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WISE Reinvents Senior Year

Independent Study Program Quells Boredom, Increases Motivation

November 3, 2010

WISE Reinvents Senior Year

by Alexis Mattera

Despite the numerous advancements in medicine, there is still no cure for a highly contagious disease plaguing high school seniors. Symptoms include excessive yawning, lack of concentration, procrastination, class skipping and a blasé attitude toward anything relating to education. Dun dun dunnnnn…it’s senioritis!

Fortunately, there’s a potential vaccination circulating which could quash most strains and keep seniors on track until graduation. It’s called WISE, or the Wise Individualized Senior Experience, and it’s been helping students not only stay focused but gain real-world experience while they’re still in high school for more than 30 years. Take Ralph Vasami, for example: He spent the majority of his senior year as a WISE participant interning at a weather forecasting company and though the self-described “ordinary student with ordinary ambitions” wasn’t even sure if he would attend college, his experience with WISE opened his eyes to the possibility. He went on to attend Lyndon State College and today, he is the CEO of the company he interned at, Universal Weather & Aviation Inc., which has 1,300 employees in 20 countries and $860 million in annual billings. Yeah. Wow.

WISE participants spend most of their days outside the classroom but many, like Vasami, report they are more motivated to learn than ever. Dave Marcus, the writer of this piece, was a classmate of Vasami’s in 1970s and was also a WISE participant when the program was in its pilot stage; he feels is one of the few education reforms that actually delivers what it promises and Marcus’ former classmates agree, saying they would have floundered in their college classes without the practical experiences they had during internships at museums, publishing houses and engineering firms the WISE program provided.

So seniors, think WISE will keep you on track for the remainder of your time in high school? If so, see if your school is one of the program’s partner schools. And if there are any former WISE participants in the audience, did the program have the same impact as it had on Vasami and Marcus?

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And the Best Value Colleges Are…

Kiplinger Ranks Top Private and Liberal Arts Schools

November 15, 2010

And the Best Value Colleges Are…

by Alexis Mattera

True or false: Public schools are always a better value than private schools or liberal arts schools. Have your answer all bubbled in? Let’s see if it’s right.

A school’s value isn’t solely determined by cost; though it does play a significant role, if you factor in curriculum caliber and overall quality of life, it turns out that many private and liberal arts schools are indeed better values than their public counterparts. That and the amount families actually have to pay after financial aid is only around $20,000. Nice.

According to Kiplinger’s annual lists, Swarthmore College and Princeton University lead the pack for liberal arts and private institutions, respectively. Why? Swarthmore’s most qualified applicants only pay $18,791 – that’s nearly two-thirds off the school’s $52,650 sticker price and a huge reason why almost all Swatties return for sophomore year – and Princeton graduates leave its hallowed halls with the lowest average debt, due in large part to a tuition bill less than $50,000 and the elimination of student loans from its financial aid package. Here are the top 10 in each category:

Best Values in Liberal Arts Colleges

  1. Swarthmore College
  2. Pomona College
  3. Williams College
  4. Washington and Lee University
  5. Davidson College
  6. Bowdoin College
  7. Claremont McKenna College
  8. Amherst College
  9. Hamilton College
  10. Vassar College

Best Values in Private Colleges

  1. Princeton University
  2. Yale University
  3. California Institute of Technology
  4. Rice University
  5. Duke University
  6. Harvard University
  7. University of Pennsylvania
  8. Columbia University
  9. Brown University
  10. Dartmouth University

Students and parents, does this information have you rethinking the possibility of private and liberal arts schools?

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A Little Birdy Told Us Tweeting May Boost Grades

Recent Experiment Revealed Higher Marks, Increased Discussion

November 17, 2010

A Little Birdy Told Us Tweeting May Boost Grades

by Alexis Mattera

Logging onto certain social networking sites while in class may be frowned upon by some schools but at one Midwest institution, doing just that resulted in grade point averages about half a point higher over the course of a semester.

The school was not named to protect the identities of the 125 participating students but the subsequent report, entitled “The Effect of Twitter on College Student Engagement and Grades,” showed the 70 students who used Twitter to access information and complete four class assignments displayed higher GPAs, were more engaged in classroom discussion and more likely to interact with their instructor about course material than the 55 non-tweeting students in the control group.

