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Archive | June, 2012

College Rankings Can Help Students Pay For College

College Rankings Can Help Students Pay For College

If you’re trying to figure out how to pay for college, it’s time to make the college ranking madness work for you. While nobody advertises that they’re trying to improve their positions in the US News College Rankings, most colleges are willing to offer money to students who have characteristics that will help improve their rankings. In other words, high test scores, GPAs, and class ranks can qualify you for merit money.

Many schools now have scholarship calculators on their websites to estimate how much you will qualify for just based on your GPA, class rank, and test scores. The University of Dallas estimates a merit scholarship of $14,000 for a 3.5 GPA and 1200 SAT. Southwestern University has a table showing how much you qualify for. A 1200 SAT and 3.5 will get you $11,000.

In general, merit money is found at private colleges. However, there are some state schools that will admit out-of-state students with scholarships or for in-state tuition based on grades and test scores. Furthermore, high test scores can qualify you for honor programs at state universities that can provide you with unique academic opportunities. These will probably not be the public universities with the highest rankings but you should still receive an excellent education.

The key to getting the money is to find the schools where your test scores put you in the top quarter of the freshman class. This means you won’t be applying to the topped ranked schools. They’ve already got the numbers they want, they don’t need to offer any incentives.

But while you may not buy into the rankings, you do still want to ensure a good education. Unfortunately, good is often in the eye of the beholder. However, if you’re willing to do a little research, you can probably find the right school for the right price.

The trick is to narrow down your search.

You already know that you’re going to have to choose schools where your test scores are in the 75%. The next thing to do is to eliminate schools will low graduation rates. After all, graduation is the most basic goal of college. And while a low graduation rate doesn’t automatically mean that the college is doing a poor job of educating their students, it’s certainly a reasonable one for parents footing the bill to consider.

This data is available through the Integrated Post-Secondary Education System (IPEDS) that is used for the College Navigator website.  You can use the Download Custom Data Files option to get a list of colleges to use as your starting point.

If you use the following requirements, you would generate a list of 281 college.

  • 700 or more full-time undergraduates
  • Public or private not-for-profit
  • Offers four-year degrees or higher
  • Has a minimum four-year graduation rate of 35%
  • 75th% SAT CR is 610 or less
  • 75th% SAT Math is 610 or less

It might sound like a lot but it really isn’t when you consider you haven’t made any decisions about size, location, or availability of majors.

Once you narrow the list to schools that meet your minimal requirements, you need to start looking into their financial aid in more detail.

Some of this information is available through IPEDS, including the percent of freshman receiving institutional grants, the average amount of the grants, average net cost after grants, and percentage of freshman receiving non-federal student loans. The following information if for six of the schools that show up in the search results.

The IPEDS information doesn’t split out Institutional Grants by those with need and those without. You can look up the colleges on the website and find out how many students without financial need received merit awards and for how much. You can also see what percentage of graduates have loans and for how much as well as the percentage of parents ended up taking out PLUS loans.

The site also lists the average GPA and test scores of the freshman class which can further refine your search.

Of course, the better your scores, the wider range of school you can start with in your pool.  If you up the SAT scores to 650 each then you have over 400 schools to start with. In such a case, you might increase your graduation requirement to 45% which would narrow your pool to only 244 schools.

The point is that if you change your attitude from “what are the highest ranked colleges I can get into” to “what colleges want me to help improve their rankings,” you’ll considerably improve your chances for merit scholarships.

About The Author

Today’s guest article comes from Michelle Kretzschmar. Michelle blogs on how to find a college with a focus on using data to make the best choices possible.  She created her own spreadsheet to target the best colleges where her son could study history and play baseball. She has a step-by-step description on how to download IPEDS data at her website

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Building a Better Future – Scholarships for Construction Management Students

Building a Better Future – Scholarships for Construction Management Students

College is expensive—there’s just no real way around it. With consistent talk of mounting student load debt in the media and a steady unemployment rate in the competitive job sector, college students are faced with a real challenge come graduation day. More and more often, new grads are faced with multi-digit student loan debt and consistent messages from hiring employers that they require more experience to obtain a high-paying job. This is a challenge (to say the least). But, while a college education has become somewhat of a burden for students in today’s harsh economy, degrees are nonetheless essential to steps toward success in many areas of industry. Governmental and private scholarships and grants are available in all areas of education and study.

With a little forward thinking and research, students can find scholarship opportunities that can help lessen the burden of college tuition. Consider these three scholarship opportunities for individuals who are interested in obtaining a degree in construction management.

