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College Administrators Worried About Recession's Effects on 2010

January 8, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Most would agree that 2009 wasn't a banner year in higher education. As the country dealt with a recession, colleges and universities were forced to find ways to make up budget deficits, at times increasing tuition and fees for incoming freshmen. Enrollments at some schools increased, but so did the number of financial aid requests. Several states were forced to cut aid programs at a time when students needed funding the most.

Could it get any worse? Some administrators think so.<

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week describes many administrators' belief that schools will need to continue to weather the storm through fall 2010. At a meeting of the Council of Independent Colleges this week, about 60 administrators from schools across the country discussed "keeping morale up" in the wake of a persistent recession and competing with community colleges, where enrollments only continue to grow as more adults return to school to improve their skills and become more competitive in a weak job market. Some college leaders said they were even working more closely with their local community colleges to improve not only relationships among institutions of higher learning, but transfer rates between community colleges and four-year institutions. One president said she now had at least two recruiters focusing solely on recruiting on the community college level.

The administrators also said this past year wasn't as bad as they had thought, so perhaps their predictions won't come to fruition. Most met the enrollment numbers they were hoping for, despite community college competition, by getting creative - targeting more graduate students and returning adults. Unique academic programs specific by campus also did well, as did athletic programs. (Recruitment efforts of athletes on two-year campuses also increased.)

What do you think about the outlook of 2010? Is there anything for administrators, and perhaps more importantly, students, to worry about? Is this the year we'll see changes to the federal student loan program? Tuition rates will probably continue to rise, but that was happening before the recession. Will enrollments drop at four-year colleges? So far it would seem that even at schools where available financial aid has decreased, enrollment has remained steady. There are reasons to be positive, so even if college leaders think 2010 will be the tough one, the college-bound should never use that as a reason to put off going for a college degree, especially with all of the scholarship opportunities out there.

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More Students Consider Graduate and Law Degrees

January 11, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you’re applying to graduate school or law school for 2010-2011, it looks like you’re going to have some competition. While the recession had little impact on graduate and professional school applications last year, early reports indicate that this year will be a different story.

As of October, the number of people taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) was up 20 percent from the same month in 2008, reaching a record high of 60,746 test-takers. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) also saw a substantial increase in test-takers, with 670,000 people taking the test in 2009, a 13 percent increase from 2008.

Application rates have shot even higher at some law schools. According to an article in the New York Times, several law schools have seen applications increase by 30 percent or more. Cornell University has seen law school applications rise 44 percent between 2008 and 2009, despite making no substantial changes in recruiting practices.

Part of the overall rise in test-takers and applicants could very well be due to increased promotion of these programs. You’ve probably seen at least one advertisement encouraging you to take the GRE in the past few months. Many colleges are also promoting their graduate options as a way to make up for budget cuts and endowment losses: generally, graduate students (especially in master’s and professional programs, where tuition waivers are less common) pay higher tuition and receive fewer tuition discounts than in-state undergraduates. A number of schools are expanding seats in graduate programs to meet rising demand and generate revenue, and it's possible to see some offering more assistantships to shift a greater percentage of teaching duties onto graduate students, as well.

Whether or not they received substantial graduate scholarships, students who are currently finishing PhD and JD programs may find their job prospects aren’t much better than those of students who don’t have an advanced degree. Job openings at universities are down across the humanities and social sciences, by close to 50 percent in some cases. Law students also are facing bleak hiring pictures, as they compete for fewer jobs against more laid-off lawyers who have substantially more job experience. The uncertain job prospects awaiting many students at the end of years-long graduate programs have prompted some in academia to question the wisdom of pursuing an advanced degree right now.

Graduate school can still be a good choice and a good investment, though. If you love your subject, excel in it, and cannot imagine yourself doing anything else, a doctorate or a law degree may be the right choice for you, especially if you can get a substantial scholarship or fellowship to assist with costs. There are also a number of master’s degree programs that can prepare you for professional work, help you gain a promotion in your current industry, or otherwise pay off in terms of earning potential and personal enrichment. The best bet for finding the right graduate program is to do a thorough college search, paying particular attention to where graduates of your prospective programs ultimately wind up working. If most graduates wind up with good jobs in their field, the degree may very well be worth your while.

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Credit Union Student Loans

January 13, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

After legislative changes in 2007 made lending less profitable and credit markets constricted sharply in 2008, major banks began to exit the student loan market in droves, leaving relatively few participants in the Federal Family Education Loan Program and even fewer options for private student loans. In addition to federal aid and alternative programs like peer-to-peer lending, another source of funding has been on the rise in the wake of the credit crunch: credit union student loans.

