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by Scholarships.com Staff

Princeton Review released its annual college rankings yesterday, based on a survey of 122,000 students at colleges nationwide. The purpose of the list is to help students choose colleges based on what current undergraduate students at each school say, and rankings include such categories as best and worst dorm food, most politically engaged students, and most GLBT-friendly schools.

The most publicized of these rankings is the list of top party schools, with Pennsylvania State University unseating the University of Florida as number one this year. The party schools ranking is often seen as closely related to a combination of other rankings, which involve the availability of alcohol, the amount of time students spend studying and the presence of Greek life on campus. Many students at schools that top the party school list take pride in this designation, while university officials often see it as a cause for concern.

Other rankings may be more useful to many students and parents, especially the list of schools whose students are most satisfied with their financial aid packages. Swarthmore College, Stanford University, and Harvard University comprise the top three spots in the "Great Financial Aid" ranking, with a total of 13 colleges receiving an additional distinction from Princeton Review for receiving the highest possible rating for financial aid in their survey.

However, the self-reported nature of the information and relatively small number of students answering the surveys may not paint a wholly accurate picture of campus life, so incorporating other resources into your college search is important. This and other tools can help you find colleges to investigate further, but don't rule out a school entirely just because it is or is not on one of these lists.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

As our annual Resolve to Evolve scholarship essay contest draws to a close and we move closer to the time of year when a number of other scholarship competitions begin accepting applications, we thought it would be a good time to review an often overlooked aspect of applying for scholarships: the actual act of submitting your scholarship application.

By applying for a scholarship, you are making contact with someone who could potentially award you money, so you want to make sure that your application makes a good first impression before the reviewer even gets to the content.  At the very least, you certainly do not want your application to wind up in the discard pile due to a failure to follow the contest's official rules. While official rules for scholarship opportunities can often come across as dense and full of legal language, you should still take time to review them and ensure your application complies before you spend the time, money, and effort involved in creating and submitting a scholarship application.

A good idea is to make a note for yourself of the requirements for each scholarship for which you intend to apply. Print off sheets or make a spreadsheet on your computer. Get organized. We suggest including the following items in your list of rules to note:

Eligibility Requirements: This may seem like a no-brainer, but before you apply for a scholarship, make sure you're actually eligible to win. Pay attention to details like age, grade level, and enrollment status, since your answer for these could be different from what you think, depending on the scholarship provider's cutoff dates. For example, a scholarship could ask for "currently enrolled" students as of summer 2009, but if your first class starts during the fall term, you may not be eligible to apply. If you are not sure whether you are eligible based on the official rules, it doesn't hurt to contact the provider and ask.

Length and Format of Submission: Once you've made sure that you are eligible to apply, make sure what you plan to submit is eligible to win. Your 20-page scholarship essay may provide a brilliant analysis of the subject matter, but if the upper limit for the contest is 800 words, you are not going to win a scholarship with it. Your scholarship application also can't win if you forget to provide appropriate contact info or include required items, so make a list of what you need and check off each item as it goes into your application packet. Similarly, you'll want to pay attention to any rules about file format, typeface, and other details that may disqualify you, or at least generate the impression that you didn't carefully read the rules.

Submission Method: Does this scholarship contest ask for applications to be submitted via e-mail, via a form on their website, or via postal mail? Do they request that you use a specific mail carrier, or avoid using others (some scholarship providers will include stipulations such as sending your application only through the United States Postal Service)? Do they want you to label your submission in a particular way or address it to a particular person or office? All of these questions are important not only to make sure your application gets to where it needs to go, but also to demonstrate your interest in the award and your ability to follow instructions.

Deadline: If your essay is to be submitted online, make note of the exact time of day at which the contest ends. Is there a time zone indicated in the official rules? You don't want to find yourself searching for a scholarship submission form on a website at 11:50 PM PST when the contest closed at 11:59 PM EST. If your esay needs to be submitted through the mail, check whether the application deadline is a postmarked by date or a received by date.  For example, our Resolve to Evolve Essay Contest requires that applications be postmarked by July 31, so students who are sending them overnight on July 30 are unnecessarily paying more for postage. Meanwhile, students who attempt to submit an application for a scholarship with a received by date of July 31 would not want to simply stick a stamp on it today and hope it's still accepted.

In the end, your application will still be judged primarily on its merit, provided it meets basic requirements.  However, closely following rules for each contest and showing that you have a legitimate interest in the scholarship as more than just a potential source of easy cash will improve your chances of winning scholarships.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

The fall semester is just around the corner, and in addition to the start of classes, students are also beginning to gear up for scholarship application season, the time from late fall to late spring when the majority of scholarship applications are due. If you are just starting your scholarship search, there are a number of things to keep in mind when deciding which awards to apply for. The size of the award, the application deadline, the amount of work required, and your likelihood of winning are all criteria you likely use in evaluating awards. One other thing to think about before putting together an application, though, is whether there will be any costs associated with the scholarship contest.

