Monday, December 29, 2008

Free College - No One Said it is Easy

Want to go to college for free? Seriously, do you want other people and organizations to pay for your tuition and possibly even your living expenses?

Its possible, but its not exactly easy. If it was, everybody would be doing it but instead most students rely on student loans and increasing levels of employment while enrolled.
As costs have steadily risen at an alarming pace, many students work full time while attending college and pursuing a degree.

Scholarships are out there - literally billions of dollars worth of awards - and the federal government is also providing billions of dollars in financial aid for financially needy students. Subsidized loans are still debt, but they have a lot of advantages over debt and in many ways serve as a source of free college money.

So why don't more students get free college funding?

There's a lot of work involved in finding the opportunities, being motivated, and staying determined despite the interruptions, rejections, and frustrations that are sure to be involved. Maybe its even safer to spend that time you could be chasing scholarships and grants with a solid job in the industry or sector you want to major in and pursue a career with. The value of that experience can not be measured with mere dollars - you might even realize from your work history that its not the exact sector you want to be in - or maybe you'll find the specialization within the business that interests you the most and reignites your passion for the subject.

To achieve free college funding, you'll need to focus in on the scholarships, grants, and contests that reflect your personal skills and talents. You have to balance the specificity of the award program with a large volume of applications. Most applications will get rejected, you may send out 10 or 20 for every award you can expect to actually receive.

If writing 100 or 200 financial aid applications sounds like something you can reasonably accomplish, then free college is a real possibility. If those numbers scare you, at least fill out a FAFSA to see if you can get some grants and cheap loans!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Free College Math Classes at Whatcom Community College

Math is an essential skill in the modern world, whether or not you're sitting in a college classroom taking a calculus test. Whatever level or types of math we need for our jobs and daily lives, math is a powerful tool and the best way to gain skill is to practice using it. The bad news is that a typical math class costs money, but online you can get the same college level instruction and practice for free.

Whatcom Community College has an extensive Online Math Center with free college classes, reviews, interactive practice programs, and educational resources for younger students.

What? Math? Its Boring!

The mathematics we know today is based on observation of the manifestations of energy and matter in the world around us. As scientists observed nature, they made careful note of the exact measurements that they could calculate.

Over time, mathematicians began to notice patterns in nature and numbers or ratios that were commonly repeated in the shapes of the trees and animals. Geometry became a source of many seemingly universal truths, and human's first look at the infinite complexity of existence. The thing we consider a circle is essentially a function of a universal constant, Pi, a number so complicated, irrational that the suggestion of its very existence created a controversy.

And these numbers and patterns were brought to life in the human world as architectural towers, engineering feats, and early machines. Thousands of years later, astronomers would apply these numbers to the stars and planets, and they would discover the numbers and patterns of gravity and motion that could create factories, engines, and electricity.

The story of math does not end, and every chapter is more powerful than the one before it. I'm not sure how it could be considered dull if one remembers exactly what those numbers represent.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Students Hard Hit by Weakening Job Market

As money and credit gets scarce across America, some of the hardest hit in terms of employment are students looking for a summer job. While the official unemployment rate has only hit 5.5%, part of this consideration is that very few young people have been able to enter the "labor force." By this calculation, anyone looking for that first job and unable to secure employment isn't actually unemployed - they're kind of hanging in a non-classified group of discouraged or "under-employed" individuals.

Still, the best way to secure a good job after school is to study in an in-demand field such as medicine, engineering, or anything essentially scientific and technical. Computer information technology might not be quite the secure career as it used to be, but computer literacy and internet proficiency are still valuable skills that can be applied to almost any sector of the economy. Financial job outlook is bleak, and maybe this isn't the best time to get a real estate license or an investment banking degree. On the other hand, accounting is still a stable growth career niche, as is leadership and organizational management.

Jobs do exist for people without degrees, as well. Current high school and college students might be able to find work by lowering their income expectations and reducing their cost of living. A big step toward preparing for a lower cost of living in the long term is to avoid taking out any student loan debt unless you're quite sure that the major you've selected can support the required job and salary growth for you to pay it back. With Wall Street announcing major layoffs and salary cuts, this might not be the best time to start an ivy-league MBA program that leaves you $200,000 in debt. Then again, $200,000 is an average amount of student loan debt for a new doctor, and the job prospects means more of those students will be able to pay that back without filing bankruptcy or living like a pauper.

