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Repaying Student Loans

July 28, 2011

Repaying Student Loans

by Radha Jhatakia

Even before college applications are due, many students are worried about how they will afford their postsecondary educations. Once the enrollment deposit is in and the initial stress of finding funding has passed, however, it’s easy to forget about how some forms of financial aid – namely, student loans – require repayment starting about six months after graduation. Here are a few tips to follow so you’re prepared when this time comes.

When applying for loans, there are three standard loans you can receive. There is the Direct Subsidized Stafford loan (which doesn’t charge interest while you are in school), the Direct Unsubsidized Stafford loan (which does charges interest while you are in school) and the PLUS loan (which requires a parent or co-signer. Repayments for both Stafford loans begin six months after graduation but PLUS loan repayments begin as soon as the last disbursement is made unless you submit a deferment form.

The next step is choosing a repayment plan. There are quite a few plans to choose from and, depending on how much you borrowed, they differ in the amount you will have to pay per month and how many years you will be paying it off. Choose a plan that best suits your needs, and remember you can always change the plan if your financial situation changes.

The most important tip of all, in my opinion is to create an account with a site like myfedloan.org. This is the website used by the loan service for repayments. Sign up for it while you are still in school so you can keep track of your balance and interest. Pay off part of the interest whenever you can to avoid capitalizing on it and sign up for quarterly statements to stay informed.

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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Debt-Ceiling Deal Spares Pell Grant Program

August 1, 2011

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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Debt Deal Not So for Graduate Students

August 2, 2011

Debt Deal Not So for Graduate Students

by Suada Kolovic

If you’re a graduate student or considering graduate school, listen up: The debt deal reached by Congressional leaders and President Obama would make graduate school much more expensive.

According to the agreement, Congress would scrap subsidized federal loans for graduate students in an effort to trim the deficits. These loans don’t charge students any interest on the principal of student loans until six months after students have graduated; if they’re eliminated, some students will have to start paying back loans while they’re still in school. And if that isn’t bad enough, Congress will also ax a special credit for all students who make 12 months of on-time loan payments. The changes would take place July 1, 2012 and would save the government $21.6 billion over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

For graduate students who do qualify for the maximum amount of subsidized loans, this new agreement could tack on thousands of dollars to the already staggering cost of going to school. The reason behind the changes is the theory that the money saved by the student loan cuts would help pay to keep Pell Grants, which so far are maintained at a maximum grant of $5,550 a year for some 8 million poor students. “Full funding for Pell Grants is absolutely essential to fulfilling the president's goal of the U.S. once again having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020," said Pauline Abernathy, vice president of the Institute for College Access & Success.

Those considering graduate school, will these changes affect your decision to attend?

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Illinois DREAM Act Signed by Governor Quinn

August 3, 2011

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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Higher Education Doesn’t Guarantee Higher Lifetime Earnings

August 5, 2011

Higher Education Doesn’t Guarantee Higher Lifetime Earnings

by Suada Kolovic

Pop quiz: What level of higher education earns the most money over a lifetime? (A) a bachelor’s degree, (B) a master’s degree or (C) a doctoral degree? It seems the obvious answer would be the doctoral degree but according to a recent study, the gap is rapidly closing.

The College Payoff, a report published by the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce, revealed that those holding bachelor’s degrees earn about $2.27 million over their lifetime, while those with master’s, doctoral, and professional degrees earn $2.67 million, $3.25 million and $3.65 million, respectively. "It's still true that, on average, it's better to get the higher degree; it's better to keep climbing—but it's less and less true," says the center's director, Anthony Carnevale. That being said, the major and industry a student selects is precisely what determines lifetime earnings: Those who pursue bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will earn more, on average, than those with advanced degrees of any level who work in fields like education, sales and community service.

