MONEY identity theft

18 College Students Arrested in Tax Identity Theft Ring

Vice President Joe Biden, center, speaks during a graduation ceremony at the Miami Dade College in Miami, Saturday, May 3,2014.
Javier Galeano—AP

Students in Florida allegedly stole tax refunds.

In November, the U.S. District Attorney of Southern Florida charged 18 Miami Dade College students for allegedly using stolen identities to file fraudulent tax returns and receive the refunds on their student bank accounts, but investigators think there are more people who have carried out the scheme, the Miami Herald reports.

Higher One accounts allow students to receive their financial aid or student loan refunds directly to a bank account, usually with an associated debit card, rather than wait for the school to cut a check. Many students use their loan refund (the amount left over after the school has taken what it requires for tuition and fees) to handle their education-related expenses like housing, textbooks, food and extracurricular activities.

The investigation identified more than 1,000 student accounts at Miami Dade College, most of which were Higher One accounts, that were used in a tax-fraud scheme, according to a news release from the district attorney’s office. Identity theft is a common crime in Florida — it has the most fraud complaints per capita of any state, according to the Federal Trade Commission, and tax-related identity theft is the most common kind of fraud reported.

It’s unclear how this crime seems to have become a pastime for college students, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it was something students see as an easy way to make money: One of the Miami Dade College cases includes a student who allegedly received $53,272 of fraudulent tax refunds to his Higher One account.

That’s a significant sum to most people, let alone a college student, but identity theft and tax fraud are serious crimes, not just for the perpetrators, but also for the victims. First of all, it makes tax season that much more complicated for people whose personal information has been stolen and used to file fake tax returns, and they’ll almost certainly see a delay in receiving their legitimate refund. Some people really count on that money, making the crime a financial burden for victims.

Then there’s the lifelong stress of knowing your personal information has been stolen. You have no idea who has your Social Security number and if it’s being used fraudulently. You can minimize the negative impact of some types of identity theft by monitoring your credit, because any unexpected changes could be an indicator of fraud, but you often can’t detect anything until damage has already been done. Still, keep a close eye on your credit by getting your free credit report summary every 30 days on Credit.com.

The investigation revealed some student accounts were used for more than just tax fraud — they seemed to have stolen Social Security benefits, as well. If convicted, the students involved in the fraud could face federal prison time.

Some students’ alleged involvement was limited to allowing their accounts to be used to launder the stolen money in exchange for a few hundred dollars, the Miami Herald reports, and U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said he believes this issue isn’t limited to Miami Dade College.

“We applaud the announcement by the authorities in connection with tax refund fraud at Miami Dade College,” wrote Lauren Perry, spokeswoman for Higher One, in a statement emailed to Credit.com. “We have been working with the authorities on these types of cases in southern Florida for some time now. … We will continue to be vigilant in safeguarding our customers’ personal and financial information and will work with our bank partners to report these illegal activities to authorities.”

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY financial aid

7 Legal Ways to Squeeze More College Aid From the FAFSA

vice squeezing dollar bill
Steven Puetzer—Getty Images

Smart timing, cash management and college application strategies can mean thousands of dollars in extra financial aid.

Correction appended: January 8

Filling out the 10 eye-crossing pages of the 2015-16 Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the most important application for need-based college financial aid, may not seem like a fun adventure in Super Mario’s Mushroom Kingdom. But hidden among its 103 questions are hints that, if followed correctly, can dramatically increase your need-based aid and possibly rescue your dreams of an affordable college education.

Before you spend a lot of time on this, though, use a few college Net Price Calculators, the federal government’s FAFSA Forecaster, or the College Board’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) calculator to see whether you’re likely to receive any need-based aid. If you’re planning to attend an in-state public college, and your family has an Expected Family Contribution (or EFC) above about $25,000 (which general means the family income is above $125,000) the odds of getting need-based grants are very low, says Paula Bishop, an independent financial aid counselor in Bellevue, Wash. For students planning on private colleges, the need-based aid EFC cutoff is generally about $65,000, she says (which typically means the family has an income greater than $200,000).

