Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Volunteering Can Help You Get Into College And You Can Earn Debt Forgiveness After You Graduate!

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Volunteering has a meaningful, positive impact on your community. But did you know that it can have many benefits for you, too? Colleges want to see a complete picture of you, and real examples of your commitment, dedication, and interests. Voluteering provides colleges an opportunity to see you differently than other applicants. They see you as involved and concerned with regards to the needs of society.

Whether you build houses for the homeless or mail flyers for a local politician, you'll experience the real world through hands-on work. You can use this experience to explore your major or career interests.

Some schools offer academic credit for volunteer work through service-learning. This is a teaching method that integrates hands-on learning (through service to the community) into the school curriculum. It's available in high schools and colleges, as well as in earlier grades.

Colleges pay attention to your life inside and outside the classroom. Your extracurricular activities reveal a great deal about you, such as what your interests are, whether you can manage your priorities and maintain a long-term commitment, what diversity you'd bring to the student body, and how you've made a meaningful contribution to something.

There are many people, places, and organizations that need volunteers. Here are some tips for getting started:

· Look around your community and in the phone book to see what programs are there. Call and ask if they need help.

· Visit your city or town website. It may list volunteer opportunities in your community.

· Contact your local United Way, cultural arts association, student organization, or another association that can point you in the right direction.

· Ask your library, church or synagogue, and/or community colleges if they sponsor any volunteer groups.Typically, volunteers complete their commitments without the thought of receiving any extrinsic benefit for that work.

There are also volunteer programs that can help you pay for college after you have graduated.

Programs include:
· AmeriCorps: Upon successful completion of a term of service, members are eligible to receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award ranging in value from $1,000 to $4,725, which may be used only to pay college costs or to repay student loans. Americorps members may also be eligible for housing assistance or for a pro-rated part-time award if full-time service is not an option.

· Peace Corps: The Peace Corps is an international volunteer organization that places individuals in areas of need all over the world. Students who receive a Perkins Loan may be eligible to have a portion or their entire Perkins loan cancelled. In addition, students may defer their other student loan payments while they are serving in the Peace Corps. Peace Corps members also receive a living stipend and housing payment as well as adjustment assistance when they complete their assignment and return to life in the United States. Peace Corps members may be able to use their time in the Peace Corps to earn a Master's Degree.

· National Health Service Corps (NHSC): The National Health Service Corps provides medical care from doctors, nurses, and other health practitioners in some of the most underserved communities in the United States. The NHSC offers a competitive scholarship program designed for students committed to providing primary health care in communities of greatest need. Scholarship recipients serve where they are most needed upon completion of their training.

· College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 (CCRAA): Congress has made it possible for high-debt, lower-income graduates to manage debt repayment through an income-based repayment plan. In addition, Congress has created a new program through which public servants including all government workers and all employees of all non-profit organizations that are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code are entitled to have a substantial portion of their educational debt forgiven after making modest repayments during ten years of full-time employment. Together, these two new programs will enable student borrowers to choose their careers without being unduly influenced by their debt burdens and will enable governments and non-profit organizations to retain talented professionals who would otherwise be forced to resign after two or three years and seek higher-paying jobs so that they could repay their student loans.

Check out the following websites to learn more about causes and to find volunteer opportunities near you.


Volunteer service can be a tremendously rewarding experience and provides a person with valuable experience for future career choices. Volunteering can not only help get you into an A-list college, but it can also help you pay off or eliminate your college debts.

Disclaimer: Advice provided by is for informational purposes only. Material changes can and do occur. Programs, plans and definitions may change. Therefore, we encourage you to do your own research as we accept no responsibility for the information provided here.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Save Big On College Costs By Using Transfer Credits

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Shopping around for a lower cost education may save you a ton of money in the long run!

One of the best ways to earn more credits for less money is to shop around and get university credits at the local community and junior colleges.

Students can get transfer credits in most subjects. However whether or not a university will accept credits is completely the decision of that institution. Institutions often accept credits differently from one department to another.

For example, a student who has taken a biology course at a junior college may receive credit for biology if they are a math major. But if they are an biology major, the biology department may not accept the credit and may require that the student retake the course.

