News + announcements

Find local scholarships in your own backyard

The following article is from U.S. News & World Report

March 30, 2020

Read more >

While a student's first instinct may be to aim for high-dollar, national college scholarships, experts say this may turn him or her into a "little fish in a big pond." Instead, local scholarships may often offer less competition and a greater chance for success.

Some national scholarships offer big awards, like the National Merit Scholarship, which gives students $2,500, or the Elk National Foundation Most Valuable Student Scholarship, which provides a small number of students with scholarships of up to $50,000 over four years.

But national scholarships aren't always significantly higher in value than local scholarships, experts note.

The difference in award amount between local and national scholarships is "usually non-existent," Thomas Jaworski, independent educational consultant and founder of Quest College Consulting, wrote in an email. "I find that most local scholarships are as competitive monetarily ($500-1500) with national scholarships ($1000-2000), with better odds to win."

Students who aim to win multiple local scholarships can end up significantly outpacing those who apply only for highly competitive national scholarships, some experts say.

Here are steps students can take to find and win local scholarships:

  • Ask guidance counselors about local scholarships.
  • Research past local scholarships.
  • Use existing community connections.
  • Apply for local scholarships strategically.
  • Ask Guidance Counselors About Local Scholarships.

A student's school can be a wealth of information and a great jumping-off point in the search for local scholarship dollars.

"The absolute first place to visit for local scholarships is your school counselor's office or the school's website," Jan Smith, a financial literacy expert at ECMC, a nonprofit organization that assists student loan borrowers, wrote in an email. "Many local businesses truly want to help out students in their hometown and will approach the school counselor for getting the word out about their scholarship."

Smith says guidance counselors often create a space in their office dedicated to scholarships, complete with a list of scholarships and deadlines.

Winning scholarships can take significant research and time.

Jean O'Toole, a scholarship strategist and author of "Scholarship Strategies: Finding and Winning the Money You Need," says one trick to doing this efficiently is to research past local scholarships and winners.

"Contact the school's guidance office and ask to be emailed the senior awards night program from the previous year. You can get a list in advance of all of the local companies and organizations that are giving away money. Then the next question is who won last year, why did they win and who decides?"

Once a student identifies last year's local businesses that may be offering college scholarships, she says it's time to determine who selects the scholarship winner – whether a school staff member or company employee – and reach out to that decision-maker.

Places of worship, the local chamber of commerce and local businesses are examples of where a student might start in their search for community-based scholarships.

By tapping into organizations and businesses where students already have connections, experts say, students may increase their chances of getting a scholarship. A parent's employer, for example, may offer an annual college scholarship.

Apply for Local Scholarships Strategically
Students should start with the most-local scholarships – like those open only to students attending a specific high school or in a certain club – before slowly expanding the search and widening the net, Jaworski says.

"Most public schools have scholarships from booster clubs, sports teams, alums, etc," Jaworski wrote. "Then to look in their immediate local community (Rotary Clubs, Chamber of Commerce, Women's Club), slowly expanding the boundaries, surrounding communities, county, state, etc. The more local the scholarship, the better the percentages are to 'win' the scholarship because there are less students who qualify, and most qualifiers do not apply."

While some experts emphasize local scholarships, they say applying for a mixture of national and local scholarships is the best strategy.

"We also tend to tell students to check for scholarships at large national retail chains or other known businesses, but it might make more sense to apply for local businesses (in addition), such as mom and pop restaurants, locally owned auto services or bookstores, local churches and other places or clubs where students have a local connection," Smith wrote. "In my hometown, the local Ruritan club offers scholarships for seniors and often the amount has been awarded to seven applicants for $1,000 each."

Close >

Student aid secret: even high-income families can qualify

The following article is from CNBC

February 21, 2020

Read more >

As college costs soar, financial aid can make all the difference.

Still, many families wrongfully assume they won't qualify and don't even bother to apply.

Each year, more than 1.7 million private scholarships and fellowships are awarded, worth more than $7.4 billion. Your family's income doesn't have to stand in the way.

In fact, qualifying for such aid is often not based on income at all.

