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Finals Week Goes to the Dogs

Furry Friends and Other Quirky Events Ease Exam Stress

December 16, 2010

Finals Week Goes to the Dogs

by Alexis Mattera

Ah, finals week. It’s been almost six years since my last one but all the hairy details – the tensing of muscles, the firing of brain synapses and the pain of paper cuts as I shuffled through my notes the night before a huge exam to absorb one last piece of information needed to fill a blue book – still come rushing back to me like clockwork every December and May. It’s far from fun but some college students are actually enjoying this time of year thanks to some furry friends. No, not Joakim Noah...puppies, you guys!

First featured on the Jumbo Shorts blog last month (by my good friend, University of Connecticut alum and web content specialist Kaitlin Provencher, no less!) and now making headlines in a variety of news outlets, Tufts University has foregone the traditional finals week perks like extended library hours and wider availability of counseling services and is instead giving its students a much-needed reprieve from exams by bringing therapy dogs to campus for them to play with. Resident director Michael Bliss fashioned the idea after a similar program he participated in as an undergrad at NYU and the results were just as positive then as they are now. "Every college student has stress around finals," said Bliss. "And taking a break out from that with something as easy and simple and loving as petting dogs is really helpful."

Tufts isn’t alone in its quest to bust stress (though its program is by far the cuddliest): Over the last decade, community, state and private schools have been employing untraditional finals week events to keep students less frazzled and more focused including late-night yoga, massages, oxygen bars, impromptu dance parties, pizza fairies and rubber ball deluges. "These events help students acknowledge the fact that you have to put these more stressful times in perspective," said Lori Morgan Flood, director of wellness and health promotion at Oberlin College. "You'll get through it."

College may be about learning the information and skills to prepare students for jobs, graduate school and life after college in general but throwing a little something unexpected or unusual into the mix is just what many students need to perform at their absolute best. My advice: Step away from the books if only just for a moment and have some F-U-N!


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A Deal with the (Sun) Devil

ASU Placed on NCAA Probation for Scholarship Violations

December 17, 2010

A Deal with the (Sun) Devil

by Alexis Mattera

Imagine working hard throughout high school, getting accepted to the college or university of your choice and receiving a scholarship covering all or part of your tuition. Now imagine being asked to give back even a tiny percentage of that award.

Wait...WHAT?! Exactly...but that's what happened at Arizona State University when former baseball coach Pat Murphy requested a number of his players relinquish all or part of their athletic scholarships for the 2006-2007 academic year so that the coaching staff could enroll several transfer students they had been recruiting through a program Murphy called Devil-to-Devil. His actions may not have been discovered unless a parent of a player complained about the process to ASU’s athletics director and after an investigation, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) agreed that this practice was problematic and violated rules. The punishment: ASU has been banned from the college playoffs this coming season and must vacate numerous wins, including the team’s 2007 Pacific-10 Conference title and trip to the College World Series; the school also received three years' probation, scholarship reductions and recruiting limitations. Though ASU has taken responsibility for not monitoring the baseball program more closely, it intends to appeal the NCAA’s decision.

As for Murphy – who echoes the name of his program with several other questionable practices – he’s not coaching anywhere at the moment but will not go unpunished. He was forced to resign last year and the NCAA bestowed a one-year show-cause penalty upon him so that any institution interested in hiring him in the next 12 months must not only defend why it is hiring him but also how it will monitor his behavior to prevent further violations.

This situation is shady any way you slice it but I do feel for the ASU students and coaches who are being penalized for events they had no part in. The beauty of college scholarships is that they don’t have to be repaid, allowing students to graduate with little to no student loan or credit card debt. To be clear, what Murphy did was wrong but by limiting the amount of scholarship awards and financial aid ASU can disperse, he’s not the one being truly punished – it’s the deserving students that are being hurt the most.


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Happy Holidays…We’re Eliminating Your Degree!

