Seven Alternatives to Federal Aid

Today, CollegeSurfing Insider welcomes writer and financial aid expert Christina Couch to offer some secrets to scoring financial aid…

If Uncle Sam left you high and dry, take heart!  There are literally millions of dollars in financial aid – including grants, scholarships, and alternative programs that won’t require a financial aid application at all – beyond awards administered by the federal government.  Here are seven ways to pay for school without getting a government hand-out.

#1. State Aid
If the feds won’t pony up the cash, maybe your state will.  Armed with both need and merit-based aid programs state-administered awards typically aren’t overwhelmingly large, but they can certainly defray tuition sticker shock.  In addition to offering traditional scholarship and grant programs, many states including California, Virginia, and Maryland also offer grant and loan forgiveness programs for students majoring in critical needs fields like nursing, teaching, and child care. Award programs vary tremendously from state to state.  For a list of what programs are available in both the state you live in as well as the state of the school you’re attending, contact each state’s higher education department.

#2: School-Based Aid
After checking with the feds and the state, it’s time to hit up your future school for free money.  From sports awards to memorial scholarships, schools, especially those with large endowments, frequently provide sizeable scholarships to students who wouldn’t qualify for aid anywhere else. Finding out what awards are available is as simple as a visit to your school’s financial aid office.

#3: Local Scholarships
After tapping out the feds, families searching for a reduced tuition tag frequently turn their attention to large national scholarship awards offered by well-known corporations and non-profit organizations.  While a select handful of students do land generous awards doled out by companies like Target and Coca-Cola, most students (especially those with less-than-perfect transcripts) have a significantly better shot of winning smaller local awards.  Before applying for awards given by national organizations, check out scholarships available through local civic, religious, and community organizations as well as your high school.

#4: Graduate Early
The easiest way to avoid debt is to graduate before getting into it. Thanks to AP, IB, dual enrollment classes, and placement tests, students can cut a semester or even a year off of their college tenure before they begin.  Adult students can test out of courses via CLEP exams or earn credit for their life and work experience through portfolio assessment programs. The trick to getting your college sentence reduced is to plan early (as in several years before you apply to college).

#5: Do Some Time
Specifically in federally funded programs that offer educational rewards.  Through Americorps, the Peacecorps, and Teach For America, students can earn up to $9,450 in financial aid after completing two years of service.  Students may also qualify for hefty loan forgiveness or loan reduction depending on the program and the amount of time served. This is especially helpful to adult students or career changers who wish to leave their jobs and start over in a new field.

#6: Make an Agreement
Students attending an out of state school may be able to score some fast cash simply by majoring in the right subject.  Enter the Academic Common Market – a conglomeration of 16 southern states that allow undergrad and graduate students to attend college outside their home state while paying in-state prices.  The catch is that the program is limited to students majoring in a subject that’s not offered in their home state.

#7:  Write It Off
If you do end up ponying up for school, don’t forget that you can write a portion of your educational expenses off when tax time rolls around. The US government currently offers two tax credits for tuition-paying families.  The Hope Scholarship provides up to a $1,650 tax break for students in their first two years of post-secondary education and the Lifetime Learning Credit allows families to deduct up to $2,000 a year for all education expenses (including undergraduate, graduate, and professional development classes) incurred in the household. Though each tax credit has income limitations and assumes that the student is spending a certain amount out of pocket for their education – $2,200 for the Hope Scholarship and $10,000 for the Lifetime Learning Credit – both tax credits are available to students of all ages.

Christina Couch is the author of Virginia Colleges 101: The Ultimate Guide for Students of All Ages.

Boeing Ranks Schools

The Chronicle recently ran an article, entitled “Boeing to Rank Colleges by Measuring Graduates’ Job Success.” In it, they explore what Boeing (the aviation company) is doing to help colleges and themselves have more successful and engineering-savvy individuals.

Boeing plans to look up the educational histories of its employees and match their college trends to their level of success in the workplace. Traditionally, Boeing says that they have gotten students from top schools and think that they can create their own ranking system for engineering colleges.

