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Good News About Student Loans

Here’s a welcome change—some good news about student loans. In response to the worsening economy and the credit crunch, the U.S. federal government has enacted some recent policy changes that will make it easier to get student loans, and a little less painful for both students and parents to pay them back.student loans

Here’s a summary of the recent changes:

  • The Stafford loan program has been expanded. Most undergraduates will now be eligible to borrow up to $5500 per year, and most upperclassmen will now be eligible for $7500. Virtually all students will be eligible to receive Stafford loans as long as they fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students who are 24 years old and above, or who are independent of their parents, will be able to borrow an additional $6000. These Stafford loans will come with an interest rate of no more than 7.25%.
  • Needy students will be eligible for a lower Stafford loan interest rate of 6%– and further cuts are in the works.
  • Interest rates will drop to 4.21% on all unconsolidated student loans issued before July 1, 2006. This includes loans that are currently being paid back, as well as loans that are not.
  • Parents who take out a new PLUS loan can now defer payments until six months after their child has graduated from school. In addition, it’s become easier for parents to qualify for PLUS loans. And if a parent is denied a PLUS loan because of credit problems, the child is then eligible for additional Stafford Loan funds.

Loans are still a burden, of course, and these actions don’t solve the problem that a college education has become overwhelmingly expensive for students and families. But perhaps this is a move in the right direction.

The Dreaded Number Game

Unfortunately, one of the biggest parts of a college’s application and acceptance process is something known to many of my friends as “The Number Game,” and I’m sure that many of you can take a guess that this refers to the ever-so-exciting standardized tests. For some, standardized test refers to only the ACT or the SAT, but for other it’s also means SAT IIs, AP tests, and IB tests.

Quite a few students wait until the beginning of their senior year to take there ACTs/SATs while IB tests are junior and senior year and the SAT IIs and AP tests can take place any year you elect to take them. For me, I decided to get a head start on my ACTs/SATs.

I decided to take a practice round of each test at the beginning of my second semester of junior year (I believe in February). While I wasn’t entirely satisfied with my SAT score of 1760 (out of 2400) I was very pleased with my 30 (out of 36) on my ACT! After giving it some thought, I decided to retake both. June 7th was the test day for the SAT and only a week later, on the 14th, I had to take my ACT. I studied for both, mostly the SAT, hoping that my studying would pay off. After the grueling 4 week wait to receive my scores I was pleased to see my SAT score go up to an 1850, but even more excited about the fact I got a 31 on my ACT!

TSAT Study Bookhis improvement in both my scores show that proper preparation for standardized tests does pay off. So for those of you that are worried or stressing over standardized testing, don’t! Just be sure, that if you are nervous, to prepare yourself properly. The best way to study for these types of tests is to familiarize yourself with the format of the tests by using practice tests. You can find all types of study aids at any book store and most are in the $20-$30 range (depending on how much study material is in the aid).

A great way to prepare for the SAT is to take the PSAT if your school offers it. The PSAT is the Pre-SAT, a much shorter version that familiarizes you with the format of the SAT and also gives an accurate score as to what you will receive on your SAT. Freshmen, Sophomores, and Juniors are eligible for taking this test. I was forced to take it, but taking it definately helped me in the long run!

SAT IIs are much similar to AP tests. Both test only in a certain subject area and can help with placement during your freshman year of college. While AP is more likely to earn you credits, the SAT IIs are more so used for placement. I took the Literature SAT II and scored 610 (out of 800) and Mathematics level 2, scoring 690 (out of 800).

There are also many study aids available for these tests. But know that while the SAT tests your reasoning ability, the SAT IIs are more like the ACT in the sense that they test your knowledge of a certain subject. SAT IIs are not required, but most colleges, but some do require you to take them. Or if you are looking at a school that “recommends” them, that’s just saying that you should take them, only in a much nicer way!

So don’t let the numbers game scare you! With proper preparation, you can beat any test that comes your way!

Wordless Wednesday: High School Graduates

High School Graduation

The Top 10 Most Popular College Majors

According to The Princeton Review, here are the top 10 most popular majors in the United States:

  1. Business Administration and Management
  2. Psychology
  3. Elementary Education
  4. Biology
  5. Nursing
  6. Education
  7. English
  8. Communications
  9. Computer Science
  10. Political Science

college studentSo, is it a good idea to major in something that’s very popular? Maybe. These majors are popular for a reason–because students find them interesting and useful for their future career plans. In addition, when a major is popular, you can often find plenty of resources on campus to accommodate the large number of students in these majors, like lab space, internship programs, and a wide variety of course offerings.

