FOR A KID GROWING UP IN THE INNER city, visiting a college campus can be an eye-opening experience. At any given moment, you may find yourself on a winding path with large sycamores, fallen pine cones, and ivy-covered buildings, leaving behind a life of loud streets and overcrowded schools.
The experience was no different for Michael E. Adams, a Princeton University student, originally from Chicago. "I applied to the school for an early decision because I went on a tour during the spring of my junior year," says Adams, a 19-year-old sophomore studying economics. "I did an Ivy League tour, and Princeton was one of the friendliest campuses. And it was the most welcoming."
That wasn't the only reason Princeton caught Adams' eye. "It's great for academics, obviously, and the social life. I don't feel like you have to be popular or in the social scene to have fun." There were just 116 African Americans in his freshman class, but that doesn't bother Adams in the least: "When there are African American get-togethers, it seems like a lot of people. It's not huge, but it's not minute."
Choosing the right college is anything but minute. It's one of the most important decisions a young adult can make. How to finance that education is just as much a concern to many parents. To help you make the right choice, BLACK ENTERPRISE offers our ranking of the 50 Top Colleges for African Americans. In addition, we've included a financing guide in which you'll find everything you need to know about grants, loans, and scholarships.
This year, our team of writers, editors, and researchers updated and improved the selection process for the list, which was last compiled in 2004. First, we expanded our pool of survey reviewers, which now includes more than 500 higher education professionals. These professionals reviewed more than 1,400 schools, whereas previous reviewers were sent a list of schools specific to their region. In addition, we conducted the survey online, yielding a better, faster response.
The new approach--combined with giving more weight to graduation rates and other necessary adjustments to the criteria-bumped some longstanding schools off the list. Nevertheless, all of the top 10 schools returned. Perennials such as Stanford and Howard universities, which are lauded for their academic and social environments, continue to do well.
Seventeen schools that made the list this year didn't appear in 2004, including Mills College and Northwestern University. Morehouse, which had been the top school on the last two listings, slipped 44 spots, from No. I to No. 45, primarily because its graduation rate fell from 56% to 49% over the last two years. Several of the newcomers, such as Dickinson and Babson colleges, have black graduation rates of 90% or higher, so schools with rates below 50% were pushed farther down or off the list completely. However, larger HBCUs like Florida A&M University did well, even though they had black graduation rates of less than 50%, because they benefited from having higher black enrollment numbers.
Celebrating its 125th anniversary, Spelman has consistently ranked in the top five of our listing. "After attending a predominantly white school all of my life, I chose to go to Spelman College for the social change," says Aarica J. Blackett, a third-year economics major. "My senior year in high school, I was a debutante for the Links Incorporated. The more and more I bonded with these girls, the more I realized how much potential I had to become more than what I was." More than 83% of full-time Spelman faculty hold doctoral degrees. In addition, the school offers rich cultural programs such as The Sumiko Takahara Japan Studies Program, in which students can study Japanese history and culture.
According to Thomas A. LaVeist, Ph.D., CEO of DayStar Research and the compiler of the list, the reason for so many changes has less to do with any one variable than with the combination of all of the new adjustments. Several historically black colleges and universities, such as Johnson C. Smith and Clark Atlanta universities, which had been on the list since its inception in 1999, didn't make the cut.
Crunching the NUMBERS
To develop the 2006 BE 50 Top Colleges for African Americans list, we surveyed more than 500 African American higher education professionals including presidents, chancellors, and directors of student affairs for their assessments of the social and academic environments for African American students at the nation's colleges and universities.
A total of 1,423 colleges met our criteria based on their status as accredited four-year colleges with African American student enrollments of at least 3%. In addition, schools needed to have enrollment data submitted with the U.S. Department of Education. Each school was rated on a five-point scale from 1 (strongly recommend) to 5 (strongly don't recommend).
The schools were sorted into seven categories: historically black colleges and universities, national universities, national liberal arts colleges, regional universities in the Northeast and Midwest, regional universities in the South and West, regional liberal arts colleges in the Northeast and Midwest, and regional liberal arts colleges in the South and West.
