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Archive | June, 2010

Tips to Avoid Scams In Higher Education

Tips to Avoid Scams In Higher Education

In this day and age, a number of students attending college still represent the first generation of their family to obtain some sort of education beyond a high school diploma.  It is certainly wonderful for these first-time students to be branching out and gaining all the benefits associated with a proper education. However, these students (and their families) are new to the processes involved with applying for college, getting financial aid, finding outside scholarships, navigating educational loans, and all the intricacies associated with going to college. Unfortunately, this “newness” makes these students and their families more susceptible to scams and fraudulent activities looking to take advantage of their situation.

At, we like to talk about ways in which we can help families make college affordable. The tips below focus on helping families save money on college by not falling prey to some of the more common scams related to higher education.

  • Watch out for College Counseling Scams: I have written articles about this in the past but it is certainly worth mentioning again. A good number of organizations and people are providing their services as college search counselors. They help students get into their top choice schools at rock bottom prices (by maximizing financial aid). The majority of these groups are legitimate and have the student’s best interest in mind. Unfortunately though, some organizations have been brought under fire because they utilize some questionable tactics to recruit clients. The Better Business Bureau speaks more about one company’s approach (College Admission Assistance, LLC). Regardless, the important thing to remember before you solicit assistance from an organization or an individual is to check references, make sure they have proper certification (CCPS is a must – Certified College Planning Specialists), and don’t pay them large amounts of money in advance of services being rendered.
  • Avoid Bogus Scholarship “Opportunities”: Students (and parents) are hungry for scholarship dollars. So hungry that at times they put their better judgment in check and fall susceptible to scholarship scams. If you are looking at different scholarship programs, the Federal Trade Commission recommends that you watch out for the following signs that a scam may be afoot. If you are told any of the following… run the other way…
    • The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back
    • You can’t get this information anywhere else.
    • I just need your credit card or bank account numbers to hold this scholarship
    • We’ll do all the work
    • The scholarship will cost some money
    • “You’ve been selected by a national foundation to receive a scholarship” or “You are a finalist” and it is a program that you have never heard about or ever applied for…
  • Steer Clear of Educational Loan Scams: Getting low interest rates on educational loans and lowering monthly payments is always something that parents and students try to achieve. Unfortunately, unscrupulous characters are ready and willing to take advantage of their naivete and make a quick buck or two. Usually these fraudsters will make promises about loan consolidation programs or alternate loan opportunities and require a family to pay a hefty application or origination fee. Once the fee is paid, the person offering the loan opportunity is never heard from again. In order to avoid these situations, don’t hesitate to drop a line to your financial aid office and ask them about the loan program and they should be able to quickly confirm it’s legitimacy (or it’s fraudulence). Remember… if the interest rate and repayment terms sound to good to be true then most likely it is not a legitimate loan program…
  • Closely Monitor Your Identity: Identity theft is running rampant in our country and around the world. However, it has a taken a new twist in that identity thieves are now assuming your identity and using it to register for classes at various colleges (usually large state schools) and obtaining as many educational loans, grants, and scholarship dollars available. Once the funds are disbursed to them they drop off the face of the earth and stick you with the responsibility of the debt (and the bad grades from the non-attended courses). A good way to thwart this is to monitor your credit for free through the FTC. You get one free report once a year from each of the three credit bureau agencies, so make sure you space them out to maximize coverage throughout the year.

I hope you find this information helpful. If you know of anyone else that may benefit from these tips, feel free to use the “share tab” below to pass the information along. Also, if you ever find that you fall prey to some sort of scam or fraudulent activity similar to the scenarios mentioned above, you can call the Federal Trade Commission at (877) 382-4357 to file a report and receive advice on how to proceed.

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Top 6 Myths About College For New Students

Top 6 Myths About College For New Students

Have you heard the one about the escaped killer with the hook for a hand? How about the one where the frightened babysitter discovers that the threatening phone calls she’s been receiving are coming from inside the house? Or the one about the college where every class was hard, every professor was unapproachable and all the roommates were best friends?

