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Making the Choice: Tips for Comparing Financial Aid Packages

April 15, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

As students begin evaluating their offers of acceptance from colleges, one factor may weigh more heavily than any other on the tough decisions of choosing the right school - financial aid. The financial aid opportunities School A offers to incoming freshmen that School B does not may be what makes or breaks the decision on where a student will enroll, even if School B is the student's "dream school." Comparing financial aid offers is then an integral process in the decision-making process, and unfortunately you don't have a lot of time to send your notice back to each school you've been accepted to. Here are some tips to navigate the process, and help you determine how to find the "best value":

  • Compare the scholarships and grants available at each school. Have you already been offered either, or has the school simply notified you of your eligibility for more free funding?
  • Compare student loan amounts. What may seem like the best offer at first may actually be anchored by a significant amount of student loan debt. Student loans should be your last resort as far as covering college costs.
  • Compare your expected family contributions. Schools may handle this piece of information differently, and may even accept more information about your family's financial situation after you've received your financial aid package. It's fine to question a school's offer, especially if there are big discrepancies between what each school is offering you.
  • Compare the tuition and fees of each school, and what that financial aid package covers. Some schools may offer you what appears to be an impressive amount of aid based on the cost of tuition alone, and you already know college costs include a lot more than that base price - fees, books and supplies, and room and board, for example.
  • Be aware of what you're eligible to receive next year. Some schools may offer a more impressive financial aid package to incoming freshmen, and pad students' offers the following year with more student loans. Do your research. Compare average student loan debts at each school, talk to students already attending each school, and be frank with your financial aid administrator.
Some students may have been lucky enough to have been accepted into a program that has offered them a tuition-free education. A recent article in USA Today took a look at colleges that offer to pay the tuition of all new students, despite all you've already read about tuition and fee increases across the country. Some are military schools that require a commitment from you to serve in the military post-graduation, but others are schools where there exists a need for new graduates, either due to the school's locations or lack of graduates in certain fields of study. Webb Institute, the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, and the College of the Ozarks, for example, all offer tuition-free educations to students. Do you know of more? Tell us about them!

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So You’re a College Grad

Part I: Dealing with Post-Graduation Anxiety

May 18, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

As graduation season begins on college campuses across the country, many of you are well-prepared and excited for this new chapter in your lives. You have jobs or internships lined up in your fields of study, or have travel plans set for the summer before you’re officially labeled “adults.” For many others, however, the months after graduation are more nerve-wracking than anything else. So we’ve come up with a series of posts this week that will hopefully ease your minds a bit, and perhaps more importantly, help you see that you’re not alone.

Before we get into ideas on what you could do with your life post-graduation if you haven’t yet nailed down a job or other plans, we think it’s important to address the anxiety many graduates feel when their college experience is coming to an end. You probably became used to the freedom you first felt as a freshman on a new campus with endless possibilities. Now, as you’re watching your senior year come to end, you’re probably faced with endless questions instead from family and friends: "Have you found a job?" "What are your plans?" "Where will you live?"

First of all, take a step back and breathe. Although the economy has yet to rebound completely, there are thousands of others in the same boat as you, and it’s fine to take some time to be indecisive about what you want to do next. Once you’ve done that, you need to prepare to confront your future and do a bit of self-reflection. Graduating from college can be overwhelming. Many college students end up in careers unrelated to their majors, or take time off after college (if such an option is financially feasible) to figure out what it is they really want to do, via travel, volunteerism, or internships in fields they may be interested in exploring further.

Speaking of finances, much of the anxiety felt by recent graduates comes from the doom and gloom that comes with budgeting once you’re out of college. You no longer have your financial aid package or the option to increase your student loan totals (a bad idea, by the way, that should only be considered as a last resort) as a cushion, although there are things you can do to ease the burden a little bit right after graduation. If you’re unemployed, defer your student loans. You don’t want to face fees and interest charges for being unable to make payments on your loans and hurt your credit score in the process. If you have any prospects for part-time work or full-time temporary work, start saving. Finding a job isn’t a science, and sometimes it does take a while to find that perfect fit.

Tomorrow we’ll talk more about what you can do in the short-term as a recent graduate, because you really do have quite a few options. Were you floundering until you came across that perfect post-graduation plan? We'd love to hear your stories!

