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Meet Scholarships.com’s Virtual Interns: Liz Coffin-Karlin

by Liz Coffin-Karlin

Hi all! I’m Liz, the newest virtual intern here at Scholarships.com. I’m from Sarasota, Florida originally, and then moved way up to Chicago to attend college. I picked Northwestern University for a lot of reasons – it was in a whole new part of the country, it had great academics and it had a lot of student involvement – and I wound up with double majors in Spanish and history and a minor in Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

While academics were important to me, I always felt I expressed myself best through student activities. I worked on our newspaper, The Daily Northwestern, for four years, was an executive board member on the Global Engagement Summit and participated in NU’s huge Dance Marathon. Along the way, I also volunteered at a Chicago soup kitchen, worked as a lifeguard for our sports center and once even sold hot dogs at a football game to raise money for a student group. (It is COLD in those stands!) I also studied abroad in Buenos Aires, where I fell in love with empanadas, tango music and backpacking in the Andes.

I loved my time at NU but most of all, I loved the connections I made and the friends I met. I took a public service fellowship in Chicago right after graduating from college in 2010 and ran a teen internship program last summer at the Adler Planetarium. When that ended, I felt it was time to use my Spanish skills and after studying abroad in Buenos Aires and then getting a research grant to come back before my senior year, I had the language skills and the connections to get an internship at the Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information.

Now, I’m excited to be with Scholarships.com, where I'll be sharing travel tips, college tips (make sure you set the microwave timer for two minutes not 20 minutes...unless you want to burn your dorm down) and professional tips for getting that internship or job you wanted. Nice to meet you guys – can’t wait to start writing!


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Sixty-Two Schools Meet Students’ Full Financial Need

by Alexis Mattera

Wouldn't it be amazing if that super expensive college you were just accepted into said, "Hey there, new friend – thanks for all your hard work saving, scrimping and scholarship searching but we’ll take it from here, financially"? It can happen...kind of.

When a student fills out the FAFSA, a figure known as the expected family contribution (EFC) – the amount a student or family can reasonably spend on one year of college – is calculated using family income, number of children, amount of assets and other factors. There is sometimes a gap between the EFC and the final cost of college but 62 schools have reported to U.S. News that, on average, 100 percent of their admitted full-time undergraduate students' financial need was met for fall 2010 by some combination of aid (work-study, merit scholarships, grants, subsidized loans, etc.).

Now, we're not going to list every single college and university that reported these claims (you can check out U.S. News' site for that) but we will say that some well-known schools like Yale, Vanderbilt and Grinnell – the latter of which has never failed to meet full need for a student in 20 years, according to financial aid director Arnold Woods – have made the cut. Way to go and keep up the good work!


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The RESPECT Program: Will Its Selectivity Increase Teacher Effectiveness?

by Alexis Mattera

We’ve all had at least one teacher that has impacted our lives in a positive way. Whether their passion for the subject they were teaching led you down a new educational path or the skills they imparted are still ones you use today, more educators like that are needed and a newly-funded program may make that possible.

The Obama administration showed its support in increasing teacher effectiveness with a budget proposal for a $5 billion grant competition to reward states and districts in a variety of ways including making teacher education programs as selective as their law, medical and business counterparts. While the Department of Education has not revealed full details about the endeavor known as the RESPECT Program, some colleges fear some of the requirements may actually negate the anticipated outcome: The feeling is that exemplary high school grades and standardized test scores are not the only traits that make great teachers and increased selectivity could exclude many studentsadult students looking for career changes or students from disadvantaged backgrounds, for example – who could excel at teaching. “We’re in education because we believe that education matters, and that people can grow and learn given the right experiences,” Virginia McLaughlin, dean of the School of Education at the College of William and Mary, told Inside Higher Ed. She continued to explain that future teachers should be evaluated regularly and judged on their progress, including how well they master both knowledge of the subjects they will teach and the techniques they will use in the classroom.

Do you think the RESPECT Program will produce better teachers or could it keep some of the most capable would-be educators out of the classroom?


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Just the (FAFSA) Facts, Ma’am

Tips and Tricks for Filing This Oft-Dreaded Application

March 9, 2012

Just the (FAFSA) Facts, Ma’am

by Radha Jhatakia

For those of us who cannot afford large out-of-pocket expenses for college, financial aid is our only option. Many, if not all, universities require their students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – aka the FAFSA – which uses your family’s finances and taxes in order to best determine how much aid you get. It can be confusing but it is definitely worth your time to file the application.