The list was derived using the following variables:
* Black student graduation rate
* Average survey score for the school's academic environment
* Average survey score for the school's social environment
* Total black undergraduate enrollment
Black undergraduate students as a percentage of total undergraduates (credit for this variable was capped at 50% for HBCUs)
* Ranking on the 2004 BE
Top Colleges list
The criteria was established by BE and Thomas A. LaVeist, Ph.D., CEO of DayStar Research. The variables given the heaviest weighting were black graduation rate, followed by the average academic and social environment scores.
Additional reporting by Michelle J. Nealy, Tennille M. Robinson, Tykisha N. Lundy & Stephanie Young
50 Top Colleges for African Americans 2006 Colleges & Universities Web Social rank City, State Address Score 1 Florida State www.famu.edu 44.2 University, Tallahassee, FL 2 Howard University, www.howard.edu 43.3 Washington, DC 3 North Carolina A&T www.ncat.edu 42.0 State Univ., Greensboro, NC 4 Harvard University, www.harvard.edu 36.4 Cambridge, MA 5 Spelman College, www.spelman.edu 43.2 Atlanta, GA 6 Hampton University, www.hamptonu.edu 42.8 Hampton, VA 7 Stanford University, www.stanford.edu 35.7 Stanford, CA 8 Columbia University, www.columbia.edu 36.2 New York, NY 9 University of www.upenn.edu 36.8 Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 10 Wesleyan University, www.wesleyan.edu 38.6 Middletown, CT 11 Dickinson College, www.dickinson.edu 38.3 Carlisle, PA 12 Wellesley College, www.wellesley.edu 38.0 Wellesley, MA 13 Amherst College, www.amherst.edu 38.9 Amherst, MA 14 Duke University, www.duke.edu 34.7 Durham, NC 15 Smith College, www.smith.edu 43.3 Northampton, MA 16 Barnard College, www.barnard.edu 38.6 New York, NY 17 Tennessee State www.tnstate.edu 40.0 University, Nashville, TN 18 Georgia State www.gsu.edu 35.2 University, Atlanta, GA 19 Brown University, www.brown.edu 36.7 Providence, RI 20 Yale University, www.yale.edu 34.2 New Haven, CT 21 Georgetown University, www.georgetown.edu 36.6 Washington, DC 22 Wake Forest University, www.wfu.edu 40.0 Winston-Salem, NC 23 Babson College, www.babson.edu 38.3 Wellesley, MA 24 Williams College, www.williams.edu 37.5 Williamstown, MA 25 Florida State www.fsu.edu 35.2 University, Tallahassee, FL 26 Cornell University, www.cornell.edu 31.2 Ithaca, NY 27 Prairie View A&M www.pvamu.edu 38.8 University, Prairie View, TX 28 Jackson State www.jsums.edu 40.0 University, Jackson, MS 29 Oberlin College, www.oberlin.edu 41.1 Oberlin, OH 30 North Carolina Central www.nccu.edu 38.1 University, Durham, NC 31 Mills College, Oakland, www.mills.edu 42.0 CA 32 University of North www.unc.edu 37.6 Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 33 Grinnell College, www.grinnell.edu 38.3 Grinnell, IA 34 Morgan State www.morgan.edu 40.4 University, Baltimore, MD 35 University of Virginia, www.virginia.edu 30.6 Charlottesville, VA 36 Mount Holyoke College, www.mtholyoke.edu 41.3 South Hadley, MA 37 Emory University, www.emory.edu 38.6 Atlanta, GA 38 Princeton University, www.princeton.edu 32.8 Princeton, NJ 39 Swarthmore College, www.swarthmore.edu 38.6 Swarthmore, PA 40 University of Michigan, www.umich.edu 37.1 Ann Arbor, MI 41 Temple University, www.temple.edu 37.3 Philadelphia, PA 42 Washington University, www.wusti.edu 33.7 St. Louis, MO 43 Davidson College, www.davidson.edu 31.4 Davidson, NC 44 Simmons College, www.simmons.edu 37.5 Boston, MA 45 Morehouse College, www.morehouse.edu 41.5 Atlanta, GA 46 Johns Hopkins www.jhu.edu 35.0 University, Baltimore, MD 47 Dartmouth College, www.dartmouth.edu 30.4 Hanover, NH 48 Vassar College, www.vassar.edu 36.7 Poughkeepsie, NY 49 Northwestern www.northwestern.edu 30.5 University, Evanston, IL 50 University