Monthly Archives: September 2011

Graduate in Four Years Guaranteed. If Not, You Get Free Tuition.

A growing trend among college students is to extend their college years from the traditional four year degree, into five, six, or even seven years. This time frame is not to pursue an advanced degree; this is just for an undergraduate Bachelor degree!

This extra time enrolled in college is detrimental for many reasons. First, it costs students (or parents) a lot more money. Obviously the classes beyond four years are not free, so every additional credit hour costs more. This also  might mean more student loan debt, because many financial aid programs end after 8 semesters.

Second, this will postpone getting a job. The goal of graduating with a college degree is to get a job, and begin earning money. Obviously, the longer it takes to graduate the longer it will take students to find a job and begin earning a paycheck.

Finally, extended enrollments are bad for colleges. Colleges are rated and often funded on graduation rates, and many of these rates are determined by a cohort of students. The longer it takes for a cohort to graduate, the lower the graduation rate will be.

Recently, a few colleges have come up with a new strategy to combat these extended enrollment periods and push their students to graduate in four years.

Graduation Guarantee

At a few small private and public colleges and universities around the country there is an optional ceremony that can be completed before a student begins their freshman year of college. The student, along with their parents and the college president, will sign a document that states the student will participate in regular academic advising sessions, complete certain milestones while enrolled, and keep a certain academic standing. In return for this agreement, the college agrees to guarantee the student will graduate in four years.

If a student upholds their end of the bargain, and the student does not graduate in four years due to classes being unavailable or poor academic advising, then the college will pay for any additional semesters required to graduate!

This guarantee has a very positive effect on all involved.

Parents feel confident that their hard earned money is going to support a goal with a defined end, and not an open-ended price tag. They can feel assured that their student is getting the direction and support they need to reach their goal of graduating, and graduating on time.

The college uses this guarantee as a marketing tool to show that they are committed to helping their students succeed. It also demands excellence from adademic advisors because they know that the college could potentially be footing a tuition bill if they offer bad advice.

Students can feel confident in the advice that their advisors give them, and they can see their hard work pay off as they steadily progress towards their goal of graduating on time. It is also great motivation to know that your school is taking such a personal interest in your success.

According to the University of Nebraska’s website “The four-year guarantee for graduation relies on mutual commitment from the student to follow a list of practical guidelines while attending college, and from the university to ensure that required courses or acceptable alternatives are available.

Western Michigan University has a similar stance “Part of putting students first is a commitment to helping students save money. Yet, no matter how much we contain costs and keep tuition affordable, nothing will save money for students and their families as much as earning a degree in as few as four years. Every semester we can shave off of a student’s time in college is an automatic savings in tuition and living expenses and a chance to be earning money in the work force or getting a head start on graduate or professional school.”

There are about 15 colleges and universities across the nation who have all implemented a form of a graduation guarantee:

Bethel College
Baldwin-Wallace College
Randolph-Macon College
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Western Michigan University
California State University, Fullerton
Juniata College
University of the Pacific
Mercer University
Virginia Wesleyan College
University of Nebraska
Montana State University
Lebanon Valley College
Vanguard University
Green Mountain College

Currently about 80% of students who attend private colleges finish their degree within 4 years. At public colleges and universities that number drops to 50%. Graduating on time is a serious problem.

It is important to note however, that not all programs are designed to be completed within 8 semesters. Many programs require internships, excess lab work, and other requirements that are designed to extend the program beyond the four year mark.

The main problems arise when students are unable to enroll in the classes they need, are poorly advised, slack off and take less classes each semester than they are capable of, and change their majors multiple times.

The Graduation Guarantee is a great first step to solving that problem.

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How I Made $5000 by Writing Articles Online

By now we have all figured out that there are literally millions of people and places that proclaim an easy way to make money online.

I don’t want to show you an easy trick, or scam. Rather, I want to show you how with hard work and perseverance you can make real money, in the comfort of your own home.

One year ago I was scouring the internet trying to find legitimate ways to make money online through writing. I had been trying for months to find a concrete method that would actually bring in a few dollars. I had written some articles for eHow, but then they closed down their Writer Compensation Program shortly after, and that revenue stream dried up fast.

Finally, not sure exactly where to turn, I stumbled across Textbroker. Textbroker is a middleman service. They provide the platform for clients to submit work, and for writers to complete the work.

