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Dorm Room Living May Come With Unexpected Perks

June 9, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Many of you have already made your decisions on the school you’ll be attending come fall. The next step (outside of the obvious, determining how you’ll pay for that choice and evaluating your financial aid letter) will be figuring out where you’ll be living once you’re on your chosen campus.

Many colleges will require freshmen to live in dorms, to build a sense of community and give those first-year students better access to campus offerings and guidance. You’ve probably heard quite a bit about communal living already, either through older siblings’ roommate horror stories or warnings of consuming too many calories in the dorm cafeterias. A number of recent articles have taken a lighter approach to dorm living, looking at the unique options you may have when determining where you’ll be spending most of your time come fall. (You may remember reading about college students demanding more from their dorms; it seems like schools are taking notice.)

One article in The New York Times took a look at dorm rooms that came with “bragging rights” and an air of celebrity about them. While wait lists for them are typically high, some students discover only after they’ve moved in that they’re bunking in the same space as a former politician, celebrity, or historical figure. Princeton University in particular has quite a few of these famous spaces—Michelle Obama had a single room there, and four freshmen currently live in Adlai E. Stevenson’s old room. (The school razed the building where James Stewart spent his evenings.) Yale University boasts Anderson Cooper’s and Paul Giamatti’s old rooms. While colleges are often hesitant to disclose where famous alums lived while attending their schools, the article suggests it’s not too hard to figure out using old yearbooks, and the Times piece alone discloses quite a few of the celebs’ previous addresses.

For those who would rather bring a furry friend from home to college than boast of their rooms’ history, a number of colleges have become more amendable to allowing students to bring the family pet to live with them in the dorms. Another recent Times article took a look at the trend, as colleges begin setting aside dorms specifically for pet owners. The dorms include daycare facilities for when students are in class—although hours are limited to prevent pet neglect—and other amenities staffed by work-study students interested in working with animals. According to that article, about a dozen colleges currently have policies allowing pets access to the dorms. Typically, the policies are limited to cats and small- to average-sized dogs.

What kinds of things will you be considering when you’re ready to make your housing choice? Are you looking for a more traditional dorm room experience, without the frills or additional options now offered by colleges?

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Study Suggests Colleges Should Consider Smartphone Use

June 18, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

A new study from Ball State University shows further proof that students’ reliance on mobile devices is here to stay, with more students using their smart phones over their computers to access the Internet and communicate with one another than ever before.

Smart phone use has doubled over the last year, according to the study, with nearly half of phone-owning students boasting the devices. Text messaging has become students’ main form of communication, with 97 percent of students surveyed using that method to communicate, compared to 30 percent using e-mail. The study took into account 11 different surveys of mobile device usage since 2005, with 5,500 college students participating.

The study suggests that while it should be easier to reach students now with these smart phones in hand, it also makes it easier for them to multi-task and lead more hectic lifestyles. An increase in students owning more sophisticated devices has also led colleges to reconsider how to both use advancing technologies in the classroom and limiting devices where they may serve as more of a distraction. Cell phone use is still typically prohibited in the classroom, although colleges have been working to integrate other technologies into students’ curricula. Seton Hill University saw so much potential in the new iPad that they announced they would give one to all incoming students. Elsewhere, professors are embracing social networking sites like Twitter as a way to make their instruction more relevant.

Laptops in the classroom in particular have been a topic of discussion since they began cropping up on desks, assisting students in note-taking during lectures. Some professors argue that while some students use their computers appropriately, others spend entire periods surfing the Internet or perusing their Facebook pages. An article in Slate this spring looked at measures some colleges have taken to keep students tuned in to class discussion, which often means disconnecting them from wireless access. The University of Chicago’s Law School shut off Internet access in classrooms several years ago along with several other law schools, where discussion is an integral piece of the educational experience. A professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder found that those who used laptops in the classroom scored 11 percent lower on their first exam than those who took notes the old-fashioned way.

What do you think? Would mobile devices in the classroom be helpful or harmful? What about laptops? What kinds of regulations regarding technology already exist on your campus?

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College Cuts Housekeeping Services

George Washington University Says Students Too Messy for Perk

July 2, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

New freshmen at George Washington University this fall won’t be as pampered as their predecessors. Administrators there have decided to cut the housekeeping services they had offered in the past, in part to keep the costs of room and board at their current levels.