of Maryland, www.umd.edu 36.7 College Park, MD Total 2006 Colleges & Universities Academic Undergrad. rank City, State Score Enrollment 1 Florida State 43.8 11,450 University, Tallahassee, FL 2 Howard University, 42.6 7,112 Washington, DC 3 North Carolina A&T 41.6 9,121 State Univ., Greensboro, NC 4 Harvard University, 45.9 9,519 Cambridge, MA 5 Spelman College, 43.0 2,186 Atlanta, GA 6 Hampton University, 41.5 5,315 Hampton, VA 7 Stanford University, 45.4 6,555 Stanford, CA 8 Columbia University, 42.1 7,233 New York, NY 9 University of 43.6 11,958 Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 10 Wesleyan University, 47.1 2,777 Middletown, CT 11 Dickinson College, 43.3 2,321 Carlisle, PA 12 Wellesley College, 42.0 2,289 Wellesley, MA 13 Amherst College, 45.6 1,640 Amherst, MA 14 Duke University, 43.1 6,301 Durham, NC 15 Smith College, 43.3 2,692 Northampton, MA 16 Barnard College, 40.0 2,287 New York, NY 17 Tennessee State 39.6 7,257 University, Nashville, TN 18 Georgia State 34.2 19,889 University, Atlanta, GA 19 Brown University, 43.5 6,014 Providence, RI 20 Yale University, 45.8 5,319 New Haven, CT 21 Georgetown University, 42.6 6,522 Washington, DC 22 Wake Forest University, 42.9 4,128 Winston-Salem, NC 23 Babson College, 37.1 1,697 Wellesley, MA 24 Williams College, 43.8 1,991 Williamstown, MA 25 Florida State 35.5 30,373 University, Tallahassee, FL 26 Cornell University, 41.5 13,625 Ithaca, NY 27 Prairie View A&M 38.8 6,324 University, Prairie View, TX 28 Jackson State 38.5 6,605 University, Jackson, MS 29 Oberlin College, 47.8 2,837 Oberlin, OH 30 North Carolina Central 40.0 6,028 University, Durham, NC 31 Mills College, Oakland, 43.3 762 CA 32 University of North 40.0 16,525 Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 33 Grinnell College, 44.0 1,556 Grinnell, IA 34 Morgan State 38.8 6,243 University, Baltimore, MD 35 University of Virginia, 41.9 14,129 Charlottesville, VA 36 Mount Holyoke College, 45.0 2,143 South Hadley, MA 37 Emory University, 42.1 6,346 Atlanta, GA 38 Princeton University, 44.4 4,678 Princeton, NJ 39 Swarthmore College, 48.6 1,474 Swarthmore, PA 40 University of Michigan, 42.5 24,828 Ann Arbor, MI 41 Temple University, 37.3 23,429 Philadelphia, PA 42 Washington University, 36.3 7,350 St. Louis, MO 43 Davidson College, 44.3 1,714 Davidson, NC 44 Simmons College, 42.0 1,874 Boston, MA 45 Morehouse College, 42.6 2,891 Atlanta, GA 46 Johns Hopkins 43.0 5,710 University, Baltimore, MD 47 Dartmouth College, 40.4 4,079 Hanover, NH 48 Vassar College, 44.2 2,475 Poughkeepsie, NY 49 Northwestern 38.6 9,115 University, Evanston, IL 50 University of Maryland, 37.5 25,140 College Park, MD Black Black 2006 Colleges & Universities Undergrad. Grad. rank City, State Enrollment Rate 1 Florida State 10,731 46% University, Tallahassee, FL 2 Howard University, 5,975 62 Washington, DC 3 North Carolina A&T 8,409 43 State Univ., Greensboro, NC 4 Harvard University, 641 97 Cambridge, MA 5 Spelman College, 2,058 77 Atlanta, GA 6 Hampton University, 4,980 54 Hampton, VA 7 Stanford University, 698 92 Stanford, CA 8 Columbia University, 511 90 New York, NY 9 University of 790 90 Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 10 Wesleyan University, 190 90 Middletown, CT 11 Dickinson College, 88 100 Carlisle, PA 12 Wellesley College, 135 95 Wellesley, MA 13 Amherst College, 148 91 Amherst, MA 14 Duke University, 682 86 Durham, NC 15 Smith College, 153 95 Northampton, MA 16 Barnard College, 112 100 New York, NY 17 Tennessee State 5,896 47 University, Nashville, TN 18 Georgia State 6,765 48 University, Atlanta, GA 19 Brown University, 383 93 Providence, RI 20 Yale University, 413 92 New Haven, CT 21 Georgetown University, 424 85 Washington, DC 22 Wake Forest University, 249 89 Winston-Salem, NC 