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by Suada Kolovic

The decision to pursue a law degree is not one that should not be taken lightly. Analyzing your hopes and needs prior to applying will help you decide whether it’s worth your time, effort and money. It’s also crucial to examine the possible downsides: crippling student debt, high unemployment rates and declining starting salaries. At this point, if you’re still interested in studying law, you might want to consider a law school that’s offering the country’s first “risk-free” juris doctor program.

Following a recent trend among law schools to attract prospective students, the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University announced that beginning this spring, a student who decides to not continue law school after successfully completing their first year of studies can graduate with a Master of Legal Studies (M.L.S.) degree without taking any additional courses. And although students with this degree will not be permitted to sit for the bar exam, this approach will provide students with a foundation in law without preparing them to practice. “The new opportunity removes at least some of the financial and personal risk inherent in a large educational undertaking and comes at a time when people appreciate more guarantees,” said Craig M. Boise, Cleveland-Marshall’s dean. He added, “For these students, the first year of law school might have seemed like a waste and a hard-to-explain item on their resumes. Now they can leave with a master’s degree that we believe will be attractive to employers.” (For more on this story, click here.)

Law school hopefuls, does the “risk-free” J.D. program at CSU’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law help quell your anxieties given the weak legal job market? Do you think this program (which is essentially one-third the cost and time of a traditional law program) would be viable or not? Let us know in the comments section.


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by Emily

In yet another sign that a college education is becoming a necessity, rather than a luxury, a recent study of the stimulus legislation reveals that many of the jobs the stimulus is expected to create will require some education or training beyond high school.  In fact, at least 54 percent of the estimated new positions will require at least a postsecondary certificate according to analysis by Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce.  Considering a major goal of the stimulus package was to create jobs for less-skilled workers who are usually hardest hit by economic downturns, this figure is especially telling.

It appears that despite the calls for "shovel-ready" projects, few workers will be expected to merely wield shovels. Many of the "non-college" jobs created by this legislation still may require some employer-provided training or time spent at a community collegeInside Higher Education has more complete information, including a chart of the percentage of anticipated stimulus jobs that will require various education credentials.

While some required training will be covered by grants to employers and the increased Pell Grants and college tax benefits in the stimulus, those hoping for job security but apprehensive about college costs may be left with little choice but to go to collegeCollege scholarships and grants, as well as student loans and other financial aid can help.  A postsecondary education is becoming increasingly necessary in our economy, and it appears that this trend will continue.


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by Agnes Jasinski

As unemployment rates remain high and budgets stay tight, more people are looking to wait out the struggling economy by going back to college. Competition then has become more fierce not only on the admissions level, but for funding to pay for those educations. While many schools are doing whatever they can to continue offering scholarships and grants, the economy has affected some schools' available funding. Good news is, scholarships do exist, and there are things you can do to have a better chance of landing one.

  • Apply early, and apply often. Scholarships wait for no one, and a later deadline doesn't mean you should wait until the very last moment to apply. Generous scholarships like the Coca-Cola Scholars Program have deadlines in October, for example. It's not a bad move to look ahead and start applying for awards beyond this year, either, to get an idea of funding you'll need in the future. To see scholarships that have deadlines this fall, conduct a a free scholarship search and see the dozens you could be eligible for.
  • Don't rule out local scholarships. While funding packages from your intended college are often more generous than outside awards, it won't hurt to supplement any funding you're awarded or have a backup plan in case what your school offers covers less of your fees than you thought. Local scholarships from your dad's employer or your local bowling league are also less competitive than college-based awards or the more well-known contests, and often look at things beyond your GPA and test scores to factor in things like community service, your experience with that organization and financial need. New scholarships are being created all the time, so check on your search throughout the school year for the most up-to-date results.
  • Stand out on the application. It's not too late to make up for that less-than-stellar grade in your high school Algebra class, especially if you're looking ahead to scholarship opportunities beyond your freshman year in college. GPAs matter from your entire high school career, so don't slack off when the senioritis hits. Don't be afraid of AP classes unless it's a subject you know you'd get a low grade in, and get involved in your school and your community as it's also not always about academics. Work on that resume by applying for internships that fit your intended major, and put in more hours of practice if you're going for a sports or music scholarship. It's never too late to make yourself a more desirable scholarship candidate.
  • Appeal your award. If you've done everything you can - filled out your FAFSA early, put together impressive scholarship applications - and you feel the financial aid you've been offered from your school is unfair or if your circumstances have changed dramatically since applying for government aid, you still have options. Schools are more likely to reconsider packages in the current climate, and you could be eligible for more grant and scholarship funding, the best kind that you don't need to pay back.

