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How to get a federal loan for college
By Larry Buhl, special to CareerBuilder
If you’ve recently suffered sticker shock at college tuitions, you’re not alone. More students are relying on financial aid to pay for the growing costs of their education, whether they’re taking a few online courses or starting an undergraduate or graduate program at a prestigious university. Often, student financial aid packages include some kind of loan.
The biggest lender is the federal government. Your school’s financial aid department can help you apply for these loans, but it helps to have a good idea of what you’re looking for and whether you should approach the office.
Below are four types of federal college loans.
1. Stafford Loans
Stafford Loans are for students pursuing undergraduate, graduate or professional degrees. There are two types of Stafford Loans: subsidized and unsubsidized. To receive a loan subsidized by the U.S. Department of Education, which pays the interest accrued on the loan during certain periods, you need to show financial need. Unsubsidized Stafford Loans don’t have this requirement. You can receive a subsidized loan and an unsubsidized loan for the same period. Unsubsidized loans have been eliminated for graduate and professional students as of July 1, 2012 but remain available for undergrads.
With a subsidized loan, the government pays all the interest while you’re in school. With an unsubsidized loan, you pay the interest, although you can defer payments until after graduation and capitalize the interest (this adds the interest payments to the loan balance and increases the total size and cost of the loan). Repayments begin six months after you graduate or drop below half-time enrollment.
You can get a Stafford Loan through one of two programs:
• Direct Loan Program, which allows students to take out subsidized or unsubsidized loans directly from the DoE. The loans are paid directly to the DoE.
• Federal Family Education Loan, which provides funds through private lenders and guarantees them through the U.S. Government. You have to repay these loans to the bank or private lender that issued them.
2. Perkins Loans
Perkins Loans are low-interest loans for full-time undergraduate and graduate students with exceptional financial need. The amount you receive depends on your financial need and the funding level of the school. Right now, the program limits are $5,500 per year for undergraduate students and $8,000 per year for graduate students, with cumulative limits of $27,500 for undergraduate loans and $60,000 for undergraduate and graduate loans combined. Perkins Loans carry a 5 percent fixed interest rate for the 10 year life of the loan.
Your school will either pay you directly, usually in the form of a check, or apply your loan to your school tuition. You must repay this loan to your school, and because the loan is subsidized by the government, interest doesn’t start accruing until you start paying it back. You won’t need to make any payments until nine months after you graduate, drop to part-time status or leave school.
3. PLUS Loans
PLUS Loans are for parents with dependent undergraduate students enrolled at least half time at an eligible school. PLUS Loans are available through the FFEL program and the William D. Ford Federal Loan (Direct Loan) program. Parents can receive either loan, but not both. Graduate and professional degree students can apply directly, instead of their parents, for federal PLUS Loans.
Parents can borrow the cost of the student’s attendance minus any other financial aid received. Right now, there are fixed interest rates of 7.9 percent for a Direct PLUS Loan and 8.5 percent for a FFEL PLUS Loan. The money is paid through the school.
For Stafford, Perkins and Plus Loans, you must submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
4. Direct Consolidation Loans
Direct Consolidation Loans allow you to consolidate Stafford Loans, PLUS Loans and Perkins Loans. Consolidation can reduce your monthly repayments and lengthen the term for the loan (up to 30 years, and you can choose the length). Unlike the other loans, consolidation loans have a fixed interest rate. Although the monthly repayments are lower, the total amount paid over the term of the loan is higher than would be paid with other loans.
You can start the process online at http://www.loanconsolidation.ed.gov/. Be aware that applying for a Consolidation Loan is a multistep process that could take several weeks to complete.
Other student loan options
The federal government is not the only source for school loans. If you need to borrow even more money than you can get from any of these federal programs, you can approach private lenders for private or alternative loans.
8 ways to mess up at college right now
By Larry Buhl, special to CareerBuilder
Fall classes are underway, and so are perennially bad student habits. If you’ve just started a degree program, you’ll want to avoid these common pitfalls that can not only derail your education but negatively affect your career as well.
Plagiarize. You weren’t expecting that one, were you? No matter what your major is, you’ll likely have to write at least one paper sometime. But if you’re not careful about citing your sources you could end up in big trouble.