Figuring Out How Textbroker Works

Before I go any further, I want to throw out a disclaimer: Textbroker has not paid me a dime for this review. I think this opportunity really is special, and I am excited to introduce it to you.

Moving on…

When you first create an account with Textbroker you will need to complete a sample article. Your article will be rated from 1 – 5; 5 being professional and 1 being “Please find something else to do with your time…”. My very first article was rated a 4.

Your rating will determine how much you get paid for your articles, and which articles are available for you to write.

Textbroker is not a user generated content farm. You will select articles to complete that have been submitted by clients with a specific need. All of the articles you select will have specified keywords, and keyword density requirements listed in each article. They will also have specific instructions on what the article should be about, and how long it should be.

Textbroker pays you per word. With a “3” rating, your writer’s fee is 1 penny per word. A “4” is 1.5 pennies per word and a “5” is 2 pennies per word.

Once your first article has been approved, you will login to Textbroker and go to their article selection screen. It will look something like this:

You can select articles based on the specific categories that you are interested in, and based on your star rating. “3” is the most common rating, and those articles are typically the most popular.

Writing ’till Your Fingers Bleed

Because of the business model that exists at Textbroker, you will literally earn one penny for every word that you type. This might not sound like much, but one 400 word article will net you $4, if you write in the 3 star categories.

In my experience, writing in the 3 star category is the most profitable. The articles have less client requests and restrictions on them, and you can typically write them much faster with little to zero research.

I was able to increase my writing speed to write a 400 word article in about 7 minutes. Sustaining that pace, I was able to net roughly $32 per hour. Not bad pay for a completely freelance side gig!

In a period of under 7 months, I wrote over 1,000 articles.

Getting Paid

Once you have submitted your articles, they have to be approved by the client. In the picture above, you can see that in over 1,000 articles, I only had two that were not approved. Clients want you to be successful, and will generally be more than happy to work with you on revisions before they actually reject an article.

Once you have reached the $10 payout threshold, you can request a check. You get paid via PayPal, and you can request a payout twice per month.

As you can see, I received all of my payouts, and had no problem with the PayPal deposits. They came through with no hassles, and were deposited promptly when Textbroker said they would be.

The Bottom Line

If you are willing to work as a ghostwriter (meaning you get zero credit for writing these articles), can type fast, have a basic knowledge of SEO and keyword usage, then you can be very successful in writing for Textbroker.

In fact, I was none of the above things when I started out, but I quickly learned the game, and learned how to amend my writing to rapidly submit articles.

This is the perfect opportunity for a college student, recent graduate, or anyone else who is looking to make a few extra dollars.

One final note; I am currently experimenting with Dragon Speak voice recognition software. This would allow me to speak my articles and have them automatically translated into text. If this method proves positive, I will have found an even more effective way to speed write articles, and further increase my per hour rate. It might be worth looking into for you as well.

Please give Textbroker a try. I don’t think you will be disappointed.


Introducing: Scholarship Saturdays!

One of the main goals of this site is to help you find money for college, and figure out ways to pay for college.

I can talk (or type) until I am blue in the face and my fingers get arthritis, but if you don’t end up with more money for college, then I have failed.

With that in mind, I would like to introduce a new segment here  on Money for College project, that I would like to call Scholarship Saturdays.

Starting out, we will provide you with one, or many, scholarship opportunities that you can apply for.

We certainly cannot guarantee any success, or that you will qualify for all of the scholarships that we present. However, it does take some work out of the process for you, since we will gather these golden opportunities in one convenient place for you.

If you need assistance in applying for scholarships, please check out these previous posts: Searching for Scholarships  and   How to Dominate Scholarship Applications

Without further adieu……

Scholarship Saturdays! Round 1

The Financial Services Roundtable Financial Literacy Scholarship

The Financial Services Roundtable Financial Literacy Scholarship honors high school seniors who successfully completed a financial literacy course before entering college with a $5,000 scholarship.

The 2011 Review Committee selected ten high school students based on the qualifications and criteria for the scholarship listed below. The Review Committee included representatives from the Roundtable’s non-profit partners:

  • Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy
  • JA Worldwide®
  • NeighborWorks America
  • Operation HOPE, Inc.
  • Rebuilding Together
  • SER-Jobs for Progress National Inc.
  • Society for Financial Education and Professional Development
  • ThanksUSA
  • Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement
  • WHF Foundation

To be eligible for the scholarship, applicants must:

  • Have completed a certified financial education course or a financial education course offered by a Roundtable member company or community service non-profit partner prior to applying and received verification of course completion;
  • Be a graduating senior entering a college/university/trade school; and
  • Exhibit academic success, respectable character, and financial need.