According to an article in Inside Higher Ed today, the services included vacuuming students’ residence hall rooms and cleaning their private bathrooms. Come fall, it will be up to the students to tidy things up, although administrators said some housekeepers were unable to vacuum a number of freshmen’s rooms properly anyway because of the messes students would leave on their floors, which first prompted the school to look into eliminating the service. About 80 new freshmen have been vocally opposed to the school’s decision to cut the service, signing Facebook petitions to demand it be added back. In one article, one incoming student said it was one of those things that “semi-convinced” her to come to GW, and that with tuition at $54,000, it shouldn’t be too difficult to keep such perks in their communal living spaces.

It may seem silly to have a housekeeper keep your dorm room tidy, but GW wasn’t unique in offering the service. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology still offers the service, with housekeepers there changing linens, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming and taking out students’ trash. According to the Inside Higher Ed article, administrators there said if they needed to trim their budgets, they would cut housekeeping staff rather than eliminating the program altogether, as they describe it as “one of the top selling points” of the college. At Xavier University, administrators use their housekeeping service (offered in three out of four dorms) as a way to relieve parents worried about their sons and daughters living in messy rooms now that they’re out on their own.

At other schools that have instituted cuts to housekeeping services, the reaction from students has been mixed. The College of the Holy Cross and Claremont McKenna College both reduced their service from twice a week to once a week, which may not seem like that big a deal to students without any kind of formal cleaning service. Administrators at Holy Cross said having housekeepers allowed the school to maintain a sense of upkeep in residence halls, and keep rooms in better shape for the next round of freshmen. The Inside Higher Ed article closed with a rising senior at Claremont deriding what he thought of as an excess: “Do we really need maids cleaning up after every mess? It’s pretty ridiculous. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love it. Who wouldn't? But I think for college students trying to become adults, people shouldn't be cleaning up our mess. That is a mother thing to do when you're 10 years old.”

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Got Roommate Problems? You're Not Alone

July 27, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you’re an incoming freshman new to the idea of communal living, there’s something you should know. You may not be instant best friends with your new roommate. Random pairings are just that: random. And a recent article in The New York Times describes just how bad new undergraduates have gotten at managing even the minutest problems. 

According to the article, students are getting more passive aggressive, using technology and social networking to vent rather than confronting an annoying roommate. One director of housing says students text one another while they’re in the same room rather than talking out a disagreement. Or their complaints will go “public” via Facebook, with the other roommate finding out on the website that there’s trouble brewing in their living space. Students won’t even tell noisy dorm-mates to quiet down, according to a recent focus group at North Carolina State University.

Another problem is more parents getting involved in the conflicts, rather than the students handling their roommate issues themselves, according to the article. Most colleges have mediation services or resident advisers at the ready to handle these problems, but few students take advantage.

But there are ways to make a mismatch work. If you’re aware of the common roommate problems before you move in, like borrowing personal items without the roommate’s permission or messy living habits, you may be more prepared to handle them. If you think you may be the problem, it may be time for a bit of self-reflection. It’s probably not a bad idea, for example, to learn how to not eat food that isn’t yours. 

If it gets really bad, most colleges have systems in place that allow students to swap out their roommates. At Loyola University in Chicago, students are able to move out of their rooms if they find other students to trade places with them, according to the Times article. The school gives unhappy roommates a little help with organized “swap nights,” where they are able to meet other students looking for improved living situations. The University of Florida has introduced the Facebook tool RoomBug as a move away from random assignments. The application allows students to give more detailed responses on what they’d like to see in a roommate, and to match themselves with profiles they feel may be a good fit. Whatever your situation, don’t take a failed roommate situation too personally. By sophomore year, more than 70 percent of freshman year roommates are no longer living together, choosing instead to bunk with friends they make freshman year.

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Latest Princeton Review Rankings Cause Expected Stir

August 3, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Each year the Princeton Review releases its comprehensive list of colleges ranked by the extracurricular and social offerings on their campuses, how happy their students are, and which schools are the most religious or LGBT-friendly, among a number of other categories. The distinction that gets the most attention year after year, however, is the school the review dubs as the top “party school,” an honor that may be lauded by students but dreaded by the chosen school’s administrators.

