College

4 myths and 4 facts about student loans

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After you exhaust other financial aid and employment opportunities, student loans can be a good option to cover educational expenses. When borrowing, remember that unlike grants or scholarships, which do not need to be repaid, student loans must be repaid with interest. You should always be 100 percent clear about what you are signing up for.

Myth #1: I don’t need to worry about my student loans while I’m in school.

Truth #1: You need to think ahead. Don’t blindly take out student loans without considering your major or future career—or without finding ways to minimize your debt while in school.

Myth #2: I should borrow as much as I can.

Truth #2: You should borrow the minimum you need. Loans are a helpful way to get an education that might seem out of reach, but be informed before you borrow. Your future self will thank you!

Myth #3: I have to pay back 100 percent of my student loans.

Truth #3: Maybe not. Depending on the type of loan and your profession, forgiveness programs can help you pay back a portion or all of your student loans.

Myth #4: I need to pay someone to help me with my student loans.

Truth #4: You should never have to pay someone to help you with your student loans. Contact the financial aid office at your college for assistance.

Find more information about student loans here.

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How to save money on college textbooks

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Abstract blurred of stops of books, textbooks or fiction in book store or in library. Education, school, study, reading fiction concept. For abstract backgroundTextbook costs can make your jaw drop. They can be one of the pricier extra expenses that go along with attending college. But these tips can save you hundreds of dollars every semester:

  1. Don’t buy new textbooks. If you can, always go for used. Glossy new pages might be pretty, but you won’t be able to resell a book for its full price. You can purchase used textbooks from Amazon and other internet sites, through your college bookstore and from classmates. See if there’s a social media page where fellow students sell books.
  2. Use an older edition. If your instructor assigns a brand new text book, ask if it’s OK to use an older edition. Editions typically don’t change much year to year, so you can probably get away with an older, cheaper one.
  3. Look beyond the bookstore. College bookstores might not have the best prices. Some offer used books and rentals, but it’s still important to check prices elsewhere.
  4. Rent your textbooks. Many campus bookstores, along with websites like Chegg, offer rentals. This is often a good option because you can pay less and you don’t have to worry about trying to sell the book after the semester. However, you should still look at all your options on a case-by-case basis.
  5. Ask previous students. Ask someone who’s taken the same course if you really need the book or if they’d sell you their old book.
  6. Use e-books. Some textbooks are available for a lower price in an online edition. If you don’t have an e-reader, you can usually read e-books on your laptop, iPad or smartphone.
  7. Share with a classmate. If your schedules allow or you don’t expect to need the textbook frequently, split the cost of a textbook with a classmate. You can meet up for study sessions, or one person can take photos or make copies. You can’t make copies of an entire book without violating copyright laws, but a few pages here and there is fine. If your instructor wants you to buy an entire textbook but assigns only a few pages of reading from it the whole semester, you’re probably not violating copyright laws by making a single copy of those pages for your homework.
  8. Check the library. Your school probably has limited copies of frequently used class textbooks. See if you can reserve them ahead of time and save some money.
  9. Wait until the first class to buy. Sometimes professors will work with students who can’t afford to pay hundreds for a single textbook. Some will tell you right away that you’ll only use a few sections of the textbook, or they’ll offer supplementary options that are free or cheap. The first day is usually spent going over the syllabus, but be prepared to buy the textbook quickly if you need to.

Thinking about taking a gap year? Read this first

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Some students take a year between high school and college to work, volunteer, travel or save money. Many educators say that kids who take a break after high school are more mature when they arrive at college and are more engaged in their education moving forward. This is particularly relevant to students who burned out in high school from years of AP classes, test prep, volunteer projects, sports, music lessons and other extracurricular activities.

Still, gap years can be scary for parents and other adults who care about a student’s success. Many fear that one year will turn into two years and will eventually lead to their student never completing a degree.