Transfer credit appears on the student’s transcript at the receiving institution as verified credit, not as earned credit. Therefore, it is important that the student maintain accurate records from all institutions they attend in order to accurately apply for transfer credit at any future institution they may attend.

The complexity of the transfer process varies widely from institution to institution. Credits may transfer singly (course to course transfer), in blocks (two or more courses), or as entire programs (earning an associate degree from a community college may transfer in as the first two years of a similar program at a university).

In articulated programs between institutions the student typically only needs to ask for transcript evaluation and the credits will be awarded. However, if no articulation agreement exists between the institutions, then the student may be required to provide a course syllabus.

There are a variety of web sites that can provide additional information on transfers. These web sites fall into three major categories: a.) general web sites with information on transfer credits, b.) web sites that offer information on transfer credits between institutions within the same state, and c.) individual institution’s web sites on transfer of credit. Just a few of these web sites are:

* General information on transfer of credit:
* Transfer of credit between California institutions:
* Transfer of credit between Indiana institutions:

Note: Be sure to check the website of the college or university where you plan to attend.

Remember that the institution receiving the credit, and in many cases, the department receiving the credit determines whether or not they will award a transfer credit. If you wish to transfer credits between institutions you should verify acceptance before investing time and money in the course.

A great idea is to contact the university of your choice and obtain a copy of their course catalogue. In the catalogue, you will find a list of “general studies” courses that you may be able to take at a community or junior college. Typically, beginning math and science, and social studies courses should be accepted.

Contact the university where you plan to attend, to determine if they will accept some of the basic courses. The chairman of the department should be able to provide you with some answers, so don’t be afraid to ask. Quite often you can receive a straight answer with a telephone call. Once you obtain a verbal agreement, you may ask if the agreement can be put in writing. The reason this is importance is because people change jobs. Things change. The person who made that verbal agreement, may no longer be the Dean of the School or the Chairman of the Department.

So how to you get it in writing? First make your phone call and get your verbal agreement. Then, as soon as you hang up the phone, you write a letter to the Dean or Chairman who made the agreement. You simply state in your letter that you enjoyed your conversation and that you appreciate their help. Next you move on to the agreement.

“Thank you. M(r/s):”

“As per our telephone conversation, my understanding is that you will accept the following course(s) as transfer credit:”

“Thanks again,


Make sure they write you back verifying the agreement. You may need to take a copy of their letter to the university’s registrar’s office to make sure you receive the proper credit.

Best wishes and good luck!

Friday, June 22, 2007

How To Earn College Credits For Free Or Reduced Costs

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There are many opportunities for students to earn college credits at lower cost and apply those credits to future academic programs.

Many programs exist which allow students to earn college credits for free or at least for significantly less cost than is traditionally charged by universities. These programs included advanced placement credit, CLEP credit, dual credit programs, free courses offered by local colleges and universities, prior learning credit, and more.

Free College Courses
Many colleges and universities will offer free courses from time to time for a variety of reasons. These reasons may include partnerships with the local community or local high schools to improve access to higher education in the local area; federal, state, or local grants the institution has earned to provide free courses to students in particular programs of study or to students who meet a particular set of criteria; or free courses offered as a part of a marketing effort by the institution. These free courses are typically offered only for short periods of time and may not result in anything more than a half or one credit of study. However, if you are considering going back to college or if your student is concerned about whether they will be able to handle the rigors of college, a free course may be an excellent introduction to the institution and allow the student to achieve some measure of success.

Advanced Placement (AP) Credit
Advanced Placement Programs are administered by The College Board. The AP Program has its own web site at There is a cost for AP exams, but this fee is typically only 1/3 to 1/5 the cost of earning credit for a course at an applicable college or university. AP Credit is awarded only for earning an established score on an AP Exam. Typically, earning AP credit involves investing a significant amount of time and energy into completing the requirements of an AP course offered by a high school in order to prepare for the AP exam. Taking the AP course is not required to register for and complete and AP exam, however the format of AP exams is significantly different from other exams the student may have taken before so simply gaining experience in test taking skills is a benefit of the AP courses.