Credit unions are not-for-profit financial cooperatives that are financed and owned by their members. Membership is usually based on a common industry, location, or employer and often eligibility extends out to the families of members. Students who belong to a credit union have already been able in many cases to select their credit union as a lender for a federal Stafford loan through the FFEL program. But now you may also be able to borrow a private loan from a credit union to pay for school.

Since credit unions for the most part didn’t participate in the risky lending practices that got banks into trouble in the last couple years, they’ve remained relatively stable and able to lend money. Seeing the major banks exiting student loan programs en masse, credit unions have begun to step in and offer loans to students, as well, seizing the opportunity to gain new members through offering an increasingly hard-to-find service. New websites have also come into existence to help connect students with credit unions that offer college loans.

Two of the most prominent organizations connecting credit unions with student borrowers are Credit Union Student Choice and Fynanz, which runs CUStudentLoans.org. Credit Union Student Choice allows students to find credit unions they are eligible to join that offer student loans. Fynanz also connects students with area credit unions and offers a central student loan application for the credit unions on its site. Other credit unions not listed on these two sites also may offer loans for student members.

In addition to increased availability compared to bank-based private student loans, credit union student loans often carry lower interest rates or more favorable repayment terms. Since the credit unions aren’t specifically in business to make a profit and since borrowers must be members of the credit unions, borrowers may find they have a better relationship with the credit union than they would with a large national bank.  However, credit union student loans may not be the most attractive option for everyone. National banks have a broader reach than credit unions and students may have an easier time finding national student loans than finding credit union loans. Bank-based loans also don’t require students to set up an account with the bank and may still carry lower rates and fees, especially for borrowers with the best credit.

It’s a good idea to weigh your options carefully when considering a private loan. Be sure to exhaust all your options for federal financial aid and scholarships before you apply. Private student loans can carry high interest rates and can’t be discharged in bankruptcy in most cases, so it’s wise to only borrow what you need and to avoid borrowing to the greatest extent possible.

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States Post Historic Declines in Higher Ed Funding

January 19, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

It’s no secret that the last couple years have been hard for higher education. The recession took a toll on colleges and students from a number of directions, and now a new study is analyzing the impact of state budget woes on public colleges and universities. The figures released this week in Grapevine, a publication focusing on state higher education support, show a continued decline in state funding for higher education and an accompany analysis suggests the funding cuts could have serious negative consequences for students at state colleges.

Overall, state higher education funding has declined 1.1 percent in 2009-2010, following a 1.7 percent decline in 2008-2009, down to $79.4 billion from a high of $80.7 billion in 2008. The declines represent a sharp reverse from the previous three years, which saw a 24 percent increase in state support for higher education. Without federal stimulus funding, a substantial part of which went to higher education, budget cuts would have been even more severe, with a 6.8 percent decline in funding over the course of two years.

Despite the stimulus, some states still made substantial cuts to higher education. While higher education funding reductions in California, Michigan, and Illinois have received the most press, these states were not alone in substantially reducing money spent on colleges. Even after the stimulus, 11 states still posted a decline of more than 5 percent in higher education funding in the last year, with Vermont seeing the steepest drop at 16.4 percent. Overall, 28 states experienced declines in funding after the stimulus, with 37 states reducing funding before stimulus dollars are factored in. Nine states also have shown a reduction in education spending that's severe or sustained enough to register as a decline over the last 5 years.

Other states have managed to increase higher education funding, however. Montana and North Dakota boasted the highest increases at 23.3 and 18.5 percent respectively, with revenue from energy helping to spare them from the dire budget situations most other states faced this year. Similarly, Texas increased education funding by 12.5 percent, even with a much larger population and overall budget.  North Dakota also registered the highest 5-year increase in education spending at 49.3%.

States’ higher education funding choices can have long-term consequences. A report issued last year by the State Higher Education Executive Officers (who also co-sponsored this study) shows that state cuts to higher education made during recessions tend to become permanent. So, while state university systems have more or less managed to weather this year’s cuts, they may not do so well in the future as a lack of adequate funding persists. The study published this week underscores this risk, giving three reasons the current budget trends could potentially reach what the authors term “crisis proportions.”

First, more than 5 percent of the current year’s state appropriations are from stimulus funds, which are exhausted after this year. Second, state revenues have fallen at an unprecedented rate and states are unlikely to quickly make up the difference in the coming years. Finally, the analysis casts doubt on whether schools are able to fully meet student demand, with enrollment caps, course cancellations, and higher tuition all serving as budget-driven barriers to enrollment. In short, state colleges may already be in danger of failing at their mission of educating their state’s students, and the situation is likely to only get worse in the coming years.