The title this year goes to the University of Georgia in Athens. The school has appeared on the list 10 times since the Princeton Review began ranking the colleges based on these criteria in 1992. Choosing the top “party school” may seem like a difficult task, but according to an Associated Press article, students at the Georgia college party from Thursday through Sunday at the nearly 100 drinking establishments surrounding the college.

Administrators at the school aren’t unhappy, obviously. President Bruce Benson questioned the research methods used as part of the survey, and highlighted the efforts the school has made to introduce student alcohol education programs. Ohio University, funnily enough also found in a town called Athens, was ranked second, followed by Pennsylvania State and West Virginia universities. The University of Mississippi rounded out the top five. On the other side of the spectrum, Brigham Young University was ranked as the first-place finisher among “Stone-Cold Sober Schools,” a distinction that college has held for the last 13 years.

The Princeton Review collects its data based on email surveys of 122,000 students across more than 370 college campuses. The “party school” ranking comes from responses on alcohol and drug use, hours spent studying, and how prevalent Greek life is on each campus, according to the Associated Press article. Among the Review’s other findings:

  • Students study the most at the Massachusetts Institution of Technology; they student the least at the University of North Dakota.
  • Harvard University has the best college library; Bradley University ranked highest in the “This is a Library?” category.
  • Brown University students are the happiest in the country; the unhappiest are at Fisk University.
  • Bowdoin College serves up the best campus food; the worst food is found at the United States Merchant Marine Academy.
  • The most politically active students are found at American University; students are most apathetic when it comes to politics at Salisbury University.

Obviously, take all lists like this with a grain of salt. While it may be helpful to have information on student-faculty ratios or the financial aid help offered by campus, only you can determine where your best fit will be when it comes to less tangible criteria like how social a college is or which school offers the tastiest meal plan. Do your own research, starting with a college search based on the most important criteria to you.

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Report Shows Students Spending Less Time Studying, More on Leisure

August 6, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

A report released yesterday shows that college students today study about 10 hours less on average than college students in the 1960s. The report explains further that technology isn’t the cause of less time hitting the books or the library, as has been traditionally believed. The researchers say it’s up to the colleges to give students more work and to enforce academic standards and requirements to boost study times.

The American Enterprise Institute report, “Leisure College, USA,” looked at a number of national surveys over the last several decades to come to their conclusions. In contrast to previous theories over why students study less these days—some students choose tougher college majors, attend “easier” colleges, or work part- or full-time while in school—the researchers say the evidence points to other factors at play. Achievement standards at post-secondary schools have fallen, they said, and there’s been an overall shift in “college culture” to allow for more leisure time.

According to the study:

  • In 1961, the average full-time student at a four-year college studied 24 hours per week; today, college students study about 14 hours per week.
  • Although students are spending more time working than they did before, the number of hours spent studying fell for all kinds of students, including those who didn’t have a part- or full-time job on their schedules in addition to their coursework.
  • Employers seem to care less about students’ GPAs while in college and more about an applicant’s individual experiences and college choices. This gives students less incentive to study hard for those good grades.
  • Students seem to be spending more time on applying to college and getting accepted to the college of their choice; once they’re there, the pressure seems to be off.
  • How's this for incentive? Students who study more in college earn more in the long run.

As with any report like this, it’s important to consider that these are theories of the researchers that could be explained in a number of different ways. Why do you think students are studying less? Should professors be tougher on their students? If you need some tips to stay motivated and meet your own personal academic goals, there are things you can do to stay on track. Check out our Study Skills section to learn more about topics like how you can become a more efficient student by studying smart, how you can feel more prepared going into a college exam, and how to tackle that first all-nighter, among a number of other topics. Have more tips? Share them with us!

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Should You Skip Class? A New Online Tool Weighs the Risk

August 18, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

You’ve already read about the website that allows college students to wager on their grades. A new online tool allows students to calculate not whether they should risk some cash on their academic performance, but whether sleeping in and skipping class is worth their while.

The “Should I Skip Class Today?” calculator asks users 10 questions that glean information about how many times that user has that class in question, when the next major test/quiz will be held, and whether that class has an attendance policy, among other criteria. Once they hit submit, users are told whether they’d be safe or sorry if they stayed in bed and skipped class. For example, I was told it was OK to skip class but that I wasn’t completely safe when I gave the calculator a whirl. I used a hypothetical class that met twice a week, included regular handouts in class, and had an attendance policy where my instructor did not take attendance, but where participation mattered in my final grade. The results also told me that I had already skipped 7 percent of my classes this semester (I had informed the web tool that this would be my third absence), and when my next test or quiz was (I offered that information up as well).

