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Community College Students: Avoid These Student Loan Challenges!

June 27, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out how you're going to pay for your college education can be intimidating. No one wants to pay off student loans for the rest of their lives, full-tuition scholarships are rare and federal student aid seldom covers all college costs, so considering a community college to curb the financial strains is smart! But attending a community college doesn't necessarily dismiss the likelihood of defaulting on your student loans: According to the most recent cumulative default rates, the percentage of two-year public school students who default is 18.7 percent and 13.2 percent for students at two-year private and nonprofit institutions – that's more than double their four-year counterparts! If you're a community college student, check out U.S. News and World Report's three tips you can follow to avoid defaulting on your student loans.

  • Think before you borrow. Just like your other obligations, a student loan is a commitment. You are responsible for repaying it whether you complete your education or not. By thinking before you borrow, you can help ensure the former comes true.
  • Maximize your federal financial aid. Contrary to popular belief, financial aid is available for community college students. And while you should think before you borrow, you can be less reluctant if you go with federal loans.
  • Stay in school. Maximizing federal financial aid can help community college students in an additional way: It can keep them in school if they run out money. Taking out student loans without going on to complete your program of study can lead to big repayment problems. So whether your goal is a formal credential from a community college or to eventually transfer to a four-year institution, it’s important to stay on target so you don’t end up with debt but no diploma.

Can you think of any tips to add to this list? If so, please share them in our comments section. For more information on the pros and cons of attending a community college, head over to Scholarships.com College Prep section.

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Five Tips for Maximizing Merit Aid

July 11, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out the bottom line when it comes to the cost of your college education is definitely stressful. With everything that goes into determining your financial aid package (your parents’ income, your earnings and your family’s net assets), it’s important to understand that merit aid (aid based on a student’s attributes like (academics, athletics, extracurriculars, etc.) is available to student regardless of their “need.” New federal rules are blurring the distinction between scholarships awarded on merit and grants awarded because of a student’s financial need – for instance, a growing number of colleges now award “need-based” aid to students from families earning six figures! – so we’ve compiled a few helpful tips to maximize your chances for merit aid and increase your overall financial aid package.

  1. Fill out the FAFSA. Federal rules have changed and college aid officials are now allowed to award need-based aid to students whose parents earned decent salaries last year but have recently been laid off; institutions can also make accommodations for a family’s unique circumstances, such as high medical bills.
  2. Apply to schools where you’d rank at the top. While your dream school might be an Ivy League, you should apply to at least a few colleges where your GPA would put you in the top 25 percent of the student body.
  3. Do the research. If you’re interested in a college, find out what it has to offer when it comes to merit aid. You might qualify for more awards than you think!
  4. Before making a final decision, compare net prices. Consider the cost of attendance in its entirety, including tuition and fees, room and board, books and transportation. The school that offers the most in merit aid might not be the best choice; sometimes the college offering the largest merit scholarship might have the highest net price because its tuition is higher.
  5. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Believe it or not, you have leverage when it comes to negotiating your merit aid package. If you have received admission letters from two or more universities and your first choice has a higher net price than your second choice, contact your first choice institution (which one is “that institution”...first or second choice?)! Some schools might be willing to match the merit aid offered, which would provide you the opportunity to attend your first choice school for less money!

Can you think of any tips that we might have missed? If so, please add them to our comments section! For more information on finding money for college and how to properly fund your college education, check out Scholarships.com Financial Aid section.

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How to Maximize Your Financial Aid Package

February 13, 2014

How to Maximize Your Financial Aid Package

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out the bottom line when it comes to the cost of your college education is definitely a stressful part of the process. With everything that goes into determining your financial aid package (your parents’ income, your earnings and your family’s net assets), it’s important to understand that merit aid – aid based on a student’s attributes (academics, athletics, extracurriculars, etc.) – is available to student regardless of their “need.” New federal rules are blurring the distinction between scholarships awarded on merit and grants awarded because of a student’s financial need – for instance, a growing number of colleges now award “need-based” aid to students from families earning six figures! Who would have thunk it?! So, we’ve compiled a few helpful tips to maximize your chances for merit aid and increase your overall financial aid package.

