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What Ever Happened to No Takesy Backsies?

Possible Pell Cuts Could Mean Revised Financial Aid Offers

April 6, 2011

What Ever Happened to No Takesy Backsies?

by Suada Kolovic

If you’re a high school senior and have received your financial aid package from your dream school, listen up: Congress may cut the Pell Grant program’s budget this year and colleges may have to roll back a portion of the financial-aid offers they made to students for the coming academic year. Translation: You may receive a smaller financial-aid package than was originally offered.

According to the Chronicle, both parties acknowledge that some type of restructuring will be necessary to put the program on sound financial footing, but lawmakers disagree on the size and scope of the cuts. Some proposals suggest lowering the maximum award, ending the year-round program and changing the income requirements in order to reduce the number of people eligible for the grants.

At a news conference held by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a college administrator and student advocates agree that cuts in award levels this late in the admissions process would be particularly hurtful to the low-income families the program serves. "Families with the most unsteady income, or who don't have much financial flexibility ... need the most time to thoroughly plan out their expenses," said Misty Whelan, a Pennsylvania high school counselor. With most decision deadlines around the corner – May 1 at many colleges – how do you feel knowing these cuts could potentially dictate where you go? Do you think it’s fair for colleges to backtrack on their offers? What ever happened to no takesy backsies?


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Not Enough Financial Aid? You Still Have Options!

by Radha Jhatakia

There are many factors that affect where, when and if students attend college, the most important being financial aid. So what can a student do when he or she hasn’t received enough funding?

If you need financial aid to make college a reality, contact the financial aid offices at the schools you’re considering before applying. Find out the costs of tuition, room and board, and other college living expenses and defray these costs by applying for as many scholarships and grants as you can. The college will be more likely to help fill any financial gaps if you’ve shown initiative and determination.

Another method is writing formal letters to financial aid administrators. Describe your financial aid situation (including hard numbers), your home life, factors affecting your ability to pay for college and things that you could not put on the FAFSA such as a home mortgage or other payments that your parents need to make. Fax this letter, mail it by certified mail and email a copy to each school as well. If the school cannot offer you free money, they can sometimes offer an additional loan of some sort.

If all else fails, call the colleges and schedule appointments with the deans or heads of the financial aid offices. Some colleges have tuition waivers which allow students with special conditions to be exempt from paying tuition. If the school does not offer this option, you can still seek out non-school loans through banks or private companies. These loans often have higher interest rates, require co-signers or do not have grace period to pay off loans after graduating; in my opinion, however, the cost of not getting a college education is much higher than amount of these loans.

Radha Jhatakia is a communications major who will be transferring to San Jose State University this fall. She’s had some ups and downs in school and many obstacles to face; these challenges – plus support from family, friends and cat – have only made Radha stronger and have given her the experience to help others with the same issues. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, reading, cooking, sewing and designing. A social butterfly, Radha hopes to work in public relations and marketing upon graduation.


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Students Say "I Do" for Lower Tuition

Would You Marry to Keep College Costs Down?

June 7, 2011

Students Say "I Do" for Lower Tuition

by Alexis Mattera

In February, we read a New York Times article about students getting married to save on tuition and asked our Facebook friends and Twitter followers if they, too, would get hitched if it meant they’d pay less for school. The responses? Mixed, but the topic is still hot four months later.

State aid is down, tuition is up and students are stuck in a tough position these days. While some are continuing down the traditional paths of obtaining funding for college (filling out the FAFSA, applying for scholarships and grants, taking out loans, etc.), others are taking a different route – or should we say aisle – with a friend or another student in a similar monetary situation. Why? If a student is single and under the age of 22, their financial aid is determined by their parents’ income but if the student is married, aid is determined by the joint income of the student and their spouse – an enticing loophole for cash-strapped undergraduate and graduate students. Unlike marrying to obtain citizenship, marrying for financial aid or in-state residency benefits is legal according to WalletPop; there are even matchmaking services that help students find likeminded individuals to marry for tuition relief and divorce after graduation!

What are your thoughts on these “on-paper” marriages? Would you say “I do” if you could save thousands on tuition and fees or do you feel this practice – while legal – is too unethical to consider?


