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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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Is College Right for You?

April 30, 2012

Is College Right for You?

by Lisa Lowdermilk

If you had to guess, what percentage of students start college and actually finish it? According to a study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, only 46 percent of students who started college earned degrees in 2010. Hefty student loans and interest rates, stress and being academically unprepared are amongst the many reasons college drop-outs cite; some students report being as much as $50,000 in debt before graduation with no viable means of paying it off.

Given this info, it’s really important that you consider if college is right for you before applying, especially if the field you’re thinking about going into doesn’t require a degree. There are still plenty of great job opportunities for people who think college may not be for them, including air traffic control and locomotive engineering. That’s not to say, however, that a college degree is overrated. According to a study conducted by Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, bachelor’s degree holders earn 84 percent more than high school graduates during their lifetimes. And while there are still plenty of jobs that don’t require a degree, virtually every employer will prefer a college graduate over a high school graduate.

My goal here is not to discourage anyone from attending college; instead, I want to present both sides of the argument so that you can commit 100 percent to furthering your education or, alternatively, seek out a job that doesn’t require a degree. It’s better to recognize now that you won’t be able to commit to college than be forced to drop out and pay back $50,000 in student loans later. No matter which path you choose, one thing’s for sure: You’ll have to work hard if you want to succeed!

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.


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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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Questions to Ask Your Student Loan Servicer

by Suada Kolovic

If you’re a recent high school graduate, chances are you’re looking forward to the surge of independence that comes with becoming a college freshman. And while anticipating all the excitement that comes with entering college – meeting new people, establishing a home away from home, sleeping in until noon, etc. – establishing how you’re going to pay for it is an entirely different story. Here at Scholarships.com, we encourage students to apply for scholarships early and often but taking out student loans might be inevitable. With that being said, knowing what questions you should ask your student loan servicer might ease the transition and U.S. News and World Report has done some of the legwork for you by compiling a list of helpful questions that financial aid officers, student loan counselors and former lenders recommend you ask:

  • When exactly will my payments begin?
  • Do you have my current contact information on file?
  • What is my interest rate?
  • Is my interest rate competitive?
  • Is there any way to get an interest rate reduction?
  • Is consolidating my loans a good option for me?
  • How do I qualify for Interest-Based Repayment or Income-Contingent Repayment?
  • Do I qualify for an economic hardship deferment?
  • What happens if I lose my job?
  • If I go back to graduate school, what are my loan options?

Can you think of any other questions you’d like answers to? If so, feel free to let us know in the comments section.


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Questions to Ask Your Student Loan Servicer

by Suada Kolovic

If you’re a recent high school graduate, chances are you’re looking forward to the surge of independence that comes with becoming a college freshman. And while anticipating all the excitement that comes with entering college – meeting new people, establishing a home away from home, sleeping in until noon, etc. – establishing how you’re going to pay for it is an entirely different story. Here at Scholarships.com, we encourage students to apply for scholarships early and often but taking out student loans might be inevitable. With that being said, knowing what questions you should ask your student loan servicer might ease the transition and U.S. News and World Report has done some of the legwork for you by compiling a list of helpful questions that financial aid officers, student loan counselors and former lenders recommend you ask:

  • When exactly will my payments begin?
  • Do you have my current contact information on file?
  • What is my interest rate?
  • Is my interest rate competitive?
  • Is there any way to get an interest rate reduction?
  • Is consolidating my loans a good option for me?
  • How do I qualify for Interest-Based Repayment or Income-Contingent Repayment?
  • Do I qualify for an economic hardship deferment?
  • What happens if I lose my job?
  • If I go back to graduate school, what are my loan options?

Can you think of any other questions you’d like answers to? If so, feel free to let us know in the comments section.


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Recent Grads, Pack Your Bags!