This is the first post in a three-part series on dealing with that “What’s next?” feeling college students may get post-graduation. Return to the Scholarships.com blog tomorrow for a look at popular short-term plans for recent college graduates, especially if your upcoming summer is looking fairly open!

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So You’re a College Grad

Part II: Setting Short-Term Goals

May 19, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

You don’t have to have everything figured out right after you walk across that stage to receive your college degree. However, you do need to have the beginnings of a plan that will help you determine not only what you’d like to use that new degree for, but how you’ll be meeting more immediate needs, like finding a place to live that isn’t a campus apartment or college dorm, and paying and budgeting for all that new adult freedom you’re experiencing when you’re not yet gainfully employed.

The first step you’ll need to take is prioritizing which of those short-term goals is most pressing. That could mean focusing on getting a roof over your head. If that means sacrifice on your part and moving back in with your parents, it might not be the worst idea you’ve had. You’ll save some money and feel less anxious about finding a job to pay the bills if you’re getting some help. Don’t get too comfortable, though. A good way to make sure you’re doing your part and looking for jobs or that next step is to come up with a time-line of when you’d like to be out of your parents’ house.

If you found yourself using your student credit card too much thanks to that free T-shirt offer that came along with it, you may need to focus on making ends meet and paying down your debt. If you’re unemployed, there’s no shame in deferring any student loans you may have. At the very least, try landing a part-time or full-time temporary job if making some money is your top priority. Plenty of new graduates spend some time working at a job that perhaps isn’t all that related to their college major, so that they’re able to save up some money or start paying off debts. We’re not telling you that you should give up on that dream job. But we are saying it won’t be very useful to get into more debt while daydreaming of your future career, as you’ll only feel that much more stressed out when that perfect gig finally falls into your lap.

Finally, if it’s an option, the months after college may be a great time for you to explore alternatives to employment. A popular option is the backpacking through Europe trip. If you’ve always wanted to volunteer in the community or teach abroad, the time after college might be the last time you’re able to do that before you’re burdened by the responsibilities of a career and limited vacation time. If it’s not financially feasible, it may be wiser to save your money, but if you have the funds or will have saved some money thanks to a part-time or temporary job, there’s no harm in taking some time away from the job search to do some self-exploration and potentially figure out what you’re really interested in doing.

This is the second post in a three-part series on dealing with that “What’s next?” feeling college students may get post-graduation. Return to the Scholarships.com blog tomorrow for a look at long-term goals for recent college graduates, and how you can start figuring out where you'd like to be a few years down the road.

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So You’re a College Grad

Part III: Setting Long-Term Goals

May 20, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Once you’ve figured out what you should do with your life after graduation in the short-term, it’s a good idea to start thinking long-term, and determining where you’d like to see yourself a few years down the line. The first step may be getting your affairs in order. If you’re expecting a move within a year or two after college, look into how much money you’d need to save to make that happen, and what you need to know about your intended location’s housing/rental stock and job outlook.

Speaking of jobs, finding the perfect one isn’t an exact science. Deciding on a long-term gig shouldn't be taken lightly, and if you can, take the time to do your research when considering where you'd like to work. It’s hard to tell how long the process may take, but there are ways for you to improve your chances of finding a job that is a good fit for you. Use your school’s career center and alumni networks. Sometimes, it is all about who you know. The counselors at the career center may also help you retool your resume, the most important piece of your application package that you’ll be giving to potential employers. If your job search is hampered by a weak economy, or if you’ve gotten word that a job you think you qualify for and would really enjoy will open up in a few months, make the most out of your time. Look into seasonal internships related to your college degree to impress employers once jobs do open up. You’ll look like self-starter who takes initiative rather than waiting things out.

If you’re interested in a career where it would be beneficial to have an advanced degree, graduate school right after you’re done with your undergraduate degree may be an option for you. Just know that this option may not be for everyone, especially if you’re feeling burned out from your four years in college or if you’re only interested in graduate school because you’d like to put any decision-making about your future career on the back-burner. Depending on your field of study and college major, graduate school may help you tremendously, giving you openings to positions higher up in the food chain, or it may not be as beneficial, giving you an additional mound of student loan debt.

Did we miss anything? What else do you think new graduates should consider when thinking about their long-term goals?