23 Babson College, 56 100 Wellesley, MA 24 Williams College, 192 86 Williamstown, MA 25 Florida State 3,607 68 University, Tallahassee, FL 26 Cornell University, 634 88 Ithaca, NY 27 Prairie View A&M 5,795 46 University, Prairie View, TX 28 Jackson State 6,388 40 University, Jackson, MS 29 Oberlin College, 175 78 Oberlin, OH 30 North Carolina Central 5,182 50 University, Durham, NC 31 Mills College, Oakland, 68 89 CA 32 University of North 1,794 70 Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 33 Grinnell College, 61 91 Grinnell, IA 34 Morgan State 5,782 39 University, Baltimore, MD 35 University of Virginia, 1,193 87 Charlottesville, VA 36 Mount Holyoke College, 88 82 South Hadley, MA 37 Emory University, 585 78 Atlanta, GA 38 Princeton University, 385 90 Princeton, NJ 39 Swarthmore College, 96 82 Swarthmore, PA 40 University of Michigan, 1,875 69 Ann Arbor, MI 41 Temple University, 4,666 53 Philadelphia, PA 42 Washington University, 691 90 St. Louis, MO 43 Davidson College, 107 91 Davidson, NC 44 Simmons College, 121 88 Boston, MA 45 Morehouse College, 2,731 49 Atlanta, GA 46 Johns Hopkins 472 81 University, Baltimore, MD 47 Dartmouth College, 274 91 Hanover, NH 48 Vassar College, 128 83 Poughkeepsie, NY 49 Northwestern 498 90 University, Evanston, IL 50 University of Maryland, 3,047 57 College Park, MD Type Tuition 2006 Colleges & Universities of In/Out rank City, State School of State * 1 Florida State Public $2,958/$14,949 University, Tallahassee, FL 2 Howard University, Private 12,295 Washington, DC 3 North Carolina A&T Public 3,114/12,556 State Univ., Greensboro, NC 4 Harvard University, Private 32,097 Cambridge, MA 5 Spelman College, Private 15,945 Atlanta, GA 6 Hampton University, Private 14,182 Hampton, VA 7 Stanford University, Private 31,200 Stanford, CA 8 Columbia University, Private 33,246 New York, NY 9 University of Private 32,364 Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 10 Wesleyan University, Private 32,976 Middletown, CT 11 Dickinson College, Private 32,120 Carlisle, PA 12 Wellesley College, Private 31,348 Wellesley, MA 13 Amherst College, Private 32,395 Amherst, MA 14 Duke University, Private 31,420 Durham, NC 15 Smith College, Private 30,754 Northampton, MA 16 Barnard College, Private 30,676 New York, NY 17 Tennessee State Public 4,414/13,726 University, Nashville, TN 18 Georgia State Public 4,464/15,378 University, Atlanta, GA 19 Brown University, Private 32,974 Providence, RI 20 Yale University, Private 31,460 New Haven, CT 21 Georgetown University, Private 32,024 Washington, DC 22 Wake Forest University, Private 30,210 Winston-Salem, NC 23 Babson College, Private 30,496 Wellesley, MA 24 Williams College, Private 31,548 Williamstown, MA 25 Florida State Public 3,208/16,340 University, Tallahassee, FL 26 Cornell University, Private 31,467 Ithaca, NY 27 Prairie View A&M Public 4,906/13,186 University, Prairie View, TX 28 Jackson State Public 3,964/8,872 University, Jackson, MS 29 Oberlin College, Private 32,724 Oberlin, OH 30 North Carolina Central Public 3,778/13,522 University, Durham, NC 31 Mills College, Oakland, Private 29,990 CA 32 University of North Public 4,613/18,411 Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 33 Grinnell College, Private 27,060 Grinnell, IA 34 Morgan State Public 6,110/13,520 University, Baltimore, MD 35 University of Virginia, Public 7,370/24,290 Charlottesville, VA 36 Mount Holyoke College, Private 32,598 South Hadley, MA 37 Emory University, Private 30,794 Atlanta, GA 38 Princeton University, Private 31,450 Princeton, NJ 39 Swarthmore College, Private 31,516 Swarthmore, PA 40 University of Michigan, Public 9,213/27,601 Ann Arbor, MI 41 Temple University, Public 9,640/17,236 Philadelphia, PA 42 Washington University, Private 32,042 