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What You Need To Know About New York State’s Tuition-Free Degree Program

New York State Tuition Free Degree Program Excelsior Scholarship

Starting Fall 2017, New York State residents will be able college attend State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) institutions, including community colleges tuition free through the State’s Excelsior Scholarship Program 

This first-in-the-nation program will be available to families and independent students making an annual income of less than:

  • $100,000 for Fall 2017;
  • $ 110,000 for Fall 2018; and
  • $125,000 for Fall 2019, onwards.

If you are a New York resident seeking to take advantage of this free-tuition program, here are the other components of the program you should be aware of.

Enrollment Requirements

Students must enroll full-time and complete at least 30 credits per year.

There is an option for a student facing hardships to receive flexibility, and take fewer credits one semester or stop and restart enrollment.

Academic Requirements

The student benefiting from free-tuition will be required to maintain the minimum acceptable GPA required for successful completion of their chosen degree program.

Post-Graduation Requirements

Graduates who receive the free tuition benefit will be required to live and work in New York State, for the same number of years that they received the benefit.

There are exceptions to this requirement in cases where a student goes out-of-state to continue undergraduate studies, attend graduate school or due to an extreme hardship.

Fees, Housing and Other College related Expenses

Students who benefit from the New York State’s tuition-free scholarship will still be responsible for fees, living and transportation costs, books and other related expenses.

Based on these preliminary details of the Excelsior Scholarship Program, families and individuals meeting the requirements will have a great chance to minimize college costs and avoid student loan debt.

If you plan to take advantage of this program, it’s important to understand that you need to meet all the program requirements and make a financial plan to pay for the related expenses not covered by the program with other scholarships, part-time employment, college savings plans or family contributions.

I hope you find this information helpful!.

~Melisa Boutin

Are you a NY prospective or current college student? Download this post as a guide to the Free-Tuition Scholarship!

New York Free-Tuition Excelsior Scholarship Progrma

The Student Loan Life Cycle: What It Is & How It Works

The Student Loan Life Cycle: What It Is And How It WorksI strongly believe that the main reasons borrowers get in trouble with student loans are:

  •  A lack of understanding of how they work.
  • A high level of debt relative to the starting salary after graduation.

In my own case, completed my undergraduate degree program with a much higher than average $58,000 of Federal, private and international student loans.

But, even though I had so many loans, I never really had a good grasp how they really worked. All I knew was that I would borrow money to cover my tuition and related college expenses and that I would pay them back when I got a job after graduation, for at least ten years.

This seemed like a simple enough agreement, at the time, but once I started to repaying my student loans, I found out that student loans were everything but simple.

This is why one of the goals of is to educate parents, prospective and current college students, and graduates, about how student loans work so that they can create a solid strategy to avoid them, minimize taking them out, or pay them off, quickly.

To that end, I’ll explain what the student loan cycle is and how it works.

What Is The Student Loan Life Cycle

The student loan life cycle is the series of stages that student loan progresses through between loan initiation and the final payment.

Typically, a student loan life cycle has these four stages:

  1. The In-School Period;
  2. Post Graduation Grace Period;
  3. The Optional Post Graduation Deferment Period; and,
  4. The Repayment Period.

The Student Loan Cycle | - Pinterest

Once a student loan is initiated, it progresses through the different stages of the life cycle. The length of each stage depends on the enrollment or graduation status of the student. Each stage is described in more detail, next.

The Stages of the Student Loan Life Cycle

Stage 1 – The In-School Period

This stage represents the time a student in enrolled in college. For full-time college student pursuing a bachelor’s degree, this stage is typically 4 years.

Stage 2 – Post-Graduation Grace

Once a student graduates, the student loan enters the post-graduation grace period, which is usually 6 months.

Stage 3 – Optional Post-Grad Deferment or Forbearance

Although and optional, many student loan borrower opt for this addition delay in making payments, after the end of the grace period. The length of this deferment or forbearance period depends on eligibility requirement and time limits established by the lender.