It seems that as much as urban legends and myths are a part of our popular culture, they’re also a part of our college conversations. Whether they hear these tales of the college experience from peers, parents, teachers or guidance counselors, college-bound students get an earful of misinformation about what to expect on campus. In addition, that misinformation can sometimes lead to a far less successful college experience for the child and a pricier one for the parents.

In the interest of helping you and your son or daughter know what he or she should really expect at college, Reduce My College Costs asked a few recent college graduates about the tall tales they heard as they made the high school to college transition. Here are six of those myths, busted:

Myth #1: All college classes are hard. High school students hear horror stories, mainly from their teachers, about how hard college courses are. While students should be prepared for course material that is more challenging than what they faced in high school, that doesn’t mean that they should face undue anxiety and be afraid of struggling to pass every class and fearful of mountains of reading assignments that require all-nighters just to complete. The fact of the matter is, just like in high school, some classes are hard and some classes are easy.

Myth #2: College is a non-stop party. Movies like Animal House, PCU and countless others show college as a non-stop party (sometimes with togas and sometimes without). And it is a fact that whether your child attends a state university or a member of the Ivy League, there will be parties – and lots of them! – on-campus, near campus and off campus. So, where does the myth come in? Well, there’s a big difference between knowing parties are constantly being thrown and constantly attending them. Moreover, it is a sad fact that the student who has a hard time making that distinction probably won’t be in college for very long.

Myth #3: In college, you can skip class whenever you want. When it comes to class scheduling, college offers a freedom that students could only dream of in high school. If you don’t like getting up early – no problem! – Just schedule your classes later in the day. But whether a class is at 8 am or 8 pm, there’s little truth to the tale that students can skip whenever they want in college. While many classes don’t have an attendance policy, a student that skips runs the risk of getting behind on class notes and lectures. And since many college professors test not only on textbook knowledge but also in-class lectures and discussions, that’s a risk a wise college student shouldn’t take.

Myth #4: Once tuition and books are paid for, money is no problem. A high school student who has this belief is in for a very rude awakening when it comes time for college, and so are his or her parents. Tuition and books do make up the bulk of college costs, but a student shouldn’t expect to be rolling in money after these fees are paid. That’s because college is expensive all the way around. From meal plans and transportation fees to Scantron test forms and personal products, everything has a price at college. Budgeting every cent is a way of life for most college students, and the sooner they learn how to do so, the better off they (and their parents) will be.

Myth #5: All college professors are unapproachable. Sure, they’ve had a lot of schooling and they have a lot of knowledge about a given subject, but that doesn’t mean that college professors want to be put up on a pedestal. While there are some professors who avoid student contact like the plague, most professors welcome the opportunity to talk to their students and get to know them better. In a large lecture class (typically 100 plus students), it may be difficult to talk to the professor after class, but students should always take note of a professor’s office hours and take advantage of them.

Myth #6: Your roommate will be your best friend. Unless two students asked to be paired together as college roommates, it’s unlikely that they’re going to be the best of friends. That’s because many colleges only take a surface-level approach to matching roommates. Housing questionnaires often ask about general habits (such as smoking, drinking or staying up late), but don’t drill deep enough into personalities. Just because two non-smoking night owls are paired together, doesn’t mean that they’ll be the best of friends or even get along. Students often believe that they’re stuck with the roommate that they’re assigned for at least a year. Nevertheless, if they’re really having difficulties making things work, Resident Advisors (RAs) usually have a knack for finding living arrangements that work for all parties involved.

Just like urban legends and other folklore, as long as there are people to tell the tales, college myths will continue to endure. But by using these myth-busting tips from recent college grads to have a pre-college fact versus fiction conversation with your son or daughter, you help ensure a more successful college experience for your child and a less expensive endeavor for you. And that’s no lie!

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How To Find & Win Scholarships

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A New Alternative To Help Pay For College Expenses

A New Alternative To Help Pay For College Expenses

Getting companies, corporations, organizations, foundations, and kind philanthropic strangers to help pay for your college expenses is no easy task. These groups of people are not usually lined up outside your high school sitting with a checkbook in hand prepared to help you (financially) with your college career. Finding (or lucking into) someone to help in this manner takes time and usually relies greatly on your family and friend network to “sell” your story and why YOU should be the next person they help put through college.

