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Financial Education Gaining Ground in High Schools

January 25, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Whether it’s preparing students for college or providing vocational education, one of the purposes of high school is to help students transition from depending on their parents to living in the real world. Recently, more high schools have begun incorporating personal finance into their core curricula, hoping to prepare students to manage the money they make once they move out on their own.

Money management courses have been offered by high schools for decades, but they were often included in family and consumer sciences classes, often with vague and unappealing names like “independent living.” Many college-bound students would regard these as blow-off classes that couldn't possibly relate to their lives, while other students might avoid them out of fear of having their GPA torpedoed by demonstrating inadequate ability to sew, cook, or care for a baby doll.

However, widespread financial difficulties of the last few years have prompted an increased interest financial literacy among high school and college students who are hoping to avoid the mistakes they see their family and friends making. Financial literacy classes have also changed, focusing on a wider range of skills required for modern life, including taking out a mortgage and starting a retirement fund, rather than the checkbook-balancing and grocery shopping skills students may have found themselves learning just a few years ago.

As the value of personal finance education has become more apparent, states and school districts have begun incorporating it into their core curricula. According to the Council for Economic Education, 13 states require personal finance courses for high school graduation, up from seven in 2007, and a total of 34 states now require schools to implement content standards for personal finance education.

Taking personal finance classes in high school can prepare students to make smart financial choices right out of the gate, rather than learning the hard way in college or after. Students with a strong personal finance education may be able to avoid the financial pitfalls that trapped their parents, potentially helping to break the cycle of poverty for some, and helping others minimize suffering from credit cards or student loans acquired in college. Some school districts believe so strongly in playing a greater role in financial education that they’ve started guiding students toward healthier financial habits as early as kindergarten, according to an article in USA Today.

Colleges have also begun putting more emphasis on financial literacy. In the last few years, a number of colleges have added financial literacy courses, while others are offering or better publicizing financial counseling and advising services. One school, Syracuse University, has even tied financial aid to financial literacy for some students, offering grants to a selected group of students if they agree to participate in a financial education program.

Even if your high school or college doesn’t offer financial literacy training, it’s important to educate yourself about personal finance and build money management skills. Learning how to budget, pay bills on time and build your credit score can help you live a better and less stressful life before, during and after college.

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More Students Failing Advanced Placement Exams

February 4, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

The number of high school students signing up for Advanced Placement (AP) courses has grown significantly over the last year, but the number of students failing the exams to receive credit for the classes grew right alongside those figures, according to a USA Today analysis released today. The number of students failing the exams was particularly high in Southern states like Arkansas and Mississippi.

AP courses, typically offered to high school juniors and seniors, allow students to take college-level classes in high school and potentially earn college credit.  Most colleges require students to receive a 3 or higher to receive credit for the courses, based on a 1-5 scale. Nearly 3 million students took the tests last year; more than two in five, or about 41 percent, earned a failing mark of a 1 or 2. In the South, about half of all students failed the exams, a failure rate up 7 percentage points over the last 10 years. The worst performer was Arkansas; more than 70 percent of AP test-takers there failed their final exams. Ten years ago, about 36.5 percent of AP test-takers nationwide failed their exams.

The CollegeBoard, which offers the exams, has already responded. Officials there say it's misleading to consider all AP exams equal. Some courses, such as AP Physics, have seen higher numbers of students passing. The number of students taking AP English Literature, however, have not been as successful. Statistically, it shouldn't be all that surprising that there are more students failing the tests, as the number of students taking the tests has grown significantly. Enrollment in AP courses has grown from about 704,000 students in 1999 to 1.7 million last year.

Should you be worried? If you're eager to get your college career started or get some college prep under your belt, and feel confident enough in your abilities and academic record to tackle the extra work, these numbers shouldn't dissuade you from adding an AP course or two to your course schedule. As long as you weigh the benefits and drawbacks, AP courses are worth considering.  AP credit can be a way to build your resume and explore a potential college major, and save money on your college education if you do well enough on those exams to get some college credit.