U. Missouri to Reduce Degree Offerings by 16

December 27, 2010

Happy Holidays…We’re Eliminating Your Degree!

by Alexis Mattera

Welcome back, everyone! Have the holiday hazes, mall bruises and food comas worn off yet? If not, this next story may snap you back to reality…especially if you’re a University of Missouri student.

Just before our break, the Chronicle and Columbia Daily Tribune reported the university is poised to truncate its degree offerings by 16 - a decision that came after a state-mandated review revealed multiple programs graduating on average fewer than 10 bachelor’s, five master’s and three doctoral degrees per year. While a change like this isn’t new – SUNY Albany announced similar changes a few months ago – the method is: Some programs will be disappearing all together but the majority will merge with existing programs and create new degrees. Among the changes, Spanish and French programs will join to form a Romance language degree and the three master’s programs within the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources may be rolled into one catch-all degree covering forestry parks, recreation, tourism, and soil, environmental and atmospheric sciences; education specialist and doctoral degrees in career and technical education, a specialist degree in special education and communication sciences and disorders doctorate and a clinical laboratory sciences bachelor’s program within the School of Health Professions will be eliminated completely.

The proposed changes are expected to be approved by the Missouri Department of Higher Education and the Coordinating Board of Higher Education in February. The affected programs, however, will continue for a while – even years – because, says Deputy Provost Ken Dean, the university will not implement anything that would have a negative impact on current undergraduate and graduate students. Are you enrolled in any of the programs mentioned? Will this news impact your decision to remain in your current major? Are you considering transferring to a different school with a more specialized program?


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Harvey Mudd Grads Get Paid

Science and Engineering College Has Highest Salary Potential

December 29, 2010

Harvey Mudd Grads Get Paid

by Alexis Mattera

I met many people during my undergraduate years that, upon hearing my major, had a good chuckle before informing me I was never going to make any money doing what I loved – writing. Their majors? Usually something involving business. I still giggle a little thinking of that irony: They not only picked the wrong field but the wrong school if they were concerned with raking in a hefty salary.

According to a new survey from PayScale.com, Harvey Mudd College's 2011 graduates are have the highest salary potential, beating out Princeton, Dartmouth, Harvard and Caltech. The college's potential starting median salary is $68,900 while its midcareer median salary is $126,000 yet a campus official said the school does not plan its curriculum based on salary potential. Thyra L. Briggs, vice president of admissions and financial aid, said Harvey Mudd students receive a strong math and science education wrapped in a liberal arts context, meaning students can “solve even the most demanding technical problems, but they also know how to work collaboratively, present their ideas to a broad range of audiences, and write well - traits that may distinguish them from other high-level math and science graduates." Instead of being pigeonholed into only one discipline, she said, Harvey Mudd grads leave school with an adaptability that's an asset in the working world or graduate study. Not bad!

Briggs agrees that the number one ranking is impressive but she’s more excited that more people are looking at Harvey Mudd – especially prospective students and their parents. Future college students, does this news change your opinion about Harvey Mudd? What’s more attractive to you about a college – higher earning potential upon graduation or a higher quality of education as a whole?


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eBay Item 160522990911: Academic Dishonesty

Georgetown Alum Peddles Essays, Term Papers Online

December 28, 2010

eBay Item 160522990911: Academic Dishonesty

by Alexis Mattera

Once you’ve graduated from college, what do you do with the pages upon pages of writing assignments you completed during your tenure? You could go green and recycle them, I suppose…or you could try to make some green off of them, like the subject of our next story.

Having been there and done that once himself (or herself), one Georgetown alum knows that writing essays for admissions, scholarships and college classes takes a lot of time – time frazzled students just don’t have – and is attempting to profit from that burden by selling their own admissions essay, multiple class papers and a graduate school scholarship essay on eBay via the handle and alzheimers_caregiver. Georgetown’s own Vox Populi reported that while there are currently no bids on the items, the eventual winner (and I use that term very loosely here) will be e-mailed the materials and is free to edit the pieces as they see fit before turning them in.

