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U.S. Military Academy Tops Forbes Best Colleges List

August 7, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Following the lead of U.S. News, several other publications have entered the college rankings game in recent years. Yesterday, Forbes revealed its second annual list of America's best colleges. Ranking first was the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY, followed by Princeton University. While Princeton typically does well in college rankings, the appearance of West Point in first place is something of a surprise in the college rankings world. Forbes touts its rankings as being focused on a college's ability to meet students' needs, a factor that includes post-graduate student loan debt (20 percent of the ranking), and the U.S. Military Academy is tuition-free.

As is the case with other college rankings, these should be taken with a grain of salt. Forbes' rankings also draw heavily on data from Ratemyprofessors.com (making up 25 percent of each school's score), a website whose primary metrics for rating professors include "hotness" and "easiness." Similarly, a portion of the Forbes ranking is influenced by the number of graduates appearing in publications like Who's Who in America (12.5 percent), whose significance and methodology have been questioned repeatedly, at least once within the pages of Forbes itself.

Much of the information included in the Forbes rankings is useful, though, such as graduates' average salaries, the likelihood of graduating in four years, and graduates' average student loan debt load. However, when checking out these or other rankings, be aware that the criteria used by publications or the sources they use to determine their rankings may be irrelevant to you and your needs. Think carefully about which factors are important to you when choosing a college and base your choices on those. There are many free tools to help you in your college search, so it's a wise idea to look beyond top colleges lists when making your decision of where to apply.

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States Cut Grants as Students Borrow More Money for College

August 12, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Rising unemployment rates and other symptoms of the ongoing recession continue to drive more people to attend college and look for ways to pay their bills, causing an uptick in state and federal financial aid applications. However, states are also hurting for money to meet financial aid requests and other budget demands. According to the Associated Press, 12 states have made significant cuts to state grant programs so far this year, with additional cuts likely. At least anecdotally, these cuts are already leading to more reliance on student loans, especially among groups that, according to a brief published this week by the College Board, may already be finding themselves overburdened with debt.

This week, the College Board released some new numbers on student debt loads and borrowing habits, culled from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, data released every four years by the Department of Education. Students at for-profit colleges are the most likely to borrow (96 to 98 percent graduate with some amount of loan debt), have the largest average debt loads at graduation, and are also some of the poorest college students (students at for-profit schools received 19 percent of the Federal Pell Grants disbursed in 2007-2008 despite making up only 7 percent of the college-going population). With additional sources of need-based aid drying up, these students may find themselves even more burdened with debt.

Students at other types of schools have also had to do more borrowing in recent years, according to the study. A full 59 percent of college students graduate with some amount of student loan debt, including 66 percent of bachelor's degree recipients. While most students took on manageable amounts of debt, 10 percent of students at four-year public schools, 22 percent of students at four-year private colleges, and 25 percent at four-year for-profit colleges borrowed more than $40,000 to attend college.

The average loan debt of undergraduate students in 2007-2008 was $15,123 (this is all students, not graduates), up 11 percent from the last time the survey was conducted. While increases in loan burdens were most modest at four-year state and non-profit colleges, reductions in state grant programs that are often earmarked for students at state colleges or nonprofit private colleges could send these numbers climbing.

You may want to consider statistics on student debt as a factor in your college search, but keep in mind that there are alternatives to borrowing. Scholarship opportunities exist for students at every type of college pursuing many different types of degree programs.

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More Textbook Rental Options Coming Soon

August 14, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The stress and financial hardships of textbook buying may soon be a thing of the past, as a vast array of textbook rental options are expected to debut or expand this year.  According to a recent article in The New York Times, students will have increasing options for renting, instead of purchasing, the required books for many common courses.  Rental prices are usually substantially discounted from the retail value of the book and students who rent textbooks will not have to worry about whether or not the bookstore will buy back their text at the end of the semester.

A number of colleges and universities have unveiled on-campus textbook rental programs in recent years, making the texts for popular introductory courses available for a small fee.  More bookstores have begun to get in on this, with Barnes and Noble announcing a pilot program this year that will allow students at a few colleges to rent textbooks from their campus bookstores.  These programs allow students to rent textbooks as easily as they can buy them from the campus store, though they're still only available at a handful of colleges and for a handful of textbooks.