However, there are some problems with majoring in one of the most popular majors on campus. One big issue can be course size, and another can be competition to get into the classes you need. If the number of students outnumbers the number of faculty members by too much, it’s possible you won’t get the classes you need before graduation. In addition, a disadvantage to a popular major is that it can make it harder for you to stand out in a pile of graduate school or job applications.

One thing to consider: choose a major that’s similar to these top choices, but less popular. Try these alternatives.

  • If you like Business Administration and Management, try human resources, hospitality management, or recreation management.
  • If you like Psychology, try sociology or anthropology.
  • If you like Elementary Education or Education, try social work or human development.
  • If you like Biology, try geology, natural resources, forestry, or animal science.
  • If you like Nursing, try medical technology
  • If you like English, try classics, comparative literature, technical writing, or journalism
  • If you like Communications, try cultural studies, film studies, public relations, sociology, or journalism
  • If you like Computer Science, try management and information science or information technology
  • If you like Political Science, try history, geography, sociology, or anthropology

Remember–always choose a major that piques your interest. Otherwise, it’s going to be a miserable four (or more) years, and you’re not likely to do well in your classes.

Beginning of my Senior Year!

Me. A High School Senior. It’s so hard for me to believe! The bell rang signaling school was out and as the students of East High filed out into the halls screaming and throwing papers I couldn’t help but say to myself “I am now a senior.” Then it seemed so simple, but now I’ve realized that there is so much more to being a senior than just owning the school and scaring the freshmen that dare walk on our turf.class of 2009

While being a senior in high school means you better yell as loud as possible at the pep assembly to win the spirit stick, it includes being responsible and mature, much more so than before. Also, we are faced with one of the most difficult decisions of our life. College. It doesn’t sound so scary, just saying it (or even typing it), but as I have begun looking at colleges, trying to find schools that fit my criteria, I begin to realize how huge of a task this really is and how much effort must be put into the search for the right school.

Something as simple as wanting a small school population can soon lead to other questions such as “What is the student teacher ratio? Are my standardized test scores good enough to even get me past the numbers game? Do they have a football team?! (One of my criteria of course!)”.

And of course these are only a few of the questions that seem to pop out of no where. Although finding colleges that I will not only enjoy myself, but offer me the best education possible may seem difficult and daunting, I am ready to take on the challenge. While doing this never ending college search, I will not allow it to destroy my senior year. Yes, college will be a priority but I will not allow it to run my senior year! So as the summer slowly fades and my final year of high school creeps ever so close, I am prepared to be fully launched into a year that will not only offer excitement and fun, but also learning and growth.

Meet Becca, our New Student Blogger

becca driskillWe’re very pleased to introduce to you Becca Driskill. Next month she will begin her senior year of high school- and she’s going to share with you all of the ups, downs and insanity that make a senior year. Follow her every step of the way as she, like most of her peers, prepares for college. Becca will talk about entrance exams, senior year jitters and excitement, college selection process, college applications, college financing through grants, scholarships and student loans, campus tours and everything else she experiences along the way.

Becca is quite the accomplished high school student and certainly someone her high school in Wichita, KS should be proud to have. She’s involved in a broad variety of activities, and all the while maintains an impressive GPA. Her activities include International Club, National Honor Society, Varsity Softball, and the band where she plays clarinet. She is in the IB (International Baccalaureate) program, which is an accelerated program that intends to prep students for college and push them to your absolute limit (both academically and mentally!)

Outside of school, Becca remains busy with other extracurricular activities. This will be her twelfth year as a Girl Scout and she just recently earned the Gold Award, which is the equivalent of the Boy Scout Eagle Scout Award. She’s active in her church, attending youth group on a regular basis and was appointed as a LYF (Lutheran Youth Fellowship) Representative this past fall.

“As I document my final year of High School and all it entails,” says Becca, “I hope those of you who read it will find it not only entertaining, but also insightful and applicable.”

Look for Becca’s blog posts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Should Parents Be Responsible for their Children’s College Education?

With the rising cost of college education, fewer parents are able to help significantly with their children’s educational costs. Moreover, some parents who have the means to do so are refusing to do so, both because of the growing financial burden of a college education, and because they feel their kids will appreciate their education more if they pay for it themselves.

