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Discounts to Take Advantage of While in College

by Aaron Lin

Being a college student has a lot of perks in terms of accessible facilities, discounts and resources. Here are a few tips on what to take advantage of while you’re a student:

I hope some of you have ideas to add, too. Feel free to comment!

Aaron Lin is a chemistry major at Louisiana State University but has plans to transfer to LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans to pursue a medical laboratory science degree and further feed his interest in the application of scientific and medical knowledge. In his free time, Aaron likes to eat food, read and write about food, exercise to work off that food and play the occasional computer game. He also enjoys footbiking, running and Frisbee.


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Writing an Effective Personal Statement or Cover Letter

by Aaron Lin

The goal of a personal statement or cover letter is to display personality the way a resume and transcript cannot. You want to show the person receiving your materials that you’re a good candidate, right? Then don’t overlook the importance of this piece of your application.

There are several ways to tackle a personal statement or cover letter. For me, it was the rule of thirds of past, present and future that took my personal statement from good to great.

Past: Set up your statement with a captivating hook, then move into a narrative that informs the audience of something unique that happened to you. Reel the reader in with a story that will incite laughter, emotion or invigorating feelings.

Present: Discuss a few academic or extracurricular achievements that define you today. This may reflect your resume since it’s about your achievements right now but it’s important to note that your personal statement shouldn’t be a repeat of your resume in story form.

Future: Talk about where you want to go and how you can get there as a member of this particular company or graduate school. If you’ve researched the organization – and you should have! – let them know about it and mention any complementary classes, professors or special opportunities you’ve had. Enforce your skills, background, what kind of asset you will be and mention what the company or school has in particular that will benefit you in your career goals or academic pursuits. Lastly, thank the reader for his or her time.

Spellcheck won’t catch everything so read your work aloud, let others read it and edit accordingly. Don’t try to include EVERYTHING you’ve ever done in your personal statement or cover letter – that’s what your resume is for! – and don’t sell out with gimmicky quotes, overused metaphors, cuteness or a thesaurus addiction. The most important thing to do is to let yourself shine through!

Aaron Lin is a chemistry major at Louisiana State University but has plans to transfer to LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans to pursue a medical laboratory science degree and further feed his interest in the application of scientific and medical knowledge. In his free time, Aaron likes to eat food, read and write about food, exercise to work off that food and play the occasional computer game. He also enjoys footbiking, running and Frisbee.


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by Agnes Jasinski

As tuition and fees continue to rise and students need more financial aid to complete their college educations, ideas on how to both keep costs for students low and bring schools' budgets under control continue to crop up among lawmakers.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former president at the University of Tennessee turned Republican lawmaker, has an editorial on the topic in Newsweek this week, where he compares the three-year degree track to a fuel-efficient car. It would save students money, ease the dependence on federal and campus-based financial aid, and allow students  to move into the working world or to pursue an advanced degree in less time. And it would be up to the students to decide whether to complete their degrees in three years.

Many schools allow students to complete their degrees in three years, but few have official programs set up where students enter college knowing they'll be done in three years. Hartwick College has allowed students to complete their studies in three years for a while, but announced earlier this year a more official academic program for high-performing students that could be completed in three years. Students in that program will save about $43,000 in tuition and fees by forgoing a fourth year. This fall, 16 first-year students and four second-year students entered into the three-year program at Hartwick. Lipscomb University also unveiled a three-year option this year to students willing to attend classes in the summer. The state of Rhode Island has legislation on the table this month that would require all schools in the state to offer a three-year option.

On the other side, Waldorf College will stop offering the three-year programs it had set up as most students and staff preferred a traditional four-year track. Many students want the full four (or however many) years on campus. I still often wish I was back there. Students who have compressed a four-year program into three years have less time for what often makes the college experience memorable - time for friends, social outings and extracurricular activities that make you more well-rounded and able to juggle many aspects of your life at once. Alexander acknowledges possible obstacles in his piece, but maintains that something needs to be done to stay competitive and address an economic fallout that could affect schools for years to come.

Why not leave the choice to the students? What do you think of the opportunity to complete a college degree in three years? It could make sense for students looking at completing advanced degrees in addition to their master's. And the cost-saving aspect of the idea would turn many students on to the idea, especially returning adult students. Let us know whether you're planning on completing a degree in three years, and whether you think all schools should offer a three-year program as an option.


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Twitter Goes to College

September 3, 2009

by Agnes Jasinski

This fall, a group of journalism students at DePaul University will learn how to be even more concise with their news briefs. The Chicago school claims their new course "Digital Editing: From Breaking News to Tweets" will be the first class devoted to Twitter and how the new media tool has changed the way reporters do - and should do - their jobs.