  • Fill out the FAFSA. Federal rules have changed. College aid officials are now allowed to award need-based aid to students whose parents earned decent salaries last year but have recently been laid off, as well as make accommodations for a family’s unique circumstances, such as high medical bills.
  • Apply to schools where you’d rank at the top. While your dream school might be an Ivy League, you should apply to at least a few colleges where your GPA would put you in the top 25 percent of the student body.
  • Apply to schools that offer generous need-based aid. In the 2009-10 academic year, Louisiana College reported that 88 percent of students were receiving non-need based financial aid. Do the schools you’re considering boast the same kind of aid?
  • Do the research. If you’re interested in a college, find out what it has to offer when it comes to merit aid. You might qualify for more awards than you think!
  • Before making a final decision, compare net prices. Consider the cost of attendance in its entirety including tuition and fees, room and board, books and transportation. The school that offers the most in merit aid might not be the best choice; sometimes the college offering the largest merit scholarship might have the highest net price because its tuition is higher.
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Believe it or not, you have negotiating leverage when it comes to your merit aid package. If you have received admission letters from two or more universities and your first choice has a higher net price than your second choice, contact that institution! Some schools might be willing to match the merit aid offered, which would provide you the opportunity to attend your first choice school for less money!
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On the Hunt for Merit Aid? Apply Here!

September 16, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

Here at Scholarships.com, we stress the importance of paying for your college education the best way we know how: with free money in the form of scholarships! And while scholarships might not fully cover your tuition and expenses, college applicants who aren't deemed financially needy in terms of their FAFSA should consider the importance of merit aid. It can make a huge difference in the schools they can realistically afford and 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 across the country, which ones are the best financial bets? Help has arrived in the form of U.S. News & World Report, which has compiled a list of the schools that awarded the highest percentage of merit-based funding to non-needy students during the 2013-14 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? Share your thoughts in the comments section. And as always, don’t forget to create a free Scholarships.com profile to get a personalized list of scholarship opportunities!

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Top 10 Tips to Directing a Scholarship-Worthy Video

October 14, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

With the popularity of YouTube and reportedly returned home Facebook, where posting a video is just a click away, video-based scholarships are becoming increasingly popular for students who have other strengths besides essay writing. Video scholarships provide students the opportunity to highlight an array of skills from directing and editing to staging and production. But remember a video scholarship will require a great deal of time and effort. Don’t assume a video essay will be like shooting fish in a barrel. You should be encouraged by the fact that the odds are in your favor when doing a video contest because so few people take the time to enter. Here are the top 10 tips we’ve compiled to help you increase your chances of winning and helpful suggestions to keep in mind before beginning production.

