An Unconventional Guide to Paying for College

How to Negotiate Your Financial Aid Package

Posted by on Jun 20, 2013 in How to Pay College Tuition, Scholarships and Grants | 8 comments

money for college project

This is the time of year when the rubber meet the roads for college admissions. At this point in the year, most college freshman have already committed to their college of choice. You have paid the admission deposit, you have signed up for Orientation, you are registering for classes, and you are making plans to move into the dorms in August. The final piece of this on-boarding process is your financial aid and your student bill.

Most colleges send out their incoming freshman financial aid award letters well ahead of their returning students. This is done for a number of reasons, but mainly for recruiting purposes. Incoming freshman need to know what financial aid they have been offered in order to accurately assess the best college for them.

SO what do you do when you receive your financial aid award letter? It is negotiable? Can you contact the financial aid office and request/demand that they give you more funds? Are there awards that you can swap out or adjust?

The answer is yes to all of the above.

Demand More Scholarships and Grants

This process will vary from one school to the next but if you have received competitive academic scholarships, you will likely have room to negotiate these amounts. The trick is that you will need to determine who awards the scholarships and who sets their levels. Often, the financial aid counselor you will speak with when calling the financial aid office, cannot adjust anything for you. They will tell you that your awards were ran though the “packager” which looks at a large list of criteria, and you were awarded everything you qualified for. This is true, but there are ways around it.

If you received scholarships from a department, from a program (such as the Honors College, or Graphic COmmunications…) you can contact that department or program directly to request an increase. As these programs manage their funds independently, they are often more flexible in increasing awards than the financial aid office is.

This process also depends on the type of school you choose to attend. A large public institution will be much less likely to be able to adjust your awards than a small private school would be.

The key here is whether or not your school is an enrollment drive school. This means that your school does not receive any state funding and relies solely on the tuition paid by their students for their operating budget. Enrollment drive private schools have a quota of students they must reach each semester, and they will go to great lengths  to keep you on their campus. You have a much more powerful negotiating position at a school of this type, than a large public institution.

Loans are Always Adjustable

If you have gone through the negotiation process and requested all of the free grant and scholarship money that you can, you can always adjust your student loans. Decreasing the amount of your student loans is as simple as putting this request in writing or an email to your financial aid office. Increasing this loan may be a bit trickier.

If you receive Direct Stafford Loans, and you have not reached your yearly maximum, you can contact your financial aid office and request an increase. As long as you have not met your cost of attendance for that semester, they will be able to increase your loan.

If you receive private student loans, or a Parent PLUS loan, and they have not certified the entire amount that you or your parent were approved for, then they can go back to increase this amount up to the maximum that was initially approved by the lender. This can be as simple as putting a request in an email and sending it to your financial aid office.

The Bottom Line

Negotiating your financial aid package is all based on your negotiating position. If you are a highly recruited students, or if you attend a small private school then you will have a much greater negotiating position.

However, every student has the right to negotiate their financial aid package. As with job offers, it is much easier to get the free money before you begin your college career than it is to ask for raises once you have already started.

It never hurts to ask!

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How to Dominate Scholarship Applications and Pay for College

Posted by on May 30, 2013 in How to Pay College Tuition, Scholarships and Grants | 8 comments

money for college

The scholarship search can be intimidating. The most popular online scholarships searches, like FastWeb, force you to wade through thousands of worthless scholarships. They are not worthless because they are scams, rather they are worthless because they are not personalized. In fact, in my five years working in Higher Ed I have never met ANYONE who has won a scholarship through FastWeb. Obviously people do win these scholarships, but the chance of you winning a scholarship found through FastWeb is very low.

I highly recommend searching locally for your scholarships. I have written in length about the benefits of this in the past.  Your chances of winning increase drastically when the applicant pool drops from thousands of students to less than 50 for most local scholarships.

Once you have gathered a list of scholarships that you wish to apply for, you have to start the actual application process. This process can also be intimidating, but it does not have to do.

How to Dominate Scholarship Applications

I have compiled a list of the top 8 ways to dominate your scholarship applications and ensure that you maximize your chances of winning as many scholarships as you apply for.

  • Start early!! Almost every scholarship has a deadline and many scholarships give priority to applications submitted early.
  • Compile a list of accomplishments, awards, professional experience, education credentials, and volunteer organizations. Having this list handy will save you many hours during the application process since nearly every application will ask for this information.
  • Be aggressive! Scholarships are designed to reward deserving and persistent students who are willing to “do what it takes” to further their education. A scholarship committee is not impressed by a “less than your best” effort.
  • Identify and contact at least three people who would be willing to write an impressive recommendation letter on your behalf.
  • Apply for every scholarship for which you are eligible.
  • Follow up! Don’t let your scholarship application slip through the cracks. Scholarship committees will also appreciate the dedication you show in your future endeavors.
  • Be organized! This is great time to improve your organizational skills. Make sure to keep track of all deadlines, signatures, recommendation letters, and any necessary follow-up questions from a scholarship organization.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of applying for scholarships. After all, a successful scholarship search could land you with a free ride and money to spare!

