Timeline: Key Steps for Completing College Applications Successfully


Rising seniors should map out deadlines early to help them stay on track with their college applications.

Students should prep for college throughout high school, but for rising seniors time is limited. Applying to college can be stressful, but proper planning can help alleviate some of the pressure on students and their families.

Students can use the following timeline to map out their college application process. For a general timeline on when to apply for financial aid, students should refer to our college savings plan for 2014.

12:00 AM
June 1, 2014 — 12:00 AM
June 30, 2014

Ask for Recommendation Letters

Students who want recommendation letters from their junior year teachers should reach out to them before the school year ends.

“It’s really ideal if you ask before the start of the summer because if you have a teacher who is on top of things he or she might actually write the letter over the summer, so you’ll have it when you come back to school in September,” says Elizabeth Heaton, senior director of educational consulting at College Coach.

12:00 AM
July 1, 2014 — 12:00 AM
August 31, 2014

Start Test Prep

“As you’re putting your list of colleges together, you want to make sure you’re making note of the different testing requirements at each school,” Heaton says. Most schools accept either the ACT or SAT, but some institutions require additional testing or make standardized testing optional.

12:00 AM
August 1, 2014 — 12:00 AM
August 31, 2014

Write Your College Essay

Application essays are one of the most daunting parts of the college application process, but students can get that part done during the summer. The Common Application has announced that essay prompts will remain the same for the 2014-2015 school year. The application will be available to students on Aug. 1. For schools that don’t use the Common App, Heaton says students can reach out to those institutions directly to ask about the prompts.

12:00 AM
August 1, 2014 — 12:00 AM
October 30, 2014

Go On A College Tour

Summer can be a great opportunity for students to see schools on their application list. Many schools have programs and students on campus during the summer, so prospective students can still get a feel for campus culture and life.

12:00 AM
September 1, 2014 — 12:00 AM
October 30, 2014

Take the SAT or ACT

Fall is the best time to retake the SAT or ACT because it allows students to get their scores ahead of early decision application deadlines.

12:00 AM
September 1, 2014 — 12:00 AM
December 31, 2014

Search for Scholarships

It’s never too early to start searching for scholarships. Many national scholarships have fall deadlines, so if you haven’t started your search already, now is a good time to start.

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September 1, 2014 — 12:00 AM
September 30, 2014

Create an Application Timeline

Heaton encourages students to map out their deadlines for the rest of the year. With school in session, managing time becomes more important, she says.

12:00 AM
January 1, 2015 — 12:00 AM
January 31, 2015

Fill Out the FAFSA

Everyone who is planning on attending school should fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The application is used to determine what loans students can receive and award applicants with need-based scholarships. Learn more about some of the most common FAFSA mistakes.

U.S. News Education

12:00 AM
January 1, 2015 — 12:00 AM
March 3, 2015

Apply for Summer Jobs

A summer job is a great way to build your resume and assist with some of your college expenses. Many summer jobs and internships start accepting applications for summer jobs in the beginning of a new year. Start searching now to hopefully have something secured by graduation.

12:00 AM
April 1, 2015 — 12:00 AM
May 1, 2015

Make Your College Decision

By now you’ve likely researched your top choices, gone on tours and analyzed your financial aid packages. The national response deadline for accepting a college is May 1.

12:00 AM
May 1, 2015 — 12:00 AM
May 31, 2015

Apply for Late Admissions to Schools if Necessary

Students who haven’t secured a spot at an institution still have hope. Some schools still have places open after the May 1 national response date, but space is limited.

12:00 AM
June 1, 2015 — 12:00 AM
August 31, 2015

Prepare for Freshman Year

From selecting dorms to negotiating financial aid, there’s a lot more to do after you’ve been admitted. Stay up-to-date on all of your paperwork, enjoy the summer and prepare for the new school year.

Images from iStockphoto and Getty
pic3Briana Boyington is an education Web producer at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter or email her at bboyington@usnews.com.

3 Ways the Government Overestimates Your Ability to Pay for College

finaidThe government uses an antiquated family budget, and no regional cost of living adjustments.


“Where do they think we’ll get this money from?”

Parents who fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, are often shocked by how much the federal government thinks they can afford to pay for college when they receive their official “Expected Family Contribution,” or EFC.

Those who have investigated exactly how the government calculates the EFC say there’s a reason: The formula is so unrealistic and so old—it’s loosely based on a family budget from 1967—that it isn’t surprising that many 21st Century families are flabbergasted.

The Education Department takes the family’s financial information and applies a complicated formula adjusting for the family’s size, expenses, ages, and other factors. The department has published worksheets explaining the details of the formula for the 2010-11 and the 2011-12 academic years.

