The College Rankings Are Here – The Ones You Never Heard Of

Everyone enjoys rankings regardless of the subject, and that includes ranking colleges. The Wall Street Journal does it. The Washington Monthly does it. The less well known Niche publishes a very different version of college rankings. And the Princeton Review publishes a book each year, The Best 386 Colleges.

But the college rankings that everyone knows about are the U.S. News & World Report rankings. They garner headlines and lots of commentary every year.

At the same time, a list of colleges ignored by the mass media is the list The Chronicle of Higher Education dubbed this past week the “Top Producers of Fulbright U.S. Scholars and Students, 2020-21.”

Admittedly, this is a list that would be of most interest only to students (and their parents and school counselors) who have the potential to be awarded a Fulbright U.S. student award. However, to those students and their parents and counselors, the possibility of competing for a Fulbright award might be a consideration in deciding where to apply for college.

The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to support academic exchanges between the United States and over 150 countries around the world. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers awards for U.S. graduating college seniors, graduate students, young professionals and artists to study, conduct research, and/or teach English abroad.

Just over 500 U.S. colleges and universities actively participate in the Fulbright program, and the Chronicle of Higher Education published lists of the colleges and universities with graduating students who competed successfully for an award. The lists are grouped according to the type of institution the students graduated from. The four types of institutions are doctoral, master’s, baccalaureate and 4-year special-focus (institutions where a high concentration of degrees is in a single field or set of related fields).

The full list of all of the colleges and universities is available at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Below are the lists for baccalaureate and 4-year special-focus institutions. The number of applications and number awarded suggests the emphasis of the program and its advisers at each school.

Baccalaureate institutions (49 colleges – Those with 10 or more Awards are listed.)

4-year special-focus institutions (10 colleges – All had one or more Awards offered.)

As you can see, the Fulbright U.S. student award is quite exclusive. The number of applicants are few and the awards are still fewer. The point here is that the presence of such a program is indicative of what these colleges and universities make available to their best students.

Another excellent indication of the academic quality of a college is the presence of a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. Just 290 institutions have a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. To qualify for this, an institution goes through a three-year process of examination by three levels of Phi Beta Kappa examining committees. We will have more about this in our next blog post.

Two Essential Resources – FREE!

February is financial aid month and, appropriately, we have a wealth of free resources to tell you about. The first is a free guidebook for the SAT and ACT tests and the second is information about financial aid provided by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

First, a free, newly updated SAT and ACT guidebook.

The Compass Education Group is offering for free its newly updated (2.1.21) Guide to College Admission Testing. The guide is 69 pages of information about the SAT and ACT aptitude tests and subject tests. The guide is available here.

Compass Education Group is a long-established, national company providing college admissions advising and test prep services. The well-known college admissions advisor, Lynn O’Shaughnessy (The College Solution) said she always looks forward to reading the latest update of the guide.

You will also find free access to webinars and other information at the Compass Education Group website.

Second, February is Financial Aid month, and to celebrate, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators has assembled a collection of useful information.

For example, many people assume that they won’t qualify for financial aid because their grades are not good enough, they make too much money (or their parents do), or lots of other reasons. But, you won’t know for sure unless you try, and applying is free

You’ll also find links to the following helpful financial aid resources here:

Student Loans – A Primer – Part 2

In our last post we told how Jason and his friends knew very little about the student loans they had. Only Jason appeared to be concerned. That changed and now Terrell, Olivia and Kate are worried about their student loans. Except for Olivia, who is a junior, they are all seniors and just months away from graduation

Borrowing money to pay for college is complicated, and so it is easy to make serious mistakes if you don’t look at all the details. In this post we will give you just the most important facts and some advice to pay attention to in making decisions about borrowing money for your postsecondary education. In a later post we will talk about how much to borrow. This is information parents and students all need to know, so let’s get to it.

There are two types of federal loans available to postsecondary students, whether they are in college or in a trade school or other federally recognized postsecondary education. Part of the difficulty in understanding the available loans is the language used in talking about loans and borrowing. This is where greater financial literacy is a big help.

Students can borrow a Direct Subsidized Loan or a Direct Unsubsidized Loan. Why are they called “Direct” and what is the difference between “Subsidized” and “Unsubsidized”? Direct simply means the loan is borrowed directly from the U.S. Department of Education. Once you know that you don’t have to worry about “direct” anymore.

In the context of a student loan, subsidized means that you, the borrower, are being given a loan without having to pay interest until six months after you graduate or leave school before graduation. If you have an unsubsidized loan, it means that interest is charged from the moment you receive the loan all the way through until it is repaid in full.

This leads to another term, accrue. When speaking of loans and the interest we pay on loans, we say the interest accrues, or accumulates, over time until the loan is repaid. So, with a subsidized loan, the federal government is lending you the money without charging you interest until you graduate or leave school before graduation. No interest is accruing. But with an unsubsidized loan, interest begins accruing from the day you receive the loan. For this reason, it’s a good idea to pay this accruing interest as you go through college because it can add up to a significant amount of money.

The current interest rate is a fixed rate of 2.75%. Because it is a fixed interest rate, it won’t change for the life of the loan whether it’s a subsidized or unsubsidized loan. Note: This does not mean that every direct student loan you take out while in college will have a fixed rate of 2.75%. The Education Department can change the rate, up or down, each year, so that the next loan you take out could have a different fixed rate.

Interest rates for direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans for 2019-2020 was 4.53%. Students returning to school for the 2020-2021 school year were happy to learn that the interest rate on their new loan would be 2.75%, a very large decrease when talking about loan interest rates.

At this point, Jason, Terrell, Olivia and Kate felt a little overwhelmed with all this information, and they suspected there was a lot more coming. They were right. But for now, just know that their loans are all different even though they all have direct subsidized and direct unsubsidized loans.

Jason is a fifth year senior, so he has been accruing interest for nearly 5 years on his unsubsidized loans. The total amount a student is permitted to borrow under the direct student loan program is $31,000 and no more than $23,000 can be subsidized. Jason reached his $31,000 limit and has $8,000 in unsubsidized loans. The interest rates on Jason’s loans have changed every year from 2015 to 2020. The interest rate has been as low as 3.76% and as high as 5.05%. Jason also has two private loans totaling $15,000 which his uncle cosigned.

In future posts we will talk about the loans Terrell, Olivia and Kate have, but Jason’s loan status shows how borrowing over several years can be complicated and expensive. Jason didn’t understand this, and now he has to sort out his multiple loans and begin to think how he is going to repay them. He is especially worried about not putting his uncle in a difficult position if he is unable to repay his private loans. If you are a high school junior or senior planning to attend some kind of postsecondary education you will have to pay for, you would be wise to read this over again and begin to look into some of the financial literacy resources listed in earlier posts. Jason has our sympathy, but he’s not alone. Begin now to put yourself in a position where you won’t need our sympathy. If you don’t, four or five years from now sympathy is all we will be able to offer.