Advanced Placement score requirements are set by each institution so you will need to contact the institution(s) you are considering attending in order to determine a) if they accept advanced placement scores; b) what courses they accept advanced placement credit for; and c) the score needed on the advanced placement exams in order to earn credit in specific courses. It’s also important to consider when deciding whether or not to invest time in an advanced placement course and the test process whether or not the course the student would earn credit in is necessary for the student to take in college or if there might be other ways to earn that same credit.

CLEP Tests
CLEP, or College Level Exam Program, tests offer students the opportunity to earn college credit through exam. The cost for CLEP exams is currently about $80 per exam, although institutions may set their own administration fee for the exam so you may pay slightly more or less. However, when you compare this to the average cost of a three credit hour course plus text books which averages around $600 per course you can see that significant savings can be realized. CLEP exams are offered for a variety of courses. Institutions set the acceptable scores for each course for which they accept CLEP scores and may also set limits on the amount of credits which may be earned through testing.

CLEP exams are an attractive alternative to the AP exam process – not because they are easier, but because they are available for a wider number of courses.

Early College Programs
High schools and colleges often partner to offer students the opportunity to earn both high school and college credit through completion of a single high school course. The costs of such programs vary widely from free to one-half the cost of the same course in a college or university. These early college programs have a variety of different names, but may be called dual credit, dual learning, dual enrollment, early college, or early college/high school courses. The steps involved in these programs vary as much as the costs and names of such programs. The steps though often involve completing the registration form for the College or University that will be awarding credit. It’s important to realize that these are real college credit courses and you will have a grade earned in a college or university for completing this program – regardless of what that grade may be. If the student is not committed to the course or experiences extreme difficulty with the course, the student may earn a grade of F at the college level which can make future college admissions and financial aid more difficult.

Prior Learning Credit
Whether you are a high school student who has done extensive volunteer and community service work or study on your own which may allow you to demonstrate competency and completion of a college course or you are returning to school after having worked in the private sector for several years, you may be eligible to earn credit based on this actual life experience. Credit for life experiences may be called prior learning credit, experiential learning credit, or credit for work. Higher education institutions often use standards set by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning ( to manage their prior learning assessment programs. In order to earn credit for prior learning, students will most likely need to take an exam or create a portfolio that is then graded or evaluated by a member of the college or university staff. There is typically a fee paid for this evaluation process, but it is typically 1/3 or less of the cost of taking the same course.

In many cases, credit earned through these various programs may not transfer beyond the first institution that accepts the credit and so you will need to go through the process of having the institution evaluate these credits for each institution you enter. For this reason, it is important that students maintain copies of all records associated with these courses – including final grade reports, transcripts, and registration records, indefinitely. If students complete a portfolio for prior learning credit, this information should also be maintained indefinitely as prior learning credit rarely transfers from one institution to another so students will need to go through the process of having this credit verified and evaluated again. It’s important to factor this fact into the student’s long term educational plans. If the student is planning to earn multiple degrees from multiple institutions (either multiple undergraduate degrees or an undergraduate degree followed by graduate degree), the student may end up paying for evaluation of credit multiple times.

It’s also important to understand that institutions may place limits on the amount of credit which can be earned through means other than traditional courses. Students must review the requirements at the institution carefully to understand the requirements and limits on credits earned in these less than traditional ways.

Disclaimer: Advice provided by is for informational purposes only. Material changes can and do occur. Programs, plans and definitions may change. Therefore, we encourage you to do your own research as we accept no responsibility for the information provided here.

What You Need To Know About Saving and Investing For College

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At a recent college financial aid session on the campus of a small, private liberal arts college, the financial aid director told a room of parents of nearly 200 students that the primary responsibility of paying more than $30,000 per year in tuition for the next six years of the pharmacy program was theirs. Each of these families was going to have to come up with a means to fund a $180,000 education, not to mention the cost of housing, transportation, books and the necessary incidentals that mark college life. The financial aid director asked how many had the money saved and were ready to handle the burden this would place on their families. A wave of nervous laughter, a sound somewhere between hysterics and despair filled the room.