If you’re above those cutoffs, it still pays to fill out the FAFSA to qualify yourself for low-cost student loans, and merit programs that require the form, but your focus should be on maximizing merit aid – which is money awarded based on the student’s grades or other accomplishments without regard to family income.

If you’re below those cutoffs, use this “not-cheating” (since all these strategies are legal) FAFSA cheat sheet:

1. Go online. You can print out a PDF and fill out the FAFSA on paper. But the online version uses skip logic, which makes it easier and faster. Also, for later filers, the online version will import your tax information, which speeds things up even more.

2. Time it right. Fill out the 2015-16 form right now if you live in one of the nine states with “first-come, first-served” financial aid programs: Alaska, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington. These states often run out of money quickly, so act fast, even if you don’t have your 2014 tax information. You can fill out the 2015-16 form using estimates based on your 2013 tax forms. Then, when you do your taxes, you can go back into your FAFSA and make any updates or corrections.

Everybody else has more time—but not a lot. Those who file the FAFSA by March 30 receive, on average, twice the grant money as later filers, calculates Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of the financial aid website Edvisors.com. Many colleges and states have early deadlines for state aid: The deadline for filing for state financial aid in Connecticut is Feb. 15; Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and West Virginia cut off their state aid after March 1. California’s deadline is March 2. You can check your state’s aid deadline here, but you’ll have to call, or check the websites of, the colleges you’re applying to for their aid deadlines.

Don’t despair if you still haven’t filled out last year’s FAFSA. You can still qualify for federal aid for the 2014-15 academic year by filling out last year’s FAFSA, even as late as June 30 of this year

3. Clarify your relationships. Questions 16 and 59 ask about the students’ and parents’ marital status as of the day you file the form, to see if both parents’ income should be counted as financial resources for the student. Rules adopted in 2014 eliminated a loophole that allowed parents who were cohabiting but didn’t happen to be married to report only one parent’s income (which usually increased the student’s eligibility for need-based aid). Divorced or separated parents may report one parent’s income (the parent with whom the student spends the most time) only if the other parent does not live in the same house. In other words, if you’re in the process of getting divorced or separated anyway, one spouse should move out before you finish the FAFSA.

4. Parents: Don’t brag. Some states and colleges offer extra aid to children of parents who haven’t earned college degrees. Questions 24 and 25 ask about the highest level of education your parents completed. So if one or both of your parents, attended community college, or even are just one credit away from a bachelor’s degree, make sure to fill in the dot only for “high school,” Bishop advises.

5. Pay your bills first. Questions 41 and 90 ask about how much cash students and parents have in savings and checking accounts at the moment you are filling out the FAFSA. But notice that there are no questions on the FAFSA about your debts or bills. So if you’ve got a sufficient emergency cash reserve, use any extra cash to pay down credit card, car loan, or other bills before you finish filling out the form, and report the newly lower cash amount on the FAFSA.

6. Shield your investments. Questions 42, 43, 91 and 92 ask about the student’s and the parents’ investments. But many filers don’t realize that the value of any retirement accounts, as well as the home you live in, should not be included in these boxes. So if you’ve got a lot of money in non-retirement accounts, prepay your mortgage or plow some into Roth IRAs. One big advantage of Roth IRAs: You can take out your contributions (but not any earnings) tax-free to pay college bills.

7. Strategize your college list. A growing number of colleges are analyzing the order in which students list colleges on FAFSA question #103 to determine how likely the student is to attend. Colleges assume that students list colleges in their order of preference, and some will award more aid to those who list their college second or third, say, in an effort to woo students away from their first choice. So make sure the top three colleges in your list are schools you really want to attend, and, if possible, are schools that compete with one another, in the hopes of encouraging them to raise your aid offer.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the scenario in tip No. 6. The time to take these steps is when you have a lot of money in non-retirement accounts.

Read next: Best Colleges You Can Still Apply To For Fall 2015

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MONEY College

Best Colleges You Can Still Apply To For Fall 2015

Webb Institute
Webb Institute Webb Institute

Don't worry if you slacked off in 2014 ... there are still plenty of colleges accepting applications for the fall.