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College Goes 3-D to Entice Freshman Applicants

February 11, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Hobart and William Smith Colleges is looking to give juniors narrowing down their college search choices a more unique brochure experience. More than 20,000 of them will receive 3-D glasses to go along with the school's brochures, a strategy the school describes as both a gimmick and symbolic of what the school is all about.

Viewing things in 3-D has only become more popular thanks to the success of James Cameron's "Avatar." But looking at a brochure is undoubtedly a different experience than sitting in a movie theater with a bucket of popcorn in your lap. The New York Times talked to the school's director of communications, Cathy Williams, this week. She sees it this way: Hobart is looking to change the way students "see the world." The 3-D glasses are symbolic of that idea, and the brochures ask potential applicants to "open your eyes to new possibilities at HWS."

Nearly 10,000 of the recipients requested the catalogs; another 12,000 or so were identified through a College Board search program. (Institutions of higher education are able to purchase lists of students who have scored above a certain level on standardized tests or who have expressed interest in a particular field of study.) Those who receive the brochures don't only get the 3-D experience on paper. They're also then able to view videos of professors explaining the science behind the concept of 3-D.

Colleges have been working extra hard lately to entice potential applicants. Some have revamped their college application packets to resemble credit card offers, now speeding up processing times, waiving application fees, and using language typically used by credit card companies: Advantage Application, Distinctive Candidate Application, and the Candidate’s Choice Application, to name a few. More than 100 colleges and universities paid the same marketing company to send out variations of these applications last fall. Some spent more than $1 million on these application campaigns, according to the New York Times.

While their applicant pools have indeed increased thanks to the marketing campaigns, it makes one wonder how colleges find advertising dollars in their budges while tuition and fees continue to increase, schools shutter their "no loans" programs, and colleges struggle with budget deficits. What do you think? Would 3-D glasses included in your college brochure spark your interest in a school more than the glossy materials you usually receive? What other gimmicks have you seen colleges use to get students to apply to those schools?

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High Schools in 8 States to Offer Early Graduation Plan

February 18, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Public high schools in eight states will introduce a program next year that will allow their high school sophomores to test out of their junior and senior years if they are interested in enrolling in community college early.

The program is the brainchild of the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), and was announced Wednesday. Those who do well on the tests, which will be called "board exams," but aren't interested in going to a community college will be able to continue taking college prep courses at their high schools to prepare for filing applications to the selective schools of their choice. Those who fail the exams will be eligible to retake them at the end of their junior and senior years.

According to the NCEE, the program's goals are to reduce the number of college students in remedial courses, and to better prepare high school students for campus life and the rigors of academics at institutions of higher education. Today, nearly half of the students in community colleges take one or more remedial courses and many are never able to complete developmental courses and move on to credit-level courses to complete their college degree, according to the NCEE. 

Students would be tested on a broad range of topics, including the standard English and math. Between 10 to 20 schools in the eight states involved will offer the program, modeled after existing programs in countries like Australia, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Ireland, and the Netherlands, in the 2010-2011 academic year. According to an article in the New York Times, the program has received a $1.5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help states and school districts get the program running. Start-up costs for school districts would be about $500 per student; that would cover the costs of courses, tests, and teacher training. To cover future costs, the eight states in the program plan to apply for a portion of the $350 million in federal stimulus money designated for improving public school testing, according to the New York Times.

The eight states offering the program are Connecticut, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. The NCEE hopes the program, which was a part of recommendations set into motion by the NCEE in 2006, will spread across the country. Their other recommendations included getting children in school by the time they were 3 years old and giving states control over local school districts.

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University of North Carolina at Greensboro Set to Offer Three-Year Degree

February 23, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro unveiled a new program yesterday that would allow undergraduates to graduate within three years. The initiative, UNCG in 3, would target "highly motivated students," according to the school's press release, and would address the growing number of high school seniors who enter the university with transferable college credit earned through Advanced Placement (AP), UNCG iSchool or other early college programs.