This is the last post in a three-part series on dealing with that “What’s next?” feeling college students may get post-graduation. The Scholarships.com blog will be back to giving you the latest higher education news and tips on financial aid and college life tomorrow!

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All Transfer Credits Not Created Equal

July 21, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

A big selling point of attending a community college is the money you’ll save when compared to the tuition and fees at a public or private four-year college or university. If you’re one of the many students out there with plans to transfer to a four-year institution once your two years are up at the local community college, there are a few things you should know when you’re looking to transfer. The credits you collected at your two-year college may not all transfer to your intended four-year school.

A recent article in the Indianapolis Star took a look at the trouble students at Ivy Tech Community College have been having when looking to transfer to the state’s public colleges, namely Indiana and Purdue universities. What they’ve found is that the public colleges aren’t accepting credits for many of the core classes that make up four-year colleges’ general education requirements.

According to the Indianapolis Star, there are many reasons why credits may be difficult to transfer. For one, there are no across-the-board standards when it comes to what constitutes a first-year English course, for example. It is then up to the discretion of the four-year schools’ administrators to decide whether or not to accept those credits. Credits that don’t transfer must be repeated on the four-year college level, which means students may not be saving as much money as they thought and take longer to graduate than they had initially planned. As most two- and four-year colleges don’t have standard numbering systems when it comes to listing courses in the college catalogs, it may also be difficult for students to know which level English course they should take in the first place to make sure they’re taking transferable credits.

There is no easy way to make sure the community college classes you’re taking will transfer to the four-year university of your choice, but there are things you can do to improve your chances. We’ve come up with some tips to help.

  • If you know where you’d like to transfer early on, develop a relationship with administrators at that four-year college. The more you know about the kinds of college classes that do transfer, the more informed you’ll be when it comes to picking courses out of the catalog at your community college.
  • If you’re flexible about where you’d like to go when you’re ready to transfer, consider the partnerships many community colleges have with state universities. Many two-year schools have long histories as feeder schools, making it easier to transfer credits from one place to another.
  • Know who to talk to, both at the community college and four-year college level. Often, department heads are the ones who approve transfer credits or who know about the kinds of courses that would meet requirements.
  • If you’re denied transfer credit, petition. Many schools will reconsider transfer credit decisions if you give them more information about a particular course, such as evidence of assignments and exams or syllabi. Four-year colleges just want you to be ready to transfer, so show them that you are.
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All Recommendation Letters Are Not Created Equal

August 13, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

It’s always scholarship season around here, and as a scholarship provider ourselves, we thought the weeks before high school and college students return to their respective schools and campuses would be an appropriate time to go over what to do—and not to do—when submitting a recommendation letter in support of your application for an award.

While it probably won’t be expressly stated in any official scholarship rules, there are certain things you should avoid when considering what to do about that recommendation letter requirement, and certain things that will make one letter more impressive than another. This could mean the difference between you and another applicant, so make sure you put some thought into not only filling out the general scholarship application, but what you pass off as your recommendation letter. All recommendation letters are not created equal, and we’ve highlighted some tips for you below to make you a stronger applicant.

  • It is generally inappropriate for you to ask a relative to write your recommendation letter, unless an award expressly asks you to. Your mother, father, sister, grandmother, uncle, cousin, etc. probably think you’re great already, and it may be tough for a scholarship provider to place much weight on such an endorsement.
  • Try to avoid asking family friends, too, unless they have experience working with you in a professional capacity. It may be fine for you to ask a family friend to write your letter if they were your community service supervisor, for example, but you should probably go another route if they only know you on a personal level.
  • Keep it relevant. Take a look at the experiences you’ve had that relate to the scholarship in question. If it’s a general essay scholarship, talk to a former teacher at your high school or professor if you’re a college student. And ask those educators to submit their letters on letterhead; it isn’t overkill to make your application look as professional as possible.
  • Consult your resume. If it’s a scholarship related to a particular field of study that you have some work experience in, talk to former employers or internship coordinators. They certainly know better than anyone about your experience in that field, and it could boost your application to give the scholarship provider some evidence of your passion for a particular field.
Check out our site for more tips on asking for that scholarship letter of recommendation. And remember: a scholarship provider will be looking at your application as a whole, so even if you’ve written a stellar essay, missing a piece of the listed requirements or submitting a weak attempt at any of the requirements will probably put you out of the running for that award.
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Why So Serious? Course Promotes Laughter as More Than Best Medicine

August 24, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

There hasn’t been much to laugh about at many schools across the country, what with budget cuts and creative cost-saving measures affecting course offerings and faculty positions. At one North Carolina community college, however, a new course is teaching students how to chuckle, giggle and guffaw, no matter how they feel about the state of affairs outside of the classroom.