For many high school seniors and their parents, New Year’s marked the end of the college application season. Quite a few prestigious universities do indeed set a January 1 deadline for admission to their fall 2015 class.

But by no means are you out of luck if you still hope to apply to more schools. In fact, many of the top 250 schools in our recent MONEY’s Best Colleges list have set relatively late application deadlines. A complete list of them, by date, is below.

This article is a great tool for continuing your college search, but make sure to check with the individual school websites for up-to-date information. Many schools that offer rolling admissions have priority deadlines for financial aid, and some schools offer different deadlines for specific academic programs.

If you come across this list after most of the deadlines below have passed, know that each May the National Association for College Admission Counseling releases its College Openings Update, which lets you peruse schools that have not met their enrollment goals by the national May 1 response deadline.

Good luck!

January 5 deadlines

University of Chicago (#101)

Johns Hopkins University (#107)

January 7

Bentley University (#28)

Santa Clara University (#92)

January 10

Georgetown University (#37)

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (#40)

Georgia Institute of Technology – Main Campus (#42)

Wheaton College (#101)

January 12

Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art (#8)

January 14

Florida State University (#223)

January 15

Colgate University (#27)

Lafayette College (#28)

University of Washington – Bothell Campus (#37)

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (#42)

Bucknell University (#45)

James Madison University (#53)

University of Georgia (#62)

University of Delaware (#66)

North Carolina State University at Raleigh (#79)

Carleton College (#79)

Kenyon College (#94)

Wellesley College (#95)

College of the Holy Cross (#101)

George Mason University (#101)

University of Illinois at Chicago (#101)

Stony Brook University (#107)

Providence College (#114)

Villanova University (#114)

University of Connecticut (#120)

University of Richmond (#120)

Haverford College (#122)

University of Southern California (#129)

Loyola University Maryland (#138)

Gettysburg College (#138)

Centre College (#138)

Grinnell College (#144)

Fairfield University (#147)

SUNY at Binghamton (#162)

Denison University (#162)

Union College (#166)

Case Western Reserve University (#183)

Auburn University (#183)

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (#208)

George Washington University (#214)

Macalester College (#214)

Whitman College (#214)

Salisbury University (#223)

Rhodes College (#231)

University of Massachusetts Amherst (#235)

Clark University (#235)

Colorado College (#235)

Towson University (#235)

Franklin and Marshall College (#248)

Smith College (#248)

January 20

University of Maryland – College Park (#68)

January 31

Washington State University (#138)

Western Washington University (#223)

February 1

Virginia Military Institute (#18)

University of Michigan (#22)

Stevens Institute of Technology (#58)

Grove City College (#58)

CUNY Bernard M Baruch College (#70)

Purdue University (#76)

Presbyterian College (#84)

University of Mary Washington (#107)

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (#114)

DePauw University (#134)

Wofford College (#134)

Miami University – Oxford (#144)

Ohio State University (#144)

University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire (#147)

University of Wisconsin – Platteville (#156)

Indiana University (#169)

Saint Joseph’s University (#169)

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (#173)

Gonzaga University (#177)

CUNY Brooklyn College (#189)

CUNY Queens College (#194)

University of Wisconsin – La Crosse (#202)

Alfred University (#231)

Dickinson College (#235)

Colorado State University – Fort Collins (#248)

Radford University (#248)

February 2

Bryant University (#86)

University of Wisconsin – Madison (#99)

February 15

Webb Institute (#2)

College of the Ozarks (#62)

Washington University in St. Louis (#62)

John Carroll University (#95)

Mount St. Mary’s College (#122)

Earlham College (#129)

Ursuline College (#173)

Wagner College (#208)

Iona College (#214)

Lake Forest College (#214)

Muhlenberg College (#223)

Merrimack College (#235)

March 1

Texas Tech University (#154)

Hampden-Sydney College (#156)

University of Dayton (#223)

New Jersey Institute of Technology (#223)

Jackson State University (#231)

Seton Hall University (#248)

March 15

Wabash College (#214)

April 1

Utah State University (#107)

University of Oklahoma Norman Campus (#122)

University of Utah (#122)