Associated General Contractors of America Scholarship

This scholarship is awarded by the Associated General Contractors of America Foundation and is available for both undergraduate and graduate level students. Students must be enrolled in an ABET or ACCE- accredited construction management or construction related engineering program. Undergraduate scholarships are available for rising college sophomores, juniors, and seniors who are full-time, two, four, or five-year construction management and construction-related engineering programs. For this scholarship, high school seniors are not eligible. The graduate scholarship offered by the AGC Foundation is available to college senior enrolled or planning to enroll in a graduate level construction management or construction-related engineering degree program. The undergraduate scholarships are worth $2,500 each per year for up to five years and are awarded over 100 times a year. The graduate level scholarships are worth $7,500 each.

American Concrete Institute Student Fellowship Program

This scholarship is awarded by the American Concrete Institute Foundation. The scholarship is available to undergraduate students completing studies from an accredited program in engineering, construction management, or another relevant field. Applicants must be nominated by a faculty member who is a member or the ACI. This scholarship opportunity is available to eligible students across the globe, but actual study must take place in either the United States or Canada. Finalists for the fellowship must attend an ACI convention for an interview. This fellowship includes a monetary award as well as mentoring and a potential internship in the future.

Pulte Group Build Your Future Scholarship Program

The National Housing Endowment offers several student scholarships for individuals interested in the building industry. The Pulte Group Scholarship Program provides tuition assistance to undergraduate students pursuing a career in the building industry (not just construction management). The goal of the scholarship is to address the pressing need for education and training managers in the building industry. Applicants must have at least one full academic year remaining in their course of study and have an overall GPA of at least 2.5 with a major GPA of at least 3.0. Preference is given to applicants who are members of industry-related service or professional organizations (particularly the National Association of Home Builders). The scholarship is awarded based on financial need, academic achievement, GPA, work experience, extracurricular activities, and professional goals.

Today’s guest article is provided by Kristie Lewis. After obtaining her construction management degree, Kristie decided she wanted to help others better understand the process and industry by writing about it. Feel free to contact her with your questions, comments or concerns at

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We Got Spirit-Yes We Do. We Got Spirit-How About You?

We Got Spirit-Yes We Do. We Got Spirit-How About You?

If you ever went to a high school sporting event, then you should probably be familiar with the cheer mentioned above. It is hard to imagine but school spirit could actually be your ticket to gaining an additional $10,000 for college.

Sallie Mae, one of the largest financial services companies specializing in education, recently launched a “Picture of Pride” contest for students and their parents. The parent or student who best illustrates college spirit and family pride in an original photo will receive a $10,000 scholarship from Sallie Mae to be used toward college expenses.

From college visits to a high school graduation or the moment of college acceptance, Sallie Mae will showcase the experiences and school pride of college students, incoming college freshmen and their parents.

“It’s wonderful to see parents brim with pride over their child’s accomplishments and their student’s dedication,” said Martha Holler, senior vice president, Sallie Mae. “Through this contest, Sallie Mae is pleased to share these magic moments with others in the hope of inspiring them to pursue higher education, as well.”

Entries for the “Picture of Pride” contest may be submitted through Sallie Mae’s Facebook page where students and parents can also participate in conversations and find key resources to help with planning and paying for college.

Contest registration and photo submissions will be accepted through June 30, 2012. Beginning July 1, 2012, the Sallie Mae Facebook community will be invited to vote on their favorite photos to help determine the winner.

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Student Loans Impact Recent Grads (video)

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Smarter Planning for a Better Future – Student Loans

Smarter Planning for a Better Future – Student Loans

Financial planners agree that there are certain kinds of debt that can be beneficial to your financial future.  Educational loans are among the strategic loans that can have a positive impact on one’s economic outlook.  Since graduates and postgraduates earn significantly more over the course of their lifetime than their non-degreed counterparts, taking out a private educational loan is an option to make graduation and opportunities in your career of choice a reality.  According to a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau, college graduates earn on average $1.1 million more than high school graduates in the course of their lifetime, while those with graduate degrees earn $1.3 million more.  Better still are those with doctoral degrees who earn on average $2.2 million more than high school graduates in their lifetime.  Given these statistics, the argument for financing a college degree or postgraduate degree remains strong.

Planning a Future You Can Afford

In order to avoid pitfalls when it comes time to pay back the private education loan, there are some smart steps the loan bearer can take at the outset to ensure a realistic payment plan.  This upfront planning is essential when considering a private education loan – this includes proper planning for a right-sized loan given the uncertainties graduates face in what has been a difficult job market over the past several years.