Every scholarship application will have some degree of cost associated with it, whether it's postage, time, or the costs involved in creating your application materials (for example, printing an essay or filming and editing a video). However, some scholarship applications are going to be more costly than others, and when a scholarship charges an application fee on top of the time, energy, and money you're already putting into it, it should be cause for some careful thought.

Scholarship opportunities are generally seen as altruistic offers made by organizations that want to help students succeed in college. Sure, many scholarships have a promotional nature, as there are few better ways to attract interest in a company than by giving something away for free. However, some companies actually charge students to apply for scholarships. For example, we came across one scholarship essay contest that offered a $500 award and charged a $15 application fee. The scholarship provider boasted of receiving 10,000 applications in a year, meaning they hauled in $15,000 and only gave away $500. Unless they're spending over $14,000 promoting the contest and paying people to judge the essays, it's reasonable to believe they're profiting off the scholarship in more ways than just boosting traffic to their site. Not necessarily the most altruistic endeavor, huh?

This isn't the only example of a scholarship contest charging a seemingly unnecessary application fee. Offers like this aren't necessarily scholarship scams, as legitimate awards are offered to people who apply. However, why would you pay money for something when there are so many other ways to get it for free?


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by Scholarships.com Staff

We're nearly a week into August, and for many students, that means that back-to-school preparations have begun. Whether you're picking out notebooks and extra-long twin sheets, or trying to squeeze one last trip or a few more hours of work into your calendar, now is a good time to start looking ahead to the fall term if you're in college. This includes thinking about financial aid. One of the least pleasant aspects of the start of the semester is finding yourself in the line for the college financial aid office as it grows to epic proportions the first week of class.

Luckily, at most colleges the fall rush has not yet started, so if you have some extra time now, you can take steps to make sure you won't find yourself standing in a packed office and trying not to panic on the first day of class. From a financial aid office veteran, here are three things to check into now to avoid waiting in line later.

First, if you are applying for federal student financial aid, by now you should have filled out a 2009-2010 FAFSA and received a financial aid award notice from your college's financial aid office. If you're still waiting to complete a FAFSA or hear back from your school, now would be a good time to take care of these things. You may want to call your college's financial aid office, or check your account online if you have the option, to make sure that everything is in order for timely disbursement of your fall financial aid. Ask if you have any other paperwork you need to complete (such as verification or a master promissory note), especially if it is your first time receiving financial aid. Double check disbursement dates, as well, so you know when you are due to receive the money.

Second, if you've won any scholarship awards (and we hope you have!), now would be a good time to make sure you know when you will be receiving the funds, whether the checks will go to the school or to you, and whether you will need to sign anything or wait for the school to do any additional paperwork before you receive the money (the financial aid office may need to recalculate your aid based on the scholarships you've received). Many scholarship providers notify you of disbursement arrangements or include this information in their official rules, so review correspondence with them, as well as information they've published. If you have questions, you can check with your college and the scholarship provider.

Finally, make sure you will have sufficient funds to cover your bill and make arrangements if necessary to take care of whatever costs grants, scholarships, or federal student loans do not cover. Your parents may want to take out a PLUS loan, or you may want to take out a private loan to cover whatever gap is left. You will want to do paperwork for these as soon as possible, as processing times may take up to a few weeks, especially once things get busy. Many colleges also offer payment plans if you'd like to pay the rest of your bill without borrowing, but you cannot afford to do so all at once.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Following the lead of U.S. News, several other publications have entered the college rankings game in recent years. Yesterday, Forbes revealed its second annual list of America's best colleges. Ranking first was the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY, followed by Princeton University. While Princeton typically does well in college rankings, the appearance of West Point in first place is something of a surprise in the college rankings world. Forbes touts its rankings as being focused on a college's ability to meet students' needs, a factor that includes post-graduate student loan debt (20 percent of the ranking), and the U.S. Military Academy is tuition-free.

As is the case with other college rankings, these should be taken with a grain of salt. Forbes' rankings also draw heavily on data from Ratemyprofessors.com (making up 25 percent of each school's score), a website whose primary metrics for rating professors include "hotness" and "easiness." Similarly, a portion of the Forbes ranking is influenced by the number of graduates appearing in publications like Who's Who in America (12.5 percent), whose significance and methodology have been questioned repeatedly, at least once within the pages of Forbes itself.

Much of the information included in the Forbes rankings is useful, though, such as graduates' average salaries, the likelihood of graduating in four years, and graduates' average student loan debt load. However, when checking out these or other rankings, be aware that the criteria used by publications or the sources they use to determine their rankings may be irrelevant to you and your needs. Think carefully about which factors are important to you when choosing a college and base your choices on those. There are many free tools to help you in your college search, so it's a wise idea to look beyond top colleges lists when making your decision of where to apply.


