July 9, 2008
Dorms are filled to the brim with students your age, and therein lies their charm. But after finding a group of people you enjoy spending time with, their appeal slowly fades. Dorms are cramped, noisy, and, eventually, old news. But before you can hug your RA goodbye, you need to find an apartment, and that takes some planning. The following tips can help you find the best-suited home at a reasonable price.
Determine Boundaries. Before the apartment hop begins, establish a general search boundary. Off-campus apartments may be cheaper, but, depending on location, the class hike may be substantial. Decide which is the bigger priority, finance or location, and be realistic about how far you are willing to walk—in boots on a rainy, snowy day—to your perfect residence.
Get a Head Start. If you attend a large state school, chances are, you have options. But you can only be as picky as the time allows. Begin your apartment search early, around December or January. If you wait until the summer months to find an apartment for the upcoming year, you may find your options slim. Stake your claim before someone else can.
Look at Reviews. What you don’t see when you visit an apartment—the unreachable repairman, the stinky, bug-ridden basement—may come back to haunt you. One of the best ways to gauge a potential home is by seeking out feedback from previous tenants. Reviews of landlords and apartments can frequently be found in campus newspapers, both on and offline. You may also want to ask around. Satisfied and disgruntled students alike are often willing to let you know what they think.
Budget. When budgeting, you have to consider paying for school, for residence, for food, for leisure, for holiday gifts, for transportation, for emergencies and so on. If you're an apartment penny pincher, it's best to limit surprises. Ask landlords about any city or tenant fees that may be tacked on to the lease, and find out if if gas, water, parking or an internet/cable package are included. If you don’t plan to stay on campus during the summer months, also ask about a 10-month lease option. The need for apartments drops during the summertime, and many students have a hard time finding individuals willing to sublet at full price. By asking the right questions and budgeting accordingly, you can avoid many such problems down the road.
July 17, 2008
According to West Virginia’s The State Journal, a recent poll indicates that Americans are prioritizing the affordability of a college education over other factors. Though criteria such as scholastic quality, distance and diversity were also critical, the cost of a school topped the list as most important.
With college costs continuing to outpace inflation and graduates finishing school with growing debt, families are beginning to realize that attending schools within their means may be more important than attending ones of greater prestige. A recent report from the National Center for Education Studies (NCES) stated that during the 2005-2006 school year, 46 percent of first-time, full-time students who sought a degree took out student loans, a few graduating more than $100,000 in debt.
The Chronicle of Higher Education Gallop Poll indicated that, though there were conflicting views over whether the government or the public should be responsible for much of the cost, most agreed that colleges should contribute to the solution by spending a larger percentage of their endowment funds.
As the media focuses on problems of national debt, controversy has grown over the use of annually increasing endowment funds acquired through donations to colleges. Though endowment contributors frequently create stipulations about who may or may not receive their scholarship money, the public has pointed to the questionable nature of storing funds and increasing tuition, especially during a time when debt has become a growing problem for students.
July 18, 2008
During a conference held by the Department of Education this week, department commissioners, educators and business leaders alike expressed their disappointment with Education Secretary Margaret Spelling’s inability to improve the current state of postsecondary education. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Commission on the Future of Higher Education created by the secretary herself complained that, after three years of work, students were still unsure about which colleges best fit their needs, and employers were still dissatisfied with graduates’ lack of preparation for the workforce.
Furthermore, while steps to alleviate the burden of school expenses have been taken—most prominent of which was perhaps the increase in Pell Grant caps—the rising costs of a college education have made paying for school a struggle. During the 2005-2006 school year, more than 40 percent of first-time college students were forced to take out student loans. These factors, combined with the declining value of a college degree, have made securing a sufficiently lucrative job difficult for those with debt, especially when searching for positions within the nonprofit sector.
With only six months left in office, the secretary has little time to apply the suggestions of her peers. Complaining that colleges are not doing enough to prepare students for the business world, previous advertising executive Richard Holland stated, “We just talk about this all the time, and we don’t do anything about it.” Added Education Department’s senior adviser Vickie Schray, “There’s still a lot that needs to be done.”