Several websites have emerged in the last couple years offering online textbook rental services to students anywhere in the country.  These sites often have a wider array of books available for rental, though after shipping costs are figured in, their discounts may not necessarily be as deep as those offered by some bookstore-based rental programs.  Similar to buying textbooks online, online rentals also require some forethought and don't work well with last-minute schedule changes.  Students have to order their books early enough to have them in hand by the time they begin receiving reading assignments.

Addressing this need for immediately available content is one publishing house that recently announced plans to enter the textbook rental market.  One company, Cengage Learning, plans to rent a number of its most popular titles to students and make the first couple chapters of each book available online to customers who have rented a physical text.  This reduces the stress of waiting for the book to arrive.

Taking advantage of textbook rental programs, as well as other options like used books and free online books, can help you stretch your college savings and scholarship awards further.

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Military Friendly Schools List Helps Veterans in College Search

August 18, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Back to school season is also college rankings season, and in addition to well-known lists like those published by U.S. News and Princeton Review, several other organizations publish their own college rankings based on often-overlooked criteria. One such list was released this week by G.I. Jobs Magazine, naming the top military-friendly schools in the United States. To make the list, a school must be in the top 15 percent of colleges, universities, and trade schools in the nation when it comes to recruiting and serving military veterans.

This information is timely for many veterans who may be starting their college search after the new Post-9/11 G.I. Bill took effect at the beginning of this month. Expanded benefits will help more veterans pay for school at more institutions, with funding available for up to the full amount of tuition and fees at the most expensive state college in each state, as well as housing and book allowances. However veteran students, like other adult students, often need additional support to succeed in college, both where their coursework and their financial aid are concerned.

Rather than just including four-year universities, the military-friendly schools list also features community colleges and trade schools, institutions that attract veterans and other returning students, and that are expected to play an instrumental role in President Obama's push to increase the number of Americans attending college.

Based on survey responses and published information, G.I. Jobs ranked schools on their committment to recruiting veterans, providing programs for military students, and maintaining overall academic excellence. The complete list, as well as survey questions and information on methodology can be found on the G.I. Jobs Guide to Military Friendly Schools website.

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Coping with College Aid Cuts

August 19, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

As the start of the fall semester approaches, students across the country are finding themselves in a precarious position when it comes to financial aid. As we've previously mentioned, several states have been forced to make deep budget cuts this year, canceling or reducing funding for scholarships and grants, in some cases after award notices have already been sent to students. This has left students scrambling for last-minute student loans, and in some cases facing the difficult decision of whether to take a semester off while trying to procure alternate funding.

The Wall Street Journal and U.S. News both feature articles this week that offer up alternatives for students who have come up short on funding for the fall. While scholarship opportunities are still available for the coming academic year and should be pursued, students who need immediate sources of funding may want to check out private loans, peer-to-peer lending, and emergency loans and other aid offered by some universities and state agencies. Reducing to part-time enrollment or transferring to a cheaper school are also last-resort options that may be better choices than taking an entire semester off or putting tuition on a credit card.

An appeal to your college's financial aid office can also produce more financial aid, especially if your financial situation has changed since you completed the FAFSA, or if your parents were turned down for a federal PLUS loan. Additional loans, and even some grant aid, may be available if you ask.

In addition to trying to find new sources of funding, some college students are also petitioning their state legislators to get grant and scholarship funding restored.  Lawmakers in Utah have listened, promising to reinstate full funding to the state's New Century Scholarship program, whose awards they had previously planned to cut nearly in half. Students in Michigan also may yet get a reprieve from budget cuts, as the governor of Michigan and numerous state legislators are vowing to do what they can to keep the state's popular Promise Scholarship program intact.

Even if states manage to find funding for grants and scholarships this year, the next fiscal year could also prove challenging. Students in cash-strapped states who are planning to rely on state scholarships to pay for college may want to start looking into alternate funding now.  One of the best ways to do this is to start with a free college scholarship search.

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Scholarships for the Unemployed

August 20, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Over the course of the last year, a number of colleges and universities have begun to offer scholarship opportunities for people who have found themselves out of work and in need of further education or job training. Yesterday, U.S. News profiled several newer community college programs, including several full-tuition scholarships, but even more awards are out there. Here's a run-down of some of the scholarships for displaced workers that we've found.

