Paying for College – Can we afford it?

By Claudine Vainrub, Principal of EduPlan

With tuition rates on the rise, families question the value of a college education, while they dig deep in their pockets to make ends meet to provide opportunities to their offspring. As recently reported by the 2009 Trends in Higher Education report published by College Board, fees at public four-year colleges and universities across the U.S. have increased by an average 4.9%, faster than the rate experienced in the previous two decades. In inflation-adjusted dollars, this increase represents 20% for public four-year colleges and universities and 15% for private not-for-profit four-year schools between the years of 2004-2005 to 2009-2010. This tuition rate growth surpasses the general inflation rate, causing parents of college-age students to be concerned regarding the decrease of affordability for their families when considering paying tuition for their kids.

Tuition rates in Florida have been increasing at a much higher rate than that experienced in the rest of the country, at an average of 15%, and it is expected for them to continue on the rise for a few more years. The reason for this tuition rate increase has to do with the fact that Florida public universities and colleges offer tuition rates well below the national average. State officials express that these hikes will not cease until Florida tuition gets much closer to that national average. While Florida residents take advantage of annual tuition fees of $3,000, the rest of the country is closer to $7,000.

Tuition hikes seem overwhelming when looked at from this perspective. However, what students actually pay to attend college can be quite different to the full ticket price requested by colleges. With grants and federal aid, private scholarships, work-study programs and other financial aid, the average amount paid by students attending a private not-for-profit college is $11,900 coming from an average tuition of $26,273, as reported by College Board. This example shows that the first tuition rates provided by colleges when admitting a student can be far from the ones the student will end up paying to attend that college, after receiving their financial aid packages. As much as the tuition costs have increased, so has the amount of financial aid provided by all resources that take part of the process – federal government, state government, educational institutions, corporate and private sponsoring parties, who provide assistance in the form of scholarships, grants, work-study programs, federal and private loans.

Another interesting statistics is, as College Board reports, 53% of students attending four-year institutions pay less than $9,000 per year in tuition fees. When we hear that tuition rates are over $35,000 per year, we scratch our heads thinking “how can we afford this?” With all available resources, published tuition rates certainly do not have to be the rate we pay to attend college.

The key is to plan ahead and not wait for the senior year in high school to think – how will I help my child get financially through college? With 529 plans and the Florida Prepaid Plan, among others, we have ways to start actively saving for college. Another way to make tuition fees less costly is to find alternatives such as enrolling in a two-year institution to achieve the Associate’s degree and continue later on within a private or public four-year institution. With forward thinking and action, we can secure tuition rates at a lower cost and make education affordable to our family, taking the right steps towards helping our daughters and sons achieve the college education of their dreams.

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Inside The Admissions Office

On December 2nd, Unigo and The Wall Street Journal are hosting a live webcast, called Inside the Admissions Office, with the Heads of Admissions from Princeton, U. Penn, Williams, Wesleyan, U. Vermont, Marquette, Grinnell and Bryn Mawr College.  It will be free and streamed from wsj.unigo.com, as part of Unigo’s new partnership with The Wall Street Journal, and students can send in questions for us to ask, in advance, at wsjoncampus@unigo.com.

WSJ On Campus Presents Free Webcast: INSIDE THE ADMISSIONS OFFICE

Admissions Officers from Eight Top Colleges Discuss and Demystify the College Admissions Process

FREE AND INTERACTIVE EVENT AIRS LIVE DECEMBER 2

NEW YORK (Nov. TK, 2009) —WSJ On Campus, the new college resource from The Wall Street Journal and Unigo.com, will present a free, interactive webcast – Inside the Admissions Office.  The webcast airs live on Wednesday, Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. EST via http://wsj.unigo.com and partner sites.

Inside the Admissions Office features heads of admissions from eight selective colleges and universities in an interactive discussion about the state of college admissions today  Participating heads of admissions represent Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, Williams College, Wesleyan University, Bryn Mawr College, Grinnell College, Marquette University and the University of Vermont; event will be broadcast live from Wesleyan University.  The panelists will also answer questions sent in by high school students and parents around the country.

These panelists are well-positioned to provide insider advice and address the concerns of the three million families who are currently grappling with the task of filling out college applications and competing for entrance into some of the nation’s most selective institutions.  Families devote considerable time, effort and money to the college admissions process, and WSJ On campus will provide this free opportunity to learn directly from the professionals who are making admissions decisions.

Inside The Admissions Office will be moderated by Jordan Goldman, the founder and CEO of Unigo.com, and will cover topics including:

  • An inside look at the process of reviewing a college application;
  • Ranking the importance of grades, test scores, essays, interviews and recommendations;
  • How would one’s weaknesses best be addressed in an application?
  • What can disqualify an otherwise strong applicant?
  • Making one’s application stand out among the thousands received;
  • Does financial need have an impact on admissions?
  • What role should parents play?
  • Who exactly are admissions officers? What are their goals?
  • Has an admissions decision ever caused them to lose sleep?

