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by Emily

If you're planning on attending college, chances are you're also planning on one day graduating.  Depending on which school you choose, getting out in six years or less could be anything from a long-shot to a near certain bet.  A new study has been published by the American Enterprise Institute comparing graduation rates among colleges based on selectivity ratings as part of an overall push for more accountability and transparency in higher education.  In addition to discussing the gaps in graduation rates among schools, the study also lists some of the best and worst performers in each category by name.  If you're a high school junior or senior just beginning to compare colleges, this could be good information to have.

Overall, the data show that about 53 percent of first-time college students at four-year universities graduate from the school they enrolled in as freshmen with six years. The study does not include non-traditional students or transfer students.  Not surprisingly, students at the most selective schools, such as elite private colleges, were among the most likely to graduate from the school at which they initially enrolled.  Six-year graduation rates at individual schools ranged from the single digits to nearly 100 percent across the whole spectrum of schools, with the most competitive category graduating nearly 88 percent of students on average, and the least competitive schools graduating only 35 percent of students.

Graduation rates also varied greatly within selectivity categories.  Two schools in similar locations with similar ratings could have vastly different graduation rates.  This is where the study becomes particularly useful for students choosing between schools.  If you have a roughly equal chance of getting into two colleges, and one graduates a significantly larger percentage of students then the other, it's not hard to imagine that having this information might influence your decision of which school to apply to or attend.  You can read more over at Inside Higher Ed, which also includes a link to the full study. Along with things like available financial aid and quality of on-campus housing, graduation rates are definitely something to consider incorporating into your criteria for your college search.


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by Emily

Last week, we blogged about states and loan companies making cuts to student loan forgiveness programs.  The New York Times initially ran a piece on these budget cuts and has followed up this week with a chart of state loan forgiveness programs and their current financial status.  If you're planning on using one of these programs to cancel some of your student debt after college, you can head over to their website to see if your program is among those facing potential budget cuts.  If you don't see it listed, The New York Times is encouraging people to contact state and local loan forgiveness programs and report back with details.

While many state programs are facing cuts, federal loan forgiveness programs have expanded in recent years. New federal options include a public service loan forgiveness program and a repayment plan set to debut next month that will forgive students' remaining balances of federal student loans after 25 years of income-based payments. Congress has also approved more funding for Americorps, which can help volunteers pay for school. Cancellation programs for Perkins Loans may also become more popular if an expansion to the Perkins Loan program is approved in the 2010 federal budget.

Regardless of the state of your loan repayment and forgiveness options, keep in mind there is free money out there.  Grants and scholarships are available for virtually every student based on any number of characteristics and criteria.  For example, many groups offer nursing scholarships and education scholarships, among other major-specific awards.  To find out more, do a free college scholarship search.


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by Emily

This week's Scholarship of the Week is an essay scholarship that should appeal to fans of political science and U.S. history, though it's open to students of every major.  The Lincoln Forum's Platt Family Scholarship Prize Essay Contest offers a top prize of $1,000 for student essays on one of America's most influential presidents.

The 2008 elections brought a renewed interest in Abraham Lincoln, with frequent comparisons made between him and President Obama.  Building on this theme, The Lincoln Forum is inviting current undergraduate students to submit essays on the topic, "Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln: Getting Right with Lincoln." The scholarship essay contest asks students to discuss which other presidents, in addition to Obama, have been inspired by Lincoln, and to also explore what lessons can be learned from Lincoln's presidency by the Obama administration.

Prize: 

     
  • First prize: $1,000
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  • Second prize: $500
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  • Third prize: $250
  •  
 Eligibility:

Undergraduate students who were enrolled full-time in the spring semester of 2009 at an American college or university.  U.S. citizenship is not required. 

Deadline:

July 31, 2009

Required Material:

A completed scholarship essay addressing this year's theme in 1,500 to 5,000 words. Essays must be typed and submitted via postal mail or e-mail and must include a works cited page or bibliography.

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 Emily

Today is May 29, also known as "529 College Savings Day," named after 529 plans, which are popular state-sponsored college savings plans.  Today has been designated as a day to raise awareness of the importance of saving for college, as well as ways to do so. While 529 plans suffered along with everything else in the stock market, they are still being emphasized as a valuable tool for saving money for college.

