Friday, July 16, 2010

Okay let's try this again

So err...I uh...err. Okay, I probably don't have what it takes to become a fulltime blogger. I'm okay with that - even if nobody else reads this, at least I'm getting it out there.

Anyway's, I'm suffering through an unpaid internship. I've learned a few things - but transferrable skills? Valuable experience? Eh. And awesomely enough, NPR just had a story about it.

This story really brings up some interesting points. Here are my favorite two:

Only the well off can afford an unpaid summer: This summer, I am doing not 1 but 2 unpaid internships. I am living at home, and my parents support me, so in the end I am not really losing all that much. Plus, I couldn't find a paying job anyway. But if I had to do an unpaid internship in Los Angeles? New York? It would be difficult enough to provide for all this with the stipends usually given to interns, so imagine having to pay for all this out of pocket.

Only the well connected can get the best ones: This is no surprise. A lot of companies offer internships - from the fabulous to the not so fabulous. The fabulous ones usually offer the best opportunities (in terms of resume candy anyway). Unfortunately, a lot of them are nearly impossible to get unless you know someone who can get you an in. So basically if you are a) poor, b) not well connected or c) both, you are starting behind in an already difficult job market.

It's a long piece, but even if you listen to just parts of it, it's interesting. Compared to what some of these people are doing--cleaning doorknobs, mopping bathrooms--mine isn't that bad. Not at all. Sure, I've had to answer phones, get coffee, and run errands, but all in all it is manageable at least. Would I rather be paid for my services? Of course! I work like an assistant I should at least get paid like one.

Unfortunately for me, I want to work in the entertainment industry, and these unpaid grunge work internships are just a part of the ride.

What do you think of the infamous unpaid internship?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Day 3: What happens to your aid package with scholarships

Yesterday I spoke about going after small scholarships. This post talks about what happens when you get a small scholarship. Today's post might counteract everything I've said so far.

So you've applied for scholarships -- and won $5,000. That's terrific. The money may be sent directly to you or to your school depending on the organization. Most colleges will have you report that outside scholarship to them. And then what happens? Well many schools will reduce your financial aid package accordingly. They won't attack the precious grant money at first. They'll usually reduce the "self-help" portion first. Self-help usually includes expected summer earnings and work study. Some people like not having the work study -- why not just have $3,000 in your pocket instead of working all year -- but if you want to have a good campus job, not having work study will screw you. Wanted that cool (paid) research assistant position? Sorry work study only. The summer earnings contribution is usually somewhere in the range of $2,300. So let's say you surpass $5,300 in outside scholarships. Good for you, but your need based aid will just go down. So you really aren't helping yourself out of the hole very much.

For example I got about 10,000 in aid last year. With my contribution, I would have had to surpass $12,000 in outside scholarships to make a meaningful dent in my parent's contribution.

So is it worth applying to dozens of small scholarships in the hopes of reducing your financial burden? In reality probably not. Though they add up, these private scholarships aren't a realistic way to fund an education. It would be nice to have a few thousand dollars in your pocket to deal with expenses like books and maybe technology (think: laptop). Most of these scholarships are not renewable. They are one time deals. So even if you did manage to take a substantial bite out of your family's contribution in one year, there's no way of telling if you'll be able to pull off the same feat for the next year.

By all means pursue small scholarships though. If there is only a small gap that you need to fill, you'll probably have a lot of luck, and they will be quite helpful to you. But if your need extends into the tens of thousands of dollars, better luck elsewhere.

Happy Trails,

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Day 2: Big Money v. Little Money

I'm entering my second year of college. As a high school senior, I did look for a few scholarships, but one of the biggest mistakes I made was not having an open mind. I looked for the large scholarships: 20,000, 10,000, 40,000. If you can pull in one of these behemoths, good on you. But a lot of these tend to my rather competitive. I completely ignored the slew of 1,000, 2,500, and even 5,000 scholarships. It may not seem like a ton of money. Indeed, most of these are meant to be supplemental. But say you earn 10 $1,000 scholarship. That's $10,000 in your pocket. Granted, earning 10 scholarships may not be the easiest thing to do, but it's definitely worth a shot.

Trust me, if you aren't already in college you'll learn the value of a measly $1,000 pretty quickly. That's a years worth of textbooks. Or it can go towards summer storage. (Hey, it could even pay for that new TV you've been wanting...but I wouldn't necessarily go there).

My dad says, "Every little bit counts."I didn't believe him then, but trust me I do now.

So go for the big money, but be sure not to ignore the small money either. I know I'm not.

Happy Trails,

Monday, June 7, 2010

Scholarship Week Day 1: The Scholarship Search

Anyone I've ever heard giving financial advice to college students always says: look for scholarships. Well, where do you look?

For today's post, I'll be focusing on outside scholarships, or scholarships not granted by your institution. These scholarships can come from a variety of sources - clubs, your parent's work, your work -- the list is pretty big. You should also be happy to know that there are scholarships literally for everybody. From atheists to world travelers. I can almost guarantee that there will be someone out there willing to give you money. You don't have to have a 4.0, you don't need to be a stellar athlete, you just need to know where to look.

Online scholarship databases are a great place to start. For most of these services, you just fill out a basic profile and then the search engine uses that information to match you to scholarships.