Its also great to do something you love, and these days I feel the best way you're going to accomplish that is by working for yourself. Think about the thing in life you most enjoy, now can you create a business model around it? If you love to make art, can you find the buyers yourself? If you love to write, can you publish, connect to readers, and sell ads on your own? The internet makes a lot of this possible - and many college graduates are moving to make it happen with their own businesses.

Innovation is the only cure to an economic downturn - and education is the key.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Are selective student loans better than federal guarantees?

A lot of student loan companies are getting out of the business - the federal subsidies and risk insurance simply aren't worth the risk in certain types of colleges. As the lenders move to private loans, they are raising interest rates and they are evaluating student borrowers on an individual basis. While the student and student's family credit rating will play a role, some lenders are also looking at graduation and employment rates of their colleges. Before long, student lenders are likely to consider employment outlooks and average starting salaries of the various majors and professions...

While Congress scrambles to figure out new ways to pump money and profitability into the student debt business, maybe they should be instead asking if this program serves a total net benefit to society. Guaranteed subsidized loans create a lot of demand for college enrollment - including students who aren't necessarily prepared for college and some students who are spending more than they otherwise would have been willing to spend. Instead of trying to save costs, many students are borrowing enough to feel completely unconcerned with later financial concerns they'll have to face.

There's an issue of rapid tuition inflation - some of this is from the general monetary inflation of the current American economy, and some of it is from this over-purchasing of higher education.
The current cost of maintaining the status quo is actually more tuition inflation, more government spending, and more debt for graduating college students and less money for them in the long run.

Currently, federally subsidized student loans are only based on income and parental income. If we shifted to a merit-based and need-based loan system, a lot of the risk inherent to the system would evaporate and we'd still be helping our most needing and talented students with money for college.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Free College Education - Minus the Degree

One great aspect of the internet is the availability of free educational resources. Nowadays, this even includes lectures and class materials from some of the nation's most prominent universities and academic collections.

Carnegie Mellon
Free online courses at Carnegie Mellon

The following online courses are available for free to anyone through the Open Learning Initiative:
  • Engineering Statistics
  • Statistics
  • Causal & Statistical Reasoning
  • Modern Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Economics
  • French
  • Logic & Proofs
  • Physics
  • Empirical Research Methods
  • Computational Discrete Mathematics

Library of Congress
Free resources at the Library of Congress

The American Memory Collections provide an authoritative source of historical documents, analysis, and unique Library of Congress treasures:
  • Advertising
  • African American History
  • Architecture, Landscape
  • Cities, Towns
  • Culture, Folklife
  • Environment, Conservation
  • Government, Law
  • Immigration, American Expansion
  • Literature
  • Maps
  • Native American History
  • Performing Arts, Music
  • Presidents
  • Religion
  • Sports, Recreation
  • Technology, Industry
  • War, Military
  • Women's History

University of Washington
Free courses at University Washington

OpenUW provides internet users with access to University of Washington course materials:
  • The American Civil War
  • Energy, Diet and Weight
  • Greek Mythology
  • Gulliver's Travels
  • Hamlet
  • HTML Basics
  • History of Jazz: New Orleans
  • The American Revolution
  • Shakespeare's Comedies
  • Heroic Fantasy: Tolkien
  • World War II

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Stay Local to Save College Costs

With economic pressure growing, college students might opt to save some money and stay out of debt by staying closer to home and attending a local community college or state university. While gas is expensive, the short commute is almost certainly less expensive than paying for room and board when compared to living with the parents for a few more years.

Most local public colleges are subsidized with state or local taxes, so the price of tuition is almost certain to be lower than any comparably sized private school. Classes may be a little bit more crowded and the professors are probably less known, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the quality of education and opportunity isn't a good deal. Much of what you'll get out of college is directly related to the time and effort you put in - whether or not you read thoroughly, seek out additional sources of information, and/or participate in the organizational experiences the school offers.

Finding money for college through scholarships can be a lot easier at the local level, too. This is especially true if you've been active in the community and established a record of service and participation in events and projects and clubs. These groups love to recognize and assist their members who continue to grow professionally and support the causes that bring the individuals together - and a college education is one of the best ways to support a person's professional development. City and state funds might also offer public scholarships for residents, for example Florida's Bright Futures Scholarship pays for 75% or 100% of the tuition bill of Florida students who meet eligibility requirements (Bright Futures Scholarship).

If there's a specific school for a certain major or education niche that you're set on and completely dedicated to, then it might just be worth the extra cost. If you're looking for a general introduction to higher studies, then there's no reason to mortgage your future income through student loans so you can spend time in college classes trying to decide what you actually want to do.