Towns Lure Young Professionals with Debt Repayment, Tax Waivers

June 14, 2012

Recent Grads, Pack Your Bags!

by Alexis Mattera

Armed with degrees in their fields of choice, newly-minted college grads have the world at their fingertips...and, often, student loan payments lurking right around the corner. The job market isn’t what it used to be so what’s a recent grad to do to keep collectors at bay? A change of address may be in order.

Communities across the country are attempting to attract young professionals by offering incentives like paying down college loans and income tax waivers if they become full-time residents of specific cities or counties. Niagara Falls is putting an initial $200,000 behind the idea to, according to director of community development Seth Piccirillo, bring back the talent and brain power the city has lost over the last 50 years. (Here, graduates who have earned a two- or four-year degree or a graduate degree in the past two years can apply for up to $3,500 a year for two years towards repayment of their student loans.) Farther west in Kansas, 50 counties have established Rural Opportunity Zones (ROZs) authorized to offer the following financial incentives to new full-time residents: income tax waivers for up to five years and/or student loan repayments up to $15,000. To date, program manager Chris Harris has received 338 applications – 75 percent of which have qualified for one or both incentives.

Read more about the current incentive plans here - would you relocate to one of these areas in exchange for the incentives listed?


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UChicago’s New Financial Aid Initiative Targets Local Students

by Suada Kolovic

The University of Chicago has recently announced the launch of UChicago Promise, an initiative aimed at helping high school students in the city of Chicago gain admission, pay for and succeed in college. The cornerstone of the program is the commitment from the university to eliminate loans from financial aid packages of students from Chicago who are admitted.

“Chicago, from our pre-schools to our world-renowned universities, is committed to ensuring that every child has access to a high-quality education,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “The step taken today by the University of Chicago is a creative step that will help many of Chicago’s own achieve their goals and graduate without a financial burden.”

In addition to replacing loans with grants and other nonrepayable student aid, UChicago Promise includes an automatic waiver of the University’s application fee and offers a wide array of support and mentoring programs for aspiring college students. The initiative will take effect for those applying this year and will not be available to students with existing loans or who have already matriculated.


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Affording College While Avoiding Debt

Schools Eliminate Loans, Educate Students To Be Fiscally Responsible

November 14, 2012

Affording College While Avoiding Debt

by Alexis Mattera

A college education is far from cheap but some students are able to graduate with far less debt than others. How? Scholarships and grants play a huge role in keeping expenses low but some institutions are lending a helping hand by revising their financial aid packages and educating their students on the importance of fiscal responsibility.

Davidson College, for example, instituted a “no loans” financial aid policy in 2007 and now addresses need through grants and student employment. Others, like St. John's College, Elizabeth City State University and the SUNY schools, are doing their part by providing tailored support services to students through graduation - the latter, in fact, have launched a system-wide effort to prevent student borrowers from defaulting on their loans by offering net price calculators and communicating early and often with borrowers.

You can read more about what’s being done to combat student debt here but we want to know if your college (or intended school) has similar initiatives in place. If not, what kind of services and information should they be providing regarding student debt?


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Report: 284,000 College Graduates Held Minimum-Wage Jobs in 2012

by Suada Kolovic

Looking for a competitive edge when applying for that minimum-wage barista position at your local coffee shop? Turns out your newly minted bachelor’s degree might just be the edge they’re looking for.

According to the U.S. Labor Department, there were about 284,000 college graduates working minimum-wage jobs in 2012, including 37,000 with advanced degrees. Surprisingly, that’s down from 2010’s peak of 327,000 but up 70 percent from a decade earlier. And with many college graduates saddled with crippling student loan debt, it’s no wonder they’re accepting positions that are low-paying and low-skilled.

Of the 41.7 million working 2010 college graduates, about 48 percent work jobs that require less than a bachelor’s degree and 38 percent of those polled didn’t even need a high school diploma. Why the surge of low-paying jobs? Three-fifths of the jobs lost during the recession that paid middle-income wages have been replaced with the low-wage variety, according to the National Employment Law Project. (For more on this report, click here.)

To our college student readers, does this report alter your perspective on getting a college education? Why or why not?


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