But is Twitter really responsible for the grade boost? Reynol Junco, an associate professor of academic development and counseling at Lock Haven University, said the familiarity with Twitter (which is a lot like Facebook’s status update feature) may make students more comfortable participating in discussions outside the classroom and responding to class material. But Dave Parry, an assistant professor of emerging media at the University of Texas at Dallas who has used Twitter in his classes, had reservations. He said more specific studies needed to be conducted to determine if Twitter is the deciding factor in increasing grades and what uses of Twitter are most effective to achieve desired results.

Students, do you tweet? What do you tweet about: schoolwork, politics, gossip? Have you noticed a difference in your grades – positive or negative – since activating your account? Do you follow us?

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From Hogwarts to Harvard

How Would “Potter” Characters Fare in College Admissions?

November 19, 2010

From Hogwarts to Harvard

by Alexis Mattera

After you rub the sleep out of your eyes left over from the midnight “Deathly Hallows” showing, consider this: How well does Hogwarts prepare its students for college? Well, we Muggles would have some definite competition if our applications went head-to-head with Harry Potter's, Hermione Granger's and Ron Weasley's before They Which Shall Not Be Named (aka admissions committees).

First, there’s Harry. From losing many people he loved – parents, godfather, mentor and friends – to having the Dark Lord trying to kill him at every turn, his application essay would tug at the heartstrings but also reveal a young man able to succeed against all odds. He’s as skilled with a quill as he is with a wand and admissions committees would be impressed with his ability to work with others toward a common goal. He’d gain admission because he’d be an asset to any department (I’m thinking his major would be chemistry or political science), study group and, obviously, the Quidditch team.

Next, Hermione obviously has the brains and could dominate the SATs or ACTs just like she owned the O.W.L.s…but what about extracurriculars? In her case, wizarding and witchery definitely count as community service and her compassion for oppressed individuals (mudbloods, ogres, elves, etc.) hints at possible careers in social work, nursing or medicine. Maybe the actress portraying her can put in a good word with the dean at Brown, though Ms. Granger would surely gain admission on her own merit. She wouldn’t have it any other way!

Lastly, we have Ron. As one of seven Weasley kids, Ron knows a thing or two about standing out in a crowd…even if he does so while wearing his older brothers’ hand-me-downs. His athletic skills may garner a scholarship or two but admissions committees will be most impressed with his essay, which would detail his problem solving skills and loyalty demeanor. His innate investigative skills are top notch and could easily translate into aced journalism and criminal justice classes. And don’t worry, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley: Not only will Ron get in but he’s also going to get an excellent financial aid package!

Though Harry, Hermione and Ron won’t be applying for a spot at your dream school, other students possessing equally impressive skills and backgrounds will so it’s important to make your college application memorable. We’ve got plenty of tips on the college application process throughout our site as well as strategies for winning valuable scholarships. Hurry, though: Application deadlines are approaching faster than the Hogwarts Express!

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Popular Culture 101?

TV + Trends + College = Fun and Unusual New Classes

December 1, 2010

Popular Culture 101?

by Alexis Mattera

No, there are still no classes entitled “The Anatomy of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show” or “The Hanukkah Snuggie’s Effect on Modern Judaism” but classes with roots in popular culture are popping up on college campuses everywhere. If you’ve yet to select your classes for next semester or have found a few empty blocks in your schedule, consider enrolling in one of these fun, weird and surprisingly informative courses. (Bonus: They could help you earn an equally unusual scholarship!)

  • Consumerism and Social Change in Mad Men America, 1960-1963: Northwestern University history professor Michael Allen teaches this freshman course, which examines the relationship between consumerism and the social and political changes of the 1950s and 1960s. Students attend lectures and read historical texts but are also required to watch several “Mad Men” episodes each week. We’d assume cigarette smoking, scotch swilling and infidelity do not earn extra credit points.
  • South Park and Contemporary Issues: This course at McDaniel College mixes sociology and philosophy while exploring the controversial contemporary social issues featured on the long-running Comedy Central cartoon. The official course description states, “Ultimately, students will gain…new knowledge of the benefits of applying an interdisciplinary approach to contemporary social issues.” No Kennys will be harmed but bring your own Cheesy Poofs.
  • Music, Video Games, and the Nature of Human Cognition: This NYU psychology class already has a waiting list and there’s a good reason for it: Professor Gary Marcus believes video games – specifically “Guitar Hero” – can be used to enhance human cognition. Some parents are upset that this is the type of class their tuition is going toward but Marcus stresses that delving into this understudied area will yield positive results. Rock on, Professor!
  • Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame: The University of South Carolina’s Mathieu Deflem has gone gaga for Gaga and he hopes his students will too with his sociological analysis of selected social issues related to the pop star’s work. Though the course is within the sociology department, the subjects of music, fashion, art, business, marketing, new media, religion and politics will be integrated to dissect Gaga’s rise to fame and impact on society. Unlike the infamous meat dress, this approach is well done.
  • Zombies in Popular Media: Vampires are so last year, people, and Columbia College Chicago has the latest undead trend – zombies – ready to take over your brain, not eat it. Literature, comics and film will “foster thoughtful connections between student disciplines and the figure of the zombie,” states the course description and the history, significance and representation of zombies will be discussed and implemented on a daily basis. Hopefully, this class doesn’t take place after dark.
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Six is the Magic Number

