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by Agnes Jasinski

If you’re an incoming freshman new to the idea of communal living, there’s something you should know. You may not be instant best friends with your new roommate. Random pairings are just that: random. And a recent article in The New York Times describes just how bad new undergraduates have gotten at managing even the minutest problems. 

According to the article, students are getting more passive aggressive, using technology and social networking to vent rather than confronting an annoying roommate. One director of housing says students text one another while they’re in the same room rather than talking out a disagreement. Or their complaints will go “public” via Facebook, with the other roommate finding out on the website that there’s trouble brewing in their living space. Students won’t even tell noisy dorm-mates to quiet down, according to a recent focus group at North Carolina State University.

Another problem is more parents getting involved in the conflicts, rather than the students handling their roommate issues themselves, according to the article. Most colleges have mediation services or resident advisers at the ready to handle these problems, but few students take advantage.

But there are ways to make a mismatch work. If you’re aware of the common roommate problems before you move in, like borrowing personal items without the roommate’s permission or messy living habits, you may be more prepared to handle them. If you think you may be the problem, it may be time for a bit of self-reflection. It’s probably not a bad idea, for example, to learn how to not eat food that isn’t yours. 

If it gets really bad, most colleges have systems in place that allow students to swap out their roommates. At Loyola University in Chicago, students are able to move out of their rooms if they find other students to trade places with them, according to the Times article. The school gives unhappy roommates a little help with organized “swap nights,” where they are able to meet other students looking for improved living situations. The University of Florida has introduced the Facebook tool RoomBug as a move away from random assignments. The application allows students to give more detailed responses on what they’d like to see in a roommate, and to match themselves with profiles they feel may be a good fit. Whatever your situation, don’t take a failed roommate situation too personally. By sophomore year, more than 70 percent of freshman year roommates are no longer living together, choosing instead to bunk with friends they make freshman year.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A college freshman goes through a wide range of emotions when it's time to leave home. Many are a little nervous, but mostly excited, with a laundry list of things to do before they're able to relax about their first round of courses. It's probably for the best then for parents to get back on the road and leave new freshmen to their orientations and campus exploring, right? For some parents, seeing their first son or daughter go to away to college has been harder than most.

A recent article in The New York Times took a look programs at colleges across the country that aim to make the transition easier for both incoming freshmen and their parents. According to the article, a formal “Parting Ceremony” at Morehouse College involves literally shutting the gate to the campus as the newly enrolled are left on one side, their parents on the other. At Colgate and Princeton universities, school officials are quick to remind parents that student-only activities start the afternoon or early evening of move-in day. At Grinnell College, a formal welcoming from the school’s president keeps parents on one side of the college gym, students on the other.

The article is one of several lately on “helicopter parents,” or moms and dads who can’t help but involve themselves in every aspect of their children’s lives. While moving day may be an important milestone for college students to share with their parents, especially if they’re the only child, it’s also important for parents to realize that this is their freshman’s first taste of independence. And they won’t learn how to be self-sufficient if mom and dad are hovering.

A recent article in The Chicago Tribune looked at how technology has made helicopter parenting even easier, leading with the story of a 19-year-old college sophomore who has a frequent texting relationship with her mother back home. Administrators say constant communication becomes a problem when parents start taking the lead on their children’s schedules and social lives. According to the Tribune article, some call to remind their sons and daughters about upcoming exams or other deadlines, and are the first point of contact when laundry issues or conflicts with other students and professors arise.

Having a close relationship with your parents is great, but it’s also important to use college as a period of self-discovery. Set up boundaries (do you really need to be Facebook friends with mom and dad?) and make sure that you’re taking advantage of your first stab at independence. And worse comes to worse, you can always study abroad.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Whether you’re a recent graduate or a college student looking for an internship or job while still in school, there are some universal things you should know about to remain competitive while you search, especially when it comes to the moments leading up to, during, and after an interview.

If you’ve landed an interview, we’re assuming you did a good job writing a persuasive cover letter and impressive resume. That first meeting with a potential employer, though, may require some preparation, and don’t think your work is done even after you feel like you nailed the interview. Below, we walk you through the before, during, and after of a typical job interview. Pay attention, and you could be the standout in that employer’s pool of applicants. And believe us, there’s always a pretty big pool competing for one position.

Before

Before you arrive to your interview it’s important to do your research not only about the company or organization you’re interviewing with, but on questions you could ask that would show you’ve done your homework. Don’t plan to ask things that are easily found in a Google search. Put together copies of everything you’ve already sent over to the employer, and bring additional materials that may be relevant to the job. If you haven’t already, Google yourself, and make sure any public profiles on social networking sites don’t include any inappropriate information or photos from the last frat party. Make sure you're using an appropriate email address. Conduct a mock interview or two if you’re able. Thanks to your research, you should have a good idea of the kinds of things the employer will ask and expect of a potential new hire.