NOTE: Forbearance and deferment provide relief from payments to the borrower. U.S. Federal loans the eligibility and limits for this option can be on the Student Aid Deferment and Forbearance webpage 
Stage 4 – The Repayment Period

This stage represents the period where payments toward principal and interest are required, on a monthly basis until the loan is paid off, discharged, forgiven or settled. The length repayment period will depend on the promissory note’s terms and conditions, and the type of repayment plan selected by the borrower (when different options are available).During each of these stages, the f you have a student loan, you should be aware of which of these stages your student loan is in, and what your

It is important to understand the student loan cycle, because whether a borrower has to make payments to a student loan is dependent on the which stage of the cycle it is in. The sum of the length all of these stages will also determine, the lifetime of a student loan. That is how long the student loan obligation will exist.

The Student Loan Lifetime

To illustrate how the stages of the student loan lifecycle impact the lifetime of a student loan, let’s assume that borrower takes out a student loan to fund a 4-year degree. After graduation, the borrower starts making payments, as scheduled at the end of a 6-month post-graduation grace period and continues for 10-years standard repayment plan. In this case, the lifetime of the loan is 14 years.

Student Loan Life Cycle for Standard Student Loan Repayment Plan

 Your Student Loan LifeCycle

It is important to understand what the life cycle is for your own student and how the length of the different stages can impact its lifetime. When you take out student loans to fund a 4-year degree, for instance, that already represents a more than decade-long financial commitment that can be made even longer, if you:

  • Spend longer than expected in school;
  • Opt to put your loans in deferment or forbearance; or,
  • Choose and extended payment plan, beyond 10 years.

Among other factors (that I will cover in separate posts). I hope you found this post useful. If you did please let me know in the comments below! ~Melisa Boutin
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Featured – One of Clever Girl Finance’s Fav Female Personal Finance Experts

Melisa Boutin Feature on 12 Fav Female Personal Finance Experts by Clever Girl FinanceYay for another feature!

I was included the Bola Onada Sokunbi’s list of her 12 Favorite Female Personal Finance Experts on

The list includes my personal finance friend in my head, Farnoosh Tarobi, who hosts the So Money Podcast (A great listen by the way!), and fellow Caribbean Girls: Jamila of and Kara of

Melisa Boutin Feature on 12 Fav Female Personal Finance Experts by Clever Girl Finance

Check out the entire list on Bola’s blog, HERE!

~Melisa Boutin

Scholarship Alert: Win $10,000 in Less Than A Minute from MyScholly and CommonBond

My School and Common Bond $10,000 Scholarship GiveawayMy Scholly a mobile app that helps students and win scholarships and CommonBond a lending platform the focuses on student loans, have teamed up to offer a $10,000 scholarship to incoming freshman and current undergraduate students for the 2017-2018 school year.

The application takes less than a minute to fill out and is open to U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents (Green Card Holders).


To be eligible, applicants must be:

  • A legal U.S. Resident.
  • At least 18 years old.
  • A current undergraduate student enrolled full-time or an incoming freshman for the 2017-2018 school year.
  • A parent of qualified students eligible entering to win on their behalf.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Enter to win a $10,000 scholarship in less than a minute from .@CommonBond + .@MyScholly ” quote=”Win $10,000 in less than a minute from CommonBond + My Scholly!” theme=”style2″]

Application deadlines:

The deadline to enter to win this scholarship is April 15th.

Related:  More Scholarships for U.S. & Caribbean Students

Where To Apply:

It takes less than a minute to apply to win the $10,000 scholarship prize. Head over to sign up to win, here: CommonBond-Scholly Scholarship 

Good luck!

~ Melisa Boutin

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Caribbean In America: How To Ease The Transition To High School In The United States for Caribbean Transfer Students

Caribbean in America: How To Ease The Transition to High School for Caribbean Transfer Students

I am excited to share today’s guest blog post from Sidjae Price of Sidjae and I,  know first hand, how disconcerting it can be to adjust to a new environment, culture and school life as a teen, newly arrived in the U.S. Sidjae was kind enough to offer a her insights on how to make the transition easier for international transfer high school students from the Caribbean to the U.S.

It is no secret that many Caribbean students are migrating to the United States with their parents in search of a better life. This idea of a better life is what we commonly know as The American Dream. In an effort to attain their own version of a better life, most families tend to forget about how migration might affect their children and their participation in the education system.