Merit aid
For starters, there are many different types of merit scholarships available for athletes, minorities, and students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs. There's also aid for community service volunteers or grants based on leadership skills, musical ability or religious affiliation, according to James Lewis, co-founder of the National Association of High School Scholars, or NSHSS, based in Atlanta.

And more obscure offerings are out there to help cover the costs. For example, incoming freshmen who meet certain height requirements could be eligible for a scholarship from the Tall Clubs International Foundation. (Here are a few more unusual scholarships currently available.)

Lewis advises students to look for scholarships locally, particularly from organizations in their community, where the odds of nabbing an award are better than national competitions.

"Search your network," he said, including "high school, honor societies, alumni networks, civic groups, employers and houses of worship."

"Make Google your best friend."

Free search sites, such as Tuition Funding Sources, can help students find this most desirable kind of assistance — money that does not have to be repaid.

Some families are catching on. This year, scholarships and grants were the single most-used resource to pay for an undergraduate's college bill, according to the most recent report by education lender Sallie Mae.

Need-based aid
Aside from merit aid, even high-income families could still qualify for need-based assistance.

"That's a mistake, to assume you are ineligible," said Kalman Chany, a financial aid consultant and author of the Princeton Review's "Paying for College."

For example, a school may not consider a non-custodial parent's income, even if it exceeds $400,000 or $500,000, Chany said. "If you are divorced and the non-custodial parent, they may only look at the other parent's information."

There's also more to determining a student's aid than income and savings alone, such as the school's cost of attendance or the number of college-age siblings.

"Some schools will give you need-based money even if you don't demonstrate need because they are getting price resistance," Chany said.

And if your family has two children enrolled in college, that's like dividing the parent's income in half, he added.

File the FAFSA
To access any of that assistance, students must file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, which serves as the gateway to all federal money including loans, work-study and grants.

High school graduates in 2017 missed out on $2.3 billion in federal grants because they didn't fill out the FAFSA at all, according to an analysis by personal finance website NerdWallet.

Among those who didn't apply, most said it was because they didn't think they would qualify.

Jennifer Satalino, a financial aid expert with Educational Credit Management Corp., a nonprofit dedicated to helping student borrowers, advises all students to submit the paperwork. "It can really pay off," she said.

"Students and parents will always be eligible for certain types of financial aid."

Close >

Here's how to break down your college financial aid award letter

The following article is from CNBC

February 12, 2020

Read more >

Getting into college is one thing. Figuring out how to pay for it is another.

Price has become a growing consideration among students and parents. Now, financial concerns govern decision-making for nearly 8 in 10 families, according to education lender Sallie Mae, outweighing even academics when choosing a school.

At the same time, most students and their parents pay only a fraction of the total tab, even as college costs continue to rise.

In addition to income and savings, more than 8 in 10 families tap scholarships and grants — money that does not have to be repaid — to help cover costs. More than half of families borrow, with both parents and students taking out loans, Sallie Mae found. (See Sallie Mae's chart below.)

CNBC

That's why so much hinges on the financial aid award letter. However, it can be difficult to understand what that missive means to your bottom line.

To get a better sense of what you'll pay out of pocket for higher education, here are the do's and don'ts to deciphering college aid.

Don't compare apples to oranges

For starters, while it may seem obvious, some schools just cost more than others. Therefore, what may look like the largest offer might not be the best.

"One school might give you $5,000 more grant aid but their cost could be $8,000 more," said Kalman Chany, a financial aid consultant and author of the Princeton Review's "Paying for College."

Further, not all colleges include both direct and indirect expenses in the total "cost of attendance," or COA, said Jennifer Satalino, a financial aid expert with Educational Credit Management Corp., a nonprofit dedicated to helping student borrowers.

While most schools outline baseline tuition and fees, some might not include "indirect expenses" such as textbooks, meals and transportation. For each school, list out all the costs, including personal expenses, Satalino said, before deducting grants or scholarships.

"You have to look at the net net," Chany said.

