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So You’re a College Grad

Part II: Setting Short-Term Goals

May 19, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

You don’t have to have everything figured out right after you walk across that stage to receive your college degree. However, you do need to have the beginnings of a plan that will help you determine not only what you’d like to use that new degree for, but how you’ll be meeting more immediate needs, like finding a place to live that isn’t a campus apartment or college dorm, and paying and budgeting for all that new adult freedom you’re experiencing when you’re not yet gainfully employed.

The first step you’ll need to take is prioritizing which of those short-term goals is most pressing. That could mean focusing on getting a roof over your head. If that means sacrifice on your part and moving back in with your parents, it might not be the worst idea you’ve had. You’ll save some money and feel less anxious about finding a job to pay the bills if you’re getting some help. Don’t get too comfortable, though. A good way to make sure you’re doing your part and looking for jobs or that next step is to come up with a time-line of when you’d like to be out of your parents’ house.

If you found yourself using your student credit card too much thanks to that free T-shirt offer that came along with it, you may need to focus on making ends meet and paying down your debt. If you’re unemployed, there’s no shame in deferring any student loans you may have. At the very least, try landing a part-time or full-time temporary job if making some money is your top priority. Plenty of new graduates spend some time working at a job that perhaps isn’t all that related to their college major, so that they’re able to save up some money or start paying off debts. We’re not telling you that you should give up on that dream job. But we are saying it won’t be very useful to get into more debt while daydreaming of your future career, as you’ll only feel that much more stressed out when that perfect gig finally falls into your lap.

Finally, if it’s an option, the months after college may be a great time for you to explore alternatives to employment. A popular option is the backpacking through Europe trip. If you’ve always wanted to volunteer in the community or teach abroad, the time after college might be the last time you’re able to do that before you’re burdened by the responsibilities of a career and limited vacation time. If it’s not financially feasible, it may be wiser to save your money, but if you have the funds or will have saved some money thanks to a part-time or temporary job, there’s no harm in taking some time away from the job search to do some self-exploration and potentially figure out what you’re really interested in doing.

This is the second post in a three-part series on dealing with that “What’s next?” feeling college students may get post-graduation. Return to the Scholarships.com blog tomorrow for a look at long-term goals for recent college graduates, and how you can start figuring out where you'd like to be a few years down the road.

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So You’re a College Grad

Part I: Dealing with Post-Graduation Anxiety

May 18, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

As graduation season begins on college campuses across the country, many of you are well-prepared and excited for this new chapter in your lives. You have jobs or internships lined up in your fields of study, or have travel plans set for the summer before you’re officially labeled “adults.” For many others, however, the months after graduation are more nerve-wracking than anything else. So we’ve come up with a series of posts this week that will hopefully ease your minds a bit, and perhaps more importantly, help you see that you’re not alone.

Before we get into ideas on what you could do with your life post-graduation if you haven’t yet nailed down a job or other plans, we think it’s important to address the anxiety many graduates feel when their college experience is coming to an end. You probably became used to the freedom you first felt as a freshman on a new campus with endless possibilities. Now, as you’re watching your senior year come to end, you’re probably faced with endless questions instead from family and friends: "Have you found a job?" "What are your plans?" "Where will you live?"

First of all, take a step back and breathe. Although the economy has yet to rebound completely, there are thousands of others in the same boat as you, and it’s fine to take some time to be indecisive about what you want to do next. Once you’ve done that, you need to prepare to confront your future and do a bit of self-reflection. Graduating from college can be overwhelming. Many college students end up in careers unrelated to their majors, or take time off after college (if such an option is financially feasible) to figure out what it is they really want to do, via travel, volunteerism, or internships in fields they may be interested in exploring further.

Speaking of finances, much of the anxiety felt by recent graduates comes from the doom and gloom that comes with budgeting once you’re out of college. You no longer have your financial aid package or the option to increase your student loan totals (a bad idea, by the way, that should only be considered as a last resort) as a cushion, although there are things you can do to ease the burden a little bit right after graduation. If you’re unemployed, defer your student loans. You don’t want to face fees and interest charges for being unable to make payments on your loans and hurt your credit score in the process. If you have any prospects for part-time work or full-time temporary work, start saving. Finding a job isn’t a science, and sometimes it does take a while to find that perfect fit.

Tomorrow we’ll talk more about what you can do in the short-term as a recent graduate, because you really do have quite a few options. Were you floundering until you came across that perfect post-graduation plan? We'd love to hear your stories!

This is the first post in a three-part series on dealing with that “What’s next?” feeling college students may get post-graduation. Return to the Scholarships.com blog tomorrow for a look at popular short-term plans for recent college graduates, especially if your upcoming summer is looking fairly open!