While the class is targeted at retirees—the noncredit eight-week “Laughter in the Sandhills” is put on by Sandhills Community College’s Center for Creative Retirement—it’s a good example of the kinds of offerings you may not know existed as you focus your attentions instead on the general education requirements in your course catalog. This class is taught by a “certified laughter coach,” according to an article about it in The Fayetteville Observer, and focuses on the positive health benefits behind a good laugh and the right and wrong way to let out a chortle. The class isn’t about perfecting your stand-up comedy routine, but about learning to induce laughter; students spend about 15 minutes of the start of each class greeting each other with silly handshakes, for example, or high-fiving to the sounds of “Alo-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.”

If you’re more interested in virtual LOLs rather than learning appropriate laughter techniques, and have the time (and funding) to explore unique courses at your college, do so. You may not use your new underwater basket weaving skills (courses in the craft are offered at the University of California-San Diego), but you may meet some interested characters along the way. Or you may find a hidden talent for analyzing pop culture (the University of California-Berkeley has a class on the philosophy behind the Simpsons). Or, that quirky course may even add to your skill set. Courses on social networking, especially Twitter, for example, may be more useful than you think. (DePaul University has a course in how Twitter has changed the way reporters do their jobs.)

It’s important to choose college courses wisely so that you’re able to graduate in a timely fashion and meet the requirements of both your school and chosen field of study. But it’s also important that you keep going to your classes, and a fun course here and there may help keep you motivated. We’ve all taken that intro to bowling/ice skating/curling course, and some colleges may be more lenient about how you fulfill certain general education requirements. Just remember to talk to your counselor or adviser about how much leeway you have when it comes to coming up with your schedule of courses.

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Tackle the Interview Process One Stage at a Time

August 27, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Whether you’re a recent graduate or a college student looking for an internship or job while still in school, there are some universal things you should know about to remain competitive while you search, especially when it comes to the moments leading up to, during, and after an interview.

If you’ve landed an interview, we’re assuming you did a good job writing a persuasive cover letter and impressive resume. That first meeting with a potential employer, though, may require some preparation, and don’t think your work is done even after you feel like you nailed the interview. Below, we walk you through the before, during, and after of a typical job interview. Pay attention, and you could be the standout in that employer’s pool of applicants. And believe us, there’s always a pretty big pool competing for one position.

Before

Before you arrive to your interview it’s important to do your research not only about the company or organization you’re interviewing with, but on questions you could ask that would show you’ve done your homework. Don’t plan to ask things that are easily found in a Google search. Put together copies of everything you’ve already sent over to the employer, and bring additional materials that may be relevant to the job. If you haven’t already, Google yourself, and make sure any public profiles on social networking sites don’t include any inappropriate information or photos from the last frat party. Make sure you're using an appropriate email address. Conduct a mock interview or two if you’re able. Thanks to your research, you should have a good idea of the kinds of things the employer will ask and expect of a potential new hire.

During

Arrive on time, obviously, or even a few minutes early. Do not show-up too early, though. Being 15 or 20 minutes early is almost as bad as being more than a couple minutes late. Your interviewer may have a busy schedule and arriving too early might take away from their preparation time, as they are probably going over your resume prior to your arrival. Be professional, and no matter the job and how casual you think the environment will be, dress in business casual at the very least. (The motto “dress for the job you want, not for the job you have” has a point.) Once the interview begins, don’t let nerves get the best of you and badmouth your former boss/job, make inappropriate jokes/comments, or over-share with any irrelevant details about your personal life. Be confident, but don’t be cocky. Make sure to get in those questions you worked so hard to come up with in the days leading up to the interview, and leave the employer with a sense that you really want this position.