According to the syllabus, the course will look at not only how Twitter can be used as a source for finding out about legitimate news events, but how to fact-check information gleaned from the microblogging site. The class, taught by Craig Kanalley, a DePaul alum and digital intern at the Chicago Tribune, will also explore the effects of citizen journalism and bloggers on the industry, Search Engine Optimization and basic WordPress.

The school's news release describes Twitter as a "major player" and source of breaking news information, citing citizen reporting on the Iranian election and the school's own students tweeting at President Obama's inauguration as examples of how the site has not only competed with the major news organizations, but at times beat them to the big story.

Is the school placing too much emphasis on Twitter as a news source? Maybe a whole class devoted to the subject seems silly. But it's safe to say Twitter has become a go-to for journalists following politicians, who post everything from their plans to host health care forums to what they purchased recently at farmers markets. There's no doubt new journalists need to be well-versed in not only Twitter but how social networking in general can supplement - not drive - their stories.

Twitter is also useful not only for writers, but for job seekers, public relations and marketing professionals or those promoting fledgling freelance careers. Professors use the site as another way to reach their students or promote new courses. A one-time course this fall at Harper College in Schaumburg, Ill., will look at what Facebook and Twitter can do from a business perspective. While I'm not sure how many people would buy into some academics' assertions that sites like Twitter improve students' writing, perhaps it's not as silly to think of an all-Twitter course at a university when you consider how it and sites like it have changed how people communicate.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Your opinions on how tech-savvy your professors are differ quite a bit from the instructors' opinions of their own technological effectiveness in the classroom, according to a survey released this week by CDW-G, an education technology provider.

According to the survey, which was collected via a nationally representative samples of students and faculty members at two- and four-year public and private colleges, students consider themselves much more technologically adept than their instructors, which may not be all that surprising:

  • About 75 percent of professors said that their school "understands how they use or want to use technology," while 32 percent of students said that their college was not preparing them well enough in the field of technology to give them useful skills for the job market.
  • About 67 percent of professors are comfortable with their own professional development in the field of technology, while only 38 percent of students said they felt their instructors were sufficiently tech-savvy.
  • About 74 percent of professors said that they incorporate technology into most classes, while only 38 percent of students agreed.

Students' perceptions of the technology gap isn't a new idea. Instructors are often viewed as being behind on the trends, even when they're actually quite technologically adept and can prove as much in the classroom. The problem comes in when the students actually are outpacing their instructors, especially in courses where technology could vastly improve a student's educational experience.

The survey, described in Inside Higher Education today, also polled IT staffers, and compared their answers with those of college professors'. In general, IT staffers expect more out of "smart" classrooms and instructors' capabilities. Both groups were asked what constitutes a smart classroom, and only about 40 percent of professors responded that an interactive whiteboard and distance learning capabilities to connect students from multiple locations constituted a smart classroom, compared to about 70 percent of IT staffers. Both groups were more on the same page when it came to general and wireless Internet access in the classroom.

The point is, technology isn't going anywhere, and it's only going to get more complex as time goes on. Professors, especially in fields where technology is going to be an important tool post-graduation, which is in most disciplines these days, should keep on top of new advances that will help make their students more effective learners.

Another article in Inside Higher Education today looks at Twitter and whether the social networking tool will become commonplace in the classroom. In that article, instructors and administrators seem wary of using Twitter in any educational way - although some are already using Twitter as the basis of their coursework - because it's seen as more of a fun diversion than a live resource or way to gather data. (Although you should obviously always fact-check anything you read on the site.) Professors may also worry that inviting Twitter into the classroom may distract students more than help them, while others argue that the site will become difficult to ignore by any institution, including colleges and universities.

What do you think about the technological capabilities at your college? Do you think your professors need a primer in new advances in technology? Let us know what you think, and whether you have ideas on how to bridge that technology gap, or whether you think it's as wide as this survey suggests.


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Are You Ready for Finals?

November 18, 2009

by Agnes Jasinski

Although you're probably ready to sit down and enjoy a big Thanksgiving meal, you may be feeling some dread about what you'll be facing once you return to college after that turkey coma. Finals Week Many of you will have been procrastinating up to this point, falling behind on the study skills you honed in your high school AP classes to prepare for this moment. Luckily, it's not too late.

If you're really behind, chances are you may need to pull an all-nighter or two to catch up with your studies. Do it.  Even if you're just a freshman getting used to your first year on campus, you should still focus on making your grades the best they can be. There are still a ton of scholarships out there if you're a sophomore, junior, even a graduate student, so don't assume the loot you won to pay for your first year is out of your reach once you complete your freshman year.

