Archive for February, 2012

February 29, 2012

Your chances for merit aid are better at less selective schools

by Grace

Less selective schools offer more merit money but less need-based money.  But if you qualify for need-based aid, your chances are generally better at the more selective schools.  [UPDATE: Tables revised to show corrected admission rates]

If you do not qualify for need-based aid, your chances for merit aid are generally better at less selective schools.  In the first chart above, moving down one step from the most selective private colleges more than doubles the average merit aid amount.  The standard advice is to apply to colleges where your test scores and grades would put you well within the top 25% of the student body to improve your odds for receiving aid.  Your statistics are viewed as a way to boost the school’s prestige.

“Schools compete with each other to attract talented students… “If you want to recruit some of those kids, one way to do it is through merit aid.”

… “Universities compete based on prestige, so if they want to increase their rankings in U.S. News & World Report, an easy way to do that is to bribe high-scoring students to come to your university with non-need-based aid,”…

In addition to boosting prestige, colleges know that relatively small tuition discounts that attract higher-income talented students often yield them more net revenue than the more generous scholarships they offer to lower-income students.

“That’s a fairly significant percentage of what’s happening, especially for universities and colleges that operate on a tight margin and where tuition revenue is an important part of keeping the lights on,” said Jonathan Burdick, dean of financial aid and admissions at the University of Rochester. “In those circumstances, giving $5,000 against a $25,000 tuition charge is just like the discounting you’d see in a retail operation to bring traffic to the door.”

The Harvard Effect is a factor, causing some colleges to feel compelled to follow Harvard and Yale’s lead in price-discounting to affluent families.

Universities say they also have been forced to pay out more aid to people who don’t need it thanks to widely publicized changes in financial-aid policies introduced in recent years by highly selective universities including Harvard, Yale and Stanford, which raced one another to give grants to families with income as high as $200,000.

* Merit aid is defined as grants “awarded to students without financial need or awarded in excess of need”.

Source data is from College Board Trends in Student Aid 2011:

February 27, 2012

Reminder – automatic zero EFC maximum income DROPPED TO $23,000

by Grace

Last month Congress made it harder to qualify for an automatic zero EFC by reducing the maximum income allowed from $32,000 to $23,000 for the 2012-13 Award Year.  A zero EFC usually makes a family eligible for the highest amount of financial aid.

This significant change seemed to have stayed mainly under the radar, even though it will hit low-income families hard since over 4 million students qualify for the automatic zero provision this year.   Perhaps some provisions of President Obama’s 2012 “Blueprint for Keeping College Affordable and Within Reach for All Americans” will counteract this benefit cut to poor families.

Here are more details about how dependent students can qualify for the automatic zero EFC, updated from last year’s post.

For the 2012-2013 school year, a dependent student automatically qualifies for a zero EFC if both (1) and (2) … are true.

1) Anyone included in the parents’ household size (as defined on the FAFSA) received benefits during 2010 or 2011 from any of the designated means-tested Federal benefit programs: the SSI Program, the Food Stamp Program9, the Free and Reduced Price School Lunch Program, the TANF Program, and WIC; OR
The student’s parents:
• filed or were eligible to file a 2011 IRS Form 1040A or 1040EZ11,
• filed a 2011 IRS Form 1040 but were not required to do so, or
• were not required to file any income tax return; OR
the student’s parent is a dislocated worker.


(2) The 2011 income of the student’s parents is $23,000 or less.
• For tax filers, use the parents’ adjusted gross income from the tax return to determine if income is $23,000 or less.
• For non-tax filers, use the income shown on the 2011 W-2 forms of both parents (plus any other earnings from work not included on the W-2s) to determine if income is $23,000 or less.

Federal Pell Grant Program of the Higher Education Act – Background, Recent Changes, and Current Legislative Issues  (pages 20 & 22)

Related:  Congress curtails Pell Grants and federal loan grace period 

February 24, 2012

Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – FIRST DRAFT being CONCRETE

by Grace

I’m still on Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of Writing to the Point, and the latest assignment to write the first draft of an essay continues the focus on being specific and concrete.  (This is part of my project to study and learn the entire Six-Step method, explained in my initial post in this series.)  For a recap, here are Steps 1 through 4.

