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$50K Becoming New Norm at Private Colleges

November 3, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

More private colleges than ever before are charging $50,000 a year or more in tuition and other fees, according to an analysis of College Board data done by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Last year, only five colleges charged $50,000 a year or more for tuition, fees, room, and board. This year, 58 did.

Most students receive some merit- or need-based scholarship or grant money to help cover some of those costs, but according to the Chronicle, the average scholarship and grant amounts at the highest priced schools was around $13,000 a year, leaving students and their families to fend for themselves when it comes to looking for outside scholarships, grants and student loans. Despite those staggering numbers, many of the most expensive schools haven't suffered in terms of declining enrollment, and have expansion and economic recovery plans in the works where the additional funding will come in handy.

Bucknell University, where tuition, fees, room, and board totaled about $50,300 this year, a 22-percent jump over the last six years, plans to hire more faculty and increase aid. And that school wasn't even in the top five most expensive colleges. Those honors go to Sarah Lawrence College ($55,788), Landmark College ($53,900), Georgetown University ($52,161), New York University ($51,993), and George Washington University ($51,775), in that order.

At the same time, many private colleges and universities are predicting a decrease in revenue and net tuition despite increasing enrollment rates and increasing tuition costs. The Moody's report "New Tuition Challenges at Many U.S. Private Universities" surveyed 100 private schools and found that nearly 30 percent experienced drops in net revenue and fees for the 2010 fiscal year. This suggests those schools are offering more in terms of financial aid. An article in Inside Higher Education today says some schools may have tried to compensate for a weak economy and projections of low enrollment levels (which for many private colleges turned out not to be the case) with more financial aid offered to incoming students. Most of the public institutions surveyed, however, expect increases in revenue, according to Moody's.

So what does this mean for private schools? The Chronicle suggests not much. Enrollments so far have supported high tuition rates (and rising median salaries among presidents at private colleges), and a ceiling hasn't yet been set. Does this suggest that students could be seeing $60,000 in annual costs to attend many of the top private institutions? Possibly. But that would mean financial aid would need to keep up alongside those rising costs. What do you think? How much is too much? If you're facing sticker shock, be sure to evaluate all of your options. If you're set on a school, look outside that college for financial aid assistance. Conduct a free scholarship search to see awards you may qualify for that could make a dent in your cost of attendance, and do your research with a college search so that you know exactly what you could be paying at that dream school.

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New Website Aims to Assist Student Veterans in College Transition

November 11, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

It seems that student veterans will finally be getting the assistance they need this Veterans Day. A new website from the American Council on Education will improve access to education benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill for military veterans who have faced a number of delays in the processing of their financial aid.

The site, which was unveiled earlier this week, will also help the student veterans choose colleges and future careers, with tips and advice on why college is an important investment and preparing for the transition from the military to a college campus.  The site intends to make it easier for student veterans to navigate not only the college and financial aid application process, but to give those students frustrated with backlogs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs a place to go for guidance.  The Post-9/11 GI Bill has faced a number of obstacles since its creation in August. A backlog of applications caused delays as long as eight weeks for some eligible military recipients, with emergency $3,000 checks eventually issued to student veterans whose financial aid packages were pending. The new law—similar to the WWII GI Bill— was created to bring more financial aid to troops who had served since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. (Scholarships are also available to the children and families of the victims of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks.) The bill will provide up to 36 months of financial assistance, payable for 15 years following the student veterans' releases from active duty. The bill covers maximum in-state tuition and fees at public institutions, including many military-friendly schools, and covers a monthly housing allowance, and an annual $1,000 books and supplies stipend. (Student veterans enrolled in online degree universities will not receive housing allowances.)

Many of the colleges participating in the program have been accepting late payments from the students to make up for the lag in financial aid application processing. Assuming all goes well with the disbursement of funds from the VA, and the department gets a handle on the backlog—the department hired additional staff when the number of applications continued to grow and overwhelmed regional offices—most student veterans should be getting to the point where they will be receiving regular checks to cover the costs of their new lives on college campuses across the country.

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The First Step Doesn’t Have To Be the Hardest

November 17, 2009

by Derrius Quarles

Greetings, my name is Derrius Lamar Quarles and I am currently a freshman majoring in psychology with a biology and public health minor at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. I am originally from Chicago, Illinois and went to high school not too far from Barack Obama’s home. Recently I have been featured on CNN, BET, and in the Chicago Tribune discussing various topics ranging from my journey as a foster child in Chicago to my matriculation at Morehouse College. However, the most exciting and acclaimed topic has been my success in applying for and winning scholarship money—$1,145,000 in total.

