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Colleges Have Facebook and Know How To Find You

April 29, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

By now you've probably been told at least once to be careful what information you put online.  A survey conducted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling serves as a reminder of just how many people might be viewing your online presence, and just how high the stakes can be.

According to results published in Inside Higher Education, 26 percent of colleges admit to running students' names through search engines, while 21 percent use social networking sites, such as Facebook.  While this is far from everyone, it's still a significant portion of schools, and if you apply to even four or five, there's a chance that at least one of those schools has a policy of checking up on at least some prospective students.

This doesn't mean you need to agonize over the psychological implications of every single status update, though.  Schools that report viewing students' online profiles do so primarily in the context of reviewing candidates for prestigious scholarship awards or highly competitive degree programs, mostly to make sure nothing potentially embarrassing to the program surfaces when your name is announced.  Setting debates over privacy and potential discrimination aside for a moment, this information should give you an idea of what you should and should not post, and why.

If you're applying for scholarships or your college search is skewing towards the prestigious and highly competitive, you may want to have a chat with your friends about any incriminating photos they've tagged you in.  Similarly, you may want to avoid publishing any highly offensive or objectionable content on anything that appears high in a list of search results for your name.  All of this is good practice for life, since admission officers are hardly the only people who may think to look into your online life before offering you something you want.  Scholarship providers, internship programs, and future employers may all check out this information.

So before starting your scholarship search or writing your college application essays, do a search for your name and see what comes up.  If it's something that may embarrass you or hurt your chances of winning scholarships or gaining admission to your dream school, consider deleting it.  Maintaining a professional image online is going to benefit you in both the short and long term.

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High School Seniors: Your Last Semester Still Matters

May 7, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

We're now a solid week into May, and for most high school seniors, that means a switch back from obsessively worrying about making it into college to concentrating on the more immediate task of trying to make it to graduation while finalizing those all-important summer plans.  Once AP exams are out of the way and college deposits are paid, it can be tempting to shift focus entirely away from schoolwork and towards enjoying your last days as a high school student.

However, an article in USA Today warns that the temptation to just coast through the last days, weeks, or even months of one's senior year of high school can carry dire consequences this year.  Colleges typically request a final transcript once you've officially graduated from high school, and often include language in their admission letter saying that their decision is contingent on receiving this information.  While colleges have always given this final semester at least a cursory glance, in previous years, they have tended to largely be forgiving.  But as with nearly everything else in college admissions, this year may be different.

Many schools are admitting more students and adding more names to their wait lists due to a larger group of applicants and greater uncertainty about where students will end up attending college.  As a result, it's more possible now than ever that some schools will overfill their freshman class, prompting them to need to rescind some admission invitations, while others may find themselves drawing extensively from the wait list, meaning students who may not have been reevaluated at all are having their transcripts scrutinized for possible acceptance into their dream school.

Students are encouraged to let colleges know if any problems have come up that might jeopardize their acceptance for fall.  Your college would rather hear from you than your high school, especially if you are able to explain extenuating circumstances and how the situation has been addressed.  This is generally good policy if you find yourself falling short of requirements after something's been awarded, whether it's acceptance into a program or a college scholarship.  On the same note, letting schools know if something fantastic has happened your final semester of school also couldn't hurt.  For example, if your GPA has jumped and you are now eligible for more financial aid at your college, contact the school and see if there is still funding.  I know people who have found themselves awarded university scholarships as late as July, and every time it was because they contacted the school, explained their situation, and asked about the award.

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College Presidents Tackle Application Essays

May 14, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Here's something fun for students who have just finished the college application process, and something instructive for students who are about to start. The Wall Street Journal challenged college presidents to write an admission essay to their own institution, based on this year's admission essay prompts. An article about the problems they faced was published last week, along with the end results of their efforts.

While college presidents don't typically serve on admission committees, the article still gives an interesting insight into what colleges may be looking for, as well as how highly educated people respond to the same questions high school seniors are asked to tackle each year.  There's good advice in here for high school juniors, and high school seniors may receive some comfort from the knowledge that even college presidents still struggle when faced with the task of writing a good college application essay.

