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by Agnes Jasinski

If you've had classes since 2001, the year the (in)famous online, user-edited encyclopedia was launched, chances are you're guilty of using Wikipedia as a source of information while completing your coursework. A new report from First Monday, an online peer-reviewed journal, took a look at just how prevalent the site has become on college campuses in particular (although high school students are probably just as bad offenders), and how students have begun to rely on Wikipedia as a resource.

According to the study, more than half of all respondents use Wikipedia frequently or always for course-related research. Students in architecture, engineering, or the sciences were more likely to use the site in their courses than other majors. (This could have something to do with the fact that students in social sciences like psychology or history must provide reference lists more often for papers they turn in, and citing Wikipedia simply won't fly on a college level essay.) The study surveyed 2,318 students, and took qualitative data from 86 of those students who participated in focus groups.

Other major findings of the study include the following:

  • Most students said they used Wikipedia for a summary about a topic (82 percent), the meaning of related terms (67 percent), and to get started on research (76 percent).
  • About 52 percent of the respondents were frequent Wikipedia users, even if an instructor advised against it.
  • Only 22 percent reported that they rarely, if ever, used Wikipedia.
  • About 17 percent used Wikipedia because they thought it was more credible than other sites.
  • Only about 2 percent used Wikipedia toward the end of their research process.
  • Overall, the strongest predictor of using Wikipedia was being someone who also used Google for course–related research.
  • Those enrolled in two–year campuses were less likely than those in four–year institutions to report that they used Wikipedia.

Whether you're writing a college essay or applying for an essay scholarship, here's a good rule of thumb on citing Wikipedia as a reference—don't do it. While the site can be an excellent tool for you to kick off your search, as the study above suggests, it simply isn't reliable enough to be taken seriously by academia. Anyone can add to and edit entries on the site, so it's always best to do some fact-checking after you get your Wikipedia summary prior to the start of the rest of your research. (Stephen Colbert proved this point when he edited Wikipedia articles on his own show, George Washington, and elephants, all while viewers watched. He also coined the term "wikiality," which refers to the reality that exists if you make something up and enough people agree with you.)


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by Agnes Jasinski

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) released its latest list of the highest-paying college majors of the class of 2010 last week, with engineering- and technology-related fields of study once again coming out on top.

This probably won''t come as much of a surprise to you. Engineering and technology majors consistently rank high on any list of highest-paying careers, and there have only been minor changes in the ranks over the last few years. (Information sciences and systems is a new addition to the list this year, coming in at 10th place.) The only non-engineering related degrees in the top 10 this time around were computer science and information sciences and systems. According to NACE, petroleum engineering earned the highest starting salary reported at the bachelor’s degree level ($86,220). That average starting salary was more than one-and-one-half times the average starting salary reported for bachelor’s degree graduates as a whole ($48,351). The average starting salary for all graduates has fallen about 2 percent since 2009, by the way.

It's certainly not always the case, but often, the more technical your skills are, the more potential you have of landing an impressive starting salary. There''s less competition in a field like petroleum engineering, for example, as it isn't the most popular of majors, so those engineers benefit from those odds with higher salaries. (Petroleum engineering degrees account for less than 1 percent of all bachelor’s degrees conferred, according to NACE.)

What does this mean for you liberal arts majors? Even you business majors may worry that you''ll have a tough time making ends meet, as business isn't exactly overrepresented on the NACE list. Still, not everyone is going to grow up to become an engineer. (And if they did, the list would surely shift, as it depends greatly on the supply and demand of new graduates.) Certainly, the kind of field you're interested in should play a big part when you're deciding on a college major. And most college students do still consider interest over salary potential when choosing their majors, as the most popular fields of study fall well outside petroleum engineering. (According to the U.S. Department of Education, the most popular college majors are in business, the social and health sciences, and education.)

Take the NACE list with a grain of salt, and don't change your focus to aeronautics just because of the pay potential. If you have no interest in one of those high-paying majors, chances are you'll have a tough time getting through a four-year program in that discipline, and if you do graduate, an even tougher time liking a job in a career you chose for the money. But if you are passionate about engineering and technology, that's great. You'll have a good starting salary to go along with a job you enjoy.


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by Agnes Jasinski

If you're someone who "thinks outside of the box" and has led some kind of a project to prove it, you could be a good fit for awards that recognize students' innovations and drive to better their communities.