“The generation starting college now believes anything online is fair use, and they don’t have to cite it,” says Jon B. Gould, a professor at American University and author of “How to Succeed in College (While Really Trying).” Gould warns that if a professor suspects that a student is guilty of plagiarism, she must report it to the dean of students, and that could lead to a hearing and even a notation of an honor violation on the transcript.
Don’t do the reading. Showing up in class isn’t enough to do well in the course. Make time to do all the readings, and don’t skim. If the books are too expensive, consider used books or even book sharing if a friend is willing to do it.
Skip classes. The flip side of not doing the reading is thinking that doing the reading is enough to get by. Professor Gould says that students miss out on a lot of valuable information from lectures. When the professor asks for questions, and you have one, ask.
Don’t manage your time. Spending all weekend partying instead of writing that paper that’s due Monday will lead to a Sunday night panic attack and likely a bad grade. If you think the professor or teacher’s assistant can’t tell that you’ve crammed two weeks’ worth of research into one frantic session the night before, think again. They see it all the time.
Ignore finances. According to a recent study by the think tank Education Sector, 29 percent of all college students that take out student loans drop out of school, a percentage that has increased 25 percent over the past decade. Money troubles are one of the top reasons students don’t complete their degree programs. College costs have been rising fast, and using only loans can increase debt anxiety, but many students don’t take advantage of every possible source of financial help, including some “free money.” Whatever you do, don’t ignore the money issue. Work with the financial office at your school to learn what you can do to make education more affordable. And, of course, wherever you can cut costs and still have a life, do so.
Blow off office hours. In just about every institution and every course, the instructor sets aside time for students to meet and discuss the course and their progress. Don’t waste this valuable opportunity. Make an appointment and go.
“Not only will you be able to double check your understanding of the material and see where you’re struggling, office hours give you a chance to be remembered positively by the instructor,” Gould says. “And in a very large class, that’s your best chance for personalized attention. You will be getting your money’s worth from your tuition.”
By Larry Buhl, Special to CareerBuilder
If the tried-and-true undergraduate majors don’t light your fire, consider one of the following more unusual degree programs offered at colleges and universities across the country.
These majors are serious programs offered by respected, accredited institutions. In fact, their specificity makes them practical choices for students interested in pursuing related careers. Plus, the placement rate for some degrees (like racetrack management and retail floristry) is extremely high.
Here are nine unique college degrees to consider:
1. Adventure recreation: If you want a career in the great outdoors, Oregon State University-Cascades and Green Mountain College in Vermont are among a few institutions offering major and minor programs in adventure recreation. This course teaches leadership skills to manage tours and groups in a variety of sports and activities.
Sample course: Adventure group processing and facilitation
Possible careers: Resort adventure director, professional guide
2. Astrobiology: Astrobiology is an emerging scientific meta-discipline that uses technological tools to study all forms of life in the universe and asks (but doesn’t necessarily answer): Where are we going, where do we come from and are we alone? The University of Washington, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Florida Institute of Technology are three of a growing number of institutions offering bachelor’s degrees in astrobiology. Coursework includes physics, geology, astronomy and engineering.
Sample courses: Geomicrobiology
Possible careers: NASA researcher
3. Bowling management
Many universities offer undergraduate sports-management majors, but only Vincennes University in Indiana offers a specialized degree in bowling industry management and technology, with a state-of-the-art 18-lane bowling center lab and National Junior College Athletic Association hall-of-fame coach Gary Sparks teaching.
Sample course: Lane and pinsetter maintenance
Possible careers: Bowling lane owner or manager, manufacturer sales representative
4. Eco-gastronomy: Capitalizing on the growth of locally-grown food, slow foods and sustainable agriculture, the University of New Hampshire now gives students food for thought, literally, through studies in food and its cultural and environmental implications. Because eco-gastronomy is a “complementary” major — it must be combined with another major — students have a wide range of career options from which to choose.
Sample course: Food and society
Possible careers: Restaurant management, food-safety manager
5. Floral management: You need a bachelor’s degree to work in a flower shop? Not necessarily, but it can help, and it can also open doors to more competitive floral industry jobs. Graduates of Mississippi State University’s floral management program enjoy a 90 percent placement rate, according to the school, in purchasing, distributing, marketing, designing and retail floristry jobs.
