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by Emily

High school students face a lot of pressure when it comes to planning their future. There's a persistent idea that if you don't have your entire life mapped out by the end of 11th grade, you're somehow doomed to a life of vagrancy or doing whatever job your parents pick out for you. If you're a high school senior still uncertain about choosing a college major and setting career goals, a career Q&A that appeared in the New York Times earlier this week might help. It primarily offers advice to parents, but can also serve as a road map for high school students who are thinking about potential college majors and post-college careers.

Focus on Strengths and Interests: Rather than starting out by exploring careers and seeing which one you can fit into, begin by thinking about what you're good at and what you like doing. Maybe you're amazing at math and like to build things in your spare time, or maybe you get joy out of helping your classmates edit their English papers. Think about what you like doing and what environments you prefer to work in. Then begin looking for careers that play to those strengths. By focusing on both what you enjoy and what you excel at, you stand a much better chance of finding a major or a job you can enjoy doing.

Research Potential Careers Now: Don't wait until your final year of college to decide whether or not you like the professions you found fascinating in high school. Look for opportunities to learn more about potential careers and the people who pursue them. Internships, volunteer experiences, and job shadowing can be great ways to do this. If you know any adults whose job sounds interesting, see if you can arrange to talk to them about it, observe them at work, or even help out after school. Consider reading books about careers you find interesting, as well, but be sure to balance glamorized or fictionalized accounts with real-world observations and experiences to avoid disappointment. Career exploration and research don't have to stop in high school, either. You don't need to go to college with a career plan set in stone, nor do you need to wait for your department or advisor to take the lead on preparing you for a career or showing you what options exist. Feel free to choose classes that interest you and find time outside of school to continue to learn about what people with your degree can do and take advantage of opportunities to gain exposure to and experience in fields you find interesting.

Don't Feel Forced: Finally, and most importantly, don't worry if nothing comes to mind right away, or you're still hearing nothing from your parents and teachers but "you're good at math! Be an accountant!" It's normal to be undecided for awhile or to change your mind later, and you likely have a lot more talents and interests than what you can recall immediately as a high school student. College students switch majors and adults switch careers and both groups do so successfully. So don't feel like you have to make a lifelong commitment to the first idea that appeals to you or those around you. If you keep your mind open and have some strategies in place, you'll eventually come across something that will stick.


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by Emily

In recent years, colleges have begun experimenting with a number of techniques to make textbooks more affordable for, and more likely to be purchased by, college students.  From on-demand textbook printing at the University of Michigan to on-campus and online textbook rental options nationwide, it seems like at least two or three textbook pricing revolutions roll out each year.  This year, however, Williams College in Massachusetts is trying something entirely different:  giving textbooks away for free.

Starting this fall, students who receive financial aid at Williams will be able to charge their textbooks to their bursar accounts--an option available to students at many colleges--and then will receive college-based grants for the amount of their textbook purchase, which as far as Williams officials know, is an offer unique to their campus. The textbook program, as well as the reasons for its inception, were highlighted in a recent blog post in the New York Times' college admissions blog, The Choice.

Williams previously offered financially needy students $400 book grants each semester, but found that some students still weren't buying all their required textbooks, as they felt the money they spent on books was still coming out of their own pockets. A textbook lending program through the library was used to supplement it, but there were concerns that students couldn't make full use of borrowed books. To allow students to highlight and annotate books, as well as reference them in subsequent semesters, the college decided to make sure students were able to purchase all required texts. Thus, the current grant program was born, which Williams officials expect to cost roughly the same as the combination of the previous grant and library lending programs but to serve students more completely and efficiently.

Little touches like free textbooks can go a long way towards swaying students still working on their college search. Regardless of the college you attend, you may want to factor textbooks into your scholarship search, as well. While textbooks don't seem like much individually, when the costs are added up, they can become a sizeable portion of a student's college costs. With many students paying for textbooks out-of-pocket, they can quickly create a problem with money management, increasing work burdens, credit card balances, or student loan debt.