Student Loans in Short Supply

Economic problems and financial sector problems aren't only affecting the job market. Students looking for college loans might be in for a surprise next year as many companies and lenders leave the business altogether. After Congress reduced subsidies and the subsequent profitability of the federal lending program, a wave of credit defaults threatened to freeze all liquidity and usher in a new era of corporate and municipal bond failures.

While the deflationary doomsday scenario has been averted by creative (and expensive) Federal Reserve actions, many banks and student lending companies are hesitant to get into a risky loan business at low interest rates and few safeguards against the every increasing risk that many of these graduates won't necessarily find jobs that can afford to pay back their student loans.

The typical response of an investor (lender) under these economic circumstances is to raise interest rates for risky borrowers - and this means getting out of the federal program and getting into more private loan offerings. The downside is this becomes a lot more expensive for the student, and family credit history may end up influencing costs and eligibility.

If student loans become scarce, colleges may face declining enrollment. The chain would then reduce budgets, and force the institutions into cost-cutting measures. Perhaps if rationing needs to take place, it might make sense for it to be aimed at the most academically focused college students rather than the most financially secure. The best way to achieve this is to let the student loan industry operate in a free market without federal supports, and allow private and public merit-based and need-based scholarships provide an outlet for students needing financial assistance.

Like housing, perhaps its time for tuition prices to come down a bit. We like to think that spending more means better results, but sometimes the economic cycle calls for a contraction and a re-evaluation of priorities. Is our priority to make college so expensive that most graduates have student loan debt for 20+ years? I don't think so.

Friday, May 30, 2008

College Graduates Face Tough Job Market

Its that time of year for another class of college graduates to celebrate the success of a completed diploma.

Unfortunately for many graduates, the transition from school to the working world might not be as pleasant as it has been for Americans in the past. Nominal wages are flat across the entire economy, and versus inflation that really indicates that wages are down relative to the cost of living. Entry-level wages are down in nominal terms, which means they're significantly down in real terms. Graduates in investment and financial sectors might not find many job openings after the recent string of layoffs, mergers, and cost-cutting in the banking sector. Real estate continues to slow down as well...But demand remains strong in medicine, education, and the sciences.

There's a risk of increased defaults on student loans, as the loans were issues when students were expected to enter an ever-increasing labor/wage market. Students without much debt can adjust consumption, costs, and expectations, but if they're loaded with loans already they may not have any way out of the cycle at this point. Unfortunately, this is just going to create an additional drag on financial sectors and lending companies!

Enjoy the graduation, the ceremonies, the parties. Don't get upset if you're not rich as soon as you graduated, its definitely not your fault that the economy is slowing down and under the weight of heavy public debt. Imagine, things would probably only be worse trying to secure a job without that degree.

Make use of all resources available, from online job searches to campus placement programs. It might not be too late to take on an internship if you can live at home for a few extra months. Jobs at the upper level of institutions will be opening up in the coming decade as more baby-boomers retire from the work-force.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Don't be Discouraged: Financial Aid can only Help

Financial aid can be a time-consuming and complicated process, but try to not get discouraged. There are a lot of forms, essays, interviews, and research involved, but try to keep focused on what the real goal is. A college education is more than a piece of paper: Its a chance to meet new people, experience new things, and take your knowledge to the next level. College graduates will typically make a lot more money than those who don't get a degree, and all the extra opportunities you'll be able to afford in your lifetime will all just be residual benefits of your college diploma.

Even if you're working hard and keeping your grades up, money issues can get in the way of this goal and the financial benefits of your education.

FAFSA is like the entry point for the financial aid process, and many consider it the most frustrating, as well. Don't let the hype get you worried: filing a FAFSA online has never been faster or easier. Check out the link to the official federal FAFSA website, and make a note of the items you'll need before finishing the application. Mostly, you'll need last year's income and tax forms so you can offer proof of your income and/or your family's income if that applies.

Go ahead and register for your unique, individual PIN number. Although they have sped up the process this year, it can still take a little while for the request to be processed and the number issued.

Once you have your annual income statements and related financial information - and your PIN - you're ready to get the application going. It won't take long if you're prepared, and you can receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) that includes your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) in just another day or two!

Remember, organize and prepare so you don't get frustrated. Don't dwell on horror stories or complaints from people who had troubles with it. Every cent of aid you get is helping you toward your goal and you can't get any aid without trying.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Ivy League Grades and Scholarships

So, you say you want to go to an ivy league college? Well, you're going to need great grades. Heck, you might need perfect grades unless you have a good excuse like advanced placement (AP) and honors courses as well as a full list of extra-curricular activities.