Report Reveals Half of First-Time Students Finish School in Six Years

December 2, 2010

Six is the Magic Number

by Alexis Mattera

Theoretically, earning an undergraduate degree takes four years. But when you factor in internships, work and extraneous circumstances, getting a diploma or certification seldom happens within that timeframe. How long does it take? The U.S. Department of Education says six years…for just half of first-time students.

The DoE’s new report, "Persistence and Attainment of 2003-04 Beginning Postsecondary Students: After 6 Years," states that of students who entered higher education in 2003-4, about half had earned degrees or certificates by June 2009 – the breakdown is 9 percent certificates, 9 percent associate degrees and 31 percent bachelor's degrees – 15 percent were still enrolled and 36 percent had left higher education. The report further dissects trends among students who began their post-secondary education at public two-year schools and four-year colleges (both state and private) as well as whether these students stayed with their initial institution or transferred to and graduated from another school.

I was able to graduate from the same university I enrolled in as a freshman in four years but I had to sacrifice several things – studying abroad, working more, accepting additional internships – in order to do so. Graduates, does the report sound at all like your college experience? Current students, are you on track to finish school when you thought you would when you started? High school students, what are your plans for the next four (or more) years?

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No One Likes a Cheater…Except the Cheater

Study Shows Narcissists More Likely to Cheat on Tests

December 3, 2010

No One Likes a Cheater…Except the Cheater

by Alexis Mattera

Mirror, mirror on the wall…who is the most dishonest of them all? A new study shows that in the collegiate world, narcissistic students are far more likely to cheat on tests while their less self-involved counterparts employ a different tactic – studying.

The Huffington Post (which also recently published a piece about how narcissists also spend the most time on Facebook) featured findings from a Science Blog study that said vainer students were more inclined to cheat for two reasons: 1. they want to show off academically and 2. they are able to bypass feeling guilty for their actions. Amy Brunell, an assistant psychology professor at Ohio State University at Newark and the study’s lead author, elaborates, "Narcissists feel the need to maintain a positive self-image and they will sometimes set aside ethical concerns to get what they want." If she is indeed correct, a number of students attending the University of Central Florida are a morally corrupt (but extremely pretty) bunch.

Given our increasingly celebrity-obsessed society, it’s not surprising that narcissism is on the rise but the increase has been especially prominent in college students say San Diego State University and the University of South Alabama. Cheating on college exams is a serious offense but down the line, when these students graduate, the U.S. could experience more social problems associated with their risky decision making and senses of entitlement.

Students, have you noticed more classmates channeling their inner Kanye Wests and Janice Dickinsons lately?

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Nobody’s Business

Interest in the Once Most Popular Major Stalling, Falling

December 13, 2010

Nobody’s Business

by Alexis Mattera

One would think that the condition of the U.S. economy would have undergraduates declaring business as their majors in droves. One would also, however, be wrong: Federal and college data show interest in the field is mimicking the Metrodome roof and falling.

Inside Higher Ed reports business is no longer the big man on campus in terms of majors and interest appears to be static and even waning at many schools. Since 2008, Pennsylvania State University has recorded a 30-percent decline in undergraduates accepting offers from its Smeal College of Business – a trend that’s far from isolated: Though rates have remained stable and even increased at the University of Oregon and Indiana University, the share of business majors at University of Central Florida is down by nearly 15 percent this semester relative to 2008 and 13 percent fewer students are enrolled in Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management this semester compared to two years ago; last year, the number of applicants dropped 26 percent from the previous year.

