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Tips on Finding a Campus Apartment

July 9, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Dorms are filled to the brim with students your age, and therein lies their charm. But after finding a group of people you enjoy spending time with, their appeal slowly fades. Dorms are cramped, noisy, and, eventually, old news. But before you can hug your RA goodbye, you need to find an apartment, and that takes some planning. The following tips can help you find the best-suited home at a reasonable price.

Determine Boundaries. Before the apartment hop begins, establish a general search boundary. Off-campus apartments may be cheaper, but, depending on location, the class hike may be substantial. Decide which is the bigger priority, finance or location, and be realistic about how far you are willing to walk—in boots on a rainy, snowy day—to your perfect residence.

Get a Head Start. If you attend a large state school, chances are, you have options. But you can only be as picky as the time allows. Begin your apartment search early, around December or January. If you wait until the summer months to find an apartment for the upcoming year, you may find your options slim. Stake your claim before someone else can.

Look at Reviews. What you don’t see when you visit an apartment—the unreachable repairman, the stinky, bug-ridden basement—may come back to haunt you. One of the best ways to gauge a potential home is by seeking out feedback from previous tenants. Reviews of landlords and apartments can frequently be found in campus newspapers, both on and offline. You may also want to ask around. Satisfied and disgruntled students alike are often willing to let you know what they think.

Budget. When budgeting, you have to consider paying for school, for residence, for food, for leisure, for holiday gifts, for transportation, for emergencies and so on. If you're an apartment penny pincher, it's best to limit surprises. Ask landlords about any city or tenant fees that may be tacked on to the lease, and find out if if gas, water, parking or an internet/cable package are included. If you don’t plan to stay on campus during the summer months, also ask about a 10-month lease option. The need for apartments drops during the summertime, and many students have a hard time finding individuals willing to sublet at full price. By asking the right questions and budgeting accordingly, you can avoid many such problems down the road.

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Protect Yourself from Scholarship Scams

July 10, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Each year, thousands fall victim to scholarship scam artists. With the costs of a college education rising annually, it should come as no surprise that certain individuals choose to take advantage of the situation by establishing fraudulent financial aid organizations and competitions.

Students who visit our site can rest assured knowing that the information provided to them at Scholarships.com is completely free of charge. We will never ask visitors to pay for the college scholarship search, and our financial aid information is completely cost free. Before posting award details on our site, we screen scholarship providers carefully; any scholarships deemed suspicious are immediately removed from the Scholarships.com database.

The federal government is also working to crack down on scholarship crime, regularly monitoring scholarship abuse. The Scholarship Fraud Prevention Act of 2000 has made more severe the punishments for scammers, and it has called for a mandatory report of scholarship scams to be prepared annually by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Secretary of Education. This report, including the names of current defendants in scholarship scam allegations, may be found on the FTC website.

Be on the lookout for the signs of scholarship scams listed below and report any suspicious behavior to the provided contacts.

Scholarship Scam Warning Signs

o Organizations promise scholarships for an upfront fee.

o Organizations ask students for a scholarship application fee.

o Organizations promise to complete applications and obtain scholarships for the student.

o Organizations say their scholarship information cannot be found anywhere else (most reputable awards are listed publicly; providers want you to apply!)

Report Suspicious Scholarship Behavior to: US Department of Education Office of the Inspector General 1-800-MIS-USED; Better Business Bureau (BBB) 1-703-525-8277; Federal Trade Commission (FTC) 1-202-FTC-HELP

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Financial Aid , Scholarships , Tips



More Students Mean Less Available Housing on Campus

July 31, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

More students than ever are attending college. The economy's in a slump. Gas prices are through the roof. Rent keeps going up, especially in college towns. Everything is getting more expensive, including food. What does all this add up to? Housing shortages on college campuses, according to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. As many students opt to live in the dorms, as a way to save money in college by avoiding the cost of rent, gas, and food, as well as the time involved in getting to campus, many schools are running out of places to put all their students. For some students, this problem has been familiar for years--for example, during my sophomore year of college, my university wound up renting, and later purchasing, a hotel near campus to house some of their incoming freshmen--but for others, this phenomenon is new and surprising.

Many families are displeased at the thought of paying that daunting housing bill for their students to still be living off-campus and having to commute a mile or more to get to class. But placing students in a hotel or an apartment off-campus isn't the only makeshift housing solution being implemented by universities this fall. Other students will wind up in converted lounges, triple-occupancy dorm rooms, former office space, or recently reopened buildings.  Still some undergraduate students, like 725 University of Missouri attendees, may wind up paying on-campus rates for swanky apartments with full kitchens and plasma TVs thanks to the housing shortage on campus.