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Study Shows Standardized Test Prep Can Pay Off

May 20, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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All Recommendation Letters Are Not Created Equal

August 13, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

It’s always scholarship season around here, and as a scholarship provider ourselves, we thought the weeks before high school and college students return to their respective schools and campuses would be an appropriate time to go over what to do—and not to do—when submitting a recommendation letter in support of your application for an award.

While it probably won’t be expressly stated in any official scholarship rules, there are certain things you should avoid when considering what to do about that recommendation letter requirement, and certain things that will make one letter more impressive than another. This could mean the difference between you and another applicant, so make sure you put some thought into not only filling out the general scholarship application, but what you pass off as your recommendation letter. All recommendation letters are not created equal, and we’ve highlighted some tips for you below to make you a stronger applicant.

  • It is generally inappropriate for you to ask a relative to write your recommendation letter, unless an award expressly asks you to. Your mother, father, sister, grandmother, uncle, cousin, etc. probably think you’re great already, and it may be tough for a scholarship provider to place much weight on such an endorsement.
  • Try to avoid asking family friends, too, unless they have experience working with you in a professional capacity. It may be fine for you to ask a family friend to write your letter if they were your community service supervisor, for example, but you should probably go another route if they only know you on a personal level.
  • Keep it relevant. Take a look at the experiences you’ve had that relate to the scholarship in question. If it’s a general essay scholarship, talk to a former teacher at your high school or professor if you’re a college student. And ask those educators to submit their letters on letterhead; it isn’t overkill to make your application look as professional as possible.
  • Consult your resume. If it’s a scholarship related to a particular field of study that you have some work experience in, talk to former employers or internship coordinators. They certainly know better than anyone about your experience in that field, and it could boost your application to give the scholarship provider some evidence of your passion for a particular field.
Check out our site for more tips on asking for that scholarship letter of recommendation. And remember: a scholarship provider will be looking at your application as a whole, so even if you’ve written a stellar essay, missing a piece of the listed requirements or submitting a weak attempt at any of the requirements will probably put you out of the running for that award.
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Why So Serious? Course Promotes Laughter as More Than Best Medicine

August 24, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

There hasn’t been much to laugh about at many schools across the country, what with budget cuts and creative cost-saving measures affecting course offerings and faculty positions. At one North Carolina community college, however, a new course is teaching students how to chuckle, giggle and guffaw, no matter how they feel about the state of affairs outside of the classroom.

While the class is targeted at retirees—the noncredit eight-week “Laughter in the Sandhills” is put on by Sandhills Community College’s Center for Creative Retirement—it’s a good example of the kinds of offerings you may not know existed as you focus your attentions instead on the general education requirements in your course catalog. This class is taught by a “certified laughter coach,” according to an article about it in The Fayetteville Observer, and focuses on the positive health benefits behind a good laugh and the right and wrong way to let out a chortle. The class isn’t about perfecting your stand-up comedy routine, but about learning to induce laughter; students spend about 15 minutes of the start of each class greeting each other with silly handshakes, for example, or high-fiving to the sounds of “Alo-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.”

If you’re more interested in virtual LOLs rather than learning appropriate laughter techniques, and have the time (and funding) to explore unique courses at your college, do so. You may not use your new underwater basket weaving skills (courses in the craft are offered at the University of California-San Diego), but you may meet some interested characters along the way. Or you may find a hidden talent for analyzing pop culture (the University of California-Berkeley has a class on the philosophy behind the Simpsons). Or, that quirky course may even add to your skill set. Courses on social networking, especially Twitter, for example, may be more useful than you think. (DePaul University has a course in how Twitter has changed the way reporters do their jobs.)

It’s important to choose college courses wisely so that you’re able to graduate in a timely fashion and meet the requirements of both your school and chosen field of study. But it’s also important that you keep going to your classes, and a fun course here and there may help keep you motivated. We’ve all taken that intro to bowling/ice skating/curling course, and some colleges may be more lenient about how you fulfill certain general education requirements. Just remember to talk to your counselor or adviser about how much leeway you have when it comes to coming up with your schedule of courses.

