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Meet Scholarships.com’s Virtual Interns: Aaron Lin

by Aaron Lin

Hello! My name is Aaron and I’m going to be writing as a virtual intern here on Scholarship.com’s blog. I’m originally from Lake Charles, Louisiana and though it’s technically the fifth largest city in the state, I still consider myself as coming from a small town. Living in Louisiana and being Taiwanese has made me gain a great appreciation of other cultures and ideas. The most important thing to me though is the food: If you’ve never had home-style Cajun cooking, get down here and try some ASAP.

I’m currently studying chemistry at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge but plan to transfer to LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans to study clinical lab science (CLS) instead. CLS offers a combination of scientific, medical and lab training that would help me find a job after school and it’s mentally fulfilling to know all the information that CLS offers. In the future, I hope to study public health or obtain my master’s in CLS. If I go the public health route, I hope I can impact people’s health education to prevent costly and frequent doctor visits.

In my spare time, I enjoy reading blogs, news and various online comics such as Lifehacker.com, bbc.co.uk, and xkcd.com. I’m also recently got into footbiking and consequently I’ve become interested in minimalist running, health and minimalist food, and body weight exercise. While I’m not an expert in any of these things, learning and experimenting is something that I’m living for. We can always better ourselves in one way or another and I’ll be trying to figure that out for as long as I can.


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Writing an Effective Personal Statement or Cover Letter

by Aaron Lin

The goal of a personal statement or cover letter is to display personality the way a resume and transcript cannot. You want to show the person receiving your materials that you’re a good candidate, right? Then don’t overlook the importance of this piece of your application.

There are several ways to tackle a personal statement or cover letter. For me, it was the rule of thirds of past, present and future that took my personal statement from good to great.

Past: Set up your statement with a captivating hook, then move into a narrative that informs the audience of something unique that happened to you. Reel the reader in with a story that will incite laughter, emotion or invigorating feelings.

Present: Discuss a few academic or extracurricular achievements that define you today. This may reflect your resume since it’s about your achievements right now but it’s important to note that your personal statement shouldn’t be a repeat of your resume in story form.

Future: Talk about where you want to go and how you can get there as a member of this particular company or graduate school. If you’ve researched the organization – and you should have! – let them know about it and mention any complementary classes, professors or special opportunities you’ve had. Enforce your skills, background, what kind of asset you will be and mention what the company or school has in particular that will benefit you in your career goals or academic pursuits. Lastly, thank the reader for his or her time.

Spellcheck won’t catch everything so read your work aloud, let others read it and edit accordingly. Don’t try to include EVERYTHING you’ve ever done in your personal statement or cover letter – that’s what your resume is for! – and don’t sell out with gimmicky quotes, overused metaphors, cuteness or a thesaurus addiction. The most important thing to do is to let yourself shine through!

Aaron Lin is a chemistry major at Louisiana State University but has plans to transfer to LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans to pursue a medical laboratory science degree and further feed his interest in the application of scientific and medical knowledge. In his free time, Aaron likes to eat food, read and write about food, exercise to work off that food and play the occasional computer game. He also enjoys footbiking, running and Frisbee.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Suffolk University offers "Sacred Hoops, Sneaker Pimps, and Hoop Dreams: Race, Gender, and Consumerism in 20th Century American Basketball" through its Seminar for Freshmen program. The University of California-Berkeley uses "StarCraft Theory and Strategy" for its course on war tactics. Santa Clara University has gotten students talking about waste and decomposition through its environmental science department's "Joy of Garbage."

Attracting students to courses by having some fun with their titles is not a new phenomenon, but a recent article by The Boston Globe says that it has become more common in a climate where professors are looking to boost enrollment in their classes, perhaps to make themselves less vulnerable during budget cut season. Boston College recently renamed a straightforward course on German literature to "Knights, Castles, and Dragons." The effect? Tripled enrollment.

Professors quoted in the article describe how important marketing has become in getting more students to fill seats in their classrooms. Students have a wealth of options at their fingertips when applying for courses, and after they're done filling their rosters with classes required by their majors, there may be little room for the more fun-sounding titles. So, anything that will give a student pause when putting together their course load is probably a good strategy. The professors also said that a heavy reliance on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter has given the college-bound a shorter attention span, and that even those already in college are bored more easily with the traditional course offerings. Students want to be entertained, even those in fields like computer science, philosophy, or traditionally more "stuffy" majors.

