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Social Stigma Causes Poor Math Performance by U.S. Students, Study Suggests

October 14, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

I remember sitting around in an English class one day, waiting for the professor to arrive, when one of my classmates mentioned the GRE (graduate record examination) test that we’d all recently taken to apply to graduate programs. She had been worried she wouldn’t even be able to get into English grad programs because of her abysmal standardized math test performance. Everyone chimed in with their GRE scores and application process anecdotes and I spoke up with, “I was surprised that I actually scored higher on the math than the verbal!” It was akin to announcing that I tortured small animals. The air went out of the room and I think some girls actually edged away from me.

 

This social stigma about math certainly doesn’t start with graduate students in English departments. Most students who excel at math, especially girls, have certainly felt it at one point or another. So while some previous research has suggested that girls just aren’t as good as boys at math, a new study published Friday in Notices of the American Mathematical Society suggests something different. Combining two of the facts of life of high school—popularity is important to many girls and math just isn’t cool—the study proposes that girls don’t do as well at math in middle school and high school and don’t pursue math-heavy degrees as undergraduate students because of social pressure.

 

This conclusion comes from looking at the cultural backgrounds of some of the highest-performing college and high school students who participate in math competitions. Most of these students, especially the girls, came from cultures where math is prized as an important and useful skill and a source of prestige. These students or their parents tended to be from Asian or Eastern European countries, either sparing them from or giving them a social counterpoint to American beliefs about math. These countries produce a higher proportion of mathematically gifted women, as well as higher numbers of math superstars overall, suggesting that it’s not that girls aren’t good at math, but that girls in the U.S. are socialized to not make math a priority.

 

So, if you’re a high school math nerd, hang in there. At least one research team believes that you are good at math and you’re not a weirdo for being good at math. If you can stick with math into college, you’ll likely encounter a different attitude. And if the article in Friday’s New York Times is any indication, top colleges want mathematically-inclined students. They might even pony up some scholarship money to woo you.

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More Americans Applying to Canadian Universities

December 30, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Recent economic hardships have derailed many families' college plans, prompting some to stop saving and others to start considering less expensive colleges.  For students still determined to attend a prestigious university, another option has been gaining traction.  According to an article in The Boston Globe, applications from American students are up at many of Canada's top universities, indicating a new surge in an already growing trend. 

Since 2001, the number of Americans attending Canadian universities increased by 50 percent, and based on current trends in applications and increased recruiting efforts, growth is expected to continue.  Americans choosing to study abroad in Canada are still eligible for federal student financial aid, even if they attend college abroad for all four years.  And even international tuition in Canada ($14,487 on average) is cheap right now when compared to private college tuition ($19,337 on average) and even out-of-state tuition at some state colleges in the United States.

 Studying in Canada also removes many of the traditional barriers faced by international students.  Many Americans studying in Canada can cheaply and easily return home for holidays.  Students are instructed in English at the majority of Canadian colleges and universities, signs around town will also be in English, and for the most part, accents are not even very pronounced.  Despite their proximity to home, though, students still benefit from being immersed in another culture, and since many of Canada's top schools are situated in urban settings, Canadian universities also present an opportunity to experience life in a big city.

 However, the bargain is dependent on exchange rates.  When the American and Canadian dollars are approximately equal in value, studying in Canada becomes relatively more expensive, as does living in Canada.  Also, while some college scholarships can be applied to tuition at Canadian universities, many stipulate that applicants must be attending college in the United States.  While studying abroad in Canada is an option to consider when looking for ways to get the most educational value for your dollar, be sure to weigh all your alternatives.  Regardless of where you wind up, though, there are scholarship opportunities and other ways to help pay for school.

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Community Service Rewarded through Campus-Based Scholarships

January 2, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you've started volunteering as part of a New Year's resolution, or just because it's something you enjoy, chances are you were thinking more of other people than of yourself when you signed up.  However, the altruistic nature of community service doesn't mean that there are no tangible rewards.  Volunteering makes a great line on a resume and a college application, and is also excellent scholarship essay fodder.  As an added bonus, a growing number of colleges and foundations are awarding substantial amounts of scholarship money for students who devote their time and energy to helping others.