Sample course: Greenhouse management
Possible careers: Wedding and bridal designer, wholesale floral manager
6. Puppetry: The art and management of puppetry is not kid’s stuff. The University of Connecticut and West Virginia University offer serious undergraduate and graduate degrees in puppetry arts, with coursework that can prepare students to design and build puppet theaters, design toys, teach children and direct schools and museums.
Sample course: Trends in contemporary American puppetry
Possible careers: Puppeteer, puppet maker, theater director
7. Racetrack management: Graduates of the Race Track Industry Program at the University of Arizona — the only program of its kind — have the background necessary for many career paths in the horse-racing industry. The school boasts a job placement rate of above 80 percent for graduates.
Sample course: Advanced animal racing laws and enforcement
Possible careers: Horse trainer, breeder, racetrack manager
8. Sports ministry: Sports ministry is a growing field that aims to strengthen the links between religion and sports. Kentucky’s Campbellesville University and several Bible colleges offer interdisciplinary sports ministry degrees to prepare students for jobs teaching religion and sports in a wide range of religious institutions.
Sample course: The Christian coach
Possible careers: Director of college athletics, youth minister
9. Turfgrass management: Golf courses, community parks and professional sports teams rely on experts to keep the grass healthy. Michigan State University and State University of New York (SUNY) – Cobbleskill are two schools where undergrads can specialize in managing turfgrass.
Sample course: Plant genetics
Possible careers: Golf course superintendent, athletic fields manager, urban agriculture specialist
By Larry Buhl, special to CareerBuilder
By now you’ve heard or experienced the ugly truth: Colleges and universities are becoming increasingly less affordable. Trade schools and associate programs, while cheaper, are also raising tuition and fees.
But there are ways of attaining the education you need without creating a mountain of debt. Every year, billions of dollars in free money are available in the form of grants and scholarships — assistance you don’t have to pay back — although most students who might qualify never apply.
No matter whom you are or what you plan to study, there are many options. With research, planning and thinking outside the loan box, you can find several ways to reduce your investment in education. In most situations you can apply for as many of these funding options as you want.
A grant is a form of financial aid that doesn’t need to be paid back, unlike a loan. But you might be surprised by how many eligible students don’t bother to apply for these grants or even know about them.
There are two main grant sources:
1. Your school. In general, the institutions with the highest tuitions will also be generous in helping out students in need. But even less expensive schools often have grant programs to help out financially strapped students. You should check with your school’s financial aid office as soon as you apply to attend — or even before — to see how to apply for aid.
2. Government. The biggest sources of free money are federal and state grants. Two federal need-based grants are the Pell Grant and Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant. The Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship program awards grants to exceptional high-school students. The Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership is a state-administered needs-based grant.
The first step to receiving any federal financial aid is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid at www.Fafsa.ed.gov. Deadlines are firm; it’s best to file as soon as you can for the coming school year.
Unlike grants, which are allocated based on financial need, scholarships are given based on skills and merit, generally, regardless of your money situation. Corporations, unions, associations and religious, civic and fraternal organizations award scholarships to students for many reasons. Generally, there are three types of scholarships:
1. Merit-based. Every scholarship has different requirements, but merit-based scholarships generally expect you to demonstrate outstanding achievements, such as a high grade-point average, significant work or extracurricular accomplishments. Even if you don’t get straight-A’s, but you’re an amazing pianist, creative writer or billiards player, for example, there may be scholarships that fit your achievements.
2. Identity-based. Are you a single mother? Do you have a disability? Are you artistically inclined or even left-handed? These are just some of the many scholarship categories that can be found through schools and private institutions. It may take some digging to find out about them, but the payoff can be worth it.
3. Career-based. If you’ve already chosen your career, you may have even more scholarship options: Professional associations in a wide variety of fields offer scholarships for students registering in certain accredited academic programs. The point is, in any given field there are probably several institutions, foundations, private companies or associations offering free money to study, and you don’t always have to be a straight-A student to get it.
You won’t find a complete list of scholarships online; there are just too many and more are being added all the time. You’ll have to do some digging, but your research can pay off handsomely.
Workforce Investment Act money for retraining
The WIA is a federal law that helps unemployed people who need a new career, new skills or both, to get back into the workforce quickly, by offering grant money to cover tuition for WIA-eligible training programs. This money can be used in addition to any other sources of financial aid. Grants average $4,000 per person, according to the Department of Labor.