A word of advice, though: Be sure to consider the finished product of your transcript when signing up for courses with kooky titles. That "Science of Superheroes" class at the University of California-Irvine may be fun, but a balance of electives with interesting names and traditional courses applicable to your major will make you a better sell if you plan to pursue an advanced degree or land a job interview where the employer wants to see your coursework. As with an eye-catching course title, image is everything.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Not everyone can or wants to become a chemical engineer or mathematician, but the White House wants to make sure the country's doing all it can to give students the opportunity to explore all of their options before they're ready to make decisions about their future career paths.

President Obama announced a new campaign Monday called "Educate to Innovate" that aims to encourage more middle and high school students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math. (His remarks can be read here, courtesy of the Washington Post.) The program will call on outside organizations to spend their own money and time to educate students on the kinds of things they could do in those fields, and improve their skill sets in those areas. It's no secret that the United States has lagged behind other countries in math- and science-based fields, despite the kinds of resources already available in those fields. (Another government initiative, the Race to the Top Fund, was announced last July to in part provide more money to states for innovative science programs.)

If you're good at math or science and are still undecided about what you'd like to be when you grow up, consider this: the vast majority of highest-paying college majors involve some degree of math or science skill. Those fields of study tend to be more specialized - not everyone can be a computer engineer, for example, and often require some study beyond that undergraduate degree. But in addition to the generous salaries, advances in many of those fields make it an exciting time to pursue a career as a researcher or scientist.

There's also plenty of scholarship money to go around if you're planning on or already pursuing a math or science field. The National Science and Mathematics Access to Retail Talent (SMART) Grant is awarded to undergraduates in their third or fourth year. Eligible recipients must already be Pell recipients, and the maximum award is $4,000. If you're interested in competitions, the Intel Science Talent Search targets high school seniors with original research. Scholarships.com also awards Area of Study College Scholarships to students interested in computer science, engineering, technology, and general science. To see whether you qualify for any of these or thousands of other scholarships, many of them related to the maths or sciences, conduct a free scholarship search to see the kind of awards you're eligible for.


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by Agnes Jasinski

President Obama announced a renewed focus on "Educate to Innovate" yesterday, this time targeting the need for more math and science teachers. As part of the most recent developments involving that initiative, leaders representing more than 120 public universities pledged to do their part to increase the total number of math and science teachers from 7,500 to 10,000 by 2015. Of those who pledged that promise to the White House, 41 said they would double the number of teachers they trained in that same period.

"Educate to Innovate" was first announced last November. The program was first announced with the aims to encourage more middle and high school students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. The program called on outside organizations to spend their own money and time to educate students on the kinds of things they could do in those fields, and improve their skill sets in those areas. This time around, the focus was on the colleges. The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities has admitted it could do more to not only get more students interested in the maths and sciences, but to better prepare those who do pursue those fields to make the United States more competitive on the international scene in those disciplines.

The White House also announced that the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowships in Math and Science program would be expanded to include Michigan and Ohio, the National Math + Science Initiative's UTeach program would be expanded to include 20 additional universities, and that NASA, in partnership with companies, non-profits, and states, will launch a pilot program to enhance learning opportunities in STEM fields for students during the summer.

If you're already interested in science and math, make sure you know about all of the scholarship opportunities that could be available to you. As more emphasis is placed those fields of study, the incentives to pursue those disciplines will grow, so the time is now to apply for funding to pursue a degree in a STEM field. The National Science and Mathematics Access to Retail Talent (SMART) Grant is awarded to undergraduates in their third or fourth year. Eligible recipients must already be Pell recipients, and the maximum award is $4,000. If you’re interested in competitions, the Intel Science Talent Search targets high school seniors with original research. To see whether you qualify for any of these or thousands of other scholarships, many of them related to the maths or sciences, conduct a free scholarship search to see the kind of awards you’re eligible for.


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by Agnes Jasinski

High school seniors preparing for college and the task of choosing a major may be more aware now than ever before about the repercussions of choosing one field of study over another. Sure, the economy is looking like it could rebound this year, but all of those who lost their jobs in the crisis - many of whom have quite a bit more experience to boast than a recent college graduate - will be causing more competitiveness on the job market for years to come.

Should you sacrifice where your interests are for what you think may be a more secure, safe major? An opinion piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week says "no." Obviously you need to exhibit some marketable skills to land a job post-graduation, but many of those skills are things you're able to pick up on your own. (The article gives the example of computer science majors. Many of the things you'll learn as a computer science major could be obsolete in the real world by the time you graduate, as those technologies are typically very fast-paced and ever-changing.)