 Although the number the government computers calculate is called the “Expected Family Contribution,” that turns out not to be the amount most families have to spend on their children’s college. Colleges can and do calculate their own versions of a family’s EFC. But the federal EFC is important because it determines who gets federal financial aid such as Pell Grants and low-interest student loans, as well as many state, community, and private scholarships. And many colleges use it as a starting point before determining each student’s financial aid package, which results in his or her own unique net price of attendance.

[Read about how private colleges are adopting used car lots’ pricing strategies.]

For the 2010-11 academic year, the government will give an EFC of $0 and the maximum Pell Grant of $5,550 to students from families earning less than about $30,000. For every $100 in after-tax income above that $30,000 threshhold, the government will raise the student’s EFC by at least $22. For every $100 of after-tax income above about $60,000, the student’s federal EFC will rise by as much as $47.

That means a middle class family of four with an adjusted gross income of about $75,000 could get an EFC of anywhere from $4,000 to $9,000 a year, depending upon other factors such the parents’ ages, savings, and expenses.

Many financial aid administrators defend the stingy EFC formula, saying neither schools nor governments can afford to give aid to students from families who haven’t saved for college because they’ve chosen to spend on things like bigger-than-necessary houses, new cars, or iPhones.

But independent financial aid analysts say three government EFC policies can penalize even frugal families:

1. Outdated budget estimates. The Education Department bases its estimate of what families can afford today on a government budget for a “family maintaining a lower standard of living” in 1967. That budget has been adjusted for inflation every year. But it has not been adjusted for changes in family spending patterns. During the 1960s, fewer wives worked, for example, so families spent much less on child care. The antiquated budget also can’t account for modern technological expenses such as cell phones, computers, or internet access.

2. No regional adjustments. The government doesn’t account for the different costs of living in different cities. The Council for Community and Economic Research, which produces widely used data for tracking cost of living, estimates that living in New York City, for example, costs more than twice as much than living in, say, Pueblo, Colo. Yet the federal government assumes Brooklyn, N.Y., families paying, say, $2,000 a month for a three-bedroom apartment can afford to spend as much on college as similar families with comparable income paying only $1,000 for a similar home in lower-cost communities.

3. Unrealistic family spending assumptions. The government’s formula doesn’t make any accommodation for parents whose disposable income is reduced because of their own student loan bills, even though a growing number of parents are still paying off their own student loans as their kids enter college.

These policies mean the EFC is “at best, a very harsh assessment of families’ ability to pay,” says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org. At worst, he says, it is “somewhat unrealistic…and archaic.”

Making the EFC even harsher is the grim reality that most colleges, especially public universities, don’t have enough grant money these days to ensure that every student only has to pay the official EFC. Students fill those financial gaps with loans, extra work, or “merit aid,” such as scholarships awarded because of grades or special skills.

Federal officials note they have made some improvements to the EFC in the last couple years by, for example, raising the ceiling for the amount a student or family can earn and still receive an EFC of $0 from about $30,000 in the 2010 academic year to $31,000 in 2011.

In addition, in 2009, the government told colleges to lower the EFCs of students who appealed for extra aid because they had expenses or family problems that weren’t accounted for in the standard form, such as unusually high medical expenses or the loss of a job.

And since colleges are free to calculate their own EFCs for their own aid money, some colleges (generally elite, wealthy universities) give enough scholarships to ensure that some students—especially those with top grades or other special talents—pay less than their federal EFC.

The government has also ordered colleges to post on their websites “net price calculators” so students and parents can estimate how much they are actually likely to pay. Many colleges, including Drexel University, West Virginia University, and Williams College, have already launched calculators ahead of  the official deadline is Oct. 29, 2011.



Financial Aid 101: Fill Out the FAFSA

finaid-101Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to help pay for college.

Wondering how you’ll pay for college? Start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you don’t, it could cost you thousands in grants, work-study, low-interest federal loans—and need-based scholarships.

Filling out the FAFSA is the most important thing you can do to get your hands on need-based money to pay for college. The vast majority of students who fill out the FAFSA are eligible for some sort of federal financial aid.

Filling out the FAFSA can be somewhat complicated. But don’t let that deter you from applying. Instead, lower your stress level by taking heed of the following advice.

1. Use one of three means to submit your FAFSA: You can submit online, via a printable PDF, or using a paper FAFSA form. More than 98 percent of FAFSA applications are submitted online. We recommend filling out the online version of the FAFSA for three reasons:

• There’s a built-in guide to help you complete the application.

• “Skip logic” automatically skips questions that aren’t applicable to you.

• The schools that you wish to receive your FAFSA information will get results faster.

If you decide to apply online, make sure you go to the right website: The official FAFSA website is www.FAFSA.gov. Remember, you should never pay to submit your FAFSA.

If you’d rather not submit your FAFSA online, download a PDF copy at www.studentaid.ed.gov/PDFfafsa or call 1-800-4-FED-AID FREE to request that a paper copy be mailed to you.