TG’s Charlie Wooten Grant Program 

Since 2000, TG has been proud to support a grant program designed to provide help to students pursuing a higher education and who have financial need. For the 2011-12 academic year, TG’s Charley Wootan Grant program will award grants totaling $5 million.

TG will award $4 million in grants to students who areTexas residents. TG will distribute $1 million in grants to students residing outside Texas. Grants within Texas will be split between students going to 2-year colleges or vocational schools and students enrolled at 4-year universities.


All Charley Wootan Grant applicants must be U.S. citizens, permanent residents or otherwise eligible to receive Title IV financial aid funding; must have attained or will attain a high school degree or the equivalent; must be enrolled or planning to enroll in college at least half-time, and must be able to demonstrate financial need.

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Why FastWeb is a Complete Waste of Time

I stepped onto campus in 2003 as the first child to go to college on either side of my family. Leading up to that point, my parents had pushed me to apply to every college I was remotely interested in.

They also pushed me to apply to every scholarship that I could find. I did both of these, ended up being accepted to every school that I applied to, and ended up getting paid to go to school for my freshman year.

My number one tip for finding and winning scholarship? Avoid FASTweb like the plague!

FASTweb gets a lot of attention because they have over $3 BILLION in scholarships. They have a snazzy website, and are often featured in the press. However, for every one person I have encountered that has actually won a scholarship through FASTweb, I have met 50 who have not.

The concept behind FASTweb is excellent. You create a profile based on your unique skills, experiences, and credentials. FASTweb then matches this profile with its extensive database of scholarships to find ones that match your qualifications. They will then continually monitor their database for you, and email you updates as often as you would like.

This all sounds great until you actually get your first list of scholarships that FASTweb has determined you qualify for. For the purpose of research, I actually created an account on FASTweb with the information that I would use, if I were about to enter my senior year of high school.

My Results

My first scholarship: Vacancy dot com blog contest. They want me to write a blog post about my experience getting an apartment from their site. I’m a rising senior in high school. I still live with my parents. Fail.

Second scholarship: Womenetics Essay contest. Requirements? Be a woman. I clearly stated I was male in my profile. Fail.

Third scholarship: MonsterCollege sweepstakes. Requirements? Enter your contact information. The company will randomly select one $2000 winner per month (and sell your contact information to endless marketing agencies). Fail.

Final scholarship: Siemens Foundation Competition. This is a legitimate competition where you can win up to $100,000 in scholarship money by entering a math, science or technology project and competing against thousands of other student projects from across the country. For the time it would take to focus on this one scholarship and the infinitely small chance of success: Fail.

The main problem with using FASTweb is that all of the scholarships you find are either sketchy sounding websites offering “essay challenges” and sweepstakes, or large nation wide scholarship competitions with millions of applicants. The FASTweb marketing materials make winning a scholarship seem like something you can do on a whim.

There is no auto-pilot for winning scholarships. FASTweb has created the illusion that scholarships are rewards for little or no work, which is simply not true.

The Good News

Before you take me to the cleaners and call me a debbie downer, let me be clear. I work in college financial aid, so I have seen the frustration that countless students have had with trying to find scholarships on FASTweb. I have also seen the elation that students have when they actually DO win a scholarship. My purpose for writing this article is to show you the most effective way to search, apply for, and win scholarships!

Search Local

My number one piece of advice for any student or parent interested in applying for scholarships: start searching local. Just like produce, local scholarships are the best (bad analogy I know, please forgive me). The two main benefits of local scholarships are that the applicant pool is exponentially smaller than any scholarship you would find through FASTweb, and a local scholarship granting organization likely has a personal relationship with your high school, or the in-state college you might be planning to attend.

For example, the town I graduated in had a club exclusively for graduates of the college I was planning to attend. They offered a scholarship and I applied. No brainer! My Dad had friends in the local Shriners club which provided scholarships to students from my high school. I had spoken to the local Ruritan Club for a high school project which created another scholarship opportunity. My Dad’s employer offered a scholarship to employee’s children. I applied and won.