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Helpful Tips on Maximizing Merit Aid

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out the bottom line when it comes to the cost of your college education is definitely a stressful part of the process. With everything that goes into determining your financial aid package (your parents’ income, your earnings and your family’s net assets), it’s important to understand that merit aid – aid based on a student’s attributes (academics, athletics, extracurriculars, etc.) – is available to student regardless of their “need.” New federal rules are blurring the distinction between scholarships awarded on merit and grants awarded because of a student’s financial need – for instance, a growing number of colleges now award “need-based” aid to students from families earning six figures! Who would have thunk it?! So, we’ve compiled a few helpful tips to maximize your chances for merit aid and increase your overall financial aid package.

  • Fill out the FAFSA. Federal rules have changed. College aid officials are now allowed to award need-based aid to students whose parents earned decent salaries last year but have recently been laid off, as well as make accommodations for a family’s unique circumstances, such as high medical bills.
  • Apply to schools where you’d rank at the top. While your dream school might be an Ivy League, you should apply to at least a few colleges where your GPA would put you in the top 25 percent of the student body.
  • Apply to schools that offer generous need-based aid. In the 2009-10 academic year, Louisiana College reported that 88 percent of students were receiving non-need based financial aid. Do the schools you’re considering boast the same kind of aid?
  • Do the research. If you’re interested in a college, find out what it has to offer when it comes to merit aid. You might qualify for more awards than you think!
  • Before making a final decision, compare net prices. Consider the cost of attendance in its entirety including tuition and fees, room and board, books and transportation. The school that offers the most in merit aid might not be the best choice; sometimes the college offering the largest merit scholarship might have the highest net price because its tuition is higher.
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Believe it or not, you have negotiating leverage when it comes to your merit aid package. If you have received admission letters from two or more universities and your first choice has a higher net price than your second choice, contact that institution! Some schools might be willing to match the merit aid offered, which would provide you the opportunity to attend your first choice school for less money!

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The Good News and Bad News About State Aid for Students

by Alexis Mattera

There’s good news and bad news regarding state aid for students. The good: State financial aid for college students, including grants, work-study and loans, rose by nearly 4 percent last year. The bad: Just about half of the states surveyed cut need-based grants, even as demand for financial aid increased.

The data – from a report by the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs – also revealed a 1-percent decline in overall state higher education spending and more money spent on need-based grants versus the amount spent on merit-based grants. While this means some students have access to resources that will help them complete college and bolster the economy, not all students are benefiting. Ohio, Alaska, Michigan, Hawaii and Utah have cut need-based grant funding by as much as 66 percent and in Georgia, lower award levels have been implemented for the HOPE Scholarship. And what about California and Washington, where financial aid increased? They’ve seen an increase in student-aid applications but cannot honor all requests because they have run out of money.

Experts view these findings as positive overall but are proceeding with “cautious optimism.” Do you agree or disagree with the actions taken thus far?


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The Best Financial Aid Policies in Higher Ed

by Alexis Mattera

Did you know that more than 70 colleges across the country have replaced loans with grants? That’s right: Schools are offering more free money to entice students to enter their hallowed halls, meaning they will not be saddled with the often-dreaded student loan payments after graduation. What institutions come out on top? Here are a few of the best aid policies, courtesy of the Washington Post’s Daniel de Vise:

For de Vise’s complete top 12, click here. If your school made the cut, are you reaping the financial benefits? If your school is not represented, how are you paying for your degree?


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Debt-Ceiling Deal Spares Pell Grant Program

by Suada Kolovic

Unless you’ve taken residence under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ve heard about the debt ceiling crisis. Thankfully, the White House and Congress have reached a deal to raise the nation’s borrowing limit and shrink the federal deficit which avoids many of higher education’s worst-case scenarios, namely cuts to Pell Grants, the end of subsidized student loans or a government default that would leave student financial aid and other funding for colleges in limbo.