Colorado School of Mines (#134)

University of Iowa (#156)

Illinois State University (#177)

University of New Hampshire – Manchester (#231)

North Carolina A & T State University (#246)

April 15

Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College (#95)

New College of Florida (#134)

April 30

Berea College (#57)

May 1

University of Arizona (#99)

Clemson University (#138)

William Jewell College (#156)

Clarkson University (#198)

University of Nebraska (#223)

June 1

University of Massachusetts – Lowell (#235)

July 1

Missouri University of Science and Technology (#86)

The University of Texas – Dallas (#198)

August 1

Illinois Institute of Technology (#92)

Tennessee Technological University (#114)

North Dakota State University (#198)

University of Arkansas (#248)

September 1

Louisiana Tech University (#154)

Oregon State University (#214)

September 7

Oregon Institute of Technology (#76)

Rolling Admissions: These schools accept applications throughout the year. However, make sure you check with the individual admissions departments — most have priority deadlines that can dramatically boost your chances of acceptance and financial aid.

Maine Maritime Academy (#12)

Principia College (#32)

Manhattan College (#40)

Massachusetts Maritime Academy (#50)

Robert Morris University Illinois (#53)

Doane College – Crete (#61)

Montana Tech of the University of Montana (#66)

Holy Family University (#68)

Molloy College (#72)

Saint Vincent College (#82)

Michigan Technological University (#82)

Bradley University (#86)

University of Wyoming (#107)

College of Our Lady of the Elms (#107)

Citadel Military College of South Carolina (#114)

New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (#122)

Michigan State University (#122)

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (#129)

Messiah College (#147)

Westminster College (#150)

Elmhurst College (#166)

La Salle University (#166)

University of Toledo (#173)

Pennsylvania State (#177)

Rockhurst University (#177)

Art Center College of Design (#177)

University at Buffalo (#177)

CUNY College of Staten Island (#183)

Neumann University (#189)

University of Tulsa (#194)

Mississippi State University (#194)

Oklahoma State University (#194)

Central Washington University (#202)

Creighton University (#202)

LeTourneau University (#202)

Gwynedd Mercy College (#208)

Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania (#208)

Xavier University (#208)

Arizona State University (#214)

Valparaiso University (#214)

Indiana Wesleyan University (#223)

Mississippi College (#235)

Hope College (#235)

South Dakota State University (#235)

Augustana College (#248)

University of Kansas (#248)

Check out the complete MONEY’S Best Colleges list

A previous version of this article misstated Clark University’s application deadline. The deadline is Jan. 15, not Feb. 15.

MONEY best of 2014

The 3 Best New Breaks for College Students in 2014

Some good news for students of all ages this year.

Every year, there are innovators who come up with fresh solutions to nagging problems. Companies roll out new products or services, or improve on old ones. Researchers propose better theories to explain the world. Or stuff that’s been flying under the radar finally captivates a wide audience. For MONEY’s annual Best New Ideas list, our writers searched the world of money for the most compelling products, strategies, and insights of 2014. To make the list, these ideas—which cover the world of investing, retirement, health care, tech, college, and more—have to be more than novel. They have to help you save money, make money, or improve the way you spend it, like these three higher-ed innovations.

Best Help For College Grads

More borrowers can now cap their student loan payments, so that the bills eat up no more than 10% to 15% of income. Although these programs first got going a few years ago, they became a lot easier to access in 2014—enrollment doubled to 1.9 million in the 12 months before June 30.

One reason: The StudentLoans.gov site introduced a handy new calculator to quickly compare repayment options, as well as a one-stop application that allows borrowers to choose the plan with the lowest monthly payments.

Best Fast Path to a Degree

If you know the material in, say, Econ 101, should it matter whether you learned it sitting in a lecture, by taking a free online course, or by reading the books? More well-regarded schools are saying it shouldn’t—and that could help bring down the cost of getting a degree. The University of Wisconsin system now makes it possible to earn a bachelor’s by taking tests or submitting portfolios of your work.

The University of Michigan, the University of Texas system, and Purdue are also launching “competency-based” degrees. In the first year of UW’s program, one ambitious student aced enough tests to earn 33 credits in three months, at a cost of only $2,250.