Yes, we know the writing that goes into getting admitted to and succeeding in college is no small amount (just ask Harvard grad Natalie Portman) but if you’re truly committed to making the most of your college experience, crafting a few thousand words into an original essay isn’t going to kill you. Passing someone else’s work off as your own won’t either…but it could make your time at Big State U or Fancy Private College a lot shorter than you anticipated. An equally terrible but less-academically-poisonous bet? Buying alzheimers_caregiver’s other offering, a VHS copy of Look Who’s Talking Now.


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Mind the Gap

Should You Take a Year Off?

December 30, 2010

Mind the Gap

by Alexis Mattera

The road to college – once thought to be straight and narrow – is detouring into uncharted territory. It was once expected for all high school seniors to matriculate to an institute of higher education the semester after they graduate but today, many students (and their parents) are considering the notion of taking a year off from formal schooling first.

But what do students do during this time, often called a gap year? Not catching up on “Extreme Couponing” or trying out online dating: Students use this time to volunteer abroad or build their resumes and schools are adopting formal programs allowing incoming freshmen to defer admission for a year to do so. According to the Wall Street Journal, "gap fairs" are becoming just as common as campus job expos. The results? Mixed. While most students end their gap years better prepared to attend college, some get so waylaid that they abandon a collegiate education all together.

It may sound tempting to take a year off to explore the unknown but there are a few confounding variables. First, the price tag is far from alluring – unless you feel $35,000 is a reasonable figure. (The upside is that costs can be defrayed by stipends, grants, research fellowships and scholarships or the agreement to work in a very remote area.) Next, the hazy direction of your future. I won't deny that your late teens and early 20s are the best times to gain life experience but if said experience is going to leave you in debt or questioning once-important educational goals, is taking the time off worth it?


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5, 4, 3, 2, 1…Happy New FAFSA!

2011-2012 Application Available Tomorrow

December 31, 2010

5, 4, 3, 2, 1…Happy New FAFSA!

by Alexis Mattera

Ladies and gentlemen, prospective and current college students, I (or the federal government, rather) give you the 2011-2012 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Hooray!

Vacuum up the confetti because it’s time to get down to business. January 1st marks the first day college-bound seniors, continuing undergraduate and graduate students, and their parents can begin filling out the FAFSA online. Completing the FAFSA is a vital part of the college process: The Department of Education uses it to determine eligibility for federal student financial aid for college. This aid includes federal grant programs (such as the Pell Grant), federal work study, and federal student loans; it is also used by states to determine eligibility for their college aid programs, such as state grants. Colleges also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for the need-based aid programs they administer and, finally, many scholarship opportunities request FAFSA information as part of their application processes. Even if you think that you won’t qualify for free money in the form of need-based college scholarships and grants, you should still apply. At the minimum, the vast majority of students qualify for Stafford Loans, low-interest federal student loans that represent one of the best deals in borrowing and paying for school.

Submission deadlines vary by state (verify yours sooner than later here) so, as with any sort of college funding, we recommend you complete the FAFSA as early as possible because funds do run out. For more information, visit the official FAFSA website or review our federal aid pages. Happy filing (and New Year)!


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Ready, Set, BiblioBout!

New Online Program Makes Bibliography Building Easier, Even Enjoyable

January 10, 2011

Ready, Set, BiblioBout!

by Alexis Mattera

As a journalism major, my classes were all writing intensive. From penning news briefs and features to participating in “Sudden Death Day” (when we arrived in class only to be sent directly back out to find and compose a story in under an hour), I was always doing some kind of research and had to keep my sources organized and accessible in case a fact was ever called into question. This practice came in especially handy whenever I had to construct a bibliography to accompany a lengthy term paper but for those who may be tackling a works cited page for the first time, give BiblioBouts a whirl.