This week's Scholarship of the Week is the Milton Fisher Scholarship for Innovation and Creativity from the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. The award won't be given based on your academic achievements or financial need as part of the application process (although financial need will play a part in determining how much funding you receive if you do win), but you will be asked to describe your creative problem solving skills in an essay. Previous winners, for example, have done some of the following: pioneered new designs for pulse jet engines, created a summer soccer program for pre-schoolers as an innovative way of supporting a local food bank, and created, produced, and directed a distinctive stage production about Black history and culture.

Prize: Three to five applicants will receive a maximum of $20,000 ($5,000 per year for up to four years).

Eligibility: Applicants must be exceptionally innovative and creative high school juniors and seniors or college freshmen from Connecticut or the New York City metropolitan area, or planning to attend a school in Connecticut or the New York City metropolitan area.

Deadline: April 12, 2010

Required Material: Interested applicants must complete the scholarship application available online, and mail it along with two letters of recommendation, a transcript of grades, financial information, and a letter of acceptance from their college (if applicable), to the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. The main part of the application form will ask applicants to write an essay on how they solved a scientific, artistic or technical problem in a new and unusual way, and whether they have come up with a distinctive and original solution to a problem faced by their school, community or family.

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.


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by Agnes Jasinski

To compensate for stalled negotiations on both health care legislation and a bill that would overhaul the country's student loan program and improve college students' access to federal aid, Democratic leaders proposed a solution yesterday that would move both of those hot-button issues forward—combine them, and pass them as one.

Both the comprehensive health care bill, which would guarantee health insurance to 30 million uninsured Americans, and the student loan bill, which would replace private lending with direct lending through the government and increase Pell Grant maximums, have faced opposition as Democrats work to pass both through Congress before the November mid-term elections. To kill two birds with one stone, Democratic legislators proposed bundling the two bills into one last night, not only to give the proposals a better chance at passage, but to keep them alive long enough for a vote by the full Senate and House.

An article in the New York Times yesterday describes the strong support a dual measure already has among the Democrats, suggesting that adding the student loan bill to the more expansive health care legislation would improve the health care bill's chances at passage. (Providing college students with more access to federal aid is undoubtedly more popular and less controversial than crafting a reasonable health care bill.)

The student loan bill had already passed in the House. Recent predictions have the government saving about $67 billion by going to direct lending; that new funding would go toward Pell Grants and other education programs. (A rise in the number of people attending college and seeking aid in the weak economy has raised the projected cost of new Pell Grants to $54 billion from $40 billion, according to the New York Times.) The student loan bill has been a consistent goal of President Obama's, as lenders have come under fire for a lack of oversight,  rising student loan default rates, and contributing to excessive debt among college students. Effectively, the bill would put an end to direct-to-student private loans, which students can borrow without even informing the financial aid office, and which can be taken out for more than the student’s cost of attendance for the academic year.

The private student loan industry has obviously not been very supportive of the bill, and Republicans have questioned whether giving the government control over the student loan industry is really a wise choice.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A recent survey shows that college students are in line with young adults when it comes to the economy and President Obama's handling of the economic situation in recent months—they're all worried.

The report, titled "Survey of Young Americans' Attitudes Toward Politics and Public Service: 17th Edition," was an online survey conducted by Knowledge Networks for Harvard University's Institute of Politics. It joins similar surveys on college and the economy that look to determine where college students stand in terms of their own economic outlooks. Between Jan. 28 and Feb. 22, more than 3,000 adults ages 18 to 29, including college students, were asked to comment on whether they were concern about the economic crisis, politics, and their ideologies, among other topics. Despite recent upswings in the economy and the federal government's general positive outlook on how the economic landscape will improve by year's end, the survey showed that college students and young adults aren't as optimistic.

According to the survey:

  • About 60 percent of respondents overall are concerned about meeting their current bills and obligations.
  • About 45 percent of respondents overall report that their personal financial situation is bad.
  • About 45 percent of college students are concerned about their ability to stay in college given the state of the economy.
  • About 41 percent of young Republicans are planning on voting in the next midterm elections, compared to 35 percent of Democrats and 13 percent of Independents.
  • About 58 percent of young adults are worried about affording a place to live; about 56 percent are worried about affording health care.
  • About 46 percent of those in the workforce are concerned about losing their job; that same number are concerned about being able to live in the city or town they want to.
  • Less than half of overall respondents feel that they will be able to live the "American Dream."

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education looked at other intricacies of the survey, and compared the two age groups. While college students and young adults mostly agreed about the economy, college students were generally more concerned about climate change, foreign policy decisions, and the idea that community service is an honorable thing to do. College students were also less likely to get involved in politics and participating in voting activities if they were not well-versed on candidates and issues than young adults, and agreed more strongly that basic necessities, such as food and shelter, are a right that government should provide to those unable to afford them.