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Intel Science Talent Search

October 26, 2009

by Emily

So, you're a science nerd. Lab coats and ambitious experiments aren't so much elements of monster movies and Halloween costumes as they are part of your daily life and career ambitions. Being so immersed in science, it's only natural you've gotten a jump on it as a high school student, getting all you can out of each science class and science fair. If you're a high school senior who's been conducting independent research this year, you should be sure to check out this week's Scholarship of the Week, the Intel Science Talent Search. It carries a top prize of $100,000, along with a chance to present your research at a national conference and meet leaders in your area of research.

To be eligible for this scholarship opportunity, you must have conducted an independent research project in a field of science, medicine, mathematics, or engineering. Your research project must have been your work alone, not a group or team project. You must complete a detailed research report describing your project and results to compete. Semifinalists and finalists will be selected primarily based on the strength of the research report.

Prize:

  • Grand prize: $100,000
  • Nine other winners receive awards of $20,000 to $75,000
  • 40 finalists: $7,500 and a new laptop computer
  • 300 semifinalists: $1,000

Eligibility: High school seniors (or any student attending their last year of high school) who are enrolled in a secondary institute in the United States or its territories, or are U.S. citizens currently studying abroad.

Deadline: November 18, 2009

Required Material: A completed research report describing your project, a contest entry form (available on the Intel Science Talent Search website), letters of recommendation from up to three teachers, an official high school transcript, and any supplemental materials required by the project.

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

Private student loans may soon come under increased federal regulation as Congress takes up legislation that would create a consumer financial protection agency. The bill moved out of the House Financial Services Committee yesterday and will soon go to a floor vote.

Lenders fought the legislation, but the proposed amendment to exempt student loans from the agency's oversight was defeated in committee. A brief but heated debate also arose over whether the agency should also regulate "gap loans" made by private for-profit colleges directly to students to help cover tuition and other expenses. Ultimately, the panel sided with the schools who argued that new Truth in Lending restrictions already offered students sufficient protection in regards to borrowing from schools.

Student loans are only one of several aspects of lending that would be regulated by the new agency. They'd be accompanied by mortgages, credit cards, and other bank-based loans. This comes in addition to legislation that's already been passed that will limit lenders' ability to market credit cards to college students. However, auto financing plans offered by car dealers were exempted and the agency's role in regulating smaller banks and lending institutions was also limited by amendments.

Backers of the proposed regulatory agency hope that its creation will offer greater protection to consumers, including college students, who find themselves overwhelmed by risky debt or deceptive lending practices. They hope that they will be able to limit the extremely high interest rates and confusing terms that accompany some private loans.  Student lenders have previously come under fire for questionable lending practices and have paid out large settlements and agreed to new codes of conduct governing their practices of marketing loans to students and offering incentives to colleges to promote their services on "preferred lender" lists. Private loans have also seen increased regulation this year, with previous student aid legislation requiring them to disclose terms up front, among other steps taken to make their lending practices more transparent.


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by Emily

Can college students correctly answer basic questions about federal student financial aid? Researchers from CALPIRG, the California Public Interest Research Group, sought to find out, asking California community college students three questions about financial aid. The results of the survey were published this week. The majority of students did not do so well, with over half of students answering one or zero questions correctly.

How would you do? Students were asked to say whether the following three statements were true or false (the questions below are paraphrased from the report):

  1. I have to go to school full time to be eligible for financial aid.
  2. Taking more classes per term could increase my financial aid award.
  3. Financial aid can be used to cover expenses beyond tuition and fees, such as living expenses.

The answers:

  1. False. You do not have to go to school full time to be eligible for financial aid. Students enrolled at least half-time are able to apply for and receive federal student financial aid, including Pell Grants and Stafford Loans. Only 47 percent of students surveyed answered this correctly.
  2. True. If your tuition goes up, your aid award can go up, especially when it comes to federal work-study and low-interest student loans. Additionally, students who move from half-time to three-quarter-time or full-time enrollment can see an increase in Pell Grant awards and also potentially become eligible for more college scholarships and grants. Half of students answered this correctly.
  3. True. Financial aid can be used to cover college expenses including food, rent, car maintenance, books, computers, and other essentials. These items are included in the living expenses portion of the cost of attendance figure used by the financial aid office to calculate your aid eligibility. Students surveyed did the best on this question, with 54 percent answering correctly.

