Friday, August 24, 2007

Graduating Early: Should I and How Should I

With an increasing number of students taking and passing AP tests during their senior, sometimes junior, years of high school, early college graduation is an option for many. At numerous schools, entering college with AP credits is the norm—and I’m not just referring to the Ivy Leagues. When students enter their freshman year with sophomore status, they will have some choices to make. Here are some things to consider before deciding whether you should leave or hang around.


Let’s start with the practical. For some students, financing is not a problem. They can afford to stay the whole four years—or will choose to stay, regardless of financial need. For others, this is not the case. Students who are already burdened down by loans may want to seriously consider early graduation. Yes, the college experience is important, but so is the post-college experience. Things like travel and board may not be a big deal until you have to drive 45 minutes to get to work. Also remember that additional expenses kick in after college. You may be unable to claim dependency on medical policies and tax returns, you don’t get good-grade discount on car insurance, and your movie tickets will cost more than $8.


Even those who are passionate about their major are likely to have unrelated interests. Most colleges do force students to take classes outside of their major, and, whether students like it or not, they will get a taste of something else. However, many students find ways to get around these requirements. They turn the opportunity to explore interests into the chance to take classes that scream experience on a resume or ones that scream easy credit—I’m not saying that I’m not guilty.

College is a great place to take classes that are odd and interesting, even if they mean extra homework. I wish I would have taken that class on Middle Eastern relations. It may sound odd to you, but it sounded cool to me. It would have made my hard life harder, but when am I going to get that chance again?

If you like college and want to explore options before leaving, you should do so. Just don’t stretch it. When I spoke to my counselor about leaving early, she was adamantly opposed to it. “Think of all those things you wanted to do,” she said. “You will have time to take those ice skating classes you dreamt about.” Ice skating? I don’t want to ice skate, especially if it costs $13,000 per year.

Those who have their minds made up

If you’re reading this article because you know what you want but need help getting there, here are my suggestions. Know that to graduate early, you need to stay organized: you need to plan ahead.

o Get a list of graduation requirements. Check your college department website or contact your counselor for a list of required classes as they relate to your major. Take note of how many total credits, not just which classes, you will need. If you plan to graduate early by taking additional classes, split them up between semesters and, if possible, take some over the summer.
o Pay attention to seasonally-changing classes. Some advanced-level classes may only be taken after the lower levels are accounted for. However, both levels may not be offered each semester. Take the lower levels as early as possible to make future scheduling easier. If this is your last semester and the required Biology 205 and Chemistry 302 are offered at the same time, you may have a problem. I know. You totally would have taken Bio 100 if it was offered last semester. Don’t worry, this scenario is very avoidable.
o Let your counselor know. Oftentimes, students need to declare their decision to graduate months ahead. Schools, especially big ones, assume that you will graduate within a certain amount of years. Let your counselor know about your plans, and ask who else, and when, needs a heads up.
o Don’t be swayed. Counselors are there to help you, and it’s always good to take outside opinions into consideration. However, counselors cannot figure you out from short meetings and experience with other students does not always apply to you. If you know what you want, don’t ask if you can. Ask how you can.

College Board to Leave Lender Industry

Effective October 15, 2007, College Board will no longer accept student loan applications. College Board, best known for administering the SAT and AP tests, announced its decision to leave the lender industry on August 22nd. In a press release, College Board stated that legislation aimed at curbing unethical relations between lenders and colleges made it too difficult to cover costs associated with education professional meetings.

The legislation was created as a result of findings that numerous lenders made payments to colleges in exchange for spots on college preferred lender lists. Legislation included a more concrete definition of a lending institution—which categorized College Board as a lender—and restrictions on lender payments to financial aid officials. Although College Board does not itself lend money to students, it receives payments from lenders for allowing students to sign up. As it is now considered a lender, it can no longer offer funds to the financial aid officials it works with.