2. Apply for a Personal Identification Number (PIN): You can use your PIN to electronically sign your FAFSA online. This is the fastest way to submit your form. If you’re a dependent, at least one of your parents will also need to apply for a PIN to sign the FAFSA electronically. To apply for a PIN, visit www.pin.ed.gov.

You can use your PIN immediately to sign your FAFSA. You can also use your PIN to access your Student Aid Report online, make corrections to your FAFSA, or complete a FAFSA renewal next year (you’ll just need to wait up to three days after issuance for verification of your name, date of birth, and Social Security number by the Social Security Administration).

Tip: Hang on to your PIN! You’ll need it in the future.

3. Complete the “FAFSA on the Web” worksheet: For efficiency’s sake, sit down (with your parents, if you’re a dependent) and gather all of the necessary documents before filling out your FAFSA. Use the “FAFSA on the Web” worksheet to help you get organized.

Tip: To determine whether or not you’re a dependent, visit this website: https://fafsa.ed.gov/fotw1011/help/fftoc01k.htm.

You won’t be submitting this worksheet; it’s simply an organizational tool to make filling out the FAFSA easier. The worksheet will ask you and/or your parents for information like your Social Security number, driver’s license number, federal tax information for the year leading up to your application year, records of untaxed information, and assets like savings, investments, and business assets. After you fill out the worksheet, you’ll be ready to sit down at your computer to insert all the information quickly.

4. Fill out your FAFSA: You’ll be given the opportunity to pre-fill the application with information you’ve entered previously, if you’ve completed a FAFSA in the past. Otherwise, complete sections 1 through 4 using your “FAFSA on the Web” worksheet; this should make filling out the FAFSA fast and easy!

5. Find identification numbers: Where do you plan on applying to college? Make sure you gather all of the identification numbers for those schools (found on the FAFSA website) so your FAFSA results will be automatically sent to those colleges.

6. Calculate total earnings and tax return amounts: If you’re filling out the FAFSA online, the online application will automatically calculate your total applicable earnings and tax return amounts. If you’re using a paper form, you’ll need to calculate this by hand.

7. Follow the directions: See the directions on the website for online submission, or mail in your paper application to the appropriate address listed on your application.

After your application has been processed, your FAFSA results will be submitted to the schools to which you’re applying. Colleges will use your results to determine your remaining financial need and whether you qualify for any need-based scholarships.

Michelle Showalter joined Scholarship America in 2007 and is an alumna of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

Scholarship America® is a national organization that helps students get into and graduate from college through three core programs: Dollars for Scholars®, DreamkeepersSM® and Scholarship Management Services®. More than $2.7 billion in scholarships and education assistance has been awarded to more than 1.8 million students since 1958. Their scholarship administration expertise has helped nearly 1,100 communities and more than 1,100 corporations develop and implement local scholarship programs. Got a question? Email scholarships@usnews.com.


Online Education Options Vary by More Than Cost

Students looking to learn a specific skill may pay less for online education than those seeking a degree.

pic7Viewing content on sites such as Udacity, Udemy and Lynda.com can cost anywhere from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars.

When it comes to online education, there are a lot of different options with a lot of different price points.

Prospective learners can choose between free massive open online courses, or MOOCs, that are not for credit, for instance, and for-credit courses, which can cost thousands of dollars.

“Almost all free courses are leisure learning courses, or courses you’re taking because you want to,” says Vicky Phillips, the CEO of GetEducated.com, an advocacy website for distance-learning programs. “There’s usually no certification and no employment credibility. Usually when you have to pay you are paying for the certification, the standardization. The course has to meet certain quality standards.”

When it comes to determining which online course to take, academic or career goals are usually a major deciding factor, Phillips says. Still, examining the costs of different online education options can help you see what you’re getting for what you pay.

MOOCs and Other Free Online Courses

Subsidized by outside parties such as universities, MOOCs are among the most widely used form of free online education, and they come with both benefits and downsides, experts say.

MOOCs are generally free and for the most part offer no college credit or form of certification – unless the student pays to take an exam. One example is Coursera’s Signature Track program, available in select classes, in which a verified certificate typically costs $30 to $100.

While anyone can enroll in a MOOC, some of the courses can be equivalent to graduate courses, which can make the class difficult if you don’t have a background in the specific field, says Kenneth Green, founding director of The Campus Computing Project, which examines the impact of computing, e-learning and information technology on higher education.

Additionally, with the low cost of MOOCs comes larger class sizes, often with thousands of students – even tens of thousands, says Michael Cusumano, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, who has studied the economic implications of MOOCs.

As a result, MOOCs can be “notoriously weak in terms of interactivity,” says Steven Weiland, a professor in the education school at Michigan State University. Discussion boards can have thousands of responses, for instance, making them difficult to follow.

In terms of advantages, experts say many MOOCs are very well designed and are often taught by world-renowned faculty.

Christopher Wang, a third-year student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who has completed around 10 computer science-related MOOCs since his senior year of high school, says MOOCs allow him to learn simply for the sake of learning.