  1. Follow the Rules: We can’t stress enough the importance of following the rules when competing for any scholarship opportunity, but you should be aware that the guidelines for a video contest are usually very specific and somewhat technical. For instance, there may be a certain format the scholarship provider is looking for (.avi, .mpg, .ram, .swf, etc.), file size restrictions, and surely time restrictions. Before diving in, make sure you fully grasp what it is they’re asking for.
  2. Judging: Be aware of how your work will be judged prior to writing your script. Will there be a panel of judges or will the winners be determined by voting that’s open to the general public? Knowing this ahead of time will help you in creating the most appealing video for that audience.
  3. Brainstorm: Begin thinking of a short but powerful story that fits in with the theme of the contest that will really connect with the viewer. Think about your strong points. Are you somewhat of a comedian? If so, humor is a great way to appeal to the masses because people love to laugh. If you’re a great story teller, try tugging on the heart strings of your viewer with an endearing tale. No matter what path you choose, remember to keep your story compelling – you don’t want the viewer to check out halfway through your video. Once you’ve established your storyline, think about a really gripping way to start your video entry. If you can captivate your audience within the first few seconds, you’re well on your way to a winning entry.
  4. Flatter the Sponsors: Don’t take this as an opportunity to gush over the wondrousness that is the sponsor, but rather as a “tip of the hat” to their company. Think of clever ways to incorporate them in your video such as using their product as a prop or mentioning them subtly in the dialogue. Considering the video will ultimately be judged by their distinguished panel or, at most, they’ll decide who the public will vote for, this can be an excellent and easy way to earn brownie points.
  5. Finalize Your Script: A finalized script will prevent you from adlibbing or stumbling over your words when you’re in front of the camera. Practice reading your script in front of a mirror to get a feel of what the viewer will see and memorize your lines – viewers don’t want to watch the top of your head!
  6. Test for Timing: After running through your script often enough that you’re familiar with it, test how long it takes you to read through it. Will it fit within the time constraints? It would be unfortunate to be disqualified after all your hard work for something as adjustable as timing.
  7. Possible Rewrite: By now, you’ve worked out all the pauses for emphasis and drama you want to include but still find your script flawed – well, change it! Fiddle with your script to remove awkward phrases, cut down what may now seem unnecessary and incorporate suggestions from friends and family. It’s a good idea to practice in front of friends and family members to see how they respond to your video.
  8. Location, Location, Location: Depending on the contest, where you decide to film your entry is as important as the script. You shouldn’t film in your bedroom if it’s messy and there are tons of distractions going on in the background, because no matter how great your video is something like that could ruin your chances. Instead, choose a plain backdrop like a white wall or a solid-colored door, or possibly setup your equipment outdoors. However, take into account that, just as clothes all over your bedroom floor can be a distraction, traffic can be just as bad.
  9. Begin Filming: At this point, you’ve polished and perfected your script and have practiced to the point where you can say your lines in a natural and animated way. Finally it’s time to begin filming! It’s a good idea to recruit the help of a friend of family member to do the camera work for you. Consider the importance of good lighting and good audio and be sure to record many “takes” so you’ll have options when selecting a final cut to submit to the contest.
  10. Submit and Hope for the Best: Once you’ve selected the video that you think is scholarship-worthy, go back and double-check that you’ve followed all of the rules. There’s no harm in verifying that your time and formatting are what the judges are looking for. Remember that not following the rules is the quickest way to weed out entries. Next, depending on the rules, you may send in a copy or upload it for voting to begin. If voting will determine the winning entry, do your best to get your work out there; utilize Facebook and Twitter to your best ability to get your entry votes.

Scholarship video contests are increasingly popular and are offered by a variety of sources. For more scholarship opportunities, complete a free scholarship search on Scholarships.com. You’ll be matched with awards that reflect your interests and characteristics, including film and video.

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SOTW: John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest

This SOTW is Accepting Entries Through January 5th

December 8, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest is the nation's most prestigious honor for elected public servants. The Award was created in 1989 by members of President Kennedy's family to honor President John F. Kennedy and recognize and celebrate the quality of political courage that he admired most.

The Profile in Courage Essay Contest invites high school students to consider the concept of political courage by writing an essay on a U.S. official who has chosen to do what is right, rather than what is expedient. A "Profile in Courage" essay is a carefully researched recounting of a story: the story of how an elected official risked his or her career to take a stand based on moral principles.

Students are asked to write an original and creative essay of less than 1,000 words that demonstrates an understanding of political courage as described by John F. Kennedy in "Profiles in Courage." Students should use a variety of sources such as newspaper articles, books, and/or personal interviews to address this year's essay topic.

For more information on finding money for college and how to properly fund your college education, check out Scholarships.com Financial Aid section and conduct a free scholarship search today!

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2009-2010 FAFSA Available Tomorrow

December 31, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Though it's a day off from school and work, New Year's Day is often seen as a day to get down to business.  While you're starting in on your New Year's resolutions, opening up a new calendar, and packing up the holiday decorations, there's one more thing that college students and college-bound high school students should consider doing.  The Department of Education starts accepting the 2009-2010 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (more commonly known as "FAFSA") on January 1.  State application deadlines start happening soon after, beginning with Connecticut's February 15 priority deadline.  So while you might not be starting school until August or September, you want to be applying for financial aid right now.