Depending on the state of the school you attend and live in, the FAFSA has different deadlines. States offer different grants and scholarships as long as you qualify and apply by the stated deadline and private schools also have different deadlines for private funding which can be found on their websites. The dates for states can all be found on the print out form on the FAFSA’s website. Remember to use this official government website – other sites charge fees.

The FAFSA requires you to have a federal PIN number. To apply for one, request one from the FAFSA website. (Make sure to do this even if you don’t have your tax returns, as the PIN number sometimes takes some time to receive.) Also, a new procedure that the FAFSA has is the IRS data retrieval tool, which takes the tax information directly from the IRS database and filters it into the FAFSA. This option not only makes life easier for those filing the FAFSA but it helps college financial aid offices, as they won’t require you to turn in additional documents to verify if the information is correct.

Always try to have yours and your parents' tax returns completed as soon as possible to have your FAFSA completed on time; however, since required documents like W-2s and other federal papers often aren’t available when you need them, file the FAFSA and select the option “Will File” rather than “Already Completed” for the question asking if you have already filed the tax returns. Use the tax information from the previous year so that you can have it completed by the deadline and once your tax returns are complete, go back into the FAFSA and use the “Make Corrections” option to update the information.

Happy filing, everyone!

Radha Jhatakia is a communications major at San Jose State University. She's a transfer student who 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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Colleges Worry About End of Federal Aid-Based Ability Benefit

by Alexis Mattera

It may feel like we’ve skipped winter but federal aid is about to be put on ice for college hopefuls lacking high school diplomas or GEDs.

As of July 1st, newly-enrolled students will no longer be allowed to take an "ability to benefit" test or complete a set amount of credits without aid; instead, college students will be required to have high school diplomas or GEDs in order to receive federal financial aid. How will these students – many of whom are older, seeking training to find a new job, immigrants and students in states like California where the basic adult education budget has been cut – pay for school? College administrators anticipate they will turn to private loans...or give up on their degrees entirely.

David Baime, vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges, says the change “runs counter to the missions of many of our colleges,” as these schools view enrolling students without high school credentials as a key part of providing access to higher education: There are currently about 836,000 students without high school diplomas or GEDs enrolled at two-year public colleges nationwide and according to a limited 2006-2007 Education Department study, students without high school diplomas and GEDs were ultimately more successful in college and had higher GPAs than their classmates with high school diplomas, even if they failed the "ability to benefit" test. If would-be students have to get a GED before going to college and receive zero financial assistance while they prepare, Baime says many will opt out altogether.

What do you think of the new rule regarding federal aid? Do you think a high school diploma or GED is necessary to succeed in college?


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Tuition Discounts Lack Effectiveness

by Alexis Mattera

When making your final college choice, would you choose the school touting generous tuition discounts or the institution offering the standard financial aid package? The choice may seem obvious but according to a new study, things aren’t always what they seem.

A survey of 400 private institutions conducted by the National Association of College and University Business Officers revealed tuition discounting could be losing its effectiveness as a way of luring students to colleges. Data show that though the rate of institutional discounts in the form of scholarships, grants and fellowships continues to rise – the average is predicted to hit 42.8 percent this year – 45 percent of the schools surveyed saw overall enrollment remain flat or drop and 53.2 percent saw a decline or no change in the number of freshmen they enrolled.

What do you think of the tuition discounting trend? Is it playing a role in your college decision or are other factors (location, reputation, programs of study, etc.) more important to you?


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As Enrollment Deadlines Approach, Students Face Tough Choices

by Alexis Mattera

Enrollment deposits are due at many colleges around the country in 11 days and while some students committed to colleges within hours of receiving their acceptance letters, others are still weighing their higher ed options. As the deadline draws closer, don’t choose a college by tossing a dart at a map or playing eeny meeny with your admissions offers – consider these tips from U.S. News:

Plan another visit. Sure you went on the traditional tour last time you visited Big State U or Fancy Private College but this time, skip the campus-sponsored activities to get the true experience of what it’s like to attend that particular school.