The calculator is the brainchild of Jim Filbert, who thought of the idea “one cold morning” in February of this year. Filbert, a telecommunications management student at the time, didn’t want to go to class that day, and found himself wondering what the risks were to stay in his warm bed. Following a quick search online, he was unable to find a similar tool, so he took it upon himself to create an online risk calculator himself. He did end up skipping class that day, according to his bio on the site, but he spent his free time working on the calculator, instead.

While you should probably go to class as often as you can, barring an unfortunate illness, flat tire, or other incident that would stop you from doing so, it’d be interesting to see how “accurate” this calculator is in a real situation. How you’d measure its accuracy, though, I’m not exactly sure. Have you tried out this new online tool? How do you go about determining how risky it is to skip class? What’s an appropriate excuse? If you’re feeling swamped, check out our College Classes and Study Smart sections before deciding whether you’re really too overwhelmed to go to class; we have tips on everything from preparing for exams to choosing which courses you should sign up for.

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Why So Serious? Course Promotes Laughter as More Than Best Medicine

August 24, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

There hasn’t been much to laugh about at many schools across the country, what with budget cuts and creative cost-saving measures affecting course offerings and faculty positions. At one North Carolina community college, however, a new course is teaching students how to chuckle, giggle and guffaw, no matter how they feel about the state of affairs outside of the classroom.

While the class is targeted at retirees—the noncredit eight-week “Laughter in the Sandhills” is put on by Sandhills Community College’s Center for Creative Retirement—it’s a good example of the kinds of offerings you may not know existed as you focus your attentions instead on the general education requirements in your course catalog. This class is taught by a “certified laughter coach,” according to an article about it in The Fayetteville Observer, and focuses on the positive health benefits behind a good laugh and the right and wrong way to let out a chortle. The class isn’t about perfecting your stand-up comedy routine, but about learning to induce laughter; students spend about 15 minutes of the start of each class greeting each other with silly handshakes, for example, or high-fiving to the sounds of “Alo-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.”

If you’re more interested in virtual LOLs rather than learning appropriate laughter techniques, and have the time (and funding) to explore unique courses at your college, do so. You may not use your new underwater basket weaving skills (courses in the craft are offered at the University of California-San Diego), but you may meet some interested characters along the way. Or you may find a hidden talent for analyzing pop culture (the University of California-Berkeley has a class on the philosophy behind the Simpsons). Or, that quirky course may even add to your skill set. Courses on social networking, especially Twitter, for example, may be more useful than you think. (DePaul University has a course in how Twitter has changed the way reporters do their jobs.)

It’s important to choose college courses wisely so that you’re able to graduate in a timely fashion and meet the requirements of both your school and chosen field of study. But it’s also important that you keep going to your classes, and a fun course here and there may help keep you motivated. We’ve all taken that intro to bowling/ice skating/curling course, and some colleges may be more lenient about how you fulfill certain general education requirements. Just remember to talk to your counselor or adviser about how much leeway you have when it comes to coming up with your schedule of courses.

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Students Plan "Gap Years" for More Than Break from College

August 25, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

While you’re unpacking a semester’s worth of your belongings in your shared dorm room, there are other recent high school graduates packing up for different adventures—volunteer experiences abroad, internships across the country, or backpacking trips through Europe. These students are taking a “gap year,” or time off from the traditional college experience.

The gap year is a popular option in Europe, where students opt out of university-level coursework in favor of experiences they feel will make them wiser and more independent. But the idea has also grown in popularity in the United States. USA Today announced a new blog this week from Mira Fishman, who will be leaving her home in Ann Arbor in three weeks not to go to college, but to volunteer abroad. She’ll spend six months in Buenos Aires at a nonprofit, then another six months in a “grittier city.” She hopes to improve upon her Spanish and boost her resume, and as her plans were worked out independently rather than through the dozens of organized gap year programs out there, she hopes to keep to a strict budget.