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The Kor Memorial Scholarship

May 17, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

The name of this week’s Scholarship of the Week, the Kor Memorial Scholarship, may suggest that applicants be familiar with Klingon, the language created for use in the “Star Trek” series. The main criteria, however, is that all undergraduates and graduates nominated for the award be interested in the field of language study, whether that’s Klingon or the more traditional Spanish, French, or general linguistics degrees.

The purpose of the Kor Memorial Scholarship is to recognize and encourage scholarship in language study, and to award creative and innovative students. Applicants must be nominated in order to be considered for the award, so if you think this award is a good fit, make sure to talk to your academic department chair or dean. Winners are chosen by the director of the Klingon Language Institute and a panel of qualified language specialists. If you’re interested in checking out more awards with unique criteria, we have a long list of unusual scholarships that reward students their interest in mule deer, duck calling, and everything in between.

Prize: $500

Eligibility: All nominees must be full-time students at the time of the award and in a program leading to a degree in a field of language study.

Deadline: June 1, 2010

Required Material: In addition to a nominating letter from a department chair or dean at the student’s school, applicants must submit a resume highlighting their education, experience, awards, and community service.  Applicants must also submit two additional letters of recommendation from departmental faculty, and a brief statement of goals related to the field of language study.

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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Should More Changes Follow Switch to Direct Loans Program?

May 14, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

July 1 marks the official date that colleges, if they haven’t already, must transition to the recently approved Federal Direct Loans Program. Schools will no longer offer students the option of having private banks or credit unions handle their federal loans; federal loans will now be coming directly from the U.S. Department of Education. Advocates of the student loan bill have said this will make the process more seamless and fair, with the government taking responsibility for keeping interest rates manageable. And private loans will still be available via the traditional channels, although those loans are typically offered at higher interest rates.

The student loan debate has been a constant in the world of higher education, as legislators and administrators look for ways to reduce the debt of graduates. This week, The Christian Science Monitor considered student loans in a different way. Is it ethical to send students out into the world with all this debt, especially when they may not be making enough in their chosen careers to pay back those loans in a timely fashion? Are student loans moral?

The Christian Science Monitor piece looks at the history of the student loan industry, questioning whether it was ever right for Congress to increase borrowing amounts to current levels, or to offer students described as “in need” much easier access to federal loans through the re-authorization of the Higher Education Act in the 1990s. According to the Project on Student Debt, student loan totals only continue to rise. The average national debt for graduating seniors with loans rose from about $18,650 in 2004 to $23,200 in 2008. Meanwhile, employment prospects have not increased at comparable levels; by 2009, the unemployment rate among new graduates hovered near 11 percent, the highest on record.

It isn’t just a case of telling college students not to borrow so much. Student loans are often a necessary evil, and while debt can be minimized some through scholarships and grants, most students will end up taking on some amount of debt. The Monitor questions whether there should be more strict limits on borrowers that exist in other scenarios where credit checks and expectations that borrowers will be able to pay back what they borrow are enforced. There is no guarantee of a job after college, after all, so why shouldn’t the fact that a student is unable to pay off more than the minimum on their credit cards be taken into account more when they take out loans? (On that note, the U.S. Senate has approved an amendment that would lower “swipe fees” that banks charge college bookstores when students use their credit cards for purchases.)

Student loans are a hot topic, and will continue to be. What do you think? What else can be done to reduce graduates' debt, especially among those graduates who are not entering high-paying fields?

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Report Shows College Students Spending Less Time Studying

May 13, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

A recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research has shown what many among the older generation may have been saying all along. College students today just don’t study as much as they did.

According to the paper, compared to their campus counterparts in 1961, the average full-time college student in 2003 spent at least 10 fewer hours per week on academic work (attending classes, studying, and completing assignments). The paper, titled The Falling Time Cost of College: Evidence from Half a Century of Time Use Date, included analysis from two California researchers of data from both 1961 and the more recent National Survey of Student Engagement. <

The paper showed that there has been a decline in the number of hours spent on academic work since that first study in the 1960s. Students in 1961 spent about 40 hours per week in class and studying; about 24 hours of that was spent hitting the books specifically. Students today spend about 27 hours per week on academic work; 13 hours of that was spent studying and working on homework.

So are college students just lazier? The research doesn’t really point to an answer, but they did describe which factors probably weren’t the behind the decrease in study time. The declines can’t be explained by any one reason alone, like work or choice of college major, according to the paper, or "compositional changes" in the students themselves or the colleges they’re attending. The paper also showed that study times declined across all student groups and populations, meaning one group didn’t account for the decline more over another, skewing the data. The paper did suggest the way students study may be different.

Why do you think students are studying less? Articles on the paper since have suggested that college students simply have less time for school than in previous generations. They work more, spread themselves thin, and engage in more extracurricular activities to make themselves more competitive on the job market after graduation. Or it could be a technology issue. The Internet and social media may have made completing assignments easier, or, in a more negative light, have become such a distraction to students that it is  much easier to spend time online (and procrastinate, pull all-nighters) than open up a textbook. You’ve already heard about the hard time students have unplugging from their phones, computers, and social networking sites. What do you think?