It's also probably not a good idea to go into a field you have no interest in just because your parents think that major will land you an impressive salary later on. If you don't have a knack for a particular field of study, chances are greater that you won't do well in your core classes, and potentially even flunk out of school. You really won't be making that great salary if "college dropout" is a part of your resume. If you're interested in English, go for it. You'd be surprised to learn the premium employers place on good writing and communication skills. And if you're at the University of Texas at Austin, the course "The English Major in the Workplace" will offer you tips on building a resume, interviewing, and networking - skills that are important in all fields of study.

On the other side is the idea of "careerism," or that intense desire to succeed professionally. Schools are beginning to see this as a good thing, introducing ways to improve their graduates' chances when they're ready to start looking for jobs and to help those students worried about what they're going to do with their degrees. An article in the New York Times recently discussed ways colleges were adapting to a difficult economy by making drastic changes to their curricula. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette has gotten rid of its philosophy major; Michigan State University did the same with American studies and classics. Declining enrollments in those fields suggested the students, at those schools, not administrators, were looking to more practical majors that would make them more marketable job candidates.

If you're able to, dabble a bit. You may not even know what you want to major in as soon as you get on campus. Reflect on where you'd like to see yourself after college, and what your goals are while you're in college. For some a high-paying major may be just the ticket. Others may not be left-brained enough to become engineers and computer technicians. It's fine to take some time to think about what you'd like to spend the next two to four years doing.


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by Agnes Jasinski

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) released its latest list of the highest-paying college majors of the class of 2010 last week, with engineering- and technology-related fields of study once again coming out on top.

This probably won''t come as much of a surprise to you. Engineering and technology majors consistently rank high on any list of highest-paying careers, and there have only been minor changes in the ranks over the last few years. (Information sciences and systems is a new addition to the list this year, coming in at 10th place.) The only non-engineering related degrees in the top 10 this time around were computer science and information sciences and systems. According to NACE, petroleum engineering earned the highest starting salary reported at the bachelor’s degree level ($86,220). That average starting salary was more than one-and-one-half times the average starting salary reported for bachelor’s degree graduates as a whole ($48,351). The average starting salary for all graduates has fallen about 2 percent since 2009, by the way.

It's certainly not always the case, but often, the more technical your skills are, the more potential you have of landing an impressive starting salary. There''s less competition in a field like petroleum engineering, for example, as it isn't the most popular of majors, so those engineers benefit from those odds with higher salaries. (Petroleum engineering degrees account for less than 1 percent of all bachelor’s degrees conferred, according to NACE.)

What does this mean for you liberal arts majors? Even you business majors may worry that you''ll have a tough time making ends meet, as business isn't exactly overrepresented on the NACE list. Still, not everyone is going to grow up to become an engineer. (And if they did, the list would surely shift, as it depends greatly on the supply and demand of new graduates.) Certainly, the kind of field you're interested in should play a big part when you're deciding on a college major. And most college students do still consider interest over salary potential when choosing their majors, as the most popular fields of study fall well outside petroleum engineering. (According to the U.S. Department of Education, the most popular college majors are in business, the social and health sciences, and education.)

Take the NACE list with a grain of salt, and don't change your focus to aeronautics just because of the pay potential. If you have no interest in one of those high-paying majors, chances are you'll have a tough time getting through a four-year program in that discipline, and if you do graduate, an even tougher time liking a job in a career you chose for the money. But if you are passionate about engineering and technology, that's great. You'll have a good starting salary to go along with a job you enjoy.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Courses and programming in leadership and leadership studies are the latest trend on college campuses looking to boost students’ resumes in a tough economy and competitive job market, and students at many of the schools have been signing up in droves.

A recent article in Inside Higher Ed described coursework at a number of colleges that focuses on both theories of leadership taught in the classroom, and practical experiences through internships and off-campus opportunities. While you can’t yet major in leadership, many schools are offering certificate programs in the field as a way for students to boast that specialized skill on their resumes and transcripts.

At the University of Iowa, students this fall will be able to enroll in a seven-course, 21-credit certificate in leadership studies, according to the article, that will supplement courses already offered by the school’s College of Business. According to administrators there, it was the students who wanted more than the college was already offering in terms of teaching them how to be leaders in not only business settings, but in all fields of study. Students who complete three classes in the sequence are then urged to take three credits in an internship setting, on-campus leadership position, or service-learning course. According to the article, administrators hope the work students have done up to that point learning the theories of leadership will translate to these experiences outside of the classroom.