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Textbook Buying Tips

August 13, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Both for students starting college for the first time in the fall and for undergraduate students returning for another year, textbooks are too often an unwelcome and unexpectedly large expense. With your scholarship awards and hard-earned money already going towards tuition and room and board, it's difficult and unpleasant to have to shell out well over $100 for a book you're unlikely to even enjoy reading. There are ways to ease the pain of college textbook purchases, though.

Start Early and Get It in Writing: With classes starting up in August or September at most schools, your professors and the bookstore staff probably already know what books will be needed for fall, even if the textbook section of the campus bookstore isn't open for business yet. If you have your fall schedule figured out, now is a good time to start tracking down textbooks. First off, get a book list for each course as early as possible. This could take some doing, as not all professors in all departments have the courtesy to make book lists and syllabi available on a course website. Typically, professors have to get lists to the bookstore, though, and the bookstore is generally supposed to make this information available to students. If you can't find this information anywhere, don't be afraid to ask your professor through a polite e-mail.

Comparison Shop and Buy Used: With book list in hand, make note of prices at the campus bookstore, any off-campus textbook stores in the community, and popular websites that sell new and used books. Try to find the best deal, and be sure to factor in shipping costs and how long it will take the books to arrive. While the used book stacks are always the first to go at the bookstore, this isn't the only place used books are available. Check local used bookstores, as well as online retailers. I've found books for literature classes at library sales, yard sales, and thrift stores too, so be on the lookout if you happen across any of these. There's nothing like picking up a $15 text for 15 cents.

Find It for Free: Got friends or older siblings who may have taken similar classes? See if they hung onto their books and could lend you one or two. You may want to try posting flyers in your dorm and common areas on campus, or utilizing free online classifieds for your campus and community. The end of the semester is often the best time for this, but it could still pay off now. Don't forget the campus and public libraries, either, especially if you have the option of checking out a book for an entire semester, or if you will only need a book for part of the term. Most colleges participate in pretty generous inter-library loan programs, and some let students keep books or renew books for fairly substantial lengths of time. If you can't borrow, you may also want to look into renting. While not free, textbook rental services are less expensive than purchasing new books, and you don't have to worry about trying to sell the books back at the end of the semester.

Apply for Textbook Scholarships: Many scholarship opportunities allow winners to apply costs towards any school-related expenses, including textbooks. Additionally, several scholarship providers offer students money specifically for buying books. Some are local scholarships and others are major-specific, but they are out there! Do a free college scholarship search today to find some textbook funds.


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by Emily

The stress and financial hardships of textbook buying may soon be a thing of the past, as a vast array of textbook rental options are expected to debut or expand this year.  According to a recent article in The New York Times, students will have increasing options for renting, instead of purchasing, the required books for many common courses.  Rental prices are usually substantially discounted from the retail value of the book and students who rent textbooks will not have to worry about whether or not the bookstore will buy back their text at the end of the semester.

A number of colleges and universities have unveiled on-campus textbook rental programs in recent years, making the texts for popular introductory courses available for a small fee.  More bookstores have begun to get in on this, with Barnes and Noble announcing a pilot program this year that will allow students at a few colleges to rent textbooks from their campus bookstores.  These programs allow students to rent textbooks as easily as they can buy them from the campus store, though they're still only available at a handful of colleges and for a handful of textbooks.

Several websites have emerged in the last couple years offering online textbook rental services to students anywhere in the country.  These sites often have a wider array of books available for rental, though after shipping costs are figured in, their discounts may not necessarily be as deep as those offered by some bookstore-based rental programs.  Similar to buying textbooks online, online rentals also require some forethought and don't work well with last-minute schedule changes.  Students have to order their books early enough to have them in hand by the time they begin receiving reading assignments.

Addressing this need for immediately available content is one publishing house that recently announced plans to enter the textbook rental market.  One company, Cengage Learning, plans to rent a number of its most popular titles to students and make the first couple chapters of each book available online to customers who have rented a physical text.  This reduces the stress of waiting for the book to arrive.

Taking advantage of textbook rental programs, as well as other options like used books and free online books, can help you stretch your college savings and scholarship awards further.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Back to school season is also college rankings season, and in addition to well-known lists like those published by U.S. News and Princeton Review, several other organizations publish their own college rankings based on often-overlooked criteria. One such list was released this week by G.I. Jobs Magazine, naming the top military-friendly schools in the United States. To make the list, a school must be in the top 15 percent of colleges, universities, and trade schools in the nation when it comes to recruiting and serving military veterans.