“I think a free course focuses more on learning as opposed to grade-achieving, something that gets lost in the real classroom and the accreditation route,” Wang says, and the flexibility of MOOCs enables him to withdraw if he finds a course uninteresting.

Beyond MOOCs, there are other free options out there, too. Sites like Khan Academy, a nonprofit organization, provide instructional videos and other interactive assessments for students.

Skills-based Online Options

Sites such as Udacity, Udemy and Lynda.com have become popular in the past few years, experts say, and they can cost anywhere from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars.

In contrast to MOOCs, the content on Lynda.com is packaged as educational videos that teach very specific skills, from InDesign typography to using Google Analytics. Members can access all the videos they want for $25 a month or $250 per year, plus premium options.

Udemy offers a similar concept, providing students with educational videos from experts around the world. And Udacity provides free access to course materials. However, students who pay for certain classes can obtain professor feedback and earn a verified Udacity certificate.

Certificate Programs at Colleges and Universities

Online certificate programs at colleges and universities typically last around a year, maybe two. They are generally cheaper to enroll in than online degree programs, says Brad Voeller, co-founder of CollegePlus, a company that helps students design customized bachelor’s degree programs. Enrollment is typically a few thousand dollars a year.

For example, at Pennsylvania State University—World Campus, students enrolled in a graduate certificate program in distance education who are taking fewer than 12 credits per semester pay $784 per credit, and those taking 12 or more credits pay a flat rate of $9,408, according to the school’s website.

“A certificate is recognized for if you want to change your career or re-specialize your career, which happens more and more frequently,” says GetEducated.com’s Phillips.

Degree Programs

The most expensive option is an online degree program, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars, just like a degree obtained through a typical college class.

Experts say degree programs are useful for developing transferable skills, such as writing and critical thinking, that aren’t specific to a certain career but instead are broader and can be applied to a range of jobs.

“Everyone should think, ‘Why am I taking this course?’ and then pick that course accordingly,” Phillips says.


4 Steps to Financially Prepare Your Student for College

Talk about finances now, but know when to let your child slip up.

Young girl with hands on books at school with friends in background
Young girl with hands on books at school with friends in background


Heading off to freshman year of college is a gateway to new experiences—a time to explore academic interests, meet new people, and, for some students, embrace newfound financial independence.

“Sometimes, this is the first time that they’re actually starting to manage money on their own, without their parents being right there with them to help them along the way,” says Doug Schantz, director of the Office of Student Accounts at Ohio’s Wittenberg University and founder of CheapScholar.org. “For those of us who have been managing our finances, you assume that this is basic financial information—but the fact of the matter is, it really isn’t.”

For parents, preparing your student to be financially successful in college is a delicate balance between supplying enough funds and know-how for your child to get by and becoming so overly involved that he or she can’t fully flourish, both personally and financially. Here’s what to brief your students on before they head off to school—and what you should let your children learn on their own:

1. Don’t deposit and dash: For parents who plan to supply their student with extra spending money, realize that your offer is both incredibly generous and potentially hazardous, if you’re doling out a semester or year’s worth of cash without a loose framework of how that money should be divided, notes Houston Dougharty, vice president of student affairs at Grinnell College in Iowa. “Too often, I have worked with [parents] who, upon dropping off their student, say, ‘I’ve put $2,000 in your checking account for the year,’—and then that student is the most generous pizza buyer for the first month of college,” Dougharty says. “[By] October, they don’t have money to do laundry.”

Instead, talk to your students about the importance of intentional, incremental budgeting. Help them set up a month-to-month plan that allows for unexpected expenses, such as an off-campus dinner with hall mates or a few extra loads of wash. That conversation is also a great opportunity to be honest about what they can assume from you; if you expect your student to save money to cover the last two years of tuition, for example, or if he or she will be paying for textbooks out of pocket, mention that now, experts recommend.

2. Embrace—and limit—financial slip-ups: After helping with a budget framework, step out of the process and leave it to your son or daughter to make it work, recommends Jerry Weichman, a clinical psychologist in Newport Beach, Calif. “If your kid runs out of money [one] month, they’re not going to starve—they can buy some Ramen,” Weichman says. “One of the best things parents can do is to allow your kids to struggle financially for a little bit if they mismanage their money, because the consequences are so much easier for them now versus what that would equate to when they’re adults. You learn so much more from your mistakes than your successes.”

Still, parents who remove themselves don’t have to leave their students completely helpless. “You can put limits on how dangerous financial experiences can be,” notes June Walbert, financial planner at USAA Financial Planning Services. Encourage your student to get a debit card or a credit card with a low spending limit, she recommends, and recap his or her financial experience together at the end of each semester or school year. “Much of the learning during college happens outside the confines of the classroom, especially on the personal finance front,” Walbert says. “We want students to be free to make financial decisions, but within boundaries.”