Be Thorough

You should apply for every local scholarship opportunity that you can put your hands on. The best source of local scholarships will be your high school guidance counselor. Most local organizations send their scholarship notices and applications directly to guidance offices. If you exhaust your own office, then ask around to other local high schools.

My senior year of high school I entered a local scholarship competition for the Carolina Tall Club. Requirements were that males be over 6’2. I wrote an essay about what being tall meant to me, and won $1000 after a round of interviews.

The possibilities are endless!

I would also suggest that you check out your local library. Local scholarship organizations often put up notices for their scholarships in the bulletin boards when you first enter the library. Your local librarian will be happy to help you search.

Scholarships do exist, and they can be won. It takes tenacity to apply for every scholarship you can find, and perseverance to see it through to the end.

The end result however, is free money for college; which is pretty awesome!

Have you had any success in searching for local scholarships?

Am I completely wrong about FASTweb?

How to Develop a Side Hustle and Earn Extra Money

“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle” – Abraham Lincoln

There is extreme value in hard work.

How many times have you wished that you had more money? In college, and after graduation, we all enter a time in our lives when we begin to see the value and need for money. Not a love or obsession with money, but an understanding that money is an essential ingredient of our financial stability and success.

The cliche while in college is that it is alright to live on ramen noodles, and to re-use toilet paper. I don’t want to contradict that (well maybe the toilet paper part), because I think that developing a frugal mindset when you are young is imperative to transitioning into a frugal mindset once you are older and have actual cash on hand.

A frugal mindset is important, but finding ways to increase your income while in college, and after graduation, will be just as key to your success.

Develop Your Side Hustle

What do I mean by a side hustle? I mean a side gig or a side business. Any activity that you pursue that ends up with your making money. In the quote above, we see one of the most famous leaders of this country praising the value of hustling.

I like to use the word “hustle” as opposed to a side gig or business, because I know that while in college and after graduation there are many things that try to steal away your focus. If you are going to truly make any side venture work, you have to work hard at it.

You might be the one turning down a party invitation because you have to make your latest product shipment, or finish writing an article with a strict deadline. The intent is not meant to take your fun away, but to give you an awesome opportunity for financial success and stability.

So, what does it take to make a side hustle effective while in college, and in your early 20’s?

  • Low Start-Up Costs. You won’t have a lot of seed capital money. You likely won’t be raising any fundraising, and not starting a company (although that is an admirable goal and worth pursuing). The goal here is to keep your overhead low, and your profit margins as high as possible.
  • Low Barriers of Entry. You don’t want to start a side hustle that is incredibly complicated, and will take a long time to get off the ground. You need a side hustle that is inexpensive to start, does not require a lot of marketing, is not government regulated, and does not rely on complex legal documents. Think simple.
  • Laser Focus. You are young. If you are selling a product, it should appeal to you and/or your friends. If you are on a college campus, you have access to a captive audience of people in your exact same stage of life. This is a marketer’s dream. Take advantage!
  • Hard Work. You will likely have to burn the midnight oil to make this work. College is demanding, and you don’t want to shut yourself in your dorm room and avoid your friends. You need to find the right balance, but the more you hustle at your business, the more rewards you will see.

Alright, you have made the decision that you are going to start up your side hustle. What direction do you take? Which idea do you pursue?

Using the list of filters above, here are some excellent ideas for a side hustle.

