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6 Tips to Help Ace Your Scholarship Essay

November 17, 2020

College is expensive. The good news is that scholarships provide a fantastic way to make the college experience a less expensive and more manageable one. There are thousands of scholarships out there from merit-based scholarships to scholarships for those planning on going into very specific fields.

 

One thing that may feel intimidating when applying for scholarships is that many require completion of an essay. However, with a little preparation and hard work, the scholarship essay can be an easy way to show off your personality and explain why you deserve the scholarship. It’s one of your strongest tools to set you apart from other candidates. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of scholarship essay tips:

 

Start Early

One of the best scholarship essay tips is to give yourself plenty of time to write and rewrite. Any writer will tell you that writing is a process of revision, and the best way to get ahead in that process is to start early.

 

Take a look at the essay prompts and requirements. Consider building out an outline. Write. Rewrite. Take your time. Since you’ve started so early, there’s no reason to worry about deadlines just yet.

 

Be Passionate

The scholarship essay is your chance to really show who you are. They can’t tell what you are interested in and how spectacular you are from your paperwork and grades. The essay is the real test.

 

When you are choosing something to write about, another scholarship essay tip is to select a subject that you’re passionate about. If you write about something that makes you happy, the reader is sure to understand that you feel strongly about the subject and enjoy your essay even more.

 

In addition, the essay readers don’t want to hear about something pessimistic or negative, so keep the tone positive or show how you turned a negative experience into a positive one. Even consider writing about a time where you learned from failure.

 

Get Personal

Sometimes it can be hard to share emotions and personal details in your writing. These details, however, also give the essay readers a genuine sense of who you are.

 

Your experiences and feelings are totally unique, and sharing them in your essay will set you apart. Regardless of the seriousness of whatever story you tell, don’t be afraid to show your personality. It’s always better to, especially since your application already covers your academic and personal achievements.

 

Edit

Because you started early, you’ll have plenty of time to edit your essay. A well-edited essay is one of the most important parts of any scholarship application. Far more important than having incredible stories of struggle and failure is the ability to write a cohesive and grammatically correct essay.

 

So when you’re writing, take the time to go back through your work and correct any grammar and spelling mistakes first. Then consider putting your essay into a tool like Grammarly which will check spelling, grammar and diction.

 

After that, it’s always worth giving your essay to someone to read. Ask your teachers, family, friends, anyone to trust to read over your essay and provide feedback. Remember, the more feedback the better.

 

Have Fun

A scholarship essay tip you may not have considered is to enjoy the process of writing. Essays should have a hook, meaning something fun to engage the reader. Some humor (or pathos) can make your essay much more effective.

 

Understandably, with so much on the line, it’s easy to forget that the purpose of this essay is to show off your personality, but don’t forget to have some fun. Provide a nice balance of serious content and levity. Your readers will appreciate it, and you’ll be left with a stronger essay.

 

Leave Some Things Out

Profanity

With all the talk of having fun and being yourself, you might get a little carried away. Be warned: there are some things you should leave out of your college essay, including profanity or inappropriate language. Simply put, it’s unprofessional, and it makes it seem that you aren’t taking the essay seriously.

 

Cliches

Next to avoid would be cliches. It’s easy to churn out a cliche-ridden success story, especially when you’re following a common prompt, for example, learning from failure or overcoming adversity. Watch out for overused phrases in your writing, and avoid them when you can.

 

Casual Writing

Finally and most importantly, write formally without losing your sense of personality. This means eliminating any text speak. No “LOLs” or emojis. It also means that you should keep your use of contractions to a minimum. They may be great for casual writing, but removing them from your essay will make it seem all the more polished.

 

The Bottom Line

Writing a college scholarship essay doesn’t have to be intimidating. Follow the instructions and try your best to show off who you are in order to most effectively reach your readers. The fact is, regardless of whether or not you receive a scholarship right away, there are thousands ready to accept your application.

 

Best of all, since you’ve started early, you have plenty of time to work on dozens more essays and applications. By following these tips, you’ll give yourself the best possible chance of scholarship success.

 

If despite your scholarships you still find yourself burdened by student debt, check out these great ways to pay off your student loans faster here.