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by Agnes Jasinski

As the number of returning and adult students continues to grow in an economy where advanced skills are necessary to not only land a good job but keep that job, it was only a matter of time when we'd start seeing more students in school at the same time as their parents.

We've already written about growing community college enrollment. The numbers speak for themselves—nationwide, full-time enrollment at community colleges is up 24.1 percent since 2007, with overall community college enrollment increasing 16.9 percent over the same period, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. Many of those enrolled are returning adult students who want to amp up their skill sets or start on a path toward a new career, perhaps due to a recent layoff or desire to go into a more desirable field. Community colleges have also always been an affordable option for traditional students either looking for a two-year start before transferring to a four-year university, or a two-year associate's program that will get them out onto the market faster. It's only natural then that there would be some overlap, with students and their parents taking courses at the same time.

In Illinois, college students who are 40 and older make up about 23 percent of the community college populations. A recent article in the Chicago Tribune looks at mothers and daughters taking community college courses together, such as Diana Gudowski, a 52-year-old attending Prairie State College in Chicago Heights with her 19-year-old daughter Marissa. The two found themselves on the same campus when the family decided collectively that they could not afford Marissa's first choice, the $30,000 per year St. Mary-of-the-Woods College. Marissa plans to complete her prerequisites at the community college and then transfer to Northern Illinois University. Meanwhile, her mother is taking classes toward a bachelor's of fine arts in photography; she already has an associate's from Prairie State in photographic studies. Although their courses don't overlap, their schedules do—the two carpool to campus, as the family shares one car.

"When I got out of high school, I thought ‘Cool. … Now I can take my first class at noon.' But four out of five days, my Mom starts at 8 a.m.," Marissa said in the article.

The article's focus is on mothers and daughters because the female population has been hit harder by the struggling economy. Despite some upturns, there are still more than 15 million people out of work across the country, and many of those are older women with limited educations, according to the Tribune. Are you (or your parents) interested in the community college option? Try our free college search or look through our library of resources for more information.


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by Agnes Jasinski

More and more students are considering majoring in business now that the GRE is accepted in lieu of the GMAT at many business schools, and the job market has been looking a little better for business school graduates as the economy finally starts to pick up. This means business scholarships are even more common, as schools and organizations want to help those future businessmen and women cover their college costs.

This week's Scholarship of the Week is one such opportunity. The National Business Association Scholarship Program doles out awards to children of members of the organization and members of the organization, which is a nonprofit interested in providing supports to small businesses and entrepreneurs. Don't limit your search if you don't have connections to the group, though. There are many business scholarships out there that you may be specifically eligible for, even those aimed at accounting majors, marketing majors, or those interested in other business-related fields.

Prize: Up to five $1,500 scholarships will be awarded each year.

Eligibility: Those eligible to apply for the NBA scholarships are high school seniors, college freshmen, sophomores and juniors who are dependent sons and daughters of NBA dues-paying Members, or NBA members themselves. Institutions of attendance must be accredited, nonprofit two or four-year colleges/universities in the United States. A student may transfer from one institution to another and retain the award. Academic achievements will be considered; high school applicants should rank in the top third of their senior class but not in the top 10 percent. Standardized test scores should range from 18 to 26 for the ACT, or between 850 to 1170 on the SAT combined. Students enrolled in college should present college GPAs that range from 2.5 to 3.5.

Deadline: April 1, 2010

Required Material: By February 1 of each year, the NBA announces the start of the scholarship competition. Those interested must fill out an application packet, which will ask for things like your academic achievements, community service work, and other interests.

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Most of the student veterans who had been affected by numerous backlogs and delayed payments of their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits have finally received those funds, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs office. The payments came at a critical time, as not only the students but colleges began to worry whether their military populations would be able to afford tuition at the schools this spring semester.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill, which went into effect August 1, offers expanded education benefits to veterans who have served their country since 2001. GI Bill benefits include money for tuition and fees, a stipend that covers living expenses, and the option of transferring education benefits to their family members. A problem that has plagued the program since its inception, however, has been has been a months-long backlog of claims to be processed by an understaffed Veterans Affairs office. The delay caused a variety of problems for more than 68,000 veterans who applied for the new GI Bill benefits in the fall; more than 26,000 veterans were still waiting for checks at the end of the fall semester.

