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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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Survey Shows Students Lack Accurate Financial Aid Information

May 25, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

A recent survey of high school students found that students are not only ruling out certain schools based on “sticker price” alone, but that many also overestimate how much financial aid they will be receiving to attend the college of their choice.

According to the survey, the high school seniors who participated were starting their college searches with inaccurate information on financial aid basics, the net cost of college, and general comparison shopping. The findings came from “Student Poll,” an initiative from the College Board and the Art & Science Group marketing firm that polled more than 1,600 high school seniors between November 2009 and January 2010.

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education on the survey suggested something needed to be done to address students’ perceptions on the costs of college. Although the federal government will soon require all schools to provide prospective students with net-tuition calculators that will offer those students a clearer picture on what they would pay in tuition after any scholarships and grants, many of the respondents in this survey said they were not using similar calculators already available. Of those who did use calculators, most came from wealthier families; students from low-income families were less likely to use them.

The survey also found the following:

  • Nearly 60 percent of students reported looking only at the sticker price of an institution before taking financial aid into account; 28 percent had considered the net tuition price of a school after taking into account what they might receive in financial aid.
  • Related to parents’ influence on college choice, 26 percent of students said their parents insisted they attend the most affordable option, 40 percent said their parents insisted they apply to a more affordable school, and 22 percent said their parents ruled out a school that was outside their budget.
  • About 64 percent of white students expect to receive merit aid; about 50 percent of Hispanic and 45 percent of African American students expect to receive merit aid.
  • About 60 percent of students who scored 1250 or higher on the SAT expect to receive merit aid.
  • Students expect grants and scholarships to cover 35 percent of their college education costs, loans to cover 21 percent, family or personal savings to cover 17 percent, and another 24 percent to come from their own or their parents’ earnings during college.

Despite the wealth of information out there, it seems that high school students are still unprepared and not equipped with realistic expectations when it comes to navigating the financial aid process. Are you nervous about where you should start? Check out the college cost calculators we provide, and cultivate relationships with financial aid administrators, as you can never be too prepared when it comes to determining how much your education will cost, and you’ll pay for it once you’ve got that information.

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College Offers Tuition Discounts for Service

Marist College Rewards Big Brothers, Big Sisters

June 29, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

As if you needed more reason to get some volunteer work under your belt, students at one New York college will be rewarded with generous tuition discounts if they are members of one of three local Big Brothers Big Sisters chapters.

Starting this fall, Marist College will offer discounts of 25 percent to new undergraduates and graduates at the school who are members of any of the three Hudson Valley Big Brothers Big Sisters chapters. Those students will also get a pass on any application fees. According to The New York Times article on the new initiative, the school decided to offer the discounts to encourage volunteerism in the community, especially among men. The dean of graduate and adult enrollment at the college is a Big Brother himself, according to the article.

While school administrators admit they will probably lose some revenue from the initiative, they are also hopeful that more students will be drawn to Marist with the introduction of the program. Tuition discounts will also apply to any family members of participants in Big Brothers Big Sisters, according to The New York Times, meaning a parent of a “little” brother would be eligible for the reduction in college costs as well.

Administrators at the college say they don’t know of similar programs at other schools, but that doesn’t mean you should quit volunteering if you’re not interested in Marist. Most colleges offer grant and scholarship opportunities for students involved in community college. Columbia College, for example, offers the $1,000 Boone County Endowed Scholarship to freshmen applicants who boast volunteer experience and certain academic requirements. Pacific Union College offers the $1,200 Christian Service Award to students involved in church or community service leadership.

If those scholarship totals seem low to you altruistic high school students, be aware that there are a number of generous community service scholarships out there to supplement the financial aid packages you’re offered from your intended college. Volunteer experience will also help you on your college applications, scholarship contests that aren’t specifically targeted at volunteers, and future employment. And if you’re pursuing a major in a high needs field, such as nursing or education, you may also be eligible for loan forgiveness programs, so make sure you do your homework when you’re determining how to pay for college.

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MTV’s New Groove

Music Channel and College Board Launch Financial Aid Contest

September 17, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

Current high school and college students are probably too young to remember when MTV actually played music videos. It was a glorious time for sure but after hearing this next announcement, I think they will like the network’s new direction just fine.

The NYT’s The Choice blog revealed that instead of launching another mind-numbing reality show, the music channel and the College Board have joined forces for the Get Schooled College Affordability Challenge. The contest – which is being underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – is open to current and potential college students interested in creating an innovative digital tool that will help more students obtain funds for school. The prize for the winning individual or team? A cool $10,000, as well as a $100,000 budget to bring their idea to life.