Best New (and Returning) Free Courses

The number and quality of free online courses kept improving in 2014, offering everything from guitar lessons to “no-pay MBAs.” These are three of the most proven of the “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs.

A popular newbie in 2014: If Interstellar inspired you to learn about the cosmos, check out CalTech’s The Science of the Solar System, which has gotten five-star reviews on Coursetalk.com. As you would expect from a CalTech course, it’s challenging, according to the 2014 students. It’s being offered again through Coursera starting March 30, 2015.

Two favorites of the year: As computers become ever more essential to our jobs, programming has become a crucial career skill. But which language should you learn? And how can you learn it quickly and cheaply? MITx’s “Introduction to Computer Science and Programming using Python” teaches what has become the most popular programming language at colleges. Most MOOCs are plagued by high dropout rates. But among all the free courses offered by EdX, the MOOC platform for Harvard, MIT, and many other elite colleges, this three-year-old class is in the top five for number of students who have completed all assignments. The class is being offered again starting Jan. 7, 2015.

Even if you don’t plan to start a business yourself, odds are that you’re working for someone who is trying to be more entrepreneurial. And one of the most popular entrepreneurial gurus of the moment is Steve Blank, a tech entrepreneur who is one of the founders of the “lean startup” movement. Blank’s learn-at-your-own pace “How to Build a Startup” course has been sampled by about a quarter of a million students already, making it one of Udacity’s most popular.

Related:

MONEY College

3 Ways to Get More College Merit Aid

STEPHEN ALLEN, COURTESY OF PRESBYTERIAN COLLEGE At Presbyterian College in South Carolina, 46% of students get scholarships, averaging $16,000 a year.

Use these tips to score a merit award big enough to put a real dent in tuition bills.

Maybe your kids aren’t exactly Einsteins, but they can do math well enough to figure out that even upper-middle-class families can’t easily afford the $100,000 average sticker price for a degree from a public college, let alone $200,000 for a private school. And you know that’s a pretty tough equation too.

One way to help close the gap between your savings and any need-based aid your student is likely to get: Set your sights on merit aid awarded by colleges based on grades, test scores, or other accomplishments. Nabbing a merit award is getting easier, says Frank Palmasani, author of Right College, Right Price, as more schools use scholarships as a marketing tool to attract quality students. Indeed, the percentage of undergraduates getting merit aid has more than tripled in the past 20 years, the government reports, and it’s not just “A” students who qualify. Palmasani, a counselor at Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox, Ill., says, “Never anticipate that your child’s test scores and GPA are too low to be considered for merit aid.”

The stakes can be substantial. An analysis of the merit aid budgets of the 665 colleges in MONEY’s Best Colleges rankings—schools that meet basic criteria for value and educational quality—found that last year about 17% of students got scholarships at private colleges. The average award: $12,500. And at the most generous schools, at least a third of students get merit grants, typically covering at least half of tuition.

The downside of the uptick in merit awards is that they often take dollars away from grants based on financial need. Recently net college prices for low- and moderate-income households have been rising faster than for more affluent ones. That makes it imperative for families of all income levels to seek out every merit dollar available.

These strategies should help.

Go Where the Money Is

The most selective schools are the least likely to be liberal with merit money. At colleges in the MONEY rankings that accept 20% or less of applicants, only 7% of students receive merit aid. At schools where at least a third of students get merit scholarships, the average acceptance rate is 61%. The best odds are at lesser-known private schools such as Furman University in South Carolina, which accepts about two-thirds of applicants. It awards almost half the students merit scholarships.

Don’t assume a high acceptance rate means the school has lower-quality students: The typical undergrad at Millsaps, which accepts 47% of applicants and is ranked No. 1 for merit aid on our list, had SAT scores of about 1140; at No. 2, Hendrix, which accepts 80%, the typical freshman scored 1200. The SAT national average: 1010.