Despite the high cost of organized gap year programs—some run up to $20,000 for the year—they’re also growing in popularity, especially among those who want a bit more structure to their gap year. Such programs promise a support network for gap year students, and experiences that are crafted to the interests of the student. Students like Fishman, however, may prefer a gap year that requires more independence and responsibility. An article several years ago in USA Today described “gappers” who completed internships at software start-ups, explored careers to clarify what they’d like to do in college before enrolling, and learned life skills at manual labor jobs. (One student interviewed worked as a deckhand on a “floating classroom” in Baltimore.)

Taking time off may also be an option for those who weren’t able to get in to the school of their choice, although that time off may be spent becoming a more attractive candidate to that chosen college. The gap year then becomes more of a “bridge year,” where the college-bound look to enhance their applications by taking—and acing—courses at the local community college, volunteering, or pursuing internships in their intended fields of study. Bridge years also exist for those already admitted to college; at Princeton University, officials have introduced a bridge year program for admitted students where they pursue service work abroad before coming to campus the following year.

Are you taking a gap year? What are the pros and cons of taking time off before committing to college? Are traditional study abroad programs through your college the right way to go if you're looking to go overseas? Tell us your stories!

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Why Credit Cards Don’t Deserve the Bad Rep

August 21, 2007

by Scholarships.com Staff

Depending on the hands it falls into, a credit card may serve as an ultra-convenient money stack, or it can—if I may be overly dramatic—lead to financial suicide. For those who can manage their expenses and pay their monthly balances in full, owning a credit card is a great idea. Walking around with large amounts of cash is dangerous, and buying online is quite a hassle a without a credit card. Emergencies that necessitate fast funding also come up, and when they do, a bit of debt pales in importance. As you probably know, building up a credit report is one of the biggest incentives for taking advantage of credit cards. Credit card companies know that many parents will take care of student debt, and they’re not shy about making application offers to students. Booths with pizza and t-shirt giveaways fill up campus corners and busy sidewalks on sunny days. According to CBS, the average student is offered eight credit cards during their first college semester—no job required. Once students graduate, they are less likely to receive financial backing from their parents. With new expenses and student loans kicking in, graduate fledglings are considered to be bigger liabilities to credit card companies. Ironically, just when credit cards become most important, they become most difficult to come by. Renting an apartment involves a credit check, as does taking out a car loan and a home mortgage. People with bare credit reports are big question marks to sellers, landlords and credit card companies. If there is little or no credit history on your report, you may find yourself staring at bigger bills or doorknockers. I’m not saying it’s impossible to make it without a credit card, but having one sure does help. Good track records with a national credit card such as Master Card, Visa, and Discover (lesser-known store cards may not contribute to credit ratings) give lenders some evidence of dependability. Unfortunately, many students have a hard time creating a positive track record, and therein lays the problem. Students frequently look to credit cards for tempting pick-me-ups and tuition aid. Don’t get me wrong, not all indebted students are shopoholics, but those who look to credit cards for financial aid might want to look elsewhere.

Scholarships, grants, jobs and less expensive student loans are a student’s best bet because late payments may hurt in more ways than one. They will show up on credit reports, result in $20-$25 late bank fees, and lead to increases in credit card penalty charges. If you handle your credit card wisely, you won’t need to worry much about penalties and annual percentage fees, but you should definitely shop around before applying. Search for a card with the lowest fixed annual percentage rate (APR). Numerous cards will start you off with a low APR but raise the rate after 6 months. Also, be on the lookout for standard annual fees. There are cards that charge standard usage fees, regardless of payment history. Look for those that don’t. Once you build a good payment history, you may receive credit card offers galore. Little cards with your school logos may arrive in your mailbox. Yes. That’s cute. Chase knows that you go to the University of Illinois, but you already have a card. Refrain from getting another one. According to the United Marketing Service (UCMS), the average Joe carries 2.8 credit cards in his wallet: don’t be Joe. When you apply for a new card or loan, a credit inquiry will be recorded on your report. The more inquiries are made, the lower your credit score. I know, just because you want a discount on American Eagle jeans does not mean that you will not pay your bill in full. Unfortunately, lenders may assume that credit inquiries suggest financial need—even if they don’t. If you can stay on top of your expenses and limit the number of credit cards you own, you should take advantage of college application offers. As long as you can control the card before it takes control of you, using a credit card can bring you one step closer to a secure financial future.

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