The meetings College Board convenes for education professionals are now subject to strict regulations. Under new rules, College Board would no longer be able to reimburse members for travel and lodging expenses. Edna Johnson, a College Board spokeswoman stated, “If we no longer reimburse the educators, then only those educators from schools, colleges and universities with the financial resources to pay for the travel and the accommodation would attend.” The meetings held by College Board include discussions of practices for assisting families in paying for an education and tactics for effective administration of financial aid programs.

The new decision is likely to affect lenders more than it does College Board and the students who search for financial aid. According to the Washington Post, College Board issued 74,000 loans valued at $400 million in 2007, and the year is not over. However, less than 1 percent of College Board’s revenue comes from the lending sector.

Students who signed up with College Board aren’t the losers in this decision either. Those who wish to take out loans with companies represented by College Board may still do so by contacting lenders directly. They may be forced to do some extra research, but that’s a good thing.

Students Returning from College, Without Diplomas

Ever been told to finish what you started? That’s not bad advice. Students are being taught the value of a good education, and the counsel is working. College entrance rates have been going up for years. Classrooms are filling up, and dormitories are busting at the seams. Whether or not students are graduating is a different story.

According to a 2006 study conducted by ACT, a not-for-profit organization providing research services, only 74.5% of first-year students attending public four-year colleges return the following year. Those attending private four-year colleges fared a bit better, but barely. Graduation rates at private colleges were only .7% better than those at public ones, down from 5.8% in 1988. Sending a student to a more expensive private college is unlikely to solve the problem.

And arguing that these students are simply transferring doesn’t cut it either. According to an article released by the Associated Press, only 54% of students who entered a four-year university in 1997 had a degree six years later. Unless you’re Van Wilder, you should have something to show after six years.

Despite a spike in the number of students who attend college and obtain degrees, a high dropout percentage continues to be a problem. As a matter of fact, the rate is the same as it was in 1988. So many more ambitious students are vying for each college spot, but about one in four still quits after the first year. What’s the problem?

According to the ACT survey, the top two factors contributing to student failure were lack of motivation and inadequate financial resources. These two problems can be solved, but students need to take matters into their own hands.

Lack of student motivation was ranked as the biggest determinant of college failure—even more than a student’s academic fit for a particular school. This means that a student who can get their act together need not be discouraged by campus nerds. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

Students should also keep their future in mind during stressful college times. Those who have yet to pinpoint a career may have a hard time identifying goals, but obtaining a degree is a great goal in itself. A degree gives students options. Those who change their minds about future plans may always return to school. In the mean time, a degree gives students something to fall back on.

As you surely know, more jobs than before require degrees. In fact, degrees are just the beginning. It is not uncommon for an employer to look your resume up and down and declare that your impressive background would make you a perfect fit for the company: no one would match your paper-filing skills.

The second biggest obstacle standing between a student and their degree was financial need. Students who spend a bundle on their education may suffer financially after dropping out. No education and no money is not a good combo. There are plenty of financial aid options, and students should take advantage of them.

The best money is, of course, free money. By filing a FASFA and searching for grant and scholarship opportunities, students have the chance to find free college funding, no strings attached. Those who can save ahead of time should look into setting up a college savings account. Some good choices may be the 529 and the Coverdell as they allow students to accumulate money, tax-free. For more savings account options, visit Loans, as a last resort, can generally be obtained at lower rates when borrowed from the government. Take advantage of any aid offered. Don’t leave your purchase at the door: get the degree and the education you paid for.

Pell Grants Increase While Lender Subsidies Decrease

On Friday June 20, the Senate approved the Higher Education Access Act of 2007 by a vote of 78-18. The bill, if approved by the House, would increase Pell Grant eligibility and lower government subsidies to outside lenders. The House passed a similar proposal—the College Reduction Act of 2007—in June, making a compromise on both versions likely. The overarching theme of the bill was an increase in government aid to students and, at the same time, a decrease in aid provided to student lenders.