Side Hustle Ideas

  • Buy and Sell Textbooks – You can buy used textbooks from your friends and re-sell them at places like Cash4Books or Amazon. You can even use a free iPhone App from Rent Scouter to compare the best re-sell prices for the books you buy. This will ensure you only buy books that you can re-sell for a profit.
  • Be a Travel Agent for Spring Break Trips – Are you pretty handy with and other travel comparison websites? You can charge for your research services, and help your friends find the best prices on their spring break cruise to Jamaica, or their hotel in Panama City. If you are really savvy, you can have your friends pay you up-front, then book the travel on a cash-back rewards credit card. As long as you pay the balance off each month, and don’t get stuck with any accounts receivables, this could be an excellent way to build credit, and earn some serious cash back rewards.
  • Start a College Moving Company – This might sound a little strange, but it can be very lucrative if done right. College students have a lot of stuff. This stuff also needs to be moved in and out of dorm rooms every semester. Many students who live far away from the college they attend rely on their parents to move them in and out of college every year. This is a time consuming, and often frustrating time for parents and students. This is where you come in. You hire able-bodied college students to haul all of their stuff. The key here is that you don’t actually move the stuff away from the college. Your business model works because you are being paid to load a truck. You get paid to move the boxes down from the dorm room, load the truck, and ensure that the dorm room is clean. Then the parents are responsible for driving their uHaul back home. This has been done with great success on many campuses, but there is always room for a similar business model.
  • Write Freelance – There are many excellent places where you can write freelance. If you enjoy writing, and would like to make some money on it as opposed to writing endless research papers, then this might be for you. You have two main options: you could look into a content farm, or you could write for more reputable sites like Demand Studios, and Textbroker. A content farm will let you publish whatever content you want. These articles are placed on their sites, and you earn a percentage of the ad revenue generated by the traffic that visits your articles. Demand Studios and Textbroker both allow you to accept writing assignments. With Textbroker you are writing for an independent client, with Demand Studios, you are writing content for one of their sites. Both of these services will pay you a flat fee, upfront, for your articles.
  • Walk Dogs or Dog-Sit – Finally, if you like dogs, then this can be a great side hustle while in college. Most college towns are loaded with professors and staff members who work at the college, and live close by. Many of these same folks have dogs that they leave at home all day. As a college student, your schedule is very flexible. You likely don’t have to be in one place for more than an hour or two at a time. This gives you the flexibility to check in on multiple dogs throughout the day. You could even make some great money by pet sitting, where you actually watch a person’s home and animals for them while they are out of town. This could earn you a nice salary, and give you a nice place to stay!
These are just a few example of ways that you can develop a side hustle and earn extra money while in college, or once you graduate. The opportunities really are endless. A college campus is an excellent place to earn money if you know where to look, and if you are willing to put in the hard work to make it happen.

What the Financial Aid Office is NOT Telling You

One of the biggest problems that occurs in any financial aid office around the country is their inability to effectively communicate with students. Financial aid information can be complex, deadlines can be rigorous, and to most college students, finding money for college is incredibly boring (although incredibly important as well).
So this creates a problem. College students desperately need to hear this information, but they don’t want to listen, and financial aid offices do not know how to effectively reach out.

As a student or a parent, this creates a very specific opportunity for you. Since the burden of discovery is placed squarely on your shoulders, the more effort you put into seeking financial aid information, the more reward you will receive.

The Juice is Worth the Squeeze

As with most things in life, financial aid comes to those who hustle. By hustle, I don’t mean anything seedy, I simply mean that the more effort you put into your financial aid, the more benefit you will receive.

The more scholarships you apply for, the more likely you are to win one.

The earlier you submit your FAFSA the more federal grant money you will qualify for.

The harder you work at your academics and the more clubs you are involved with, the more likely you are to earn a scholarship or school grant.

The more you communicate with the financial aid office, the more chances you have of finding new sources of aid that you did not realize existed.

Financial aid is often used as a reactionary office. What I mean by that is students never come through their door unless they need something or something is wrong. Very rarely does a student come through to ask about what they can be doing proactively to earn more financial aid for the next year.

This simply does not happen. However, I almost guarantee you that a financial aid counselor’s face will light up if you do go into their office and ask that question.

The more work and effort you put into making sure you are receiving the absolute maximum amount of financial aid, the more you will earn in return.

College Students Don’t Answer Their Phones

College students are a difficult bunch to communicate with. With modern technology, the majority of students have access to email and the internet from their smart phones. This means that email, social media, and other electronic messaging formats are the best way to communicate with students. This is true, but their effectiveness is still very slim.

Why is that?

The majority of college students rely on their parents to handle all of their college finances, and they will either forward or disregard an email from the financial aid office. This simple action could be very costly, especially when there are strict deadlines involved.

If you receive a communication from the financial aid office, you should read it.  I guarantee it is important. Financial aid offices have too much to do to send out frivolous messages.

The sooner you react to the message that you receive, the sooner you can receive a positive outcome from it. Also, it could never hurt to suggest better ways of communicating with you to your financial aid office. This is an ongoing problem, so they will likely listen attentively to any suggestions you have.

Final Words of Wisdom

Here are a few final tips that will help you in your questing of finding money for college.