Look Beyond Home

Public universities generally don’t hand out a lot of merit awards; only 9% of students at the state schools we ranked received scholarships, averaging $4,500. A few exceptions include public schools in Alabama, North Dakota, and South Carolina, and many non-flagships in other states, which are making a concerted effort to woo out-of-state students. The University of South Carolina, for example, last year offered scholarships worth about $8,500 a year to out-of-state students with A-minus grades and SAT scores averaging 1245. Among the public schools in our rankings, Truman State in Missouri and the New College of Florida also offer at least 25% of their students merit aid. Call the admissions office—not the financial aid office—at public schools to find out whether they offer merit awards to out-of-state students.

Play a Little Hard to Get

Encourage your child to apply to several schools where his grades and test scores put him in the top quarter of the applicant pool. Then he should designate his favorites by putting them at the top of school lists requested on FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid), the SAT or ACT forms, and college-search sites. Schools tend to offer the most aid to prospects who would improve their student profile and have several college options. But some don’t bother making offers to students they believe, realistically, probably won’t choose their institution.

At Beloit, in Wisconsin, where about a quarter of students get merit aid, the best offers go to applicants with the highest grades and test scores who have also indicated the school is one of their top picks, says Beloit president Scott Bierman. “We have a decent sense of what other schools offer families” and want to make offers that compete favorably, he says. “But if we’re not in your top three, we know you’re not really a serious candidate.”

Related: See our list of the Top 20 private colleges that offer the most merit aid.

More Rankings from MONEY’s Best Colleges:
The 25 Most Affordable Colleges
The 25 Colleges That Add the Most Value
The 25 Best Colleges That You Can Actually Get Into

MONEY College

How College Costs Will Change in 2015

Although college costs are still increasing, they're increasing at a much lower rate than they have in recent years. Interest rates and repayment for federal loans have eased as well.

MONEY College

Here’s How the Government Thinks We Should Grade Colleges

Access, affordability, and outcomes are the three most important factors. But how will the government measure them?

The federal government Friday morning released what it’s calling a “framework” to rate America’s colleges on their performance in three areas: how many low-income and disadvantaged students they educate; how affordable they are; and how well their graduates do financially, in the job market, and in graduate school.

The U.S. Department of Education said it planned to issue the ratings “in time for the 2015 school year” — so, presumably, by August of 2015.

But researchers familiar with the government’s plans say that ambitious and idealistic plan will be stymied by an ugly reality: much of the information needed to rate the colleges on these factors doesn’t exist yet.

While describing the government’s plan as “thoughtful,” Terry Hartle, a spokesman for the nation’s largest association of colleges, the American Council on Education, said “It is not clear how they will get it done.” The problem, he and other researchers said, is that there is currently no easy way to mine the government’s data on citizens to find out, for example, which graduates of which colleges go on to graduate schools, how much graduates of each college earn, or how much alumni of each college are paying on their student loans.

In August of 2013, President Obama pledged to create ratings based on which colleges are “offering the best value so students” and giving taxpayers “a bigger bang for their buck.” He said he hoped the government would provide more financial aid to students at colleges that do the best job providing opportunities, educating students, and helping launch good careers.

In its announcement Friday, the Education Department asked for public comments on its plans to judge colleges by the following factors:

Access: The Education Department said it was thinking of judging colleges’ provision of opportunities to all by examining, for example, factors such as the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, which are grants awarded only to low-income students, and the percentage of students whose parents did not attend college. It was also considering looking at the family incomes of students at each college, and giving higher ratings to colleges with more students from the lowest income groups.

Affordability: The government is considering giving poor ratings to schools that provide so little financial aid that families end up having to pay much more than the “Expected Family Contribution” (EFC) after they fill out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Financial aid is generally in such short supply that 99% of colleges fail to provide enough grants or scholarships so that every student has to pay only their EFC. But currently, colleges are not required to reveal how many students they leave with financial aid “gaps” or how large those gaps are. Additionally, the ratings may ding colleges with high “net prices,” which is the price students (and their parents) pay after all grants are subtracted. The government said it may look at either the overall average net prices, or the average net prices paid by families divided into five income groups, such as those earning up to $30,000, or those earning more than $100,000.