This accomplishment has won me the titles “Million Dollar Man” and “Million Dollar Scholar,” titles that I accept gratefully and with a sense of responsibility to help others achieve their goals of attending and paying for college. I can vividly remember writing the goal “Win a million dollars in scholarship money” on a sheet of notebook paper and having many people help me manifest that goal. I hope not only to help high school students learn how to apply for scholarships and win them, but to inspire middle school students to attend college, motivate elementary school students to become scholars, and encourage preschool students to become whatever they want to be. We are all born with the ability to capture our dreams, but few ever learn how to synthesize their dreams into goals, which, unlike dreams, are achievable. It’s like the concept of potential and kinetic energy. We all have potential energy (dreams), but potential energy on its own cannot do any work. We have to learn how to apply force (turn dreams into reality) so that our own potential energy can be turned into kinetic energy that can help us accomplish our goals.

A few years ago I dreamed of going to college, knowing nothing of what I needed to do in order to gain acceptance and how much college would cost. I avidly believe that if I did not make the decision to turn that dream into a goal by learning about the requirements, tailoring my class schedule to make it more rigorous, doing well in my classes and, most of all, asking for help from others, I would not be attending Morehouse College. For many, the decision to turn a dream into a goal is the hardest step, but it does not have to be, and neither does making the decision to turn your dream of paying for college into a goal. Start out by researching which colleges you would like to attend and how much they will cost. Once you have done this, research whether the institutions offer scholarships for such things as academics, community service, sports, leadership, coming from a disadvantaged background, or residing in a certain state. All institutions will offer some form of aid for their applicants, so make sure you are aware of any scholarships or grants you are eligible for from the college you plan on attending. The next step is completing your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which becomes available Jan. 1 of every year. After that, you should start locating other resources for searching and applying for financial aid, including your high school and free online scholarship databases such as Scholarships.com. Once you start doing these things, you will actually be turning your dream into a goal and you will soon realize that the first step does not have to be the hardest.

About the Author:

Derrius L. Quarles is a 19-year-old freshman at Morehouse College. He hopes to go to medical school after he graduates with a degree in psychology and biology and a minor in public health, and to one day work on the public health policies of his hometown, Chicago, and beyond. To help him achieve those academic and career ambitions, Derrius has won more than $1.1 million in scholarships, including a full scholarship to attend Morehouse, since graduating from Chicago’s Kenwood Academy High School with a 4.2 GPA. Derrius was awarded a Gates Millennium scholarship and won a number of other highly competitive awards, many of which he found while searching for scholarships a Scholarships.com. He is the first in his family to attend college, and spent his childhood in the foster care system before becoming the “Million Dollar Scholar.” This is the first in a series of posts Derrius will write for Scholarships.com on how he was able to fund his education, along with advice about the scholarship application process.

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Tool Syncing FAFSA with IRS Data to Debut in January

December 4, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

For students used to syncing just about every website they visit with Facebook, the amount of manual data entry involved in applying for financial aid can seem completely alien and unnecessary. In fact, many students who would qualify for aid either fail to complete the FAFSA or do so incorrectly, due to the confusing and time-consuming nature of the application process.

Members of the higher education community were concerned about this, as well, so when Congress renewed the Higher Education Act last year, they included a provision to update the FAFSA to make it easier for families to complete. The proposed changes will go into effect in 2010, and some students could be seeing a simpler FAFSA as soon as January.

Under the new system, students completing the FAFSA on the Web will be able to automatically fill in their FAFSA with relevant information from their previous year's tax return. Starting in January, select users who click on "Fill Out Your FAFSA" will be asked if they'd like to access the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to do so. From there, they can enter their Federal Student Aid PIN then be taken to the IRS website where they can retrieve their tax information and click "Transfer Now" to automatically fill in the applicable lines on the FAFSA form. Dependent students will have to repeat this process for their parents' information.

While it still involves multiple steps and websites, the new process is a significant improvement over the current process of hunting for your tax return, begging your parents for their tax returns, sorting through pages of numbers and instructions, and carefully transcribing numbers from one form to another each year. The Department of Education hopes that the more automated and streamlined FAFSA will reduce errors and encourage more students to apply for federal student financial aid.

Only a small group of students who are filing a FAFSA for the current academic year will see the new FAFSA completion options in January. The option will be available for all FAFSA filers for 2010-2011 in July. Although you may be stuck filling out your FAFSA the old way next year, you can at least take some comfort in the knowledge that this will be the last time.

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Financial Aid Tied to Financial Literacy at Syracuse University

December 9, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Grants are often viewed as no-strings-attached financial aid, but for students at Syracuse University, an unexpected grant comes with some required courses. Students who receive the university's new Monetary Awareness Program grants will need to participate in a financial literacy program each semester until graduation.