Lowered subsidies would likely result in increased interest rates for students who take out loans from lenders outside of the government. Government loans offer students the best interest rates, but such loans also have smaller borrowing limits. Many students end up looking to lenders subsidized by the government for additional aid. While interest rates on subsidized loans are not as favorable as those offered by the government, they are still more favorable than those offered by private, unsubsidized lenders.

According to MarketWatch, the new bill could save the government up to $15.4 billion by 2012. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Mass, was enthusiastic about the approval stating, “The passage of the Higher Education Access Act tonight was a victory not only for students and their families, but for the American people. With this new congress we made education a national priority again, and we’ve given the next generation the tools they need to compete in the global economy. “

Fortunately for student borrowers, the bill did address worries about lender rate increases. Cuts on outside lender subsidies were also accompanied by increased caps on government loans as well as by increased laxity on government loan eligibility requirements. These changes are likely to benefit students who don’t borrow much. For those that do, effects will depend on just how much more the government is willing to lend and on how much outside lenders will choose to charge after cuts.

Students still have a lot to cheer about. The biggest perk of the Higher Education Access Act is its proposal to increase government grant offers. Free money is the best kind. Like scholarships, grants provide students with aid that need not be repaid. If the bill is enacted, the government would increase the amounts of Pell Grants a student may receive to a maximum $5,100. It would also alter the formula used to determine grant eligibility in a way that would lessen restrictions on financial circumstances required for grant reception.

Additional bill provisions include loan forgiveness options for borrowers who work in areas of public service for ten years, a cap on monthly loan payments required of students, and the establishment of a program that would increase competition between lenders. If the bill passes, the enactment may be expected within the next few months.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Etiquette and the Scholarship Search

Today searching for scholarships is easy for students—the internet has made it so. With scholarship databases containing millions of dollars in financial assistance at your finger tips, like, you can literally earn a scholarship from a business or organization with which you have no affiliation. Getting out of the car, opening the door, and walking in to the scholarship provider’s office to pick up an application is a method of the past because of the effort and time it involves.

Scholarship providers want thousands of students to have a chance at earning their scholarship, and so many choose to list their awards in databases like to make their gifts available. Most have even gone so far as to encourage students to apply online. When you are applying for a scholarship, consider the things that the scholarship provider has already done to make the process easy for you and show your appreciation accordingly. Think about it- they haven’t even determined that you will be the recipient, and yet they have stretched to extraordinary lengths to make the chance at financial assistance easy for you to take.

When requesting information about a scholarship:

  • Write a letter expressing your interest in the scholarship and request an application if the application is not available online.
  • Look for answers to your questions about the scholarship online before making a phone call or sending an e-mail. Take the initiative to find the information in the materials they have made available to you because usually it is actually there.
  • If the scholarship is discontinued, do not write unreasonable e-mails or letters expressing your contempt for the removal of the award. Scholarships are gifts and, as such, nobody owes you one. Move on to another scholarship and apply elsewhere.
  • If you place a phone call to the organization, be patient, polite, and appreciative even if you are just requesting certain information about the scholarship. Thank them for offering the award.

When submitting an application:

  • Follow the guidelines for submission that the scholarship provider has given you exactly. They’re considering giving you free money, comply with their instructions and pay attention to detail.
  • Include a cover letter if the application is submitted by mail, unless the scholarship provider specifically requests that you don’t. Include a self-addressed stamped envelope with the correct amount of postage.
  • Proofread any materials that are submitted along with your application and take any essays seriously. There is nothing that puts off a scholarship provider like an apathetic student applying for free donations.

When you receive the award: Send a hand-written note or an email thanking the scholarship provider. This is very important. Too often, as soon as the cash is in hand, students forget to acknowledge who gave it to them - please don’t let this happen. Scholarship providers are anxious to hear from you and excited that they are helping you attend college. The silence that falls when they hear nothing from a recipient after they have cut them a check for several thousand dollars is disheartening to say the least.