During

Arrive on time, obviously, or even a few minutes early. Do not show-up too early, though. Being 15 or 20 minutes early is almost as bad as being more than a couple minutes late. Your interviewer may have a busy schedule and arriving too early might take away from their preparation time, as they are probably going over your resume prior to your arrival. Be professional, and no matter the job and how casual you think the environment will be, dress in business casual at the very least. (The motto “dress for the job you want, not for the job you have” has a point.) Once the interview begins, don’t let nerves get the best of you and badmouth your former boss/job, make inappropriate jokes/comments, or over-share with any irrelevant details about your personal life. Be confident, but don’t be cocky. Make sure to get in those questions you worked so hard to come up with in the days leading up to the interview, and leave the employer with a sense that you really want this position.

After

It doesn’t matter whether you think you aced or bombed the interview. You’ll need to follow-up with an email at the very least. If you haven’t heard from the employer for a while (make sure you ask when you should hear back from them), it is fine to check in. Likewise if you have any lingering questions that came up since the interview. But don’t be a bother. The employer will be in touch with you if you’re the one they want.


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by Agnes Jasinski

While you’re unpacking a semester’s worth of your belongings in your shared dorm room, there are other recent high school graduates packing up for different adventures—volunteer experiences abroad, internships across the country, or backpacking trips through Europe. These students are taking a “gap year,” or time off from the traditional college experience.

The gap year is a popular option in Europe, where students opt out of university-level coursework in favor of experiences they feel will make them wiser and more independent. But the idea has also grown in popularity in the United States. USA Today announced a new blog this week from Mira Fishman, who will be leaving her home in Ann Arbor in three weeks not to go to college, but to volunteer abroad. She’ll spend six months in Buenos Aires at a nonprofit, then another six months in a “grittier city.” She hopes to improve upon her Spanish and boost her resume, and as her plans were worked out independently rather than through the dozens of organized gap year programs out there, she hopes to keep to a strict budget.

Despite the high cost of organized gap year programs—some run up to $20,000 for the year—they’re also growing in popularity, especially among those who want a bit more structure to their gap year. Such programs promise a support network for gap year students, and experiences that are crafted to the interests of the student. Students like Fishman, however, may prefer a gap year that requires more independence and responsibility. An article several years ago in USA Today described “gappers” who completed internships at software start-ups, explored careers to clarify what they’d like to do in college before enrolling, and learned life skills at manual labor jobs. (One student interviewed worked as a deckhand on a “floating classroom” in Baltimore.)

Taking time off may also be an option for those who weren’t able to get in to the school of their choice, although that time off may be spent becoming a more attractive candidate to that chosen college. The gap year then becomes more of a “bridge year,” where the college-bound look to enhance their applications by taking—and acing—courses at the local community college, volunteering, or pursuing internships in their intended fields of study. Bridge years also exist for those already admitted to college; at Princeton University, officials have introduced a bridge year program for admitted students where they pursue service work abroad before coming to campus the following year.

Are you taking a gap year? What are the pros and cons of taking time off before committing to college? Are traditional study abroad programs through your college the right way to go if you're looking to go overseas? Tell us your stories!


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by Agnes Jasinski

A new survey looking at entering community college students' opinions on the obstacles they face during their first year found that those students need more guidance to succeed as they transition from high school to higher education.

The study, released yesterday, was the ongoing Survey of Entering Student Engagement (SENSE), which was first given to poll students in 2006. Since then, more than 91,000 students have been polled, with the results used by community colleges to improve preparedness programs and tactics to help new students achieve. The survey this time around looked at data from more than 50,000 students at 120 participating community colleges in 31 states and the Marshall Islands.

The survey looks to examine the first three weeks of new community college students' experiences at their respective colleges. Most of the respondents felt their colleges were doing a good job with the welcome wagons, and making them feel comfortable in their new surroundings. But others still felt more could be done to help them prepare for college, and to navigate administrative processes that seemed complicated at times. The findings included the following:

  • About 72 percent agreed or strongly agreed that they felt welcome the first time they came to their colleges; 25 percent expressed no opinion on this item, which concerned the providers of the SENSE survey.
  • About 49 percent said they agree or strongly agree that their colleges provided them with adequate information about financial aid, while 25 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed.
  • About 33 percent agreed or strongly agreed that a college staff member helped them determine whether they qualified for financial assistance; 40 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed.
  • About 45 percent agreed or strongly agreed that at least one college staff member (other than an instructor) learned their names, compared with 37 percent who disagreed or strongly disagreed.
  • About 23 percent said that a specific person was assigned to them so they could see that person each time they needed information or assistance.
  • About 90 percent agreed or strongly agreed that they have the motivation to succeed in college, but about a quarter of those students also admitted to skipping class or failing to turn an assignment in at least once.

