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by Emily

While many stories right now are focusing on financial aid programs finding themselves strapped for cash to award an increased of needy applicants, this is not universally the case. Data published by The Chronicle of Higher Education shows that two federal grant programs that were added in 2006 still have more awards than applicants.  The Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG) and Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant have gained some participation, but still they're still falling short of enrollment goals.

Both grants are intended to supplement Federal Pell Grants for students who are both academically talented and financially needy. The ACG is a grant of $750 to $1,300 for college freshmen and sophomores who have completed a rigorous high school curriculum and excelled academically, while the SMART Grant is an award of up to $4,000 per year designed to support college juniors and seniors who are enrolled in a science, math, engineering, technology, or critically needed language program.  Approximately 465,000 students received the ACG and SMART grants in the 2007-2008 academic year, up 95,000 from the first year they were offered.

In order to attract more applicants and meet their goal of doubling participation by the 2011-2012 academic year, the department is pushing financial aid administrators to become more aware of award criteria and to make sure the grants are being fully awarded.  In addition, requirements have also been loosened and students enrolled in eligible five-year programs will be able to receive a SMART grant in their fifth year of school beginning in July.


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by Emily

As college costs continue to rise, the percentage of students receiving financial aid also continues to grow.  As of the 2007-2008 academic year, a full two-thirds of undergraduate students received some form of student financial aid, with 47 percent receiving federal aid. This is according to the "First Look" report on the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study published by the National Center for Education Statistics yesterday.

The First Look report shows that the percentage of students receiving aid has continued to increase, from 63 percent in 2003-2004, and 55 percent in 1999-2000.  It also provides a breakdown of the percentage of students receiving different forms of financial aid, such as grants and scholarships, federal student loans, federal work-study, and federal PLUS loans.  According to the report, 52 percent of students received college scholarships and grants, while 38 percent of students borrowed federal student loans.  Relatively few students took advantage of work-study and PLUS loans.

NCES collects and publishes data on financial aid every three years and the First Look report is typically followed by a more in-depth analysis.  The National Postsecondary Student Aid Study draws from a sizable sample of students:  114,000 undergraduates and 14,000 graduates at 1,600 colleges and universities. Additional information is available on the NCES website.


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by Emily

Analyses of the data published last week by the National Center for Education Statistics are already starting to emerge.  The Project on Student Debt has announced that a significantly larger portion of students borrowed private loans in the 2007-2008 academic year than in 2003-2004, according to the NCES survey.

Private loan borrowing increased by 9 percentage points, with 14 percent of students now relying on private loans, as opposed to 5 percent in 2003-2004.  Not surprisingly, more expensive schools saw the biggest increase in private student loans.  At for-profit colleges, the percentage of students borrowing private loans increased from 14 percent to 43 percent, while private non-profit colleges also saw a substantial increase.  Overall, 32 percent of students at schools charging more than $10,000 per year in tuition wound up borrowing private loans in 2007-2008.

While the credit crunch may slow the rate of private borrowing in the near future, these student loans still are regarded as the best or only option by some students.  According to the Project on Student Debt's analysis, 26 percent of private loan borrowers did not take out any Stafford Loans first, and 14 percent did not even complete the FAFSA.

Private loans generally carry the highest interest rates and least flexible repayment terms out of all student loans and most experts encourage students to avoid them if possible.  Explore other options for financial aid first, especially grants and scholarships.  You will also want to consider your potential debt loand when choosing a college.  Since students at more expensive schools are more likely to have to borrow private loans, students with limited financial resources should think carefully about the relative merits of a private college as opposed to a state college or community college before committing themselves to private loan debt.


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by Emily

Student loan default rates are rising for both federal and private loans as more recent grads struggle to find work.  The Wall Street Journal reports that the federal default rate is nearing 6.9 percent, the highest it's been since 1998.  Similarly, some private lenders are experiencing default rates that have already nearly doubled in just a year or two.

Loan repayment woes are expected to get worse as tuition continues to rise and the job market remains depressed.  Since student loans cannot be discharged through bankruptcy, borrowers are stuck with their debt no matter what happens.  Add in continued increases in the number of students borrowing to pay for school and the amount they borrow, and student loan defaults are poised to be a serious long-term problem whether or not the economy recovers quickly.

Borrowers do have some flexibility in negotiating their loan repayment terms, especially with federal Stafford Loans.  Borrowers of federal and private loans are also able to apply for a temporary forbearance, halting payments but not the accrual of interest, if they find themselves unable to pay.  However, reduced monthly payments now will mean either larger payments or more payments in the long run.

If you are looking at ways to pay for college, the best strategy is still to avoid student loans to the greatest extent possible.  Do a free college scholarship search and be sure to factor cost and available financial aid into your college search, as well.