A statement released yesterday stated the contest was created to make it easier for students “to navigate what can be a confusing financial aid maze.” This metaphorical roadmap will definitely be a useful one: Each year, countless students are forced to postpone or abandon their dreams of higher education because they cannot pay for school but the Get Schooled creators hope their program will play a role in raising college completion rates.

The contest will run through December 17th so if you think you have what it takes to win, submit your idea here. Best of luck to all who enter!

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Pay-Per-Click, Reinterpreted

Johns Hopkins Students Not Feeling New Fees

September 24, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

College students always looking for ways to stretch their money as far as it can go. This could mean getting meals strictly from the campus dining halls or doing laundry once a month instead of every week but if that means a little extra cash in their pockets or bank accounts, scaling back on luxuries (and even essentials) is an easy sacrifice to make. That being said, I can completely understand why some Johns Hopkins students are up in arms.

Nearly 200 students are protesting a new fee for classroom clickers, a technology that allows professors to gauge student understanding or opinion in real time by giving them handheld voting devices and taking polls throughout a class period. Students can pay per course ($13) or a one-time fee ($35) that covers all courses, all semesters; students must also purchase enrollment codes and the actual clicker devices, which cost between $20 and $30. Adding this cost to the already large amounts students spend on tuition, housing, books and other supplies may not seem like a lot but to a college student, it’s about the price of two movie tickets and some Chinese carry-out. The university, however, thinks the program adds considerable value to the education of its students: One biology lecturer found that since he started using clickers, class attendance and grades have gone up 30 percent.

Still, students are not down with the added costs and have created a Facebook page where they can voice their displeasure about everything clicker-related. Thought time: Would you pony up the extra cash if it meant better grades or would you rather keep it and splurge on a night out with friends instead?

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An Unfair Hike

California Supreme Court May Up Tuition for Illegal Immigrants

October 7, 2010

An Unfair Hike

by Alexis Mattera

Proposed tuition increases at several institutions have been in the news lately. While the ones being discussed at the University of Colorado and Adams State College will affect all students as the schools compensate for the lack of state funding, California’s are targeting one specific sect of the student population: illegal immigrants.

No official ruling has been made yet (one is expected within 90 days) but California’s Supreme Court is currently reviewing whether illegal immigrants must pay higher tuition at state universities. The arguments center on a 2002 law that allows anyone graduating from a California high school can pay in-state tuition at a California state school – a law that more than 40 out-of-state students from the University of California and other public colleges say violates federal immigration law. If the court rules in the students’ favor, illegal immigrants will be required to pay out-of-state tuition. To put the cost in perspective, that would be $34,000 per year instead of $11,300 at the University of California. That’s not pocket change.

As someone who once paid out-of-state tuition and has the student loan bills to prove it, I can say from experience that ponying up the monetary difference isn’t fun…but if I was living in-state and got slapped with a tuition bill more than triple what I was expecting to pay, wow. It doesn’t matter if you’re living in California or the Carolinas, are a citizen or in this country illegally, how do you feel about this proposal and the impact it could have if it’s passed?

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Unemployed Boston College Law Student Wants a Refund

October 28, 2010

Unemployed Boston College Law Student Wants a Refund

by Suada Kolovic

Recent college graduates entered one of the worse job markets in history. And while some have opted to stick it out busing tables to pay the debt caused by their college education, a third-year Boston College Law School student decided he wasn’t willing to bear the cost of an education that did not guarantee a job upon completion. In an open letter posted on EagleiOnline — an online student-run newspaper at BC’s law school — the anonymous student made a proposition to the school’s dean: Refund his tuition and he’ll leave school without a degree.

The student explained that the lackluster job market, a massive student loan debt load and his wife's pregnancy were all causing him undue stress. And he went on to say, “This will benefit both of us: on the one hand, I will be free to return to the teaching career I left to come here. I'll be able to provide for my family without the crushing weight of my law school loans. On the other hand, this will help BC Law go up in the rankings, since you will not have to report my unemployment at graduation to US News.”

How did the school respond? Shockingly enough, BC did not meet the student’s request. According to the Boston Herald, the law school said in a statement that while it is "deeply concerned" about its students' job prospects no institution of higher education can guarantee a job after graduation. "What we can do is provide the best education possible, and work together to provide as many career opportunities as possible," the statement said.

What do you think? Should tuition be conditional?

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How Expensive is "Too Expensive" for a College Education?

Students Willing to Spend More for Academics, Prestige

November 4, 2010

How Expensive is "Too Expensive" for a College Education?

by Alexis Mattera

The true cost of a college education is seldom the number that’s printed in school brochures and on various college comparison lists. When you figure in federal aid, scholarships, grants, room and board, books and supplies, that price fluctuates. One thing remains constant - higher education doesn’t come cheap - but a new poll finds students are willing to stretch their finances for several key factors.