While many of these housing arrangements can be just as good as or even be better than traditional dorm space at some institutions, students should be aware of the potential for on-campus housing crunches at their schools. Incoming high school seniors who are starting the college search should decide early whether they want to live on campus in 2009, should be sure to ask questions about housing on their campus visits, and should apply for housing at the earliest possible date. Students currently living on-campus should also be proactive in procuring living arrangements for future semesters. Familiarize yourself with your university's housing policies and housing situation, and be sure you're taking all steps necessary to get the best on-campus housing possible.

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Back to School , College Costs , Tips



Report Encourages Early Access to Course Info

August 6, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

For those of you attending college, this situation is probably very familiar:  new courses get posted, and something with a vague and obtuse title but a promising course number is listed in your major.  You may want to take the course, but you know that if you register without doing further research, your chances at having a stellar schedule will likely go out the window as you're stuck with a class you never meant to choose. I learned this lesson when I wound up in a course called "Language, Society, and Culture" that was listed as an American literature and culture elective but turned out to be an introductory linguistics course--something I had no interest in taking.

At various points in my college career, I often found myself cramming detective work into my already busy schedule as I tried to find out just what a course with an intriguing title was actually going to cover.  As I waited impatiently for e-mails from professors and ran all over campus looking for a mythical department secretary who once saw an early draft of a course description, I often wondered "why couldn't they just post this information online?"

A recent report issued by the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in North Carolina echoes this sentiment.  The report recommends that professors publish syllabi online and do so early, preferably right around when courses open up for registration, so that students get a better idea of the courses they're taking, the work expected of them, and the material they will need to cover, and thus will be more likely to succeed and less likely to drop the class.  Additionally, it also will allow students, departments, and other groups to make comparisons between professors easier, will aid in determining transfer credits (if your new school can see the number of papers you wrote for your half-completed English major, maybe you won't get stuck retaking Composition I), and will aid in the sharing of information among professors.  In other words, online syllabus sharing is a good thing for everyone and more professors should do it.

For those of you still working on the college search, this makes a great question to add to your list to ask during your campus visit.  Ask whether professors have resources available to post syllabi online and how many of them actually take advantage of the option. Little details can make a big difference when it comes to choosing the right college.

As colleges continue to add online courses and to encourage online components in traditional courses, expect more professors to post syllabi online.  In the meantime, a little encouragement couldn't hurt.  Next time you find yourself in unfamiliar parts of campus trying to find out the reading list for a class that could potentially help you fulfill all your college goals, consider printing a copy of this report and giving it to the instructor in question.
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Consider Bringing a Bike to College

August 7, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Earlier this week, I blogged about two community colleges whose students could save money by attending college full-time on Fridays.  One of the most significant savings of this program will be gas costs for commuter students. Full time Fridays are by no means the only way for students to save money on gas and car maintenance this fall, though.  According to a recent article in USA Today, several colleges are getting on the bandwagon of encouraging students not to drive to campus, including several colleges that are instituting a bike sharing program, one that's moving a bike shop into its student union, and one that's giving free bikes to students who opt not to bring cars with them to college.

So now more than ever, leaving the car at home may be a great way to save money in college, and use that hard-earned scholarship money for other expenses besides gas.  While policies to discourage driving have existed for years at some campuses, such as high parking permit prices ($300 is a number I've heard from students at more than one state college) and limiting access to on-campus parking through means such as parking permit lotteries and limiting parking to upperclassmen, many colleges and universities seem to be showing a far greater commitment to making it possible for students to easily get around without a vehicle.

So, freshmen, as you're starting to pack for school this fall, ask yourselves, "Do I really need a car on campus?"  Furthermore, look to see what your new college might be doing to help students get around town.  Is there good public transportation?  Are there bike racks outside campus buildings and bike lanes on campus or around town?  Does your school have a bike sharing program or a bike club or repair shop that will help you with maintenance and repairs?  High school seniors, these might be good questions to ask in your college search.

With our society becoming increasingly environmentally conscious, now could be a great time to propose a fuel-saving plan at your high school or college, as well.  More and more scholarships and grants are being awarded to students who create eco-friendly projects, so if you're sick of having to drive to school and you can propose a solution to the problem, start searching for available scholarships and grants to see if anyone's interested in funding your education, or at least your project.  Saving on gas, looking good for college admissions, and possibly getting some money out of the deal--what's to lose?
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Preparing for College: the End-of-Summer Checklist

August 13, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

It's that time again! Most students attending college will be starting school in the coming weeks, and as move-in day and the first day of classes approach, now is a good time to make sure you're all set to begin the semester.  Once you know you're ready to go, you can sit back and enjoy what remains of your summer, possibly even squeezing in a last-minute camping trip or road trip. 