Knowing About Aid Can Boost College Success: At this point, it's becoming fairly well-documented that not enough community college students apply for federal student financial aid, despite the fact that many are eligible. While some students don't apply because their schools do not participate in federal aid programs, others don't apply because they don't know they're eligible for aid. The results of the CALPIRG survey suggest that this is a fairly substantial group of students. Namely, 13 percent of students surveyed didn't get a single question right, 44 percent of students answered only one question correctly, and only 2 percent of students who did not apply for aid got all 3 questions, compared to 10 percent of students overall.

Additionally, the survey shows that many students are loan-averse, with almost half of students saying they would drop a class or an entire semester than take out a student loan to cover books or other expenses, and students showing nearly as much willingness to put their books on a credit card than to take out a federal loan for books.  A full 57 percent of surveyed students saying they would only borrow as a last resort or would not borrow for college at all. With additional research suggesting that many community college students are not balancing work and college effectively and that their reluctance or inability to borrow is hurting their chances of graduating, more financial aid education is important.

Community college students are not the only college students who may need help learning about financial aid. If you found that you answered one or more question incorrectly, you may want to review information about paying for school. We have a wide variety of student resources available that can help you learn about financial aid programs and requirements and maximize the amount of aid you receive.


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by Emily

On Tuesday, the College Board published the latest installment in its Trends in Higher Education Series, annual reports detailing changes in college costs and student financial aid. These newest reports cover the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 academic years and provide some insight into how economic difficulties have affected paying for college. Despite the recession, tuition continued to rise at a pace comparable to previous years, but financial aid has undergone some changes.

Between 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, tuition increased 6.5% at 4-year public colleges and 4.4% at 4-year private colleges. Tuition and fees for in-state students at four-year state colleges rose from $6,591 to $7,020. Out-of-state tuition and fees at public colleges rose to $18,548, a 6.2 percent increase. Private college tuition and fees rose to $26,273. Total costs of attendance also rose to $19,388 for public colleges (a 5.8% increase) and $39,028 for private colleges (a 4.4% increase). Rising college costs are attributed to declines in state funding and massive endowment losses brought about by the recession.

Despite tuition increases and greater financial difficulties for students and families, total student borrowing dropped by 1% when adjusted for inflation in 2008-2009.  Federal student loan borrowing increased by $11 billion, or 15 percent, to about $84 billion. Most strikingly, there was a 50% drop in private loan volume in the 2008-2009 academic year, as a result of the tightening of credit markets. The 2008-2009 academic year also saw a growth in grant aid (both need-based and merit-based college scholarships and grants). About 2/3 of full-time undergraduates receive grants and the average grant was $5,041. The College Board anticipates that students will receive an estimated $5,400 in grant aid and tax benefits in 2009-2010.

A large portion of grant aid is made up of merit-based awards, like academic scholarships, which worries some analysts who are concerned with the increasing cost of tuition pricing lower income families out of college entirely. While, after adjusting for aid, the average net cost of tuition actually has declined for families over the period covered in these reports, another recent report by Postsecondary Education Opportunity research Tom Mortenson showed that students from the poorest families tended to have the largest amount of unmet financial need. The sharp drop in private loans suggests those families may be less likely to be able to secure funding to cover that unmet need, even if colleges and the federal government have made more aid available this year.

Much of the growth in federal student loans and college grants and scholarships is likely due to the increased amount of aid colleges and the federal government made available to struggling students as a result of the recession. However, much of this emergency aid is intended to be temporary, so these changes may turn out to be anomaly, rather than an overall trend.


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by Emily

Most high school seniors are now entering the last leg of their college search and selecting the colleges to which they plan to apply. Many are already beginning the college application process, especially if they plan to meet rapidly approaching early decision or early action deadlines at their top choice colleges. For students looking for a last bit of data with which to game the college admissions system, the National Association for College Admission Counseling has just released their annual State of College Admission report.  Included below are some highlights.