While these statistics are a bit dry and may at first seem like primarily a cause for concern among college administrators, they can have a direct effect on your college experience. If you choose to enroll at a state university, the state’s higher education spending has a direct impact on your tuition, your financial aid, and the quality of your college experience. Continued state budget troubles may make currently attractive universities less of a bargain, while increased state spending might help schools in out-of-the-way places like North Dakota flourish and provide better service to their students.

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Survey Shows Freshmen More Worried About Money, College Costs

January 21, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Everyone knows institutions of higher education have been impacted by the economic downturn. Students have been affected too, in the worst case scenarios paying more for their college degrees or facing financial aid shortages. A survey released today further defined just how worried college freshmen are about money, the cost of college, and finding a well-paying job once they graduate.

The annual survey by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California at Los Angeles polled nearly 220,000 first-time, full-time students at 297 four-year institutions. It showed that more students are relying on student loans to fund their educations and looking at schools that offer more financial aid opportunities. But there was also a mental shift. More students are concerned about getting good jobs after graduation, and how they're going to cover college costs in the first place. The survey also showed that fewer freshmen are majoring in business these days, with those numbers at their lowest since the 1970s. The recession could be to blame. Majoring in business may not seem as enticing as it once did as banks face folding or bailouts and the economy has yet to return to prosperous levels.

According to the survey:

  • 41.6 percent reported that cost was a "very important" factor in choosing which college to attend.
  • those reporting that an offer of financial aid was important in their college choice increased to 44.7 percent, up from 43.0 percent in 2008 and 39.4 percent in 2007.
  • 56.5 percent reported they were more likely to place high importance on choosing a college where graduates get good jobs, the highest level since the question was introduced in 1983.
  • 53.3 percent reported taking out loans, the highest percentage in nine years.
  • 4.5 percent reported having an unemployed father, more than at any other time in the history of the survey. Nearly 8 percent of students also reported that their mothers were unemployed, the highest percentage since 1979.

The respondents to the survey also seemed to have a feeling of social responsibility, perhaps due to not only the recession, but changes in the White House, or more simply, the idea that community service and volunteerism could make them better candidates on the job market:

  • 30.8 percent indicated that there was a "very good chance" that they would take part in civic engagement.
  • 56.9 percent who volunteered "frequently" as high school seniors indicated that there was a "very good chance" they would do so in college.

It's not a bad thing to worry about how you're going to pay for college. Often, tough decisions need to be made based on the financial aid available to you. Should you stay in-state, rather than pursue a degree at a private institution on the opposite coast? Should you consider community college to save money on those first two years? Finding money for college may seem daunting, but you do have options, whether that's being flexible in the college search or applying for as many scholarship and grant opportunities as you can.

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Employers Expect More from New Hires and Their Schools

January 21, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

A new survey of employers shows that broader may be better when it comes to higher learning. Despite students’ increasing interest in a college education that prepares them for a specific career, employers and the nature of the job market both appear to be demanding students with a wide knowledge base and flexible skills.

The survey, commissioned by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, an organization that advocates liberal arts education, was published yesterday. It focused both on what employers would like to see in new hires and on how well they think colleges are able to prepare students for the workforce.  Only one in four of the 302 employers surveyed felt that two-year and four-year colleges are currently doing a good job of preparing students for the challenges of the global economy. One in five believe that significant changes are needed in how colleges prepare students for the workforce and most wanted to see at least some changes made.

Many employers saw college education as increasingly important for job applicants: 28 percent said they would place more emphasis on hiring people with at least a bachelor’s degree in upcoming candidate searches. Nearly the same proportion, 25 percent, said they would be placing less emphasis on hiring people with no degree. The greatest increase in interest in candidates with a bachelor’s degree or higher comes from the largest employers—those with 500 or more employees. They reported 43% more emphasis on hiring candidates with a four-year degree.

Employers reported that degree attainment isn’t the only area in which their expectations for employees have increased. The vast majority of employers agreed with the following four statements about their company:

  • Our company is asking employees to take on more responsibilities and to use a broader set of skills than in the past (91%)
  • Employees are expected to work harder to coordinate with other departments than in the past (90%)
  • The challenges employees face within our company are more complex today than they were in the past (88%)
  • To succeed in our company, employees need higher levels of learning and knowledge today than they did in the past (88%)

To meet these increased expectations, employers overwhelmingly felt it would be helpful for students to pursue opportunities that are becoming common features of a liberal arts education, such as a capstone project that demonstrates their depth of knowledge and analytical skills (84%), an internship or community-based field project (81%), coursework that develops research skills (81%). They also expressed support for more education to build research skills, cultural awareness (both locally and globally), ethical thinking, and understanding of large challenges. An accompanying position paper from the AAC&U expanded on how colleges could foster these kinds of learning and thinking.