Fastweb is a database listing a ton of cool scholarships, some of which I have applied for. Some of them, I should warn you, are a bit weird. There are tons of scholarships from well respected organizations. Some very prestigious. But there are also a good number of contests and promotions offering a cash prize listed here. I haven't had much luck with those, but you might. Just don't bank on any promotions as a solid college contribution.


The Collegeboard -- the same one famous for making the tests that millions of students suffer through each year -- also has a searchable scholarship database. It's not just a repeat of FastWeb. I have gotten some unique results. This one seems a bit buggier though, matching me to scholarships that I wouldn't qualify for based on my information (scholarships for the blind, for those who's parents are veterans). Sifting through all that can be annoying.

There are a lot of other database websites out there right now:,,  go ahead and try as many as you feel will be helpful.


It sounds almost too simple, but try googling _________ (insert particular attribute here) scholarships. Women scholarships, engineering scholarships, Armenian scholarships. You'll find a ton of links to things that the databases might not pick up. A bunch of my friends would say, "It's so easy to find scholarships. Just google scholarships!" I didn't believe them at first but it's true. Long live Google (Feed the Beast!)

If you want a slightly less electronic approach to the scholarship search, turn to books. Your school's financial aid or college counseling office should have a good number available. Or check out the library. It can be a bit tedious, but I've definitely found some good scholarships worth applying to this way.

My personal favorite book is the College Board Scholarship Handbook. This is the 2010 edition, the 2011 edition comes out July 6th, though I'm not sure how much more useful the most recent copy will be.

How far have I come along on my scholarship search? So far I've applied to 1, and have found 5 others that I plan to apply to.

Wish me luck guys!

And on your own scholarship hunt,
Happy Trails!

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Almost anybody trying to dole out financial advice will tell the college bound: look for scholarships. And good advice it is. Scholarships are free money. Unlike loans, they do not have to be paid back after a specified amount of time, and not all of them require academic excellence or financial need (although many do). So I, like a lot of college students (and college bound seniors) set out to look for all of the free money clamored about by experts. But I was stumped. For some reason, none of the scholarships seemed to apply to me. I was too wealthy, didn't do enough service, didn't have the right career path, wasn't in the right year, didn't live in the right area. I can't be the only one stumped by the scholarship search. So, I figured I start scholarship week. I am by no means a financial expert, but I figured that following me, an average college student, in my search for scholarships might help those others lost in the world of funding their college education.

Hopefully this post finds someone somewhere.
To my 1 reader,

Happy Trails,

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Middle Class "Trap"

I suppose my first real post will be the thing that annoys me the most about financial aid. The so-called middle class trap. (Really though, this can be extended into the middle upper class too). So many schools advertise that they are need blind. They have initiatives to make sure students don't graduate with too much debt! That's awesome for families who truly can't afford it. And let me make myself clear that I don't begrudge them their financial aid: if they come from difficult circumstances or low income backgrounds they do deserve the assistance. But what about those of us beyond the cutoff of meaningful need based financial aid, but not nearly wealthy enough to pay full price? And I think there's a misconception that only the truly middle class has this problem. Trust me, they don't. Even people in the $200,000+ bracket have this problem. (Trust me, I know quite a few wealthy people who had to skip going to their dream school because they couldn't afford it.) In total, my family is expected to put half their earnings towards me and my sibling's college educations. In what world is that reasonable? You know, my parents do have to save up for retirement, and pay their mortgage, and all other sorts of expenses.

In any case, my parents have asked me for my sophomore year to take on a much bigger debt load (how much I am not exactly sure yet). They're hoping my student debt will be an investment for my future.

Ah. What a crappy position to be in. Oh well, such is the plight of being in the middle class trap. I guess I could always transfer next year.

Happy Trails,

Lesson Learned: Don't Buy Sh*t you Don't Need

As a senior in high school, a wise recent graduate gave me this piece of advice: Don't buy shit you don't need. It sounds simple but it's oh so true. As you may have seen in my profile, my bank account has never had more than $600 at any one time. Such are the trials of being a broke college student. This gives me little room to buy even the stuff I need. But, I've found a way to waste money on stupid things like candy and posters. I'm not saying not to treat yourself every once and a while. Hey, after getting that first big paycheck why not splurge on something you've been wanting? I think the key though is time. Have you been wanting that DVD set for some time? Did you see the dress of your dreams and have been waiting until you had enough money to buy it? In that case I say go for it. As a general rule though I like to keep such "reward" type purchases to less than %10 of my funds.

Those purchases are, however, very different from your typical college impulse buy. I once spent $30 on Halloween candy. Quite frankly, that is just shit nobody needs. As a college student, no one is trick or treating, and there is already so much out there threatening you with the freshman 15 -- why bother? Now your tendencies may be a bit different. You may impulse buy clothes for example. While it's easier to defend an impulse purchase of clothes than candy, it's still not a very smart buy. Put simply, there's only so much clothing you will actually wear. If you actually want to save money -- don't buy new clothes too often. If you still really like shopping (which is totally understandable) limit yourself to a monthly budget. (And make sure to give away clothing that you don't wear anymore. Charity is a good thing even for the broke :) ).

So my fellow broke college students, I urge you to think about what you're buying the next time you're out shopping. Is it something you truly need to buy? If not put it back and see if you're still thinking about buying it in a few days or so. You will save yourself the frustration (and money) of making impulse buys.