Fortunately for you, a website known as is here to take a challenging process and simplify it to get your story out in front of the masses in hopes that someone feels compelled to assist you with paying for your college expenses. Not only do they streamline the process for you and the potential donors, they provide these match making services free of charge (I know.. hard to believe in this day and age but it is true!). (SMD) was started by Henner and Lilas Mohr a couple of years ago when they were trying to locate sponsors for their graduate degrees and decided that they could use their online systematic approach to help other students achieve their educational goals. SMD is boasting over 10,000 financially needy students registered to date. If you would like to see the most recent students, click here.

The only downside that I can see with SMD is probably a shortage of sponsors in relationship to the number of students. However, if a student has a socially savvy network, they could easily position their story in front of many and garner support (small and large) to help cover their educational expense.

I think this is a great idea and Henner and Lilas should be applauded for their efforts to think “outside of the box” and provide this service to students in need. If you are a student that is looking for extra funds to help cover your college costs, go ahead and register with SMD. The service is free and it certainly can’t hurt your chances.

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Can Outside Scholarships Impact My Financial Aid?

Can Outside Scholarships Impact My Financial Aid?

I wrote an article earlier in the week providing 5 useful tips to help students find outside scholarships. Spurred by this article, I have received a few questions from readers about outside scholarships and I am glad to help.

A reoccurring question from families inquired about the how an outside scholarship can impact the financial aid package that they receive from the college or university that they are attending. The answer on this is unfortunately not a clear cut one and really depends upon a number of different variables (school rules, financial aid package, FAFSA results) but I will do my best to provide a proper answer.

The best scenario
that you can have with outside scholarships is that the funds you receive help to offset the financial expense that your family was expecting to put toward educational costs. This means that whatever you were expecting to spend for educational expenses (out of pocket) is now reduced by whatever you are able to secure in the form of outside scholarships. This is probably the most common outcome.

The next to best scenario… If you are receiving any need-based financial aid (calculated from your FAFSA results), you may be susceptible to losing some of that aid if you find extra funding from outside sources. It is up to the discretion of each school to decide what need-based aid they are going to reduce but most schools seem to lean toward decreasing the federal loan monies that a student will receive. It is not ideal but at least the student gets the benefit of finding the extra scholarship dollars and reducing the amount that they have to take out in loans.

The not so great scenario but pretty good given the situation…
If you have been able to secure the necessary funding (scholarships and grants) required to cover ALL your school expenses and you decide to go out and find yet another outside scholarship, your financial aid will have to be reduced by whatever dollar figure that new scholarship happens to be. The reason for this.. you can not receive more financial aid than the cost of attendance at your college.

If you find yourself in this situation, you may want to go back to some of your outside scholarship programs and ask them if you can defer the award until your second year of college. Chances are that some of your outside scholarships are probably only one-year awards (non-renewable) and won’t be available in subsequent years. If that is the case, you won’t be at risk of having your financial aid reduced during the second year because of over funding (like I said.. that is usually a good problem to have!).

All-in-all, outside scholarships are probably going to benefit the student in approximately 98% of situations. So, there is no reason why you should not put some energy and effort into trying to secure these types of funds. Every dollar counts when it comes to paying for college.

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The Walmart Approach to Education

The Walmart Approach to Education

Sam Walton started Walmart back in 1962 and, as a graduate from the University of Missouri, he knows the value of a quality education. If he were alive today, he would be excited to see the latest educational venture and employee benefit provided by his corporation.

Walmart recently partnered up with American Public University, one of the nation’s largest for-profit online education providers, to bring about a new resource to it’s employees… an opportunity to obtain a college degree at a discount price.

At first glance, this may not seem like that big of a deal. Corporations around the world are constantly providing some sort of educational benefit to their employees. However, how many of these corporations have 1.4 million employees? Not only does Walmart have this many employees, they estimate that 700,000 of these individuals only have a high school degree or equivalent.

