May 31, 2013

Save Money by Scheduling Tours during Virginia Private College Week

Hampton University

The Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia (CICV) recently announced that Virginia Private College Week is scheduled to run this summer from July 29 to August 3 and will once again offer college-bound students the opportunity to tour and save.

Thanks to some creative thinking, CICV launched an incentive program designed to bring high school students and their families to Virginia’s private college campuses by giving away application fee waivers.

And hundreds of students take advantage of the offer each year as groups of families drive from campus to campus on summer vacations that double as traditional college tours.

It works this way:
  1. Decide which schools you want to visit. There are 24 from which to choose, and they are located in virtually every corner of scenic Virginia.
  2. Register for tours at each of the schools you plan to visit. Yes, register. It’s not required, but it really helps the schools plan for materials and tour guides.
  3. Organize your travel plans. Transportation information and driving instructions are available on individual college websites. Note that this is not an organized bus tour.
  4. Make sure the admissions office knows you’re there—be sure to sign in.
  5. Complete your visit and the school will notify CICV electronically.
  6. After three visits, you will be sent three application fee waivers certified for use at any of the Virginia private colleges—not necessarily the ones you visited.
For example, if you visit Marymount, Shenandoah, and Lynchburg, you can use your fee waivers at any of those three colleges or at Randolph-Macon, Washington & Lee, or the University of Richmond. Your choice!

By the way, Virginia’s private institutions often get overshadowed by the Commonwealth’s strong public colleges and universities. But you really should take a closer look, as these schools offer wonderful opportunities for students with a variety of college criteria and interests. Much more information, including an interactive listing of colleges by majors, may be found on the CICV website.

And as you’re considering Virginia private colleges, don’t forget about the Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG). This amazing program offers financial awards to students attending any of Virginia’s private colleges or universities. The sole eligibility requirement is that you live in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It’s really pretty sweet.

Also keep in mind that Virginia529 College Savings Plans can be applied to the tuition at any Virginia private college.  All four savings programs offered by Virginia529—Virginia529 inVEST, Virginia529 prePAID, CollegeAmerica®, and CollegeWealth®—can be used at any of the Virginia private colleges.

Start making plans now.  If you have questions about the tour or the advantages of Virginia’s private colleges, you can call 540.586.0606 or visit the CICV website.

May 30, 2013

523 Colleges compete for Recycling Honors

The College of William & Mary

The results are official! The 2013 college recycling champs have been announced by RecycleMania, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City was crowned national Grand Champion by finding ways to recycle 86.02 percent of overall waste during three weeks of competition.

The College of William & Mary took top honors as Virginia’s “Grand Champion” with 47.391 percent of overall waste recycled, while the University of Virginia successfully defended its in-state “Gorilla Prize” title by recycling 513,584 pounds of materials.

And that's not all.  Participating schools collectively recovered 90.3 million pounds of recyclables and organic materials, preventing the release of nearly 121,436 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere.

“Each year universities eagerly wait for the final results of the competition,” said Stacy Wheeler, president of RecycleMania, Inc.  “Because everyone participating is a competitor, this helps create the spirited atmosphere for students to develop new and better ways to recycle more.”

RecycleMania was launched in 2001 as a friendly challenge between Ohio University and Miami University to increase recycling on their campuses.  The contest has expanded from just two schools to 523 colleges and universities located in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada.

On the UVa campus, the RecycleMania competition is a project of the College and University Recycling Council. 

“We did extremely well this year,” said Nina Morris, sustainability outreach coordinator for Facilities Management. “The U.Va. community not only increased participation in the recycling program, but there was a concerted effort to encourage waste reduction.”

Other local colleges also did their part, and competition among athletic conferences was intense. 

For the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) division, the University of Maryland came in second behind Boston College, in the Grand Champion competition.  Virginia Commonwealth University ruled the Atlantic 10 ahead of George Washington and the University of Richmond, while the College of William and Mary soundly beat James Madison University in the Colonial Athletic Association.  Georgetown topped the Big East, and VMI beat Radford for top honors in the Big South.

And by total pounds recycled, the top 10 Gorilla Prizes went to:

  • Rutgers University (1,519,216,00 lbs.)
  • Duke University (1,343,032,000 lbs.)
  • UC Irvine (1,023,746,000 lbs.)
  • Michigan State University (1,015,341,000 lbs.)
  • Harvard University (1,001,180,000 lbs.)
  • University of Illinois at Chicago (823,296,000 lbs.)
  • Stanford University (822,296,000 lbs.)
  • University of Pittsburgh (812,280,000 lbs.)
  • Boston College (794,050,000 lbs.)
  • Purdue University (753,963,000 lbs.)

But these competitions aren't just about claiming titles.  They show an underlying commitment to sustainability which is becoming increasingly important to undergraduates as well as to college-bound high school students  looking for ways to differentiate colleges.

In fact, among 9,955 college applicants who participated the Princeton Review 2013 ‘College Hopes & Worries Survey,’ 62 percent said that having a way to compare colleges based on commitment to environmental issues (from academic offerings to practices concerning energy use, recycling, etc.) would contribute to their decision to apply to or attend a particular school.

More information and a complete list of winners (broken down by state and athletic conference), may be found on the RecycleMania website.

May 29, 2013

Stay Ahead in the 2013 Financial Aid Game with 9 Key Plays

Although the clock is ticking down, there are still ways to stay ahead in the financial aid game. With a few properly-executed “plays,” you can definitely have an impact on what financial aid is offered and how close it comes to meeting your needs.

Here are nine key plays to keep you ahead in the game:

1.      Complete the FAFSA. Even if you missed state and/or institutional priority deadlines, you should still complete a FAFSA as soon as possible. Yes, most schools have already allocated their funds. But if there is anything left over, they may try to accommodate late filers. And even if a school has distributed all its own aid, applicants remain eligible for federal loans and Pell grants. Do it NOW.