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University of California Looks to Expand Online Education

May 12, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

In another attempt to address budget shortfalls due to a significant decrease in state funding for higher education in the state, the University of California system has proposed increasing their online offerings to get more students enrolled, thus bringing more revenue into the school.

The proposed pilot project would not only offer students more online class choices, but offer students a path toward complete online degrees. If the plan moves forward, administrators would start with offering the schools’ core, general education classes online, before moving on to classes further on in students’ fields of study. Those core classes are typically high enrollment anyway, composed predominantly of freshmen. Freshman Composition 1-2, for example, has an average annual enrollment of 31,585, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. The real accomplishment, administrators say, would be leading students through a complete sequence of online courses in any major offered at the college.

Although it may take a while for the project to get off the ground—administrators will be putting out requests for proposals in the fall, with the earliest start date for the program suggested for 2011—it already has its supporters. According to another article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, those supporters feel the plan will not only make the school system a significant amount of money, something it desperately needs, but it would improve the school system’s reputation as an innovative force. More online classes would also give professors interested in teaching them more time for research, as they will be working remotely, thereby further solidifying the school system's role as a research institution.

The proposal also has its critics. Some worry that online education won’t meet the academic standards the schools’ in-class programs currently set, and that the school system’s reputation will actually be hurt by the move if freshmen fail to excel in the virtual classroom. According to The Chronicle, although online classes are commonplace, elite public universities haven’t exactly latched onto the idea of online degrees. Even those schools that offer their complete course materials online (Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University, among many other examples), have been hesitant to express any interest in the online degree market.

The state system’s campuses currently enroll more than 25,000 students online each year as part of their graduate and extension programs, according to The Chronicle. This proposal would greatly expand the schools’ online courses to undergraduates, who have typically not been able to take for-credit classes online. (The University of California at Berkeley has been the exception, offering eight online summer classes to undergraduates.) What do you think? Would you skip the campus experience for a virtual one?

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College Graduations Go "Green" with Eco-Friendly Gowns

May 11, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

As further evidence that “going green” is here to stay, college graduations across the country may be looking a bit more environmentally-friendly this commencement season. According to a recent article from the Associated Press, at least 100 schools will have their graduates decked out in gowns made of recycled or biodegradable materials.

The gowns come from a number of manufactures, and a number of materials. Plastic has proved to be one of the more popular options, although schools have explored gowns made of sustainable bamboo and acetate, a material that decomposes within a year, according to the article. (Those made with the acetate come in a variety of colors; the plastic bottle gowns come only in black.)

Wake Forest University is one school that will have its graduates dressed in gowns made of recycled plastic bottles this season; each gown is made of about 23 plastic bottles. Students at Lafayette College and the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh will be trying out the biodegradable gowns instead. According to an article in The Christian Science Monitor, administrators at those schools said they wanted to test the product’s claims that the gowns would biodegrade within a year’s time, as they assume students will most likely toss their gowns after the ceremonies rather than looking for recycling bins set up campus-wide.

The gowns made out of the plastic bottles cost about $2 more apiece, although most colleges will be absorbing those costs. The biodegradable gowns range in price, although administrators have said they cost about 18 percent more than the gowns they had been using. Traditional gowns are made out of petroleum-based polyester. Students who have already tried out the varieties of “green” gowns made say they’re much lighter than the alternative, making them ideal for warm weather ceremonies.

It may no longer even be accurate to say that colleges are “going green.” Many of them are already there if you consider lists like the recent ranking of the 286 greenest colleges in the country from The Princeton Review. Commencements have also been a target of the environmentally-conscious for quite some time, with schools making sure to print programs on recycled paper, sending emailed invitations and tickets rather than printing them, using recycled cardboard in caps, or looking for ways to cut down on electricity use at the actual ceremonies. Would you describe your impending graduation ceremony as “green”? What has your college been doing to become more environmentally sound, or what more can they do?

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ALBA George Watt Memorial Essay Contest

May 10, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

History is one of the most popular college majors pursued by college students across the country, second only to business. It’s only natural then that there are a number of scholarships out there for future historians, academics, and educators. This week’s Scholarship of the Week is the ALBA George Watt Memorial Essay Contest, an award for history majors particularly interested in Spanish and world history, presented by the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives.

Scholarships as specific as this one typically have fewer applicants than sweepstakes or awards based on broader criteria, so your chances of landing this one if you meet all of the qualifications are greatly increased. If you’ve already written essays about the Spanish Civil War, the global political or cultural struggles against fascism in 1920s and 1930s, or the lifetime histories and contributions of the Americans who fought in support of the Spanish Republic from 1936 to 1938, you may as well send your work in. Why not get rewarded for doing well on an assignment? If you’re a history major who has not been exposed to these particular historical events, try out a scholarship search, because there’s a good chance there are history scholarships out there that fit your interest areas.