The webcast will be available on-demand following the event via http://wsj.unigo.com.  High school students and families may submit questions to be asked on the panel, in advance, by sending an email to WSJoncampus@unigo.com.  Students whose questions are selected will also win a laptop computer.

Webcast Details:

Date: Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Time: 7 p.m. EST; recorded replay available following the event

Webcast URL: WSJ.unigo.com

Cost: Brought to you free by WSJ On Campus

Changes in Financial Aid

Financial aid has recently become a hotter topic in the mind of many more Americans, as we survive a recession. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. We count with enhanced Government support, especially led by President Obama, who strongly advocates towards positive change in the field. Supporting Americans to achieve higher education has been one of the core initiatives and focus points of this administration. True to its values, U.S. leadership has introduced reform that makes the Financial Aid process a promising one towards the future.

Until now, student loans have been mostly handled through private banks and other financial institutions. As part of this process, while the Federal Government sponsors these loans, private banks offering and managing loan programs benefit from earning a percentage. This percentage is one that will soon cease to exist, as a new bill is passed in Government. The plan is for the Fed to bypass banks and private lenders to provide these loans directly to students – no middleman involved.

No doubt, there is a lot of resistance from the private sector, as a cash cow is being sent to the slaughter house. However, keep in mind that the new system, although destroying the private student lending industry, will positively affect the lives of most Americans (even private lending managers). With student loans being directly provided by the government, we are saving 3-4% of loan costs, which translates into government savings of $86.8 billion over the next 10 years, as reported by David Lightman from The Miami Herald. Quoted by Lightman, House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., explains that the legislation should support students with “no cost to taxpayers.”

Although it might seem so, this is not the first time an initiative like this one has been launched. A few years back, Clinton’s administration also supported a federal student loan program that bypassed banking institutions. However, it is now that this initiative has been fully undertaken, and gaining speed as we speak.

Student loans have become a reason for many to encounter financial distress, to say the least. They represent one of the primary reasons why individuals cannot pay their debts, consumed with interest payments that are unmanageable. However, current instruments do not provide feasible alternatives for individuals in distress. As explained by Dwyer and Associates, when earning $80,000 a year and having $200,000 in student loans debt you would think it should be easy to discharge this debt in bankruptcy. However, “student loans are not an easy type of debt to discharge. Actually, student loan debt is one of the hardest debts to discharge, and for 99% of people, it is impossible to discharge this debt altogether.” For this reason alone, reform is urgently needed, as education becomes every day more inaccessible to most Americans, subsidies are not enough, and more people wise up to this situation. Do we want to encourage a society where education is unaffordable?

How does the new bill directly affect us?

In simple terms, we should see a more controlled loan environment, with lower interest rates that allow for students to pay off their debt without going bankrupt in such large numbers. Savings will positively affect Federal Education budget, allowing for increased expenditures in programs that will directly benefit students, and not banks. It is a challenging undertaking for the government to directly manage all loan process, and this could present a problem.

With the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process, it has taken many years for the government to provide a more comprehensive tool, one that parents and students can handle easily. Still, it is not 100% straightforward, and many consider it gruesome to handle. With the new loan system, I foresee impact to be felt in navigating the process while the specific loan offices get organized and make the process as user-friendly as possible. There is a learning curve to be overcome, but once it is, we shall encounter clearer skies.

By Claudine Vainrub, MBA and Principal of EduPlan

Issues for International Students

News for International Students Seeking College Admissions and How to Make the Best of them…

As we enter the fall, many students prepare to begin the application process to enter colleges and universities in USA. If you’re a international student, this is a good time to consider applying to enter a college or university, in pursuit of an undergraduate degree. As reported by Inside Higher Ed, this is especially true as less students from countries like India and South Korea are applying, which means much less competition for you. The blog reports that the only exception is doctoral institutions which saw a 4% increase in international applications. For example, Virginia Tech saw an 8% increase in applications from South Korea.

However, getting accepted to college and receiving scholarships/financial aid is all about preparation and strategy. Whilst application numbers may crumble, this might not have a good effect in our specific case if other important pieces of information are not taken under consideration. Here are some things to consider as an international student seeking admission to a university in USA, to support your case:

1. Take Challenging Courses in High School or through any study program you undertake before becoming an applicant. Taking calculus, a rigorous curriculum, honors courses at any stage of your live can give you the extra edge you need. Colleges and graduate programs love candidates that are prepared for the challenges of higher education by experiencing tough courses before engaging in a new path. This preparation will not only come handy when schools consider you as a candidate, but you will learn concepts that will be invaluable for your career, while pushing yourself and demanding the best of yourself. Don’t set yourself short.