The financial aid director’s point, is that the burden of funding a college education is that of the child’s parent. While there are many sources of funding that may be available to the student and the parents, there is no guarantee that these sources will be available when your child is ready for college. The only way to guarantee that your child can attend college is to fund it yourself.

So, how do you fund your child’s education on your own? The most important key is to start early. Many parents elect to start saving for their child’s or childrens’ educations from the day they are born, and some even earlier than that. Every penny you save now, will be one less penny you have to try to come up with when your child gets to college. Keep in mind that your child can save for college as well. Setting aside a separate savings account for your child to deposit earnings from allowance, odd jobs, and formal work experiences is a great idea to introduce them to the concept of financial planning and investment. You might even consider allowing your child the opportunity to invest their money in the stock market or mutual funds using one of the investment programs named below. This is a great (and fun!) way to talk to your kids about finances and savings and start them down a life long path of responsible savings and investment.

If you’ve decided that you want to fund all, or at least a major part, of your child’s education on your own and you want to start saving, there are many options available to you. Let’s take a look at some of those options:

*Savings Accounts: The simplest method to save for your child’s education is using a basic savings account. Keep in mind that this offers a very low rate of return on your money so while you may be contributing to the account, you’re not going to realize the benefits of compound interest and other advantages investing in other types of financial products. The typical savings interest rate is somewhere around 2.5%, whereas money markets and CDs are typically around 5%. Bonds can be as low as 6% and as high as 9%.

*Money Market Accounts, Certificates of Deposits(CDs), and Bonds: In contrast to a savings account, money in these types of investments is often tied up for a bit more time (or in the case of a money market account you have to maintain a certain balance at all times) so if an emergency arises and you have to get to this money you won’t be able to do so as easily. Money Markets and Bonds are fairly liquid, but CDs typically require that you maintain your money in the account for a minimum of six months to a year.

*529 Plans: A 529 plan is a special type of investment account specifically designed to allow for the prepayment of higher education expenses. Many different financial institutions offer 529 plans and your employer may also offer a 529 investment plan to you as a part of your benefits program. Keep in mind that you don’t want to overpay a 529 plan because the money must be spent on qualified higher education expenses at an eligible institution, so it’s important to do your homework up front on these types of plans.

*Stocks and Mutual Funds: If you’re willing to take on a bit more risk for the possibility of a far greater return on investment, then stocks and mutual funds may be good investment decisions for you. If you’re new to the world of investing, consider a program like ShareBuilder ( or the Motley Fool Investment Guide ( to get hints and tips on investing safely and intelligently. Stock and Mutual Fund investing can provide the highest returns depending on the amount of research and preparation made prior to investing. You can win big and you can lose big. Index mutual funds are advised for those new to investing.

* Life Insurance: A final basic savings option is to invest in life insurance plans and then borrow against these plans to pay for your child’s education. There is a great guide to paying for education with life insurance at This offer the added benefit of life insurance protection for your family under these policies.

Remember, if you want to guarantee that your child will have a fully funded education when he or she gets to college, the best advice is to start early. It’s also important that you do not make poor funding choices like borrowing against your own retirement plans. You will need that money long after your child graduates. Your retirement account could be significantly depleted if you use it to fund your child’s education.

Disclaimer: Advice provided by is for informational purposes only. Material changes can and do occur. Programs, plans and definitions may change. Therefore, we encourage you to do your own research as we accept no responsibility for the information provided here. You may use this information at your own risk. Copyright © 2007

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA

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If you have a child who will be attending college, or if you are considering going back to college yourself, there is one document that you must consider filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The FAFSA is the most important document in determining eligibility requirements for public financial aid money and it is used by many colleges and universities in determining eligibility for private scholarship and grant dollars as well.

We’ve created a flash video on filling out the FAFSA at But, before you jump into the video, there are some key pieces of information about the FAFSA you should know before you try to fill it out. This article summarizes many questions and answers you may have about the FAFSA.