  • Always adhere to deadlines. You might take this step for granted, but missing an important priority date or deadline, could potentially cost you thousands of dollars in financial aid. Many awards are given out on a first-come first-served basis, so it is always good to get your application completed as early as possible.
  • Be Accurate. When filling out financial aid forms, it is critical that you are accurate. One misplaced number in a social security number, or an extra zero on an income could throw off your entire application and potentially forfeit thousands of dollars in aid. It might not sound ethical, but applications that need corrections or revisions, generally miss out on the first round of financial aid awards.
  • Be Aggressive! Please remember that this is the financial future of your student on the line. Financial aid offices are renowned for giving people the run around, and for not going “above and beyond” to assist a student. Like J.D. Roth always says, you are the only person that has your best interest in mind. That means the responsibility falls on you to ask the right questions, and ensure that you receive every scrap of financial aid that you are eligible for.
  • Find a Friend. I highly recommend trying to make friends with a financial aid counselor at your college. They see lots of students every day, but if you are able to develop a personal relationship with your counselor, they are much more likely to go out of their way to assist you.

The Insider’s Guide to Dominating Your Financial Aid


As you are all well aware, a college education is expensive and the costs continue to increase. According to the U.S. News and World Report, the average cost of a 4-year public college is just shy of $20,000 per year. If you go to a private school, that number almost doubles. Even if you have enough money for college to pay those fees for four years, or five, or six…it is not, shall we say, a pleasant experience.

The debate has occurred here at MfCP and other personal finance blogs, about whether a college education is a smart financial choice. I am strongly in the camp of going to college because I believe it creates opportunities that simply do not exist without a college degree.

Many people argue against going to college, because you could theoretically earn a lot more money by investing the cost of a college degree in a security of some type. I would like to disprove that theory by showing you how to lower the cost of college to a fraction of the original amount, thereby rendering the alternate investing option null and void.

My job as a financial services counselor at a large public college affords me the opportunity to learn how the financial aid process works from a very different perspective than most parents and students will ever see. I want to give you tips and advice on how to maximize your financial aid, and how to bring down the cost of your college tuition to a manageable amount. Feel free to consider this legal insider trading….

The Insider’s Guide to Submitting the FAFSA


It is very easy for me, as well as all of my colleagues around the country, to slip into a world of financial aid slang that most of you would never understand, or want to.

That is why when you call the financial aid office at your college, you will likely hear words like Sub, Unsub, FSEOG, ACG, FISAP, FERPA (what is a FERPA anyway?), and you will hang up the phone even more confused than before you called. It honestly is a full time job keeping track of all of the programs that are administered through a financial aid office. However, as a parent or student, it is critical for you to have a basic knowledge of how the system works and what programs are available, so you know the right questions to ask when you call.

In order to qualify for any type of federally funded financial aid program a student MUST submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is the catch all application that is used by every college in the country to determine a student’s eligibility for all federal programs; including student loans. You are able to submit your FAFSA as of January 1, for the upcoming Fall semester (roughly 8 months ahead of time).

As a student, the FAFSA application is done in your name and it is your responsibility to complete it. However the majority of college students are considered dependents, which means that you will need to include your parent’s tax information on the FAFSA, and they will need to electronically sign the FAFSA. Even though the burden of paying for college education often falls to the parents, it is still the student’s responsibility to complete the FAFSA.

FERPA: Protecting Your Privacy One Unhappy Parent at a Time


That brings us to another point that will save you some heartache down the road. The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is the educational version of the HIPPA law. FERPA protects the privacy and identity of the student and parent.

As a parent, what this means for you is that even though the burden of paying for your child’s education might fall squarely on your shoulders, a college cannot give out personal information about your student’s account without their express written permission. I get phone calls every day from a parent wanting to know what is wrong with their student’s bill or why their FAFSA has not been processed. If your student has not signed an information release form, we cannot give out any information.

FERPA also protects a college from giving out income and tax information to one parent versus another parent in the case of separation or divorce. The moral of the story is, if you want access you must ask your student to sign an information release form that will give you access to the financial side of their student account. No release form, no information. This form can typically be found in the Registrar or Student Records office at your college.

Reviewing Your Award Letter


Once you submit your admissions application and your FAFSA, you will receive a financial aid award letter back in the mail (or online for many colleges). On this award letter you will see all of the awards that you have, and you can compare that to your estimated fees for a close picture of what your net cost will be (By October 31, 2011, all colleges are required to have a net price calculator on their website that will allow every student to estimate their “net price of attendance”, or how much money for college they will actually need,  based on personal identifiers.).