According to an analysis of the survey from Inside Higher Ed yesterday, the results point to the missed opportunities that face students and administrators on a daily basis on community college campuses. When students were asked to elaborate on their answers using short answers, some said they were forced to make decisions on choosing college courses, for example, with little guidance from their counselors, something they could well enough do on their own. The article also pointed to contradictions in the study; for example, students responded that they enjoyed the access they had to college staff members, but still felt unprepared to navigate college processes.

The providers of the survey suggest more needs to be done to engage students, and that administrators should take regular looks at their processes to make them even more easy to access by students who may need more help as first-year community college students.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Whether it's about a little cross-promotion or getting students' hands on the latest technologies out there, Seton Hill University will join a handful of other colleges across the country in offering students the iPad, Apple's newest tablet computer.

The school will begin distributing the iPad to its 2,100 students this fall; every full-time student is eligible to receive one. (Often, similar offerings are limited to incoming freshmen.) According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the effort is part of the school's Griffin Technology Advantage program, which will expand hybrid and fully online course offerings at the college. The program does come at a cost. Students will see an additional $500 fee tacked on to their tuition and fee bills to cover a wireless campus. The school will absorb the costs of the iPads themselves.

Many schools currently offer their students laptops and computers to supplement course curricula or level the playing field for those who come onto their campuses unable to afford new technology. At Seton Hill, incoming freshmen also receive 13-inch MacBooks, with the option to request an opt-in to the program for sophomores, juniors, and seniors. George Fox University is getting on the iPad bandwagon as well, offering incoming freshmen the choice between the tablet and a MacBook. That school has been offering students computers - as part of their tuition - for the last 20 years. Duke University offered incoming students iPods between 2004 and 2006; Oklahoma Christian University has been offering students Apple laptop computers and iPhones or an iPod Touch since 2008; Abilene Christian University has been offering students iPhones since 2008 as well.

Technology on college campuses is here to stay, despite a persistent technology gap - or the perception of a technology gap - on some college campuses. Social networking in particular has become more common in college coursework. Students in a journalism course at Depaul University, for example, have been using Twitter as a research tool and learning how to use the site to supplement their reporting techniques. At Harper College, a one-time course there showed students how to use Facebook and Twitter from a business perspective.

What kinds of technology tools are being used at your college? Does your school offer laptops, desktops, or other technologies as part of your college experience?


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by Agnes Jasinski

If you're a decent writer, essay scholarships may be your opportunity to shine and win awards to help you cover your college costs. This week's Scholarship of the Week doesn't ask for things like your race or financial status. All it asks for is an essay and verification that you'll be enrolled in at least three credit hours this summer or fall.

The Alvin Cox Memorial Scholarship asks applicants to write an essay on what you've probably already thought about - their reasons for deciding to go to college. (An essay like this could also easily be retooled to serve other purposes, from personal statements to other awards that have broad essay requirements.) The fund was created in 2006 in memorial of Alvin Cox, a public school teacher for more than 40 years whose passion was matching students with financial aid opportunities so they may have a way to pay for college. Although the prize money may not seem very impressive, if you're a natural when it comes to the written word, winning several scholarships like this one will make a difference when you're determining how much to borrow to pay for college.

Prize:

15 $700 scholarships, with several smaller award amounts possible as well

Eligibility:

Undergraduates and graduates enrolled in at least three credit hours this summer or fall are eligible to apply. Those attending career schools are also eligible to apply, as long as they describe why they chose a career school in their essays. (About 10 percent of the fund's scholarships are awarded to those attending career schools.) High school students enrolled in dual credit courses that require out-of-pocket expenses are also eligible to apply.

Deadline:

May 31, 2010

Required Material:

Those interested in the scholarship must submit online their name, email address, academic year, and and an essay based on the following: Please discuss any factors that influenced your decision to pursue a college degree. You may discuss any people who affected your decision making process and explain how your decision may have been different without their influence.

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 Agnes Jasinski

Just in time for the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, The Princeton Review has come up with a list of the 286 greenest colleges. The list is based on the notion that the environment has become so important to college students that some would base their college searches on whether or not a school is as concerned as they are about preserving the ecosystem.

The Princeton Review partnered with the U.S. Green Building Council to come up with the list, which gives colleges and universities a “Green Rating” based on their environmentally-related policies, practices, and academic offerings, according to the test prep company. The schools on the list include: Allegheny College, where 40 percent of the food budget is spent on local or organic food and 90 percent of the school grounds are maintained organically; Illinois State University, which opened a Center for Renewable Energy in 2008 and which holds an annual “Healthy You Healthy Earth” environmental fair; Lawrence University, which recently opened a new LEED-certified student center and campus garden that provides produce to the dining hall; and Mills College, which reuses or recycles more than 60 percent of its waste and is working to restore nearby Leona Creek and Lake Aliso as school-wide projects.