However, students do not have to wait for sweeping reforms in college education to take advantage of opportunities that will benefit them in the hiring process. Indeed, they might not have time. Of the employers surveyed, 38% expect to hire more people within the next year, and 54% plan to keep levels of employment steady, a sunnier outlook than was presented in another recent survey of employers. As the country comes out of the recession, recent college grads will be increasingly in demand, but they may also be in greater supply as many schools are currently experiencing record enrollment.

Luckily, at many colleges and universities you can find classes, internships, and other experiences now that will help prepare you for the workplace. If you’re a high school student working on your college search, focus on schools that emphasize research and offer numerous opportunities for internships and senior thesis projects. If you’re currently enrolled, take a variety of courses, especially ones that develop research and analytical skills, and see if your school currently offers internship experiences or opportunities for substantial research projects. By demonstrating through your experience and coursework that you’re both skilled in your subject area and able to learn and adapt, you may have an edge over your competition.

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Student Loan Demand Rises as Availability Decreases

January 22, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Despite more cost-conscious students, demand for student loans has continued to increase over the last two years according to a new analysis by Reuters and the credit bureau Equifax. According to Equifax’s data, both the number and the balance of student loan accounts in the United States have risen markedly.

According to Reuters, the number of student loan accounts in the U.S. has risen 29 percent in the last two years, with the total loan volume increasing by $105 billion to $527 billion. Meanwhile, most other lines of credit are contracting, including car loans and credit cards. Equifax has called the current student loan activity unprecedented, and the bureau’s U.S. Information Systems president, Dan Adams, expressed concern over young adults’ ability to pay down this debt.

Banks also appear concerned about students’ ability to pay. Despite what may be a historic high in overall loan balances, private student loan origins are actually dropping, according to Student Lending Analytics. A recent post on their blog forecasts that the 50% drop in private loan originations in 2008-2009 will be followed by a further 24% drop in 2009-2010. The reduced volume is mostly attributed to wary banks making it difficult for students to borrow.

As private loan originations have been slowing, increases in federal loan limits, Pell Grant amounts, and some state and campus grant and scholarship programs have been helping students pay for college in the face of a recession. However, there is concern that many of these increases are temporary, while many funding cuts enacted due to the recession might be more permanent. There’s also growing concern in the higher education community that students may find themselves priced out of the colleges they want to attend or left in a lurch after college, either unable to find money to continue or unable to pay back what they’ve borrowed.

With widespread difficulties and concerns, it’s more important now than ever to start planning early for college and to focus on finding sources of college funding other than student loans. Starting a college savings plan for students while they’re still young is one step, and beginning the scholarship search as a high school junior (if not earlier) is another. With planning and determination, college success is still very possible, but without those things, it might be more difficult to come by than it used to be.

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Financial Education Gaining Ground in High Schools

January 25, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Whether it’s preparing students for college or providing vocational education, one of the purposes of high school is to help students transition from depending on their parents to living in the real world. Recently, more high schools have begun incorporating personal finance into their core curricula, hoping to prepare students to manage the money they make once they move out on their own.

Money management courses have been offered by high schools for decades, but they were often included in family and consumer sciences classes, often with vague and unappealing names like “independent living.” Many college-bound students would regard these as blow-off classes that couldn't possibly relate to their lives, while other students might avoid them out of fear of having their GPA torpedoed by demonstrating inadequate ability to sew, cook, or care for a baby doll.

However, widespread financial difficulties of the last few years have prompted an increased interest financial literacy among high school and college students who are hoping to avoid the mistakes they see their family and friends making. Financial literacy classes have also changed, focusing on a wider range of skills required for modern life, including taking out a mortgage and starting a retirement fund, rather than the checkbook-balancing and grocery shopping skills students may have found themselves learning just a few years ago.

As the value of personal finance education has become more apparent, states and school districts have begun incorporating it into their core curricula. According to the Council for Economic Education, 13 states require personal finance courses for high school graduation, up from seven in 2007, and a total of 34 states now require schools to implement content standards for personal finance education.