When considering a gap year, students should take these three steps:

  1. Apply to college and defer enrollment. That way, there is something waiting for you at the end of your gap year. Some colleges also might let you defer their scholarships—check with the financial aid office.
  2. Make sure you apply for financial aid during your gap year. File your FAFSA, apply for scholarships, grants and loans, etc. Remember, you can file your FAFSA starting on October 1 and the earlier you submit it, the better.
  3. Form a concrete plan. Studies show that students who have a concrete plan are much more likely to start college after their gap year. Ask yourself: What will you accomplish during the gap year? Sitting on the couch playing video games doesn’t count. Will you have a job? How will you pay your bills/save money? Will you volunteer? Will you do an apprenticeship or study abroad?

You can find more information from the American Gap Association, gapyearassociation.org.

This is the best kept secret for college-bound students

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When you are selecting a college to attend, you want to know how much it’s actually going to cost, if you’ll make enough to pay off loans, what the current students are like, etc. Gathering all this information takes a ton of time, especially if you’re not sure where you want to go. Luckily, the U.S. Department of Education offers a valuable online tool to help you compare schools and make an informed decision. For any school that offers post-secondary education in the United States, the College Scorecard, collegescorecard.ed.gov, will show you:

  • Costs—Not the published costs, but the average annual costs that students actually pay, broken down by family income and compared to the national average.
  • Loan debt—How many students take out federal loans, graduates’ typical debt and monthly payments, and percentage of students paying down debt compared to the national average.
  • Earnings after school—Average graduate’s salary compared to national average, and percentage of graduates who earn more than students with only a high school diploma.
  • Student body—A demographic breakdown of the student population by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status.
  • Success rates—Retention rate after one year and graduation rate, compared to the national average.
  • Test scores—Standard range of SAT and/or ACT scores for students who are admitted and enrolled.
  • Academic programs—Available areas of study, as well as the most popular programs offered.

This combination of factors gives you a more complete picture of your investment and potential payoff from attending a specific school. A school with high costs, high loan debt and low graduation rates, for instance, might not offer your best chance of success. A school with high costs might be a more reasonable choice, however, if it also offers high graduation rates and high salaries for graduates.

While these might be important factors, the most important pieces of the equation will be how a school fits with your needs. The College Scorecard lets you look up specific schools or search based on criteria such as location, size and degrees offered. It also offers predetermined searches such as “Affordable Four-Year Schools with Good Outcomes” or “Find a Community College in Your State with High Salaries.”

Happy college hunting!

Friending Your Education: Social Media and College Applications

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Social media has made communicating with people near and far easier, creating an easy canvas for individuals to paint a picture of what makes them unique. These personal outlets offer opportunities and dangers for college applicants looking to find the right school that meets their “college fit” needs.

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The relationship between schools and prospective students involving social media has certainly become a two-way street. A recent survey of 403 schools showed that 35% of college admissions officers considered an applicant’s social media as part of their approval process. That means that everything a student posts on Facebook or Twitter, or broadcast to their YouTube or Vine channel can effect the chances of getting in to that college they’ve worked so hard to find.

Rather than make this a stern warning to purify feeds, though, students can take advantage of this scrutiny, using social media as a way to present a more fuller picture of themselves, the part of them that doesn’t show up in test scores and GPAs. Yes, Facebook pages shouldn’t show pictures of excessive partying or rude comments about other students or schools. That’s just courteous online behavior.

It’s the elements of social media that allows students “be themselves” that colleges find interesting. So students should find positive ways to show that. Posting content from other sites that underscores interests will help create a fuller image of both a potential student and a person in the world. Linking to articles relevant to hobbies, uploading music or artwork and sharing photos or videos from sporting events, performances or volunteer work is not only a great way to show off personal passions to family and friends, but can also benefit when a college wants to know more that what’s on the application or on the essay.

If a student has a school (or schools) they’ve recently visited or are targeting for application, following that school will not only help give a glimpse at college life through information about campus events, it might offer other important news that may be relevant to an application or admission decision. Plus, it never hurts to know what’s going on at campus when speaking with an admissions rep or during a campus visit. It shows the student has a specific interest in what the school has to offer.