STEP 1. Write a short, simple declarative sentence that makes one statement. (Chapter 1, page 6)

STEP 2. Write three sentences about the sentence in Step 1—clearly and directly about the whole of that sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 2, page 18.)

STEP 3. Write four or five sentences about each of the three sentences in Step 2—clearly and directly about the whole of the Step 2 sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 3, page 31.)

STEP 4. Make the material in the four or five sentences of Step 3 as specific and concrete as possible. Go into detail. Use examples. Don’t ask, “What will I say next?” Instead, say some more about what you have just said. Your goal is to say a lot about a little, not a little about a lot.  (Chapter 4, page 43)

To reiterate a point from the previous post, Kerrigan Method sentences X-1-2-3 are usually abstract or general.  In contrast, the sentences in the body of the paragraphs that follow from 1-2-3 must fill in the details by being concrete and specific.  Both types of sentences are vital to good writing.

Write a theme on the following sentence X:  “A student must have a regular schedule of study.” … be specific and concrete, far beyond what you feel necessary.  Go all out in this respect.  Go into detail .  Give examples.  Don’t feel ridiculous.  You are not expected to produce a “good” theme here, but you can make it a good exercise.

After considerable head scratching, here is what I wrote.

X  A student must have a regular schedule of study..

1.  A student needs a study schedule to maximize academic achievement.
2.  A student needs a study schedule to accommodate his other activities.
3.  A student needs a study schedule to maintain good health.


X  A student must have a regular schedule of study.

1.  A student needs a study schedule to maximize academic achievement.  Since his first priority is usually his schooling, it is important that a student find ways to improve his academic performance.  One way to do that is to plan and implement a study schedule that will put his school work at the top of his list of things to do.  If getting an A in a chemistry test requires three hours of reviewing notes and practicing problems, then that time must be set aside to take precedence over television, Facebook or daydreaming.  For example, sometimes scheduling 20 minutes a day to review vocabulary words is the only way to get a top grade in Spanish class.

2.  A student needs a study schedule to accommodate his other activities.  While academics are his first priority, a student must also fit in all types of other activities into his routine.  Eating, sleeping, sports, club activities, and simply relaxing are usually all important aspects of a student’s life.  Without a schedule, time is frittered away and a student may end up sleep deprived or being kicked off the track team for missing practices.  All these different activities can be planned so a student will be able to perform competently in school and as well as in other parts of his life.

3.  A student needs a study schedule to maintain good health.  Without a schedule, the elements of a healthy lifestyle will suffer.  If a student neglects to plan ahead for sufficient study time, then he may find himself up late at night cramming for a test when he should be sleeping.  He may find himself eating on the run, which often means fast food and cookies instead of healthier options.  This can lead to poor nutrition, weight gain, or more serious medical conditions.  Making time for adequate studying causes a student to feel well-prepared, while the opposite causes stress.  Sleep deprivation, poor eating habits and high stress can be avoided by a well-planned study schedule.

There is always room for more detail.  Even when you think you’ve put in as much as can, you can usually squeeze in some more.  Editing out excessive information can be done later in the process, as I will probably learn in future assignments..

Previous posts in this series:

February 23, 2012

Non-marital births by education level as part of the growing class divide

by Grace

Declining marriage rates and non-marital births are only a problem for those without college degrees. (Assuming you believe this is a problem, of course.) Here’s the stark data.

CHARLES MURRAY has been harshly criticized for writing about this trend in his latest book,  Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, but it seems the New York Times has also not been shy about reporting how education and race correlate with non-marital births.

Large racial differences remain: 73 percent of black children are born outside marriage, compared with 53 percent of Latinos and 29 percent of whites. And educational differences are growing. About 92 percent of college-educated women are married when they give birth, compared with 62 percent of women with some post-secondary schooling and 43 percent of women with a high school diploma or less, according to Child Trends.… Others noted that if they married, their official household income would rise, which could cost them government benefits like food stamps and child care…. Reviewing the academic literature, Susan L. Brown of Bowling Green State University recently found that children born to married couples, on average, “experience better education, social, cognitive and behavioral outcomes.”

Just talking about these issues of class, education, and race sometimes leads to charges of racism.  Curiously, the NY Times chose not to allow comments on their stories referenced in this post.  Maybe they were afraid the topic would generate excessive inflammatory rhetoric.

UPDATE:   One single mom is upset that the liberal elite have joined conservatives in moralizing about fatherless children.