Here’s the breakdown: The agreement would cut $1 trillion right away and create a committee to reduce the deficit by another $1.5 trillion by November. If approved in Congress, it will avert default on the nation’s debts and ensure that the government has enough money for federal benefits, including student aid. In layman’s terms, the bill would provide $17 billion for the Pell Grant program but the measure would only be temporary. Because House conservatives oppose tax increases, it is likely that the committee charged with reducing the deficit will favor spending cuts over revenues increase, putting Pell Grants and other student aid programs at risk for cuts in the near future.

Do you think slashing funds for higher education is problematic? Let us know what you think.


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Illinois DREAM Act Signed by Governor Quinn

by Suada Kolovic

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a law Monday that provides undocumented immigrants access to private scholarships. The Illinois DREAM Act, which passed the state Senate by a wide margin in May, will create a “DREAM Fund” – a scholarship account funded entirely by private dollars that will provide scholarships to undocumented students seeking higher education.

Quinn called the new law “landmark” legislation. The DREAM Act – which borrows its name from a similar piece of federal legislation – will also encourage counselors to receive training on educational opportunities for undocumented students, as well as open up college savings programs and prepaid tuition programs to all Illinois residents. Unlike the federal bill, however, it will not provide a path to citizenship for those students.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also attended the Monday signing. “Immigrants are a driving force in our city’s cultural and economic life, and opening the way for all Chicago students to earn an excellent higher education will make our city even stronger," Emanuel said in a statement. “I am proud that families and students across Illinois will now have a better shot at the American Dream — which starts with a great education.”

What do you think of the legislation? Should other states follow in Illinois’ footsteps or do you think passing the DREAM Act will only encourage more illegal immigration?


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Stanford Receives $150 Million Gift to Fight World Poverty

by Suada Kolovic

With the economy in a slump, debt-ridden college students aren’t alone in their financial struggles. Colleges and universities nationwide – who’ve had a fair share in creating insurmountable amounts of debt for the majority of students – have struggled to attract potential donors as concerns about volatile markets remain. Stanford University, however, may be the exception: A local philanthropist and his wife have donated $150 million to establish an institute aimed at alleviating global poverty.

The gift from Robert and Dorothy King includes a $100 million grant to start the Stanford Institute on Innovation in Developing Economies, which will be known as Seed. The new center will be housed in the business school and will conduct research, coordinate courses in social entrepreneurship and design, and oversee projects worldwide to alleviate poverty. "We know there are people out there who can make this world a better place, and we want to get behind them," Mr. King, a venture investor and philanthropist in Menlo Park, Calif., said in a YouTube video about the institute. The remaining $50 million will be set aside to encourage donations to Stanford programs that tackle poverty and, if all funds are matched, the total could reach $200 million.

What do you think of Mr. and Mrs. King’s donation to Stanford and not those in need directly? Is this a step in the right direction or not?


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A Little Loan Goes a Long Way

November 29, 2011

A Little Loan Goes a Long Way

by Alexis Mattera

In recent years, college students have become more cautious about taking out loans to pay for school. There are multiple reasons for this – horror stories from friends or siblings, limited job prospects after graduation and high interest rates have all been cited – and while it’s an admirable goal to graduatefrom college debt-free, educators think this approach could actually hinder students from getting degrees.

According to a recent Associated Press article, students are attempting to limit borrowing by working longer hours, taking fewer credits (and often not enrolling full-time), living at home and attending less selective institutions. While educators are impressed with this level of fiscal responsibility, they are quick to point out that each action above is a risk factor that makes college students less likely to graduate. Borrowing could prevent this, said Deborah Santiago, co-founder and vice president of Excelencia in Education. "If you can take out a little bit of loan you're more likely to complete. If you can go to a more selective institution that gives you more resources and support, you're more likely to complete." How much more likely? Federal data analyzed by Excelencia and the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) in 2008 shows roughly 86 percent of students who borrow for college are able to attend full-time compared to 70 percent of students who don't borrow and roughly 60 percent of full-time students receive a bachelor's degree within eight years compared to 25 percent of part-time students.

What can be done to facilitate this message? Educators believe students need to better understand financial aid, the difference between types of loans, debt management and the returns on various degrees and majors. In addition to searching for scholarships and grants, is borrowing part of your financial aid plan and does this information make you more or less likely to take out a loan?


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