One year after you receive the award: Say thank you one final time if the award is not renewable. Write your scholarship provider and tell them about what their award has helped you accomplish in the past year, even if the award was small. Such a gesture will be greatly appreciated. If your scholarship is renewable you should still express your gratitude for their continued support and give them an update about your academic progress.

Thank you in advance for using proper scholarship etiquette. By doing so, you will help ensure that scholarship providers will continue to reward deserving students in the future and help another student like yourself attend college.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Toyota Community Scholars Program - $20,000 scholarship opportunity

High schools nationwide are asked to nominate one student for the Toyota Community Scholars program. The school's nominee should have a consistent record of academic excellence, be active in school programs, and be recognized as a leader by his/her peers and instructors. In addition, the nominee must have initiated or be actively involved in a service program that addresses a school or community need.

Students who fit this profile should contact the school guidance counselor at their high school to learn more about the nomination process.

Toyota Community Scholars Scholarship Coordinator
Educational Testing Service
P.O.Box 6730
Princeton, NJ 08541


Application Deadline
Application materials are mailed to high schools nationwide in September. Applications are due in early December. Contact school guidance counselor for details on nomination process.

Number Of Awards

Maximum Amount

Website Address

For more information, please click on the "Community Scholars" link at:

Remember, there are millions more scholarships and grants at, along with a huge resource section to help you deal with all phases of attending college including essay writing tips!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Scholarship Winners Dish on Secrets to Success

It may be difficult to convince yourself to write a scholarship essay. All of that work, and you’re not even guaranteed to win? I mean, for all you know, there are hundreds of people competing against you, and they’re all overachievers. Yes, yes, you know that it’s silly to work for months for this money and not give a scholarship opportunity a few hours. Still, it’s just that there are no guarantees. If only you knew what the winners were doing, things would be different. Well, we’re here to help with that one. We have gone through winners’ testimonials to find out the secrets of their success. Here is what we found.

Be Persistent. Most of the winners who have contacted us have received numerous scholarships. Coincidence? Probably not. To win numerous scholarships, you have to apply regularly. Stephanie Sylvester, a college student who has received several scholarships is a great example. “Just because I’m a sophomore in college doesn’t mean I’ve quit the scholarship search here at,” she said. “I’m still searching and don’t count me out.” Stephanie began her search as a junior in high school and is still going strong. You don’t need to throw your hands up if you haven’t received a scholarship by the end of your senior year. Systematically apply, and you will see results.

Apply Early. The same hints that apply to college applications apply to scholarship ones. Applying early may significantly increase your chances of winning. Once deadlines draw near, applications may be skimmed through by overworked readers. You have a greater chance at having your essay thoroughly reviewed if you get a head start. Let your seriousness and responsibility shine through by getting things done early. Readers are likely to take notice.

Carefully Read Required Qualifications. This is crucial. Your time is precious and so is that of the judges who will be reading your submission. Your ability and willingness to follow simple instructions is often one of the first things scholarship providers will look for. Using your profile, will help you find scholarships that apply to you. To maximize the amount of scholarships you qualify for, make your profile as detailed as possible. Nikki from Chicago had this to say on the topic, “ was incredibly helpful in my search for scholarships that fit my criteria. When I knew that I wanted to study abroad, I went to and found so many scholarship programs for students like me.” We can help you too. If you give us the details, we’ll show you the scholarships.

Stay Positive. Many scholarships are open to all prospective college students, regardless of GPA. Just because you are an average student doesn’t mean that you cannot write an excellent essay. That is what numerous scholarship reviewers are looking for. When you are asked to write an essay on a given topic, do your best to give solid support for your thesis. Do some research and include personal thoughts as well as applicable facts. Scholarship readers aren’t looking for the perfect person, but they are looking for someone who has put obvious effort into their essay. You may feel average, but your attitude doesn’t have to be.

There are plenty of scholarships out there, for all students. By taking the advice of those who have been awarded scholarships, you may save yourself the trouble of learning what works and what doesn’t first hand. You can get a lot more than a penny for your thoughts, but you have to share them first.

Start your scholarship search by visiting today!