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Textbook Buying Tips

Aug 13, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Both for students starting college for the first time in the fall and for undergraduate students returning for another year, textbooks are too often an unwelcome and unexpectedly large expense. With your scholarship awards and hard-earned money already going towards tuition and room and board, it's difficult and unpleasant to have to shell out well over $100 for a book you're unlikely to even enjoy reading. There are ways to ease the pain of college textbook purchases, though.

Start Early and Get It in Writing: With classes starting up in August or September at most schools, your professors and the bookstore staff probably already know what books will be needed for fall, even if the textbook section of the campus bookstore isn't open for business yet. If you have your fall schedule figured out, now is a good time to start tracking down textbooks. First off, get a book list for each course as early as possible. This could take some doing, as not all professors in all departments have the courtesy to make book lists and syllabi available on a course website. Typically, professors have to get lists to the bookstore, though, and the bookstore is generally supposed to make this information available to students. If you can't find this information anywhere, don't be afraid to ask your professor through a polite e-mail.

Comparison Shop and Buy Used: With book list in hand, make note of prices at the campus bookstore, any off-campus textbook stores in the community, and popular websites that sell new and used books. Try to find the best deal, and be sure to factor in shipping costs and how long it will take the books to arrive. While the used book stacks are always the first to go at the bookstore, this isn't the only place used books are available. Check local used bookstores, as well as online retailers. I've found books for literature classes at library sales, yard sales, and thrift stores too, so be on the lookout if you happen across any of these. There's nothing like picking up a $15 text for 15 cents.

Find It for Free: Got friends or older siblings who may have taken similar classes? See if they hung onto their books and could lend you one or two. You may want to try posting flyers in your dorm and common areas on campus, or utilizing free online classifieds for your campus and community. The end of the semester is often the best time for this, but it could still pay off now. Don't forget the campus and public libraries, either, especially if you have the option of checking out a book for an entire semester, or if you will only need a book for part of the term. Most colleges participate in pretty generous inter-library loan programs, and some let students keep books or renew books for fairly substantial lengths of time. If you can't borrow, you may also want to look into renting. While not free, textbook rental services are less expensive than purchasing new books, and you don't have to worry about trying to sell the books back at the end of the semester.

Apply for Textbook Scholarships: Many scholarship opportunities allow winners to apply costs towards any school-related expenses, including textbooks. Additionally, several scholarship providers offer students money specifically for buying books. Some are local scholarships and others are major-specific, but they are out there! Do a free college scholarship search today to find some textbook funds.

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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Three Steps to Avoid Long Lines at the Financial Aid Office this Fall

Aug 6, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

We're nearly a week into August, and for many students, that means that back-to-school preparations have begun. Whether you're picking out notebooks and extra-long twin sheets, or trying to squeeze one last trip or a few more hours of work into your calendar, now is a good time to start looking ahead to the fall term if you're in college. This includes thinking about financial aid. One of the least pleasant aspects of the start of the semester is finding yourself in the line for the college financial aid office as it grows to epic proportions the first week of class.

Luckily, at most colleges the fall rush has not yet started, so if you have some extra time now, you can take steps to make sure you won't find yourself standing in a packed office and trying not to panic on the first day of class. From a financial aid office veteran, here are three things to check into now to avoid waiting in line later.

First, if you are applying for federal student financial aid, by now you should have filled out a 2009-2010 FAFSA and received a financial aid award notice from your college's financial aid office. If you're still waiting to complete a FAFSA or hear back from your school, now would be a good time to take care of these things. You may want to call your college's financial aid office, or check your account online if you have the option, to make sure that everything is in order for timely disbursement of your fall financial aid. Ask if you have any other paperwork you need to complete (such as verification or a master promissory note), especially if it is your first time receiving financial aid. Double check disbursement dates, as well, so you know when you are due to receive the money.

Second, if you've won any scholarship awards (and we hope you have!), now would be a good time to make sure you know when you will be receiving the funds, whether the checks will go to the school or to you, and whether you will need to sign anything or wait for the school to do any additional paperwork before you receive the money (the financial aid office may need to recalculate your aid based on the scholarships you've received). Many scholarship providers notify you of disbursement arrangements or include this information in their official rules, so review correspondence with them, as well as information they've published. If you have questions, you can check with your college and the scholarship provider.