Personal and Educational Needs Assessments

In order to minimize the amount of debt and size of loan payments due when entering the workforce the student should perform  a financial needs inventory and calculate the total cost of the degree program including personal living expenses such as housing, transportation, food, entertainment, tuition and books.  Given the high cost of undergraduate and graduate programs, the amount calculated after taking this inventory will likely be a sobering sum, especially when calculating the payments after entering the workforce full-time.  Once the total cost of ownership of the degree has been calculated the next step is to cut that cost down as much as possible.

Research Your Probable Earnings Following Graduation

Currently, the statistics are grim on the numbers of graduates who can’t find work in their field.  This makes sensible borrowing for your education even more important.  There are a number of websites that will allow you to calculate your probable starting salary following graduation.  Two of these salary calculating websites are and Use this data as a guide to calculate your income and budget this against your likely living expenses and loan payments.  This is the best case scenario though, since many graduates will have to seek out a temporary occupation until they land a job in their selected field.  The graduate may also have to seek out temporary living arrangements such as living with roommates or even with relatives until they enter their occupation.  Although these may be difficult scenarios to fathom, the borrower should note that there are certain planning options that will reduce the total cost of ownership of an undergraduate or graduate degree.

Slicing Your Loan Payment Before You Borrow

Following the  financial needs inventory, the student  may find that the starting salary and ensuing loan payments to afford the chosen degree program and selected school don’t match up to the earnings and income envisioned after making the loan payments.  That’s why considering low-cost education options is becoming a reality for many borrowers.  Some have opted to begin their undergraduate degree at a lower-cost community college to offset the average of $50,000 per year for the cost of a private four-year school.  Many community colleges offer excellent curriculums and the credits earned may transfer to the four-year college that the student has in mind for a bachelors degree.

Getting Credit Where Credit is Due

More careful planning is needed at this stage since the student will want to be certain that the majority of the credits at the two-year institution will transfer toward a four-year degree, otherwise the value of attending the two-year school will be lost.  Sometimes students find that the four-year college will not accept certain credits earned at the community college.  Making these inquiries upfront with the four-year institution is a prudent planning exercise, since the student can defray the cost and effort of possibly taking the same class twice!  If a community college is selected carefully and there is a reasonable transfer of the credits between the selected four-year school and two-year  school, the student will likely find that the total cost of ownership of the degree and the loan payments following graduation are significantly less.

Public Versus Private Education – Does it Pay to Go Private for Your Degree?

Other factors that will contribute to one’s financial outlook following graduation are the costs associated with the school one has applied to and have been selected to attend.  Especially in our current economy, many graduates of private institutions are similarly unemployed in their chosen professions along with those who have opted for a public education with the same kind of degree.  The difference for many who have selected a public education is that the total cost of ownership of their degree is significantly less than their privately educated counterparts – many argue that in today’s sluggish economy, one’s chances of landing a job following graduation are similar regardless of a public or private degree.  When planning one’s educational and financial future, the choice between a public and private education is an important one.  Comparing the costs associated with either public or private degrees, whether at the graduate or undergraduate level is essential in planning for the amount of student loans taken, and payments following graduation.

Proponents of private education argue that the quality of education delivered at costly but brand name institutions of higher learning trumps that which is found at the less expensive state schools.  Others ague further, that a quality education is one of the most important investments one can make, that will pay dividends throughout one’s lifetime, justifying the much higher cost of a private education.  The reality today is, however, that with diminished job prospects following graduation, along with the high cost of education whether public or private, the option of a lower cost public education is seeming more attractive, even to those who thought an ivy league or similar private education was in their future.

Research, Plan, Calculate and Communicate with Your Lender

Education loan providers want students to be able to pay back loans following graduation, and are an excellent source for straightforward advice when it comes to determining the right size loan that a student should take to finance their undergraduate or graduate education.  That communication can be face-to-face, over the phone or by email.  Regardless of the method, frank and open communication about one’s financial needs and their occupational prospects is a must with the education loan provider, and they have years of expertise in assisting students achieve their educational goals.  Although the cost of education remains significant, and will likely remain so in the future, it is still one of the most important investments one can make.  The good news is that the job market will eventually recover – those who have laid out the best plans for their education, and financing of their education will be well-positioned to enter the job market and be able to pay back their loans.

