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by Agnes Jasinski

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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by Agnes Jasinski

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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by Agnes Jasinski

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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Unsure About Your Major?

Colleges Let You Create Your Own

May 21, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

Although many students have a good idea about what they’ll be majoring in as freshmen, even choosing their colleges based on the programs offered at a particular school, many others have a tougher time deciding on their future careers without some self-reflection first. For some, the flexibility a college may offer in terms of offering students the choice of creating their own major may be more of a selling point than a school’s reputation in a particular field of study.

As the number of years students spend in college continues to climb (“super seniors” have even become problematic at some colleges), individualized major programs are becoming a more desirable option for schools and students, even outside the private liberal arts set. In such a program, students are able to take their specific interests and skill sets and create majors centered around those attributes, with the help of faculty advisers, of course.

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education looked at a student at Indiana University at Bloomington who graduated this month with a major in magic. Yes, magic. According to the article and accompanying interview with Jordan H. Goldklang, the college magician, he created the major with a blend of theater arts and psychology classes. When asked how being a magic major will benefit him long-term, Goldklang has a tough time describing the real benefits: "Aside from what I've learned here so far, just the ability to say that I did something completely unique has already afforded me so much." Goldklang plans to continue performing in magic shows post-graduation, and hopes to eventually open a bar with his brother.

The Individualized Major Program at Indiana University has been around for about 20 years. A recent article in the school’s student newspaper revealed that one popular self-designed major, fashion design, may soon become an official major at the college because of the interest it has received from students pursuing that field of study. Princeton University has the “independent concentration program”; a number of colleges allow students to create independent study experiences.

If you’re worried that your particular interests don’t fit any of the college majors offered at your school, talk to your counselors and advisers. It may be possible for you to design your own. Or, if you’re able, take courses in a number of different disciplines. (Chances are you can fulfill quite a few general education requirements doing so.) You may find you have a passion in a field after all if you do some exploring.


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by Agnes Jasinski

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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by Agnes Jasinski

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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by Agnes Jasinski

As the weather grows warmer and spring semester grades are announced, many college students have little on their minds beyond relaxing poolside until the fall semester. Some students, however, won’t be getting much of a break, taking classes right through the season in what admissions officials say may be record numbers.

An article in Inside Higher Ed today reports that at schools across the country, summer enrollments are up, following suit after a year of increased enrollments and admissions competition across the board. Why the bump? Inside Higher Ed suggests a number of possibilities.

The economy may be one reason, as it has not only been more difficult to find a job these days, it has been harder for students to line up internships and other summer opportunities. Some students may also be more aware of the cost of college, and choose to complete their degrees as quickly as possible, often on satellite campuses closer to home. (Some students may be worried that they’re getting on the five-year or “super senior” plan rather than the traditional four-year undergraduate experience, due to major switches or other factors.) With less competition for summer classes than during the fall and spring semesters, signing up for courses in the summer months may also make strategic sense, as students worry about getting all of the credits and requirements completed in a timely manner. Admissions officials have also reported more nontraditional students enrolling in their schools overall, and that population is more likely than the traditional group to enroll in school year-round.

At the University of California-Berkeley, the school’s officials made a concerted effort to attract more students to their summer offerings. As a result, about 1,000 more have registered for summer classes this year compared to 2009. The school also offers more online courses this summer, making it easier for students to justify sacrificing some of their summer off for academics.

Summer enrollments at community colleges are even higher. An increase of more than 6,000 students over the previous year have enrolled in summer classes in the Houston Community College District, according to Inside Higher Ed. Administrators there say many of the students are new, coming from four-year institutions to grab up some credits at their local community college while they work to have some money by living at home or working part-time jobs in their hometowns.

How about you? Are you taking summer classes? If so, what’s your reasoning? If you are signed up, make sure you know of the financial aid opportunities available to summer students, as most schools still offer aid in the summer months, even if you’re only enrolled part-time. And, as always, consider scholarships for summer.


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by Agnes Jasinski

As the dust has settled and students have made their decisions on where they’ll be come fall, a number of news outlets have been taking a look at whether any trends have emerged among incoming freshmen.

A series this week from CNN and the resulting New York Times article about it are interested in whether students were particularly mindful this year in choosing the better value among their college options, rather than decisions based on reputation, prestige, and “name brand” alone. Whatever students’ reasoning for it—rising costs of tuition and fees, a struggling economy, future plans to attend graduate and professional school among them—anecdotal evidence points to “yes.”

The CNN series first takes a look at a student who chose a state school over Boston College when it came down to making his final choice. He did so because of his aspirations after he’s done with his undergraduate career; he wants to go to medical school. The series then looks at a recent graduate from New York University who finished his degree with more than $250,000 in debt. The same student turned down a full scholarship from another school considered less well-known than NYU.