If you’re wondering whether or not earning a college degree at all is worth it, it definitely is. Those with bachelor’s degrees, in any field, will earn vastly more than their counterparts with some college ($1.55 million in a lifetime) or a high school diploma ($1.30 million), indicating that earning a four-year degree is essential to financial success later in life. What do you think of the study’s findings? Are you less likely to pursue a higher degree if the payout is minimal? Weigh in here or via our Resolve to Evolve Essay Scholarship.

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High Schools Seniors: 5 Things to do Before Summer’s Up

August 15, 2011

High Schools Seniors: 5 Things to do Before Summer’s Up

by Suada Kolovic

Ah, senior year. It’s a time chock-full with to-dos, from finalizing your college choice and filling out applications to applying for scholarships and getting your financial aid in order. And with summer slowly coming to a close, it’s a good time for rising high school seniors to realize that some deadlines are just around the corner. So rather than let the last weeks of summer slip away, avoid the fall time crunch and consider U.S. News and World’s top suggestions of five simple things you can do now:

  1. Examine school prices: Relying on just the sticker price when making your college selection is a huge mistake. For the most part, sticker prices are often meaningless. Take the time to do some serious research and understand the real cost of the institutions you’re interested in.
  2. Know deadlines: Keeping track of the various deadlines you’ll have to meet is essential for a successful senior year. In order to make things easier, use Scholarships.com’s calendar as a reference!
  3. Get started on your college essay: Writing a college essay is one of the most nerve-wracking chores high school seniors face. To relieve some of the pressure, start early. Think about it: If you start now, you’re more likely to be able to devote the time needed to do a great job.
  4. Consider supplemental materials: If you’re an artist, musician or actor, applying for colleges (and scholarships!) may be more time consuming. In some cases, you’ll have to audition and have an impressive portfolio to standout. Some schools also require SAT Subject Tests so find out and book exam dates now.
  5. Research: If you haven’t begun researching schools, get started now. Check out schools online, take virtual tours and really consider what qualities are most important to you. Think about what you want out of your college experience – whether it’s a school with a strong academic record, impressive athletic teams or diverse social programs and services – and take a hard look at whether you’re applying to schools for the right reasons.
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Student Loan Delinquencies Continue to Rise

August 18, 2011

Student Loan Delinquencies Continue to Rise

by Suada Kolovic

While credit card debt, mortgage debt and auto loan debt have all steadily decreased since the fall of 2008, the same cannot be said for outstanding student loan debt, which has climbed 25 percent since the start of the financial crisis. Not only has student debt increased, but more often than not these loans aren’t getting paid off on time. The problem is that students take out sizable loans to pay for tuition to only be met with bleak prospects of employment after college. Those lucky enough to secure a job can also expect lower starting salaries: The median starting salary for a member of the class or 2009 or 2010 is $27,000, down from $30,000 just a couple of years ago.

The debt ceiling deal complicated things a step further by adding additional federal loan provisions. One section of the deal changed the way interest is collected on federal loans for graduate students, meaning that borrowers will start accruing interest on their loans before they’ve graduated. That being said, earning a college degree is still a significant advantage when entering the job market. The Labor Department released a report stating that for workers 25 and over with at least a bachelor's degree, the unemployment rate in July was 4.3 percent, compared with 8.3 percent for workers with "some college," and 9.3 percent for workers with just high school diplomas.

Soon-to-be college students, do you fear crippling student loan debt? What steps are you taking to prevent becoming a statistic?

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Dealing with a Serious Illness at School

August 26, 2011

Dealing with a Serious Illness at School

by Kayla Herrera

Summer typically has college students working, taking internships or heading home and those who stay on campus become a little more isolated, especially in a small town like Houghton, Michigan. So when a serious illness strikes, what do you do? I was fortunate to have my grandparents just across the canal but others are not as lucky.

It started for me about a month ago. I had pressure and pain in my upper middle abdomen and I was kept up that night by nausea. I thought it was just something I ate but when the pain worsened the next night, I went to the emergency room. They did an ultrasound, took blood tests, gave me a shot in my buttocks – the worst shot I've received in my entire life – and began a weeks-long waiting period. Until a doctor surmised I likely had GERD (aka acid reflux disease), I took meds at night to sleep and lost about 20 pounds because I could barely eat without feeling ill.