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Give Yourself a Gift: Apply for Scholarships During Winter Break

December 30, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

For the most part, holiday festivities are over, but most college students, as well as some high school students, still have weeks left of their winter breaks. Gifts have been opened, food has been eaten, and relatives and old friends have been visited. As boredom and cabin fever set in, you may even find yourself longing for campus. But even going back to college comes with a catch: that giant spring semester tuition bill awaiting you when you return.

Here's a strategy to both combat boredom and tackle that tuition statement: use your winter break to apply for scholarships. Your brain is recovered enough from fall finals and the multi-day holiday food coma, but hasn't yet sunken into a daytime TV-induced daze. You're at home with your family and they're probably all too eager to help you find new ways to pay for college (your mom might even stop hinting about helping more around the house while you're home).

On top of the good timing in your life, it's also a good time in the award cycle for most scholarships. The majority of awards have scholarship application deadlines in the next few months, many of which are likely to fall right after a major test or right in the middle of that big spring break trip you're planning. To avoid dashing off a half-hearted scholarship application at the last minute when you don't have time, it's a good idea to start the application process now, submitting application early in the application period and showing your high level of interest in the award. Some scholarship contests cut off applications early if they've reached a maximum number of applicants, so that's another reason to apply earlier, rather than later.

In addition to a clear head, more time to work on your scholarship application, and the best chance of getting your application considered, you may also find you have more resources available to you in January than you will in April or May. You probably have friends or siblings, or possibly even a favorite English teacher from high school with enough free time to give feedback on your applications, and if you can contact teachers or professors, they can probably find time in the next few weeks to write you a glowing letter of recommendation. When you head back to campus, you might even be able to run your scholarship essay past the university writing center--typically traffic there is relatively sparse until the first paper of the semester is assigned. Even printing and mailing may be easier, as you either have a freshly reset campus printing budget or a little extra change in your pocket from break.

So what are you waiting for? Go forth and start your scholarship search. By taking your time to write scholarship-worthy essays now, you can spend your spring semester kicking back and waiting for the scholarship money to arrive.

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FAFSA Available Starting Tomorrow, Jan. 1

December 31, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

One of the most important steps you'll need to take in the financial aid application process is applying for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The Department of Education starts accepting the FAFSA Jan. 1 of each year, which just so happens to be tomorrow. So start your new year off right by filing that financial aid document, or filing a renewal FAFSA if this isn't your first time. State financial aid deadlines fall as early as February, so it's best to get a head start and know how much funding you can expect come next fall.

Both the FAFSA and renewal FAFSA are available online through Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education. Completing the FAFSA online will speed up processing and leave less time for you to worry about how much financial aid you'll be receiving. Remember that it doesn't cost anything to fill out your FAFSA - the FAFSA is free - and some agencies will charge you for filling the application out for you. Once you complete the online form, you’ll be able to check its status, make any corrections as needed, and print your Student Aid Report once that is ready. (Your Student Aid Report summarizes what you've filled out on your FAFSA, and provides you with an Expected Family Contribution, or the total you and your family would be expected to come up with to fund your education.) If you aren’t comfortable filling out your FAFSA online, you can submit a paper form, but it does take longer to process than the online form.

In order to complete your FAFSA, you'll need the following:

  • your Social Security number
  • your driver’s license number (if you have one)
  • your bank statements and records of investments (if you have any)
  • your records of untaxed income (if you have any)
  • your most recent tax return and W2s (2008 for the 2009-2010 FAFSA)
  • all of the above from your parents if you are considered a dependent
  • an electronic PIN to sign the form online

We have a number of resources available to those filling out their FAFSAs and preparing to apply for federal aid. Browse through our site so that you know exactly where to begin, what to expect, and how to file the application successfully, because if you do make mistakes you may delay the processing of your FAFSA. Happy New Year!

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Tuition Discounts to Attend College Out-of-State

January 12, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

To make up for budget cuts and other difficulties caused by the recession, many state colleges, including some prestigious research universities, have begun admitting more out-of-state students, who typically pay more in tuition than in-state students. While this could make getting into a top school in your own state more challenging, this shift does present some unique opportunities. If you're starting your college search, you may want to consider applying to state colleges in neighboring states. You can get a bargain on tuition compared to private colleges, and there may even be tuition discounts and scholarship opportunities to further help you further bring down costs.