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by Emily

A large part of attending college is gaining exposure to new ideas outside your area of study and acquiring a broad base of knowledge and critical thinking skills along the way.  Traditionally, colleges have pushed students towards this goal through the use of general education requirements, which are rarely met with uniform enthusiasm.  English majors may dread the mandatory laboratory science class, while future engineers may fail to see the point in spending two semesters learning MLA citation style and how to write an argumentative essay.  Other students complain that general education requirements leave their college experience feeling disjointed and not directly connected to their working life. While they may eventually have the chance to draw on knowledge, experiences, or methods of inquiry from all of their classes, many students fail to see how when staring a list of required introductory courses in the face.

Colleges are aware of these concerns and many are beginning to rethink general education requirements, according to survey results highlighted recently in Inside Higher Ed. A number of colleges are studying general education requirements and desired learning outcomes, starting by identifying goals and asking students what they're taking from their courses.  Others are implementing new course requirements to expose students to a variety of disciplines beyond what they would normally get from introductory courses in their first two years of college.  More focus is also being placed on integrating a student's courses into the focus of their degree and career goals with the hope that students will be able to tie these lessons together and bring a more well-rounded approach to their major.

With renewed focus on college costs, the time it takes students to earn a degree, and the value of a college degree in the working world, the attention being paid to these courses seems timely. As many schools begin reevaluating or restructuring general educuation requirements, it's likely that the college experience of today's high school students will be different from not only that of their parents, but also that of today's undergraduate students.  What do you think of required general classes? Does the system need to be changed?  Don't just limit yourself to blog comments! If you're attending college right now, check out this year's Resolve to Evolve Essay Scholarship for a chance to win $1,000 by weighing in on this topic.


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by Emily

College students and recent graduates across the country are currently starting summer internships. Whether paid or unpaid, the internship can be an integral part of the college experience, as well as a chance to earn college credit for doing something you hopefully want to do. Internships are one of the best ways to hone major-specific job skills and gain valuable experience in a potential career.  For some students, though, summer internships are also a way to gain exposure to an entirely new line of work as well as hands-on experience with movements or industries they support.

The New York Times reports a growing summer internship trend is organic farming, with many students from disparate backgrounds signing up to grow crops or raise livestock on small farms across the country. While farming internships are traditionally seen as the province of agriculture students from rural state universities, students on both coasts, including many at small private colleges, have begun to take interest in these programs as well, thanks largely to a growing interest in sustainable agriculture.  Students who support organic farming and want to learn more about the industry first-hand can spend a summer working with plants and animals, as can students who just want a change of pace from their usual college lifestyle.  An agriculture internship could bring students with urban or suburban backgrounds a change of perspective, and also some fodder for green scholarship applications.

If farming isn't your thing but you're intrigued by the idea of taking an internship in a field outside your major, options abound.  While some internship programs may require a relevant major or course experience, others may just want students with a genuine interest in the job.  Think about the things you'd like to do and jobs you'd like to try out and see if any internship opportunities exist in those areas.  While these experiences may not directly lead to a job placement at that business (although this is no guarantee with traditional internships, either), they could lead to new experiences and a more diverse résumé, which could in turn lead to job offers down the road.


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by Emily

For most college and high school students, summer is either here or right around the corner.  Summer vacation typically brings with it an increased amount of free time, especially since finding a part-time job has gotten increasingly tough in this economy.  While it's nice to enjoy a break from studies, enterprising students can still find ways to make the most of their summer, even if they aren't employed.  Beyond working or landing a summer internship, summer is also an ideal time to search for scholarships, build your résumé and strengthen your scholarship applications.

Though many deadlines have already passed, some scholarship opportunities are still available for fall 2009 (including the Scholarships.com Resolve to Evolve Essay Scholarship).  However, the majority of scholarship contests are annual affairs, meaning that even if you missed a deadline this time around, you may still be eligible to apply next year.  This is especially true for rising high school juniors and seniors.  For most students, their junior and senior years of high school will be their busiest, as classes get more challenging and the college and scholarship application processes begin.  So if you're going into your junior or senior year of high school, why not get a jump start on scholarships now?

Do a free college scholarship search and make note of the awards for which you'll qualify next year.  Some scholarships may be right up your alley, but might require extensive reading, writing, research or labor that you may not have time for during the academic year.  Others may be looking for substantial volunteer and leadership experience, and summer is a great time to get involved or more involved in activities that will help you really shine in those categories.  This advice also applies to current and incoming college students. There are enough scholarship opportunities for students of all ages and backgrounds that regardless of your circumstances, it's a good idea to clear some time in your summer schedule to begin searching and applying.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A Web site that aims to help more Hispanics graduate from four-year colleges has kicked off a research campaign to find out about those students' perspectives on higher education to make services for them more effective.

