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Rationing Your Refund Check

July 25, 2011

Rationing Your Refund Check

by Jessica Seals

The first day of classes means new professors, new classmates and a completely new routine. It is also about the time that universities distribute refund checks to students. Refund checks are extra funds that are left over after all school fees have been paid. These funds are the result of excess scholarships, grants and loans. Refund checks can come in handy, as students can use the extra money to buy a laptop, food, books or to pay off another loan. Some students, however, are not wise with their money and are left scrounging for pennies before the end of the semester.

I always hear students complaining about how they do not have any money left from their refund check long before finals roll around. They chose to splurge on clothes, the newest Droid phone, expensive restaurants or they spent money on friends. Buying a few extra “fun” items is not something that should necessarily be avoided but you should maintain a budget and be conscious about how much money you are spending. I have taken money from my refund check and separated it into two separate bank accounts. The money in my savings account rarely gets touched unless it is an emergency and the money in my checking account is what I use on a daily basis. I keep less money in the checking account so I am not tempted to spend more than I intend to.

While in college, it is especially important to learn how to manage your money. If you get a refund check back from the school, this could be your chance to start learning how to do so. You will feel great knowing that you will not be labeled a broke college student!

Jessica Seals is currently a senior at the University of Memphis majoring in political science and minoring in English. At the University of Memphis, she is the secretary of the Pre-Law Society, the philanthropy chair of the Phi Kappa Phi Student Council and a member of Professional Assertive United Sisters of Excellence (PAUSE), Golden Key Honor Society, Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, Sigma Alpha Lambda Honor Society, and Black Scholars Unlimited. She also volunteers to tutor her fellow classmates and hopes to attend law school in the near future.

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Discounts to Take Advantage of While in College

July 26, 2011

Discounts to Take Advantage of While in College

by Aaron Lin

Being a college student has a lot of perks in terms of accessible facilities, discounts and resources. Here are a few tips on what to take advantage of while you’re a student:

I hope some of you have ideas to add, too. Feel free to comment!

Aaron Lin is a chemistry major at Louisiana State University but has plans to transfer to LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans to pursue a medical laboratory science degree and further feed his interest in the application of scientific and medical knowledge. In his free time, Aaron likes to eat food, read and write about food, exercise to work off that food and play the occasional computer game. He also enjoys footbiking, running and Frisbee.

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Head Out of State for an In-State Price

July 27, 2011

Head Out of State for an In-State Price

by Alexis Mattera

Scenario: Your dream school is beyond state boundaries but your college fund is more suited to a college closer to home. Don't fret: If you know what and where you want to study, you could score an impressive tuition break through a regional discount program. Here's the breakdown:

New England Regional Student Program: Students living in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island or Vermont could be eligible for average savings of $7,000 per year through this program if they enroll in a degree program not available at public schools in their home state. One drawback – if majors are changed, recipients may no longer be eligible for the tuition break.

Academic Common Market: Southerners (aka those living in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia or West Virginia) follow the same guidelines as the NERSP but with some additional restrictions. For example, schools in Florida, North Carolina, and Texas only offer tuition reductions at the graduate level.

Western Undergraduate Exchange: Do you live in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington or Wyoming and want $7,500 per year in average college savings? WUE requirements vary from state to state and campus to campus but more than 26,000 residents took advantage of the program last year...so, interested students, apply early to ensure funding.

Midwest Student Exchange Program: Students from Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota or Wisconsin can save an average of $4,274 per year on tuition without being restricted by majors. The catch is that schools (public and private this time) can limit what degree programs qualify for this discount.

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Fees Fatten College Costs

July 28, 2011

Fees Fatten College Costs

by Alexis Mattera

Take a look at your bills for next semester. If the costs seem a little higher than usual, don’t be quick to blame tuition. It could be fees plumping up your payments.

In an attempt to combat diminishing state funding, many public colleges have elected to raise student fees in lieu of increasing tuition. Though many schools have been quick to point out that the fee increases – $180 for repairs and maintenance (Indiana University-Bloomington), $150 for matriculation (Southern Illinois University-Carbondale) and a whopping $1,088 “special institutional fee” (public universities in Georgia), for example – are temporary to make up for budget shortfalls, it doesn’t change the fact that college students and their parents need to secure additional funding.