3. Encourage financial freedom: Often, a part-time job—usually for about 10 hours a week—can help increase a student’s productivity, organization, and time management skills, claims Grinnell College’s Dougharty, in addition to providing a little financial leeway. If your student works, suggest the earnings be used as spending money—whether he or she chooses to put it toward laundry, occasional meals off campus, or extracurricular activities—rather than set costs such as tuition or room and board, Dougharty recommends. By choosing where to allocate earnings, students actively make a connection between money earned and money spent, and will likely be more effective at budgeting after college since, Dougharty says, “That’s what real life is like.”

4. Utilize web resources: Though releasing the tether from your soon-to-be college student may still be a terrifying thought, rest assured that neither you nor your student needs to tackle the upcoming challenges alone. With the help of the Internet, students have financial management resources at their fingertips. Check out Mint.com for help with your budget, recommends Katherine Cohen, founder of Ivywise.com; explore the government-run MyMoney.gov for advice on making informed financial decisions; or see if your school has a virtual financial literacy program that makes money issues fun and understandable, such as the program Schantz is currently implementing at Wittenberg University.

And if it gets tough making the shift from “daily parent to occasional coach,” as Grinnell’s Dougharty puts it, keep in mind that, after years of personal training within your family unit, allowing your student some leeway is a healthy route to tackling problems in school and beyond.

“Money management, conserving, saving for what you need, and tracking your expenses are parts of what any adult needs to be successful, let alone a college student,” counselor Weichman says. “Parents are teaching their kids not just how to deal with college, but how to deal with life.”


6 Scams That Target College Students

In a new and ironic twist, illegal downloaders are targeted by Internet scammers.


Operating on the theory that it takes a thief to steal from a thief, a group of Internet scammers has been targeting students who illegally download music, books, and video.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has reported on an apparently bogus collections agency that sent out letters to Bucknell students demanding $500 to settle the students’ alleged illegal downloads.

That’s a new twist on an old strategy of targeting college students. Prosecutors say there are at least six common scams students should watch out for:

1. Fake scholarship promises: The Federal Trade Commission warns against advisers and Web services that charge big fees in return for help locating scholarships.

2. Dodgy student loans: U.S. News‘s Kim Palmer documented how some students have been misled by official-looking documents that were really ads for expensive loans.

One silver lining of the recent economic downturn is a reduction in expensive private loans and lenders. But the FTC says students still need to make sure they stick with low-cost, legitimate education loans. The best deals, says the Project on Student Debt, are the federally backed student loans such as the Perkins (which charges just 5 percent in interest) and Stafford loans.

3. Untrustworthy counselors: While there are many legitimate, private, fee-based counselors who can help students refine their college choices and negotiate the financial aid maze, there are some charlatans, as well. Michael Traynor, a once prominent college financial aid adviser in Florida, got caught stealing from his clients, many of whom he met in church. He is now in prison.

4. Illegal downloads: As tempting as it can be to save money by downloading free music, movies, or textbooks, many of the downloads contain spyware that can end up causing financial havoc. Illegal downloaders are also more vulnerable to the new collections scams.

5. Diploma mills: Lots of online universities, many with impressive-sounding names, are luring students with offers of credit for “life experience” and cheap degrees. But beware: Sometimes, you get what you pay for. A cheap diploma from “The University of Berkley” won’t get you the job, salary, or recognition that comes from a real degree from the University of California-Berkeley. The FTC, Department of Education, and several state agencies, such as this one in Oregon, can help students avoid paying for degrees that other schools and employers won’t recognize.

6. Term papers and other cheating supplies: The Web has made it a snap for lazy and dishonest students to find term papers, lecture summaries, and even test questions and answers. But universities are increasingly using new software like Turnitin, Web honey pots (websites set up by professors to attract and catch cheaters), and spy cameras to track down dishonest students. Even if you get an A on that purchased term paper, it’s still a scam, since you’ve paid lots in tuition and cheated yourself of learning.

Kim Clark, senior writer for U.S. News & World Report, used loans, scholarships, grants, fellowships, savings, earnings, and generous contributions from her family (thanks, Mom, Dad, Grandpa and Grandma!) to fund study at four different universities. She even managed to graduate from two of them. She’s been researching and writing about the best ways to raise college cash for five years. If you’re panicked about paying for college, e-mail questions to collegecash@usnews.com.


How Can International Students Get Financial Aid?

It’s not easy, but there are 4 options to help international students pay for American colleges.


Fatima recently posted this question on our financial aid forum:

"Hey there! I am sooo desperate and I need your help! I just found out that I got admission for CSU East Bay! Unfortunately, I wanted to get a student loan over here in Germany, but they don't give it to students who want to study out of Germany when you are not German. I got so upset when I heard that. Anyway, then I looked for some student loans in the States, but all of them want a cosigner (somebody who is American or has American residence). I worked hard for that admission and I really want this, but I don't know how to get the money together. Fatima"

I wish I could report good news to Fatima and the millions of other non-U.S. citizens who need a loan to pay for an American college. But the sad truth is that there just aren’t many loans out there for them. The cheapest student loans in the United States are backed by the federal government, which will lend to only a few kinds of noncitizens, such as refugees. And the credit crunch seems to have dried up the more expensive private loans made by banks.