Taking personal finance classes in high school can prepare students to make smart financial choices right out of the gate, rather than learning the hard way in college or after. Students with a strong personal finance education may be able to avoid the financial pitfalls that trapped their parents, potentially helping to break the cycle of poverty for some, and helping others minimize suffering from credit cards or student loans acquired in college. Some school districts believe so strongly in playing a greater role in financial education that they’ve started guiding students toward healthier financial habits as early as kindergarten, according to an article in USA Today.

Colleges have also begun putting more emphasis on financial literacy. In the last few years, a number of colleges have added financial literacy courses, while others are offering or better publicizing financial counseling and advising services. One school, Syracuse University, has even tied financial aid to financial literacy for some students, offering grants to a selected group of students if they agree to participate in a financial education program.

Even if your high school or college doesn’t offer financial literacy training, it’s important to educate yourself about personal finance and build money management skills. Learning how to budget, pay bills on time and build your credit score can help you live a better and less stressful life before, during and after college.

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Online Enrollment Up By 17 Percent on College Campuses

January 27, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

More than one in four college students took at least one online class in the fall of 2008, according to an annual survey released yesterday called "Learning on Demand: Online Education in the United States." Those numbers, which come from the Sloan Consortium and reflect data from thousands of colleges and universities across the country, illustrate a 17 percent increase in the number of students enrolling in online classes since the survey was released last year.

To put things in perspective, the number of students enrolling in higher education overall only grew by 1.2 percent. More than 4.6 million students are enrolled in online courses across the country, compared to 3.9 million the previous year. Less than 10 percent of students were taking classes online in 2002; today that figure is more than 25 percent. The survey did not take a close look at online degree universities, although it would be interesting to see whether distance learning has also seen an increase in applicants who see the benefits of completing their coursework at their own pace. (About 73 percent of fully online universities reported requests from students to offer even more online courses than they already do.)

The Chronicle of Higher Education today describes the survey's data even further, and suggests that despite the increase in online enrollment, many colleges are still not offering a sufficient number of online offerings despite the potential for that strategy to address some schools' budget problems. (According to the report, enrollment numbers in general increase in times of economic crisis.) Public institutions are more likely to offer more online courses, according to the article. At the University of Central Florida, for example, more than half of the student population is taking at least one class online each year.

Other highlights of the report include:

  • More than 80 percent of these students taking online courses are studying at the undergraduate level, with only 14 percent taking graduate level courses and the remainder in some other for-credit course.
  • 54 percent of institutions report that the economic downturn has increased demand for existing face-to-face courses.
  • 66 percent of institutions report increased demand for new courses and programs, and 73 percent report increased demand for existing online courses and programs.
  • Less than one-third of administrators believe that their faculty accept the value and legitimacy of online education. (This has changed little over the last six years.)
  • Nearly 300 institutions with no current online offerings are reporting increased student demand to begin such offerings.
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White House Proposes Federal Budget Freeze

January 27, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Immediately on the heels of an announcement that President Obama would be calling for additional assistance to college graduates struggling to repay student loans, the administration also unveiled a proposal to hold federal discretionary spending to current levels for the next three years, a move that could potentially have serious implications for colleges and students.

Currently, most federal education spending, including student financial aid, is discretionary, not mandatory, so it would fall under the umbrella of the budget freeze. This makes it possible that students will see limited increases to federal grants, work-study, and subsidized student loans in the coming years. The White House has pledged to make education a funding priority, but with states and colleges also struggling financially, it’s quite possible that financial aid programs will see an end to the boost in financial support they’ve received in the last few years.

It’s possible one federal aid program, at least, may be spared from the budget freeze. Last year, President Obama proposed making the Pell Grant an entitlement, putting it in the category of Medicare and other programs that would be exempt from the budget freeze, but the bill to do so still has not passed the Senate. If the bill passes, Pell funding will be mandatory and increases in Pell Grants will be tied to inflation, guaranteeing students a small, but steady, increase in available aid. If not, it’s up to Congress to allocate limited resources for any increases in grant amounts, and with increases in the numbers of college attendees, applications for financial aid, and Pell Grant recipients, it may be all Congress can do to hold funding levels steady for the next three years.

As details of federal and state budgets emerge, and emergency legislation that temporarily boosted funding to schools and student aid begins to be revisited and possibly phased out, exact changes to college funding will become clearer. Already, though, many families are finding paying for college increasingly challenging, even with the aid of college scholarships and grants. There’s a possibility that a federal budget freeze could mean that students in the next few years will see a situation similar to the one that faced students at the start of the last decade, where tuition increased rapidly while federal aid held steady and more and more students came to rely on private student loans.

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