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Need Merit Aid? Apply Here!

August 10, 2011

Need Merit Aid? Apply Here!

by Alexis Mattera

A few months back, we wrote about helpful tips on maximizing merit aid, or aid based on a student’s attributes like academics, athletics and extracurriculars. For college applicants who aren’t deemed financially needy in terms of their FAFSA or EFC, merit aid can make a huge difference in the schools they can realistically afford to attend. Students and families seeking this extra financial aid boost should consider researching schools more likely to dispense merit-based awards but with so many colleges and universities in the U.S., which ones are the best financial bets?

Help has arrived in the form of U.S. News, which has compiled a top 10 list of schools that awarded the highest percentage of merit-based funding to non-needy students during the 2009-10 academic year (the stats do not include financially needy students who were given merit aid or students who received athletic scholarships or other tuition breaks). Take a look:

High school students, does this data have you looking at these schools in a new light? Current college students attending one of the schools listed above, did merit aid make the difference as to whether or not you enrolled?

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College Students Cut from Michigan Food Stamp Program

August 9, 2011

College Students Cut from Michigan Food Stamp Program

by Alexis Mattera

Some college students joke that tuition is so high, the only food they can afford is instant ramen. In Michigan, it’s no longer a laughing matter.

The Detroit News reported the state has removed roughly 30,000 college students from its food stamp program. Human Services Director Maura Corrigan revealed that while the cuts will save an estimated $75 million per year, they also represent an effort to “change the culture of the state's welfare department and slash tens of millions of dollars of waste, fraud and abuse.” Corrigan suggested students get part-time jobs like she did while attending Marygrove College and University of Detroit Mercy School of Law in the ‘60s and ‘70s but critics are quick to point out that state funding has shrunk and tuition has skyrocketed since then and Michigan's economic situation makes finding any kind of employment difficult. What do the students think? Obviously, they are none too pleased. "Students should be focusing on their education, not whether or not they'll be able to eat dinner or whether they can manage to find a job and balance it on top of their studies," said Kayla Neff, a Spanish and computer science major at Central Michigan University.

Do you think the cuts to Michigan's food stamp program will be beneficial or detrimental overall? Students, if you’ll be impacted by these changes, how do you plan to compensate for the loss of funding?

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Roommate Request Accepted

Students Find Dorm Roommates via Social Networks

August 8, 2011

Roommate Request Accepted

by Alexis Mattera

When I began college, I knew three people at my school of choice: a high school classmate, a friend of a friend set to become an RA and a girl I met while we were both waiting to triple jump at a track meet. This was fine by me, as I was excited to meet new people and thought the best way to do so would be to go the random roommate route. It didn’t work out but today, some incoming freshmen aren’t tempting their roommate fate and finding the person they’ll share an 11’-by-14’ room with online, the Washington Post reports.

With the advent of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, it’s easy for first-time college students to seek out their ideal roommates based on their online profiles and 140-character musings on life. While some schools still prefer having control over housing assignments to ensure new students are exposed to different points of view – the University of Virginia has seen requests for first-year roommates skyrocket over the past five years and can no longer honor all requests – others are slowly but surely embracing social networking as a resource. At American University, incoming students are presented with a list of possible roommate matches based on their replies to short questionnaires and the University of Maryland has set up its own internal social network for admitted students to get to know each other and look for roommates. These methods can result in fewer roommate conflicts but some college officials – and even some students – fear they focus on the wrong qualities: One USC student revealed a few potential roommates asked her for her clothing and shoe sizes, not what her sleep and study habits were.

Current and soon-to-be college students, did you find your first-year roommate online or did you let your school choose for you? What characteristics did you cite as important in a roommate? Do you regret your decision?

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Could Foursquare Be the Next Big Thing on College Campuses?

July 29, 2011

Could Foursquare Be the Next Big Thing on College Campuses?

by Alexis Mattera

It should come as no surprise that the number of higher education institutions with social media presences has skyrocketed over the last few years. Today, 98 percent of colleges are on Facebook, 84 percent are on Twitter and some of these savvy schools are beginning to complement the information shared through these platforms with the geo-social site, Foursquare.

According to a recent study, just 20 percent of campuses have an institutional presence on Foursquare. Though the usage is limited by comparison, officials at the schools using the site are finding it is an effective tool for engaging with students. How? First, a quick breakdown for the uninitiated: Foursquare uses the geo-locator technology built into smartphones and encourages users to “check in” virtually at places they’re visiting in real life, leave notes for future visitors and possibly earn perks (discounts, badges, etc.) for doing so.

