Archive for the “Financial Aid” Category


One of the latest websites to join the ranks of online college guides is InsideCollege, which helps students research campuses by publishing a wide range of “college lists.” From more serious topics like looking for an honors program at a public university or knowing which schools offer a loan-free education to low-income students to finding colleges known for their school spirit or discovering obscure programs of study like glass blowing, Inside College is a great jumping off point for creating your own college list. The site is also currently promoting a monthly $2,000 scholarship contest, so you just might score some extra cash for school while perusing Colleges Where Geek is Chic.

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Students and parents I’ve worked with have always wondered how they were going to pay for college.  But as of late it’s noticeably an even greater concern, and a lot of students are thinking coming up with all sorts of ideas to make those tuition bills.  Some are taking a year off to work and save up extra cash, and others are utilizing the power of social networking to fundraise their way to college.

Rachel Harris, 17

Rachel Harris, 17

Case in point, high school senior Rachel Harris of Muskegon, Michigan was inspired by President Obama’s grass-roots campaign efforts and decided to put some of those ideas to raise money for her college tuition.  She started a website iwanttogotonotredame.com where you can check out her recommendation letters, college essay, transcripts, and, if you feel compelled, donate to her college tuition for Notre Dame.  Rachel and her website have already been featured on Fox News, in USA Today, as well as local media outlets.

Good luck, girl, and way to go after your dreams!

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There’s been a lot of controversy lately over whether or not students should be paid for good grades.  Some think incentives will increase student performance, and cities like New York City and Chicago are testing out pilot programs to see if they do indeed make a difference. I think there could be some merit to the idea, particularly if students were able to earn cash for college by pulling in A’s & B’s.  And there’s actually a relatively new website that allows students to do just that.  It’s called GradeFund, and it basically uses the idea of social networking to raise money for college from your family, friends, and even strangers.

Think of it as a fundraiser of sorts.  You get people to sponsor you by pledging a certain amount of money for every A or B you earn.  So, say $5 for an A times 4 A’s per grading period.  That’s $20 bucks per person.  If you get 50 people to sponsor you, that’s $1000 bucks that can be used for your college education.  Donors can get warm, fuzzy feelings from helping out a hardworking student, and you’ll be more motivated to do well in school.  Everybody wins!

GradeFund does a great job of making the process simple and straightforward. Just visit their website, create an account and online profile, start asking for pledges, upload a transcript to confirm your grades, and then wait for a check to arrive in the mail. There is a 5% processing fee which is a relatively good deal considering the interest you might otherwise pay on school loans. And while the average student probably won’t be able to fund their entire college education through this sort of fundraiser, GradeFund is one more tool that can be added to your financial aid arsenal.

So what do you think–should students get paid for good grades?

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One of my pet peeves when it comes to the media’s portrayal of education is the all or nothing mentality, and it seems especially ripe given the recent economic upheaval.  I was watching Heroes (one of my favorite shows) this last Monday, and (I promise…no spoilers) in it Claire (Hayden Panettiere) and her father discuss college options.  Should she take on the pressure of an Ivy League or chill out at the local community college?

Obviously, in the fictionalized world of Heroes there are other factors in play, but for the average American high school student a decision between community college and a four-year probably has more to do with the perceived cost of the education.  And while it may seem that community college is the immediate financial solution for a family looking to reduce college costs, in actuality starting a college education at the local jc may end up costing a family more money in the long run.  According to the U.S. Dept of Education, “Students who begin at public 2-year institutions must transfer to another institution in order to complete a 4-year degree. Students who did so took about a year and one-half longer to complete a bachelor’s degree than students who began at public 4-year institutions (71 vs. 55 months), and almost 2 years longer than those who began at private not-for-profit 4-year institutions (50 months).”

So here’s the math:

2 years community college + 3.5 years public/private college= bachelor’s degree

4 years at private college=bachelor’s degree

4.5 years at public college=bachelor’s degree

If your plan is to ultimately transfer to a 4-yr university, you may end up with some immediate savings, but keep in mind that it may take you longer to complete your degree which could mean more money in college fees and tuition and a longer wait until you’re able to earn a full-time salary.

But there is a compromise somewhere between paying full price tuition at a pricey 4-yr and the in-state discount at the local junior college, but like most compromises this one does require a little more effort or, in this case, research.   And a good place to start your research is with the Colleges That Change Lives website.  Founded by Loren Pope, CTCL features some of our countries best but oft-overlooked college campuses at some pretty affordable prices. Another great resource is Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price, which outlines some great strategies for finding good college deals.  There are over 3500 colleges in the U.S., so if you feel like you’re faced with the decision to “go big or go home,” know that there are lot of other options out there that may be more fulfilling and cost-effective in the long run.

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Last week I attended a reception for College Summit (an awesome non-profit that helps low-income and first generation students prepare for college) and while there I met Michele Siqueiros, the executive director for The Campaign for College Opportunity.  She and her staff are doing all they can to make sure that California continues to invest in quality educational programs, and here’s how you can help.