Graduating early isn't a new phenomenon. Many college students consider graduating early to save costs (the UNCG in 3 program would save undergraduates about $8,000 in tuition, fees, room and board) and get a jump on their post-college careers. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former president at the University of Tennessee turned Republican lawmaker, has said the three-year degree track would would save students money, ease the dependence on federal and campus-based financial aid, and allow students  to move into the working world or to pursue an advanced degree in less time. But it is unique for a college to set up a program specifically to get students on that track

Incoming freshmen in the following degree programs would need 12 college credit hours prior to enrollment to be eligible: Accounting, African-American Studies, Business Administration, Communications Studies, Economics, Elementary Education, English, Entrepreneurship, Finance, German, History, Information Systems and Operations Management, Political Science, Psychology, Religious Studies, Romance Languages and Russian. Those eligible students would need to take and pass at least 16 credits each fall and spring, plus seven credits each for two summer sessions.

The decision to offer the program came following a survey of the North Carolina school's student body. According to the school's press release, in the fall of 2009, 526 freshmen came to the college with AP credits; 92 students had 12 or more credits. That year, 59 first-year students entered with credits from UNCG iSchool, joining 139 continuing students with iSchool credit. A number of high schools across the country are also set to begin offering early high school graduation plans, further shortening not only the college but the high school experience.

Other colleges are looking to keep students from taking too long to graduate. At the University of Texas at Austin, a 20-member committee has recommended placing a limit on the number of semesters it should take undergraduates to graduate at 10. The current average length of time is 8.5 semesters; the national standard is four years, or eight semesters. According to the Associated Press, another task force recommended a 10-semester limit in 2003. Students would be able to appeal the limit, which would not apply to those in some architecture and engineering programs, or to shorter summer sessions. The committee also looked at limited the number of times students should be allowed to switch majors.

The Texas college has been looking to place such limits on the student body to better serve those students. According to the committee's report, "By remaining at the university for extended periods, these students reduce the university's capacity to serve other students who wish to attend UT, both freshmen and transfers." The Associated Press did not address whether there was a financial incentive for the school to graduate students early and get new freshman applicants enrolling.

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College Rejection Letters Don't Have to Mean Failure

April 1, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you haven't heard already, today may be the day you find out whether you've been accepted to your first-choice college or university, as April 1 is the notification deadline for many of the most selective schools across the country. If the news you've gotten so far hasn't been the best, though, or if you come home to see a slimmer envelope than you'd hoped for, know that you're not alone. Many of the most famous and familiar faces out there were rejected from their top picks. (And no, this isn't an April Fool's joke.)

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal took a look at the company students with rejection letters will be keeping, and the examples they found should make any dejected high school senior feel just a little bit more hopeful. Harold Varmus, a Nobel laureate in medicine, was rejected twice from Harvard Medical School, at one time counseled to join the military instead. There's a decent-sized list of famous faces who have been rejected from Harvard. "Today Show" host Meredith Vieira and broadcaster Tom Brokaw were both rejected from the Ivy; Vieira instead met a mentor at Tufts University who got her into journalism. Warren Buffet, currently one of the richest people in the world, now describes his rejection from Harvard as a mere "temporary defeat," according to the Journal. Ted Turned received dual rejection letters from both Harvard and Princeton University, eventually attending Brown University, where he left on his own terms to join his father's billboard company - a company he has since turned into a media empire.

If you didn't get in everywhere you wanted to, don't be too discouraged. It's rare that an incoming freshmen hasn't had to deal with at least one rejection letter. Check out the New York Times' blog for their ongoing feature of students' experiences this admissions season. Those students are not only dealing with good news, but making tough decisions on whether those number-one choices were really the best fit, or only the top picks in their college searches because of their ranks and reputations.

This is also one of the most competitive years in terms of admissions rates, as more students are applying to the most selective schools than in years prior. Duke University and the University of Pennsylvania, for example, have seen percentage increases of applicants in the double digits over the previous year. Both of those schools have admission rates hovering around 14 percent, which seem like tough odds. So expand that net when you're choosing a college, because there could be a diamond in the rough out there that you haven't yet considered.

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Not Rejected, Not Accepted: Tips for Handling the Waiting List

April 6, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

While many students marked April 1 as the day they found out whether they were accepted or rejected to their first-choice colleges, many others were given a different response - placement to the waiting list. High school seniors are then faced with a tough decision. Should you take a risk and bank on placement at a school you're wait-listed at, even if you miss notification deadlines at schools you've been admitted to? Or should you cut your losses and inform the schools you've been wait-listed at that you'll be going elsewhere?