     
  1. First, and most importantly, make sure your bills are paid.  Have you gotten a tuition statement from your school?  How about a financial aid award notice if you're using financial aid to pay for school?  Make sure you've signed everything you need to sign, especially if it's your first year of college.  Also check with scholarship providers and your financial aid office if you have not yet received any scholarship money you've been awarded for the fall or heard about your school receiving it.
  2.  
  3. Be aware of dates and deadlines.  When do classes start?  When is financial aid disbursed?  When is your bill due?  When can you move into your dorm or apartment?  Is there an orientation program you need to attend before school starts?  Do you still need to register or choose classes?  Write down all the important dates and times you have to remember for the start of the term and make sure you don't have any scheduling conflicts.
  4.  
  5. Look for syllabi and book lists online for your courses, while also making sure that no classes has been canceled, rescheduled, or given to a different instructor in your absence.  Comparison shop for textbooks, especially if your bookstore lists prices on the website, and buy as many books online as possible.
  6.  
  7. Know what you need to bring.  Talk with roommates if you're going to have any to make sure you don't bring duplicate items or have to go without important items.  A lack of communication and planning can leave you with an odd assortment like three couches, five floor lamps, two coffee tables and four end tables, but no microwave or silverware.
  8.  
  9. Pack and plan your move well in advance.  If you're moving into a dorm or apartment, make sure you know what you plan to bring and whether it will fit into available vehicles.  If you need to reserve a moving truck, do so soon.  The better an idea you have of what you're bringing and what size space you're moving into, the better you'll be able to coordinate the move.  Also, leaving packing until the last minute leads to leaving things behind, such as your toothbrush and razor, your favorite DVD, or that ugly dress your mom swore she'd throw out the second you weren't looking (and don't you think she won't do it).  While some of this stuff can be bought at college, you'll have to do without the rest until your next visit home (or possibly forever if you have younger siblings angling to annex your bedroom and all abandoned possessions).
  10.  
 While the above items are likely not all you'll have to take care of before you leave (convincing your dad that they do oil changes in your college town is a project in itself), they should help you get started and ease your transition back to school.

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Posted Under:

Back to School , Tips



Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

August 14, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

For everyone currently slogging their way through scholarship applications and college placement tests, as well as all of you gearing up for Composition, Creative Writing, or other English-related classes, here's a bit of fun.  Take a break from writing your own bids for essay scholarships and enjoy some really bad writing.  San Jose State University just announced the 2008 winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, an annual challenge to craft the worst opening line for a novel.  Named after the man who penned the famous opening line "It was a dark and stormy night," the competition seeks to give proper recognition to terrible prose.

This year's winner was penned by Garrison Spik of Washington, DC: 

Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped "Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J."
 Submissions are open year-round and people of any age or circumstance in life can enter, but be advised: most of the award in winning this contest is the joy of having your truly awful words in print. The contest is sponsored by an English department, so the official monetary prize is "a pittance" (for those not familiar with what a pittance is, just ask your composition instructor--they can most likely produce a pay stub).  As fun as this contest would be to enter, it's not going to take you very far towards funding your education.

Even if you decide not to try your hand at fiction, perusing the Bulwer-Lytton contest winners could enrich your life in other ways beyond simple entertainment.  See all of those flowery, adjective-rich lines that seem to go on forever with their archaic and polysyllabic prose that looks like what would happen if someone cut the thesaurus apart and taped it back together to form a sentence?  That would be writing to avoid submitting to scholarship essay contests ( poetry contests, too).  While flexing your writing to its full extent is always tempting, there are limits.  When a sentence becomes difficult to read and a metaphor, image, anecdote, or quote is stretched further than it can reasonably go, or plopped down with no clear context provided, an otherwise brilliant attempt at winning scholarships can fall flat.  Even though School House Rock tells you to unpack your adjectives, the Bulwer-Lytton contest reminds us that in some instances it may be wise to leave a few of them put away.

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Reminder: Spell Check Isn't Always Correct

August 29, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

An article that appeared yesterday in the UK's Times Higher Education carries an important reminder for students attending college on both sides of the pond: don't trust spell check to always suggest the right word.  The publication's recently revived contest for the best college exam bloopers asked professors to submit anonymous examples of some of their students' worst for-credit writing.  Most of the entries highlighted in the article are a case of students accidentally using a different word than what they meant.