University systems and state higher education agencies offer tuition discounts for certain out-of-state students, bringing down your tuition costs to anywhere from 100% to 150% of in-state tuition: as much as a 50-75% discount on the regular out-of-state rate. High-achieving students, children of alumni, and residents of neighboring towns or states may qualify for programs at specific universities or for certain state scholarships.

If you have specific schools in mind, look to see if they offer discounts for students in your situation. Many large public universities will have some program in place to offset costs for out-of-state students. State colleges and universities near borders may also offer a discounted rate to students living just across a state line.

State-wide tuition discounts also exist. Students in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin can take advantage of a wide-ranging tuition reciprocity agreement: Minnesota's public colleges and universities charge in-state tuition for students from the Dakotas and Wisconsin, and schools in those states return the favor for Minnesota residents. Minnesota also has similar agreements with Manitoba and some community colleges in Iowa.

The Southern Regional Educational Board offers the Academic Common Market for students in the southeastern United States pursuing specialized degrees at schools out-of-state. Students who qualify to participate in ACM are able to pay in-state tuition at the school they attend, provided their degree program is not offered by any colleges in their home state.

Other regional tuition exchange programs offer students a chance to go to school out-of-state at a special discounted rate. The two largest of these programs are the Western Undergraduate Exchange and the Midwest Student Exchange Program. Both allow students to attend participating state colleges for 150% of in-state tuition, and MSEP also allows students to receive a 10% discount on tuition at participating private colleges.

If you want to attend school out-of-state, you may also be able to qualify for in-state tuition by becoming a resident of the state. Check the residency requirements of the state and the school where you want to attend college--while some will not allow college students to apply for resident tuition, others happily grant residency to students. A recent article by Kim Clark in U.S. News gives some other tips for how to get in-state tuition at out-of-state schools.

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Major Decisions: Take Your Time When Choosing Your Field of Study

January 13, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

High school seniors preparing for college and the task of choosing a major may be more aware now than ever before about the repercussions of choosing one field of study over another. Sure, the economy is looking like it could rebound this year, but all of those who lost their jobs in the crisis - many of whom have quite a bit more experience to boast than a recent college graduate - will be causing more competitiveness on the job market for years to come.

Should you sacrifice where your interests are for what you think may be a more secure, safe major? An opinion piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week says "no." Obviously you need to exhibit some marketable skills to land a job post-graduation, but many of those skills are things you're able to pick up on your own. (The article gives the example of computer science majors. Many of the things you'll learn as a computer science major could be obsolete in the real world by the time you graduate, as those technologies are typically very fast-paced and ever-changing.)

It's also probably not a good idea to go into a field you have no interest in just because your parents think that major will land you an impressive salary later on. If you don't have a knack for a particular field of study, chances are greater that you won't do well in your core classes, and potentially even flunk out of school. You really won't be making that great salary if "college dropout" is a part of your resume. If you're interested in English, go for it. You'd be surprised to learn the premium employers place on good writing and communication skills. And if you're at the University of Texas at Austin, the course "The English Major in the Workplace" will offer you tips on building a resume, interviewing, and networking - skills that are important in all fields of study.

On the other side is the idea of "careerism," or that intense desire to succeed professionally. Schools are beginning to see this as a good thing, introducing ways to improve their graduates' chances when they're ready to start looking for jobs and to help those students worried about what they're going to do with their degrees. An article in the New York Times recently discussed ways colleges were adapting to a difficult economy by making drastic changes to their curricula. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette has gotten rid of its philosophy major; Michigan State University did the same with American studies and classics. Declining enrollments in those fields suggested the students, at those schools, not administrators, were looking to more practical majors that would make them more marketable job candidates.

If you're able to, dabble a bit. You may not even know what you want to major in as soon as you get on campus. Reflect on where you'd like to see yourself after college, and what your goals are while you're in college. For some a high-paying major may be just the ticket. Others may not be left-brained enough to become engineers and computer technicians. It's fine to take some time to think about what you'd like to spend the next two to four years doing.

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