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Tips on Finding a Campus Apartment

July 9, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

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.

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College Cost Bigger Factor than Quality, Diversity

July 17, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

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.

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Higher Education Commission Dissatisfied with Spelling's Efforts

July 18, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

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.”

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Report Encourages Early Access to Course Info

August 6, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

For those of you attending college, this situation is probably very familiar:  new courses get posted, and something with a vague and obtuse title but a promising course number is listed in your major.  You may want to take the course, but you know that if you register without doing further research, your chances at having a stellar schedule will likely go out the window as you're stuck with a class you never meant to choose. I learned this lesson when I wound up in a course called "Language, Society, and Culture" that was listed as an American literature and culture elective but turned out to be an introductory linguistics course--something I had no interest in taking.

At various points in my college career, I often found myself cramming detective work into my already busy schedule as I tried to find out just what a course with an intriguing title was actually going to cover.  As I waited impatiently for e-mails from professors and ran all over campus looking for a mythical department secretary who once saw an early draft of a course description, I often wondered "why couldn't they just post this information online?"

A recent report issued by the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in North Carolina echoes this sentiment.  The report recommends that professors publish syllabi online and do so early, preferably right around when courses open up for registration, so that students get a better idea of the courses they're taking, the work expected of them, and the material they will need to cover, and thus will be more likely to succeed and less likely to drop the class.  Additionally, it also will allow students, departments, and other groups to make comparisons between professors easier, will aid in determining transfer credits (if your new school can see the number of papers you wrote for your half-completed English major, maybe you won't get stuck retaking Composition I), and will aid in the sharing of information among professors.  In other words, online syllabus sharing is a good thing for everyone and more professors should do it.

For those of you still working on the college search, this makes a great question to add to your list to ask during your campus visit.  Ask whether professors have resources available to post syllabi online and how many of them actually take advantage of the option. Little details can make a big difference when it comes to choosing the right college.

As colleges continue to add online courses and to encourage online components in traditional courses, expect more professors to post syllabi online.  In the meantime, a little encouragement couldn't hurt.  Next time you find yourself in unfamiliar parts of campus trying to find out the reading list for a class that could potentially help you fulfill all your college goals, consider printing a copy of this report and giving it to the instructor in question.
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Consider Bringing a Bike to College

August 7, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Earlier this week, I blogged about two community colleges whose students could save money by attending college full-time on Fridays.  One of the most significant savings of this program will be gas costs for commuter students. Full time Fridays are by no means the only way for students to save money on gas and car maintenance this fall, though.  According to a recent article in USA Today, several colleges are getting on the bandwagon of encouraging students not to drive to campus, including several colleges that are instituting a bike sharing program, one that's moving a bike shop into its student union, and one that's giving free bikes to students who opt not to bring cars with them to college.

So now more than ever, leaving the car at home may be a great way to save money in college, and use that hard-earned scholarship money for other expenses besides gas.  While policies to discourage driving have existed for years at some campuses, such as high parking permit prices ($300 is a number I've heard from students at more than one state college) and limiting access to on-campus parking through means such as parking permit lotteries and limiting parking to upperclassmen, many colleges and universities seem to be showing a far greater commitment to making it possible for students to easily get around without a vehicle.

So, freshmen, as you're starting to pack for school this fall, ask yourselves, "Do I really need a car on campus?"  Furthermore, look to see what your new college might be doing to help students get around town.  Is there good public transportation?  Are there bike racks outside campus buildings and bike lanes on campus or around town?  Does your school have a bike sharing program or a bike club or repair shop that will help you with maintenance and repairs?  High school seniors, these might be good questions to ask in your college search.

With our society becoming increasingly environmentally conscious, now could be a great time to propose a fuel-saving plan at your high school or college, as well.  More and more scholarships and grants are being awarded to students who create eco-friendly projects, so if you're sick of having to drive to school and you can propose a solution to the problem, start searching for available scholarships and grants to see if anyone's interested in funding your education, or at least your project.  Saving on gas, looking good for college admissions, and possibly getting some money out of the deal--what's to lose?
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Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

August 14, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

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."
 Submissions are open year-round and people of any age or circumstance in life can enter, but be advised: most of the award in winning this contest is the joy of having your truly awful words in print. The contest is sponsored by an English department, so the official monetary prize is "a pittance" (for those not familiar with what a pittance is, just ask your composition instructor--they can most likely produce a pay stub).  As fun as this contest would be to enter, it's not going to take you very far towards funding your education.

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.

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Social Networking, Your Professors, the Generation Gap, and You

August 19, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

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: 

     
  • Seinfeld was a new idea in television and The Simpsons was considered pretty daring, too. Referencing these shows might still seem like a good idea to appear hip.
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  • The Harry Potter books might still be on their "to read" list and it feels like they only added them yesterday.
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  • News that the SAT now has three sections hasn't quite made the rounds.
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  • They can still remember when their school first got computers, when those computers first were connected to the Internet, and many can also remember school being the only place they could get online.
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  • Online courses are a novel approach to distance learning, and social networking tools (like opening a campus in SecondLife) are a novel approach to virtual learing.
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  • Socal networking is for work, not for play, and they have no idea why networking with people you work with is so creepy.
  •  

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On-Demand Textbook Printing Available to U of Michigan Students

September 19, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

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.

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Studying Abroad Is an Option, Despite Common Beliefs

September 23, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

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.

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Survey Says Student Loans Steer Post-College Plans

September 25, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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