John Pryor, director of the survey-conducting Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the University of California Los Angeles, suggested student loan debt and the perceived lack of career stability in business may be fueling this shift. "Even though students have higher debt, some are seeing that business is not as likely to help them pay that debt back," he wrote. "We also saw business employees losing jobs and having lower incomes, so perhaps students see business as not providing as sure a track towards economic freedom as in the past." The survey also suggested undergraduate interest in business peaked long ago – 1987 to be precise, the same year Gordon Gekko famously declared "greed, for lack of a better word, is good” in the movie “Wall Street.” Coincidence?

Students, has the economy influenced what you’re majoring in? Are you more likely to take pages from the books of computer science majors Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg instead of emulating good ol’ Mr. Gekko?

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Finals Week Goes to the Dogs

Furry Friends and Other Quirky Events Ease Exam Stress

December 16, 2010

Finals Week Goes to the Dogs

by Alexis Mattera

Ah, finals week. It’s been almost six years since my last one but all the hairy details – the tensing of muscles, the firing of brain synapses and the pain of paper cuts as I shuffled through my notes the night before a huge exam to absorb one last piece of information needed to fill a blue book – still come rushing back to me like clockwork every December and May. It’s far from fun but some college students are actually enjoying this time of year thanks to some furry friends. No, not Joakim Noah...puppies, you guys!

First featured on the Jumbo Shorts blog last month (by my good friend, University of Connecticut alum and web content specialist Kaitlin Provencher, no less!) and now making headlines in a variety of news outlets, Tufts University has foregone the traditional finals week perks like extended library hours and wider availability of counseling services and is instead giving its students a much-needed reprieve from exams by bringing therapy dogs to campus for them to play with. Resident director Michael Bliss fashioned the idea after a similar program he participated in as an undergrad at NYU and the results were just as positive then as they are now. "Every college student has stress around finals," said Bliss. "And taking a break out from that with something as easy and simple and loving as petting dogs is really helpful."

Tufts isn’t alone in its quest to bust stress (though its program is by far the cuddliest): Over the last decade, community, state and private schools have been employing untraditional finals week events to keep students less frazzled and more focused including late-night yoga, massages, oxygen bars, impromptu dance parties, pizza fairies and rubber ball deluges. "These events help students acknowledge the fact that you have to put these more stressful times in perspective," said Lori Morgan Flood, director of wellness and health promotion at Oberlin College. "You'll get through it."

College may be about learning the information and skills to prepare students for jobs, graduate school and life after college in general but throwing a little something unexpected or unusual into the mix is just what many students need to perform at their absolute best. My advice: Step away from the books if only just for a moment and have some F-U-N!

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Happy Holidays…We’re Eliminating Your Degree!

U. Missouri to Reduce Degree Offerings by 16

December 27, 2010

Happy Holidays…We’re Eliminating Your Degree!

by Alexis Mattera

Welcome back, everyone! Have the holiday hazes, mall bruises and food comas worn off yet? If not, this next story may snap you back to reality…especially if you’re a University of Missouri student.

Just before our break, the Chronicle and Columbia Daily Tribune reported the university is poised to truncate its degree offerings by 16 - a decision that came after a state-mandated review revealed multiple programs graduating on average fewer than 10 bachelor’s, five master’s and three doctoral degrees per year. While a change like this isn’t new – SUNY Albany announced similar changes a few months ago – the method is: Some programs will be disappearing all together but the majority will merge with existing programs and create new degrees. Among the changes, Spanish and French programs will join to form a Romance language degree and the three master’s programs within the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources may be rolled into one catch-all degree covering forestry parks, recreation, tourism, and soil, environmental and atmospheric sciences; education specialist and doctoral degrees in career and technical education, a specialist degree in special education and communication sciences and disorders doctorate and a clinical laboratory sciences bachelor’s program within the School of Health Professions will be eliminated completely.

The proposed changes are expected to be approved by the Missouri Department of Higher Education and the Coordinating Board of Higher Education in February. The affected programs, however, will continue for a while – even years – because, says Deputy Provost Ken Dean, the university will not implement anything that would have a negative impact on current undergraduate and graduate students. Are you enrolled in any of the programs mentioned? Will this news impact your decision to remain in your current major? Are you considering transferring to a different school with a more specialized program?

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