St. Louis, MO 43 Davidson College, Private 28,667 Davidson, NC 44 Simmons College, Private 24,880 Boston, MA 45 Morehouse College, Private 16,016 Atlanta, GA 46 Johns Hopkins Private 31,620 University, Baltimore, MD 47 Dartmouth College, Private 31,770 Hanover, NH 48 Vassar College, Private 33,800 Poughkeepsie, NY 49 Northwestern Private 31,789 University, Evanston, IL 50 University of Maryland, Public 7,821/20,145 College Park, MD SOURCE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, NATIONAL CENTER FOR EDUCATION STATISTICS: THOMAS A. LAVEIST, PH.D. * PRICES FOR FULL-TIME UNDERGRADUATES FOR ACADEMIC YEAR 2005-2006
Guide To College Financing
NOW THAT YOU KNOW THE 50 TOP COLLEGES FOR African Americans, how do you go about paying for such top-notch educations? This was certainly an issue for Michael Adams and his family. Before Michael enrolled at Princeton University, his parents sat down to figure out how they were going to afford the $31,000-a-year college education.
"We worked out a budget. My salary goes to paying his schooling and his sister' school loans," says Karen Adams, while her husband, Edward, covers the household bills. "We were sending Michael to private high school, so we couldn't really save anything," Karen explains.
To prevent students from graduating with thousands of dollars in debt, Princeton funds education primarily through grants and offers loans only to parents. Karen admits that she was initially surprised by the school's "Graduate Debt Free" promise, "out the way they have it set up, and how they handle financial aid compared to other schools, is pretty good," she says.
The Adamses took out $80,000 in loans to divide over four years. They make a monthly payment of $628 because Princeton doesn't allow parents to defer payment.
While Michael was still in middle school, the Adamses paid off their home using money from Karen's 403(b) in preparation for his private schooling. "I know you're not supposed to do that, but I knew I would pay myself back," Karen says.
Although using retirement money to pay for your child's education is unwise, many families are forced to be creative with their finances to meet the rising cost of education. According to the College Board, over the last 10 years, fees and room and board for full-time undergraduates increased by 31% at four-year private colleges and by 42% at four-year public institutions. As a result, middle-class families are most likely to feel the pinch.
That's why we've created this comprehensive guide to college financing. In it, you'll find everything you need to help you identify a plan of action, whether your child is in the first grade or in the last year of high school.
From the time Christopher Phelps, a senior at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, was in elementary school, he knew that academic scholarships were going to be his golden ticket to a free college education. His parents, Norman and Connie Phelps, made sure all three of their sons excelled academically every school year. "We did not have a college fund established for our boys. We kept our sons on a strict academic regimen," says Norman. "They knew that school, community service, and leadership activities were the priority."
During his junior year in high school, Christopher, who won more than $150,000 in scholarships, spent at least one hour every day researching and filling out college applications. The Phelps family required that each child mail off at least one scholarship application a week. In fact, the other two brothers, Norman and Calvin, received more than $350,000 in scholarships. For Christopher, who boasted a 4.2 grade point average in high school and averaged five to 10 hours of community service a week, finding scholarships to apply for was easy.