Finally, make sure you will have sufficient funds to cover your bill and make arrangements if necessary to take care of whatever costs grants, scholarships, or federal student loans do not cover. Your parents may want to take out a PLUS loan, or you may want to take out a private loan to cover whatever gap is left. You will want to do paperwork for these as soon as possible, as processing times may take up to a few weeks, especially once things get busy. Many colleges also offer payment plans if you'd like to pay the rest of your bill without borrowing, but you cannot afford to do so all at once.

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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Watch for Scholarships that Charge Application Fees

Aug 5, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The fall semester is just around the corner, and in addition to the start of classes, students are also beginning to gear up for scholarship application season, the time from late fall to late spring when the majority of scholarship applications are due. If you are just starting your scholarship search, there are a number of things to keep in mind when deciding which awards to apply for. The size of the award, the application deadline, the amount of work required, and your likelihood of winning are all criteria you likely use in evaluating awards. One other thing to think about before putting together an application, though, is whether there will be any costs associated with the scholarship contest.

Every scholarship application will have some degree of cost associated with it, whether it's postage, time, or the costs involved in creating your application materials (for example, printing an essay or filming and editing a video). However, some scholarship applications are going to be more costly than others, and when a scholarship charges an application fee on top of the time, energy, and money you're already putting into it, it should be cause for some careful thought.

Scholarship opportunities are generally seen as altruistic offers made by organizations that want to help students succeed in college. Sure, many scholarships have a promotional nature, as there are few better ways to attract interest in a company than by giving something away for free. However, some companies actually charge students to apply for scholarships. For example, we came across one scholarship essay contest that offered a $500 award and charged a $15 application fee. The scholarship provider boasted of receiving 10,000 applications in a year, meaning they hauled in $15,000 and only gave away $500. Unless they're spending over $14,000 promoting the contest and paying people to judge the essays, it's reasonable to believe they're profiting off the scholarship in more ways than just boosting traffic to their site. Not necessarily the most altruistic endeavor, huh?

This isn't the only example of a scholarship contest charging a seemingly unnecessary application fee. Offers like this aren't necessarily scholarship scams, as legitimate awards are offered to people who apply. However, why would you pay money for something when there are so many other ways to get it for free?

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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Deadlines and Details: Things to Watch for When Submitting a Scholarship Application

Jul 30, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

As our annual Resolve to Evolve scholarship essay contest draws to a close and we move closer to the time of year when a number of other scholarship competitions begin accepting applications, we thought it would be a good time to review an often overlooked aspect of applying for scholarships: the actual act of submitting your scholarship application.

By applying for a scholarship, you are making contact with someone who could potentially award you money, so you want to make sure that your application makes a good first impression before the reviewer even gets to the content.  At the very least, you certainly do not want your application to wind up in the discard pile due to a failure to follow the contest's official rules. While official rules for scholarship opportunities can often come across as dense and full of legal language, you should still take time to review them and ensure your application complies before you spend the time, money, and effort involved in creating and submitting a scholarship application.

A good idea is to make a note for yourself of the requirements for each scholarship for which you intend to apply. Print off sheets or make a spreadsheet on your computer. Get organized. We suggest including the following items in your list of rules to note:

Eligibility Requirements: This may seem like a no-brainer, but before you apply for a scholarship, make sure you're actually eligible to win. Pay attention to details like age, grade level, and enrollment status, since your answer for these could be different from what you think, depending on the scholarship provider's cutoff dates. For example, a scholarship could ask for "currently enrolled" students as of summer 2009, but if your first class starts during the fall term, you may not be eligible to apply. If you are not sure whether you are eligible based on the official rules, it doesn't hurt to contact the provider and ask.