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Graduate student sitting in class
2020-11-19
The Differences Between Undergraduate and Graduate Student Loans

If you are thinking about getting a graduate degree and you have undergraduate student loans, you probably have some familiarity with borrowing student loans for school. However, when you are deciding how to pay for graduate school, there are some key differences you should know that can help you save some money.   

Federal Graduate Student Loan Considerations

Interest Rates

Federal graduate student loans often have higher interest rates than federal undergraduate student loans. A higher interest rate results in more interest costs, meaning you are paying more money to borrow the loan. Interest rates can change annually, so it’s important to know the current rates when you’re considering taking out student loans.   The difference in interest rates can add up to thousands of dollars in interest over the life of the loan. When borrowing federal graduate student loans you want to be cognizant of only borrowing the amount you actually need since you will be paying a much higher interest rate on the loan.    

FAFSA

When applying for Federal Student Aid, you are required to fill out the FAFSA form, as you likely did for your undergraduate degree. The major difference is graduate students are considered independent students as opposed to dependent students, and therefore, your parent’s financial information is not needed. In addition, as an independent student, you may earn less than your parents, which could make additional financial aid available.   

Higher Borrowing Limits 

Federal graduate student loans have higher borrowing limits to cover the higher cost of tuition. For undergraduates, the maximum that can be borrowed depends on your year in school and whether you are a dependent or independent student, with limits ranging from $9,500 to $12,500 per year. Graduate students can borrow up to $20,500 per year in direct unsubsidized loans. There is no limit to how much can be borrowed in Grad PLUS loans, except for the cost of attendance.    These higher limits can be helpful when you need to cover all the expenses related to graduate school. However, this can lead to borrowing large loans at high interest rates that may be difficult to repay. Since graduate loans can be used to pay living expenses it is important to continue living on a budget and only borrowing the amount necessary.    

No Subsidized Loans 

With subsidized loans, interest does not accrue while you are in school. Unfortunately, that option is not available for federal graduate student loans. Your graduate student loan options include Direct Unsubsidized loans and Direct PLUS loans, which both begin accruing interest as soon as they are disbursed.   To avoid accruing more interest than necessary, be sure to minimize your graduate school expenses and loans. Also, if you are able to pay at least the interest costs while you are in school this will prevent you from having a larger total to pay back after graduation.   If you find yourself in need of greater financial flexibility, then consider student loan refinancing with a private lender after graduation. This option could decrease your interest rate and monthly student loan payment.  

Additional Graduate Student Loan Considerations

Financial Aid More Limited 

Undergraduates have several financial aid options based on need, such as the Federal Pell Grant, which in many cases does not have to be repaid.   Although grants and other forms of financial aid are sometimes available to graduate students, these options are more limited. Some financial aid options that may be available for graduate school include grants, scholarships, fellowships and federal and private student loans.  

Loan Fees

You may pay higher origination fees for federal graduate student loans versus undergraduate student loans. The origination fees are a percentage of the total loan amount you borrow. This fee will be taken out of your loan disbursement which lowers the actual amount you will receive, but the full amount of the loan is required to be paid back.    Some private lenders, like ELFI, do not charge an origination fee for loans, so be sure to consider that when comparing loan options.   

The Benefit of Private Graduate Student Loans

Private student loans may be more beneficial for graduate school than undergraduate student loans. That's because you may be able to score a lower interest rate on a private student loan if you have an excellent credit history. Private student loan interest rates are based on your income and credit history, so if you are looking to return to school while you are still employed, they may be a good option for you.  

Refinancing Your Graduate Student Loans

If you already have undergraduate and graduate student loans, student loan refinancing could help you to save money on your monthly payment and on interest costs. Refinancing is when you obtain a new loan to pay off previous student loans. You can refinance both federal and private undergraduate and graduate student loans.  