If you're not the best speller, you may want to take these examples to heart and remember to use the dictionary to look up the meanings and spellings of words you're not sure of, rather than simply relying on a spell checker or guessing. For example, "academic" and "epidemic" may sound similar, but they carry very different meanings.  And don't think these mistakes are something that only the stereotypical stuffy tweed-clad British professor will notice--anyone in the business of evaluating writing is likely to pick up on errors of meaning in essay writing.

This advice applies not only to essays you'll write for introductory college courses, but also to college applications and scholarship application essays, as well.  Many students run their entries for scholarship essay contests through a spellchecker of some sort (though some don't even do that), but a surprising number of students fail to take the next step and make sure that the words they're using mean what they think they mean.  Over-reliance on the thesaurus can produce a similar effect.  While the denotative meanings of two words may appear to be closely related, their connotations could be worlds apart.

While using the wrong word in your essays can produce unintentionally hilarious effects, it probably won't help your chances of winning scholarships.  So before you seal that envelope or press that submit button, pull out the dictionary and read back through your scholarship application.  If you are not 100% sure you're using the right word in any place, double-check.  It might make the difference between winning a scholarship award and having your work entered in a different contest like the one mentioned above.

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Back to School , Scholarships , Tips



College Living Expenses Can Add Up Quickly

September 3, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Don't forget about spending money when planning for college costs.  This advice comes from Alabama's Birmingham News, which spoke with some students, parents, and financial aid administrators in the state about dealing with expenses that fall outside of paying tuition and room and board.  However, Alabama students and families are by no means the only ones not sure how to deal with how much living at college will cost.

Financial aid offices typically figure a few thousand dollars into a student's cost of attendance estimate to cover such expenses as gas, car maintenance, toiletries, clothes, entertainment, and food and drinks not from the dining center, but actual experiences vary widely among students.  Some college students certainly choose the spartan lifestyle of staying in the dorm, using their meal plan, and biking around campus to attend free school-sponsored activities.  Others fail to resist the urge to splurge, doing their studying at the all night diner just a short drive from campus or swinging by the mall for some retail therapy and a movie after a particularly grueling week of class.  I was certainly in the latter category, despite my best intentions of being thrifty and only spending what I earned working at my work-study job (work-study, for those unfamiliar, is a campus-based aid program that is more easily used to cover living expenses than tuition).

But don't assume the worst and rush out to borrow an extra $10,000 to cover unforseen expenses.  Instead, practice some basic money management.  Take an honest look at your spending habits and how much you'll realistically want to scale them back to save money.  Then look at how much you can earn while in school without getting off-track for graduation, and start figuring out how to make up any differences between the two.  A summer job or an extra scholarship award or two could give you enough money to survive the next 9 months without having to resort to student loans to fix your car, get you home for Christmas, or feed you until you land a new job.  As a recent grad who looked to borrowing as the easy way out of tight financial situations, believe me, those little loan amounts add up.

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More Colleges Offer Financial Literacy Programs

September 4, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

For many students, the college experience can be a financial minefield.  Even if they manage to avoid the lure of blowing their financial aid check on a plasma TV or a brand new car, there are thousands of other potential pitfalls.  These include the credit card companies lining the main drag of campus offering free college t-shirts to anyone who signs up for their card; your first dorm or apartment to outfit and decorate; and then all of the opportunities for shopping, dining, and entertainment that a college town provides.  And we haven't even gotten to the actual act of paying tuition yet!  Even if your scholarship search was fruitful and you were able to find money for college, there's still the chance of overspending and winding up turning to less wise solutions to make it to the end of the term.

So how are students supposed to survive college without unnecessary credit card or student loan debt?  Many schools are offering money management courses and one-on-one financial counseling services to help students be more judicious with their college funds.  I can certainly think of some lessons I could've used as an undergrad, like "3 AM is not dinner time," its corollary, "espresso is not an adequate substitute for sleep," and of course, "you don't have to buy it just because it's on sale."  Being forced to budget out just how much that 10-block drive to class (plus the 15 minutes of circling the "good" parking lot for a spot) actually cost me that last year of school would've also been helpful.

Now students at numerous colleges in several states can choose to educate themselves and avoid learning similar life lessons the hard way.  Unfortunately, many of these programs go under-publicized and under-utilized, as budgeting honestly isn't fun, and many students may be afraid that setting a budget means giving up their college lifestyle, staying at home, and having to go on a budget diet.  However, the Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that students can benefit immensely from financial literacy courses, and anecdotal evidence suggests these students take on less debt and have an easier time transitioning into the "real world" after graduation.  Courses are often offered to incoming freshmen or graduating seniors, with counseling services typically being made available to any students currently attending college.  If you're interested in finding out about how to stretch your college fund, student loans, or scholarship money further, check with your college to see if they offer any of these services.

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