Not only are students questioning the rationale behind these various fee hikes but laws have been proposed to allow legislators to better examine how fees are justified and, later, spent – much like the Department of Education’s tuition report mandate from earlier this month. New Jersey legislators have proposed that state schools be required to detail on tuition bills how fees are allocated and, starting in August, state schools in North Dakota must publish an online breakdown of where the mandatory fees go.

Has your school increased its fees? If so, which ones? Are you happy to hear some states are taking steps to combat potentially unnecessary fee hikes?

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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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Debate – It’s Great!

August 1, 2011

Debate – It’s Great!

by Thomas Lee

My time spent on the Methodist University Debate Team was varied and interesting, a very worthwhile college experience overall. Considering joining your school’s debate team? Here’s some info to help you decide.

Debate styles and campus rules vary widely. Some schools use policy debate, which consists of large amounts of research, as opposed to parliamentary debate, which allows only 15 minutes of preparation time to come up with an opening argument based on existing knowledge. The type of debate we used was parliamentary debate, which consists of being given a pro or con on a certain issue and going intervening rounds with your partner against another two-person team. It seems easy at first but the short time in each round forces you to really polish your argument. In other words, debate is easy to learn but difficult to perfect.

All three and a half years I debated for Methodist, I received a $1,000 scholarship per semester for participating so it worked out pretty well for me financially; other campuses may even offer full scholarships depending on the terms and conditions, although campuses with serious scholarship money teams often require equally serious dedication and work. The Methodist University Debate Team was relatively laidback compared to how some teams operate but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a fulfilling experience. I got to meet some great people as well as learned valuable debate skills...you know, for the real world. You will, too, if you join!

Thomas Lee recently graduated from Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina with a BA in political science and journalism. His father is an ordained Church of God minister and his mother is a private school teacher; he also has two younger sisters. Thomas’ interests include politics, law, debate, global issues and writing fiction and he believes in a personal relationship to Jesus Christ and a strong commitment to biblical morality and ethics. He currently resides in Washington, North Carolina and will be attending law school in the near future.

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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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Need Merit Aid? Apply Here!

August 10, 2011

Need Merit Aid? Apply Here!

by Alexis Mattera

A few months back, we wrote about helpful tips on maximizing merit aid, or aid based on a student’s attributes like academics, athletics and extracurriculars. For college applicants who aren’t deemed financially needy in terms of their FAFSA or EFC, merit aid can make a huge difference in the schools they can realistically afford to attend. Students and families seeking this extra financial aid boost should consider researching schools more likely to dispense merit-based awards but with so many colleges and universities in the U.S., which ones are the best financial bets?

Help has arrived in the form of U.S. News, which has compiled a top 10 list of schools that awarded the highest percentage of merit-based funding to non-needy students during the 2009-10 academic year (the stats do not include financially needy students who were given merit aid or students who received athletic scholarships or other tuition breaks). Take a look:

High school students, does this data have you looking at these schools in a new light? Current college students attending one of the schools listed above, did merit aid make the difference as to whether or not you enrolled?

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University of Dayton to Offer Free Textbooks

August 17, 2011

University of Dayton to Offer Free Textbooks

by Suada Kolovic

With the economy in a rut, the unemployment rate declining at a sluggish pace and the cost of a college education rising at an astronomical rate, now is the time to consider your options. Here at Scholarships.com, we can’t stress enough the importance of applying early and often for scholarships and financial aid, but when a college education is still just out of reach, some universities are willing to go the extra mile to help prospective students out. Rising high school seniors, take note: The University of Dayton is offering four years of free textbooks to first-year students who visit the campus and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form by the university’s March 1 application deadline.

According to Dayton officials, the free textbook program is an incentive for families to attend campus visits in a tight economy and as a way to urge families to complete the federal aid form, which is an essential piece of the financial aid puzzle. "Many families don't fill out the form because they believe they don't qualify or think it takes too much time. They miss out on opportunities to get affordable financing or grant funding," said Kathy McEuen Harmon, assistant vice president and dean of admission and financial aid.

Students who fulfill the university’s requirements will receive up to $500 per semester to purchase textbooks at the campus bookstore – funds good toward new, used or rental books. According Harmon, an estimated 75 percent of the first-year class is projected to take advantage of the offer, representing a $1.5 million annual commitment by the University. "We want them to fully understand the rewards of a University of Dayton education and know that those rewards are not out of their reach," Harmon said. "This is a very tangible way to demonstrate our commitment, one they can see immediately."

What do you think of the University of Dayton’s efforts? Are free textbooks enough to get you to commit to an institution? Should others follow suit? Let us know what you think.

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