Length and Format of Submission: Once you've made sure that you are eligible to apply, make sure what you plan to submit is eligible to win. Your 20-page scholarship essay may provide a brilliant analysis of the subject matter, but if the upper limit for the contest is 800 words, you are not going to win a scholarship with it. Your scholarship application also can't win if you forget to provide appropriate contact info or include required items, so make a list of what you need and check off each item as it goes into your application packet. Similarly, you'll want to pay attention to any rules about file format, typeface, and other details that may disqualify you, or at least generate the impression that you didn't carefully read the rules.

Submission Method: Does this scholarship contest ask for applications to be submitted via e-mail, via a form on their website, or via postal mail? Do they request that you use a specific mail carrier, or avoid using others (some scholarship providers will include stipulations such as sending your application only through the United States Postal Service)? Do they want you to label your submission in a particular way or address it to a particular person or office? All of these questions are important not only to make sure your application gets to where it needs to go, but also to demonstrate your interest in the award and your ability to follow instructions.

Deadline: If your essay is to be submitted online, make note of the exact time of day at which the contest ends. Is there a time zone indicated in the official rules? You don't want to find yourself searching for a scholarship submission form on a website at 11:50 PM PST when the contest closed at 11:59 PM EST. If your esay needs to be submitted through the mail, check whether the application deadline is a postmarked by date or a received by date.  For example, our Resolve to Evolve Essay Contest requires that applications be postmarked by July 31, so students who are sending them overnight on July 30 are unnecessarily paying more for postage. Meanwhile, students who attempt to submit an application for a scholarship with a received by date of July 31 would not want to simply stick a stamp on it today and hope it's still accepted.

In the end, your application will still be judged primarily on its merit, provided it meets basic requirements.  However, closely following rules for each contest and showing that you have a legitimate interest in the scholarship as more than just a potential source of easy cash will improve your chances of winning scholarships.

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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Swarthmore College Gives Best Financial Aid, Say Princeton Review Rankings

Jul 28, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Princeton Review released its annual college rankings yesterday, based on a survey of 122,000 students at colleges nationwide. The purpose of the list is to help students choose colleges based on what current undergraduate students at each school say, and rankings include such categories as best and worst dorm food, most politically engaged students, and most GLBT-friendly schools.

The most publicized of these rankings is the list of top party schools, with Pennsylvania State University unseating the University of Florida as number one this year. The party schools ranking is often seen as closely related to a combination of other rankings, which involve the availability of alcohol, the amount of time students spend studying and the presence of Greek life on campus. Many students at schools that top the party school list take pride in this designation, while university officials often see it as a cause for concern.

Other rankings may be more useful to many students and parents, especially the list of schools whose students are most satisfied with their financial aid packages. Swarthmore College, Stanford University, and Harvard University comprise the top three spots in the "Great Financial Aid" ranking, with a total of 13 colleges receiving an additional distinction from Princeton Review for receiving the highest possible rating for financial aid in their survey.

However, the self-reported nature of the information and relatively small number of students answering the surveys may not paint a wholly accurate picture of campus life, so incorporating other resources into your college search is important. This and other tools can help you find colleges to investigate further, but don't rule out a school entirely just because it is or is not on one of these lists.

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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New Report on Highest-Paying Colleges and Majors

Jul 21, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

When choosing a college, a number of factors come into play, but for students applying for admission in the middle of a recession, expected salaries undoubtedly play a major role. The website Payscale.com recently published a list of both starting and mid-career salaries, as reported by users of the site, broken down by both college and major. The New York Times Economix blog provides a useful breakdown of this information, which may come in handy for students beginning the college search process.

In general, graduates of top colleges earned more than graduates of less competitive schools, especially at the mid-career point. Starting salaries were also high for graduates from schools that focus on training students for highly technical lines of work. Students majoring in engineering, economics, physics and computer science had the highest salaries, while social work, elementary education and theology were the lowest-paying majors. Music also falls near the bottom...not surprising since few musicians will have as lucrative of careers as, say, Michael Jackson, and "American Idol" often seems to be as viable a route to success as earning a music degree.

There were some surprises, though. For example, philosophy majors actually outranked information technology majors for mid-career salaries, and engineering schools ousted many Ivy League universities for top starting salaries. Additionally, the spread between the top salaries and bottom salaries at many universities was wide; for example, the top quarter of graduates from the lowest-paying school still earned more than the bottom 10 percent of those from the school with the highest median mid-career salary.