An article on Forbes.com profiles several of the most generous campus-based community service scholarship programs.  Several of these include full-tuition scholarships for students who have participated in volunteer programs in the past or who are interested in making community service a major part of their college experience.  Drew University in New Jersey has recently unveiled a brand new civic scholarship program, following in the footsteps of The College of New Jersey, which also offers a sizable service learning award.  Dozens of other colleges also offer similar scholarship opportunities, many of which are funded through the Bonner Foundation and AmeriCorps.

These full-tuition service scholarship awards can be wholly merit-based or partially need-based.  One reason for colleges' increased interest in service learning awards could be due to their potential to help students feel more involved and thus become more likely to succeed in college.  The Forbes article cited Pat Donahue, director of the civic scholarship program at The College of New Jersey, as saying that service learning has helped retain several at-risk students who are otherwise less likely to complete a degree than many of their peers.

Service scholarships have also been described by some as the new athletic scholarships for a generation of students devoting more time to service than to studying or sports.  As athletic and academic scholarships are as much contingent on future success as on past experiences, so are service scholarships, which often require students to continue volunteering and participating in special courses and activities throughout their college careers.

To find out more about the Bonner Foundation, AmeriCorps, and other community service scholarships, conduct a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com.

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Survey Provides Profile of College Freshmen in 2008

January 22, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you're wondering what to expect in college or how you measure up against the students already there, an annual survey of college freshmen may help answer your questions.  The Cooperative Institutional Research Program, conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute and UCLA, annually surveys college freshmen, asking a broad spectrum of questions ranging from their reasons for their college choice to their religious and political views.  The results from this year's survey have just been published on the Higher Education Research Institute's website.

The results indicate that--at least for now--the class of 2012 is the most politically engaged group of college students ever surveyed by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program.  The report found that 85.9 percent of freshmen at least occasionally discussed politics, and fewer students than ever describe themselves as middle-of-the-road politically. Individual issues are also important to many students, with universal healthcare, same sex marriage, and protecting the environment among the issues with the broadest support among first year students.

In addition to politics, students are also more concerned about finances than they have been in the past, likely due to the poor state of the economy. Ability to pay is becoming an increasing concern and mores freshmen indicate plans to work their way through college.

Students are also becoming more concerned with financial aid.  More students than ever are describing offers of financial assistance, such as college scholarships and grants, as being essential to their college choice.  This year, 43 percent of freshmen based their decision heavily on this factor, with cost of attendance also rating highly for nearly 40 percent of freshmen.  Fewer students who were accepted to their first choice school chose to attend in 2008 than in recent years, likely due to issues of affordability and funding.

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Expectations about Grading Can Cause Problems in College

February 19, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Here's something for new college freshmen and college-bound high school seniors to keep in mind: college students and professors often have very different expectations when it comes to grades.  An article appearing earlier this week in The New York Times highlights just how vast this difference can be, citing testimony from students, faculty, and one recent study.  According to the study, one third of students feel they deserve a B or better just for attending class, and 40 percent feel they should earn at least a B by doing the reading for a class.  The faculty members cited in the article disagree with these assumptions, emphasizing merit over effort in awarding final grades.

While many students believe that hard work should result in high grades, many faculty members believe that grades should be based on the finished product, not the effort it took to arrive there.  While a student may pour hours of studying or research into a college exam or paper that only earns a C, the outcome can be perplexing and discouraging.  Often, this experience is vastly different from the experience students have in high school, especially since many undergraduate students are used to being high achievers.  Students perceive grading as unfair and instructors perceive students as having too great a sense of entitlement.

There is another factor the article doesn't address, which may become a concern for readers of our site--sometimes, students don't just feel they deserve a good grade, but they might actually need one to pay for school.  Many scholarship awards have minimum GPA requirements, and nearly all financial aid programs require students to maintain satisfactory academic progress, which includes maintaining a certain GPA.  So while a student's freshmen year of college can be a learning experience and a period of adjustment to a new grading system, it can potentially be a period of fear and worry about the security of their student financial aid.