Prize: Two prizes of $500 will be awarded.

Eligibility: All undergraduate and graduate students are eligible to apply. Work will be judged on the basis of originality, quality of research, and effectiveness of argument or presentation.

June 1, 2010

Required Material: Applicants must submit essays or thesis chapters of between 3,500 and 7,500 words in Spanish or English on topics already mentioned above. Submissions must have been produced to fulfill an undergraduate or graduate course or degree requirement. Any work produced since January 2009 is eligible for the competition. Award winners will be announced at the end of June, and all winning essays are published on the ALBA website.

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California Targets "Super Seniors" to Address Over-Enrollment

May 7, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

For some students entering their fifth, sixth, maybe even seventh years of college in the fall, administrators in the California State University system have a message for you: Graduate. Please.

You may remember reading about the trouble California colleges and universities in general have had over the last year. Budget problems have forced schools to significantly limit enrollments, placing students on wait lists for the first time in many of the schools’ histories. “Super seniors” are now viewed as part of the problem, taking up valuable space on the state’s campuses while would-be freshmen look elsewhere for available slots.

The California State University system has begun introducing initiatives targeting those students who take longer than four years to graduate. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that describes the state system’s dilemma describes these initiatives as expanding advising services, limiting financial aid, and getting department heads more involved in making sure students graduate in a more timely fashion. Administrators say this doesn’t mean students will be prohibited from switching majors if they find themselves flailing in a potential degree they were pushed toward by their parents, for example.

In fact, students who take longer to graduate but aren’t amassing a large number of credits (perhaps because they are attending school part-time, for example) aren’t even the target of the initiatives. The school is after the “Van Wilder” types. The Chronicle describes one 50-year-old student who had more than 250 credit hours under his belt, which came out to about eight years of full-time college schooling. He had enough credits for degrees in both health sciences and theater, but wanted to start over to get a degree in marketing. According to The Chronicle, the school handed him his degrees and told him to look elsewhere for that new degree: "At 50 years old, you should know what you want, and you're stopping two other young people from coming to this university,” Cynthia Z. Rawitch, associate vice president for undergraduate studies at California State University, said in the article.

The California State University system hopes to raise its six-year graduation rate up to about 54 percent by 2016, according to The Chronicle. Studies over the years from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics have shown that less than 40 percent of students graduate within four years, so this may be something other states should look into doing to increase freshman class sizes as well. There may be a number of reasons for students’ graduation delays, however: transferring schools, balancing work and school, indecision about choosing a major or switching majors well into a college career, or a number of other potential factors. What do you think? Should students be held more accountable for how long it takes them to graduate?

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Study Finds College Students "Addicted" to Social Media

May 6, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Many of you have probably joked about being “addicted” to your Twitter accounts, cell phones, and other social media outlets. A recent study from the University of Maryland shows that for many college students, that description of their relationship with those tools may not be too far off.

The recent study, “24 Hours: Unplugged,” found that at least on the Maryland campus, students hooked on social media may experience withdrawal symptoms similar to those addicted to alcohol and other substances if they are forced to do without those tools for any longer period of time. The study, led by the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda, came to that conclusion after asking 200 students on the Maryland campus to give up all modes of media for one full day. Those students were then asked to describe their personal experiences on, somewhat ironically, a blog, the next day.

According to the results of the study, the students came up with the equivalent of a 400-page novel when describing their experiences. So what did they say? We’ve come up with some highlights:

  • "My attempt at the gym without the ear pieces in my iPhone wasn’t the same; doing cardio listening to yourself breathe really drains your stamina."
  • "I literally had to have my friend hide my phone so I wouldn’t check it by accident."
  • "It becomes a normal task to look at my phone every few minutes, yes minutes."
  • "It is almost second nature to check my Facebook or email; it was very hard for my mind to tell my body not to go on the Internet."
  • "I knew that the hardest aspect of ridding myself of media though, would be not checking Facebook or my emails, so I went ahead and deactivated my Facebook account in advance. It’s pathetic to think that I knew I had to delete my Facebook in order to prevent myself from checking it for one day."
  • "Although I started the day feeling good, I noticed my mood started to change around noon. I started to feel isolated and lonely. I received several phone calls that I could not answer."

Addiction is a strong word, and there haven’t been any formal initiatives to add things like “Internet addiction” to the American Psychiatric Association’s list of disorders and addictions. But is this something we should worry about nonetheless? According to the news release on the study, even the study’s project director was surprised by the number of students who had such intense reactions to leaving their media alone for a day. What do you think? Are college students too dependent on media? How long could you go without your favorite media outlets?

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