In all, Christopher won 13 scholarships from various organizations including Alpha Kappa Alpha. With time, effort, and a little knowledge about where to look, your child can attend college for free, too.
The Scholarship Box
The key to scholarship success is taking the time to fill out applications completely. Marianne Ragins, founder of The Scholarship Workshop (www.scholarshipworkshop.com), an educational and consulting service that gives presentations on college topics, suggests creating a scholarship box to hold all application materials.
In the scholarship box, students should arrange the applications to their top 15 scholarships according to deadline. Here are the other components:
* Student activity list This is a list of all the things the student has done from the ninth through the 12th grades. It should state any awards, honors, and participation in academic contests.
* Official transcripts The student should request five to 10 copies. High schools have different criteria for obtaining this document, so students should visit their guidance counselor for help.
* Essays Most scholarships require essays. Ragins suggests that students complete two basic essays: one that describes who he or she is and another that describes future career goals.
* Recommendation letters Students should ask for recommendation letters at least two months prior to the application deadline. Ask people who have worked closely with the student and can give a strong recommendation about his or her character and work ethic.
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that there are 750,000 scholarships earmarked annually for qualified students, totaling $1.2 billion. So how do you find them? According to Gen and Kelly Tanabe, founders of SuperCollege.com and authors of Get Into Any College and Get Free Cash for College (SuperCollege L.L.C.; $16.95 and $22.95), it's a matter of doing your homework.
"Most students search for scholarships on the Internet and think that they are done. This is a huge mistake," says Gen. "We've discovered scholarships in the dusty collection of books at our library, in newspaper announcements, and on a supermarket shopping bag." Try these places to find scholarships:
* School High school students should visit their guidance counselor to discuss financial aid. Students should think about their family's background, the type of college they want to attend, and special interests that make them eligible for certain scholarships.
* The community Call all the local clubs, organizations, unions, and fraternities and sororities. Some organizations include local NAACP chapters, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and the Urban League.
* The library Try scholarship directories such as Peterson's Scholarships, Grants & Prizes 2006 (Thomson Peterson's Guides; $32) and The Scholarship Search: A Guide to Winning Free Money for College and More (iUniverse Inc.; $9.95).
Beckham's Guide to Scholarships for Black and Minority Students by Barry Beckham (Beckham Publications Group Inc.; $17.95)
College Board Scholarship Handbook 2007 (Henry Holt & Co. Inc.; $27.95)
Scholarships for African-American Students by Peterson's (Peterson's Guides; $14.95)
The Everything Paying for College Book: Grants, Loans, Scholarships, and Financial Aid--All You Need to Fund
Higher Education by Nathan Brown and Sheryle A. Proper (Adams Media Corp.; $14.95)
National Urban League (www.nul.org)
Elks Club (www.elks.org)
American Red Cross (www.redcross.org)
The Lending Tree
When used wisely, loans can be an effective method of paying for college. Use this guide to determine whether a loan will be beneficial to you.
Federal Perkins Loans are available to part-time or full-time undergraduate and graduate students with great financial need, although Federal Pell Grant recipients receive top priority.
The loan amount is determined by your financial need and the school's available funds. School receive financial aid funds annually from the U.S. Department of Education. When all available funds have been distributed, no more are given for that academic year. This is why it is important to submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) early.
With a subsidized Stafford Loan, the Department of Education pays the interest while the student is in school, for six months after he or she leaves school, and during a deferment period. Eligible students can borrow a Direct Loan or a Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) to cover some or all of their need. Direct Loans are borrowed from and must be repaid to the Department of Education, while FFEL loans are borrowed from and must be repaid to private lenders. Depending on which program the school participates in, students may receive a Direct Loan, an FFEL Loan, or both.
With an unsubsidized Stafford Loan, the student is responsible for paying interest from the time the loan is disbursed until it is paid in full. This loan is available only to part-time or full-time students without financial need. Students can receive a subsidized loan and an unsubsidized loan for the same enrollment period as long as the total does not exceed the annual loan limit, which is $18,500, depending on the grade level.