If you're struggling to maintain the grades to keep your aid, don't be discouraged by your professors' attitudes towards grading.  Talk to your instructor if you're struggling with a class and explain your concerns.  Many will be more than willing to sit down with you and offer some help, or at least point you in the right direction.  Join a study group and consider signing up for tutoring.  If writing is your problem, look up the university's writing center--they usually offer free consultations and can help you with the problem that's standing between you and the grade you want or need.  All of this is part of the increased time management and overall responsibility that comes with attending college, so prepare yourself accordingly and don't be caught off guard.

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Students Protest College Costs

February 20, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

This week, several groups of students have decided to take a new approach in attempting to reduce their college costs.  Students in Minnesota and South Carolina both held rallies at their state capitols this week to try to influence their state legislature's decisions regarding their schools.  Meanwhile, students at New York University have barricaded themselves inside a building on campus, refusing to come out until the university meets their list of demands.  Each group has different requests, but most come down to money.

More than 200 students from state colleges and universities in Minnesota protested outside the State Capitol Wednesday.  Many held signs stating their anticipated student loan debt (answers included $38,000 and "too much" according to an article in The Minneapolis Star-Tribune), while others gave speeches and encouraged their legislators to reject the governor's proposed budget cuts to higher education.  Several legislators expressed solidarity with the students, and a newly formed student group plans further protests.

Students in South Carolina also urged their state legislature to make college funding a spending priority, though their actions were largely in protest to a proposed state tuition cap.  Students expressed concern that their universities may need to sacrifice educational quality by cutting faculty or course offerings to deal with reduced funding.  Students were concerned they'd wind up getting less for their money and possibly paying more money over time by taking longer to get the classes they needed to graduate.  They urged the legislature to leave the power to set tuition in colleges' hands.

New York University had the most radical student protest and the lengthiest list of demands, with a small group of students taking over a cafeteria and demanding greater accountability and transparency in the university's budgeting process.  The NYU students also wanted a tuition freeze, a union and better benefits for graduate student assistants, and according to one sign, "enough financial aid" for all students, among other things.  The students and the university have been in an ongoing standoff since Wednesday night, with crowds of up to 300 students gathering outside the occupied building at one point yesterday.

Whether student rallies, protests, or sit-ins are the best means of funding your education is debatable.  Students with activist inclinations who seek other routes to paying for college with better odds of immediate success should consider doing a scholarship search.  There are numerous scholarship opportunities for students who are involved in their communities and interested in bringing about change, and they don't require presenting anyone with a list of demands.

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New Book Explores Student's "Domestic Study Abroad"

March 26, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

One much-discussed aspect of the college experience is gaining exposure to new people and perspectives.  Another statement that commonly turns up in the college search process is that different schools serve different groups of students--hence the importance of finding a good fit for you.  Many of the most recognizable and commonly referenced differences are based at least in part on the race, gender, socioeconomic status, or country of origin of a college's student population.  A college's mission and ideological and cultural base also play an important role, and exposure to ideological and religious diversity can also be a major component of the college experience.

One student at Brown University recently turned his experiences with such ideological diversity into a book, entitled "The Unlikely Disciple: a Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University."  The author, Kevin Roose, decided to go on a "domestic study abroad" and enroll at Liberty University, a conservative Christian college, for a semester.  What emerges is, at least according to early reviews, an interesting and balanced look at Liberty from an outsider's perspective, as well as an honest exploration of the author's reactions to his new environment.

If you're in the process of choosing a college, or you're just curious about how wide-ranging the student experience can be in America, this book sounds like an interesting read.  Roose's story is also a reminder for current college students that you don't necessarily need to go to an exotic locale to be exposed to people with a cultural experience markedly different from your own.  Though study abroad occasionally can sound like an expensive and protracted sightseeing trip, Roose's "domestic study abroad" is a reminder of the importance of seeing and experiencing a new culture and place and stepping outside one's own ideological bounds.

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Does Facebook Use Affect College Grades?