I spent several days searching and couldn’t find any company in the States that would make an unsecured loan this fall to a noncitizen without an American cosigner. The banks are afraid, basically, that students who return to their home countries will be tempted to stop making loan payments because it would be hard for American lenders to chase after them. American residents who sign agreements to repay loans, on the other hand, face dire consequences if they default, so they are more likely to make payments.

The only way overseas students can get educational loans to pay American tuition these days: Figure out a way to get over, or around, the new reality of tougher lending standards. There are currently four options for noncitizens to get student loans:

1) Home country private lenders or government programs. It sounds like this option wasn’t available to Fatima, but it is available to many other students. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any single site or information source that gives all the information you need. But here are a couple of places to start your search: Besides checking your home country’s education agencies and banks, students can ask for advice at the EducationUSA advising centers in American embassies and consulates around the world. Be careful about those loans, however. Many charge very high interest rates, have too short a repayment period for students, and require your family to pledge assets such as a house.

2) U . S . colleges. Some American colleges are stepping into the breach by lending money directly to their students. I haven’t been able to find any kind of comprehensive list of schools with such loan programs, but the Overseas Association for College Admission Counseling has this list of schools that offer the most financial aid to foreign students. Those are likely prospects. If your school isn’t on this list, it’s still worth asking your school’s financial aid office to see what kind of loans they can help arrange for international students. Unfortunately for Fatima, California State University-East Bay says it cannot arrange loans for students who don’t have American cosigners.

3) Friends and relatives. You could try the old-fashioned way of simply asking everyone you know for help. Or you could experiment with new, Web-based social lending options. Greennote.com and Fynanz.com, for example, offer students tools to persuade friends, relatives, and even strangers to lend them money.

4) U . S . banks and lending companiesif the student has an American cosigner. Naturally, it can be difficult for a student living overseas to find an American who would be willing to pay off her student loans if she defaults. So you might have to get creative to persuade a cosigner that they won’t be left making your payments. Here’s one twist that might help you persuade someone: Sallie Mae, one of the few lenders currently making any kind of loan to international students, will release the cosigner from their commitment if you build up a good credit history (by, for example, repaying other loans and getting a job), become a permanent resident, and make 24 on-time payments. This option isn’t easy, because it requires you to win a green card for the United States, but at least it’s possible.

If you’ve got a financial aid question, E-mail collegecash@usnews.com.

Kim Clark, senior writer for U.S. News & World Report, used loans, scholarships, grants, fellowships, savings, earnings, and generous contributions from her family (thanks, Mom, Dad, Grandpa and Grandma!) to fund study at four different universities. She even managed to graduate from two of them. She’s been researching and writing about the best ways to raise college cash for five years. If you’re panicked about paying for college, e-mail questions to collegecash@usnews.com.


What Financial Aid Is Available for International Students?

There are many options for college funding for non-U.S. students, if you know where and how to look.


Navigating the financial aid system can be one of the most important (and confusing!) parts of the college application process. For international students, this process can be even more frustrating. This week, our experts weigh in on your financial aid options as an international student and give you the best tips on how you can get money to go to college in the United States. Jake Nichols of Grand Rapids, Mich., asks:

Q: What financial aid is available for international students?

A: There are two questions that need to be asked.

Eric Furda, dean of admissions, University of Pennsylvania

1. Will applying for aid as a non-U.S. citizen or permanent resident impact my admissions decision? 2. If admitted, what will my financial aid package look like from the perspective of grants, loans, and any potential gap to meet the full cost of attending the school? The University of Pennsylvania has a need-blind admissions policy for U.S. citizens/permanent residents and for citizens of Mexico and Canada. All other students compete for funds allocated for international students, an amount which is approximately $6 million to $8 million per year.

Once admitted to Penn, all students, regardless of country of citizenship, receive a financial aid package that in most cases includes some job on campus, and the rest of the package is institutional grant money, which does not get paid back. No loans are part of the financial aid package.

See all of Eric’s expert admissions advice.

A: International students also have options when it comes to financial aid.

John Carpenter, founder, AskJohnAboutCollege.com

Most financial aid in the United States is restricted to students who are from the United States or who are legal residents or green card holders—and, of course, that is all related to taxes and federal money. However, there is money available for international kids, just not a lot, and what’s available really varies from school to school.

A handful of schools have a lot of money for any kid, and a handful of schools have money just for international kids. If you’re a United World College Scholars student for example, you’re eligible for a grant from the Davis Foundation, or if you’re admitted to one of the very wealthy institutions in the United States, chances are money will appear for you.