The waiting list generally benefits the colleges. The schools' administrators are able to wait until their own first-choice students make decisions on where they intend to attend, moving to those on the waiting list typically by May 1, once students' deadlines to notify the school of their choice have passed. The schools may also use the waiting list to fill gaps in their student population, according to The New York Times, offering eventual admittance to a student with a particular musical or athletic talent that the school had hoped to enroll in their first-choice pool.

Knowing this, it may seem like a risky endeavor to bet on a school choosing you out of the hundreds of other students on waiting lists. Still, many do choose to stay, especially at the most prestigious, private schools. At Yale University, for example, about two-thirds of students remain on the waiting list. (More than 900 were wait-listed at Yale this year.) Of those offered eventual admittance to Yale, a majority do choose to enroll there.

So what should you do? It really depends. Here are a few tips: 

     
  • If you know you won't be attending a school you're wait-listed at, notify them of your intentions right away. There's someone out there who does want that spot, and you may be keeping them from being placed at their top-choice school.
  •  
  • If you know you're sincerely interested in the school you're wait-listed at, let the school know that. Notify them immediately that you intend to wait for their decision, and send admissions staff a personal letter on why you want to go to that school. If they're your top choice, tell them. If you know any alumni from the school, ask them to write a letter on your behalf. This is the stage of the game where admissions officials are looking at every piece of information coming in on an applicant.
  •  
  • Ask for an interview. You wouldn't be wait-listed if you didn't have the academic credentials to attend their school, so the admissions office will now be looking at other factors - extracurricular activities, outside interests, and whether your personality is a good fit for their campus.
  •  
 While waiting lists are more common at private institutions where enrollment numbers are much lower and the unpredictability of students’ decisions about whether to enroll in those private schools is much higher, some schools have used the list as more of a strategy to deal with uncertainties in state budgets or over-enrollment. California's public university system is using waiting lists to deal with a record number of applicants this year and a state budget shortfall that has made it impossible for the school system to accept as many students as it had been admitting in year prior. This is the first time the state universities have used waiting lists, and students have until April 15 to remove their names from the lists or continue waiting until around the first week in June. Any new admittances will be determined by the outcome of the state's 2010-2011 budget negotiations.

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Head(s) of the Class?

Naming Multiple Valedictorians Becoming More Common

July 6, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you just attended your high school graduation, you probably still remember some of the advice given to you by the valedictorian for your class, the student who received the highest marks and highest GPAs over their four years there.

If you attended graduation at Long Island’s Jericho High School, though, it may not even be that easy to name who was up on stage, no matter their words of wisdom. That’s because seven high school seniors were named valedictorians at the school, according to a recent article in The New York Times. Rather than giving a captive audience seven inspirational speeches, the group came up with a skit about their experiences at Jericho. Each valedictorian also had 30 seconds to devote to their personal well wishes.

Honoring multiple students with the title of valedictorian isn’t unique to Jericho. Many of the best suburban schools across the country are now naming more than one student to the top spot, and administrators say this leaves students less stressed and less focused on competition. According to the Times article, administrators say it is usually mere fractions that separate the top five (or seven) spots at any given school, making it difficult to be fair when it comes to choosing a valedictorian and even salutatorian, traditionally the second-place finisher.

How has this changed the make-up of high schools? Consider this. According to the Times, eight high schools in the St. Vrain Valley district in Colorado crowned 94 valedictorians. Cherry Hill High School East in New Jersey chose a speaker via lottery among its chosen nine valedictorians. Harrison High School in New York City got rid of the title altogether, naming top graduates a part of the “summa cum laude” class instead. Does this mean students are just more serious about academics, and more are doing better in high school? Or does it mean more have access to a traditionally elite group of high school graduates?

Administrators on the college level warn that the practice only contributes to “honor inflation,” according to the article. Competition exists on the college level, and a healthy degree of that in high school serves as preparation for the rigors of keeping up at institutions of higher education, they say. One Harvard University dean quoted in the article described the case of a home-schooled student applying to the Ivy League institution. That student claimed they were at the top of their class—of one student. What do you think? How many valedictorians did you have at your own graduation?