Syracuse is not alone in offering a new grant program for needy students, nor in placing emphasis on financial literacy. A number of schools have stepped up financial aid during the recession, and more colleges are also offering financial literacy programs. High school students in Allegany County, Maryland also have found themselves faced with mandatory financial education. However, Syracuse may be the first to link financial aid and financial literacy in this way.

Grant recipients are hand-picked by the Syracuse financial aid office, typically from students in their sophomore year or above who are on track to borrow significant amounts in federal and private loans to finance their college educations. Students selected for the program receive grants that average between $5,000 and $7,000 per year. The first year of the program awarded grants to 77 students.

Students are able to meet the financial-literacy requirement through a one-on-one meeting, a group session, or online counseling. Each semester's training covers a different topic, ranging from borrowing responsibly to budgeting to credit scores. They tend to focus on students' more immediate financial needs, helping them make wiser financial choices through college instead of focusing on events that might come further down the road, like buying a house.

The financial literacy sessions and the grant money have been well-received so far and seem to be making a difference for recipients. While students interviewed by The Chronicle of Higher Education are still taking on significant debt to pay for school, they are implementing knowledge and skills they've acquired from the Monetary Awareness Program to live more frugally, plan ahead, and minimize the debt they and their families take on.

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Working Through School May Mean Leaving Without a Degree

December 10, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

As high school seniors put the finishing touches on their college applications and start gearing up for the financial aid application process, few are likely thinking about the prospect of leaving college before they finish a degree program. Yet many students will be faced with the prospect of taking time off from school or dropping out entirely. A growing body of research is addressing the question of why students leave college, and a new report has proposed some surprising answers. If you're planning to attend college or currently struggling to stay in college, it's definitely worth a read.

The survey was conducted by the research group Public Agenda, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. More than 600 adults between the ages of 22 and 30, some who have finished college and some who haven't, were surveyed about the challenges they faced in attending college. The report addresses four myths about college dropouts: that most students go to school full-time and only leave because they're bored or unwilling to work, that most students receive adequate financial support, that most students go through a "meticulous process" of choosing their college, and that students who don't graduate make their decision after knowing and weighing the pros and cons of attending or leaving school.

The realities that correspond to the first two myths are especially striking. According to the survey, most students who drop out do so because they cannot balance work and college and can't afford to stop working, and many of those students are going it alone financially, without help from relatives or financial aid.

A full 54 percent of respondents listed "I need to go to work and make money" as a major reason they left school, with 31 percent saying they couldn't afford tuition and fees. By contrast, only 21 percent left primarily because they needed a break, and only 10 percent found the classes too difficult. Students who didn't graduate had a harder time managing costs besides tuition and fees (36% agreed strongly) and balancing work and school (35% agreed strongly) than students who managed to graduate (23% and 26%, respectively). Most students who left school planned to return, but feared that work and family obligations would keep them from enrolling anytime soon.

Students who ultimately dropped out were less likely than students who graduated to have any kind of financial support, including student loans. The majority of those who did not graduate said they could not rely on help from parents or relatives (58%), a scholarship or other financial aid (69%), or a student loan (69%) to help pay for school. By contrast, 66% of those who did graduate had family financial support, 57% had scholarships or financial aid, and 49% had some sort of loan.

This survey is part of a growing body of research on the relationship between work and college success. The results suggest that students who are able to pay all their bills while in school, work less than 20 hours a week, and focus their attention on classes are more likely to do well in school and more likely to graduate. This is one of many reasons to think carefully about paying for school and investigate scholarship options early.

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FAFSA Available Starting Tomorrow, Jan. 1

December 31, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

One of the most important steps you'll need to take in the financial aid application process is applying for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The Department of Education starts accepting the FAFSA Jan. 1 of each year, which just so happens to be tomorrow. So start your new year off right by filing that financial aid document, or filing a renewal FAFSA if this isn't your first time. State financial aid deadlines fall as early as February, so it's best to get a head start and know how much funding you can expect come next fall.

Both the FAFSA and renewal FAFSA are available online through Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education. Completing the FAFSA online will speed up processing and leave less time for you to worry about how much financial aid you'll be receiving. Remember that it doesn't cost anything to fill out your FAFSA - the FAFSA is free - and some agencies will charge you for filling the application out for you. Once you complete the online form, you’ll be able to check its status, make any corrections as needed, and print your Student Aid Report once that is ready. (Your Student Aid Report summarizes what you've filled out on your FAFSA, and provides you with an Expected Family Contribution, or the total you and your family would be expected to come up with to fund your education.) If you aren’t comfortable filling out your FAFSA online, you can submit a paper form, but it does take longer to process than the online form.