For more information on upcoming scholarships and other helpful financial aid tips, visit our College Resources. Tomorrow, we'll explore your options on keeping college costs low and looking at a school's program versus its reputation.


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by Agnes Jasinski

While it is important to make sure you choose a career in a field you would be happy and fulfilled in, it doesn't hurt to do a little investigating as part of your college search before you make your decision to see which jobs are in high demand and recession-proof. Positions with nationwide shortages in fields such as nursing and education, especially in low-income and rural communities, also often come with a wider net of scholarship and grant opportunities as incentives to attract new students. And the college-bound are taking notice.

Many students once set on careers in business or real estate have begun reconsidering those decisions for safer options in the health care, information technology and "green" industries. Others who have already been through college but have been laid off in their intended careers are using the layoffs as a reason to return to school for more training in their fields or to launch brand new careers. A recent Reuters article described the story of an out-of-work mortgage broker struggling with the effects of a weak housing market who was going back to school to become an accountant.

Lower-cost, flexible options like community colleges can also help you get the job skills and career opportunities that remain in demand in a tough economy, and make you a more viable candidate when the job market improves. Over the last year, enrollments at community colleges have increased by as much as 25 percent, according to the American Association of Community Colleges, with many of those new students adult learners. A recent article in the The Chronicle of Higher Education described the new role of the two-year institutions as launching pads to get into jobs in local industries still hiring in a struggling economy. Macomb Community College, for example, has shifted its focus from preparing workers for jobs in the local automotive industry - a very uncertain field - to positions as nursing home aides and graphic designers.

Some words of caution: No amount of job security will make up for pursuing a career you dislike, so make sure that if you are considering going into a field for economic reasons that it's balanced with what you see yourself doing once the job market improves. If you're undecided about majors, take a variety of general education requirements so you get a good idea of what you like about one field over another. Good writing, math and science skills translate into a number of job opportunities, so even if you don't stick to positions in your major once you're out of school, a background in those subjects would be helpful. If you really are passionate about a particular field and can't see yourself doing anything else, the economy won't be struggling forever, so chances are that even if you do go into a riskier field things may have turned around by the time you graduate.

In our last part of the series tomorrow, we'll look at reasons to think positive despite the economy, and offer tips for recent graduates.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Despite all the news you read about the economy on a daily basis, there are reasons to stay positive and believe the situation is and will continue improving. There are still dozens of scholarships out there that you're probably qualified for, and although the admissions process has become more competitive, the level of funding available to high school seniors and beyond has remained solid. The economy won't keep you from going to college, especially if you plan ahead and apply for your financial aid packages early via FAFSA. The longer you wait, the less funding there will be and the harder it'll make your decisions on which college to attend.

New scholarships are being posted all the time. A recent blog post described two such opportunities in two Michigan communities, a region that has been hit fairly hard with economic effects. Both awards are very generous, and could serve as a lesson not to rule out local scholarships when you're looking for ways to pay for college. Although some schools have had to scale back their budgets, local scholarships have remained in tact as private organizations only want to help you get to school even more in a struggling economy.