Check each college’s website to see what might be available. Write E-mails. Ask questions. You’ll probably be required to submit a statement of finances from your parents with some documents from a bank, translated into English. Another idea is to look at smaller colleges that have lower overall fees to begin with; many of those schools are very eager to have international students and have set aside money to help make a less expensive experience become even more affordable.

In every case, ask about your tax responsibility at the school that does give you scholarship money. It’s one thing to think you’re going to school at a discount or free, and then something else to discover that you have a tax bill at the end of the year.

See all of John’s expert admissions advice.

A: International aid varies widely.

Chris Hooker Haring, dean of admissions and financial aid, Muhlenberg College

Some colleges offer aggressive scholarship programs for international students. Others have very limited aid for internationals. Some offer merit aid to international students. Others are need-based only. It can vary widely from campus to campus, so check the financial aid and international student sections of college websites for specific information about each college in which you have serious interest.

Visit the Unigo Expert Network for more expert explanations about international student financial aid and to have your own questions answered.

Find Unigo on Twitter at @Unigo & Facebook at Facebook.com/MyUnigo.


Nab a Fat Financial Aid Package to Pay for College

When it comes to affording college tuition, there’s plenty of free money to be had if you know where to look.

pic6Brothers Nick, graduating, and Alex Fregeau, then a sophomore, at the University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign, received scholarship cash for their education.


Heather McDonnell, associate dean of financial aid and admission at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, was shopping at the grocery store a few years ago when a man came up to her and appealed for mercy. A father who recognized McDonnell from a high school presentation she had given wanted to sweet-talk her into handing over a little more cash to cover the college’s tuition, now $49,680 a year.

McDonnell prefers that parents email their appeals, but she can sympathize with that dad’s desperation.

“We’ve been witnessing an erosion of state and federal funding for years,” McDonnell says. Ten years ago, for example, Sarah Lawrence got about $250,000 in Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants for low-income students. By 2014, that figure had dropped to $137,728.

Before you try to knock down the price tag of your child’s dream school, it’s vital to understand the elements of the typical aid package. The first is federal need-based aid, which includes grants, funding for work-study jobs and subsidized Stafford loans – meaning the government pays the interest for you while you’re in school. This aid is determined by your family’s financial information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

Families with exceptional need may also qualify for a federal Perkins loan. Then there are merit scholarships offered by the institutions themselves for academic achievements or talents.

Finally, there are federal loans that aren’t subsidized, for people who don’t qualify for that perk or who need more, and parent PLUS loans for Mom and Dad.

An incoming freshman can borrow up to $5,500 in Stafford loans, of which no more than $3,500 can be subsidized. The limits rise in later years and for students who are independent of their parents. The interest rate on Staffords is now 4.66 percent.

Perhaps you face a challenge not accounted for on the FAFSA form. When Elizabeth Avery’s daughter, Charlotte, was accepted by Union College a year ago, she was thrilled, but there was a problem: Her father’s take-home pay was going to fluctuate over the next few years because of an arrangement with a new employer.

“We may look good on paper, but what we can afford is very different from what the government determined we can afford,” says Avery, a relocation specialist in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. She sent an email to the aid office spelling out the family’s circumstances. Charlotte received a $10,000 merit scholarship that renews every year.

It also can be worth your time to seek scholarships off the beaten path. By searching sites like Fastweb.com, Susan Fregeau, a certified public accountant in Westmont, Illinois, discovered the Laverne Noyes Foundation Scholarship, offered to descendants of people who served overseas in World War I.

“I do genealogy, so I knew where Grandpa fought at that time,” Fregeau says. Her oldest son, Nick, got $5,000 to help pay his four years of tuition at the University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign. He graduated last spring and is starting law school there this fall. Younger brother Alex, now a junior at the school, received $2,000 from Laverne Noyes for the 2013-2014 academic year.

If you’ve snatched up all the free money you can find and need to fill in the gaps with loans, be aware of the long-term ramifications. Subsidized loans cost less over the long run because the government pays the interest while the student is in school. The government also covers it during the six months after graduation before repayment starts, and during any period of deferment for grad school or a period of unemployment, say.

Congress in 2012 extended low student-loan interest rates but temporarily did away with the grace period after graduation, so students who received direct subsidized loans between July 1, 2012, and July 1, 2014, must either pay interest that accrues then or it will be added to their principal balance.

And as you weigh whether to grab that parent PLUS loan the acceptance letter is offering, you may want to look into cheaper options. The interest rate on PLUS loans is currently fixed at 7.21 percent. Home equity loans are now being offered at an average interest rate of 6.1 percent, according to Bankrate.com, and the interest is deductible.

Guido Castellani III, who received about $200,000 in grants and scholarships to cover his four years at Sarah Lawrence, applied during the early decision round and was accepted, but knew there was “no way” he could afford it. So he scoured the Internet and discovered that as the son of a former Marine officer, a Vietnam vet who passed away in 2003, he was eligible for certain scholarships and other funding.