The FAFSA is the key to unlocking federal financial aid dollars, several billion dollars in new federal aid in 2005-2006 alone. The FAFSA program is managed by the United States Department of Education, or the Dept. of Ed. The FAFSA is used by the Dept of Ed to determine whether a student, based on the family’s income, is eligible for federal grants or federal loans. In addition to being used by the Federal government, most states and many institutions also use the data collected on the FAFSA to determine eligibility for their own grant, loan, and scholarship programs as well.

The FAFSA is a long document that is now completed, almost entirely online at While paper copies are still available, the online FAFSA is your best option for several reasons. First of all, the online FAFSA allows for the fastest and easiest processing of your information. When you complete the FAFSA online you’ll have many opportunities to review your work to make sure it is accurate. If you use the paper document, you have to make sure it’s right, mail it in to the Dept of Ed, someone hand enters it into a computer, and then you have to wait until your Student Air Report, or SAR, is returned to check for any errors. With the online FAFSA you receive the SAR electronically within one to five days, about half the time it takes with the mailed FAFSA. And if you complete online and find an error in the SAR, you can quickly and easily correct it online as well.

In addition to the online FAFSA being more efficient up front, using this also makes the process of completing the renewal FAFSA each year easier as well. Each time you create a renewal FAFSA any information that you entered in previous years is moved forward for you onto the new document and you only have to verify and correct, no entering your name, address, phone number, employer, and more every time you fill out the document. In addition, if you or your child are using the MyFSA website ( to streamline the college search and planning process then information entered on this site is also carried over to the online FAFSA.

One of the least understood aspects of the FAFSA is why it is important to fill it out even if you are sure you will not qualify for grants or loans. There are really two key reasons that you should fill out the FAFSA before starting college (and a renewal FAFSA each year that you are pursuing an education). The first is that a year is a long time and in that year many things can happen such as the loss of job, serious illness, or even death. In these cases, income levels may change and may change the student’s ability to qualify for grant or loan dollars. However, if an original FAFSA was not filled out, then when the student attempts to receive assistance based on this new financial status there may be less money available because the change in status will not be evident. Put a bit more simply, if you can demonstrate that you’ve had a significant loss of income due to loss of job, illness or death more money may be available to you. Therefore, it is important to file a FAFSA (and a renewal FAFSA each year after that).

The second reason for filling out a FAFSA even if you are sure you will not qualify for grants or loans is that the FAFSA is not only the key to unlocking federal aid, but also state and institutional aid as well. Many institutions require you to complete a FAFSA (or renewal FAFSA) in order to be eligible for institutional scholarships, even those that are not need-based.

Before you begin filling out the FAFSA, you’ll need to gather several pieces of information. If you’re using the online FAFSA you’ll need to register for a PIN number with the department of education. You can do so by following the instructions on the FAFSA web site at or by going directly to the PIN web site at You’ll need your PIN to access your FAFSA, check the status of your FAFSA, and to complete your renewal FAFSA. The PIN is assigned for life so if you or your child decide to continue your education in graduate school or beyond, the PIN number they get right out of high school will still apply so it is important to keep this number in a safe place. The PIN number should be protected as confidential information and should never be shared with a third party. It takes between one and three days to get a PIN number if you provide your email address and about 10 days to receive the PIN by mail if you opt not to provide your email address.

While you’re waiting to receive your PIN number, it’s a good idea to gather all the documents and information you’ll need to complete the FAFSA. The Department of Education provides, on the FAFSA web site, a list of documents you will need to complete the FAFSA each year. You should consult the web site at for the most up to date list, but the following is a good representation of the information you will need:

  • The student’s social security number

  • The student’s driver’s license (if the student has one)

  • The student’s current year W-2 forms and/or records of any money earned while working.

  • The student’s current year Federal Income Tax Return

  • The parents’ current year Federal Income Tax Return

  • Records of any untaxed income for both the student and the parent. Examples of this include social security, TANF, welfare, or veterans benefits

  • The most recent bank statement for both the parent and the student (if the student has his/her own account).