Even if the economy hasn't recovered by the time you graduate, chances are the positions you'll be applying for won't be as scarce as jobs affected by layoffs. Entry level jobs are more readily available because it's less expensive to hire a new graduate than someone with decades worth of experience. Internships are also plentiful, since they unfortunately often offer a less-than-generous stipend or no payment at all, so if you're able to abandon the summer job next year, consider finding an internship that fits your field and interests. Internships are a great way to pad your resume, as even entry level jobs want to see that you've had some experience in your chosen field in the real world.

Although there's no guarantee you'll land a great job right out of college, that guarantee has never existed, even in the best economy. The cost of attending college is worth that risk, and the pros outweigh the cons in a climate where more people are going to college than ever before. You'll make more money and have more diverse career opportunities than high school graduates entering the job world. There are many options to cut college costs, from attending school in-state or working through school. Consider community college, as many specialize in programs that are in high demand right now. Any excuse on why you should put off college can be dealt with, so file those applications and get yourself on a scholarship search to overcome the biggest hurdle: paying for your higher education.


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by Agnes Jasinski

It's obvious the economy has had an effect on the world of higher education. While there have been reasons to remain optimistic - some schools have created new scholarships to compensate for students' increased needs for aid - many states continue to deal with deep budget cuts, which have had a trickle-down effect on students' financial aid packages. Some have been forced to consider shutting down merit scholarship programs; others have raised tuition.

Schools' athletic programs then aren't immune to the economy's effects. An article today in The Chronicle for Higher Education describes the potential trouble schools could be in if they have recently embarked on big athletic program projects, like new stadiums (University of Minnesota) or extensive remodeling (Oklahoma State). The article compared schools' spending on sports programs to that of homeowners now finding they've purchased properties they can't actually afford. New projects will probably stall until economic projections brighten, and schools may find that it's not so easy justifying pouring money into capital improvements to athletic facilities when those same schools are facing layoffs and budget cuts elsewhere.

Numbers and hard data showing how the economy has affected sports programs has been vague. While schools report anecdotes of slow ticket sales to sports events, others say their endowments remain strong and that their football stadiums are more full than ever before. Perhaps students and alums use sports events as diversions from the economy. Or it's schools with a lot of buzz surrounding their football programs that are doing well this season. Luckily for sports fans, many projects that have been in the pipeline since before the economy began faltering are being paid for through donations and private funding, rather than borrowed money that may be harder to come by and riskier to an administration unsure when things will return to normal.

Or maybe those schools with the big athletic programs are just adding more to their debt. Debt overall has risen at colleges. Over the last four years, the average debt has gone up more than 50 percent, according to rankings of 200 public institutions by Moody's Investors Service. At the same time, revenue at those schools has been down significantly. The Chronicle article suggests funding that has gone to sports facilities has at times been diverted from other campus sites that could use more work, like remodeling old dormitories or improving academic facilities. It can get difficult, though, to criticize spending money to improve programs that bring so much money into a school, especially at schools with high-profile athletic teams. Sports will always be an important piece of many big campuses, and student athletes should still go for athletic scholarships if they have the grades and the talent, since the situation would probably never get so dire that teams would be disbanded.


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by Agnes Jasinski

The Federal Reserve Board proposed new regulations last week that would prohibit creditors from issuing credit cards to anyone under 21 without the consent of that applicant's parent or guardian, or proof that the consumer would be able to make the required payments on their own. Those rules would amend some of the provisions in the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, a bill passed by Congress last May that, among other things, would hinder credit card companies from getting college students to sign up for offers at on-campus booths.

You know you've seen it before - the free T-shirt that you probably wouldn't wear, but was appealing anyway because it was free. All you had to do was sign up for a credit card. An article in The Chronicle for Higher Education when the bill was first moving through Congress described college students as the most targeted population when it comes to new customers for credit card companies.

Critics of the bill then said that college students, who take on a slew of new responsibilities once they get on campus, should be treated as adults. And during a time when students are more apt to use credit cards to pay for college expenses, they shouldn't meet obstacles when using their credit cards for college expenses. According to a recent survey by student lender Sallie Mae, 84 percent of undergraduates have at least one credit card; 92 percent of those undergraduates use the cards toward college expenses. College students' average balances are more than $3,100.