Researchers at the University of Michigan developed BiblioBouts to make crafting a bibliography both easier and more fun: The once mundane task has been transformed into a competitive event, pitting students against their classmates and rewarding them for research skills and abilities to differentiate between good and bad material. Sources are judged by their peers for relevance and credibility and points are gained for sources they assess accurately.

“One of the most difficult things for students to do is their research,” said Karen Markey, research leader and professor in UM's School of Information. “After they exhaust things like Google and the Web, they don’t know where to turn.” The game was released in beta form this week participating colleges and Markey hopes to make it more widely available in the future as a tool in learning-management systems.

This sounds interesting but I agree with one user – Catherine Johnson, coordinator of library instruction at the University of Baltimore’s main library – who said the game should be used as a complement to instruction by a professor or a librarian in locating and evaluating sources, not a replacement for. Have any of you tried BiblioBouts or similar bibliography-assistance programs?


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What Do College Students Really Want?

Study Shows Self-Esteem Trumps Other Feel-Good Activities

January 11, 2011

What Do College Students Really Want?

by Alexis Mattera

With spring semester almost upon us (or already in session at some colleges), what are students looking to get out of the next four months on campus? Sure, Verizon iPhones, BCS Championship trophies and not having Facebook close down are excellent guesses but in reality, all students want is to feel good about themselves via regular self-esteem boosts. The real question then becomes if is this a good thing or a bad thing?

According to a new study by Ohio State University to be published in the Journal of Personality later this month, 130 University of Michigan students were asked to rate how much they wanted to partake in an enjoyable activity, like seeing friends, getting paid, having sex, eating a favorite food, drinking alcohol or receiving a self-esteem boost on a scale of 1 to 5 and how much they liked each of these things using the same scale. The findings overwhelmingly showed that these students cared more about increasing self-esteem.

Results did differ between male and female respondents – males ranked self-esteem above all else while females rated money and friendships as equally attractive as self-confidence – but the gap between liking self-esteem and wanting self-esteem was the slimmest out of all topics rated by both sexes, resembling an addictive mentality. Though not a full-fledged addiction for college students, the data show self-esteem comes dangerously close to being one. Levels of entitlement are also stronger with those who weigh wanting above liking - a trend the study’s authors Brad Bushman, Scott Moeller and Jennifer Crocker believe is not for the best.

Let’s put it to our own vote: Is it a confidence boost you want or does it take something else (our scholarship search, maybe?) to make you feel all warm and fuzzy?


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What We Can Learn from Pima

Duncan Says College Officials Acted Appropriately, But What Else Can Be Done for Troubled Students?

January 12, 2011

What We Can Learn from Pima

by Alexis Mattera

By now, you know what happened in Arizona on Saturday. You’ve heard about the innocent bystanders who lost their lives. You’ve been kept abreast of Representative Giffords’ condition. You’ve seen the shooter’s disturbing mug shot. But could this terrible occurrence been prevented? Secretary of Education Arne Duncan believes Pima Community College did all it could.

The shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was a student at the community college until October, at which time he dropped out because the school told him he would need to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to keep attending. Dealing with worrisome students has long been an issue for colleges – the New York Times reported that schools remain ill-equipped to handle those exhibiting potentially violent warning signs, making it quite surprising some groups are lobbying for students’ rights to carry guns on campus – yet Duncan believes Pima Community College officials acted appropriately in their dealings with Loughner. "If I was the chancellor of that community college, I think that would have been my response," he told the Washington Post.

There’s no way administrators can 100-percent safeguard their institutions against violence but centralized efforts should be explored. There is typically no single person or department responsible for tracking the sorts of complaints that teachers and fellow students make about students like Loughner. And while schools don’t have the legal authority to force people into treatment against their will, more steps should be taken to get troubled individuals the help they need (Pima notified Loughner's parents that their son needed a mental examination to continue in school but not much else).

Do you think Pima Community College officials could have done more or do you, like Duncan, believe they handled the situation the best they could?

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