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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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Medical Insurance for College Students

August 28, 2007

by Scholarships.com Staff

There are so many things to think about when entering college. Financial aid for tuition, room & board and book expenses initially come to mind, but many forget another important expense—medical insurance. Before students head off to college, they need to seriously consider future medical aid options. Those with a history of ailments are likely to explore their options, but so should the poster children for health. Unfortunately, a large portion of health-related issues surface during adolescence. The fact that college students are frequently stressed out and sleep-deprived sure doesn’t make things better.

Student Insurance Under a Parent Policy

In more ways than one, students who enter college are better off than those who finish school at 18. Those who are considered dependents under the health insurance plans of parents are frequently given the boot on their eighteenth birthday - a not-so-nice way to be welcomed into the adult world. Those who head off to college, however, continue to be dependents under their parents’ plan for a few more years (usually until they turn 23 or 25). This typically applies to full-time students only. Those who are enrolled part-time may be ineligible or forced to hand over additional cash.

Student Insurance Under a College Policy

Schools typically offer their own college insurance plans for those who choose to take advantage of them. Oftentimes, students are automatically charged for this service unless they let schools know they are uninterested. Some states require entering students to be medically ensured. If that is the case, students who choose to reject school offers must show proof of alternative coverage. The costs of college insurance vary greatly, but they are frequently less expensive than private options. This tends to come at the expense of quality.

Graduate Student Insurance

You may have noticed that full-time students can retain a parent plan until they turn a certain age—a few states extended the eligibility age to 30. More often, however, students may be cast aside during their low and mid twenties. According to a Commonwealth Fund report, about 30 percent of the nation's estimated 44.4 million people without health insurance are 19-29 years old. This makes them the largest group of newly uninsured. Graduates students with no income and plenty of expenditures are not pleased. Schools do take graduate school students into consideration, but they do so at a cost. For example, the University of Illinois Champaign insurance policy for the 2007-2008 year is $180 for undergraduates; graduates have to pay $256. College students do have options, but they need to be prepared.

When putting aside college funds, expect the unexpected. Scrapping together additional 529 plan money and applying for a few more scholarships may be in order.

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College Costs , College Life



Escape from In-State Through the National Student Exchange Program

June 14, 2011

Escape from In-State Through the National Student Exchange Program

by Shari Williams

When applying to colleges, I had an “out-of-state” mentality: I wanted to go anywhere besides the very state I lived in. After applying and being accepted to several schools, the cost of out-of-state tuition caused my plans of leaving Maryland to come to a screeching halt. It wasn't until my second year of college that I found my escape when a friend of mine told me about a program called the National Student Exchange (NSE).

The NSE is a program that allows college students to go to another four-year university within North America for a semester up to an entire academic year. My friend went to Florida but I chose to go to California State University – Northridge and had one of the best years of my college life. It was a great opportunity for me to experience another part of the country (I’ve lived on the East Coast all my life) and it was also a very beneficial area for both of my majors, deaf studies and broadcast journalism. To top it all off, I could still pay my in-state tuition to attend the school!

If you are a college student who would like to explore, see more of the world or know what it would be like to live in another state, the NSE is for you. For me, it wasn't only a learning experience but also a life changing one. I would highly encourage anyone who attends a college involved with the NSE to participate in it. If you are interested in the program and would like more information about it, go to www.nse.org and see if your school is one of the nearly 200 member universities.

Shari Williams is a junior at Towson University with a double major in deaf studies and broadcast journalism and a minor in entertainment, media and film. With experience in public relations, a love for music and a passion for acting, she longs to be a jack of all trades. A Baltimore native, Shari is an avid traveler and opportunity seeker. She hopes to become the next face seen on the morning news or the voice heard over the radio.

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Travel This Summer...for Cheap!

June 23, 2011

Travel This Summer...for Cheap!

by Shari Williams

It's summer break, the perfect time for college students to travel. Sounds good, right? The thing is that although many of us like to travel, we can get discouraged by the costly expenses that come along with it. I actually felt the same way until I learned of several resources during my personal travels.

My favorite way of taking a leisurely (or even last minute) inexpensive trip is through AirTran Airways. They have a program called AirTranU: As long as you are between the ages of 18 and 22, you can ride to any destination that AirTran offers for between $49 and $99. You are allowed to bring a carry-on at no charge but no other baggage is permitted. This is perfect for long weekend trips but if you know that you will be staying at your destination for a while, I suggest packing your items in advance and sending them via UPS or another shipping company so you won’t have to worry about lugging your baggage around or – worse – losing it before it reaches baggage claim.