While Liz Gross, director of university marketing and communications at the University of Wisconsin at Waukesha, says, “You can’t say ‘10 percent off tuition for checking in,’ or ‘free tuition for the mayor,’” she does believe foursquare allows administrators a direct way “to tap in to student engagement.” Texas A&M is doing it right – the winner of a recent Foursquare scavenger hunt throughout campus earned a 30-percent discount at the school bookstore – and Syracuse University will soon offer a special badge to users checking in at campus venues and could eventually allow students to redeem badges for campus bucks.

Do you think incentivizing students is the best way to engage them or is organic involvement more effective?

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Fees Fatten College Costs

July 28, 2011

Fees Fatten College Costs

by Alexis Mattera

Take a look at your bills for next semester. If the costs seem a little higher than usual, don’t be quick to blame tuition. It could be fees plumping up your payments.

In an attempt to combat diminishing state funding, many public colleges have elected to raise student fees in lieu of increasing tuition. Though many schools have been quick to point out that the fee increases – $180 for repairs and maintenance (Indiana University-Bloomington), $150 for matriculation (Southern Illinois University-Carbondale) and a whopping $1,088 “special institutional fee” (public universities in Georgia), for example – are temporary to make up for budget shortfalls, it doesn’t change the fact that college students and their parents need to secure additional funding.

Not only are students questioning the rationale behind these various fee hikes but laws have been proposed to allow legislators to better examine how fees are justified and, later, spent – much like the Department of Education’s tuition report mandate from earlier this month. New Jersey legislators have proposed that state schools be required to detail on tuition bills how fees are allocated and, starting in August, state schools in North Dakota must publish an online breakdown of where the mandatory fees go.

Has your school increased its fees? If so, which ones? Are you happy to hear some states are taking steps to combat potentially unnecessary fee hikes?

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Head Out of State for an In-State Price

July 27, 2011

Head Out of State for an In-State Price

by Alexis Mattera

Scenario: Your dream school is beyond state boundaries but your college fund is more suited to a college closer to home. Don't fret: If you know what and where you want to study, you could score an impressive tuition break through a regional discount program. Here's the breakdown:

New England Regional Student Program: Students living in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island or Vermont could be eligible for average savings of $7,000 per year through this program if they enroll in a degree program not available at public schools in their home state. One drawback – if majors are changed, recipients may no longer be eligible for the tuition break.

Academic Common Market: Southerners (aka those living in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia or West Virginia) follow the same guidelines as the NERSP but with some additional restrictions. For example, schools in Florida, North Carolina, and Texas only offer tuition reductions at the graduate level.

Western Undergraduate Exchange: Do you live in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington or Wyoming and want $7,500 per year in average college savings? WUE requirements vary from state to state and campus to campus but more than 26,000 residents took advantage of the program last year...so, interested students, apply early to ensure funding.

Midwest Student Exchange Program: Students from Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota or Wisconsin can save an average of $4,274 per year on tuition without being restricted by majors. The catch is that schools (public and private this time) can limit what degree programs qualify for this discount.

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PayScale’s Best-Paying College Majors

July 26, 2011

PayScale’s Best-Paying College Majors

by Alexis Mattera

According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, it costs approximately $80,000 in tuition plus expenses to earn a bachelor’s degree from a public four-year college and about $140,000 to gain the same credentials from a private nonprofit four-year institution. There are certainly ways to find this kind of fundinggrants, student loans and, hello, scholarships! – but will your major of choice be worth the money? If you select one of the fields included on PayScale’s list of best-paying college majors, it is decidedly so.

The annual list is dominated by engineering, with seven of the top 10 in branches of the field, while the other top-earning degrees include physics, applied mathematics and computer science:

Petroleum Engineering

  • Starting Median Pay: $97,900
  • Mid-Career Median Pay: $155,000

Chemical Engineering

  • Staring Median Pay: $64,500
  • Mid-Career Median Pay: $109,000

Electrical Engineering

  • Staring Median Pay: $61,300
  • Mid-Career Median Pay: $103,000

Materials Science and Engineering

  • Starting Median Pay: $60,400
  • Mid-Career Median Pay: $103,000

Aerospace Engineering

  • Starting Median Pay: $60,700
  • Mid-Career Median Pay: $102,000

Computer Engineering

  • Starting Median Pay: $61,800
  • Mid-Career Median Pay: $101,000

Physics

  • Starting Median Pay: $49,800
  • Mid-Career Median Pay: $101,000

Applied Mathematics

  • Starting Median Pay: $52,600
  • Mid-Career Median Pay: $98,600

Computer Science

  • Starting Median Pay: $56,600
  • Mid-Career Median Pay: $97,900

Nuclear Engineering

  • Starting Median Pay: $65,100
  • Mid-Career Median Pay: $97,800

Does this list have you reconsidering your college path or will you stick to your intended major?