Outcomes: While graduation rates are a commonly used metric for judging colleges, the Education Department proposes adding other gauges such as how many new graduates find jobs quickly, and how much money they earn over the long term. In theory, the Internal Revenue Services or the Social Security Administration might be able to provide the employment and earnings information for graduates of each school, but privacy concerns have stymied efforts to gather that data in the past. The Department says it may also consider what percentage of graduates are paying their loans off, and what percent go on to graduate school. For community colleges, the Department said it may consider what percentage of students transfer to four-year colleges.

To help families gauge the affordability and value of colleges, MONEY hired Mark Schneider, a former head of the federal National Center for Education Statistics, to develop college rankings based on quality, affordability, and outcomes, using the best data currently available, including, for example, a national survey of college graduates’ earnings by Payscale.com. Our rankings of the 665 top colleges in the country were released in the summer of 2014.

Read next: The Long, Sad Tradition of College Admissions Mistakes

TIME Education

The Long, Sad Tradition of College Admissions Mistakes

People walk on Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus in Baltimore on July 8, 2014.
Patrick Semansky—AP People walk on Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus in Baltimore on July 8, 2014.

This sort of thing happens pretty much every year

The news that Carnegie Mellon had mistakenly sent acceptance emails to applicants who didn’t actuallly make the cut was especially cruel for the 800 kids who were actually rejected from their elite computer science program. But—while there is a special irony to this mistaken mass email coming from officials at the school ranked #1 in computer science—this kind of spirit-crushing mixup is sadly common. It’s become a nearly annual rite of college admissions, particularly since application processes went electronic in the early 2000s. Here’s a rundown of some of the worst offenders:

1995: Elizabeth Mikus, a 17-year-old, is among 45 early-acceptance applicants who receive a fat envelope with a form letter that says “Welcome to Cornell!” But it turns out that the envelopes were sent “due to a clerical error.” Mikus suffers a second time in April when she gets a thin envelope rejecting her again. The family threatened to sue the school over the mishap.

2002: Administrators at the University of California, Davis pick a cruel date to correct a mistake. After sending letters of acceptance to 105 high school students the previous month, the school sends follow-up emails on April Fool’s Day explaining that those letters had been sent in error.

2003: Cornell again. This time the university sends an email saying “Greetings from Cornell, your future alma mater!” to nearly 550 high school students who had already received their rejection letters in December. The school sends emails explaining the mistake a few hours later, in an era when news outlets still called them “email letters.”

2004: UC Davis has back-to-back mishaps. First, the school allows personal data from some 2,000 applicants, including SAT scores and Social Security numbers, to become viewable by other applicants. Soon after, the school acknowledges that they mistakenly sent emails telling 6,500 applicants that they had won $7,500 scholarships. It is the first year UC Davis had sent scholarship announcements by email. “Clearly, we have bugs in that system,” a school representative told the Los Angeles Times.

2006: About 100 high school students receive a congratulatory note welcoming them to the University of Georgia, only to get another letter a few days later explaining that those notes should be disregarded. Someone picked up “the wrong file,” an administrator explains, and failed to send what the students should have gotten: a letter thanking them for applying.

2006: Thousands of applicants to law school at the University of California, Berkeley are invited, and then uninvited, to an alumni-sponsored party for students who had been admitted early. “Anybody who’s made this sort of error can imagine my feelings at that point,” says the admissions director who had accidentally sent the email to the entire applicant pool. “It was a shocking kind of realization: ‘Oh my goodness, what have I done?'”

2007: More than 2,500 students are emailed a congratulatory note on their admission to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — only to be told the following day that decisions about their applications had not yet been made. “I’d give anything to go back to 3 p.m. yesterday and change what happened,” the director of undergraduate admissions told WRAL.

2008: About 50 students are welcomed to Northwestern University’s renowned Kellogg School of Management, before being informed that they were actually rejected. Officials describe it as a “technological glitch” in their “automated mail-merge process.”

2009: Yet another unwelcome April Fool’s surprise. About 500 applicants to New York University’s graduate school of public service receive emails announcing their acceptance. About an hour later, they receive emails saying they had not, it turns out, been selected.