According to a poll conducted by Gallup and Sallie Mae, 62 percent of families with college-bound children are already saving for college in some capacity, with the majority planning to contribute at least half of a child's tuition.  About half of families that are saving already regularly contribute to college funds, and around a third use state 529 plans.  The Chronicle of Higher Education has more information on the survey, as well as a link to the results.

If you're curious about college savings plans, we have some resources to help you get started.  A few months ago, we did a couple blog posts on saving for college, featuring a discussion of 529 plans, as well as other savings options.  While the focus of today is on saving for college, it's also a good time to look into college scholarships, especially for students still in high school.  Read up on college savings accounts today, then do a free college scholarship search to find more options for paying for school.


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by Emily

College students and recent graduates across the country are currently starting summer internships. Whether paid or unpaid, the internship can be an integral part of the college experience, as well as a chance to earn college credit for doing something you hopefully want to do. Internships are one of the best ways to hone major-specific job skills and gain valuable experience in a potential career.  For some students, though, summer internships are also a way to gain exposure to an entirely new line of work as well as hands-on experience with movements or industries they support.

The New York Times reports a growing summer internship trend is organic farming, with many students from disparate backgrounds signing up to grow crops or raise livestock on small farms across the country. While farming internships are traditionally seen as the province of agriculture students from rural state universities, students on both coasts, including many at small private colleges, have begun to take interest in these programs as well, thanks largely to a growing interest in sustainable agriculture.  Students who support organic farming and want to learn more about the industry first-hand can spend a summer working with plants and animals, as can students who just want a change of pace from their usual college lifestyle.  An agriculture internship could bring students with urban or suburban backgrounds a change of perspective, and also some fodder for green scholarship applications.

If farming isn't your thing but you're intrigued by the idea of taking an internship in a field outside your major, options abound.  While some internship programs may require a relevant major or course experience, others may just want students with a genuine interest in the job.  Think about the things you'd like to do and jobs you'd like to try out and see if any internship opportunities exist in those areas.  While these experiences may not directly lead to a job placement at that business (although this is no guarantee with traditional internships, either), they could lead to new experiences and a more diverse résumé, which could in turn lead to job offers down the road.


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by Emily

Loan forgiveness programs have been helping encourage students to enter careers in fields like education and nursing for years.  Such programs are typically offered by state student loan agencies or non-profit organizations, and are often well-publicized to prospective college students.  In many cases, students have borrowed liberally, banking on having a substantial portion of their student loans forgiven after five or ten years of work in their field.  But budget cuts and stock market woes have been forcing agencies to make cuts to their loan forgiveness programs, in some cases almost entirely eliminating them.

Kentucky, Iowa, California, and New Hampshire are some of the states that have made changes to loan forgiveness programs, according to The New York Times.  Even if you don't live in one of these states, if you're banking on having your student loan debt forgiven after you graduate college, you may want to see what guarantees there are that your state's program will still exist in its present form.  Make sure you know how much of what you borrow you can expect to repay, even in a worst case scenario.

Regardless of repayment and forgiveness options, it's still a good idea to minimize your borrowing by finding scholarships and practicing good money management.  Nursing scholarships and education scholarships are out there, as are numerous other scholarship opportunities.  There are also several federal loan forgiveness programs for teachers, nurses, and other public service employees.


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by Emily

Healthcare is constantly growing and changing in many ways, making it one of the most interesting fields to enter as a career.  Even people who don't plan to devote their lives to health professions often find themselves following medical advances with interest.  A major step in the evolution of healthcare in coming years will be the adoption of medical software that will allow for more universal recordkeeping and hopefully better patient care. This week's Scholarship of the Week gives current college students an opportunity to research this topic in depth for the chance to win $2,500.

To encourage college students in all disciplines to think and write about this topic, Claricode is sponsoring a scholarship essay contest asking students to discuss the potential of medical software in essays of 500 to 1,000 words.  Essays will be judged on the following criteria: idea development, clarity of vision, creativity, practicality, and spelling and grammar.

Prize: First place: $2,500; Second place: $1,500; Third place: $1,000

Eligibility: Any U.S. citizen or resident age 18 and up who is currently enrolled full-time in an accredited degree program and will remain enrolled full-time when the scholarship is awarded in January 2010. Applications are welcome from students in all areas of study.