WIA grants are only for WIA-eligible training programs in the most in-demand careers, such as nursing, LPN, customer service and Web design. You must be legitimately low income — the WIA uses federal poverty guidelines to determine income eligibility — and you must have been terminated or laid off (or about to be) through no fault of your own, and be unlikely to be rehired. For more detailed eligibility guidelines, contact your local Workforce Development Board.
Ask for help
A good place to start your search is your school’s financial aid office. Use it early and often to discover all of your financial aid options and how to submit a winning application.
Education costs won’t be going down anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find your own ways to piece together a workable financial solution.
Larry Buhl researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder.
15 Top Jobs Requiring a Bachelor’s Degree
By Sonia Acosta, CareerBuilder Writer
Maybe you’re starting college and you’re not sure what your major should be. Perhaps you’ve been in the workforce for some time, are considering a career change and wondering whether you should get more education. As you make your decision, it might be beneficial to consider what kinds of jobs require a bachelor’s degree and, of those jobs, which ones pay well and are growing.
In an effort to help you explore your career, education and training options, Laurence Shatkin, Ph.D., has done the research for you. In his book “Best Jobs for the 21st Century,” Shatkin shares the best jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree is defined as a degree that “requires approximately four to five years of full-time academic work beyond high school.”
In creating this list, Shatkin used the most reliable and up-to-date information available on earnings, projected growth and number of openings from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics survey.
The data has its limitations, and figures should be considered estimates. The list should be used as a guide on jobs that, on average, have higher pay, faster projected growth and more openings than most other jobs in the category.
Here are 15 of the best jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree:
1. Software developers, applications
Annual earnings: $87,790
Percent growth: 34
Annual openings: 21,840
2. Software developers, systems software
Annual earnings: $94,180
Percent growth: 30.4
Annual openings: 15,340
3. Computer systems analysts
Annual earnings: $77,740
Percent growth: 20.3
Annual openings: 22,280
4. Civil engineers
Annual earnings: $77,560
Percent growth: 24.3
Annual openings: 11,460
5. Construction managers
Annual earnings: $83,860
Percent growth: 17.2
Annual openings: 13,770
6. Accountants and auditors
Annual earnings: $61,690
Percent growth: 21.6
Annual openings: 49,750
7. Network and computer systems administrators
Annual earnings: $69,160
Percent growth: 23.2
Annual openings: 13,550
8. Market research analysts and marketing specialists
Annual earnings: $60,570
Percent growth: 28.1
Annual openings: 13,730
9. Personal financial advisors
Annual earnings: $64,750
Percent growth: 30.1
Annual openings: 8,530
10. Financial analysts
Annual earnings: $74,350
Percent growth: 19.8
Annual openings: 9,520
11. Environmental engineers
Annual earnings: $78,740
Percent growth: 30.6
Annual openings: 2,790
12. Database administrators
Annual earnings: $73,490
Percent growth: 20.3
Annual openings: 4,440
13. Cost estimators
Annual earnings: $57,860
Percent growth: 25.3
Annual openings: 10,360
14. Biomedical engineers
Annual earnings: $81,540
Percent growth: 72
Annual openings: 1,490
15. Human resources specialists
Annual earnings: $52,690
Percent growth: 27.9
Annual openings: 11,230
Sonia Acosta is a writer and blogger for www.CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, www.TheWorkBuzz.com. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.
Starting salary comparisons between 2011 and 2012 grads
By Sonia Acosta, CareerBuilder Writer
As you grab hold of those shiny diplomas this graduation season, you’re probably wondering what the hiring landscape looks like and what salaries are available depending on your major or area of focus.
You’re in luck. The National Association of Colleges and Employers recently released its April 2012 Salary Survey. The survey found that the average starting salary for the Class of 2012 is $44,442, up 6.6 percent when compared with the Class of 2011.
Here’s a list of common academic majors for the Class of 2012, salary comparisons with 2011 and related degrees or occupations with high earning potential.*
Business: The median starting salary for business majors grew by 1 percent since 2011 to $47,748 in 2012. Economics graduates are earning the highest starting salary at $54,800.
Communications: The median starting salary for communications grads grew by 3.8 percent from $32,160 in 2011 to $40,022 in 2012. Advertising majors accepting management jobs have the highest starting salaries.