While the Payscale report relies on self-reported information from users of the site, rather than a scientific study with random data samples, it still could be useful in choosing a college or choosing a major, especially when paired with other information about the highest paying majors and the value of a college degree. In the end, your choice of major, your choice of college, and your personal drive and abilities will all affect your starting salary and lifetime earning potential. While choosing schools and majors that produce the highest salaries is tempting, playing to your stengths is still likely to pay off the most in the end, and may also give you a better college experience regardless of where you end up.

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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Online Textbook Rentals Catching On

Jul 8, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

While fall classes may still seem far off for many students, incoming college freshmen and transfer students are already attending summer orientation and registration sessions. Choosing classes leads directly to one of college's biggest sticker shocks: the price of textbooks for those introductory classes. With individual texts regularly carrying triple-digit price tags, a semester's worth of textbooks you may never touch again can seem an unreasonable expense.

Increasingly, students skilled in money management are finding an array of options to make acquiring textbooks less painful. Used bookstores abound just off campus at many colleges, giving the campus bookstore some competition and mitigating prices at least to some extent. Particularly on-the-ball students race to the university library or avail themselves of inter-library loan options to check out required reading for free. Other college campuses have begun renting popular textbooks for prices significantly lower than the cost of buying them new.

For other students, though, the Internet is the place to find discounted books for class. A number of popular retailers offer used textbooks, though students may run the risk of getting an outdated edition or an instructor's edition of any text they buy sight unseen. Students who buy books online also face the same problem as students who buy from the campus bookstore: after the semester's ended, you may well wind up stuck with an edition of a book you didn't really want to own in the first place.

A few companies are now offering services that combine the convenience of online textbook shopping and textbook rentals. The New York Times recently profiled Chegg.com, a website that allows students to rent textbooks online, similar to online video rental services. While paying $50 or more (plus shipping) for a book you don't even get to keep if you want it can be hard to swallow, online rentals do have advantages: Rental prices can be significantly cheaper than the price of purchasing a textbook, online rentals offer more selection and students don't have to worry about whether they'll be able to find a buyer for their unwanted books at the end of the semester.

Whether or not you choose to rent your books for class, it's nice to know that there are ways textbooks are becoming more affordable. Cheaper books mean your financial aid and college savings can be stretched further...and that's always a good thing.

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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Make the Most of Your SAT Scores

Jun 25, 2009

by Administrator

Guest posting by CampusCompare.com

Duhn duhn duhn... Today is the day that SAT scores will be released. Whether you’re jumping up and down or getting ready to jump off a bridge, there are some things you can do to get the most out of your SAT scores.

If you got...

Good news: Congrats! You aced the SAT’s and now the world is your oyster. Or so you thought. Taking the SATs is just one tiny step in the long college application process:

  • Re-evaluate your college options. Are there some “reaches” that are looking more like “targets”? Or are some of your “targets” now “safety” schools? Make sure your scores match your college list. You may even want to consider applying to some schools that weight the SAT highly. Often large state-schools look for high SAT scores as they are a more objective measure of admissions, and these schools tend to me inundated with applicants. Add a couple to your pile, and you may wind up pleasantly surprised come the spring.
  • Search for scholarships. Some merit scholarships, both national and those offered by individual colleges, offer monetary amounts for higher SAT scores. Some even have minimums whereby you are not eligible if you get below a certain score. Use your high score to your advantage and get scholarships for high-achieving students such as yourself.

Bad News: Don’t worry. If your scores are not as high as you like, there are a couple things you can do to mitigate the disaster.

  • Retake the SATs. Many, many students take the SATs multiple times. If you didn’t get the score you wanted, try to study and brush up on areas you had trouble with. A lot of colleges let you report your highest score, so retaking your SATs can give you a boost.
  • Look into Financial Aid Calculator, information on 15 categories of college life for over 3,000 colleges and expert, hype-free college admissions advice. Check us out at http://www.campuscompare.com.