After

It doesn’t matter whether you think you aced or bombed the interview. You’ll need to follow-up with an email at the very least. If you haven’t heard from the employer for a while (make sure you ask when you should hear back from them), it is fine to check in. Likewise if you have any lingering questions that came up since the interview. But don’t be a bother. The employer will be in touch with you if you’re the one they want.

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Want to Get into an Ivy League?

All You Need is $19.99!

October 15, 2010

Want to Get into an Ivy League?

by Suada Kolovic

And I’d have to agree – $19.99 is a steal. Aren’t we all just a tad curious as to what those select few wrote to be granted access behind those coveted gates? I know I am and Howard Yaruss figured you, future college applicants, would be too. So he founded the Application Project Inc. WeGotIn.net, which sells copies of successful applications to Ivy League colleges. For $19.99, you can browse applications submitted by 21 members of Brown University’s 2009-10 freshman class and for the same price, you can access applications submitted by 14 members of the 2009-10 freshman class at Columbia University. (Or buy both for $34.99 and save five bucks!)

For the price of large pizza, you’ll get copies of the applications with entire responses to each question, including essay and short-answer prompts. But are they legit? According to Yaruss, the company obtains the copies directly from students, who are asked to submit their application via their college e-mail as proof of enrollment. Wondering what other Ivy League institutions are in the database? As of right now, just the two mentioned above – Brown and Columbia – but Yaruss plans to expand to all Ivy League institutions, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2011.

The catch, since there always seems to be one, is that an accepted application may not necessarily reveal why a student was selected. The truth of the matter is that multiple factors go into a student’s admittance into a university and to provide students with such a tiny piece of such a complicated puzzle is frankly misleading. That’s why a few admissions counselors who have perused through WeGotIn.net could only scoff. “An application out of context has no value, and it’s disingenuous at best to imply that it does,” said Willard M. Dix, an independent counselor in Chicago who works with low-income students. “But there’s a sucker born every minute. Sites like this clearly know that.”

Yaruss admits he has already encountered some “hostility” in the admissions realm and suspects more criticism will come. But he’s been pleased by the response from the people whose help he needs most—college students. He has solicited their applications by contacting them through, of course, Facebook. His pitch: sharing them would help other students who aspire to attend elite colleges.

Why would such elite students offer their personal responses that they surely put their blood, sweat and tears into to a stranger? Did I mention each student who shared his or her application was paid (two received $100, and the others less)? And in the world of a college student, that ain’t too shabby.

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Proofing College Applications: More Than Just Spell Check

October 19, 2010

Proofing College Applications: More Than Just Spell Check

by Alexis Mattera

After hours at the computer, you add the last punctuation to your admissions essay with great flourish. You scan the document for any red or green squiggles and, noting nary a mark, you hit the send button. But before you can pump your fists in victory, you notice something out of the corner of your eye. Is it? It CAN’T be. But it is: You wrote that being “excepted” to Ivy U. has been a lifelong dream of yours. Well, that dream just became a nightmare.

The NYT’s The Choice blog has been running an excellent series of posts this month as the college application process kicks into high gear. One of the most valuable pieces thus far is today’s about proofreading. The author, Dave Marcus, spoke to members from a variety of admissions staffs and they all have seen their fair share of application snafus. The main culprit? Students’ dependence on technology. Here are some of the most memorable misses:

  • An applicant to Oberlin College wrote about her admiration for Julie Taymor, an Oberlin graduate who created the “The Lion King” on Broadway. The essay was passionate…but also inaccurate: The writer kept referring to “The Loin King.”
  • An admissions officer came across an essay that said, “It’s my dream to go to Boston University.” That’s fantastic…except the essay was being reviewed at Cornell.
  • An applicant to Molloy College wrote "Steve" in the field asking her expected graduation date. Um, what? The applicant later explained she was in a relationship with a man named Steve and hoped he’d be her date at graduation.

The moral of the story? Technology is helpful, but not magical. Instead of immediately taking Word’s suggestions, print copies of your application and essay and review the hard copies with a real or metaphorical red pen in hand; giving it to a friend or parent to review is beneficial, too, as a fresh set of eyes can catch something you as the writer missed. A few typos won’t necessarily kill your chances of acceptance but its inn sane to think you’re spell check is all ways write.

Yep, I’ll be here all week.

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