Tag Archives: #scholarship #college #financialaid

Use your Christmas break wisely

15 Dec

While it may be tempting to just couch surf over your Christmas break, the couple or more weeks off provide a great opportunity to work on and submit the last of your college applications, as well as scholarship applications.

While you won’t win every scholarship for which you apply, you definitely WILL NOT win any for which you do not apply. Increase the odds, senior: get as many done as you possibly can. If my small-town students can win big, national scholarships, so can YOU!

Here are some tips for winning scholarships. I feel confident in sharing these, because my own four children won more than FIFTY scholarships.

  • Your best odds are local scholarships. Do those first, because a few number of students are applying for them.
  • Answer each question thoroughly.
  • Use formal language but be real and personal.
  • Use specific examples to explain your claims. Don’t just speak in generalities.
  • Don’t exaggerate who you are, but definitely think through your own personal history and try to connect with the organization.
  • If there are optional questions, answer them.
  • Spellcheck your essay. Ask someone else to read it over and offer suggestions. It needs to sparkle to rise above the pile of ho-hum submissions.
  • If the organization asks for an essay of say, 100-300 words, use the whole 300 words, which gives you that chance to show you are the right person.
  • Double-check the requirements before you mail or submit the application. Make sure you have met all the basic requirements.
  • Do not pay to enter a scholarship–that’s a ripoff.

Remember: Doing a little each day to work toward your college and career goals makes what might seem like an overwhelming task quite reachable.

Evaluating aid offers

24 Mar

Weighing offers can be confusing!

As your financial aid offers start coming in, you and your parents may be a little confused. The differing formats and terminology may seem like you’re being asked to compare apples with oranges.

Buffy Tanner, a counselor with the BOLD (Bachelor’s through Online and Local Degrees) program at Shasta College, has some helpful advice. (She was formerly part of the College OPTIONS organization, which has a mission to strengthen the college-going culture in the more rural areas of northern California by increasing opportunities for students to pursue and become informed about postsecondary education).

portland-1-jFirst, she says to make sure each college includes all five components of Cost of Attendance (some colleges don’t include all five on their award letters):

  • Tuition/Fees
  • Room/Board
  • Books/Supplies
  • Transportation
  • Personal Expenses

Tanner also says, “Students need to realize that the Cost of Attendance published by each school is an AVERAGE, ESTIMATED cost.  For some students, transportation costs may be more or less, they can save money by tripling up in a dorm, or by living at home, etc.  As much as possible, they should personalize that Cost of Attendance for each college to determine what they will REALLY need.”

The College OPTIONS organization has developed a Financial Aid Offer Comparison Worksheet that can help you evaluate financial aid offers. In this Excel document you can insert the numbers of each type of aid from a college (and then the next college and the next), so as to get an actual “apples to apples” comparison (instead of apples to alligators).  This tool is online:  http://www.collegeoptions.org/#!financial-aid/c8k2. (See the middle column “Tools for Award Letters” — the last bullet. There is also a link for instructions on how to use the tool.)

“There are MANY roads from point A to point B,” Tanner notes. “Some are more scenic than others, others are quicker, still others have hidden gems along the way that they don’t even know about.”

In any case, do not make rash decisions based on a quick glance of the financial aid offers. Weigh your options carefully and make sure any decision is done with the help of your parents.

Student loan freakout

29 Jan

Are you freaked out about potential student loan debt?

Are you freaked out about potential student loan debt?

Are you or your parents freaking out about the possibility of student loan debt?

The media have been having a field day the last few years with horror stories of students who are graduating with student loan debt  of $100,000 or more.

The over-sensationalism of this issue has actually had a negative effect on many of my students and parents over the last several years–to the point where they are determining to work first, THEN go to college with the projected savings.

There are several facts that students and parents should face in regard to post-secondary education, its benefits, and this student loan issue:

  1. Most students have some student loan debt leaving college. Nationally that figure is about 70 percent of college graduates. In California, the percentage is 55 percent — and the average loan debt is $21,382 (the average is about $18,000 for the California State University system–a good deal!). The cost of repayment for this amount will be about $200 per month — less than the cost of the average car payment, with that car depreciating by the moment.
  2. It is very difficult for a young person to save enough money to fund the cost of a college education, especially since college costs are increasing on a yearly basis. A minimum-wage job would have gross pay of $13,720 a year. Subtracting money for taxes, transportation, and living expenses, I have computed that it would probably take nine or more years to earn enough to pay for four years of college.
  3. Financial aid in the form of grants could decrease if the student works first. If a student qualifies for federal and state grants but chooses to work, access to those grant funds could completely disappear.
  4. When students work before going to college, they often are detracted from savings by the lure of a nice car or apartment and rack up debt that would make college challenging financially.
  5. A college graduate’s income will be significantly higher than a young person’s income who went directly into the work force.

Completely free rides are about nonexistent these days. Typically, the student is expected to commit to about $5,000 in student loan debt per year. That repayment plan will not be difficult with the post-college salary the graduate will earn.

Be wise about your college decision:

  • Lay out your financial aid offers side by side before deciding on your college.
  • Be diligent to submit every single scholarship application for which you are eligible.
  • Read the fine print on the colleges’ financial aid pages. Some schools will cancel out GRANT money if you get scholarships, while other schools will cancel out loans. This was the main reason my daughter chose UC Berkeley over UC Santa Barbara.
  • DO choose Work Study if you can get it–it won’t count as income against next year’s financial aid package and you won’t have to pay taxes on it. It’s like working for a grant.
  • Be careful not to incur other debt during college (live cheaply and don’t take on a car payment).

And go for the degree: it will pay off in the short and long term.