What You Need

In order to complete a FAFSA, you will need the following documents: 

     
  • your social security card
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  • a driver's license if you have one
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  • bank statements and records of investments (if you have any)
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  • records of untaxed income (again, if you have any)
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  • your 2008 tax return and W2s
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  • all of the above for your parents if you are considered a dependent (to determine dependency status, check here)
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  • a PIN number to sign electronically (go to pin.ed.gov to get one)
  •  
 If you've applied before, you can fill out a renewal FAFSA, which will let you skip a few questions.  You will still need your tax, savings, and investment information for the new year, though.

If you do not have your tax information yet, and most likely you don't, you can use your 2007 tax information to estimate 2008.  That way, you have a FAFSA on file and once you've done your taxes for the new year, you'll be able to submit a correction online.  While that might seem like more work, it's the best recipe for maximizing your state and campus-based aid packages.  If things changed drastically for your family in 2008, apply for student financial aid with the information you have, then talk to your school's financial aid office to adjust your information accordingly.

Why You Should Apply

Completing a FAFSA is an important step in funding your education if you don't plan on paying for everything out-of-pocket.  The FAFSA is used by the Department of Education to determine eligibility for federal student financial aid for college.  This aid includes federal grant programs (such as the Pell Grant), federal work-study, and federal student loans.  It is also used by states to determine eligibility for their financial aid programs, such as state grants.  Colleges also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for the need-based aid programs they administer.  Finally, many scholarship opportunities request FAFSA information as part of their application process.  Even if you think that you won't qualify for free money in the form of need-based college scholarships and grants, you should still apply.  At the minimum, the vast majority of students qualify for Stafford Loans, low-interest federal student loans that represent one of the best deals in borrowing for school.

Where To Get More Information

Start on the FAFSA homepage and go through the links under "Before Beginning a FAFSA" to get started, especially if this is your first time filing.  You'll find information about application deadlines, required documents, applying for a PIN, and other things you need to know about to begin.  If you don't want to wait until tomorrow, 2009-2010 worksheets are already available on fafsa.ed.gov.  The ambitious among us can even fill out a worksheet now, then copy the information into their FAFSA on the Web beginning tomorrow.

We also offer a wealth of resources on financial aid at Scholarships.com.  Check out the financial aid section on our Resources page for further reading.

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Paying Tuition on Time Getting Tougher in Recession

January 13, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

While the focus for many students right now is planning for and paying for the next year of college, some students are still struggling with bills from the current or previous semester.  An e-mail survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers reports a perceived increase in unpaid tuition bills in the 2008-2009 academic year.  While being caught short on one semester's tuition can seem stressful enough, it can carry serious consequences for college students.

For students with the funds to easily cover tuition, either through family income, college savings plans, or financial aid awards, the figure on their bursar bill may be unpleasant, but it is soon forgotten.  However, carrying a bursar balance--in some cases, even a small one--can cut off your ability to register for classes, request transcripts, and even graduate, among other consequences.  Students who are unable to pay for a semester by the school's deadline may even find themselves dropped from their classes and kicked off campus.  These consequences can essentially derail your education, and many students who take a semester off from college to save money and pay off bills never go back to finish.

Luckily, as Kim Clark stresses in an article on the subject in U.S. News and World Report, universities are willing to work with students to keep them enrolled and get their bills paid, especially in the current economic climate.  Many schools are establishing or adding to emergency loan and grant funds to help students stay in school.  Federal student financial aid is also still available mid-term.  You can still complete the FAFSA for 2008-2009 anytime before June 30.  Even if you've already applied for the current year, talking to the financial aid office could still come through big time, especially if your circumstances have changed. Federal grants, as well as some campus-based programs may be available to students whose family contributions have significantly dipped.  While Clark's article emphasizes the surprising success networking and asking family for donations can bring, conducting a scholarship search may be a safer bet. Most importantly, be sure to stay in communication with your school. You may have to deal with three different offices on campus, but don't get discouraged.  The process may be more streamlined than you'd expect.  It is possible to stay enrolled regardless of the financial troubles you're facing.