The Bottom Line

Searching and applying for scholarships is not easy. If it were, everyone would have a full-ride to college.

FastWeb likes to say that there are millions of dollars in unused scholarships each year. I don’t believe this, but I do know that there are many scholarships which do not receive many quality applications and are forced to award their money to a less than stellar student. This is where you have an opportunity to swoop in, submit an impressive application, and win a scholarship over your classmates.

Following the above 8 tips will give you your best chance of conducting a scholarship search that is sue to land you some funds to help pay for college.

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How to Find Legit Scholarship Opportunities

Posted by on May 28, 2013 in How to Pay College Tuition, Scholarships and Grants | 0 comments

local scholarships

Searching for scholarships can lead to a frustrating mess of results.

More often than not, you are sorting through scholarships that are outdated and ones that you don’t even qualify for. When you are trying to find legitimate scholarship opportunities to apply, this can be incredibly frustrating. I often compare this to searching for a job in a difficult economy. You are trying to find a means to support yourself financially, and you are getting a little desperate because time is running by quickly and your hopes and dreams are on the line.

The good news is that there are ways to make the scholarship search a bit more efficient and effective

Start Local

The best scholarship search tip that I have is to start searching for scholarship locally. Every high school guidance counselor has a book full of scholarships notices that have been sent to their school. Many of these guidance offices post these notices on their website. Even if you do not attend that high school, these guidance counselors are often more than willing to share information with you about scholarships in the community.

Local scholarships are much more attainable because of the number of applicants, and the relevance of the student to the scholarship organization. For example, if a student lives in the same town where he applies for a scholarship from a local organization, it is very likely that the scholarship committee who reviews his application will be able to relate to the student. Members of the committee may know of organizations that the student has volunteered at, they may know the school the applicant attended, they will most likely know of the college that the student has applied to, and who knows, they might even know the student’s family.

Also, most local scholarships are only intended for a local applicant pool. This limits the number of applicants and guarantees a local student will win the scholarship. Simple math will tell you that if there are only 30 applicants for one scholarship you have a much higher percentage chance of winning than if you apply for a nationally competitive scholarship with thousands of applicants.

Local scholarship awards are also nothing to scoff at. We are not talking about piddly $250 awards. Most local organizations give a minimum of $1000, and often this is a recurring award. For example, when I was applying for scholarships I won an award from a local non-profit that only provided scholarships to students from my high school. The award was $3000 for 4 years. This was a huge boost towards paying for my college and one of the largest single scholarships I received. All from local resources!

Many local scholarships also have additional benefits like banquet dinners in your honor, achievement awards, articles in the local paper, and billboards with your face on them. Even if you don’t enjoy that…your parents and family sure will!

 The Bottom Line

There is no one right way to search for scholarships. My advice would be to start local, then expand your search once you have exhausted your local scholarships. My hunch is that you will find much more success by staying at home rather than going abroad.

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Cash in on Your Economic Woes

Posted by on May 25, 2013 in College News, Scholarships and Grants | 2 comments

free money for college

Most media outlets would agree that we have officially risen out of the “Great Recession” and we are now on the road to recovery. However, with unemployments rates still sky high and jobs still difficult to come by, many of us are still feeling the effects of the stagnant economy of the last few years.

One glimmer of hope for the rising costs of tuition, is that the struggling economy has caused a few colleges and universities to broaden their financial aid programs. Tope tier universities such as Cornell and Harvard have instituted new Financial Aid initiatives aimed at further assisting families in the low-middle income section.

Cornell University

Cornell Financial Aid officers describe this new initiative which has eliminated the parental contribution (which is used to calculate your expected family contribution) if your parents make between $60,000 and $100,000. This means that your EFC number would only be based on the student’s income which will greatly increase a student’s financial need.

This adjustment is only applicable to campus based scholarships and grants however. Try as they might, Cornell (or no other college) can alter the Federal Financial Aid formula. So this new calculation by Cornell would not apply towards Federal Pell Grants, Subsidized Direct Stafford Loans, or Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants.

Harvard University

Harvard University has drastically lowered the cost of tuition for all families making less than $180,000. All told, more than 90% of american families will qualify for financial aid at Harvard University. Harvard has the largest endowment of any college or university in the United States at over $30 BILLION. They have almost double the endowment of the second college on the list; Yale University with $19 Billion.

I don’t anticipate that Harvard will feel the impact of this change too much, however it is a great sign that colleges and universities are making moves to help their education be more accessible and affordable.

The Bottom Line

So you can see how many of the top universities across the country are allowing more and more students to access their educational services. With the economy continuing to struggle in recovery, I would predict that even more universities will implement sweeping financial aid reforms in order to continue to attract top talent.