A Direct Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) is subsidized by the Department of Education. Parents must fill out the loan application form as well as a promissory note, which lists specific conditions, such as interest rates, grace periods, and repayment plans. Keep this document handy as you may need to refer to it throughout the course of the loan. The school will distribute the loan application, process the loan, and distribute the funds.
An FFEL PLUS Loan is subsidized by a lender or guaranty agency--an organization that administers FFEL loans by state. Parents are responsible for finding a lender that serves their state of residence. For the name, address, and telephone number of the agency serving your state, contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 800-433-3243.
To qualify for a PLUS Loan, you must have a good credit history and cannot be in default on your own student loan or owe a refund on any federal student aid program. If you are worried about your credit history, someone else can co-sign for the loan, but he or she will be responsible for repaying the loan if you are unable to do so. You can apply for an FFEL PLUS for one child and a Direct PLUS for another; one child cannot receive both types of PLUS loans.
The school will automatically credit the amount of the loan toward tuition," fees, and room and board. You will receive the remainder via cash or check, unless you request that the funds be given directly to your child, Both Stafford and PLUS loans have a fee of up to 4%, meaning you will receive slightly less than the amount you are borrowing. Most loans are paid via check in at least two installments per year.
Keep in mind that loans can only be cancelled within two weeks of the date you receive your award letter or by the first day of the payment period. Because loans are legal obligations that must be repaid with interest, failure to pay a loan can negatively affect your credit rating. To learn more about financial aid, visit www.student.ed.gov.
Grant Me A Wish
"If I had not been awarded grant money," says Emory University senior Christopher Williams, "I would be attending school elsewhere, no questions asked." The 21-year-old Columbia, South Carolina, native chose to pursue a degree in accounting and finance at Emory's Goizueta Business School.
With more than $29,000 in institutional funding and $2,000 from federal work-study, nearly 80% of Williams' financial aid package is need-based aid. The rest is a small, yet helpful, group of scholarships and loans. Emory's tuition for the 2006-2007 school year is $32,100, while the total costs are estimated at $44,844.
According to Jean Farnsworth, Emory's associate director of financial aid, 14% of the 1,890 aid applicants for the 2004-2005 school year were black. "All of our aid awarded is need-based," she says. "Emory wants students who are qualified to come. The school does not want money to be the deterrent."
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is used by nearly all colleges and universities in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Education to distribute aid to students based on financial need. Filled out yearly, the information students report on their FAFSA is used to calculate their family's financial strength based on their income and assets.
Unlike FAFSA, the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE--the College Board's aid application service, used by more than 600 schools and scholarship programs--requests information about home equity and also makes allowances for things such as debt against the home, private school tuition for a younger sibling, and medical expenses. For example, a family of four that earns $50,000, owns a home, and has some equity is different financially from a family of four that makes $50,000 and rents.
With financial aid, Williams has only to pay for his food, books, transportation, and personal expenses. He takes on this responsibility himself, to lessen the burden on his parents, through an on-campus federal work-study, a job with the student newspaper, and by cutting hair in the lobby of his residence. "I do this so I don't have to ask my parents for money all the time," he says. "They've done more than enough with just raising me."
Getting the most out of financial aid
With no repayment required, grants can greatly offset the cost of a college education. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that in 2007, Federal Student Aid (FSA) programs will distribute $12.7 billion to fund Federal Pell Grants, $770.9 million for Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), and $980.4 million for the Federal Work-Study Program.
Students should keep the following in mind when applying:
* Be mindful of deadlines. You could be penalized if your application is late.
* Turn in all requested documents. "if we've asked for it, we need it. We're not just trying to be nosy. We want the information to make an award," says Jean Farnsworth, associate director of financial aid for Emory University.
* Take some personal responsibility, Know how to apply for aid and be an active and informed participant. The goal is to understand your package and be able to talk about it. "It's much easier to help a student that is aware than for us to help a student that says, 'I don't know, my parents do that,'" Farnsworth says. "Students need to be a part of the process."
* Know your financial aid counselor. During your first few weeks, stop by to introduce yourself. Don't be afraid to visit the office when you are not having an issue. When there is a problem, remain courteous. And if you don't understand, ask for further clarification.