May 8, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

More material continues to be added to the debate over whether sites like Facebook help or hurt undergraduate students.  Last month, preliminary research by a graduate student at Ohio State University caused a stir by suggesting that the use of social networking websites was somehow connected to lower college grades. Now, a new study published by researchers at Northwestern University, Stanford University, and the University of Pennsylvania suggests that if anything, Facebook users have higher grades than students who do not use social networking sites.

While both studies are very preliminary, their findings have sparked a great deal of discussion and debate.  Many professors and some students regard sites like Facebook as distractions from coursework and assaults on students' attention spans.  Others see no harm and a great deal of benefit from being able to connect with peers and share ideas and information more easily online.  Some instructors have even incorporated social networking into their curricula and have encouraged students to friend them online.

Social networking sites are becoming an increasingly large part of the lifestyle associated with attending college, and are increasingly being used as tools in college admissions, as well.  Do you use any of these websites?  Have you seen any connection between your internet habits and your grades?

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Colleges Rethinking General Ed Requirements

May 19, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

A large part of attending college is gaining exposure to new ideas outside your area of study and acquiring a broad base of knowledge and critical thinking skills along the way.  Traditionally, colleges have pushed students towards this goal through the use of general education requirements, which are rarely met with uniform enthusiasm.  English majors may dread the mandatory laboratory science class, while future engineers may fail to see the point in spending two semesters learning MLA citation style and how to write an argumentative essay.  Other students complain that general education requirements leave their college experience feeling disjointed and not directly connected to their working life. While they may eventually have the chance to draw on knowledge, experiences, or methods of inquiry from all of their classes, many students fail to see how when staring a list of required introductory courses in the face.

Colleges are aware of these concerns and many are beginning to rethink general education requirements, according to survey results highlighted recently in Inside Higher Ed. A number of colleges are studying general education requirements and desired learning outcomes, starting by identifying goals and asking students what they're taking from their courses.  Others are implementing new course requirements to expose students to a variety of disciplines beyond what they would normally get from introductory courses in their first two years of college.  More focus is also being placed on integrating a student's courses into the focus of their degree and career goals with the hope that students will be able to tie these lessons together and bring a more well-rounded approach to their major.

With renewed focus on college costs, the time it takes students to earn a degree, and the value of a college degree in the working world, the attention being paid to these courses seems timely. As many schools begin reevaluating or restructuring general educuation requirements, it's likely that the college experience of today's high school students will be different from not only that of their parents, but also that of today's undergraduate students.  What do you think of required general classes? Does the system need to be changed?  Don't just limit yourself to blog comments! If you're attending college right now, check out this year's Resolve to Evolve Essay Scholarship for a chance to win $1,000 by weighing in on this topic.

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Students Choosing Internships off the Beaten Path

May 28, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

College students and recent graduates across the country are currently starting summer internships. Whether paid or unpaid, the internship can be an integral part of the college experience, as well as a chance to earn college credit for doing something you hopefully want to do. Internships are one of the best ways to hone major-specific job skills and gain valuable experience in a potential career.  For some students, though, summer internships are also a way to gain exposure to an entirely new line of work as well as hands-on experience with movements or industries they support.

The New York Times reports a growing summer internship trend is organic farming, with many students from disparate backgrounds signing up to grow crops or raise livestock on small farms across the country. While farming internships are traditionally seen as the province of agriculture students from rural state universities, students on both coasts, including many at small private colleges, have begun to take interest in these programs as well, thanks largely to a growing interest in sustainable agriculture.  Students who support organic farming and want to learn more about the industry first-hand can spend a summer working with plants and animals, as can students who just want a change of pace from their usual college lifestyle.  An agriculture internship could bring students with urban or suburban backgrounds a change of perspective, and also some fodder for green scholarship applications.

If farming isn't your thing but you're intrigued by the idea of taking an internship in a field outside your major, options abound.  While some internship programs may require a relevant major or course experience, others may just want students with a genuine interest in the job.  Think about the things you'd like to do and jobs you'd like to try out and see if any internship opportunities exist in those areas.  While these experiences may not directly lead to a job placement at that business (although this is no guarantee with traditional internships, either), they could lead to new experiences and a more diverse résumé, which could in turn lead to job offers down the road.

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