Do differentiate free vs. borrowed money

In most award letters, there are often several financial aid options, including grants, scholarships, work-study opportunities and student loans.

If you're having trouble telling the difference between gift aid and loans that will need to be repaid, look for terms like "grant," "scholarship" and "fellowship." Anything else is most likely a loan, Satalino said.

"If you have questions, ask — don't make assumptions," she added.

Even with gift aid, there may be strings attached, such as whether a grant is renewable for all four years or a minimum grade point average that must be maintained. A school that seems more generous initially might offer less funding down the road, Chany said.

If student loans are listed, they will appear to reduce the total cost of attendance. But the reality is that loans always need to be repaid — plus interest.

Don't forget about interest

Studies show that more than half of millennials take on student loans without knowing the interest rate or what their monthly payments will be.

Before borrowing a dime, check whether the financial aid offer includes direct loans, which are need-based and interest-free while a student is in school, or unsubsidized loans, which accrue interest from the outset. "Subsidized is always better," Chany said.

Still, beyond differentiating between subsidized and unsubsidized loans, award letters rarely provide information about interest rates and repayment options.

If you'll need loans to pay for college, Satalino advises that you find out the full costs of your options and then borrow only what is absolutely necessary.

Don't take everything that's offered

To that end, schools will often offer more financial aid than you may need.

As a general rule of thumb, "don't borrow any more than you estimate your first-year earnings will be" once you graduate, Satalino said.

Many people make the mistake of borrowing too much and using student loans to pay for all their expenses, and then they struggle to repay what they owe, she cautioned.

"Only take the amount of financial aid necessary to get through college," Satalino said.

Close >

Explore Career and Technical Education

Learn more about CTE career options and what it means to students.

February 3, 2020

Read more >

ECMC dispels financial aid myths as college-bound students receive award letters

February is financial aid awareness month

January 30, 2020

Read more >

Minneapolis, MN (January 30, 2020)—February is Financial Aid Awareness Month and also a time when many college-bound students will be receiving award letters outlining financial aid packages from prospective colleges. Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) is dispelling myths for students and families who may need assistance navigating this process.

"Selecting a college is one of the largest financial commitments a person will make in their lifetime," said Paula Craw, vice president of student success and outreach at ECMC. "We want to do all we can to ensure students and families understand the information they receive and make informed decisions."

ECMC, which provides free training and resources focused on financial literacy and college preparedness, is providing insight for students and families to ensure they understand the various types of financial aid available.

Myth #1: My financial aid award letter will show me a clear picture of college costs.
Fact: The total costs of college aren't always clear from the outset. In financial aid award letters, not all colleges include both direct and indirect expenses in the total "Cost of Attendance" (COA). While most schools outline baseline tuition and fees, some might not include "indirect expenses" like room and board, textbooks, meals and transportation. Not knowing how much a full year of college will cost you makes it difficult to put an aid letter in context.

Myth #2: Loans and grants are easily discernible.
Fact: In most award letters, schools outline financial aid options such as grants, scholarships, work-study opportunities and student loans. If student loans are listed, they will appear to reduce the total cost of attendance. But the reality is that loans always need to be repaid—with interest. If you're having trouble telling the difference between gift aid and loans that will need to be repaid, look for terms like "grant," "scholarship" and "fellowship." Anything else is most likely a loan.

Myth #3: Interest on student loans will be included in my financial aid award letter.
Fact: Reports show more than half of millennials take on student loans without understanding what their monthly payments will be—and without understanding interest. However, award letters rarely provide information about interest rates and loan repayment options. If you'll need loans to pay for college, make sure you understand the full costs of your options and borrow only what is absolutely necessary.

Myth #4: I need to take out the full amount of money I'm offered in my financial aid letter.
Fact: Only take the amount of financial aid necessary to get through college. Many people make the mistake of borrowing too much and using student loans to pay for all their expenses, and they struggle to repay what they owe.

In addition to these tips, ECMC offers a free downloadable workbook that features a variety of worksheets and information to help students throughout the college planning process. Opportunities books are available in English and Spanish.

For more information, visit www.ecmc.org/students.

Close >