If you're in better shape than I was in college, you haven't fallen too far behind and actually have notes from most of your lectures. Make a list and check it twice of all that you need to do before finishing off the semester. Talk to your professors if things aren't clear before final exam time to feel more prepared and more confident going in to those testing sessions. If you've been fairly responsible up to this point, you probably don't need to be reminded not to cram, but don't catch the procrastination bug now.

Here are some of our other favorite tips on improving your study skills in time for college exams:

  • Stay focused. If you're less distracted at the library, go to the library. Dorm rooms and apartments are full of potential time-wasters - TV, video games, snacks, chatty roommates. If you can't study in silence, bring your books and headphones to a less distracting place.
  • Figure out your learning style. What may have worked for you in high school may not be relevant anymore. You probably have more work to do, with more opportunities for distraction and non-academic related activities. Figure out how you manage your time best and what makes you the most successful learner, because the study method that works for your friend down the hall may not be the one that will work best for you.
  • Keep everything. That syllabus you used as a coaster the first week of class? It could have some important information about final exam week buried in between the professor's introduction and the required textbooks. File away every handout you get from every class, because they could be useful later. Toss them once the course is over and you've turned in that exam.
  • Don't panic. If this is your first experience with finals week, put things in perspective. Yes, you'll need to do well so that you're around for finals next semester, but panic will only stress you out and potentially cause you procrastinate even more. Focus, breathe, and take care of yourself. You want to be feeling healthy and alert when you're staring down at that college exam, and, as prepared as you're able to be.

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by Agnes Jasinski

It may not make students too happy, but a number of schools across the country are taking a closer look at whether their professors are doling out marks that are a bit on the high side.

According to a study conducted by the University of Oregon's Undergraduate Council, the number of A's given to students increased by 10 percent over a 12-year period, and the school's overall GPA has increased by about 5 percent. The average SAT score, however, has remained the same, suggesting that students aren't necessarily studying harder, but benefiting from grade inflation at work.

In a story from news station KVAL CBS 13 in Eugene yesterday, administrators said the school needs to come up with guidelines where students are awarded grades that are reflective of their work, and where students aren't just given a "B" for showing up on time. "If all the grades are squeezed in between B+ and A+ what are we really communicating to students about the quality of their work?" Karen Sprague, vice provost for undergraduate studies at the University of Oregon asked in the story.

Princeton University has been trying to put a stop to grade inflation for six years now, with some in its student body complaining of the opposite - grade deflation. A recent article in the New York Times said students on campus were worried about other Ivy League students who perhaps didn't have to work as hard. One student in the article described the "nightmare scenario" of competing against someone from Yale University who had a 3.8 GPA, compared to his 3.5. The percentage of students with Princeton "As" was below 40 percent last year, down from nearly 50 percent when the policy was adopted in 2004, according to the New York Times. In a survey last year by the undergraduate student government, 32 percent of students said grade deflation was their main source of unhappiness. About 25 percent said they were more unhappy with lack of sleep.

An easy fix would be to give only those students As who deserve them, without figuring in quotas of how many high marks a professor is allowed to award or hold back. This would require a campus-wide standard, however, that takes a close look at defining "excellence," a criteria for that A grade. Students' expectations may need to be tweaked as well, as grade inflation isn't only limited to college campuses. Not too long ago, some high schools considered placing limits on how low to go; some schools argued that awarding scores below the 50 percent mark may do more harm than good, worried that improving those GPAs could become an impossible feat for students with a particularly low grade.

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College Classes , GPA

Tags: College Classes , GPA , Grades

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by Agnes Jasinski

Public high schools in eight states will introduce a program next year that will allow their high school sophomores to test out of their junior and senior years if they are interested in enrolling in community college early.

The program is the brainchild of the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), and was announced Wednesday. Those who do well on the tests, which will be called "board exams," but aren't interested in going to a community college will be able to continue taking college prep courses at their high schools to prepare for filing applications to the selective schools of their choice. Those who fail the exams will be eligible to retake them at the end of their junior and senior years.

According to the NCEE, the program's goals are to reduce the number of college students in remedial courses, and to better prepare high school students for campus life and the rigors of academics at institutions of higher education. Today, nearly half of the students in community colleges take one or more remedial courses and many are never able to complete developmental courses and move on to credit-level courses to complete their college degree, according to the NCEE. 

Students would be tested on a broad range of topics, including the standard English and math. Between 10 to 20 schools in the eight states involved will offer the program, modeled after existing programs in countries like Australia, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Ireland, and the Netherlands, in the 2010-2011 academic year. According to an article in the New York Times, the program has received a $1.5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help states and school districts get the program running. Start-up costs for school districts would be about $500 per student; that would cover the costs of courses, tests, and teacher training. To cover future costs, the eight states in the program plan to apply for a portion of the $350 million in federal stimulus money designated for improving public school testing, according to the New York Times.