Latinosincollege.com will offer the survey, designed with the National Society of Hispanic MBAs, for the next few months on their site. The questions, which target high school, college and MBA students, explore students' thought processes in choosing careers, whether they apply for scholarships and how many receive them, and where they seek out their career advice. Also included are questions specific to students' experiences as Hispanics, namely how they feel about assimilating and maintaining their identities post-high school. The site's founder Mariela Dabbah said she hopes the results will make it easier for outside organizations to find more ways to help Hispanic students succeed in college and the workplace.

The site is geared toward the college-bound with blogs by educators and high school and college students, a resource guide that includes posts on topics like leadership development, managing a social life, money and time in college, and being the first in the family to attend college. Students also have access to other students and professionals, with "Ambassadors" responding to questions. The Ambassadors, who mentor high school students applying to college, attend youth workshops to learn about issues and concerns on the minds of those pursuing a higher education.

Dabbah came up with the site as a response to her own experiences looking for a job as an immigrant from Argentina and the lack of information for a population that she felt was being underserved. According to the site, Hispanic students have the highest high school dropout rate of any group at 50 percent and a college enrollment rate of 20 percent. A study done several years ago by the Pew Hispanic Center showed that although the number of Hispanics going to college was slowly rising due in part to the rapidly growing population, they were still half as likely to finish their bachelor's degrees as white students.

Joan Sotero Alvarez, a blogger on the site and assistant principal in the Progreso Independent School District in Texas, struggled to earn his bachelor's degree. He felt the pressure as the first in his family to finish college, resulting in several failed attempts at the state's entrance exam. Eventually, he was not only a successful undergraduate, but completed a master's degree as well. Today, he mentors students in Texas and Mexico who are at risk of dropping out of school. "I don't see failure in my students; I see hope," he says.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Briana G. wants to create a "healthy Twinkie." While completing an Associate's degree in Baking and Pastry Arts, she became concerned about America's obesity epidemic and realized she wanted to learn to craft more forgiving sweets. To help her complete her degree in Food Science and Dietetics at Colorado State University, Scholarships.com has named Briana the 2009 recipient of the annual $1,000 College Culinary Arts Scholarship.

Scholarships.com has been awarding Area of Study College Scholarships since summer 2008 to help students like Briana meet their college and career goals. The competition grants a $1,000 scholarship each month to a high school senior or undergraduate student planning to pursue a career in one of thirteen areas of study, including Culinary Arts.

"These students have such creative ideas and reasons for choosing a particular major and, through this program, we are able to help them share these ideas and aspirations," said Kevin Ladd, Vice President for Scholarships.com. "The Area of Study College Scholarships help students pay for college and also challenge them to really think about why they want to study a given subject or go into a particular field."

Applicants are asked to compose essays describing what influenced their career choices. In her submission, Briana described reconciling her desire to make "delicious, eye-catching desserts" with her growing awareness of how poor diets contribute to obesity. Her goal now it to make healthy version of the "sweet treats that Americans love."

The Scholarships.com Area of Study Scholarships are open to all U.S. citizens who will be attending college in the fall of 2009, regardless of age, test scores or grade point average. To apply for the Scholarships.com Area of Study College Scholarships, students can visit www.scholarships.com, conduct a free college scholarship search and complete an online scholarship application.

A complete list of Area of Study scholarship winners, as well as their winning essays is available on our Student Winners page.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Suffolk University offers "Sacred Hoops, Sneaker Pimps, and Hoop Dreams: Race, Gender, and Consumerism in 20th Century American Basketball" through its Seminar for Freshmen program. The University of California-Berkeley uses "StarCraft Theory and Strategy" for its course on war tactics. Santa Clara University has gotten students talking about waste and decomposition through its environmental science department's "Joy of Garbage."

Attracting students to courses by having some fun with their titles is not a new phenomenon, but a recent article by The Boston Globe says that it has become more common in a climate where professors are looking to boost enrollment in their classes, perhaps to make themselves less vulnerable during budget cut season. Boston College recently renamed a straightforward course on German literature to "Knights, Castles, and Dragons." The effect? Tripled enrollment.

Professors quoted in the article describe how important marketing has become in getting more students to fill seats in their classrooms. Students have a wealth of options at their fingertips when applying for courses, and after they're done filling their rosters with classes required by their majors, there may be little room for the more fun-sounding titles. So, anything that will give a student pause when putting together their course load is probably a good strategy. The professors also said that a heavy reliance on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter has given the college-bound a shorter attention span, and that even those already in college are bored more easily with the traditional course offerings. Students want to be entertained, even those in fields like computer science, philosophy, or traditionally more "stuffy" majors.

A word of advice, though: Be sure to consider the finished product of your transcript when signing up for courses with kooky titles. That "Science of Superheroes" class at the University of California-Irvine may be fun, but a balance of electives with interesting names and traditional courses applicable to your major will make you a better sell if you plan to pursue an advanced degree or land a job interview where the employer wants to see your coursework. As with an eye-catching course title, image is everything.


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