It does make sense because Boeing wants to foster a strong relationship with the colleges they get their students from and perhaps have a positive influence on their curriculum. After all, Boeing says of colleges, “their students become our employees.” Boeing goes to the same schools to recruit students annually and really just wants to have the best and solid information available to them.

However, Boeing’s plan is met with some resistance. Some claim that another ranking system (similar to U.S. News and World Report) will drive schools to make solely cosmetic changes and won’t be beneficial whatsoever. This gives a false impression to students and employers on what the school has actually done for its students. Others don’t want the rankings to be revealed at all (which is the current plan) because it is more to help engineering colleges with their curriculum and Boeing with their recruitment.

There are some schools that train their students for specific companies, but in an uncertain economy (and one with ever-expanding technology) there needs to be more of a balance to take on a wide spectrum of issues. If Boeing goes ahead and completes their ranking system, there should be many factors considered, including length of program, curriculum, course intensity, and more.

Boeing wants to help themselves by first helping others in their engineering field. Whether another ranking system will help or hurt is still TBD. What do you think?

-Amanda Fornecker

How Ike, Wall Street, and the Elections Affect Your Pocket

No matter what’s making headline news these days, it seems like it has a direct effect on your pockets and someone’s job, right? Hurricane Ike’s devastation not only took its toll on Texas and the unfortunate folks living and working in the Texas area, but it will mean higher gas prices throughout the nation. News on Wall Street this morning means a plummeting stock market that will wreak havoc on 401Ks and other investments in the coming days, and the loss of many jobs. And the upcoming presidential election will (hopefully) spark new changes and a positive outlook that will bring about a healthier economy. At least that’s what I’m hoping…

What it all boils down to is the need to protect yourself career-wise from whatever the next week, month, or year will bring. You can achieve that in two major ways:

Choosing a career that has staying power. Fields like health care will always afford lots of job opportunities, especially with an aging population and people generally living longer. The same can be said about technology and “green” careers, which are the hot fields of tomorrow.

Arming yourself with transferable skills that’ll take you to new places should your company fold or a natural disaster rip your place of business apart. There was a time when majoring in business and working your way up the ladder at a big firm was a “sure thing.” And while that may still be true for some, the days of spending a lifetime with one company are over (just ask the folks at Merrill Lynch). Mergers, downsizing, outsourcing — you name it, it’s killing careers. So if you’re a corporate type, don’t be loyal to one employer and keep your eyes peeled for new opportunities. Be sure to network, keep your resume fresh, take advantage of learning and continuing education because you never know where you’ll be next year.

See You In September

Another summer has trickled by and we gear up for another busy September. Whether you have children who live by the school calendar or not, the fall always brings with it a sense of recommitment. Vacation’s over, time to pack away your open-toed sandals, back to business. Traffic picks up, the office is no longer desolate at 2 p.m. on Fridays, and for at least the first couple of weeks of school, you’ll see less kids playing outside in the afternoon since they’ve got homework to contend with.

So how do you feel about this? Are you sad to see summer go? Are you eager to put the lazy days behind you and get back to normal routines? Are you reminded that it’s not too late to make some changes that could impact your career before 2009 rolls around (hey, it’s right around the corner)?

If you’re feeling the latter, here are some ways to get the ball rolling:

– Consider taking a course or an educational program. If a full-fledged degree is too much of a commitment, consider these 12 Career Education Perks, one of which is a shorter completion time. No matter what you decide, any additional skills you can develop, the better off you’ll be.

– Revamp your resume. Especially if you’ve been at the same job for quite some time, you probably have a lot of updating to do. Make it a habit to retool your rez as summer draws to a close. You never know when you’ll need it on short notice, such as when an opportunity comes a knockin’.

– Stop dreaming about your dream career, and start really looking into it. Start with these 5 Career Factors to Consider.

Sure, a couple of more weekends vegging by the pool would be great, but I’ve come to terms with saying goodbye to summer. I may keep wearing the sandals for just a bit longer, though.