More Single Moms. So What.  –  The New York Times condescends to single moms.
This proud single mother and NYU journalism professor, who is definitely not “too poor to marry,” is insulted by a New York Times article on the 53 percent illegitimate-birth rate among females under 30, which she thinks covertly telegraphs the message that unwed moms can’t in fact do it all… Marriage, Roiphe reveals triumphantly, “does not ensure eternal love, or even eternal security.” Now we know.

Young Mothers Describe Marriage’s Fading Allure – NYTimes, 2/18/12

Five myths about white people – Washington Post, 2/10/12

Related:  College-educated women marry at higher rates

February 22, 2012

The ‘problem’ of extra money in your 529 plan

by Grace

If you’re lucky enough to have left-over money in your 529 plan, there are ways to handle that problem.  Besides paying for traditional two- or four-year colleges, other options exist for 529 funds.

  1. Vocational education – money in a 529 plan can be used to pay for postsecondary vocational or technical training at schools eligible for financial-aid programs administered by the U.S. Department of Education. This includes schools that teach a variety of trades, such as automotive and aerospace maintenance, hairstyling and computer skills. 
  2. Graduate school – 529 funds can be used for postgraduate education
  3. Change the beneficiary to another family member – siblings, first cousins, parents, or grandchildren
  4. Leave the money in to grow tax-free – as long as there is a living beneficiary
  5. Charity – donating the proceeds to charity allows you to take a tax deduction if you itemize deductions

Tax penalties waived if a scholarship covers college costs

Say there is money left over in a 529 account because your child got a big scholarship that reduced his or her college costs. In that case, money withdrawn would be subject to tax on the earnings but the 10% penalty would be waived, as long as the withdrawal doesn’t exceed the amount of the scholarship. The penalty on withdrawals also would be waived if the beneficiary dies or becomes disabled.

February 21, 2012

Psst – one of Duke’s so-called merit scholarships is actually need-based

by Grace

Be wary of merit scholarships that take financial need into account.

THE DUKE UNIVERSITY SCHOLARS award is listed as a merit scholarship, but it is actually based on financial need.

In one section of their website, it is described as completely merit-based.

Merit Scholarships
Duke University also offers a limited number of merit scholarships. All applicants for admission are automatically considered for any available merit scholarship; specific applications are not required, and are not available. Our merit scholarship programs do not require that the winner demonstrate need; merit scholarships are based on the student’s academic and personal profile.

But if you read further on the University Scholars website, you see a contradiction.

As University Scholars are selected in part on the basis of financial need, it is imperative to file any required financial aid forms as early as possible, preferably by mid-February.

THE UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER MERIT SCHOLARSHIPS take financial need into account in a more subtle way.

From the University of Rochester website:

Merit-based scholarships … are awarded to students who demonstrate outstanding academic achievement and potential, regardless of financial circumstances.

We distribute merit-based aid regardless of a family’s demonstrated financial need.

However, in candid blog post Jonathan Burdick, Rochester Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, wrote about the curious correlation between lower income and increased merit award amount.

We had a “progressive tax” in our merit. On average, each four dollars less in family income increased merit awards one cent. Not much impact per student, but noticeable overall.

Hmm, the lower your income the more merit money you receive.  In defending the correlation, Burdick explains that financial need is incorporated in a camouflaged way.

… needier students were on average more likely to have earned larger merit awards from the committee review process. I expect this result reflects the sympathy most reviewers might have for students whose essays and letters of recommendation describe tougher life circumstances. You don’t have to see a tax return to admire someone who has both achieved in school and comes from a single-parent home, or will be the first in the family to attend college, etc.

This was exactly my thinking, that the reviewers sometimes give extra “points” to students from families with lower incomes, euphemistically described as tougher life circumstances. Parents must decipher this information on their own, since colleges may claim that financial circumstances are not a factor in deciding merit awards.

Be forewarned.  Sometimes even when colleges insist that a scholarship is awarded solely on merit, family income does matter.

Related articles:

February 20, 2012

Five skills that will help you find and keep a job after college

by Grace

If you want to make sure you get a job after college…

1. Learn to sell. 
… if you’re really good at sales and your track record shows it, you’re always going to have a job….  Selling isn’t easy.  It’s hard work and it can be demoralizing.  That’s what makes the people who are good at it so valuable.