Contact former classmates. If you know a few students who matriculated to the school you’re considering, get in touch with them. It’s never been easier to do via the myriad social networking sites out there and they’ll provide insight you won’t find in the brochures!

Don’t forget costs. You may have been accepted to your first-choice school but you didn’t receive the grants, scholarships and merit-based aid you were hoping for. Minimize the amount of debt you’ll accrue from taking out hefty student loans by reconsidering your second- or third-choice school...and its more-than-generous financial aid package.

You can read the rest of U.S. News' tips here but we’re curious as to how our readers made their college decisions. Did you employ any of the strategies listed above? Are you still trying to choose your school? Let us know what worked for you!


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"First Generation" Trains Its Lens on College Access

by Alexis Mattera

Many students think they know what it takes to get into the college of their choice but with record-low admissions rates, insufficient financial aid and increasing student loan debt, the path to higher education is not as clear-cut as it once was. Good grades and high standardized test scores aren’t enough anymore – the incoming freshman class at Berkeley, for example, includes an expert Ping-Pong player, an Irish dancer and a figure skater, as well as a TV star and a champion roller skater – but what if you don’t have the access to even that kind of basic information? The filmmakers behind "First Generation" hope to explain just that.

Adam and Jaye Fenderson's first feature film follows four students – an inner city athlete, a small town waitress, a Samoan warrior dancer and the daughter of migrant field workers – through as they apply to college and attempt to be the first members of their families to attend college. "First Generation" explores how, despite these students all possessing valuable attributes inside and outside of the classroom, the absence of college graduates in a family can result in a lack of financial support and a shortage of knowledge about the college admissions process as a whole.

Check out the trailer here when you have a minute and let us know what you think. If you are or will be a first generation college student, could you relate to the individuals featured? Do you think "First Generation" should be viewed by all students applying to college? Weigh in in the comments section!


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Concerned About Student Debt? Choose Your School Wisely

by Alexis Mattera

Cost plays a huge role in many students’ college choices. Depending on their financial situation, some students dismiss the schools with high tuition in favor of lower-cost in-state schools because they think it will save them money. In actuality, they could be doing themselves an economic disservice in the long run.

Using data from U.S. News and World Report’s most recent student debt survey of 25 top-ranking public and private schools, Reuters revealed that, on average, 53 percent of students surveyed received financial aid and at least half of students at most of the institutions graduated debt-free...but it depends on what school they attended: Princeton graduates, for example, owed only $5,000 at commencement while University of Michigan graduates owed more than $27,000 despite Michigan’s in-state costs being less than half of Princeton’s. How is this possible? Numerous schools including Princeton, Caltech, Davidson College and the University of Washington have eliminated student loans from their financial aid packages and others like Harvard, Stanford and UC Berkeley have capped contributions for students from low- and middle-income families. (Check out the entire article here, including this handy infographic.)

While it is difficult for many students to attend college without taking out some kind of loan – especially those attending state-run institutions which don’t have the fiscal means to eliminate debt – it is possible to avoid debt if you choose the right school. Thoughts?


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Want More Financial Aid Info? Help is On the Way!

Ten Schools Commit to More Financial Aid Disclosure

June 6, 2012

Want More Financial Aid Info? Help is On the Way!

by Alexis Mattera

With student loan debt now totaling more than $1 trillion, current and would-be college students need access to financial aid information more than ever before. The good news is that universities across the country are doing their best to make the facts as clear and available as possible in the near future.

Ten schools – Arizona State, Miami Dade College, North Carolina A&T State University, Syracuse, UNC Chapel Hill, Vassar and the state university systems in Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Texas – have committed to providing key funding information to all incoming students as part of their financial aid packages starting in the 2013-14 school year. The details will include the cost of one year of college, financial aid options such as grants and scholarships, estimated monthly payments after graduation on federal student loans and comparative data about graduation and loan repayment rates. According to the White House, this disclosure will play a vital role in making college more affordable for all students: "Too often, students and families face confusion when comparing financial aid packages, some of which do not clearly differentiate loans from grants, nor distinguish private vs. federal loans, making it difficult to compare aid offers side-by-side. Clarity and accessibility of information is necessary so that students and families can make informed decisions about where to attend college, so they can choose a school that is best suited to their financial and educational goals."

What do you think of this plan? Do you think it will help students better understand financial aid or is the effort too little and too late?


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