    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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Appealing Your Financial Aid Award

Jun 17, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

With unemployment continuing to rise, college savings funds still performing poorly, and some states being forced to make cuts to grant and scholarship programs, many students are likely to be facing a very different financial situation when it comes to paying for college in 2009, as opposed to 2008.  Students who have experienced a significant change in their financial circumstances since completing the FAFSA, such as a loss of income and savings, can appeal to their college's financial aid office for a chance at more need-based college scholarships and grants.

Yesterday, U.S. News ran an excellent article by Kim Clark detailing the do's and don't's of appealing your student financial aid award, according to college financial aid administrators.  According to Clark, appeals are up this year and are more likely to be granted, as administrators take into account how drastically the financial landscape has changed.  If you are thinking of requesting a professional judgment appeal, here are some things you should do: 

     
  • Send a letter detailing changes in your circumstances and why you need more aid.
  •  
  • Don't make demands for grants, but do explain how much help you need.
  •  
  • Provide documentation, including pay stubs, medical bills, tax forms, or whatever helps show how things have changed since your 2008 tax return.
  •  
  • Apply as early as possible.  While many colleges are increasing financial aid offerings, much aid is still first come, first serve.
  •  
  • Write the letter yourself or have your parent write it if you are a dependent student and aren't comfortable doing it yourself.
  •  
  • Tell the truth and don't lie or embellish--if caught, you could be fined or even jailed.
  •  
 For more tips, you can read the entire article here.  If your circumstances have changed and you need more money for college, go beyond just requesting more aid from your school.  Update your Scholarships.com profile and do a scholarship search, paying attention to any new need-based scholarships and grants that may come up.  You could be eligible for more money than what is offered by your school, your state, and the federal government.

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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High School Withholds Diploma After Student Blows Kiss

Jun 17, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Did you think your high school's administrators were strict?  Chances are they've got nothing on Suzanne Lukas, the superintendent of Bonny Eagle High School in Maine.  During the school's graduation ceremony, a student pointed to his friends and blew a kiss to his mom when his name was called.  Instead of shaking his hand and handing him his diploma, the superintendent told him to return to his seat empty handed.  He still hasn't received his diploma.

The story's getting national media coverage as the student's family demands an apology and a diploma from the school's superintendent.  While this story certainly appears to fall on the extreme end of things, it does serve as a good reminder to high school students to take school policy very seriously until you have that piece of paper in your hand and are literally out the door for the last time.

This has us curious, though.  For those of you who have already finished high school: did you run into any incidents at your high school graduation where students' diplomas were withheld?  What antics did you or your classmates get away with as high school seniors and as participants in your school's graduation ceremony?

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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More College Students Taking Summer Classes

Jun 12, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Early reports suggest that summer enrollment is up at colleges across the country, likely due at least in part to the recession.  Since summer jobs are harder to find and some summer internships have also been taken off the table, more students are looking to summer classes as a way to stay productive between spring and fall semesters.  Dwindling college funds and other economic difficulties may also be pushing students to try to finish college as quickly and cheaply as possible.  Most state colleges and community colleges offer summer classes, as well as many private schools.

Summer classes are a great way to keep yourself on track for graduation, as well as to get required courses out of the way as quickly as possible.  While more time might be spent in the classroom at once, summer terms are shorter than regular semesters, so that class you've been dreading won't seem to drag on quite as much.  Summer classes often come with smaller class sizes and more support from the instructor, in addition to longer class times, so they can also be a good way to master subjects that might otherwise be a struggle.

One problem that comes with summer enrollment is finding financial aid, however.  Often, schools award fewer summer scholarships and depending on the school's approach to summer aid awards, students may have already used up their federal aid for the academic year, or may have to reduce the amount they receive the following fall and spring in order to pay for summer.  Some schools are working to make it easier to pay for school in the summer, though, as a piece in Inside Higher Ed reports.  Several have instituted summer payment plans similar to those available during the regular academic year, while others are offering tuition discounts and summer scholarship awards.  You may also be able to apply other college scholarships towards your summer tuition, or even still win scholarships this summer.

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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