Deadline: October 31, 2009

Required Material: Completed scholarship application and scholarship essay of 500-1000 words addressing the question, "How will medical software improve the future?"

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 Emily

Yesterday, Congress held a hearing to begin the process of determining the fate of the Federal Family Education Loan Program, the bank-based federal student loan program that President Obama has proposed eliminating in the 2010 federal budget. Voices from both sides of the debate chimed in, with one clear theme emerging: in 2010, student loans are definitely going to change. The questions at this point are to what extent federal student lending will change and whether the banks currently involved in FFEL will still have a place in the new system.

The Obama administration proposes switching all federal Stafford and PLUS loans to the federal Direct Loans program, then using the savings from eliminating lender subsidies to increase Federal Pell Grants and make funding mandatory, while also greatly expanding the federal Perkins Loan program and spending more on college completion. Opponents of this plan, primarily consisting of FFEL lenders and representatives of schools that participate in FFEL, have suggested alternatives that would restructure student lending, but still leave a place for lenders to service the loans. Not one witness at the hearing advocated keeping the system as it is, though, and it seems that a shakeup in student lending is inevitable. Hopefully, this will result in more available financial aid for students.  Inside Higher Ed has more information on the hearing.


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by Emily

Standardized tests area huge part of the college application process, and one of the biggest issues college-bound students and their families face is whether and how extensively to make use of ACT and SAT test preparation services. Standardized test prep can range from taking a practice test online to spending hours in intensive one-on-one tutoring sessions, with countless options in between.  Debate has raged for years over how much test preparation courses actually pay off, and a new study published by the National Association for College Admission Counseling represents perhaps the most ambitious effort to quantify these gains.

Through analysis of previous research, the NACAC study concludes that a consensus has emerged that score increases for students who use test prep services tend to be fairly small, often only 5 or 10 points on the critical reading section of the SAT and 10 or 20 points on the math section.  Evidence is still inconclusive as to ACT score gains, according to the study.  However, the study also surveyed college admissions offices to determine the impact of score gains and found that score increases on the upper end of this average range can have a significant affect on a student's chances of being admitted to a top college.  Inside Higher Ed has a more detailed breakdown of the study and its implications.

With many high school juniors already signing up to take, or in some cases already awaiting scores from, the SAT and ACT, the release of this study is timely.  It is not a ringing endorsement of extensive and expensive test preparation programs, but does provide an argument for at least taking some time to familiarize yourself with the standardized test you will be taking before you show up for the test day.  If you're competing for admission at your dream school or vying for an academic scholarship, those few extra points on your test score could make all the difference.


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by Emily

A large part of attending college is gaining exposure to new ideas outside your area of study and acquiring a broad base of knowledge and critical thinking skills along the way.  Traditionally, colleges have pushed students towards this goal through the use of general education requirements, which are rarely met with uniform enthusiasm.  English majors may dread the mandatory laboratory science class, while future engineers may fail to see the point in spending two semesters learning MLA citation style and how to write an argumentative essay.  Other students complain that general education requirements leave their college experience feeling disjointed and not directly connected to their working life. While they may eventually have the chance to draw on knowledge, experiences, or methods of inquiry from all of their classes, many students fail to see how when staring a list of required introductory courses in the face.

Colleges are aware of these concerns and many are beginning to rethink general education requirements, according to survey results highlighted recently in Inside Higher Ed. A number of colleges are studying general education requirements and desired learning outcomes, starting by identifying goals and asking students what they're taking from their courses.  Others are implementing new course requirements to expose students to a variety of disciplines beyond what they would normally get from introductory courses in their first two years of college.  More focus is also being placed on integrating a student's courses into the focus of their degree and career goals with the hope that students will be able to tie these lessons together and bring a more well-rounded approach to their major.

With renewed focus on college costs, the time it takes students to earn a degree, and the value of a college degree in the working world, the attention being paid to these courses seems timely. As many schools begin reevaluating or restructuring general educuation requirements, it's likely that the college experience of today's high school students will be different from not only that of their parents, but also that of today's undergraduate students.  What do you think of required general classes? Does the system need to be changed?  Don't just limit yourself to blog comments! If you're attending college right now, check out this year's Resolve to Evolve Essay Scholarship for a chance to win $1,000 by weighing in on this topic.


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