August 6, 2008
August 7, 2008
August 14, 2008
For everyone currently slogging their way through scholarship applications and college placement tests, as well as all of you gearing up for Composition, Creative Writing, or other English-related classes, here's a bit of fun. Take a break from writing your own bids for essay scholarships and enjoy some really bad writing. San Jose State University just announced the 2008 winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, an annual challenge to craft the worst opening line for a novel. Named after the man who penned the famous opening line "It was a dark and stormy night," the competition seeks to give proper recognition to terrible prose.
This year's winner was penned by Garrison Spik of Washington, DC:
Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped "Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J."
Even if you decide not to try your hand at fiction, perusing the Bulwer-Lytton contest winners could enrich your life in other ways beyond simple entertainment. See all of those flowery, adjective-rich lines that seem to go on forever with their archaic and polysyllabic prose that looks like what would happen if someone cut the thesaurus apart and taped it back together to form a sentence? That would be writing to avoid submitting to scholarship essay contests ( poetry contests, too). While flexing your writing to its full extent is always tempting, there are limits. When a sentence becomes difficult to read and a metaphor, image, anecdote, or quote is stretched further than it can reasonably go, or plopped down with no clear context provided, an otherwise brilliant attempt at winning scholarships can fall flat. Even though School House Rock tells you to unpack your adjectives, the Bulwer-Lytton contest reminds us that in some instances it may be wise to leave a few of them put away.
August 19, 2008
Maybe it's just the release of Beloit College's "Mind-Set List," a list of news items, pop culture references, and technological advances that happened 18 years ago and thus have always existed for incoming college freshmen, but the generation gap between the big desk and the little desks in the college classroom seems to be on everyone's minds this week. As usual, social networking applications seem to be both a tool universities attempt to use to bridge the gap, and a reminder to students just how wide the gap is.
First off, Inside Higher Ed informs us that a new Facebook application called "Schools" is being marketed to universities as a way to allow their students to connect in a safe environment where their identity and school enrollment have been verified. Included in the application are tools that professors can use in the classroom, such as a name game that allows students to learn their classmates' names. Unlike other Facebook applications, the university has to purchase and implement "Schools," rather than allowing individual students to adopt it.
If this application takes off, and even if it doesn't, more undergraduate students (and probably some graduate students, too) are likely to experience Facebook and other social networking sites as a "creepy treehouse," a term the Chronicle of Higher Education shared with academia in its news blog yesterday. That crawly feeling you get when your professor friends you on a social networking site, even though you don't have any incriminating photos or information on your profile? That's the creepy treehouse, built to look like a place for kids to play, but really used by adults.
So, remember when you're attending college this fall that your professors come from a different world, a world where:
September 19, 2008
In order to reduce the amount their students have to spend on textbooks, more and more professors are using course material that can be found for free. With the advent of sites such as Google Books, which serve as valuable and easily accessible sources of full-text works that are no longer copyrighted, students can get their course material for free, rather than having to shell out $15 or more for a brand new copy of a book originally published a century ago. I noticed this trend gaining momentum throughout my academic career, especially in courses geared towards graduate students.
This option to access older literature online and save money is nice, but it still leaves students who don't want to spend hours hunched over their computers with the task of tracking down a hard copy of the book on their own, especially since my professors, at least, never seemed to place bookstore orders for texts they knew we could find for free. Buying a copy requires forethought and printing the complete text of a 200-page essay can eat up a student's morning and their on-campus printing budget. This scenario too often leaves students with less than a week to find, read, annotate, and understand a lengthy reading assignment for class.
The University of Michigan has just taken a step to make procuring books for class easier. They have purchased and installed a machine, dubbed the "ATM of Books," that can print and bind a book in a few minutes at a cost to students of around $10 per copy. This isn't much more expensive than buying a used paperback online or in the bookstore and is much faster and more convenient.
The Espresso Book Machine has access to the school's database of pre-1923 books, as well as websites that offer works that are not copyrighted, such as open-source textbooks. Coupled with trends in making more course-related content available online, such as Stanford's recent move to place engineering and computer science course materials online, widespread use of the Espresso Book Machine could revolutionize the way students get textbooks.