Now through March 15th, 2009 The Campaign for College Opportunity is accepting submissions for their scholarship contest “Save Me A Spot In College,” and they’re giving away $125,000 in scholarships ranging from $500 to $2500 prizes.  To enter the contest, you must be a 6 – 12th grade student in California and submit either an essay, poster, or TV Ad answering the question “Why should California leaders save you and your peers a spot in college?”

This is a great opportunity to put your creative skills to work for a good cause, let legislators know why college is important to you, and possibly earn yourself a college scholarship.  And who knows?  Your submission just might be the one that convinces our leaders to spend more money on education.  Good luck!

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Looking for a good college deal in this economy?  Check out Kiplinger’s just-announced list of the best private, public, and liberal arts college values for 2009.  The selections are based on a combination of academic quality and affordability and topping the lists are:

Private Universities

1. Cal. Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA
2. Yale, New Haven, CT
3. Princeton, Princeton, NJ
4. Rice, Houston, TX
5. Duke, Durham, NC

See full list…

Liberal Arts Colleges

1. Pomona College, Claremont, CA
2. Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA
3. Williams College, Williamstown, MA
4. Davidson College, Davidson, NC
5. Washington & Lee Univ., Lexington, VA

See full list…

Public Colleges

1. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
2. University of Florida
3. University of Virginia
4. University of Georgia
5.College of William and Mary

See full list…

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Happy New Year!  Hope you enjoyed the holidays and had fun making your resolutions. Mine for 2009 are to get an English bulldog and find funding for the documentary I’ve been working on. And speaking of finding cash, those of you who need financial aid for college should resolve to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) now that it’s available online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Even though the last thing you probably want to do right now is fill out more forms, it’s super important to get the FAFSA completed as soon as possible because many schools dole out those precious financial aid dollars on a first-come, first served basis.  And in these uncertain economic times, you’ll want to be sure that you get full consideration for financial aid packages.  Good luck!

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The New York Times published a startling article today discussing the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education’s biannual report, and I have to admit the findings are pretty scary.  There are certainly immediate implications for my husband and I as we produce our documentary film about students who are low-income and first generation college-going, but really the college-going future of our country effects all of us in both personal and national ways.

“If we go on this way for another 25 years, we won’t have an affordable system of higher education,” said Patrick M. Callan, president of the center, a nonpartisan organization that promotes access to higher education. “The middle class has been financing [college education] through debt. The scenario has been that families that have a history of sending kids to college will do whatever if takes, even if that means a huge amount of debt. But low-income students will be less able to afford college. Already the strains are clear…The share of income required to pay for college, even with financial aid, has been growing especially fast for lower-income families, the report found.”

Reading this article, I could certainly relate.  Like a lot of low-income students who see higher education as their ticket to moving up the social ladder, I was willing to work my way through school and go into debt just to get that college diploma.  But as financial aid decreases and tuition at public and private universities continue to rise at unprecedented rates, more and more students are getting priced out of college by the everyday costs of living or balk at the idea of going into debt for school. I’m still paying off my original $45K student loan for four years at Columbia which now hovers around $10K, and while I don’t regret the choice I made, carrying that burden of debt certainly has created its own set of worries and limitations. And even though student loans are still available for college, in our current recession, it just doesn’t seem like the smart thing to do.

But the reality is (and as the article states), we need more citizens to achieve higher education in order for America to remain competitive in the global market.  Those of us who know how important education is to the future of our country have to arrive at a solution to make higher education accessible and affordable to the untapped talent in the lower class who feel the cost of going to college is just too great. We as a nation will pay the price if we don’t figure out a way to invest in our greatest commodity: people.

If you’re interested in learning more about our documentary film, check out the First Generation website and blog, and I’d love to hear any ideas or thoughts you might have on this issue of college affordability.

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A few months ago, I told you about Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s latest book, The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School and the Right Price. It’s a wonderful, practical tool for finding and saving money for college, and next week you can catch even more great insights and advice for affording college in O’Shaughnessy’s free webcast.

In this webinar O’Shaughnessy uncovers “industry secrets” on how colleges actually parcel out financial aid—and how even “average” students can maximize their share. Learn how to send your kids to expensive private schools for virtually the cost of an in-state public college… and how promising students can pay significantly less than the “sticker price” even at the best state universities.

Sign up here to register for The College Solution Webcast with Lynn O’Shaughnessy.

How do you feel about paying for college?

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I am so excited to announce that my first book “Seventeen’s Guide to Getting Into College” is now in stores!!!  This college guide leads you through every step of the admission process: knowing your schools, making the grades, writing your story, putting yourself to the test, impressing the interviewer, finding the cash, getting ready to apply, and what to do once you’re in. It includes a master four-year-calendar to map out your game plan (because it’s never too early to start thinking about that AP class or extracurricular activity); a pocket organizer for keeping track of college brochures, financial aid info, and other important papers; oodles of advice; and fun stuff, like interactive exercises, a “brag sheet” to tote up your honors, and “17 Must-Ask Questions!”

So if you’re freaking out about college (or can’t wait to start), this just might put you over the top…and into your first choice!!!  Thanks for all the support, and don’t forget to tell your friends to check out this book!  I’d love to hear what you think!

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