In April, right up until enrollment deadlines, students were still considering “too expensive” schools and were willing to stretch to pay for their education, poll conductors the College Board and the Art & Science Group report. While it would be more financially sound to select the school with the lower tuition and better financial aid package, “too expensive” colleges remained in play if they had strong academics in students’ fields of interest, were places students felt comfortable, had prestigious academic reputations or had excellent records of graduate school acceptance or good job placement after students graduated. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Twenty-six percent of students surveyed said their family would have to stretch a lot, but “I think we’ll make it.”
  • Twenty-two percent chose “I’m not sure how my family will afford to send me to college, but I believe we’ll work something out when the time comes.”
  • Eleven percent said, “I don’t think my family can afford to send me to college, but we are going to try.” Nearly 40 percent of students surveyed did not have a sense of long-term costs, citing “no idea” what their likely monthly payment on student loans would be after graduation.

If you think back to every award show you’ve ever seen, you’ll recall those who do not win always say it is an honor just to be nominated. The same can be said for college admissions: It’s an amazing achievement to be accepted to a prestigious college but is attending worth it if the cost of attendance is going to drive you and your family into debt?

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Student Loans Leave Student $200,000 in Debt

Northeastern Grad Starts Website to Help Make Payments

November 23, 2010

Student Loans Leave Student $200,000 in Debt

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out how to pay for a college education can be complicated, but what happens once you’ve graduated and your loans become so overbearing that even with a full-time job, monthly payment are implausible? A few weeks ago, we blogged that the average college student leaves school with $24,000 in debt, but what about the student who’s debt is about eight times that amount? Northeastern alum Kelli Space, 23, found herself in that exact predicament: With $200,000 in debt, Space was unable to pay her stifling student loans – her monthly payments to Sallie Mae are $891 and by next November that figure will nearly double – so she started a website, Two Hundred Thou, in order to solicit donations from the public.

The site is devoted to sharing her story about the naivety of an 18- year-old, who was the first in her family to attend college and her reliance on readers to foot the bill. Space explains, “At the moment, I like to think I have great things going for me! A job, an accommodating family, loyal friends, etc... but these loans are crippling my ability to enjoy these things – or pay rent. Can I live?” She goes on to explain that by donating to her cause, you’ll also be helping the country as a whole.

Two Hundred Thou also tracks Space’s progress and so far she’s raised $1,726.50, leaving a mere $198,273.50 to go. Space ends with the notion that once her student loans are paid off she’ll spend her money elsewhere, “probably single-handedly spurring the economy.” To think you’re just a click away from cleaning up the mess of a recent college graduate, while fixing the economy and helping the country as a whole – and at $200,000, that’s a bargain.

However, we should point out – before you lend a helping hand – that we really don’t know who this person is or even whether this story is embellished or even entirely fabricated. The domain is registered privately, hiding the identity of the registrant, and the email address is just a gmail account anybody could have created. Sure, maybe this is on the up-and-up, but there’s really no way of knowing. It wouldn’t be shocking to see a bunch of these sites spring-up if this idea gains traction and exposure.

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Pew Reports Students Borrowing More than Ever

November 24, 2010

Pew Reports Students Borrowing More than Ever

by Suada Kolovic

On the heels of our latest post – a story about a Northeastern grad who accumulated $200,000 in student loans – the Pew Research Center released a report that members of the class of 2008 borrowed 50 percent more than their counterparts who graduated 12 years earlier. According to the report, increased borrowing by college students has been driven by three trends: more college students are borrowing, college students are borrowing more, and more college students are attending private for-profit schools. The report reveals that the number of undergraduates borrowing rose from 52 percent in 1996 to 60 percent in 2008 and among those who borrowed, the average undergraduate loan increased from $17,000 in 1996 to $23,000 in 2008. The rise in attendance at private, for-profit colleges also resulted in the increase of student borrowing; the report states, “Students who attend for-profit colleges are more likely than other students to borrow, and they typically borrow larger amounts.”

This isn’t the shock of the century by any means. In August, the Wall Street Journal reported that for the first time in history, student-loan debt surpassed credit card debt. The figures are staggering: According to the Federal Reserve, Americans owe $826.5 billion in revolving credit, while students owe an estimated $829.785 billion in loans. In fact, so many college graduates are plagued by massive amounts of debt that the Huffington Post has provided an outlet for college graduates to share their stories - almost as a cautionary tale – through an ongoing project, Majoring in Debt.

What do you think? With recent college graduates facing debt in the hundreds of thousands, what are you doing to ensure you don’t end up in the same situation?

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