This is nothing but good news for students: free digital course material, $10 bound copies of textbooks, and no worries about hunting all over for a book or printing a copy and losing pages. With the prospect of eventually spending as little as $40-100 on textbooks for a semester, students at the University of Michigan will be able to stretch their financial aid dollars further and dip less into their college savings for books. As online libraries of free textbooks continue to expand, hopefully other schools will invest in similar tools, cutting down on students' book expenses and making it a little bit easier to pay for school.
September 23, 2008
A study abroad experience can be an important part of attending college. Study abroad programs expose college students to other languages and cultures, giving them a valuable experience beyond mere tourism, and allowing them to gain a better sense of the wider world and their place in it. For many students, trips abroad help shape their identities and their college experiences, typically for the better. However, for many students, studying abroad is still seen as an option open only to white, well-traveled, and well-off students.
This stereotype has been highlighted both by popular media (the Chronicle of Higher Education points to a post in the popular blog Stuff White People Like, which humorously explains trends embraced by young, urban, middle-class, and predominately white people) and by academia. Unfortunately, unlike other stereotypes and scholarship myths, it has some truth to it, as more white students tend to travel abroad while in school. However, colleges and scholarship providers are struggling to change this and attract more minority and working-class students to study abroad programs.
Over the last few years, many schools have increased efforts to promote study abroad as something not only attainable but desirable for students who haven't yet traveled outside the US. These efforts include making minority students more visible in promotional materials, making shorter and more affordable study abroad options available, and highlighting financial aid opportunities available to lower income students.
One such scholarship award, mentioned in the Chronicle of Higher Education article, is the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, which helps fund semesters abroad for Pell Grant recipients. Numerous other study abroad scholarships exist, and low-income and minority students, as well as any students unsure of their ability to afford to study outside the country, are encouraged to apply. To find out more about study abroad programs, talk to the study abroad office at your college. To find more scholarship money for study abroad, conduct a free scholarship search on Scholarships.com, where we list several awards applicable to studying outside the country, as well as other opportunities for need-based financial aid and scholarships for minorities.
September 25, 2008
In the wake of the credit crisis of the past year, innumerable articles have been written about the impact on the student loan industry, as several student lending agencies have been forced to stop offering federal and private loans to students or at least scale back their operations considerably. Credit requirements have gotten more stringent for students whose lenders are still in business, and taking out a student loan is an even more time-consuming and uncertain process now than ever.
At the same time, the economic downturn that's accompanied the credit crisis is highlighting the difficulty students are facing repaying all of these student loans--loans they're being told now that they're lucky to get. Many students feel caught in a difficult position. Do they take out student loans, go horribly in debt, but get to ultimately pursue a fulfilling degree and a potentially more fulfilling career? Do they work full-time through school and take longer to get the degree and spend less time in their dream job? Or do they minimize debt by going to work sooner in a field that's easier to break into and requires less education?
According to the results of a survey published in the Boston Business Journal, that first option might not even be an option for many students. An online poll of 336 recent college grads revealed that 47 percent said that their career pursuits were influenced by their need to make student loan payments, while 25 percent reported putting future education plans on hold in order to minimize debt. While these numbers are the results of only one web survey, they still send a pretty clear message that avoiding student loans is a good idea when trying to pay your way through school.
Congress is advocating the wider adoption of college savings accounts, such as 529 plans, and more universities are retooling their financial aid packages to benefit more needy students and rely more heavily on scholarships than on student loans. Many of the nation's top colleges have made a commitment to helping all accepted students afford to attend, and other schools are offering larger scholarship awards to students who most need them, as well. For example, Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia just launched the Starfish Initiative, where anonymous donations are used to cover the remaining tuition balances of deserving seniors who might otherwise need to take out a substantial private loan or leave college.
But institutional aid and college savings accounts aren't the only options available to students. A vast number of scholarship opportunities are out there, and despite the scholarship myths you may have heard, you can fund a substantial portion of your college education with such sources. So start your scholarship search early and be persistent. While soaring college costs and a weak economy may make it harder to pay for school, they don't mean you have to stay home or be overwhelmed by debt. Do your research and find out what resources are available to help fund your education.
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