Castellani, who is originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania, was awarded $10,000 a year from the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation plus about $950 a month in educational benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I had to be persistent,” says Castellani, who graduated in May. He negotiated with Sarah Lawrence’s financial aid office to get additional aid junior year, and right before he graduated, he applied for – and won – a scholarship from the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation to cover the $12,000 he’d accumulated in subsidized loans.

His advice for incoming freshmen: “Do your research. The money is there.”

This story is excerpted from the U.S. News “Best Colleges 2015” guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.


12 College Financial Aid Terms Defined

Get more information about key terms surrounding paying for college.

pic5“Forget the number: It says nothing about the state of the economy,” says one economist.

Navigating the college financial aid process can be daunting even for the most highly educated among us. What are the differences among grants, scholarships, and loans? What does FAFSA stand for and who should complete it? And how does work-study actually work?

Your college education is an extremely important—and often extremely expensive—investment. Before you shell out thousands of dollars for an advanced education, give yourself a basic education of postsecondary financial aid. To help, we’ve put together a quick reference guide on common—and often confusing—financial aid terms. From award letters to tuition reimbursement, we’ve got you covered.

Award letter: Arriving in your mailbox around mid- to late April, your award letter basically outlines your financial aid package from the college(s) to which you applied. But be careful: Colleges aren’t required to follow a standard format for award letters, and crucial information is sometimes missing or misleading—such as the cost of attendance! Colleges sometimes vastly underestimate the cost of transportation and textbooks, or make the financial aid package look more generous than it actually is. (To find out how much you’ll end up paying for tuition at your college, U.S. News offers a list of net price calculators.)

Expected Family Contribution (EFC): This is the measure of your family’s financial strength, and how much of your college costs it should plan to cover. This is calculated based on a specific formula, which considers taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits, as well as the size of your family and the number of family members attending college during the year. Your expected family contribution is calculated based on your FAFSA results.

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid): You’ve probably heard of the FAFSA, but do you know what it is and just how important it can be for you and your family? Filling out the FAFSA is one of the first steps in the financial aid process, and determines the amount that you or your family will be contributing to your postsecondary education. The results of the FAFSA determine student grants, work-study, and loan amounts. We recommend that everyone fills out the FAFSA; it only takes about an hour to complete, and you may be surprised with the results.

Federal student aid: The largest form of student aid in the country, federal aid programs come in the form of government grants, loans, and work-study assistance and are available to students at eligible postsecondary institutions (colleges, vocational schools, and graduate schools).

Financial need: This is the amount of a student’s total cost of attendance that isn’t covered by the expected family contribution or outside grants and scholarships. A student must demonstrate financial need to be eligible for need-based financial assistance programs.

Grants: Did someone say free money? Unlike loans, grants­­­­—which can come from the state or federal government, from the college itself, or from private sources—provide money for college that doesn’t have to be paid back. We’ll take this opportunity here to remind you again to fill out the FAFSA; many grants determine eligibility by looking at your FAFSA results.

Loans: If scholarships and grants don’t cover the entire cost of your tuition, you may have to take out a student loan to make up the difference. Federal student loans don’t have to be paid while you’re in college, and there are also a variety of loan forgiveness programs out there post-graduation. The rates and terms are generally more flexible than private loans.

Room and board: Everyone needs to sleep and eat. If you plan to do it on campus, those fees are part of your total cost of attendance.

Scholarships: There really isn’t much difference between a scholarship and a grant, though the general consensus is that scholarships are primarily awarded for academic merit (good grades) or for something you have accomplished (volunteer work or a specific project); however, there are many need-based scholarships out there, as well. Like grants, scholarships don’t have to be repaid.

Tuition: College tuition is the “sticker price” of your education, and does not include room and board, textbooks, or other fees. Colleges often calculate tuition based on the cost of one credit, or “unit.” For example, a college may charge $350 per credit for an undergraduate class. Many times colleges will simplify this by providing a flat fee for tuition; you’re often required to take a minimum amount of credits and cannot exceed a maximum amount of credits. “True cost” is a little misleading, since there are other costs on top of tuition.

Tuition reimbursement: Tuition reimbursement, also sometimes called “tuition assistance,” is increasing in popularity. Some employers will refund you the cost of your tuition if you’re studying a work-related area. Tuition reimbursement can cover as little as one or two courses, or can cover up to the entire cost of your education.

Work-study/work award: The Federal Work Study program provides funds to eligible students (see FAFSA above) for part-time employment to help finance the costs of postsecondary education. In most cases, the school or employer has to pay up to 50 percent of the student’s wages, with the federal government covering the rest. You could be employed by the college itself; or by a federal, state, or local public agency; a private nonprofit organization; or a private for-profit organization.

Michelle Showalter joined Scholarship America in 2007 and is an alumna of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.