The Bottom Line

Understanding the differences between undergraduate and graduate student loans can help you make an informed decision about the best way to fund your education. If you have significant student debt, student loan refinancing could help you to save money and pay down your loans more quickly.
Woman smiling at college graduation
2020-09-08
7 Actions to Take Before Your Grace Period Ends

Congratulations! You graduated from college and have hopefully settled into the start of your career. If it has been almost 6 months since your graduation, it’s most likely your student loan grace period is nearing the end if you have federal student loans. Are you prepared for when your grace period ends? Luckily we have some actions you can take to prepare.      If you have federal student loans, there is a six month grace period before you have to begin making payments after you graduate, leave school or drop below a half-time student. Not all federal student loans have a grace period. The loans that do include: direct subsidized and direct unsubsidized. PLUS loans for graduate school have a six month deferment period after graduation where payments are not required. Some private student loans also have a grace period but it may not be six months. Be sure to check with your lender to determine if any grace period exists.   

Actions to Take

Here are a few actions you should take before your grace period ends to ensure you are prepared.  

Determine Your Debts

  First, it’s important to understand the types of student loans you have. For example, do you have private or federal loans? If you have federal student loans, you’ll need to determine whether you have subsidized or unsubsidized loans. Subsidized loans mean the U.S. Department of Education will pay the interest on the loan during the grace period for most loans. (Note: If you have a direct subsidized loan that was disbursed between July 1, 2012, and July 1, 2014, you are responsible for the interest during the grace period.) If you have a Direct Unsubsidized loan you will always be responsible for the interest, even the interest accruing during the grace period. This means that if you don’t need the grace period you may want to think about at least paying the interest on the loan.    Be sure to take stock of your other debts, such as a car loan or credit card payments, and their minimum payments.  

Make a Budget

Determine a budget that includes your new student loan payment and all other debt payments. Once you determine your budget, start following it before your grace period ends. The money budgeted for your student loan can be put aside to use as an emergency fund. Or use the money you saved during the grace period to make a principal-only payment to get ahead on your repayment.    

Set Up Auto-Pay 

Another great action to take during your grace period is setting up auto-pay through your loan servicer. Setting up auto-pay will ensure your student loan payment is always made on time. Another great benefit of using the auto-pay feature is that federal student loans are given a 0.25% interest rate reduction. Some private student loan lenders also provide a discount for auto-pay so check with your lender if any discount is available.   

Establish a Debt Repayment Plan

Your grace period is a great time to establish a student loan debt repayment plan. A debt repayment plan will help you decide exactly how you will pay off your debts. There are two main types of student loan debt repayment plans, the snowball method, and the avalanche method. You have to decide which method would work better for your financial situation and motivation. Either method will be helpful if you have multiple student loans or other debts to pay off. Once you decide on your method, you will know how to allocate any extra money you have in your budget for debt repayment. When it comes time for your grace period to end you will be more than ready to start paying down your loans efficiently!   

Research Repayment Options

  1. If you have multiple student loans you can pay each loan, keeping track of each loan individually and their due dates. 
  2. Another option is to consolidate your federal loans into one loan. The average interest rate of the consolidated loans becomes the fixed interest rate on the new consolidated loan. This is consolidating your federal loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan through the U.S. Department of Education.  
  3. Refinance student loans. Once you start getting your finances in order you may realize your student loan payment is not going to fit in your budget or has a much higher interest rate then what is available now. That’s where refinancing your student loans can help. Refinancing your student loans means you will borrow a new private student loan to pay off any previous student loans (including federal and other private student loans). Refinancing can save you money because interest rates can be much lower than for federal loans. A lower interest rate means you are saving money in interest costs monthly and over the life of the loan. To find out how much you could save use our Student Loan Refinance Calculator.*
 

Learn About Borrower Protections and Programs

When you have federal student loans you are provided benefits that are not always provided by private student loan lenders. The grace period of your loans is a good time to find out about any federal borrower protections you may want to use in the future, such as deferment and forbearance for your loans. Also, if you work for a non-profit or government agency, your loans may qualify for forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. During the grace period, it is helpful to learn about the requirements for the program so when your payments begin you can be sure they qualify under the specific rules of the program.    

Learn About the Repayment Plans

If you are shocked by what your monthly payment will be on the standard repayment plan, check into the other student loan repayment plans provided for by the U.S. Department of Education. Certain loans are eligible for an Income-Driven Repayment Plan, where your payment will be based on your income. Or you can elect to have your loans on the Graduated Repayment Plan that will extend your loan term to provide for a smaller monthly payment. However, keep in mind that you will end up paying more interest over the loan term.   