This information is timely for many veterans who may be starting their college search after the new Post-9/11 G.I. Bill took effect at the beginning of this month. Expanded benefits will help more veterans pay for school at more institutions, with funding available for up to the full amount of tuition and fees at the most expensive state college in each state, as well as housing and book allowances. However veteran students, like other adult students, often need additional support to succeed in college, both where their coursework and their financial aid are concerned.

Rather than just including four-year universities, the military-friendly schools list also features community colleges and trade schools, institutions that attract veterans and other returning students, and that are expected to play an instrumental role in President Obama's push to increase the number of Americans attending college.

Based on survey responses and published information, G.I. Jobs ranked schools on their committment to recruiting veterans, providing programs for military students, and maintaining overall academic excellence. The complete list, as well as survey questions and information on methodology can be found on the G.I. Jobs Guide to Military Friendly Schools website.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

As the start of the fall semester approaches, students across the country are finding themselves in a precarious position when it comes to financial aid. As we've previously mentioned, several states have been forced to make deep budget cuts this year, canceling or reducing funding for scholarships and grants, in some cases after award notices have already been sent to students. This has left students scrambling for last-minute student loans, and in some cases facing the difficult decision of whether to take a semester off while trying to procure alternate funding.

The Wall Street Journal and U.S. News both feature articles this week that offer up alternatives for students who have come up short on funding for the fall. While scholarship opportunities are still available for the coming academic year and should be pursued, students who need immediate sources of funding may want to check out private loans, peer-to-peer lending, and emergency loans and other aid offered by some universities and state agencies. Reducing to part-time enrollment or transferring to a cheaper school are also last-resort options that may be better choices than taking an entire semester off or putting tuition on a credit card.

An appeal to your college's financial aid office can also produce more financial aid, especially if your financial situation has changed since you completed the FAFSA, or if your parents were turned down for a federal PLUS loan. Additional loans, and even some grant aid, may be available if you ask.

In addition to trying to find new sources of funding, some college students are also petitioning their state legislators to get grant and scholarship funding restored.  Lawmakers in Utah have listened, promising to reinstate full funding to the state's New Century Scholarship program, whose awards they had previously planned to cut nearly in half. Students in Michigan also may yet get a reprieve from budget cuts, as the governor of Michigan and numerous state legislators are vowing to do what they can to keep the state's popular Promise Scholarship program intact.

Even if states manage to find funding for grants and scholarships this year, the next fiscal year could also prove challenging. Students in cash-strapped states who are planning to rely on state scholarships to pay for college may want to start looking into alternate funding now.  One of the best ways to do this is to start with a free college scholarship search.


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by Emily

Over the course of the last year, a number of colleges and universities have begun to offer scholarship opportunities for people who have found themselves out of work and in need of further education or job training. Yesterday, U.S. News profiled several newer community college programs, including several full-tuition scholarships, but even more awards are out there. Here's a run-down of some of the scholarships for displaced workers that we've found.

Community College Scholarships: Scholarships for recently unemployed students offered by community colleges are the most common. Colleges in several states are offering free tuition for one to two semesters, or even more, for displaced workers. Some, such as Oakton Community College in Illinois and the Community College of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania stipulate certain degree or certificate programs for their tuition benefits, and others, like several community colleges in New Jersey, will allow students to enroll in any course with empty seats. Others are offering partial tuition discounts, such as Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Minnesota. Michigan has launched a state-wide No Worker Left Behind program, which provides up to two years of free tuition for unemployed and underemployed workers at state community colleges. Students can also apply the credits towards an undergraduate degree at a state college or university. To qualify, students must be pursuing degrees that will lead to employment in high-demand occupations.

Undergraduate Scholarships: This summer, DeVry began offering scholarships to students who have enrolled at one of the seven schools owned by DeVry and who have lost their jobs in the last 12 months. As one example, the Employment Gap Scholarship gives students $1,000 per semester towards their tuition at DeVry. Many other four-year schools have also launched generous aid programs, or even offered full-tuition scholarships, for new and returning students who are facing economic difficulties. A number of these scholarships and grants may be available to displaced workers, especially if you now qualify for a Federal Pell Grant after losing your job. Scholarships for adult students are also worth looking into. While only a few are specifically for the recently unemployed, several are designed to generously aid adults who are enrolling in undergraduate programs.

Graduate Scholarships: In addition to offering free career center services, several universities are also aiding their alumni through tuition discounts on graduate programs and additional certification and training. Manchester College in Indiana will allow students who fail to find a job or a graduate program within six months of graduation a year of free coursework. Similarly, St. John's University in New York allows laid off alumni to attend its graduate programs for half price.

Government Benefits: Recently, the Obama administration began a national push for states to grant full unemployment benefits to recipients who choose to enroll in a college degree program, as incentive for unemployed workers to attend college. Additionally, financial aid adminstrators have been instructed to use greater lattitude in dealing with financial aid appeals from students who have lost their jobs, which could result in more federal grant money for returning students.


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