So what's the bigger problem? Having access to credit to pay for college expenses, or preventing college students from accruing large sums of debt?

Credit cards should be used as the last line of defense, and ideally for emergencies only. There are many options out there for you to find money for college that have nothing to do with being faced with high interest rates and exorbitant fees. Do your research to apply for college scholarships and grants that would result in free money to cover your college expenses. Consider a part-time job on campus if you have the time and can balance work and college. And while not as desirable, investigate low-interest student loans to supplement your financial aid package.

If you need to use credit, make sure you're keeping within a manageable budget, and only charging as much as you'd be able to realistically pay off at the end of the month. The decisions you make now will matter post-graduation, and any decision involving opening a new line of credit should be approached with caution. Stick to one card if you need one, and if you find yourself in debt, pay off as much as you're able to each month until you're done. (Don't be using that card while you're trying to pay it off, though.) Browse through our site to see more tips on budgeting, how you can avoid mounds of credit card debt, and how to keep your credit card score healthy.

The new regulations would go into effect after Feb. 2010, but the public, credit card industry and others will have a chance to voice their opinions beforehand. Other rules proposed by the Board included:

  • Limiting high fees associated with subprime credit cards.
  • Prohibiting increases in a credit card interest rate during the first year after an account is opened, and increases in a rate that applies to an existing credit card balance.
  • Requiring creditors to obtain consumers' consents before charging fees for transactions that exceed their credit limits.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Although community colleges nationwide have seen significant boosts in enrollment, a report released yesterday suggests many will be forced to put their educations on hold or find new sources of funding if their institutions continue blocking access to federal student loans.

The Project on Student Debt released the report, and despite their stance on promoting that students take on as low a student loan burden as possible, they say community college students are at risk for taking on riskier private student loans or watching their grades slip as they take on more work hours to cover gaps in funding because they aren't able to apply for and receive federal student loans. About one in 10 students in 31 states surveyed don't have access to federal student loans, and in some states, more than 20 percent of students can't get the federal loans. Minority students have less access to federal loans than other student groups, as the report found many minority students attending community colleges that don't participate in the federal student loan program.

Why have many community colleges moved away from offering federal student loans? In an uncertain economy, the answer is risk, according to the report. Defaults on student loans have begun to rise among not only community college students, but among all college students over the last few years. The report always says many community college administrators believe students shouldn't have to borrow to attend their schools. Tuition is lower, they say, and if students are saddled with large amounts of debt now, they could hurt their chances for qualifying for low interest rates and federal student loans if they were to transfer to a more expensive, four-year institution.

But some students do need the additional funding even at a low-cost option like a community college, especially in the current economic climate. According to survey results released by the National Council of State Directors of Community Colleges last month, about half of the nation's community colleges are expecting budget cuts and midyear reductions in their state appropriations. Many administrators in that survey also reported that stimulus money provided by the Obama administration went toward meeting existing budget deficits, and that they would be forced to raise tuition rates substantially despite record enrollments to make up for a lack of state funding. (The average tuition increase among community colleges is expected to be about 5 percent for the 2009-2010 academic year.)

While you should always exhaust your options with grants and scholarships first, student loans are often a necessary evil, and we have plenty of tips on how to go about applying for them and making sure you're getting the best rate possible. Never rely on credit cards to fund your education, or you'll run the risk of getting into more debt than you can handle not only post-graduation, but while you're still in school. Browse through our site for more information on your student loan options.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Colleges may need to work harder to find cost-effective ways to promote diversity on their campuses, as schools' diversity departments that have enjoyed growth over the last few years have found they aren't immune to the economic crunch.