  • Records of any other business or investment mortgage information, business and farm records, stock, bond, and other investment records

  • The student’s alien registration number or permanent residence card (if not a U.S. citizen)

  • The school code for the schools to which you want the FAFSA sent. Most school financial aid offices provide their school code on just about every piece of written documentation they send you. If you don’t have it, you can either contact the school or use the online system on the FAFSA web site to look up the school code. Keep in mind there is no obligation to accept aid from a school to which you send a FAFSA, but many schools will not provide you with information about your FAFSA application or aid eligibility if you have not made application to the school.

Once you’ve gathered all these documents, you’ll want to take a look at the FAFSA on the web worksheet which is also available at This worksheet, which is available in PDF format and is provided in both English and Spanish, allows you to enter information in the order it will be requested on the FAFSA. If you encounter problems with the questions while you are filling out the worksheet, there are many different places you can go for assistance. These include:

  • FAQs or Frequently Asked Questions (and their answers) which can be found on the FAFSA website.

  • The Student Aid web site guide to completing the FAFSA which is located at The guide on this web site entitled "The Application Questions" explains each question in detail, provides some information on why that question is important/necessary, and gives guidance in how to answer the question or where the answer might be located in the documents you have.

  • The Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) which can be reached by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or TTY can call 1-800-730-8913.

  • The financial aid office of your local community college. Whether you’re planning to attend classes at the local community college or not, they may offer free assistance in completing the FAFSA. Some offer this by appointment year round and others participate in programs such as College Goal Sunday. You can find out about schools in your state that participate in College Goal Sunday by visiting This annual event is sponsored in more than 40 states by college financial aid staff. The event is typically held around the time of the Super Bowl (hence the name, college "goal" Sunday)

  • The financial aid office of institutions where you are applying. While the institution may not be in your local community, these folks often are available by phone or email to provide assistance in completing the FAFSA and answering other questions.

Once you’ve received your PIN and completed the FAFSA on the web Worksheet, it’s time to log on to the FAFSA web site and begin completing the form. If you’ve completed the worksheet and have all your documentation close at hand and have a relatively fast Internet connection, it will probably take you about an hour to complete the FAFSA. However, if you have to go searching for last year’s tax records while you’re trying to fill out the FAFSA online, it may take much longer. So the key here is to be organized up front so you are not frustrated as you move through the process. If you get stuck or if you just need to take a break you can always save your work online (there will be instructions on how to do this once you log in to begin the FAFSA) and return to it later.

As you work, be sure to check your entries for accuracy. It is important that you fill out all information accurately and completely. Take the opportunity when you’re done to check your work and ensure that you entered everything exactly as it should be. When you’re finished follow the on screen instructions to submit your work. It’s a good idea to print a paper copy (this will be an option when you reach the end of the online application process) and keep it with your other financial aid records.

After you’ve submitted your FAFSA you’re not quite done yet. You will need to wait a couple of days (sometimes as few as one day and sometimes as many as ten days) to receive your Student Aid Report, or SAR. Review the SAR carefully to make sure that you entered everything correctly. There will be instructions with your SAR to either make corrections to the information or to affirm that everything is correct. Be sure to complete this process and then you’re ready to contact the schools to which you are applying to ensure they received your FAFSA information and to begin working with them to determine financial aid awards. Many schools offer you online access to this information so you may want to contact them to determine if this is available for new students.

Remember that it is important to meet the deadlines for completing the FAFSA, and in some cases the earlier you complete the FAFSA the better. Because you will need your tax return information from the previous year, you are not eligible to complete the FAFSA before January 1 of the year in which you wish to begin receiving aid. You may fill out the FAFSA any time after that for federal aid, although priority is given based on a first come, first served basis. In addition, many states have a financial aid deadline for the FAFSA that must be met to guarantee consideration for aid dollars. These deadlines are as early as March 1 so be sure you check with your institution or your state’s department of education to determine if an early filing deadline exists in your state.

Disclaimer: Advice provided on is for informational purposes only. Material changes can and do occur. Programs, plans and definitions may change. Therefore, we encourage you to do your own research as we accept no responsibility for the information provided here. You may use this information at your own risk. Copyright © 2007