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Changes Planned for Advanced Placement Program

July 22, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

As more high schools across the country begin offering students alternatives to Advanced Placement like dual enrollment partnerships with local community colleges, the College Board, which offers the exams, has been forced to take a look at the AP program in order to make it more relevant to the college-bound.

One of the things the AP provider hopes to do is make sure the high school courses do a better job of preparing students for college-level work. As competition for enrollment increases, especially at the most selective colleges and universities, more schools are becoming stricter about awarding credit for students’ efforts on AP exams. For students interested in those schools, there remains little incentive to sign up for an AP course over a college course elsewhere, as one of the main draws of AP is the fact that you’ll start your freshman year of college with some credits under your belt. According to a recent article in Inside Higher Ed, the test provider will work to improve communication between the program and colleges, to both make sure students’ credits are being accepted and to make the courses look more like college-level classes.

Another criticism of even those educators who take on AP courses has been that teachers focus less on looking at topics in an in-depth way, and more on covering the maximum content possible so that students are ready for the AP exams at the end of the class. With more students failing AP exams, particularly in the Southern states, teachers and students are under even more pressure. Such statistics make signing up for dual enrollment, where there may not be a similar comprehensive exam at the end, more desirable, especially for those students who may not be good test-takers. The College Board also plans to make the AP program more flexible by adding computer-based testing dates and making sure students receive their scores earlier.

So what are the benefits? For those who may not have the option of dual enrollment or who may feel more comfortable in a high school classroom, AP is a good option to get some exposure to college-level work. With more than 30 AP courses to choose from, high school students may also be able to take those classes that they’re more interested in, improving their chances of doing well on the final exam. (This must mean your high school has a wide variety of AP offerings, of course.) Finally, if you are confident in  your abilities to do well on an AP exams and you do well in a course that will give you the opportunity to transfer college credits to a two- or four-year school, you’ll be getting college-level instruction at a deep discount.

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Students Plan "Gap Years" for More Than Break from College

August 25, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

While you’re unpacking a semester’s worth of your belongings in your shared dorm room, there are other recent high school graduates packing up for different adventures—volunteer experiences abroad, internships across the country, or backpacking trips through Europe. These students are taking a “gap year,” or time off from the traditional college experience.

The gap year is a popular option in Europe, where students opt out of university-level coursework in favor of experiences they feel will make them wiser and more independent. But the idea has also grown in popularity in the United States. USA Today announced a new blog this week from Mira Fishman, who will be leaving her home in Ann Arbor in three weeks not to go to college, but to volunteer abroad. She’ll spend six months in Buenos Aires at a nonprofit, then another six months in a “grittier city.” She hopes to improve upon her Spanish and boost her resume, and as her plans were worked out independently rather than through the dozens of organized gap year programs out there, she hopes to keep to a strict budget.

Despite the high cost of organized gap year programs—some run up to $20,000 for the year—they’re also growing in popularity, especially among those who want a bit more structure to their gap year. Such programs promise a support network for gap year students, and experiences that are crafted to the interests of the student. Students like Fishman, however, may prefer a gap year that requires more independence and responsibility. An article several years ago in USA Today described “gappers” who completed internships at software start-ups, explored careers to clarify what they’d like to do in college before enrolling, and learned life skills at manual labor jobs. (One student interviewed worked as a deckhand on a “floating classroom” in Baltimore.)

Taking time off may also be an option for those who weren’t able to get in to the school of their choice, although that time off may be spent becoming a more attractive candidate to that chosen college. The gap year then becomes more of a “bridge year,” where the college-bound look to enhance their applications by taking—and acing—courses at the local community college, volunteering, or pursuing internships in their intended fields of study. Bridge years also exist for those already admitted to college; at Princeton University, officials have introduced a bridge year program for admitted students where they pursue service work abroad before coming to campus the following year.

Are you taking a gap year? What are the pros and cons of taking time off before committing to college? Are traditional study abroad programs through your college the right way to go if you're looking to go overseas? Tell us your stories!

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