In order to complete your FAFSA, you'll need the following:

  • your Social Security number
  • your driver’s license number (if you have one)
  • your bank statements and records of investments (if you have any)
  • your records of untaxed income (if you have any)
  • your most recent tax return and W2s (2008 for the 2009-2010 FAFSA)
  • all of the above from your parents if you are considered a dependent
  • an electronic PIN to sign the form online

We have a number of resources available to those filling out their FAFSAs and preparing to apply for federal aid. Browse through our site so that you know exactly where to begin, what to expect, and how to file the application successfully, because if you do make mistakes you may delay the processing of your FAFSA. Happy New Year!

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2009 Brought Big Changes to Financial Aid

December 31, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

A lot has happened in the last twelve months. We inaugurated a new President, weathered a recession, and obsessed over and forgot hundreds of minor crises and scandals. College students and recent graduates have marked all these events, and have very likely also noticed some pretty sweeping changes in their financial situations.  Here are a few of the most memorable.

At the start of the year, President Obama encouraged more Americans to enroll in college, calling for the U.S. to again lead the world in college attendance by 2020.

The recession also motivated more students to go back to college, especially community colleges. Enrollments surged at two-year schools across the country. State colleges also saw increases in applications and enrollment. Along with this, financial aid applications were up in 2009, as were aid appeals.

Colleges and universities searched for creative ways to cope with the recession and the accompanying booms in enrollment and financial aid applications. Several community colleges added late night classes and many public and private colleges boosted their financial aid offerings to assist needy students.

Federal aid also underwent significant changes. Revisions to the Higher Education Act went into effect, as did new and renewed economic stimulus legislation. Pell Grants went up, as did Stafford Loan borrowing limits.  The Income-Based Repayment plan premiered, guaranteeing college graduates affordable federal loan payments, and a new public service loan forgiveness program.

Veterans' benefits were reworked in 2009, as well, and the resulting backlog of applications had students waiting weeks or even months to receive the money they needed to pay their tuition and their bills. Once the bugs are worked out, though, veterans will see an expansion of their college benefits, and in the meantime, veterans were able to receive emergency payments to help them get by.

States also received much needed cash from the government to help them minimize cuts to education while they dealt with budget crises. However, several states had to make cuts to education budgets, including state aid and loan repayment programs. California made some of the most sweeping budget reductions and the state's university systems were forced to cap enrollment and hike tuition over 30%.

As we look toward 2010, more changes appear to be underway. Congress is (still) considering changes to federal loan programs and the creation of a consumer financial protection agency, and recently passed credit card legislation will soon go into effect. States and colleges are still struggling with fallout from the recession and may alter their financial aid offerings more in the next year.

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Kiplinger Ranks 100 Best Value Public Colleges

January 6, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Whether you place much value on the lists that come out ranking colleges each year or not, it's never a bad idea to do your research and be informed when starting your college search. The latest, a ranking of the "100 Best Values in Public Colleges," comes from Kiplinger, which based its conclusions on a combination of academic quality - standardized test scores, retention and graduation rates, student-faculty ratios - and the schools' costs vs. financial aid offerings.

Knowing what the "best deals" are out there, at least according to Kiplinger, may not be bad information to have, especially as tuition costs continue to rise and high school graduates are increasingly looking at college costs and the best bang for their buck when choosing their intended colleges. The list is led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for overall value, and Binghamton University for best out-of-state value. Kiplinger says both those schools offer either the same or more financial aid than they have in previous years, despite a year where schools have looked to raise tuition and cut aid to recoup budget losses, while still delivering impressive academic programs. Other schools that ranked high included the University of Maryland at College Park and the University of Virginia.

Using the magazine's scoring tool, Kiplinger also offers a large amount of data that allows students to make their own assumptions, including in-state vs. out-of-state costs at public institutions and the average financial aid award at any given school. You're also able to search by state or by school to see whether the school you intend to attend is a "good deal." It may not hurt to know whether you're sacrificing quality for cost, or weighing the options of an expensive private college over a less expensive public institution. (Kiplinger also ranks the "Best Value" private colleges with rankings for the top 50 private liberal arts colleges and the top 50 private universities. Pomona College led the liberal arts colleges; the California Institute of Technology led the private universities.)

Remember that it's also important to do your own research when choosing the right school. Consider not only the tuition and fees associated with the school, but whether the colleges you're considering offer the fields of study you may be interested in down the line. Do you want to be close to home, or a little farther away? What kinds of extracurricular activities are you interested in? Are you an athlete, narrowing your choice by a school's sport offerings and athletic scholarships? Weigh the pros and cons of every school you're considering to make the best choice, and when you've narrowed that list down, it may come down to the financial aid each school is offering you.

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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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