The Bottom Line

Taking these actions will help you be prepared for the end of your grace period. You are already a step ahead by thinking about this now. This preparation will start you off on a bright financial future knocking out your student loans. Good luck!  
  *Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.   Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no­­­ control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.
Check out these 8 apps that can help you pay off your student loans
2020-08-20
8 Apps That Can Help You Pay Off Your Student Loans Faster

Over the past few decades, student loan debt has skyrocketed. That’s no secret. Fortunately, at the same time, hundreds of tools have been created to help make paying off student debt easier and faster. Many of them can be accessed entirely through your phone, turning student loan relief into a mobile, accessible service. We’ve compiled a list of several apps that can help you pay off your student loans. Take a look:  

Mint

There are dozens of fantastic budgeting apps, and Mint is among the best. It allows you to track and plan for expenses by providing easy access to statistics and other information about your spending.   How does this pertain to student loans? The answer is simple. Proper budgeting and paying off student loans go hand in hand. Being able to set aside portions of your income every month for your student loan payments is key to successful financial management. Plus, by looking at your budget and determining where you can cut spending, you’ll be able to put more money toward your student loan payments, allowing you to become debt-free faster.  

EveryDollar

Created by personal finance guru Dave Ramsey and his team, EveryDollar is another great budgeting application. Designed to be simple and efficient, EveryDollar is a very effective budgeting tool. As with Mint, maintaining a budget is key to every quick student loan payoff. EveryDollar is best used to identify where you can spend less money in order to reallocate that money to your student loan payments, and with all the information laid out in front of you, it’s hard not to see where you can make some improvements.  

ChangEd

Built by two individuals who struggled to pay off their student loans, ChangEd is an app that links to your credit and debit cards. When you make a purchase with those cards, ChangEd rounds up to the nearest dollar, taking that change and sending it straight to your student loan provider when you reach a minimum threshold. While seemingly a small amount, this extra change adds up. It’s more money going directly to your student loan payments. Who would turn that down?  

Qoins

Qoins functions very similarly to ChangEd. You connect your credit and debit cards, and after every purchase, Qoins will round up and send that money to your student loan provider. The difference between Qoins and ChangEd: there’s no minimum threshold to reach, all the extra money goes straight to your loan provider. That said, it charges a higher monthly fee than ChangEd to do this.  

Undebt.it

Undebt.it is a handy app that allows you to track all your debt in one place, then it provides a plan to help you pay it off in the most efficient way possible. One way is the ever-popular debt snowball method, where you pay off all of your smallest loans first, but you can also choose from a variety of repayment strategies. You can choose whichever works best for you. One highlight is the app's ability to show what a difference an extra payment makes.  

Debt Payoff Assistant

Debt Payoff Assistant is a debt tracker focused mostly on the debt snowball method. Input each of your debts, student debt especially, and a unique debt repayment plan is generated. The app offers great utility, with several built-in calculators, as well as the ability to view a payoff schedule, estimated payoff dates and more.  

Givling

Givling is a quirky way to deal with student debt faster. Twice a day, Givling hosts a trivia contest via their app. Winners earn a cash prize, and as one plays more, they help to crowdfund future giveaways and prizes. So if you’re good at trivia, this could be your chance to tackle some student debt. If you aren’t good, you’re still helping to pay off someone else's student loans. That said, the odds are against you winning big through Givling, and it’s definitely better to consider it a fun diversion rather than a serious solution for dealing with student debt.  

Google Opinion Rewards

A little like a side hustle, Google Opinion Rewards and other survey-for-pay websites are a different way to deal with student debt. When you complete a survey, you will receive a very small reward, but the rewards add up over time. It’s a great way to fill short periods with nothing to do. You can easily earn a little pocket change in a waiting room or while waiting for the tea kettle to boil. Put it towards your student loans, and you’ll be well on your way!   There are dozens more apps that can help you pay off your student loans, and undoubtedly there will be even more in the coming years. It’s never been easier to get organized and tackle your student loans head on, and with these apps, we hope you’ll get it done in style. If the apps don’t cut it, it may be time to consider student loan refinancing, check it out here.  
  Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.