The eight states offering the program are Connecticut, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. The NCEE hopes the program, which was a part of recommendations set into motion by the NCEE in 2006, will spread across the country. Their other recommendations included getting children in school by the time they were 3 years old and giving states control over local school districts.


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by Agnes Jasinski

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro unveiled a new program yesterday that would allow undergraduates to graduate within three years. The initiative, UNCG in 3, would target "highly motivated students," according to the school's press release, and would address the growing number of high school seniors who enter the university with transferable college credit earned through Advanced Placement (AP), UNCG iSchool or other early college programs.

Graduating early isn't a new phenomenon. Many college students consider graduating early to save costs (the UNCG in 3 program would save undergraduates about $8,000 in tuition, fees, room and board) and get a jump on their post-college careers. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former president at the University of Tennessee turned Republican lawmaker, has said the three-year degree track would would save students money, ease the dependence on federal and campus-based financial aid, and allow students  to move into the working world or to pursue an advanced degree in less time. But it is unique for a college to set up a program specifically to get students on that track

Incoming freshmen in the following degree programs would need 12 college credit hours prior to enrollment to be eligible: Accounting, African-American Studies, Business Administration, Communications Studies, Economics, Elementary Education, English, Entrepreneurship, Finance, German, History, Information Systems and Operations Management, Political Science, Psychology, Religious Studies, Romance Languages and Russian. Those eligible students would need to take and pass at least 16 credits each fall and spring, plus seven credits each for two summer sessions.

The decision to offer the program came following a survey of the North Carolina school's student body. According to the school's press release, in the fall of 2009, 526 freshmen came to the college with AP credits; 92 students had 12 or more credits. That year, 59 first-year students entered with credits from UNCG iSchool, joining 139 continuing students with iSchool credit. A number of high schools across the country are also set to begin offering early high school graduation plans, further shortening not only the college but the high school experience.

Other colleges are looking to keep students from taking too long to graduate. At the University of Texas at Austin, a 20-member committee has recommended placing a limit on the number of semesters it should take undergraduates to graduate at 10. The current average length of time is 8.5 semesters; the national standard is four years, or eight semesters. According to the Associated Press, another task force recommended a 10-semester limit in 2003. Students would be able to appeal the limit, which would not apply to those in some architecture and engineering programs, or to shorter summer sessions. The committee also looked at limited the number of times students should be allowed to switch majors.

The Texas college has been looking to place such limits on the student body to better serve those students. According to the committee's report, "By remaining at the university for extended periods, these students reduce the university's capacity to serve other students who wish to attend UT, both freshmen and transfers." The Associated Press did not address whether there was a financial incentive for the school to graduate students early and get new freshman applicants enrolling.


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by Agnes Jasinski

As more states continue passing medical-marijuana laws (14 and counting), it was only a matter of time before higher education would take notice. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education takes a look at Oaksterdam University, an Oakland, Calif., institution that provides "quality training for the cannabis industry."

Oaksterdam (named after Oakland and Amsterdam) has been offering weekend seminars and semester-long courses since November of 2007, when a group of marijuana-legalization activists their burgeoning movement deserved a trade school. The main school exists in a 30,000-square-foot converted office building, with satellite campuses in Los Angeles, Sebastopol, Calif., and Flint, Mich. Its academic departments, which admittedly began as a "political stunt," according to the article, now include coursework in biology, political science, horticulture, and "methods of ingestion," a class that teaches the benefits and history of extracted medicine, the chemistry behind it, and the different extraction methods and equipment used.

Although classes at the school aren't transferable - Oaksterdam isn't an accredited institution - that fact hasn't seemed to hurt enrollment. The "campus tour" described in the Chronicle article included an out-of-work engineer looking for a new career and a teenager who decided against majoring in horticulture at the University of California at Davis in favor of Oaksterdam. "I was convinced it was the best road for me to go down," he said in the article.

MedGrow Michigan Cannabis College is the Midwest's version. Students there take one class a night for six weeks, and take a cooking and concentrates lab, a history of cannabis class, and several horticulture lectures. The school's site boasts that more schools outside of its current Southfield, Mich., location are coming, and the faculty there include attorneys, professors in botany, and a professor of history who was one of the first 500 patients in the state of Michigan to obtain his patient ID card for medical marijuana use.

Cannabis colleges aren't the only kind of school taking advantage of career changers looking to pick up new skills and improve their job outlooks. Michigan’s ABC School of Bartending and Casino College has been training potential new employees for new casinos planned across the border in Ohio. Students at the casino school learn how to deal cards and count poker chips, among other tricks of the trade, to prepare for the more than 7,500 potential jobs at casinos to be built in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo. A new school that recently opened in Tinley Park, Illinois, Bette Baron’s Art of Body Coloring School, offers a two-week intensive program in body art.


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