Competition: The report shows that, on the whole, while most colleges and universities aren't terribly selective, they appear to be becoming slightly more selective on average as they deal with larger numbers of students applying for admission. Between 2001 and 2007, the average acceptance rate at colleges and universities surveyed declined from 71.3 percent to 66.8 percent. Colleges largely seem to be expanding enrollment to meet increasing applications, though, with the growth in applications (24 percent) only slightly outpacing the growth in enrollment (20 percent) between 2002 and 2006.

The number of applications colleges received continued to grow in 2008, with approximately three out of four colleges reporting an increase in applications over the previous year. Students also appear to be applying to more colleges on the whole, with the number of students submitting 7 or more applications growing from 19 percent in 2007 to 22 percent in 2008. This growth in applications, especially multiple applications, has resulted in a decrease in yield (the percentage of admitted students who ultimately enroll) by about 4 percentage points. However, a student's odds of getting admitted off the wait list remain largely unchanged, hovering around 1 in 3 for 2008.

Selection Process: Also included in the survey were questions about the criteria college admission counselors considered most important when reviewing college applications. The following criteria were given "considerable importance" (the highest level of importance in the survey) by college counselors:

  • Grades in college prep classes (75% of counselors gave it considerable importance)
  • Strength of high school curriculum (62%)
  • Admission test scores, such as SAT and ACT (54%)
  • Class rank (19%)
  • Criteria that received less importance in consideration were race, first-generation college student status, gender, alumni ties, high school attended, state or county of residence, and ability to pay.  Inside Higher Ed has an article with some nice charts comparing the level of importance given to all of the above criteria.

The Take Away: While there's a lot of attention given to schools that are more selective, the majority of colleges admit most students who apply. While more students are kicking the college application process into overdrive and applying to seven or more schools, these students still make up a minority of the college-going crowd. Additionally, while applications are increasing everywhere, the pace at which early applications are increasing at early-action and early-decision schools seems to be slowing.

Overall, the admission process is only as frantic as you make it. However, if you are applying to a lot of highly selective schools and the 1-in-3 chance of getting off the wait list if you wind up on it scares you, make sure you're putting your all into your applications. Get going on those application essays early and make sure to leave time for feedback and revision. Also, you'll want to approach your counselor for any letters of recommendation early--another item noted in the NACAC report was an increased workload for college counselors nationwide.


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by Emily

During the 2008-2009 academic year, an anonymous donor gave over $100 million to 20 colleges and universities nationwide. A large portion of the donated money was earmarked for university scholarships, specifically for minorities and women. Now, schools are beginning to spend the money, and The Chronicle of Higher Education is charting where the money is going.

So far, over 3,700 students at 15 schools have benefited from the money in some way, ranging from $100 book grants to scholarship awards of $5,000 per year or more. Students are also receiving indirect benefits of the donated money, as schools are using some of the discretionary funds to close gaps in their budgets left by reduced state spending and endowment losses, as well as to build up student resources and better support faculty research.

Primarily, though, the money is going towards scholarships. In addition to the funds already awarded, several of the schools plan to unveil scholarship programs in 2010, or to expand scholarship opportunities already offered through funding from the anonymous donor. Need-based and merit-based academic scholarships are being expanded or created and will reach out to students ranging from urban students attending Purdue University to military spouses at the University of Maryland University College.

A number of the colleges are looking for ways to jumpstart permanent endowed scholarship funds with the anonymous donations. Michigan State University and the University of Hawaii at Hilo are both starting matching-grant funds to encourage more donations for endowed scholarships on their campuses. California State University at Northridge is hoping to ultimately support 50 students a year through a freshman honors scholarship program begun with the donated money.

These generous donations from an anonymous source are changing students' lives nationwide and making paying for school easier. Universities are hoping that news of the donations and the continued good they're doing will spur others to give generously to scholarship programs. In the meantime, though, many individuals and organizations are already offering sizeable amounts of scholarship money to a wide range of deserving students. Conduct a free scholarship search to see some of these opportunities that may benefit you.