What do you think? Should colleges be offering certificate programs in leadership, or instilling the values of leadership instead in existing coursework and internship opportunities? There is some criticism of the trend in Inside Higher Ed. Ed Koc, director of strategic and foundation research at the National Association of Colleges and Employers, says leadership isn’t the main thing employers look for when determining whether to hire a recent graduate. A student’s experiences rather than a certificate mentioned at the bottom of a resume may be more telling of leadership skills anyway, he said.

So how do you boost your leadership potential? Get involved in volunteer activities, or ask for more responsibility at your part-time job. Consider joining a club or campus group that could give you some experience organizing projects and working as part of a unit. While leadership is a good trait to have, so is the ability to work in a team and meet expectations. Expose yourself to a number of different experiences both on and off-campus to make yourself the best candidate for a job after college.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Few programs are as competitive as medical school programs. You need stellar grades, a host of science-based courses on your undergraduate transcript, and impressive scores on the MCAT to be a contender. Or do you?

One New York school is taking a different approach, in part to graduate more sensitive and people-friendly doctors. The Humanities and Medicine Program at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine requires that its students major in the humanities in college, not chemistry or biology, and doesn’t require those enrolled to prove their worth on the MCAT, the standardized test score typically used to rank applicants to medical school.

A recent article in The New York Times took a look at the program and a possible shift nationwide to programming that gives equal weight to not only the science behind medicine, but the social skills needed to be more effective in communicating with patients. The Mount Sinai School of Medicine program saves 35 slots per year to undergraduates with degrees in fields like political science. Applicants are asked to provide two personal essays, high school standardized test scores, and transcripts of grades from both high school and college. Once they’re in the program, the students attend a summer “boot camp,” according to the article, where they receive some instruction on science courses they may have missed in college. According to a recent study published by the Association of Medical Colleges, those students did as well if not better in the program than their peers who got into medicine the traditional way. The humanities students were also more interested in disciplines where they had more interaction with patients, such as psychiatry, pediatrics, and obstetrics.

Despite the success of the Mount Sinai program, if you’re interested in medical school, most of the programs out there will ask for MCAT scores and transcripts that boast a good GPA in a science-related major. According to the Times article, it may be tough to get the most elite medical schools to start admitting humanities students because so much of their rank depends on how students at those schools did on their MCATs. Wherever you go to enter into a health-related field and whatever you decide, make sure you know about the medical scholarships out there. Medical school is one of the more costly endeavors you could choose to pursue, so you’ll need all the help you can get to cover the costs of that professional degree.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Community colleges have gotten quite a bit of attention lately as legislators and even President Obama himself have billed the schools as an important bridge in improving higher education across the country. The traditionally two-year schools have also seen an influx of students as both a result of those efforts and the economy, with more adult students returning to college to pick up new skills and make themselves more competitive on the job market.

But it isn’t just associate’s degrees being awarded at community colleges anymore. As some of the schools have begun offering accelerated options, others are going the other way, expanding their four-year offerings with baccalaureate degrees in disciplines that had been typically found only at four-year universities.

A recent article in Inside Higher Ed took a look at Florida, where the trend is most obvious. The state’s community colleges now offer more than 100 four-year degrees, and are on track to offer more. In 2008, 10 out of 28 community colleges offered 70 four-year degrees; today, 18 of the schools offer 111 of the degrees, according to the article. While many of the degrees cover nursing and education, the two disciplines even neighboring four-year colleges said they needed help with due to high demand, community colleges are also expanding into other fields of study, such as international business and interior design.

Some four-year colleges have been concerned that the trend will affect their own programs and enrollment at their campuses, as it is typically much less expensive to attend a community college over a traditional four-year school. But supporters say the two student populations remain very different. Those attending the community colleges are typically older, with many from those student groups who may be wary about doing well academically at a four-year campus. The demand is there, then, as it is at traditional four-year colleges, and the community colleges must receive state approval before adding any new baccalaureate programs as a further safeguard.

No matter where you go, make sure you choose your college based on what you feel would be the best fit for you across all areas—socially, financially, and academically, to start. Community colleges offer cost-savings and flexible schedules, but you may feel like you need more of a campus life at a larger state university. Or your chosen field of study may be better known at a local private college. Consider all of your options during the college search so that you're confident in your choice.


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