Here’s a recent article about this topic in the Chicago Tribune discussing why there are More College Students Paying Their Own Way.parents of college student

Unfortunately, the financial burden of a college education has become so cumbersome that families have some tough decisions to make. On the one hand, it’s becoming increasing difficult for students to pay their own way through college with part time jobs and financial aid packages, even at state schools. This is what I did fifteen years ago, with some help from my family, and although money was pretty tight, it worked. And yes, I do feel that I appreciated my education all the more because I worked for it. But a mere fifteen years later, this scenario becomes very difficult without taking out excessive amounts of student loans or working exceptionally long hours at a part time job. At most, I worked about 20 hours a week. That’s nothing compared to the hours many students put in today.

On the other hand, college has become so expensive that many parents can’t afford it either. Most of my college friends had their bills footed by parents, and none of my friends came from families that were particularly wealthy. Today, paying for college for middle class families can mean second mortgages, and dips into retirement funds, and other financial transactions that can put a burden on a family’s financial future.

So what to do? Parents and college-bound kids need to sit down for some serious discussions about college finances. Who’s going to pay for what? Who’s going to take out the loans? How many hours should the student need to work? How much are the parents willing and able to help? These talks can be uncomfortable, but the current state of higher education mandates open communication between parents and their kids about finances.

Researchers Say Red Bull Cocktails are More Dangerous than Alcohol Alone

red bull and vodkaIt’s all the rage of college campuses—Red Bull, or other highly caffeinated energy drinks, mixed with vodka or other alcohol. Personally, this sounds pretty gnarly to me! But according to a recent study by researchers at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, the problem with this concoction is not what it tastes like. Together, energy drinks combined with alcohol can be more dangerous than drinking alcohol alone—especially if you binge drink the stuff. And apparently, about one quarter of college students in the United States drink this stuff at least occasionally.

For more information on this issue, here’s an article from ABC News explaining why Red Bull is Not the Best Mixer.

So what’s the problem with energy drink cocktails? These drinks can cause two sets of problems. First, combining alcohol and caffeine in large quantities creates a chemical reaction that can cause both minor and serious health problems. Second, the combination can impair your judgment even more so than the consumption of alcohol alone. According to researchers, the hazards of energy drink cocktails include:

  • Respiratory problems, ranging from shortness of breath to more severe problems
  • Rapid heart rate, which can be life threatening if you have a known or unknown heart condition
  • Severe disorientation
  • Misjudging level of drunkenness (since you feel so alert), which can increase the likelihood of DUIs, alcohol poisoning, and risky behavior.

Something to think about, students?

Back to Normal Slowly at the University of Iowa

university of iowaAfter flooding caused millions of dollars at the University of Iowa, things are going back to normal–although slowly. Classes are back in session at the University of Iowa after a week of cancellations. The slower pace of the summer session may be a blessing, as it will give the campus time to readjust to the mess everyone expects in the fall. As of now, 26 facilities are unusable, including the largest dormitory on campus, which certainly doesn’t bode well for the rush of incoming students. The main library and the student union also are closed.

Here’s an article from the Iowa City Press Citizen.

How Do You Qualify for Independent Status on Your FAFSA?

In order to file for financial aid in the United States, you need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This complicated form requires you to provide detailed information about your financial situation—and your family’s—and based on this information, the government awards you a financial aid package.fafsa

But is it necessary to include your parent’s financial information? There are two ways to fill out a FAFSA. Most traditional students fill out the form as a dependent on their parents, which means they have to provide information about their parents’ finances. However, some students are eligible to fill out the FAFSA as an independent. This means that it’s assumed that you are going to be funding your education without help from your parents, and you don’t have to include your parents’ financial info.

In many (although not all) cases, filing as an independent means you’ll be eligible for a better financial aid package. However, there are restrictions on who is eligible to claim independent status. It’s not enough to simply claim that your parents aren’t paying for your college education—even if that’s the truth.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, students must meet at least one of the six following criteria to qualify for independent status:

  1. At least 24 years old by the end of the award year.
  2. An orphan, a ward of the court, or a former ward of the court until your 18th birthday.
  3. A U.S. military veteran.
  4. A graduate or professional student.
  5. Married.
  6. A person with dependents other than a spouse.

In addition, students are sometimes awarded independent status due to special circumstances, such as a total breakdown in the relationship between the parents and the student.


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