On this award summary you will likely see any federal or state grants that you qualify for, scholarships that you were awarded through your school, state, or local and national organizations, a Federal College Work-Study if you requested one, and any student loans that you have requested.

It is very important to maximize your free grant and scholarship funds first, before taking out student loans. Just like with a mortgage broker who will get you to buy more house than you can afford, often times you are offered more student loans than you absolutely need.

It is your responsibility to limit these loans to the absolute necessities. Once you have reviewed your award letter, you should submit it back to your financial aid office by their deadline, and wait for those funds to be credited to your student bill at the beginning of the semester.

Once this has been submitted, you can focus on actually taking classes and graduating as soon as possible!

The Student Loan Debt Clock

Shocked silence…..

Has our country really gotten so far in the hole that we are approaching 1 TRILLION in student loan debt?

According to, apparently we have. The student loan debt clock above includes all federal and private outstanding student loan debt and is increasing at an astounding rate of $2,853.88 per second.

I have talked a lot about student loans in the past few weeks, but that is because they can be very poisonous to your financial health down the road, if not managed properly.

Here are some excellent ways that you can minimize your student loan debt and find free money for college.


invest student loan refund

Can You Invest Student Loan Refunds?

Imagine this scenario: You are a freshman in college and you were fortunate enough, through hard work, to apply for enough scholarships (free money) to pay for your entire first year of college. Your tuition, room and board, books, and even your laptop is covered.

Your first week on campus you start hearing some of your new friends talk about their refund checks that they have received from the financial aid office. You are intrigued, so you inquire a little deeper. Your friends had taken out student loans that covered more than their actual tuition and fees, which generated a credit balance to be sent back to them as a “refund” check.

Now you are very intrigued, so you approach the financial aid office and inquire about a student loan. Sure enough, because you have room left in your cost of attendance, you can take out up to $2750 in a Subsidized Stafford Loan for the semester at a 3.4% interest rate. The payments AND interest are deferred until 6 months after you graduate.

“FREE MONEY!!” You think gleefully as you sign the request form. A month later, you receive a check in the mail for $2700 (after origination fees) of your “FREE” student loan refund check.

Back to reality…..

This scenario happens millions of times every semester at colleges all across the country. Students take out student loans in excess of their required fees, and wind up with large credit balances which are given back to them.

Many of these credit balances are intended to pay for off-campus room and board, transportation and personal expenses, but let’s be real. A 19 year old college student will not have a clue what to do with the largest check he has ever received in his life!

So the big question is “What could you do with this money?”

Investing a Student Loan Refund

Can you invest your Stafford loan with deferred payments and a killer interest rate?

The answer is NO!

It’s illegal, and it’s just plain dumb!

Ok, that might have been a little harsh, but it’s the truth. First off, it is illegal. The Department of Education states that a credit balance can only be used to pay for “educational expenses included in the cost of attendance”.

Cost of Attendance = tuition and fees, room and board, transportation, personal expenses, and books and supplies.

Investing this money, while a very ingenious and industrious idea, does not fall into any of these categories.

It also is just not a smart idea.

Investing on a margin, or borrowed money, is always a risky move. Where would you invest? You already lose about 1% in origination fees upon disbursement, so your investment yield would have to exceed that.

If you invest in the stock market, your investments are not guaranteed, so you run the risk of losing money and still owing that money back to the Feds.

If you invest in a stable money market fund or high interest savings account you will only receive 1.5% at the most, back on your investment. This would barely cover the cost of your origination fees.

So non guaranteed investments are too risky, and stable investments will not earn you any profit. I really do not see any upside to this. Besides, short term investing is for the professionals on Wall Street, and you see where that has gotten them recently!

Positive Alternatives

Bottom line, you will not get anywhere by investing your student loan refund money.

However, I will say that this is an incredibly enticing idea, and anyone who is ingenious enough to actually consider doing this as a college student, has a serious head on their shoulders.

I would take this creative genius and apply it towards creating a sustainable business venture while in college. You could:

  • Buy and sell textbooks using arbitrage
  • Become a freelance writer
  • Create a moving company with your friends and charge students to move them in and out of their dorm rooms
  • Start a travel agent service to help students book travel during spring break and winter break
  • Teach a course on positive studying habits

The opportunities are endless.

The Best Alternative

So if you should not invest a student loan refund, what should you do with it?

