Prep Talk Blog > November 2008

If you want teachers to sing your praises, you should help and not hassle them through the rec-writing process. When getting a recommendation, be sure to give your teachers a pre-addressed, stamped envelope for each college receiving a letter. Writing a letter is hard work, so they shouldn’t have to harass you for mailing details too!

Afraid your letters might be left to the last minute? Instead of asking a teacher directly if they’ve finished the task, send them a friendly note two weeks before the deadline and thank them as if they’ve already sent in the recommendation. If they’re behind schedule, the note will act as a reminder. If they’ve long completed the task, they’ll appreciate the gesture. There’s a lot to remember in the admissions process but the one thing you should never forget are your manners.

For more must-knows, check out the entire Tip Off archive.

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If you've ever gone to a college fair with your parents, you know there's potential for disaster. Nothing beats the feeling of standing next to your mom while she extols your virtues to an admissions officer. But with CollegeWeekLive, you can now get all the benefits of a college fair, without any of the embarrassment. The website runs semi-annual virtual fairs that feature hundreds of colleges and lots of information on admissions.

Checking out CWL is as easy as turning on your laptop, but everything is as interactive as a real college fair. You can talk to admissions officers in real-time and watch keynote speeches broadcast live. The experts who appear on CWL talk about all areas of the college application process: the college search, essay writing, test prep, financial aid, etc.  The website is also running a $3,500 scholarship contest in conjunction with the next fair.

The next CWL takes place today and tomorrow. Register on the website now (it's free!) and tell your parents to check it out too. On the World Wide Web, there's even enough room for Mom.

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The declining economy is affecting everything from mortgages to stock prices, but it's also causing a credit crunch. This means that getting money on credit, or a loan, is increasingly harder. This is bad news for students who rely on loans to get them through college.

The New York Times recently reported that because of the tightening credit market, many college students are beginning to look to peer-to-peer (P2P) lending, an unconventional form of borrowing that will come easy to those already savvy with online social networking.

P2P lending is primarily done online through websites such as Prosper.com and The Lending Club. The concept is this:

  • A loan applicant creates a profile and explains how much money is needed and why.
  • The applicant's credit is checked, and its status is displayed to lenders.
  • The lower the credit score, the riskier the applicant, so the website suggests a slightly higher interest rate for that applicant.
  • Lenders look at profiles and loan money to the people whom they're interested in.

Where's the motivation for strangers to loan you money? When you pay them back, they will make money on the interest. The higher the interest rate, the more money they make back, so this is an incentive to invest in people with not-so-great credit (like students who are just starting out). Many times, it's not just one person who pays off the loan; it's often comprised of small amounts from multiple lenders. This makes it less risky for the lenders; if they invest all their money in one student and that person does not pay them back, they're going to lose a lot of money. If they lend small amounts to several different students, the risk that they will lose money is much lower.

The Times also discussed a new P2P website, Fynanz.com, whose sole focus is educational loans. On this website, you can create a profile and tell your story, and strangers choose which students to support. The interest rate is based on how far along you are in school, what your credit score is, and very importantly, what your GPA is. Fynanz told the Times that the interest rates on loans are usually 8 or 9 percent, which is typical of private loans. Fynanz will actually guarantee 50 to 100 percent of the loan based on your grades.

While P2P lending may not bring everyone success, if you're struggling to find traditional loans, you may find some unexpected lenders online. For those of us growing up in the Facebook generation, this approach doesn't seem so strange. But remember; you still have to pay it back. Oh, and it's not advised to put a sob story on your profile.

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With the economy on the rocks, paying tuition has become an even bigger burden on families. Recent surveys by both MeritAid.com and ApplyWise.com found that students are considering public colleges and "less prestigious schools" because they cost less.

Will this new mindset keep kids from getting a quality education? Traditionally, public schools have suffered from problems such as underfunding and overenrolled classes, while private schools are known for more personal attention and prestigious connections. But nowadays, many public universities outdo private ones in the rankings (e.g. Berkeley, UVA, UNC, UCLA) and offer a comparable if not better education at half the cost. And while there might be exclusive networks at very elite private universities, such as the Ivies and schools like Stanford or Rice, most schools that charge private tuition don't guarantee more valuable connections.

(Remember, however, that private schools often offer better financial aid packages and sometimes match public school tuition. Be sure to get a full picture from the financial aid office to make an informed decision.)

What do you think about public vs. private? Is tuition really an indicator of better quality education? Take our poll:

 

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The Boston Globe reported recently that “public universities will see a surge in interest, while some pricier private colleges, especially those with relatively small endowments and modest financial aid budgets, will receive fewer applications.” The Boston area is home to more colleges than any other American city, but even with such diverse options, students are taking a second look at public schools like the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, whose $18,000 price tag is becoming more attractive against a dire economic backdrop.

Those uber-elite colleges, such as Harvard or MIT, are already need-blind and will have no problem footing the bill for students who need financial aid. However, less wealthy private schools will suffer. The Globe reports that “the vast majority of colleges, from small schools such as Simmons to large universities like Northeastern, lack such resources and must carefully consider finances as they assemble their incoming class.” As a result, they may be more inclined to accept those students who can afford to pay their own way. This may seriously endanger class diversity and equal access at these universities.

Not that public schools aren’t affordable, quality alternatives to private colleges. We asked in our Poll of the Week whether students actually get more out of an expensive education. Give us your take in the comments.

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Do you think it's fair if college admissions professionals "google" you or look at your Facebook profile during the admissions process?
Yes. If it's out there, it's fair game.
No. If it's not part of my official application package, it shouldn't be considered.
I don't know.
The poll is closed.

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