more about the current incentive plans here - would you relocate to one of these areas in exchange for the incentives listed?


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Duncan to College Applicants: "Shop Around"

Ed Sec Says Comparing More Schools Will Lead to More Informed College Choices

July 3, 2012

Duncan to College Applicants: "Shop Around"

by Alexis Mattera

In the epic battle between quality versus quantity, it's the former that usually prevails but Arne Duncan has a slightly different proposal for soon-to-be college students: increase the quantity of schools you consider in order to find the best quality fit.

Though the annual Higher Education Research Institute survey reported that students are already employing that approach (just 12 percent of first-time, full-time freshmen applied to only one college in 2011), Education Secretary Duncan believes that too many students are making their college choices based on distance from home rather than price, majors and other factors vital to college completion and future success. He feels that if students apply to more schools and compare financial aid packages, they'll find the school and program that's right for them. But not everyone is buying into his "shop around" proposal. Lloyd Thacker, director of the admissions reform group Education Conservancy, said, "The problem with the admissions process is it's become too much like a transaction or consumer process, and less like an investment in education ... I'm not saying what he's doing is necessarily wrong but you need to be very thoughtful that good intentions are tied to sound research.”

Check out the full Inside Higher Ed article here and let us know what you think. Are you ready to go shopping with Duncan or will you be taking a different approach when applying to college?


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UChicago’s New Financial Aid Initiative Targets Local Students

by Suada Kolovic

The University of Chicago has recently announced the launch of UChicago Promise, an initiative aimed at helping high school students in the city of Chicago gain admission, pay for and succeed in college. The cornerstone of the program is the commitment from the university to eliminate loans from financial aid packages of students from Chicago who are admitted.

“Chicago, from our pre-schools to our world-renowned universities, is committed to ensuring that every child has access to a high-quality education,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “The step taken today by the University of Chicago is a creative step that will help many of Chicago’s own achieve their goals and graduate without a financial burden.”

In addition to replacing loans with grants and other nonrepayable student aid, UChicago Promise includes an automatic waiver of the University’s application fee and offers a wide array of support and mentoring programs for aspiring college students. The initiative will take effect for those applying this year and will not be available to students with existing loans or who have already matriculated.


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Employment Rates for Law School Graduates Lowest Since 1994

by Suada Kolovic

The notion that those who are well-educated are safeguarded from bleak employment rates doesn’t seem to hold true anymore: According to the National Association for Law Placement, recent law graduates face employment rates that have fallen to the lowest level since 1994.

Only 85.6 percent of 2011 law school graduates (whose employment status was known) had jobs nine months after leaving school – two percentage points lower than the employment levels of the 2010 graduates. Now that may not be reason to sound the alarm, but only 65.4 percent of 2011 graduates had jobs that required passing the bar exam. Ding! Ding!

"For members of the Class of 2011, caught as they were in the worst of the recession...the entry-level job market can only be described as brutal," the association's executive director James G. Leipold said in a written statement. "When this class took their LSATs and applied for law school, there were no signs that the legal economic boom was showing any signs of slowing and yet by the time they graduated, they faced what was arguably the worst entry-level legal-employment market in more than 30 years."

Future law students in the audience, what do you think of the news? With a law degree no longer translating into instant financial security, are you reconsidering your educational path?


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Questions to Ask Your Student Loan Servicer

by Suada Kolovic

If you’re a recent high school graduate, chances are you’re looking forward to the surge of independence that comes with becoming a college freshman. And while anticipating all the excitement that comes with entering college – meeting new people, establishing a home away from home, sleeping in until noon, etc. – establishing how you’re going to pay for it is an entirely different story. Here at Scholarships.com, we encourage students to apply for scholarships early and often but taking out student loans might be inevitable. With that being said, knowing what questions you should ask your student loan servicer might ease the transition and U.S. News and World Report has done some of the legwork for you by compiling a list of helpful questions that financial aid officers, student loan counselors and former lenders recommend you ask:

  • When exactly will my payments begin?
  • Do you have my current contact information on file?
  • What is my interest rate?
  • Is my interest rate competitive?
  • Is there any way to get an interest rate reduction?
  • Is consolidating my loans a good option for me?
  • How do I qualify for Interest-Based Repayment or Income-Contingent Repayment?
  • Do I qualify for an economic hardship deferment?
  • What happens if I lose my job?
  • If I go back to graduate school, what are my loan options?

Can you think of any other questions you’d like answers to? If so, feel free to let us know in the comments section.


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