Community College Scholarships: Scholarships for recently unemployed students offered by community colleges are the most common. Colleges in several states are offering free tuition for one to two semesters, or even more, for displaced workers. Some, such as Oakton Community College in Illinois and the Community College of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania stipulate certain degree or certificate programs for their tuition benefits, and others, like several community colleges in New Jersey, will allow students to enroll in any course with empty seats. Others are offering partial tuition discounts, such as Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Minnesota. Michigan has launched a state-wide No Worker Left Behind program, which provides up to two years of free tuition for unemployed and underemployed workers at state community colleges. Students can also apply the credits towards an undergraduate degree at a state college or university. To qualify, students must be pursuing degrees that will lead to employment in high-demand occupations.

Undergraduate Scholarships: This summer, DeVry began offering scholarships to students who have enrolled at one of the seven schools owned by DeVry and who have lost their jobs in the last 12 months. As one example, the Employment Gap Scholarship gives students $1,000 per semester towards their tuition at DeVry. Many other four-year schools have also launched generous aid programs, or even offered full-tuition scholarships, for new and returning students who are facing economic difficulties. A number of these scholarships and grants may be available to displaced workers, especially if you now qualify for a Federal Pell Grant after losing your job. Scholarships for adult students are also worth looking into. While only a few are specifically for the recently unemployed, several are designed to generously aid adults who are enrolling in undergraduate programs.

Graduate Scholarships: In addition to offering free career center services, several universities are also aiding their alumni through tuition discounts on graduate programs and additional certification and training. Manchester College in Indiana will allow students who fail to find a job or a graduate program within six months of graduation a year of free coursework. Similarly, St. John's University in New York allows laid off alumni to attend its graduate programs for half price.

Government Benefits: Recently, the Obama administration began a national push for states to grant full unemployment benefits to recipients who choose to enroll in a college degree program, as incentive for unemployed workers to attend college. Additionally, financial aid adminstrators have been instructed to use greater lattitude in dealing with financial aid appeals from students who have lost their jobs, which could result in more federal grant money for returning students.

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Business Student Lists Piece of His Future on eBay

August 21, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The rise of the online auction service eBay has prompted people to attempt to sell just about anything they can affix a price to. So while it's not surprising to find some pretty out there listings from time to time, it's still not every day you see a student auctioning off a stake in his future.

A college student in Georgia attempted this week to fund the last 18 credits of his Master of Business Administration degree through an unusual source: selling a share of his potential earnings on eBay. The student, Terrance Wyatt of Clark Atlanta University, has been paying for college with financial aid for the last six years, but according to his eBay listing, he found himself $10,000 short of his funding needs this year.

So, being a business graduate student, he began looking for a way out of this financial quandary by marketing himself and seeking investors in his future. While his listing has been removed (eBay frowns on the selling of intangibles or the use of the site for fundraising), Maureen Downey's Get Schooled blog for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the partial text of the ad, as well as more information about the student.

While eBay may not have been the best venue for Wyatt's ad, his idea of seeking investors in his future is not so far-fetched. Recently, a number of peer-to-peer lending sites have launched, allowing students and individuals to arrange for anything from straightforward student loans to buying shares in a student's future success. These alternatives to alternative loans are still operating on a small scale and relatively unknown, but students like Wyatt may find the funding they need through such programs.

There are also scholarship opportunities for MBA students, and really anyone who has come up a bit short on financial aid.  Business school scholarships and scholarships for graduate students could easily bridge the gap for students who need more money and want to avoid student loan debt. Depending on your school and your program, you could even land a fellowship or assistantship that could fund your graduate education.

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New Scholarship for Alabama Transfer Students

August 27, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Attending community college is a great way to save money on the first two years of higher education, but for many students, paying for school after they transfer to a four-year college or university can still be difficult. Now, transfer students in Alabama will get help with their last two years of school, thanks to a new state scholarship.

Alabama has launched a new scholarship program for graduates of the state's two-year community and technical colleges that will allow them to receive a bachelor's degree for free. Alabama State University and Alabama A&M will each award 250 two-year full-tuition scholarships starting this fall, with the number of available scholarship awards to double to 500 apiece next year.