2009: Perhaps the largest ball-dropping yet occurred when the University of California, San Diego sent 28,000 students an email saying they had been accepted. Of course, they were not.

2010: Roughly 200 students who had sought early admission to George Washington University receive notes that, as the Washington Post put it, “welcomed them to the Class of 2014 — for several hours.” The mea culpa follows shortly after. The same year, 56 applicants to Vanderbilt University are mistakenly sent acceptance letters, as well as 2,500 applicants to Middlesex University in the U.K.

2011: About 2,000 students are sent acceptance letters from Virginia’s Christopher Newport University, followed by a apology (and take-backsies) about four hours later. The culprit is a database error committed by a human.

2012: Nearly 900 students are informed, wrongly, that they got into UCLA. Hundreds are told, in error, that they’re welcome to attend Ireland’s University of Ulster. And 76 students are led to believe, for 30 minutes, that they have been accepted early to Vassar College.

2013: About 2,500 early-admission applicants to Fordham University are sent financial aid notices congratulating them on their acceptance to the school, though their fates had not actually been decided. “Fordham and its undergraduate admissions staff are acutely aware of the high hopes prospective students and their families have regarding college acceptances,” the school told the New York Times. “The University deeply regrets that some applicants were misled by the financial aid notice.”

2014: Johns Hopkins University mistakenly sends acceptance letters to about 300 applicants who had already been told they didn’t make it into the cut among early decision applicants. Their misfired “Embrace the YES!” email was soon followed by another a few hours later saying that the real news was the bad news.

MONEY Student Loans

The Most Terrifying Stat About Student Loan Debt Isn’t What You Think

About half of student loan borrowers underestimate the amount of education debt they have.

It seems some college students need to work on their reading comprehension. Or their vocabulary. Whatever the problem is, some students aren’t grasping the concept of loans: 17% of first-year students who have federal student loans responded to a survey saying they had no student debt, according to a Brookings Institution report.

There are scores of stories and reports about the difficulty borrowers have repaying education debt, and that’s a serious issue, but the statistics about borrowers’ understanding of their loans and the cost of college are much more troubling.

The report from Brookings “Are College Students Borrowing Blindly?” cites some shocking figures, based on two data sets. The first, a survey conducted in spring 2014, included responses from first-time, full-time freshmen who applied for financial aid at their college, a “selective four-year public university in the northeastern U.S.” The second is the most recent result of the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, a nationally representative analysis of first-year, full-time undergraduates with federal loan information available in the National Student Loan Data System.

The data reveals that students are generally clueless about the costs of higher education and how they’re paying for it. Nearly half of students underestimated their debt loads by at least $1,000, with 25% of students underestimating their debt by $5,000 or more.

I’m in Debt? Really?

There are a lot of reasons students may not fully understand their student loan debt: Students may be confused about the different kinds of loans (like federal or private), their parents may have taken charge of figuring out their education expenses, they’re simply not keeping track of their finances, or they really don’t understand the fact that borrowed money must be repaid. There’s not really a good excuse, considering the students had to sign paperwork saying they’ll repay the loan as agreed.

The gap between perceived and actual student debt is potentially more troubling than the growing student debt load itself. Failing to understand the costs of college and how you’re paying for it sets students up for an unpleasant reality check and regret if they can’t afford the debt they incurred along their chosen career path.

Student loans are rarely discharged in bankruptcy, and failing to repay them has serious consequences on the rest of your financial life. Missing loan payments is one of the worst things you can do to your credit, and if you default on student loans, you may face wage garnishment and calls from debt collectors.

Consequently, a low credit score can leave you unable to secure other forms of credit at affordable interest rates, not to mention rent an apartment or get a job. To see how student loans and your other financial behaviors affect your credit score, you can review two of your credit scores for free every 30 days on Credit.com.

Ideally, you’re well prepared to handle your student loans when you enter repayment, but if you think your loan payments will be unaffordable, you have a few options. If you have federal student loans, you may qualify for a variety of student loan repayment and forgiveness options. If you have private loans, you may be able to refinance. At the very least, you should reach out to your student loan servicer to see if there’s any way to avoid defaulting on your education debt.

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