2.      Submit Corrections. If you completed your FAFSA based on estimates, you should update immediately using tax information from 2012. Although colleges distribute financial aid packages based on estimates, they expect corrections to be made as soon as final information is available. Be aware that they may amend your package if revised numbers vary significantly from the estimates you provided—but this can work to your advantage if your income estimates were high.

3.      Answer your mail. Watch for correspondence related to your FAFSA or other school-based financial aid requests. And keep in mind that colleges are required by the federal government to randomly select approximately 30 percent of the student aid applications for "verification."  If you are asked to provide additional information or to clarify any of your answers on application forms, respond immediately.  Those who have not submitted federal verification requirements by October 1, 2013 may have all federal, state, and need-based institutional financial aid cancelled.

4.      Review the fine print.  In the rush of decision-making, you may have missed some important terms in your financial aid package.  Be aware of any academic requirements to maintain your scholarship award and be sure that your aid is guaranteed for a minimum of four years. If you expect to study abroad, ask if your financial aid will carry with you.  Plan ahead. Don’t wait until the money disappears before addressing these issues with your financial aid office.

5.      Keep colleges informed. Be sure to make colleges aware of any significant change in family circumstances, such as an unexpected layoff, a salary cut, a divorce, or the death of a parent or guardian. Most are very understanding and will make every effort to respond promptly and with great compassion. It’s better to be upfront about situations over which you have no control than to let a problem fester until neither you nor the college can solve it.

6.      Educate yourself about student loans. All new federal education loans are being made through the Direct Loan program and your college’s financial aid office with funds provided by the US Department of Education. Although federal loans may offer lower interest rates and more flexible repayment plans (including some loan forgiveness opportunities), it’s up to you to be a smart consumer. Check out the information provided on the FinAid website and contact your financial aid office with any additional questions you may have.

7.      Go back to the well.   It can’t hurt to ask.  As students make adjustments in their plans for the fall, previously allocated money may get freed up.  If you’re having a hard time making ends meet or if the mix of grant aid and loans is proving burdensome—even without an extraordinary change in circumstances—contact your financial aid office and explain the situation.

8.      Continue the scholarship hunt. Admittedly pickings are getting a little slim. Nevertheless, continue checking with scholarship websites like Cappex or FastWeb, and register to receive up-to-date information on competitions or other scholarship opportunities. Also, don’t hesitate to ask about the availability of additional or future scholarship money at your college or university.

9.      Keep your grades up. Colleges reserve the right to rescind merit scholarships if grades drop below the point of eligibility. On the other hand, strong senior year grades may push your overall GPA to a level high enough to qualify for additional money. Even a tenth of a percentage point could make a difference in dollars received. Again, it never hurts to ask.

If you have questions concerning FAFSA on the Web, do not hesitate to contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or 1-319-337-5665. You can also contact the Center by email or request "live help" by clicking a button located on the FAFSA website.

Most importantly, remember that even at this late date, it’s worth playing the game to win!

May 27, 2013

Best for Vets 2013: Colleges Doing the Most for Military Veterans

University of South Florida came in fourth on the Military Times list
In the coming years, more than a million service men and women will end military careers and begin the transition back to civilian life.   

Many of these vets will decide to take advantage of the Post 9/11 GI Bill and go back to school to finish degrees, enroll in college for the first time, or work toward a master’s degree.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that the pool of undergraduate student veterans is growing on college campuses and currently numbers about 660,000 or three percent of undergrads nationwide.  About 215,000 of these are military service members on active duty or in the reserves.

And slowly but surely, colleges and universities are beginning to wake up to the advantages of welcoming student veterans to their campuses.

But not surprisingly, some schools are doing a better job than others. 

To generate a list of colleges doing the most for military veterans, the Military Times surveyed 650 two- and four-year institutions on their efforts to accommodate vets and active-duty service members.  They found:

  • About 84 percent accept American Council on Education (ACE) credits, which convert military training into academic hours
  • About six in 10 schools have a veterans office on campus
  • More than three-quarters waive late fees for students whose military education benefits arrive late
  • About half waive interest, advance credit toward the purchase of books and other expenses, or help students find emergency money
  • Almost 75 percent offer online degree programs, which can be crucial for deployed troops

The survey also showed deficiencies.  Fewer than 11 percent of the institutions polled require faculty- and staff wide training on veterans issues, and 43 percent had no such training available even for staff who would participate voluntarily.

To find the Best for Vets, the Military Times factored in enrollment, Yellow Ribbon participation, residency accommodations, ACE credits, participation in Veterans Upward Bound, the existence of a veterans office and staff, graduation rates, and loan default rates. 

Locally, only Norfolk State University (35) and George Washington University (45) earned positions on the four-year colleges list.  Liberty University (2) and UMUC (7) were listed among the best online or nontraditional programs.

And after crunching the numbers, the following four-year colleges came out as Best for Vets:

1.   Eastern Kentucky University
2.   South Dakota School of Mines & Technology
3.   Rutgers University, NJ
4.   University of South Florida
5.   D’Youville College, NY
6.   University of Nebraska-Omaha
7.   University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
8.   Medaille College, NY
9.   University of Kansas
9.   University of the Incarnate Word, TX
11. Chadron State College, NE
12. University of Kentucky
13. Wright State University, OH
14. Arizona State University
15. Concord University, WV
15. North Georgia College and State University
15. St. Petersburg College, FL
18. West Virginia University
19. Olympic College, WA
20. Bowling Green State University, OH

For more information or to see both lists of colleges, visit the Military Times website.