Initial funding for the scholarship program comes from the state's Education Trust Fund, and is part of the settlement in the 28-year-old Knight v. Alabama segregation lawsuit.  Knight, the lead plaintiff in the suit, is now a state representative and vows to do what he can to ensure continued funding for the program as long as he's serving in the state legislature.

Initially, 50 students have been awarded the scholarship, but the state is working to identify more eligible students. Students in Alabama who are planning to attend a community college then transfer to one of these two state schools will want to keep this scholarship in mind. Other local, state, and national awards are also available to students who are attending community college and planning to transfer to a four-year college or university.  More information on these and other scholarship opportunities can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search.

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College Student Saves on Rent by Building Makeshift Cabin

August 28, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The idea of the broke college student is a well-worn cliché, conjuring up images of extreme money-saving measures.

Thrift store clothing, Dumpster-dived furniture, and dinner from the manager's special aisle or the 99 cent store are all stereotypical trappings of the budget-conscious college student. One student in New York recently managed to come up with a creative and envelope-pushing way to save money, however. Brian Borncamp, a senior at the University at Buffalo's North Campus in Amherst, New York, recently decided to save money on housing by building himself a cabin in the woods near campus.

After months of sleeping in stairwells, Borncamp was 80 percent finished with his cabin when university officials persuaded him to give up the effort and make alternate housing arrangements, according to The Buffalo News. The student had compared himself to a modern-day Thoreau with his decision to live in the woods, but claimed his decision was initially motivated by financial concerns. He realized in May that he was unable to pay for school and pay rent, and thus decided to live outdoors.

Once he began construction on an 8' by 10' cabin, the university intervened, offering him temporary housing, a campus job, counseling, and other assistance, according to a statement issued by UB's Vice President for Student Affairs. Borncamp initially refused, prefering to go it alone, but announced this week that he'd made other arrangements and would be vacating his campsite.

While this is an inventive solution to college budget concerns, cash-strapped students don't need to resort to camping in the woods or residing in homemade structures.  Additional assistance is available for those in need of additional financial aid, and a free college scholarship search can help you find it. For example, if building your own cabin or emulating a reclusive author appeals to you, you might find yourself well-suited to win a design scholarship or an English scholarship.

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University of Texas Stops Sponsoring National Merit Scholarship

September 2, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The University of Texas has announced plans to withdraw as a sponsor of National Merit, a popular national scholarship program that students qualify for based on standardized test scores. In an effort to focus on providing need-based financial aid, the university will no longer offer scholarships specifically for National Merit Scholars. The University of Texas, which was second only to Harvard University in the number of National Merit Finalists it enrolled, offered qualifying students awards worth up to $13,000 over the course of four years.

Texas is not the first major university system to choose to cease participating in National Merit, a program that offers $2,500 scholarships to high school juniors who do well on the PSAT, with the potential for honorees to receive much larger scholarship awards from partner companies and universities. Other institutions, including the University of California system, have previously chosen to withdraw sponsorship of National Merit, while many other schools have chosen not to offer awards specifically for National Merit winners.

National Merit has previously drawn criticism for its strong emphasis on high PSAT scores (other application materials are considered in selecting finalists, but semifinalists are chosen solely based on test scores). Students from wealthier families who have access to the best high schools and a variety of test preparation resources typically do best on standardized tests, such as the PSAT, which results in scholarship awards like National Merit skewing towards affluent students who need less assistance paying for college.

A University of Texas official cited similar reasoning in the university's decision to stop awarding National Merit Scholarships, stating that only one fourth of students receiving the scholarships typically bothered to apply for federal student financial aid, indicating the vast majority had access to other means of covering their college costs. The students who are most likely to be hurt by the loss of this scholarship opportunity will likely be helped by the increase in need-based financial aid that the university is promising.

University officials stressed that applicants who would have been eligible for this award will still be able to compete for other academic scholarships, and the undergraduate students currently receiving this award will continue to do so for their full four years of eligibility. Still, this announcement is likely to upset some students and to fuel the fires of the ongoing debate over merit-based versus need-based financial aid in colleges and universities.

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