2. Size Matters: Did you know that some of the most competitive colleges haven’t increased their number of students in years? If the college isn’t building more dorms, hiring more teachers and increasing their course offering, your chances of getting accepted to that school decreases. Think of alternative schools that offer higher percentage of applicants admitted, that are in continuing growth and welcome students, while providing an outstanding education. There are many options out there, and very few that most applicants are familiar with. Research pays off.

3. SAT or ACT – GMAT or GRE? Take both and submit the best score: Why gamble with one test when you can increase your odds with two? Since the SAT and the ACT are equally accepted for college admissions, you have nothing to lose by taking both. A similar situation is beginning to happen with the GMAT and the GRE, as more institutions are allowing the GRE to take the place of the GMAT.

4. Request special accommodation for testing: If having extra time allows you to check your test more thoroughly and increase your chances of getting a better score, why not do it? Special accommodations are no longer disclosed to colleges, which means you application wont’ be discriminated against other applications on that basis.

5. Asking for money: While schools have money in the form of scholarships and financial aid for international students it’s not easy to get. Unlike students which are U.S. residents, you are expected to have better grades and test scores in order to get free money towards a degree. One strategy to increase your chances of receiving money for college is to apply to institutions that don’t have a lot of international students, they will be more desperate to increase their diversity and thus more likely to reward you for it.

6. Geography Matters: New York, New York is not the same as Ithaca, NY. One school may leave you steps from Time Square while another school might represent a 4-hour drive to Manhattan.  You should also explore other characteristics such as the weather, the location of the school (big city, small town, country), whether you’ll need a car to get around, etc. America’s 50 states offer almost endless possibilities, don’t be afraid to do your research.

7. Brand Name does not Equal Fit: International students have a tendency to apply to famous colleges they’ve heard about before. Almost everyone in the world knows Harvard, Columbia and Yale, but there are more than 4,000 accredited higher education institutions in the U.S., many of them offering outstanding academic opportunities. Many are also welcoming of international students and their diversity, others go to the extent of offering financial aid to support having this diversity on campus. Seek new names for you, like Eckerd College, Vanderbilt University, Reed College, places of great prestige and the very highest academic standard, where you could also thrive as a student.  Find some of the schools available online at collegeboard.com.

8. Degree does not equal green card: If your dream is to become an American citizen someday, you’ll have to consider not only what you study but where. Some universities lack credentials and some majors don’t translate to jobs. You also have to prepare yourself for the possibility that you might have to return to your home country, with that in mind is wise to study something that helps you get a job in your home country as well as America.

9. Sell with your Essay: Although international students might not have to write essays for college or grad school admissions, in USA, essay writing is an important part of the puzzle. Just like an advertisement in the newspaper, your college essay should sell you to the application committees. Rather than focusing on things any American could write, develop essays based on what makes you unique and what background you come from. If you lack command with English, have someone edit your essay to avoid the embarrassment of a spelling mistake or grammatical error. Remember that American application committees are impressed with international students that write well or better than native-born Americans.

We hope these tips you will help you increase your chances of making a great impression and getting accepted to the college of your choice. With perseverance, hard work, research and a great attitude, we can achieve the dream of gaining acceptance and scholarship money as an international student in USA. Good luck!

By Claudine Vainrub

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Choosing a Free College

How to choose a College that will not Bankrupt me

At this time of the year, seniors and even graduate admissions candidates are thinking about their college and graduate school options. Being that the economy has hit many of us hard this year, the choices might not seem as abundant as when our family income is higher. So how do we evaluate the best college and grad school options for a tight budget? Here are some things you can do to enhance your chances of choosing programs that will allow you an outstanding education, while not making you go bankrupt in the process:

1-      Research schools that meet 100% need. Find which programs they offer and figure out what chances you have to gain admission to one of these schools. What does it mean that they meet need 100%? It means that when you fill out your Financial Aid Application – FAFSA, if you are admitted to one of these schools, they will be able to support your need 100%. Your tuition will be whatever FAFSA says you can afford to pay, not more than that. The rest of the tuition would be covered by the institution you enroll in. Not all schools are able to sponsor 100% of your need. Make sure to research which ones do. At the end of this article is a list of some of the schools that currently meet 100% need.

2-      Consider Tuition-Free Colleges. Did you know some institutions offer free tuition for their students? They are few, but offer the option of a debt-free education. These schools are funded through their endowment and large donations, and might ask you to work in exchange for a free education. For most, if not all, you will need to prove financial need.