Today’s guest article is provided by Gabriel Gaetano and Andrea Wasik on behalf of

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4 Tips For Budgeting Your Financial Aid Disbursements

4 Tips For Budgeting Your Financial Aid Disbursements

When you apply for financial aid using the FAFSA, you’ll eventually receive what’s called a financial aid package, which lists grants and loans for which you qualify. If the dollar amount you receive exceeds costs like tuition—usually billed straight to the school—you may be sent a check that is meant to cover extraneous expenses like living and books. The tricky part about being sent a check, however, is that you are free to do with this money as you please. When you’re still in your teens or early twenties, and you don’t have much experience managing money, it can be hard to be cut a big check and then be told you’re free to do with it what you want, no accountability necessary. Sounds like fun, but it can turn into a nightmare. One of my college friends spent over half of her check on a fancy camera. The check was supposed to last her an entire semester. She blew through it in less than a week. Don’t let this happen to you by following these tips:

1. Figure out how much of your check you’ll need each month.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the key to preventing extraneous spending is setting up a budget. Especially when you’re in college, most of your personal expenses are set amounts per month. Add up rent, groceries (if you don’t have a meal plan), utilities, books, and “etc.” for the occasional unexpected expense. Once you have an accurate figure, constantly check your bank account to ensure you haven’t exceeded this limit for the month.

2. Keep your financial aid check money in a separate account.

When I was in college, I placed my financial aid money in a separate savings account. When the first of the month came around, I transferred the monthly amount to my checking account, so that way I knew what I had to work with for that month, and didn’t touch the rest that was in the savings account. Keeping a large amount of money “out of sight, out mind” so to speak, is the best way to avoid temptation.

3. Make a list of needs and wants. Get a campus job to take care of “wants.”

Financial aid checks are distributed solely for the purpose of paying for necessary expenses associated with being a college student. They aren’t meant to cover costumes for college parties, surround sound systems for your dorm room, or any other items you may really want. Not only is it irresponsible, but using government or institutional aid for unnecessary expenses is also very unethical. To avoid that temptation altogether, try working for things that you want. You’ll appreciate them so much more. Almost all universities offer flexible student jobs that take up only a few hours of your time a week. Getting a job will enable you to pay for your wants while forcing you to manage your time effectively.

4. Always overestimate how much you’ll pay for books.

You’ve heard, I’m sure, that textbooks are expensive. While digital books may in the future help drive down costs, and many textbook companies are being accused of price fixing, for now you can bet your bottom dollar that textbooks will be much more expensive than you think. Of course, the best way to save on books is to buy them online used from sites like or eBay. But be aware that sometimes you’ll have to pay full price for a new edition, which can run in the hundreds of dollars for each book. Always research book prices before the semester starts to fit this expense into your budget.

Although managing your financial aid funds can be tough, it’s completely doable, if you’re careful. Whatever you do, don’t spend it on a fancy SLR camera. A camera won’t give you a roof over your head or put food in your stomach. Good luck!

Today’s guest article is provided by Nadia Jones. She attended both a traditional and an online college. She loves writing about her experiences in both these educational settings, and enjoys offering advice to students who are new to university life. She welcomes feedback, so drop her a line at

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4 Tips for Making the Most of Your Summer Job in College

4 Tips for Making the Most of Your Summer Job in College

There are a variety of summer jobs that college students take on to help pay for their education. You can work as a camp counselor or an intern at a law firm. No matter what job you choose to do you can come out of the experience gaining more than just a few bucks to help cover the cost of your summer tuition.  If you are going to work hard over the summer, you will want to make the most of the situation.

Set an Earnings Goal

The goal for most summer jobs is to earn money to cover the expenses during the school year, but if you do not set up a solid earnings goal, it is easy to squander the money you make over the summer. If you know how much you need to make during the summer, you can spend the extra money you make without worrying or feeling guilty. Decide how much money you need to save to cover your expenses over the school year. For example, you may want to cover all of your tuition and books for both semesters over the summer. Simply divide that number by the number of weeks you are working over the summer. Once you put that amount in the bank, you can use the rest to pay for new clothes or new video games. It will make budgeting for the rest of the year much easier.

Build Your Network

Each job is a chance for you to gain references and to build your connections. If you are working with a variety of other college students such as at a camp, you are widening your social network. The people you are working for and the people you are working with are all people you should include in your network when it comes to finding a job. Although you may be tempted to blow off some of your shifts or show up late, take this job seriously and you will build good contacts when it is time to graduate. You may also be able to qualify for scholarships and tuition reimbursement through your summer job. It may also turn into a possible part-time job through the school year, even through telecommuting.