In a way, the relationship between a student and a school is a lot like any other online friendship. Just as people love to see an increasing number of likes or RTs to their posts, schools love to see (and share) positive feedback from potential students. A post or tweet about a student visit or in response to something going on at the school can go a long way when an admissions officer looks at a student’s social media history.

Being aware of the social media’s impact will give students an effective tool in not only learning more about their college options, but presenting themselves as the right kind of student for their desired school.

Personal Connection is Key for College Apps, Says Drake Professor

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College Application Month focuses on encouraging students to take the first step toward their future by completing their college application. But for many students and families the process of what makes a good application can seem a mystery.

Once students have found a school that seems a good match, completing the application and essay that goes with it can be a stressful process that, when done well, can help a student stand out from the pack. But how to do that? Drake University professor Jeff Inman serves as an interviewer and application reviewer for some of the school’s most prestigious scholarships, but even he admits that the upcoming application process his 15-year-old son will be undertaking in a few short years can be daunting.

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To better help students and families gain focus on the process, he offers some advice on what makes a student’s college application stand out:

While I am always impressed with the resumes of the applying students, many of who are so busy I always wonder if they have to go without sleep to get everything done, it’s the essay that really solidifies the standouts for me. Those students who don’t just answer the question, but tell a story, really catch my eye. They don’t just talk about a fictional character they relate to or a quote they are inspired by. They find a moment in their life, an epiphany they had, or a failure they learned from and relate it to the question. To me, that shows they not only understand the essence of the question but also can make the kind of connections college demands of them. That said, typos undermine everything.

As with other educators, Inman also thinks that students who limit their college search to just one application are putting themselves at a disadvantage.

There are benefits from filling out multiple applications. There are lots of amazing schools out there where students will have a great experience, learn amazing things, and grow as people. I might be in the minority here, but I don’t feel there is one perfect school for any student. So apply to the schools you feel comfortable at, provide you the opportunities and experiences you want, and work for your family.

Knowing How College Applications Are Evaluated Can Help Students Better Prepare

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Students around the country are awaiting word from colleges on whether or not they’ll be offered admission. Some students who submitted for a variety of early admission programs have received word while others are hoping to find replies from regular admission programs in the coming weeks.

To better understand the “why” of college admissions, it’s important to appreciate the “how” used by admissions officers to determine which students are the best prospective fit for their incoming class. While many of the factors are obvious, other elements about a student and their application that families might fear as negatives can actually be positives.

Many of the leading criteria for a student application are the ones that most people immediately consider when targeting a prospective school: academic criteria, talent and community involvement are all major parts of an application.

Academics are the best predictor of a student’s academic success at a highly selective college, including grades and standardized test scores. The competitiveness of a student’s high school letters of recommendation from the guidance counselor and the teachers who know the student the best are also considered other highly significant academic factors.

Having a particular talent also can be a key way to individualize a student application. Borin points out in the article that when a college has received almost 20,000 or more applicants, a talented oboist is only competing against other talented oboists with similar grades and standardized test scores. The most competitive colleges are always seeking to form a well-rounded class of talented students. Having a particular talent can help set a student apart.

Other facts that impact an application are ones that might not immediately jump into a family’s mind. For example, while some families might consider geography a negative influence on applications, it can actually work to their benefit. If a student is applying to a highly competitive school, but is from a state that has fewer applicants, they could have an edge as, once again, the most competitive schools try to maintain diversity in their student body not only in race and socioeconomic status, but in geographical representation as well.

Many other factors can influence a student’s chances with an admissions officer. The all-important essay and the willingness to show a commitment to the school through such things as early-decision applications are major factors, but being a legacy at a school (having relatives that attended the same school) can apply at any college, and not just if a student comes from a wealthy family.

The number of things that can influence an admissions officer can seem overwhelming. But, in the end, the best way to make an impact is for students to not only be unique, but authentic. Being able to show a student who can balance academics with extracurricular activities and involvement in their community is appealing to any admissions officer. These students are the ones who often show the passion and drive that will make them a success both in the classroom and in life. And that is appealing to any school.