3-      Apply Early Action, but NOT Early Decision. Early Decision students might not be considered for as much financial aid, as they are committing to a school early on in the process. Early Decision could commit you to accept the school if they accept you, although there is a grey area which allows you to get out of the commitment if financial aid does not meet your need. However, it is a risky move to apply early decision, for this reason, and one you might want to pass on. However, early action does not commit students to accept admission, and financial aid funds might be more available. So a smart thing to do is find out which schools in your preliminary list of college choices offer early action, and send applications to those. In that way, you will quickly learn if you have been admitted, what your financial aid package is, and you will have time to negotiate it to meet your expectations and need, if possible.

4-      Familiarize yourself with the history of the school regarding financial aid administration, college scholarships available, and how they usually handle student financial aid support. Speak with the financial aid office to understand what opportunities they have available for you, how you can best take advantage of them.

5-      Start all processes early on. Leaving your research and learning process for the last minute might mean that you could miss out on opportunities. Money is more available in January than in May. Study the FAFSA to ensure that information is accurate once you complete the form. If it is not, you could be risking an auditing or a request for additional information, which will delay the process and also your funding opportunities. It literally pays off to be the early bird in the college admissions / financial aid process.

In conclusion, if we are smart about researching options, going to college does not have to be a back-breaking process. We can secure an education that will support us in achieving our career goals, while living to tell the story of our success. Securing funding for college and grad school is feasible in the U.S., and certainly, an important part of the process; one which can determine how effective we were as candidates, but in essence, the first test of our process management skills professionalism.

Schools that meet 100% need, as reported by U.S. News

College Name    State

Adrian College   (MI)

Amherst College              (MA)

Barnard College                (NY)

Bates College     (ME)

Beloit College    (WI)

Boston College

Bowdoin College              (ME)

Brown University             (RI)

Bryn Mawr College          (PA)

California Institute of Technology

Carleton College               (MN)

Carroll College   (WI)

Chapman University       (CA)

Claremont McKenna College      (CA)

Colby College     (ME)

Colgate University           (NY)

College of the Holy Cross              (MA)

Columbia University       (NY)

Connecticut College

Cornell University            (NY)

Dartmouth College          (NH)

Davidson College             (NC)

Duke University                (NC)

Emory University             (GA)

Franklin & Marshall

Georgetown University                (DC)

Gettysburg College         (PA)

Grinnell College                (IA)

Hamilton College              (NY)

Harvard University          (MA)

Harvey Mudd College    (CA)

Haverford College           (PA)

Lafayette College             (PA)

Macalester College         (MN)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Middlebury College        (VT)

Mount Holyoke College                (MA)

Northwestern University             (IL)

Oberlin College                 (OH)

Occidental College           (CA)

Pitzer College    (CA)

Pomona College               (CA)

Princeton University       (NJ)

Reed College     (OR)

Rice University (TX)

Salem College    (NC)

Scripps College (CA)

Smith College    (MA)

St. Olaf College                 (MN)

Stanford University         (CA)

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Swarthmore College       (PA)

Tufts University                (MA)

University of Chicago

University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill

University of Pennsylvania

University of Richmond                 (VA)

University of Virginia

Vassar College   (NY)

Wellesley College            (MA)

Wesleyan University      (CT)

Williams College               (MA)

Yale University (CT)

Tuition Free Schools, as reported by the WSJ and BusinessWeek:

Berea College
Bereau College has a mandatory work-study program
Cooper Union Architecture

College of the Ozarks

Alice Lloyd College
City University of New York’s Teacher Academy
Curtis Institute of Music
Deep Springs College
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

UC Irvine School of Law
Webb Institute is a Naval engineering college

Military Academies: U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Coast Guard Academy and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy offer free tuition for students going into military careers.

Easy Scholarship to Apply For

SchoolSoup.com has posted a scholarship you do not want to miss. It frees some tuition money for online education. Now, beware of the institutions you might want to use it for, since degree mills are in abundance. Degree mills represent, in other words online universities that are not accredited by the U.S. Department of Education, and provide a false promise of a legitimate degree program.

Other thing to consider when applying for this scholarship – you might start getting spam from organizations linked to this application. It could be worth your while if you are really going for online education, but otherwise, you might not want to pass out on this opportunity.

The only requirement to opt for this specific scholarship are to be over 18 years of age. Worthwhile to check it out, in my opinion… Here is the information, as I received it from SchoolSoup:

Having trouble qualifying for a scholarship?  If so the Students Direct Freedom Scholarship is for you.

To be eligible for the scholarship you must be 18 years of age or older  – that’s it.  It’s easy to apply and it’s FREE.  Click Here to view the application.

Apply todaythe application deadline is August 15!