Some good ideas are habitat for humanity, church and religious community organizations, and other groups with a charitable focus. Not only does working with and leading within these groups provide some functional real-world experience, it shows that the student (applicant) is interested in doing good for the society. Its not like that is a requirement, but it definitely helps!

How can I afford it? College Tuition is Expensive

Many Ivy league schools have significant scholarship funds set up for bright and ambitious students. Harvard and Yale recently updated their financial aid systems to be more generous to lower-income students. Unless your parents can afford the ivy league to begin with, you'll probably find a lot of tuition assistance from these schools. That is, if you can get in!

What are the most important ivy league admission factors?

Well, all of them! No two students have the same exact application and the top variables can change. Maybe MIT is more focused on academic scores in math and science classes, and Yale is probably more interested in seeing how you've gotten experience leading people and organizing projects.

Work on your weaknesses and take your strengths to the next level.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

How Colleges Benefit from Financial Aid

Higher Ed/: Financial Aid is like Popcorn

After what looks like a small break from blogging, there's a great new post at

If you've ever wondered why higher education institutions are so willing and 'generous' with financial aid, please check out this link and review the graphs. Like any product or service, demand is highest at the lowest cost - but whoever is selling the product or service wants to maximize revenue by finding the best combination of price and demand.

Taken further, schools can apply what they know about demand and what they know about their applicants - matching the most cost-sensitive students with the best financial aid plans and by charging more to the students who are likely to be able to afford it.

I believe this post answers some questions about why colleges and universities have an incentive to provide financial aid - but it also raises more questions.

Is the net effect of financial aid to assist lower-income students, or just make a college education more expensive overall? The debate has been going on for a long time, and there's no easy answers to that one.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Scholarships for African Students in China

China has an established relationship of building diplomatic ties in Africa. Like many growing financial powers, China has an interest in promoting education on a world-wide scale. As the economy of friendly nations grows, so does the economy of their trading partners. As one of the world's largest exporters, China is always looking for ways to build new markets and strengthen international friendships, and these scholarships have been a great part of that strategy.

A new day has come: China and Africa

Is America falling behind in global financial aid and international scholarships? Lately, it has become more difficult for foreign students to enter America on education Visas. Since the economy is global now, America runs the risk of isolating itself from other developing countries. Thanks to more scholarships than ever, America's competitors will be better educated and more financially stable than they have been in the past. This means America should be offering more scholarships and encouraging more students to come to America for college. Unfortunately, we seem to have the exact opposite going on!

In keeping with this theme, check out some of these other great scholarships for study in China. In the future, I will also be adding links to scholarship programs for Chinese students who want to travel abroad.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Grants, Fellowships, and Scholarships Explained

Grants, fellowships, and scholarships have a lot in common: primarily that they will all help you get money for school. Sometimes, there really is no difference at all, but others, there are subtle characteristics that are important to note. This list is a guide, and by no means explains every unique funding program that uses these terms.

  • Grants are sums of money donated to accomplish a project or a goal. Many times, grants will be used to fund research addressing a particular social or economic problem, or to build a facility or other community infrastructure. In terms of college financial aid, grants are usually government assistance payments or designed to further the cause of a specific academic subject or political movement by assisting like-minded intellectuals with their tuition or fees.
  • Fellowships are like grants in that they are helpful in advancing particular causes. The major difference is that a fellowship requires the recipient, or "fellow," to also represent the group that is providing the funding. Fellows might become mentors, or publish their research in the group's academic journals. If undertaking a fellowship, it is important to realize the public relations obligations that go along with it.
  • Scholarships are usually more generalized. They might have few eligibility requirements, or they might be looking for a very specific individual profile. Either way, scholarship recipients tend to have fewer long-term obligations to the sponsoring organization (By all means, you should pursue the opportunity to network with charitable organizations, but at the very least, send a thank you letter!) The main responsibility of a scholarship winner is to study, get good grades, and graduate.

Friday, January 4, 2008

$100,000 in scholarships and chess prizes!

Susan Polgar Chess Blog: Over $100,000 in scholarships and chess prizes!

Here's an excellent tournament for any chess players in the Texas area. High school students need don't need to have a chess rating to play, and the winner of each section will walk away with a brand new computer!

1st through 5th place runner-ups will still receive some cash and maybe a tropy or a medal, too!

Adults can play in the adult section, but they will need a 1600 point rating to register.

Susan Polgar Events's blog has information about directions and finding a hotel with a discount for participants.