* Don't let costs be a deterrent. If you really want to go to a high-cost school, apply for it. But also apply for financial aid and do it before the deadline. In addition, apply to other schools that may be more affordable so that when you get your acceptance letters and financial aid letters, you can review your options.
For parents Karen and Derek Adams, paying for their daughter's collage education was less about choice than about duty. A native of Trinidad, Derek was sent by his parents to Howard University to get an education and pursue a better life. It would make perfect sense that he would do the same for his only child, Brittany, a 20-year-old junior at Hampton University.
"When she was born, I started putting money away every paycheck through sayings bonds. At the time, I worked at a bank, so they allowed me to make automatic deductions," says Derek a 45-year-old senior vice president of information systems and technology at PRG Schultz.
His plan was simple: first save $50 per paycheck, then $100, and eventually up to $150 per paycheck. He did that diligently from 1986 to 2003, saving $54,000 in after-tax dollars. "You'd be amazed at the power of compounding," he says. Derek kept the money in savings bonds for years before transferring it into a 529 plan.
Even if you didn't start saving early like the Adamses, there are creative ways to finance your child's education.
Here are some practical things you can do to offset the high cost of college:
* Have your child take the SAT early. Since there are more merit awards than need-based awards, students have to take the SAT seriously. Most money is given out on a first-come, first-serve basis, so the earlier your child takes the SAT, the better the chance to receive an award.
* Send your child to the school's summer program. Some colleges offer high school students summer enrichment programs prior to admittance. It's a great way for the student to get to know faculty and financial aid administrators and become a more appealing candidate.
* Know the types of aid prospective colleges offer. When visiting a campus, stop by the financial aid office. Also search the financial aid section of the school's Website, call and request information, or speak to a financial aid counselor.
* Be clear about your financial situation. "Schools want to see how financially savvy you are," says Sterling Laylock, the Adamses' Atlanta-based financial adviser. "At some universities, parents must answer hundreds of questions that are at the discretion of the school." Those questions, which include the cost of your mortgage, allocation of investments, and make and model of your car, can weigh heavily on the type of financial aid you receive.
If you start early, a good place to begin is with a savings plan. No matter which plan you choose, keep it in your name so you control the money. Also, if the money is in the child's name, it may make him or her less eligible for aid.
Here's a quick breakdown of your options:
* The 529 Plan is an attractive savings vehicle because the money grows tax-free and withdrawals used for college expenses are not taxed. "Most of the 529 plans offer tax credit to their residents. However, if your state doesn't have a 529 plan, you may participate with another state that does have a plan, but you won't get the tax credit," says Vicki Brackens, a financial planner with MetLife in Syracuse, New York. However, she does advise everyone to seek tax advice before choosing the plan.
* The Coverdell Education Savings Account, formerly known as the Education IRA, allows you to save up to $2,000 a year tax-deferred. What's great about the account is that you can use it for elementary and secondary school as well as college. Unfortunately, these funds are considered student assets, so when financial aid is calculated, it could reduce your child's aid.
* State prepaid tuition programs allow you to lock in current tuition rates for future use. The tuition rate is an in-state public college rate, so if your child attends a private school, be prepared to pay the difference.
* The Uniform Gifts to Minors/Uniform Transfers to Minors Acts allow you to give your child $11,000 without getting hit with taxes. It's more flexible in the way it can be used, but at age 18, your child assumes complete responsibility, so be careful.
For more ways to make college affordable, log on to www.black enterprise.com/payforcollege.
Know Your Limits
Here is a breakdown of the federal loans: Perkins Subsidized Stafford Loan Loan Min. amount -- $2,625 Max. amount $4,000 for undergraduate $8,500 students $6,000 for graduate students Interest rate 5.0% 5.3% Grace period Nine months Six months Repayment Up to 10 years 10-30 years Unsubsidized Stafford Direct & FFEL PLUS Loan Loan Min. amount $2,625 -- Max. amount $18,500 Cost of attendance minus additional financial aid Interest rate 5.3% 6.1% Grace period Six months -- Repayment 10-30 years None specified SOURCE: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION FEDERAL STUDENT AID…