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Blogging Bridges the Digital Divide

July 25, 2011

Blogging Bridges the Digital Divide

by Alexis Mattera

Teaching students how to write (and write well) has long been a challenge for educators. Sure, there are always those students with a knack for style and syntax but how can teachers get less-proficient or ESL students excited about writing and bridge the digital divide at the same time? Through blogging.

Jon Schwartz, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher from Oceanside, Calif., found that more than 60 percent of his students “came from households where English was the second language, or wasn’t spoken at all." To increase their interest in writing, Schwartz forewent the traditional pencil-to-paper route and introduced his students to blogging. After teaching them the basics, Schwartz required each student to submit a 90- to 100-word writing assignment each day. They had the option to turn in their assignments via the blog or on paper but after hearing how much some of Schwartz’s former students enjoyed blogging, almost all of them opted for the digital method.

From there, Schwartz said "creativity and productivity skyrocketed because they knew that their work had the potential to be viewed quickly by an authentic audience that mattered to them." In addition to the new-found enthusiasm about writing – Schwartz’s students continue to blog on their own time even when no assignment is required and utilize the Internet for research – the project has helped to bridge the digital divide. "If they aren’t trained to use the computer as a tool for learning, work, and personal growth, they’ll not be able to compete in high school, college, and job markets."

What do you think of Schwartz’s experiment? Would a program like this one get you more interested in writing in and out of the classroom?

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Attention High School Students: This Scholarship is for YOU!

July 15, 2011

Attention High School Students: This Scholarship is for YOU!

by Alexis Mattera

Sure, brevity was a virtue for our Short & Tweet and Haiku Ninja scholarships but for the more verbose students in the crowd, there’s the Resolve to Evolve Essay Scholarship. The deadline for submission is September 30th, so if you haven’t started writing yet, here’s some helpful info.

The Resolve to Evolve Essay Scholarship – or the R2E, as we like to call it – provides students with the opportunity to move beyond finger-pointing and offer constructive criticism and workable solutions for problems facing an administration or organization. Each 300- to 800-word essay must be written in response to one of two questions; this year, they focus on the possible detrimental effects of technology on the masses and whether or not a college degree has value.

Who can enter and what will they win? Glad you asked! The R2E is open to all United States citizens who are registered users of Scholarships.com, will be enrolled in high school (grades 9 through 12) during the 2011-2012 academic year and will be between the ages of 13 and 19 at the time the award is given. The applicant who submits the best overall essay will receive a $2,000 scholarship. One (1) winner will also be selected from each grade level (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior) and will receive a $1,000 scholarship each.

As we said, the deadline is September 30th so there's still time to enter. For more information on R2E, click here or view the official rules. And remember, to access this and other scholarship opportunities, complete a Scholarships.com profile and conduct a free scholarship search today!

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The Recession: College’s Sorting Hat?

July 14, 2011

The Recession: College’s Sorting Hat?

by Alexis Mattera

When the recession hit in 2008, higher education officials wondered how – not if – enrollment numbers would be impacted. Three years later, the damage has been revealed...and it’s not what anyone anticipated.

In a new report conducted by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, enrollment of traditional-age, first-time college students rose to 2.135 million in 2010, a 6.8-percent increase from 1.997 million in 2006. Enrollment at four-year public and private colleges remained relatively stable, as did retention and persistence rates, while more students than ever have enrolled in two-year colleges, from 41.7 percent in 2006 to 44.5 in 2009. The report suggests these students either 1. might have chosen a costlier school in a better economy or 2. would have otherwise joined the work force after high school. "The news of our demise is greatly exaggerated," Don Hossler, the center's executive director and a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University at Bloomington, says of four-year institutions in general. "I was expecting more dramatic data, and thus far, the changes are not that dramatic." He does, however, go on to say that despite the encouraging findings, the recession's impact on college choices and educational paths may take years to emerge completely.

The report, "National Postsecondary Enrollment Trends: Before, During, and After the Great Recession," is the first in a series of analyses that the National Student Clearinghouse plans to release in the coming months. Given what you’ve seen or personally experienced, do you feel the results are accurate?

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