Each school that received a “Green Rating” in the 80s or 90s on a scale of 60-99 was included in the ranking, which explains the odd number of schools who made it on the list. While it’s difficult today to find a college that doesn’t feel some responsibility to preserve the environment through recycling or energy conservation programs (which can also save schools struggling to cope with budget shortfalls some money), the list went further than those basic safeguards to determine which schools included “green” thinking in their curricula and broad policies.

An article this week in The Chronicle of Higher Education was skeptical of the list, citing anecdotal evidence of student demands that are not all that “green.”Private rooms and bathrooms and well-equipped recreation and student centers, among other things that would in fact make a college less environmentally-friendly, often top students’ wish lists on what they need out of their college experience, according to the Chronicle article. What do you think? Do you agree that college students are more "green" these days? Would you base your decision on where you plan to go to college on a "Green Rating"?


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by Agnes Jasinski

Many fields of study require or strongly suggest semesters or summers of unpaid, or “educational,” internships, where students get experience in their intended future careers but not pay, and often not even college credit.

To address concerns that some employers may be taking advantage of the opportunity to have eager college students come work for them at no cost, the U.S. Department of Labor released a set of rules Wednesday that clarify the roles of those employers and the students’ colleges. The rules will fall under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which also establishes the minimum wage, overtime pay, and any youth employment standards.

According to the Labor Department, internships may be unpaid if they meet the following six criteria:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week includes comments from some campus officials who worry that the new rules will scare off employers who want to provide educational (but unpaid) experiences to students. One concern is that meeting a set list of criteria leads to more risk for those employers. Others disagree. Janet Nepkie, a professor of music and music industry at the State University of New York at Oneonta, tells the Chronicle she isn’t worried about complying with the new rules, as she has a good working relationship with each employer who “hires” interns from her school. (Nepkie oversees the internship program in her department.)

The Labor Department rules agree with the notion that internships existing as partnerships between employers and colleges are best, and most likely to comply with the new regulations. According to the Labor Department: “The more an internship program is structured around a classroom or academic experience as opposed to the employer’s actual operations, the more likely the internship will be viewed as an extension of the individual’s educational experience (this often occurs where a college or university exercises oversight over the internship program and provides educational credit).”

We know sometimes students have no choice but to apply for internships led by private companies and organizations, and outside of their colleges’ control. Some of those experiences offer not only stipends or salaries but benefits as well, since the students are considered more than interns but temporary employees. What do you think about unpaid internships? Should there be more oversight, as the Labor Department hopes there will be now?


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by Agnes Jasinski

While many students – and their parents – will say no amount of student loan debt is ideal, a new report has zeroed in on those at the top of the pile, those who borrow most and may be most at risk for defaulting on their loans and running the risk of hurting their credit scores.

The newest student debt story comes from a report released yesterday by the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center, which looked at data from 2007-2008 graduates who participated in the “National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.” It paid particular attention to the 17 percent of all bachelor’s degree recipients in that year who graduated with at least $30,500 in student loans. Of those, one in six had average student loan bills of $45,700, with much of those loans coming from private lenders who typically lend to students at higher interest rates.

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education focused on one particular detail included in the report – that those who borrow more are disproportionately black. Although the sample size was small, and the report’s researchers were hesitant to place too much importance on any breakdowns based on race, the numbers did show some differences in that category. According to the study, 27 percent of black bachelor’s degree recipients borrowed $30,500 or more, compared to 16 percent of white graduates, 14 percent of Hispanic students, and 9 percent of Asian students. Those numbers have little to do with income, however. Middle-class students tended to borrow more than those coming from low-income households, perhaps suggesting that those are the students who are more likely to attend private colleges rather than public institutions.

How else did the report describe those students who borrowed most?

  • The frequency of high debt is higher among independent students than among dependent students (24 percent graduated with at least $30,500 in debt).
  • Students who graduated from for-profit institutions are much more likely to have high debt levels than other students.
  • Private loans are most prevalent among students with family incomes of $100,000 or higher.
  • Although black graduates have the highest debt totals, Asian students rely more on private loans. About 12 percent of Asian graduates had no federal loans, with 68 percent of their student loan debt coming from non-federal sources.
  • Higher-income parents of bachelor’s degree recipients are more likely than those with incomes below $60,000 to take out PLUS Loans, and borrow more when they do. Thirty percent of the lowest-income parents borrowed an average of $22,400 in PLUS Loans, while 47 percent of those with incomes of $100,000 or higher borrowed an average of $41,500.

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