Computer sciences: The median starting salary for computer sciences grads changed by 2.4 percent from $55,087 in 2011 to $56,383 in 2012. The information sector saw the highest average earning potential, with a median starting salary of $64,400.
Education: Education grads saw the biggest jump in median starting salary from 2011 to 2012, with a 4.5 percent increase from $35,828 to $37,423. The average starting salary is highest for special education graduates, at $42,200.
Engineering: The median starting salary for engineering graduates changed little from 2011 ($58,802) to 2012 ($58,581). Computer engineering grads have the highest starting salaries of all engineering majors.
Health sciences: Health sciences graduates saw a slight decrease in median starting salary from 2011 to 2012, at $43,802 and $43,477, respectively. Popular occupations pursued by health sciences majors include nursing, health care and social assistance, and educational services.
Humanities and social sciences: The median starting salary for humanities and social sciences grads has not fluctuated much. It grew by just 0.5 percent, from $34,630 in 2011 to $34,789 today. Political science majors have the highest earning potential, with an average starting salary of $38,400.
Math and sciences: The median starting salary for math and sciences grads increased from $34,298 in 2011 to $40,939 in 2012. Students accepting jobs with construction firms, scientific and technical services, and government employers have the highest earning potential.
*All information from the NACE April 2012 Salary Survey
Sonia Acosta is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.
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8 certifications that can boost your career
By Larry Buhl, Special to CareerBuilder
In some fields — medicine and teaching, for example — certifications and accreditations are the “entrance ticket” to the profession. In others, certifications may not be mandatory but can significantly improve the chances of landing a job, moving up, getting a raise or taking on new responsibilities.
Here are eight in-demand professional certificate programs — some are industry-specific, while others can help ignite careers in a variety of fields.
1. Professional project management. Project managers can be found in just about any company or industry that has projects, from information technology to construction to government. While PMP certification, administered by the Project Management Institute, is now an expectation for project managers, it has become a bragging right for anyone who might have managerial duties.
2. Foreign language. In many occupations, especially customer service, knowing more than one language can provide a significant career boost. Proving you’re proficient in those languages is easier with a certificate of foreign languages. There are many tests and certificates offered through community colleges or distance learning programs.
3. Corporate training. Corporate training is an in-demand business-management specialty that can be lucrative. According to CBSalary.com, the average U.S. salary is $65,000. If you’re in management or human resources and want to specialize, move up the company ladder or just want to extend your knowledge and skills, the Certified Professional Trainer degree offered by the American Training and Seminar Association can give you a boost.
4. Desktop support administration. IT support specialists have a variety of certifications that can expand their portfolio of skills. The Windows operating system, however, is ubiquitous, and even if you’re working in a general support position, having a Microsoft Windows 7 Enterprise Desktop Support Administrator certification can be a big plus. The certification provides the knowledge to install, maintain and manage the Windows 7 Desktop operating system.
5. Personal fitness training. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this booming career field is experiencing faster than average job growth. In theory, anyone who understands fitness could be a fitness trainer, but having a certificate — or two or three — will prove to employers and clients that you know what you’re doing. Certification programs are offered by the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, National Academy of Sports Medicine and American Fitness Professionals & Associates, among others.
6. Professional sales. You’re unlikely to find a college degree in sales, but a variety of certificate programs can give you the skills and experience to prepare for a career selling goods and services. Many of these programs are industry-specific; there are nearly as many professional sales certificates as there are professions, but the National Association of Sales Professionals is a place for sales generalists to get started.
7. Web design and development. Nearly every business has an online presence. Professionals who design, develop and maintain company websites have many opportunities. For people who don’t want to specialize as Web designers or developers, but may occasionally pitch in to help with Web-related tasks, there are many certificate programs. Some even qualify for government financial aid.
8. Certified clinical medical assistant. If you have general skills and experience but don’t have the time or money to get a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in a health-care field, there are certificate programs that can provide a boost to your health-care career. A certified clinical medical assistant understands clinical and laboratory procedures, as well as many administrative roles. For those with an administrative background, CCMA programs can be door openers for working in doctor’s offices, clinics and hospitals.
Remember, the vast majority of professional certificate programs are for people who are already working in a particular field and are not for people with limited work experience or who are just out of high school.