This experience was extremely difficult for me emotionally. Daily calls home helped but I had a hard time not eating the foods I wanted to eat. I was already on a restricted medical diet for phenylketonuria (PKU) so having to further limit my dining options definitely took a toll. Now that I’m finally on the mend, I’m getting my food intake back on track and readjusting to the real world slowly but surely. The good news is I am feeling positive – about my health and the upcoming school year.

If you find yourself in a situation like this, all you can do is try to stay calm. Dealing with an unexpected illness away from home is hard – especially a serious one like mine. Don't be afraid to go to the ER if you experience pain; if you can't drive, hail a cab, wake up a trusty friend or call an ambulance. As you’re waiting for your results, keep your mind off your illness by doing artsy projects, Skyping with friends and reading. Keeping busy helps keep the mind off the discomfort and I also found that taking short walks outside helped in more ways than one. Dealing with a health issue by yourself at school can be frightening but all we can do is take a breath and know that this too shall pass.

In addition to being a Scholarships.com virtual intern, Michigan Tech student Kayla Herrera is a media coordinator for the Michigan Tech Youth Programs, a writer for The Daily News in Iron Mountain, Mich., and a writer for Examiner.com. She love a tantalizing, action-packed video game and can't get enough of horror movies (Stephen King's books always have her in their grip, though she prefers the old over the new). Writing is what she has always done, and that is what she is here to do.

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Apple’s Impact on Higher Ed

Will It Flourish or Falter Without Steve Jobs?

August 26, 2011

Apple’s Impact on Higher Ed

by Alexis Mattera

You may be pro-PC or a Linux lover but you have to give Steve Jobs some credit for not only the projects he’s helped spearhead during his time at Apple but also the personal emphasis he’s put on higher education initiatives. Now that Jobs has resigned as Apple’s CEO, many are wondering if and how the company will keep its collegiate focus.

Apple has been involved in higher education since the company’s early days with what’s now called the University Executive Forum, an advisory panel of top college officials who get early looks at products and a chance to influence design. For example, prior to the iPod’s debut, several schools experimented with the devices and their feedback prompted Apple to create iTunesU, a free service designed to store and stream audio and video files for university courses. The company also offers many incentives to college students, like sizeable discounts on computers and bonus iTunes gift cards...but will it all continue?

Despite new CEO Tim Cook’s responsiveness to and interest in higher ed, some college officials are concerned about what a Jobs-less Apple may mean. (Perhaps they're remembering when Apple forced Jobs out in 1985 and the company paid less attention to colleges.) Do you share in these concerns or do you think the culture Jobs has fostered will withstand the test of time?

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Pew Reports Hispanic Students are Largest Minority Group in College

August 29, 2011

Pew Reports Hispanic Students are Largest Minority Group in College

by Suada Kolovic

While some students are debating whether or not a college education is worth the cost, Hispanic students are enrolling and attending at an all-time high. According to a report released by the Pew Hispanic Center, a 24-percent spike in Hispanic college enrollment has made them the largest minority group of 18- to 24-year-olds on campuses across the country.

The main factor behind the enrollment surge: eligibility. More Hispanic adults were eligible to attend college than ever before – nearly 73 percent had finished high school – so where are they attending? For the most part, the growth stems from Hispanic enrollment at community colleges. The report states that young Hispanic students are enrolling in community colleges at a much greater rate than their peers. In 2010, one million Hispanic students enrolled at four-year institutions, compared with 800,000 at two-year colleges, and of all young Hispanic students attending college last October, 54 percent were at four-year colleges. But while enrollment rates among Hispanic students have increased over the years, college completion rates lag: Hispanics are still the least likely of any major ethnic group to complete college or earn a degree.

Hispanic students, what do you think of the study’s findings? Why do you think more students are entering college but not completing?

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