Using this astounding number of potential students, Walmart was able to broker a deal with APU that will automatically provide each of it’s employees a 15% discount on tuition rates. As an added bonus, Walmart is sweetening the deal by providing it’s employees with an additional $50 million dollars, over three years, in tuition assistance to all employees that participate.

Walmart provided the following announcement about the new program to employees at an early morning meeting that had over 4000 in attendance:

“It’s important because it reflects the kind of company we are,” Eduardo Castro-Wright, who heads Walmart’s operations in the United States, told the employees. “A company that says, ‘Anyone who wants to learn, who wants to grow with us, who is willing to work hard to get a college degree, can do that.’ ”

It is not real clear how many employees will be taking advantage of this educational opportunity but in order to qualify for participation an employee either has to have worked full-time for a period of a year or part-time for three years. Satisfactory progress on job evaluations is also a necessity.

So, if you have been thinking about a career change and want to work somewhere that supports the continued education of it’s employees, you may want to take a look at Walmart.

If you would like to learn more about Walmart’s commitment to education or apply for this benefit, feel free to visit this link for more information.

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The Search For The Elusive Outside Scholarship

The Search For The Elusive Outside Scholarship

(Definition) Outside Scholarships– educational funding not provided directly by or through the college or university that you plan on attending. The main source of these scholarships are through private foundations or organizations and it is estimated that billions of dollars of outside scholarships are awarded each year.

So.. the question that comes to mind… if billions of dollars of outside scholarships are available nationwide to students each and every year, why does it seem like everyone has so much difficulty in securing one?

The answer to that question is two-fold…

1. Billions of dollars are indeed available but millions upon millions of students are seeking those funds. So, the simple rule of supply and demand shows us that the supply of outside scholarships just simply can not keep up with the demand and some students must go without.

2. The outside scholarships have such stringent qualifications that it makes it nearly impossible for anyone to satisfy the requirements to receive the funds. For example, some outside scholarships limit it to students at a certain high school. That would probably be alright and many would qualify but what if that student could only receive the funds if they went to a particular college. Some students would still probably make the grade and be eligible for the funds but what if the scholarship was only available to them if they went to a certain high school, attended a particular college AND they had to major in a specific area of study. – Unfortunately, you can see how quickly an outside scholarship can exclude the number of recipients that are able to receive it.

The demand for outside scholarships is not going to go down anytime soon and the requirements for receiving outside scholarships is only going to get more difficult. So, the best thing you can do to position yourself successfully to receive an outside scholarship is to hone your skills in locating them. Based upon this observation, I have devised the following tips to help aid you on that mission:

Five Useful Tips To Secure An Outside Scholarship

  • Scholarship Databases: Check out all the scholarship search engine databases that you can find. A great many of them are available online but make sure they are legitimate before you share any of your information with them. The best scholarship search engines won’t ask you your personal information and they never charge you a fee. If you would like to see a sampling of some search databases, I have started a list here and I will add to it over time.
  • Local Neighborhood: Search your local community for extra scholarship dollars. You will first want to visit the service focused not-for-profits like Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lion’s Club and after that you will want to scour your local foundations and private organizations.
  • Widen Your Search: Once you have filtered through the opportunities from your local community it is now time to start looking at the same types of groups but on a more regional, state, and ultimately at the national level.
  • What Makes You Special?: The broader your scholarship search becomes, the more you need to identify the niche or traits that make you stand out from the crowd and make you the one and only for whatever scholarship opportunity that might be available.
  • Networking: Now more than ever is a great time to call upon your friends and family members to help you find those outside scholarship dollars. Utilize Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, family reunions, graduation parties, weddings, or just about any social medium possible in which you can let your network know that you are looking for scholarship money. Chances are someone will know somebody (or an organization) that will be able to help you out.

All of the above is easier said than done, but to be truly successful in securing outside scholarships, you will have to dedicate some time and make use of your connections as efficiently as possible. The pay-off in the end is sure to be beneficial as you start to see the outside scholarships trickle in and the positive impact that they have on your out-of-pocket expense for college.

Hope you found this article helpful. If you know of anyone else that may be able to benefit from this information, please be sure to use the “share tab” below to pass it on. The more we all know, the better.

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The Estimated Family Contribution

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