We always caution about making your college decision based on name alone. You’re determining where you’ll be for the next four years, after all, and it’s important to think about things that will result in a better fit for you rather than the boasting you’ll be able to do if you go to a big name school. (Some things to consider may be whether your choice is strong in your intended field of study, location, and what kinds of things you need in a school outside of academics.) And, as the news pieces above describe, it may be a wise choice to consider how much student loan debt you’ll be in once you’re done with school. Sure, private colleges often make up a bit for their high tuition and fees by offering more in financial aid, but students still often find themselves faced with the decision of paying less for their education if they attend a public state school, a community college, or a school that may be closer to home than they’d like.

No matter what we say though, prestige will still top many students’ lists as their main priority in college choice, as many students have had the dream of attending an Ivy League school since they could walk. How about you? What were your main considerations when you were choosing where to go to school this fall? Did you have to choose between a school that was a better value over one with more prestige?


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by Agnes Jasinski

Many of you have already made your decisions on the school you’ll be attending come fall. The next step (outside of the obvious, determining how you’ll pay for that choice and evaluating your financial aid letter) will be figuring out where you’ll be living once you’re on your chosen campus.

Many colleges will require freshmen to live in dorms, to build a sense of community and give those first-year students better access to campus offerings and guidance. You’ve probably heard quite a bit about communal living already, either through older siblings’ roommate horror stories or warnings of consuming too many calories in the dorm cafeterias. A number of recent articles have taken a lighter approach to dorm living, looking at the unique options you may have when determining where you’ll be spending most of your time come fall. (You may remember reading about college students demanding more from their dorms; it seems like schools are taking notice.)

One article in The New York Times took a look at dorm rooms that came with “bragging rights” and an air of celebrity about them. While wait lists for them are typically high, some students discover only after they’ve moved in that they’re bunking in the same space as a former politician, celebrity, or historical figure. Princeton University in particular has quite a few of these famous spaces—Michelle Obama had a single room there, and four freshmen currently live in Adlai E. Stevenson’s old room. (The school razed the building where James Stewart spent his evenings.) Yale University boasts Anderson Cooper’s and Paul Giamatti’s old rooms. While colleges are often hesitant to disclose where famous alums lived while attending their schools, the article suggests it’s not too hard to figure out using old yearbooks, and the Times piece alone discloses quite a few of the celebs’ previous addresses.

For those who would rather bring a furry friend from home to college than boast of their rooms’ history, a number of colleges have become more amendable to allowing students to bring the family pet to live with them in the dorms. Another recent Times article took a look at the trend, as colleges begin setting aside dorms specifically for pet owners. The dorms include daycare facilities for when students are in class—although hours are limited to prevent pet neglect—and other amenities staffed by work-study students interested in working with animals. According to that article, about a dozen colleges currently have policies allowing pets access to the dorms. Typically, the policies are limited to cats and small- to average-sized dogs.

What kinds of things will you be considering when you’re ready to make your housing choice? Are you looking for a more traditional dorm room experience, without the frills or additional options now offered by colleges?


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by Agnes Jasinski

Although many students are able to complete their associate degrees in two years, a number of community colleges are looking to shorten students’ time at their institutions even further. The changes at one school alone have included moving from semesters to trimesters, shortening courses from 16 to 14 weeks, and offering more options for degree completion in the summer, when most schools offer fewer classes than in the fall and spring terms.

An article this week in Inside Higher Ed suggests more community colleges are looking to meet the call from the Obama administration and organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to get students out in the real world with degrees before they drop out. President Obama is placing great weight on the power of community colleges to double the number of graduates in the United States by 2020.

At Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, for example, all students are able to earn an associate degree in just 14-16 months if they complete one course every two weeks under the school’s trimester system. According to Inside Higher Ed, about a quarter of the students there have been graduating in a shorter amount of time. Lower Columbia College will introduce a program called the “Transfer Express” this fall. Students in the program will be able to earn an associate degree in one year. You may also remember that Ivy Tech Community College will offer a pilot program come fall to students interested in completing degrees in health-care support. Students will be able to earn their degrees in one year if they commit to an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., five-day-a-week school schedule.

So what’s the incentive to community colleges to move students through faster? Doesn’t it hurt their bottom line? According to Inside Higher Ed, students in accelerated programs are more likely to graduate—and less likely to drop out—than those who may be going to school at a less break-neck pace. Allowing students to finish traditionally two-year programs in a year or a little over also opens up room at community colleges for more students to enroll, a significant advantage when a number of two-year schools are having accommodating an increase in applicants.

Accelerated programs aren’t for everyone, though. Students who have no plans to drop out of school may find the pace too challenging, and consider leaving programs for a more traditional two-year program. Some students will also need additional, remedial instruction in introductory courses that have no place in accelerated programs. If you’re interested though, it could be a decent money-saver for you, as many schools that offer the programs do so with tuition discounts attached.


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