Give it back to your school and cancel that portion of your student loan.

A student loan has to be repaid. Your repayment may not start until after you graduate, but it will start, and it will be required.

The nasty little thing about student loans from the Federal Government is that they cannot be discharged in bankrupty, you cannot have them cancelled, and if you default, they will garnish your wages and take your tax returns until they are satisfied.

So, I say that to say, avoid student loans at all cost. Do not keep a credit balance refund if you do not absolutely need it for living expenses.

March your check back to your financial aid office, and ask them to cancel that portion of your student loan. If they won’t do it (they should) you can always cash the check and make a payment directly to your loan servicer.

Doing this will save you future debt, and the struggle of having to budget in student loan payments for the next 10 – 30 years!

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EduLender: Unbiased Student Financial Aid Information

I recently had the privilege of speaking with Andrew O’Shaughnessy from EduLender. This brand new start-up company provides free resources for current students and recent graduates to help you better manage your student financial aid.



The concept looks incredible, and I am very excited to be able to share this with you!

EduLender is not paying me a dime. I really think the concept for this site is incredible, and worth your time to check out.

Here was our conversation:

MfCP: The concept for your site is very intriguing, could you tell us a little bit about the background of your site and how it came about?

Andrew: Before the start of her senior year at the University of Chicago, Sue Khim–EduLender’s co-founder and CEO–decided that it should be easier for students to pay for college. She was struggling with $50,000 in student loan debt, and going to take on even more to finish her senior year. When she began researching her options, she discovered that it was extremely difficult to find and compare lenders. Internet search results were always dominated by the biggest banks with the biggest advertising budgets and the most expensive loans. When she turned to loan comparison websites, she found that the same banks paid to be listed first there, as well.

Determined to help students in her own situation, Sue started EduLender with her technical co-founders, Sam Solomon and Silas Hundt. Together, they created the web’s only comprehensive and unbiased search engine for private student loans. EduLender tracks rates, fees, and terms in real-time for over 600 student loans. Students can compare the true cost of these loans against each other, aided by interactive graphs and specially-calculated rates. Since completing work on the search engine, EduLender has been adding many new features to the site.

MfCP: What features does your site have?

Andrew: Users have access to EduLender’s unique search engine for private loans. EduLender lists every single lender in the market. Because we don’t take money from any of them, your results are always unbiased. EduLender also helps students understand their refinancing options with the government and manage loan repayment after graduation.

This year we will go even further and introduce a comprehensive college financing planner. The planner will help students navigate each step of paying for college, from financial aid paperwork to finding scholarships, grants, and more.

MfCP: Is there a cost to use your website?

Andrew: EduLender’s loan search engine is free to use, and the college financing planner will be free as well. We have some ideas for future monetization, but right now we’re completely focused on building a user base and keeping our engagement rates high.

MfCP: There is a lot of sensitive information being submitted through your site. How is that information protected?

Andrew: EduLender’s employees also use the EduLender site and have submitted sensitive information to it, and we treat all of our user data like it’s our own — with diligent care and a healthy dose of paranoia. We use a variety of security measures, including bank-level encryption and authentication tools, to keep personal information secure.

Data is secured at every level: server, software, and staff. Our servers are housed in a secure facility monitored around the clock by dedicated security staff, our software is developed using industry-standard security best practices, and our employees act in accordance with security policies designed to keep our users’ data safe.

MfCP: How many colleges can you collect forms for on your site?

Andrew: At first, EduLender’s planner will be limited to those schools participating in our beta testing. 

MfCP: What benefits does your site offer for students who are trying to find money to go to college?

Andrew: EduLender helps students and their families make informed decisions about paying for college. By helping users compare lenders and shop around for the best rate, we help them save up to 5.5% on their loans. When you consider that student loans cost tens of thousands of dollars, that’s a lot of green. Our new features will continue to empower students and parents to pay for college affordably.

MfCP: Is there anything else that you would like our readers to know about EduLender?

Andrew: I think we’ve covered most of the bases. Founded by students who know that it’s not easy to pay for college, EduLender simplifies financial aid and student loans.

There you have it. The beta testing for EduLender opens in October, but you can already use their free search features.

This type of unbiased advice will help you make the informed decisions regarding your money for college that can save you thousands of dollars down the road.

If you would like to take a look around and see a tour of the features for yourself, you can click on their logo below.