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday describes how the Veterans Affairs office was able to catch up - hundreds of new employees were hired, and existing employees were reassigned to focus on the backlogs. All veterans who filed for benefits before Jan. 18 of this year have had those claims processed, according to the agency.

Still, problems remain. According to the Chronicle, the emergency funds issued by the agency while they were trying to get a handle on the problem will need to be repaid. About 68,000 veterans received those advanced payments last fall in the form of $3,000 checks while waiting for their benefits to be processed. The Veterans Affairs office has decided that the money can be paid back either through monthly repayments or through deductions from future benefit payouts. Some veterans also owe the agency because they have dropped courses since, or were mistakenly paid twice by the agency.

There will also be other changes to the present GI Bill. Several bills are moving through Congress that would change who receives benefits, including one that would allow veterans to use the benefits for non-degree programs. And to address any future backlogs, the Veterans Affairs office plans to move the processing of benefits to an automated system by the end of this year. Students worried about how they will be affected by new changes are able to visit a website for veterans that breaks down the process.


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by Agnes Jasinski

The number of undergraduates registering for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) increased by about 675,000 in 2009, a record 9 percent increase over the previous year. The news was announced this week by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which also reported a 6 percent increase in graduate admissions in 2009.

The ETS attributes some of the increase to the number of MBA programs that now accept the GRE rather than the GMAT exclusively. (In 2009, there was a 68 percent increase in the number of business schools accepting GRE scores for their MBA programs, and the number of GRE test-takers who took the GRE to get into business school doubled.) This also makes it even easier for those unsure about whether they'd like to go to business school or another graduate program.

The news comes at a time when the ETS is getting ready to roll out a series of changes to the graduate exam. The new GRE is set to be implemented in the fall of 2011. Changes will include the possibility to skip and return to questions, a change from a 200 to 800 range on the verbal and quantitative sections to a range of 130 to 170, and an increase in length from 3.25 hours to 3.5 hours. The ETS says the changes are meant to allow for a test that paints a more accurate picture of test-takers' abilities, as it will rely less on strategy—the ability to skip questions and return to them later is likely to improve students’ concentration and scores as they no longer dwell on the questions they missed—and more on the accuracy of their answers.

If you're considering registering and eventually taking the exam, we have a number of resources to help you master the GRE and learn more about what you need to know about the new GRE format, since you'll now need to freshen up those test-taking skills even if you've taken the GRE in the past. The most important thing to know is that you should prepare for this test as you would for any other standardized test. Chances are it's been a while since you've taken the ACT and SAT, and while the study skills you honed to complete those exams successfully are useful on the GRE, it's important to get to know the specific content you'll be tested on when taking the GRE. Practice tests are never a bad idea. Finally, don't stress too much. You can retake the GRE up to five times in one year.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Seventeen states across the country have joined together in a pledge to improve college graduation rates as part of the Complete College America Alliance of States.

The alliance, announced today, is led by Stan Jones, Indiana’s former commissioner for higher education, and the Washington-based nonprofit group Complete College America. It is part of a larger, national effort led by President Obama of making the United States the most educated country by 2020. The main goal is to raise the number of adults between 25 and 35 with associate's or bachelor's degrees from 38 percent to 60 percent.

How will they do it? According to Complete College America, a number of things need to happen to develop  action plans and move legislators to create change. Among those are the following:

  • We must ensure all students are ready to start and succeed in freshman credit courses. (According to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics, about 41 percent of students who start college aren't ready for college-level work, resulting in delays and, worse yet, dropouts. We've already reported more college freshmen are in need of remedial coursework.)
  • We must use available financial aid resources to provide incentives to students and colleges for progress and completion.
  • We must develop new, shorter, and faster pathways to degrees and credentials of value in the labor market.
  • We must develop and implement aggressive state and campus-level action plans for meeting the state's college completion goals.
  • We must use consistent data and progression measures to create a culture that values completion, including publicly reporting benchmark data and annual progress on college completion, progression, transfer, job placement and earnings, and cost and affordability measures.

The United States ranks 10th in the percentage of young adults with college degrees, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and an article yesterday in the The Chronicle of Higher Education. While there have been a number of initiatives cropping up recently to move high school students into college faster and move college students through college faster, this project is unique in that it focuses on involving state legislators and creating new policies that would make move such initiatives into law. As ideas become policies, more funding also becomes available on the state and federal level to keep programs in place. (Even successful programs that have helped thousands of students get into and through college have been affected by budget cuts over the last year or so due to the recession.)


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