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday described strategies being considered by colleges in order to preserve their existing diversity departments and to make as few changes to minority-based programming as possible. Some schools have had to scale back diversity efforts to protect other programs affected by reduced budgets. Financial aid budgets are understandably a top priority at many schools, which is critical for not only minority students but all low-income students relying on aid, but staffing and across-the-board cuts have not spared diversity departments. According to the article, some schools' diversity programs must now make do with less, a common refrain in not only higher education but everywhere over the last few years. Central Connecticut State University's diversity office is down to two employees, for example.

But more broad cuts at college campuses will undoubtedly affect minority students more than other groups. Caps in enrollment at the big state universities where minority students make up a large percentage of the student populations could change the makeup of those schools, as minority students often apply for financial aid and admission later than white students, according to the article. The California State University system, for example, where 55 percent of the student population is composed of minority students, has been forced to cut its enrollment numbers by about 35,000 students over the next two years. Other schools like Reed College have been forced to reject students who would require more financial aid than the college is able to afford, harming those less-affluent students who don't have the means to attend the more expensive or private schools without significant aid.

Numerous studies have looked at how colleges can expand opportunities for minorities, both in getting them enrolled in college and getting them to apply for financial aid to pay for college. And while colleges have been trying to compensate for cuts that may affect minority students more than others by coming up with new, more cost-effective programming targeting those student groups, it will take some time for colleges to get back to the level of funding they once enjoyed and replenish those departments most affected by by budget cuts.

For minority students concerned about changes on their college campuses, consider a free scholarship search. Scholarships for minorities, including the growing number of Hispanic scholarships, are some of the most common student-specific scholarships out there, so for those putting their college plans on hold because of finances, be sure to conduct a free scholarship search to view all of the scholarships you’re eligible for.


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by Agnes Jasinski

The topic of health care has dominated the news recently. Voices on both sides of the political spectrum have been trying to either stop the debate entirely or come up with ways to compromise on a complicated issue even legislators have become perplexed by. In a big push forward, the Senate Finance Committee voted "yes" yesterday to approve an overhaul of the country's health care system, signaling at least the first step toward potential medical reform.

But how will college students be affected in all this, if at all? An article in Inside Higher Education today looks at whether the proposals currently being considered will have an adverse affect on students and campus-based health care plans, which many students leave their parents' plans for. The article suggests that without any major changes, the bill up for debate ignores college health insurance plans altogether as it focuses instead on employer-based group plans and individual policies. Allowing students to remain on their parents' health insurance plans for a longer period of time could be an option under the proposal, although this would not address students whose parents have lost their jobs and health insurance, for example, and need an affordable plan to get them through their college careers.

Lookout Mountain Group, a nonpartisan group that researches the impacts of health care reform on students, released a statement last week that the proposals currently on the table did little in the way of making sure college students had access to affordable, quality health care plans. The group further warns that the cost of health care for students could actually increase if language isn't included in the bill that would address the lack of campus-based options. Jim Mitchell, the director of Student Health Services at Montana State University and spokesperson for the Lookout Mountain Group, said in a release that any health care proposals should strive to include college? and university?sponsored student health insurance/benefit plans under the bill's definition of "group insurance."

Worst case scenario, how would students' health care be affected if no changes were made? According to the Government Accountability Office, 71 percent of four-year private colleges, 82 percent of four-year public colleges, and 29 percent of two-year public colleges offer student health care plans. Best case scenario, legislators realize the oversight and work on including amendments that would not only maintain campus-based student health insurance plans, but expand health insurance offerings for college students, a population that definitely needs affordable options.

No matter what happens with the health care bill, consider your health insurance options before you get to college. Many insurance plans will allow full-time students to remain dependents under their parents' health care plans while those students are in college. If you choose to go this route, make sure you've notified your college; many schools that carry student health insurance plans automatically charge and enroll new undergraduates for their plans. (You may need to provide proof of your insurance in this situation, but that's for your own benefit. Trust us. You don't want to start college uninsured, and will be thankful for insurance when you get sick at college.) If you go with your college's plan, you'll probably pay less than you would for a private plan, and you'll need to be comfortable going to your school's clinic or health center for most of your minor ailments.


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