It is debatable, who is responsible for a student’s transition from the Caribbean to the United States. But, as someone who was born in the United States, then moved to Jamaica for six years, then moved back to the United States, I have experienced being a student in both countries. (Yes you read that right!) and I have recognized that there is a need for a structured transitional program to ease the burden of acculturation of Caribbean high school students to the United States.

I can tell you stories of eating lunch alone because I had no friends, getting mocked at school from my peers because of my accent, and even the time when I got placed in the wrong grade, all because the school administrators had no knowledge of the education system in the Caribbean. There is a steady stream of Caribbean students transitioning to U.S. based schools, every year, and there should be a transition plan in place.  Here are 5 ways such a plan could make a transferring from high school in the Caribbean to United States, a smoother process.

Teach School Administrators About International School Systems

School administrators should be taught about international school systems. There should be a tool that is used to understand what grade a child should be placed in when they leave their Caribbean island. This is extremely important because in the Caribbean the school system teaches students more intensely. For example, a child who ranked in the top 10 in grade 7 in Jamaica should definitely not be held back. There has to be a consistent decisions on how schools in the U.S. will manage students that come from international school systems. There have been countless times in which my family and friends have came from the islands and it is always a guessing game with school administrators as to which grade they should be in. This guessing game tends to cause stress on the child and often leave them questioning their intelligence. Teaching school administrators about international schools systems and having game plan for a child’s grade placement, would essentially ease the transition of a Caribbean high school student into the United States.

Friendship Program

When a student starts a new school they most likely have no friends. So having a friendship program will ease the pain of a Caribbean student feeling like a foreigner in the new land, even if they themselves are in fact, U.S. citizens. It is most definitely harder for a Caribbean student to meet friends in their school because of language barriers and also cultural differences. It is even more difficult because the diversity of the cultures and contributions of Caribbean countries is not taught at an early age to most students in U.S. based schools, even though we share the same Hemisphere. A friendship program would provide a host of benefits such as making a Caribbean student feel accepted at their new school, allow for them to focus more on their academic studies and it will foster cross-cultural relationships.

Teach U.S. Students About Diversity, Early

Many students in the US are not familiar with diversity or what it stands for. They are not taught to not mock someone who wears religious clothing to school, not make fun of someone who wants to read the Bible at lunchtime or not to bully someone who speaks with a slightly different accent. There is absolutely no diversity program that is taught to U.S. students in schools and students are not aware of how to accept others that may not be from this country. What happens next is bullying of other kids, which leads to fights in school and some kids may feel the pressure to do things to fit in. Teaching U.S. Students about diversity carries a significant benefits of acceptance of each other in a cross cultural school. This is something parents of Caribbean students can advocate for.

Academic Writing Program

A majority of the Caribbean islands are academically on British English. From my personal experience, it is extremely hard to switch from the British English to American English, and even in my graduate studies that was still a challenge. It takes a while to remember not to use the “u” in the word color or favorite. While I know that many say if you came to this country you should have learned how to write and speak like us; keep in mind that as a youth, a choice was made for you to be brought to this country. Additionally you are asking a child to unlearn the way of writing in which he or she may have learned all throughout grade school. Implementing an academic writing program to ease the transition of the Caribbean high school students into the U.S., stop this problem early by simply teaching students who are in British English how to write on American English. This could really ease the harshness of the transitions process. Until a program like this exists, try to use online resources that help you understand and practive using American English.

Discreetly Break Language Barriers

The transition of Caribbean high school students into the U.S. is going to require a strategic plan if the school system wishes to ease the stress of the students. Having a strategic plan in place will decrease the anxiety students feel after they migrate. A strategic plan will also make it more tolerable for U.S. students to accept their cultural peers. Overall it would making it a better school environment for everyone that builds a cross-cultural environment.

Sidjae Price is the founder of Priceless Planning where she helps modern solopreneurs destroy the overwhelming feeling with strategic business planning, in-house business operations, and business time management. She is also a PhD candidate and enjoys empowering youth through her non-profit Speak Loud, Inc.

Thank you Sidjae for your insight!

Are you a student who transferred from high school in the Caribbean to the U.S.? What was your experience like?

~Melisa Boutin