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by Emily

Yesterday, the big "oh, look, a distraction from my homework!" news was a boy in Colorado who had apparently climbed into a homemade hot air balloon and floated away. This, of course, raised questions. The immediate question was, "is this for real?" especially after he was found hiding in his house, safely on solid ground, a few hours later. Immediately on the heels of this first query was a second, "who builds a giant balloon in their backyard, anyway?"

While no one has had much luck answering the first one yet, maybe you're the type of student who knows the answer to the second question. For some people, there's a certain allure to creating and executing plans for original creations. While your experiments and blueprints may not have resulted in a shiny balloon capable of capturing and holding national attention for hours, your inventions can still gain you recognition, and even cash, by way of scholarship awards. So if the saga of "balloon boy" yesterday inspired you to build your own airborne contraption, you may want to see if you can win some scholarship money by doing so.

There are numerous scholarships available for more inventive students, whether they're interested in engineering, design, business and entrepreneurship, or just making cool things as a hobby. Students engaging in other out-of-the-ordinary pursuits in addition to inventing may take an interest in any number of unusual college scholarships, ranging from awards for speaking fluent Klingon to awards for exceptional duck-calling.

Aspiring inventors who are looking for college aid will definitely want to check out the Collegiate Inventors Competition. This annual scholarship offers awards of up to $25,000 for doing what you do anyway: creating and developing a new and workable idea, process, or technology. Students more interested in building elaborate designs from shiny material, on the other hand, may find themselves drawn to the Duck Brand Duct Tape "Stuckat Prom" Contest. This well-known annual scholarship gives one lucky couple $3,000 college scholarships for designing and wearing duct tape prom attire. If you don't just want to build, but want to also produce, market, and distribute your brilliant inventions, you may be a candidate for one of several entrepreneurship and business scholarships awarded each year by various foundations. There may even be local scholarships for young entrepreneurs in your area.

These aren't the only scholarship opportunities available to creative and enterprising students.  To see more award opportunities like the ones mentioned above, conduct a free scholarship search on Scholarships.com.


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by Emily

Still trying to choose a college, or perhaps a college major? Now, more than ever, quality job prospects are likely to figure into that decision. Work opportunities that come with a generous salary and great potential for growth, yet allow you to have the quality of life you want are the holy grail of employment and it's understandable to want to tailor your college goals towards obtaining such a job. To help make your decision a little easier, Money Magazine and PayScale.com put together a list of 50 lines of work that come with all of the features mentioned above, entitled Best Jobs in America.

CNNMoney.com has the results online already, with the print version appearing in the November issue of Money. The full top 50 are listed in order (along with another 50 high-ranking jobs), with detailed descriptions available for the top ten, and additional lists of top paying, most job growth, and best quality of life also posted online. This year's top ten are Systems Engineer, Physician Assistant, College Professor, Nurse Practitioner, Information Technology Project Manager, Certified Public Accountant, Physical Therapist, Network Security Consultant, Intelligence Analyst, and Sales Director. The top ten best jobs primarily consist of careers that may appeal to students pursuing medical or technology degrees, but students with virtually any academic interest are likely to find something in the list appealing.

To arrive at their selections, Money and PayScale started with career fields in which the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates growth 10% or more over the next decade and that require a college degree. They focused on jobs with median pay above $65,000 for workers with 2-7 years of experience and more than 10,000 positions nationwide and weeded out jobs that did poorly during the recession to arrive at a list of top 100 jobs. To arrive at the top 50 and top 10, data from a survey asking 35,000 workers to rate their jobs on quality of life (flexibility, stress, personal satisfaction, etc.) was used, along with data on current employment, long-term growth, pay, security, and projected openings. Finally, industry experts were interviewed to determine top 10.

Top jobs require different levels of training and candidates face different levels of competition. Many require additional training beyond a bachelor's degree, ranging from one-year certification programs to PhD and possibly post-doctoral experience. These top jobs are also not entry-level positions, so workers starting out in these industries may not see high pay or low stress immediately. So don't get discouraged if the career you want to pursue isn't on this list. Ultimately, the best job for you will be one you like to do and are able to do well.  That's also good advice for choosing a college major.


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