If you are not too keen on flying, Greyhound also has discounts specifically for college students with its Student Advantage Discount Card. By using the discount card, students can save 20 percent on online fares. If you buy your tickets early with the card, it could result in many inexpensive trips, whether you’re going back to college after visiting family or simply wanting to take a road trip of sorts with some friends.

As a student, there are so many ways to travel without emptying your pockets (Amtrak and Student Universe also have great deals) so make sure to take advantage of them while you can. Happy travels!

Shari Williams is a junior at Towson University with a double major in deaf studies and broadcast journalism and a minor in entertainment, media and film. With experience in public relations, a love for music and a passion for acting, she longs to be a jack of all trades. A Baltimore native, Shari is an avid traveler and opportunity seeker. She hopes to become the next face seen on the morning news or the voice heard over the radio.

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Branding Yourself in College

June 29, 2011

Branding Yourself in College

by Shari Williams

Scoring internships and jobs can be tough and one thing you don't want is to blend in with the rest of the crowd. Avoid this fate by branding yourself.

Think of places like McDonald's, Burger King and Chipotle: You can’t miss them because they are branded with specific colors, fonts and logos. But this sense of branding can go far beyond food chains and retail stores: It’s just as beneficial to brand yourself because it creates the initial perception that people will have of you.

Start by creating a simple personal logo that you can add to your resume. This can provide a lasting impression of you for potential employers. In the social networking realm, try to be consistent. For example, if your name is John Doe, try your best to make John Doe (or something similar to it) your Twitter name, Facebook name, LinkedIn name, etc. It’s important to keep a consistent name or alias and keep all content organized and presentable. (Leave the party pictures out of this equation!)

Next, create an About.Me profile, which allows you to link all of your websites, links and profiles together in one place. It’s like a virtual business card that potential employers could view quickly – something much appreciated to anyone with a busy schedule. This can also impact positively beyond the workplace, giving a way for fans of your craft to become familiar with your name and talents.

Branding is a great way to stand out from the crowd and make yourself known. Just be sure not to overdo it and you could see your name in lights before you know it!

Shari Williams is a junior at Towson University with a double major in deaf studies and broadcast journalism and a minor in entertainment, media and film. With experience in public relations, a love for music and a passion for acting, she longs to be a jack of all trades. A Baltimore native, Shari is an avid traveler and opportunity seeker. She hopes to become the next face seen on the morning news or the voice heard over the radio.

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Meet Scholarships.com’s Virtual Interns: Shari Williams

June 1, 2011

Meet Scholarships.com’s Virtual Interns: Shari Williams

by Shari Williams

Hi everyone! Just a few days ago, I landed back in my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland after a long, adventurous school year in Los Angeles. I was at California State University, Northridge as a participant in the National Student Exchange program and now that the program is over, I will be returning to my school, Towson University.

Originally, I didn't want to go to Towson. My choice school was Temple University but after acceptance, I was discouraged to go because of the costly out-of-state expenses. Thankfully, I came across the National Student Exchange program, which gave me the chance to venture out-of-state for a year while still paying in-state tuition.

Choosing my major was a challenge for me because I never wanted to be placed in one box or one category. Choosing only one field to pursue was extremely hard for me. I also had to take into consideration my future finances versus my passion. My freshman year, I was a combined major in speech pathology and deaf studies but after that year, I realized that my heart was in broadcast journalism. Venturing to California sealed the deal and I am now double majoring in broadcast journalism and deaf studies with a minor in entertainment, media and film. Why? Because communicating with people is what I love to do, whether it is through speech, writing or body movement.

Now that it is summer break, I can finally relax! I look forward to hanging with friends, looking for new artists to add to my iTunes, tweeting, randomly dancing (much like the girl in the Sun Drop commercial) and, of course, writing. As a Scholarships.com virtual intern, I plan to share the “secrets” of college life that I truly wish someone would have shared with me during my years of college.

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Should You Be an RA?

August 4, 2011

Should You Be an RA?

by Shari Williams

If you have lived on campus, hung out in the dorms or simply attended classes, you have encountered a resident assistant or resident advisor, perhaps better known as an RA. I was an RA during my junior year while I was participating in the National Student Exchange at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and loved it! It was a great opportunity to save money, meet people and gain personal knowledge.