As I wrote yesterday, Georgia Tech just started an online master of computer science degree and is offering the entire advanced degree for $7000. Programs like this one, and the changes in financial aid policies are all encouraging signs that the future of education is still bright, and will continue to make college affordable and accessible for all students.

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Win a $500 College Scholarship

Posted by on May 7, 2013 in Scholarships and Grants | 0 comments

Vista Health Solutions is giving away a $500 scholarship to one student who will be attending a public or private university in the Fall of 2013. To apply, applicants must complete the form below and submit an essay on the topic of:

“How I will stay in control of my health during my college years”

Applicant Requirements: To be eligible, all applicants must be planning to attend college in the Fall of 2013 as an undergraduate student. High school and undergraduate students are welcome to apply. Please include at the top of your essay your name, current school attended, current grade level and GPA.

Essay Requirements: Your college years are both joyful and stressful at the same time. With your new found independence comes responsibility. Too often college students put their healthy lifestyle on the back burner. How will you promote a healthy body and mind during your college years? Write an essay of 1,000 to 1,500 words explaining how you will take charge of your health.

Deadline: All essays must be submitted by August 1, 2013. The winning essay will be selected and announced on the Vista Health Solutions website on August 15th, 2013.

 

 

 

 

Apply
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How to Create Your Own Scholarships

Posted by on May 1, 2013 in How to Pay College Tuition, Scholarships and Grants | 0 comments

One of the most exciting times of high school is your senior year when you get to apply for scholarships. Forget prom, pep rallies, and Friday night lights; this is where the real fun is!

You are asking individuals, businesses, and non-profit organizations to take a stake in your future. You are asking them to support you financially as you pursue your educational goals. This is one of the few times in your life where it is perfectly acceptable to ask for a hand-out from people who are happy to give them! While this process may be intimidating and frustrating at times, it can also be exhilarating.

One of the most common questions that I get here through the blog is “Where can I find more scholarships?”

I have answered that questions through other posts here and here.

Today however, I want to look at this question through a different lens.

Create Your Own Scholarships

Some of the most successful business owners are the ones who bootstrapped their own business, and built their entire empire from the ground up. They did not wait for anyone else to hand them a job, they created their own.

This same mindset can be applied to creating scholarships. Rather than applying to hundreds of scholarships that already exist, and often have applicant pools in the hundreds (or even thousands), why not drastically increase your chances of winning a scholarship and go directly to the source.

Many businesses spend millions of dollars each year on research, development and marketing. This is an untapped resource for college scholarships that nobody is utilizing.

You should start by identifying businesses that operate in a field you are interested in. For example, if you wish to go into pharmacy, then you could consider pharmaceutical manufacturing companies. If you want to go into English, then you could target publishing and printing companies. If you are a construction science major, then you could target construction companies. Architecture students should target architecture and design firms. You get the idea…

I would suggest that you identify a list of at least 30 businesses.

You should then identify someone in the Human Resources office for each of these companies. These are often the folks who either manage any existing scholarship programs, or could get you in touch with the people who do manage these programs. Your goal is to set up an in-person meeting with someone from that company.

I would recommend that you do this in writing, followed up by a phone call. Much as you would do for an official interview. Again, your main goal is to get face time with this individual.

The Scholarship Proposal

Asking for money is not a simple task. Remember, your goal is to convince the executive that you meet with that you are worth their time, energy, and money. You will need to convince this person that your future is so valuable, and that you will work so hard, that they would be crazy not to invest in you.

You should treat this as an investment. You will need a scholarship proposal and a “business plan”.

What you will propose will depend on your field but should go something like this:

Hello Mr. Executive at fancy company I admire,

My name is DJ, and I am going to be a freshman in your industry in the upcoming Fall semester. I am really excited, but am still in need of additional finances to secure my college funding.

I have created a scholarship proposal for you, which I have brought with me today. I will harness the power of my entire sizable social media influence to thank you for what you are about to do for me. I will sing your praises to every person that I know. I will be an advocate for you on our campus. I will recommend interns in your industry come to work for you, I will invite representatives from your business to my college to present and to lecture. I will incorporate your company’s research and design into my college projects. I will come to work for you in the summer after my freshman and sophomore years. I will spend my spring break working on dedicated projects for your company. In return for this, I ask for your financial support to pursue my educational goals. For my time and effort, I feel that a scholarship of $5000 per academic year would be a sufficient agreement.

Follow-Through

Once your proposal has been submitted, you will likely have to negotiate. I can guarantee that you will get turned down at least once, but do not get discouraged! Could you imagine the possibilities if more than one business agreed to your proposal!

Obviously you would need to modify your efforts for each business (you cannot work during spring break in more than one place) but the principle is the same.

Once you get a business to agree to this proposal, you have to follow through on your promises.

The best thing about this agreement, is that a relationship of this nature could easily land you a job in the future. Imagine going through all of this effort for a company without even being a full-time employee.

If a company sees your worth and value prior to you graduating, they may try to snatch you into a full-time position once you are done with school.

The possibilities are endless.

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