Apply Your Work to Your Major

Not every summer job is going to directly relate to the career field and the major you are in. However, you can look for ways to apply the things you are learning in school to your job. Additionally you can look for ways to take what you learn at work over the summer and use those experiences to write up your papers or pull your examples from. You can take your public relations skills and apply them to a summer marketing campaign for the small business you are working at.

Think About Location

If you are interested in living in a specific city after graduation you may want to use your summer job as a chance to check out the city or state to make sure it is a good fit. It will also help you to build a network of contacts in the city you are interested in. Another option is to choose a job where you are going to college. This can turn into a solid job over the school year, which can also turn into a better position once you graduate.

Today’s guest article comes from Audrey Porterman. She is the main researcher and writer for Her most recent accomplishment includes graduating from Ohio State, with a degree in business management. Her current focus for the site involves a doctorate in education and doctoral degrees online.

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A George Foreman Grill Helps To Make College Cheaper

A George Foreman Grill Helps To Make College Cheaper

During the course of the last year, I received a large number of responses from students entering CheapScholar’s How Do YOU Make College Cheaper? Scholarship Giveaway.  Some students tweeted their answers, others posted them on Facebook, and many more sent me their strategies to making college cheaper via email.

In effort to to share their wisdom with others, I am starting a new series on called 1001 Ways To Make College Cheaper. Each week I will compile entries received from readers and post them here on

Our first entry comes from M. Douthard. Enjoy and please be sure to utilize the “Share Tab” below to pass this along to someone else that you think may find this information helpful.


Everyone knows that college isn’t cheap, so it’s up to me to be creative and look for ways to make my college education cheaper.  I wanted to go to college since high school.  But, just saying I wanted to attend college, wasn’t enough, I had to find ways to pay for college.

My family did not have money to pay for my college education so to get a head start on paying some of my college expenses, I opened a savings account. To fund the account, I started recycling.  I collected cans and bottles from several of my neighbors.  I was surprised at the amount of money I made from my new found venture.  Also, I made sure that I kept a strong GPA throughout high school, so that I could tap into the vast amount of private scholarship opportunities.  Naturally, I applied for federal financial assistance, state grants and university scholarships.

Reality set in once I started going to college.  There are so many fees and costs that college places on students and this becomes more of a burden every year as those costs are continually increased. I need free money really bad so I have to apply for every scholarship I am eligible for.  So, I put together an Excel spreadsheet that contained pertinent scholarship information and deadline dates.  I also put reminder ticklers on my phone and laptop, I did not want to miss any deadline dates.

At San Diego State University (SDSU), there is a communal recycle bin for the students to use.  I have been recycling for so long, I just cannot part with cans and bottles.  I not only keep my recyclables, but my roommates and a few other students share theirs with me.

My mother lives in Los Angeles so she is able to visit me regularly.  When she comes she always brings me care packages.  She also takes me and my roommates to our 3 favorite shopping places, Costco, Wal-Mart and especially the 99 cents store.  By shopping at these stores, I don’t have to spend that much money at the campus stores.  My mother takes my bottles and cans home and I turn them in for cash when I’m home during my college breaks.

I never ever will buy my books.  I am part of a textbook rental pilot program at SDSU for two years.  If the books I need are not available through the pilot program, then I use textbook rental companies like Chegg or  Textbook rental programs are very cost effective tools; however, you can wipe out the savings if you lose the books or you don’t get them back in time.

When I started college I had a 7-day meal plan, but after eating on campus five days a week, I found myself eating off campus on the weekends.  I changed my meal plan to a 5-day plan and purchased a George Foreman grill.  This was the best thing I could have done.  Whenever I’m hungry or want a snack, I just fire up my grill and make my own hamburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches in my apartment.  I even make killer Fajitas. (*CheapScholar note* – George Foreman grills are great when living in a campus apartment but make sure to check your residence hall rules before bringing one to your campus dorm – Safety First!)

I always use my student discount in and around campus and wherever it is accepted.  I use public transportation, my bike or my skateboard to travel around San Diego. Whenever I travel home,   I use Amtrak and my Guest Rewards Pass.  I can purchase a round-trip ticket for the price of a one-way ticket.

As my tuition and costs increase year after year, I will continue to look for ways to be frugal and cheap.

This article is part of the 1001 Ways To Make College Cheaper Series

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