I’m sure you’ve heard about the perks of being an RA – free housing, a single room, etc. – but not everyone will meet the qualifications. RAs must be very responsible; for example, if someone decides to trash the hallway or throw a noisy party, it’s the RA's responsibility to report the incident and think of ways to prevent it from happening again, even if some decisions they make are unpopular with their advisees. I enjoyed my time as an RA but this position isn’t for everyone. It’s not about the money or free housing – your heart really has to be in it!

During my time at CSUN, I found the housing staff and all RAs to be very supportive, family-oriented, and genuinely care about the students. If that sounds like you, you could be a great RA candidate but here are a few more things you should know before applying:

The Pros

The Cons

RA positions vary from school to school, as do their responsibilities. If you want to be an RA, do your research at your college by asking some current or past RAs about their experiences. To be or not to be an RA depends on you and, if you do decide to take on this role, your advisees will depend on you, too!

Shari Williams is a junior at Towson University with a double major in deaf studies and broadcast journalism and a minor in entertainment, media and film. With experience in public relations, a love for music and a passion for acting, she longs to be a jack of all trades. A Baltimore native, Shari is an avid traveler and opportunity seeker. She hopes to become the next face seen on the morning news or the voice heard over the radio.

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Lending a Helping Hand Pays Off

July 26, 2011

Lending a Helping Hand Pays Off

by Shari Williams

Community service is something most of us have done at one point or another. For some high schools, it’s a graduation requirement but I believe serving your community is vital whether it’s mandated or not. The good news for college students is that not only does community service help others but it can also translate into money for school.

One renown program is AmeriCorps. Several colleges and universities take part in this program, providing information and opportunities for students to get involved. Each year, AmeriCorps gives students opportunities to participate in year-long service-learning programs. If a certain amount of community service hours are acquired by the end of the year, the student is granted a stipend.

Another option is the Fulbright Program. Fulbright has an array of grants included in their U.S. Student Program to students who have studied or are studying foreign language, music, business, journalism and public health, to name a few. Fulbright is an opportunity geared more toward soon-to-be or recent college graduates looking for more experience in their fields. Students live outside the U.S. with most expenses paid and full or partial tuition awarded. A special program opportunity that Fulbright offers is the Fulbright-mtvU Awards, which provide four grants to recent graduates studying outside of the country who will conduct research on international music culture. If that sparks your interest, they have many more opportunities to apply for.

Both AmeriCorps and Fulbright are awesome opportunities and are great ways to gain valuable experience. For more information on Americorps or Fulbright, visit www.americorps.gov and US.FulbrightOnline.org, respectively, or contact your college.

Shari Williams is a junior at Towson University with a double major in deaf studies and broadcast journalism and a minor in entertainment, media and film. With experience in public relations, a love for music and a passion for acting, she longs to be a jack of all trades. A Baltimore native, Shari is an avid traveler and opportunity seeker. She hopes to become the next face seen on the morning news or the voice heard over the radio.

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Graduating On Time: It CAN Be Done!

July 6, 2011

Graduating On Time: It CAN Be Done!

by Shari Williams

Before starting school, I didn’t know very much about college life but now that I will be in school a year beyond my expected graduation date, I know what I could have done to enter the real world sooner.

At Towson, all freshmen receive class schedules assembled by the school. I didn't think to change the times of the classes (which were all at 8 a.m. Monday through Friday), nor did I research the professors. This turned out to be a huge mistake – I never was a morning person and I got stuck with some of the worst professors at Towsonmy school – as was the number of credits (12). I figured my university that I pay thousands of dollars in tuition to attend would know best, so I stuck with only 12 credits from then on. It was another oversight: Even though 12 credits is considered as full time, 12 credits is not enough to take every semester in order to graduate in four years without taking winter or summer classes. I had to figure this out myself and adjusted my class schedule accordingly.

I’m not saying you need to overload yourself with academics and never leave your dorm room – that’s not a college experience to remember! – but I am saying take as many classes as you can comfortably manage. If you have the means or have grants and scholarships, you can always take some classes over the summer or the next semester as long as it falls accordingly to your academic plan. Simply do what is best for you.

Graduating a four-year program in five years is not the end of the world but it is not something that you should shoot for, either. If you can handle five or more classes each semester, take them; you can also consider enrolling in a few online courses or opting to take a few classes pass/fail. Take what you can handle so that you can succeed.

Shari Williams is a junior at Towson University with a double major in deaf studies and broadcast journalism and a minor in entertainment, media and film. With experience in public relations, a love for music and a passion for acting, she longs to be a jack of all trades. A Baltimore native, Shari is an avid traveler and opportunity seeker. She hopes to become the next face seen on the morning news or the voice heard over the radio.

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