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More Students, Fewer Resources: For Community Colleges Popularity Comes at a Price

January 21, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you're planning to enroll in a community college sometime in 2009, be sure to plan ahead.  While in the past, late registration may have resulted in students not getting a class or two they wanted, increased interest in two year schools may produce an even more pronounced effect.  Community colleges across the country are receiving more applications and admitting more students for the 2008-2009 academic year than ever before, with some institutions reporting percentage growths in the double digits.  Many schools are seeing enrollment increases so dramatic that they lack the money and space to adequately accommodate the students turning up on their doorsteps.

Community colleges and four-year state colleges are contending with state budget cuts, declining endowments, and less fruitful fundraising efforts in the face of the worst economic situation in decades.  Meanwhile, the cash-strapped and the frugal are flocking to the least expensive educational options available, which are community colleges.  Community colleges are also seeing an uptick in nontraditional students, as the unemployed return to school for job training and certification to get back to work.  All of this adds up to a situation where more students need seats in classes, college services, and student financial aid than ever before, yet fewer resources are available to accommodate these needs.

While schools are doing their best to find space, add courses and sections, and increase campus-based aid where possible, budgetary difficulties are an unfortunate reality.  The economic stimulus bill currently in the works in Congress may help relieve some of this stress, but students should still be aware of potential snags in their college plans.  If you plan to enroll in a community college this summer or fall, here are some steps to take:

  1. Research costs and payment options now.  Do a scholarship search.  Many scholarships are available to community college students and some are awarded specifically to students at these institutions.
  2. Apply for admission and financial aid as early as possible.  While most community colleges have rolling admission, students who wait until the last minute to get in may find classes full and aid exhausted.
  3. Whether you're a new or returning student, register for classes as soon as you can and be sure to pay your bill on time, or early if possible.  If you get dropped or prevented from registering due to late payment, there's no guarantee a seat will still be there when you get your finances in place.
  4. Complete the FAFSA soon, even if you're not sure if or when you'll start college in 2009. FAFSA applications are up this year, as are most varieties of financial aid applications.  This could mean a lengthier processing time, both at the Department of Education and in your college's financial aid office.  The FAFSA is worth doing--many community college students don't apply for aid, even though they qualify.  Applying is free and having one on file can't hurt, even if you don't go to school right away.
  5. If your employer helps with tuition, find out beforehand whether they pay up front or reimburse you after the fact.  The earlier you know whether you need to come up with money on your own or the more warning they have before they need to pay, the better your chances are of being able to register on time.

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Scholarships.com Adopts Scholarship Data Standard

January 30, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Scholarships.com has become the first free scholarship search website to adopt the Scholarship Data Standard, a time-saving open data standard that allows college and college-bound students to apply for multiple scholarships by completing one form.

While many colleges and universities share a common application for admissions, currently students must apply separately for each scholarship offered by a different provider. This repetition can deter families from seeking out scholarships as an alternative to depleted college savings plans and expensive student loans. To make the scholarship application process more streamlined and accessible, the Scholarship Data Standard was developed by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and the National Scholarship Providers Association. Using the Scholarship Data Standard, a student can visit the Dell Scholars Program website, create an application file containing commonly requested information, save it to their computer and use it to quickly complete a later scholarship search on Scholarships.com.

The Scholarship Data Standard will allow students to find, review and apply for multiple scholarships with just a few clicks. Emily Hilleren, the Director of Content at Scholarships.com, stressed the convenience of the Scholarship Data Standard, saying, “When you have to fill in the same basic info again and again, it takes time away from doing the parts of the application that matter most. Students have lives and jobs and coursework, too, and we're hopeful the data standard will help them win scholarships without giving up all of that.”

Scholarships.com is currently the only scholarship search website to allow students to upload Scholarship Data Standard files. A student can visit Scholarships.com and use saved data to create a user account and search a database of 2.7 million scholarship and grant opportunities worth over $19 billion. As more scholarship providers adopt the Scholarship Data Standard, Scholarships.com users will be able to use their Scholarship Data Standard file to complete scholarship applications across the Web.

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