2. Learn to write really well. 
Writing is now many peoples’ preferred method of communication.  You simply can’t afford not to be good at it.  Clear writing is evidence of clear thinking….

3. Learn accounting. 
… It’s hard to envision a place of work that doesn’t have to manage money, pay employees, and make sure their tax returns are accurate.  All of those things depend on good accounting.

4. Learn how to keep computers working.   
If you can diagnose and fix computers, servers, and even networks, that’s a great line to have on your resume even if you’re looking for a job at an art gallery…. the one worker who actually knows how to diagnose problems and fix them, even though it’s not her job, is bringing a lot of value to the workplace.  She’s also saving the company potentially thousands of dollars in costs for outsourced IT support.  

5. Learn how to do good work.
The best way to get a good job is to be really good at your last job….every high school kid should get a part-time job at some point before you graduate…. You learn a lot about what you’re good (and not good) at, and what it takes to be successful.  Thrive at one job and you’ll have an advantage when you look to move on to your next one.  Have a string of successes by the time you graduate from college and you’ll be ahead of the competition.

Now, before you write off any of those as not being applicable to your field of interest, I’d just remind you that people who make yoga mats for a living still need to sell them.  Computer engineers still need to write emails and even proposals.  The head of a non-profit agency needs to know how to read a financial statement and balance a budget.  Anyone who uses a computer would benefit from knowing how to keep it working properly.  And since everyone leaves college hoping to get a job, previous work experience benefits every college grad.

This simple but wise advice comes from Kevin McMullin at Collegewise.

If you can combine #5 with any one of the others on this list, you will have a leg up on most of your competition.  The more of these skills you can add to your resume, the better you look to employers.  Any other ones you would add to this list?  (Showing up to work on time doesn’t count!)

Related articles

February 17, 2012

Qualifying for a parent Direct PLUS loan

by Grace

How can a parent qualify for a Direct Plus Loan?  While some conditions must be met, the government does not impose stringent credit requirements.

From the Federal Student Aid government website:

The parent borrower must not have an adverse credit history (a credit check will be done). If the parent does not pass the credit check, the parent may still receive a loan if someone (such as a relative or friend who is able to pass the credit check) agrees to endorse the loan. The endorser promises to repay the loan if the parent fails to do so. The parent may also still receive a loan if he or she can demonstrate extenuating circumstances.

More details from FinAid:

An adverse credit history is defined as being 90 or more days late on any debt or having any Title IV debt (including a debt due to grant overpayment) within the past five years subjected to default determination, bankruptcy discharge, foreclosure, repossession, tax lien, wage garnishment, or write-off.

Unlike most private lenders, the government does not use FICO scores in determining eligibility for federal student loans.

Other information

Related articles

February 16, 2012

In a tough economy, graduates of top colleges available as personal assistants

by Grace

Personal assistants with impressive credentials are more available due to the tough job market for college graduates.  This is according to Jill Glist, who opened Lambert Services in 2006.

“The current economy gives us access to amazingly qualified people who are interested and available to work,” she said.

What are their qualifications?

Lambent Services employees are an elite group of intelligent, motivated, and personable individuals and top university graduates who help make clients’ lives run more smoothly.

How nice.  What do these assistants do?  They can handle the minutiae of our lives, helping us deal with the most mundane of tasks.  What are some example?

According to their bios, many of the professional assistants have degrees from top universities.  Here is a sampling of  information about them, including college majors and highlighted skills.

  • Harvard cum laude, Folklore & Mythology – calendar management and travel planning
  • NYU, Political Science – event planning and calendar management
  • Tufts, Drama & English – writing/editorial and home maintenance
  • California College of the Arts, Fine Arts & Crafts – interior design and organization
  • UC San Diego, Visual Arts Media – writing/editing and Internet research

Their services don’t come cheap, with hourly rates ranging from $35 to $55.  I don’t think this is a bad deal for the assistants.  They’re probably gaining good (and interesting) experience, earning some money in a down economy with the potential to make personal connections that could lead to more meaty jobs.  But I keep thinking that many of them didn’t need a $250,000 college degree to get to this place.

UPDATE:  Welcome Instapundit readers!  I invite you to check out more of my posts using the categories on the sidebar, in particular the higher education bubble.

%d bloggers like this: