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Is College Right for You?

April 30, 2012

Is College Right for You?

by Lisa Lowdermilk

If you had to guess, what percentage of students start college and actually finish it? According to a study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, only 46 percent of students who started college earned degrees in 2010. Hefty student loans and interest rates, stress and being academically unprepared are amongst the many reasons college drop-outs cite; some students report being as much as $50,000 in debt before graduation with no viable means of paying it off.

Given this info, it’s really important that you consider if college is right for you before applying, especially if the field you’re thinking about going into doesn’t require a degree. There are still plenty of great job opportunities for people who think college may not be for them, including air traffic control and locomotive engineering. That’s not to say, however, that a college degree is overrated. According to a study conducted by Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, bachelor’s degree holders earn 84 percent more than high school graduates during their lifetimes. And while there are still plenty of jobs that don’t require a degree, virtually every employer will prefer a college graduate over a high school graduate.

My goal here is not to discourage anyone from attending college; instead, I want to present both sides of the argument so that you can commit 100 percent to furthering your education or, alternatively, seek out a job that doesn’t require a degree. It’s better to recognize now that you won’t be able to commit to college than be forced to drop out and pay back $50,000 in student loans later. No matter which path you choose, one thing’s for sure: You’ll have to work hard if you want to succeed!

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.


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Standardized Testing vs. GPA: Which Better Indicates College Success?

by Lisa Lowdermilk

Recently, The New York Times revealed that two studies have shown that many community colleges wrongly place students in remedial classes. The main reason why this happens is because students are placed according to their standardized test scores, rather than their cumulative GPAs – in other words, students are forced to pay for classes they don't receive college credit for and, if not for one less-than-hoped-for standardized test score, wouldn't even have to take otherwise! Consequently, students forced to take these remedial classes may experience lower self-esteem than their peers, fail to graduate on time and have to work significantly harder (both at work and at school) to afford these additional classes. In short, having to take unnecessary remedial classes has the potential to make college much more difficult than it needs to be.

All of these problems could be alleviated if community colleges (and state and private universities, for that matter) placed students based on their cumulative high school GPAs. After all, GPA is determined by years of hard work, whereas standardized tests are based on (at most) several months of preparation. And while we obviously can't use the excuse, "I don't test well" every time our test scores leave something to be desired, we should also keep in mind that one test does not (and should not) determine our academic futures.

If you or someone you know is having to take unnecessary remedial classes (e.g., you earned a B in high school calculus but didn't do as well on the standardized test), don't be afraid to talk to someone in admissions about your concerns. While changes rarely go into effect right away, faculty will listen if more students question the emphasis on standardized tests over cumulative GPA. Just make sure you're polite and discuss your concerns logically and calmly!

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.


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Unique Liberal Arts Colleges

by Lisa Lowdermilk

Liberal arts students have a reputation for being a bit quirky and colleges catering specifically to these majors are no exception. Carleton College, Naropa University, Grinnell College and Deep Springs College are four such institutions renowned for their unique extracurricular activities, majors and more.

Besides being ranked the sixth-best liberal arts college by U.S. News and World Report, Carleton College is also famous for its unique extracurricular activities. For instance, students have organized multiple scavenger hunts for the bust of German playwright Friedrich Schiller since 1957 and the college is also famous for its Assassins Guild, whose members try to “kill” each other with Nerf guns, “poisonous” Tabasco sauce and “explosive” alarm clocks.

Naropa University is a private liberal arts college in Colorado which integrates meditation into the curriculum and offers a unique blend of Eastern and Western educational practices. Majors include Peace Studies, Contemplative Psychology and Traditional Eastern Arts...interesting, right?

Grinnell College is another private institution known for its independent majors. After their first year, students can tailor their majors to suit their preferences instead of following a rigid degree path. Also of note are the school's post-graduation "Grinnell Corps" programs, which allow students to help others in places ranging from Namibia to China. In addition, Grinnell has the highest per capita Peace Corp volunteer rate of any college, despite only having 1,500 students.

Deep Springs College is an exclusively male liberal arts college famous for its method of selecting 26 students and giving them all full scholarships. The professors knit, stargaze and have ping pong tournaments with their students and they also live within walking distance of the students’ dorms on a cattle ranch/alfalfa farm.

If you decide to attend one of these colleges, it’s safe to say you’ll be in for a college experience unlike any other!

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.


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by Lisa Lowdermilk

It was with great sadness that I read about the suicide of Wendy Chang, a college student at Harvard University...even more so when I learned that four other Boston students have already committed suicide this year.

Even though I never met any of the students personally, I feel that every suicide is a tragedy, especially when I think about how this topic, as well as depression, are still viewed as taboo . While I can understand why some people prefer to avoid talking about death, depression and suicide, I also think that we need to realize that we don't understand what a depressed person is going through unless we do talk about such issues. People contemplating suicide will almost always reach out to someone first and it is our duty to help them.

So if another student comes to you expressing a desire to commit suicide, don't immediately judge him or her. Chances are, he or she is well aware of the stigmatism attached to suicide and is reluctant to admit being suicidal in the first place. Instead, listen, thank the individual for being courageous enough to confide in you and help him or her find help for people contemplating suicide. Virtually every college has resources specifically designed to help students cope with the many stressors of college and life in general. And should you or someone you know confide in the individuals in charge of these services, you can do so knowing that they will keep your circumstances private.

My condolences go out to Wendy's family, as well as to all the families who have ever lost a relative to suicide. Their loved ones will not be forgotten.

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.


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You Can Get a Scholarship for THAT?!

Students Seeking Money for College Should Consider These Non-Traditional Awards

September 11, 2012

You Can Get a Scholarship for THAT?!

by Lisa Lowdermilk

Like many students, you’re probably wondering how on Earth you’re going to pay for another semester of college, especially if you’ve either a) missed the deadline for your school’s scholarships or b) don’t feel like writing an essay, filling out forms, etc. But fear not: There are plenty of less traditional scholarships available throughout the year. And let me tell you, some of the scholarships out there are strange.

To illustrate what I mean, take a look at the Eileen J. Garrett Scholarship. This scholarship is specifically for students studying parapsychology, the study of near-death experience, psychic powers, reincarnation and more. I had no idea you could get a scholarship in parapsychology, let alone major in it!

Equally bizarre is the Gatling Scholarship at North Carolina State University. This scholarship requires that your last name be Gatling or Gatlin (no other variations will be considered) in honor of North Carolinian entrepreneur John Gatling. And no, you can’t legally change your last name to be considered for this scholarship – a copy of your birth certificate is required.

And since we’ve all heard about students who get scholarships based solely on their sports performance, here’s one to level the playing field for the less athletically inclined: the Gertrude J. Deppen Scholarship. This scholarship is awarded at Bucknell University in varying amounts each year to students who not only do not participate in strenuous athletic contests but also abstain from tobacco, liquor and narcotics. I don’t know about you but this is the first time I’ve heard of a scholarship which awards you for not doing something!

So, while some of the scholarship deadlines may have already passed, remember that there are hundreds, even thousands of other scholarships and grants out there. And if you have your heart set on one scholarship but the application deadline has already passed, at least now you’ll have months to prepare for it. Good luck!

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.


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Easy Ways to Get the Job You Want

by Liz Coffin-Karlin

Students around the country are finishing up finals, breathing the sweet scent of fresh summer air...and figuring out ways to pay for food and “Avengers” tickets this summer. Whether it’s a high-powered investment banking internship or making coffee at your favorite hipster hangout, finding a summer job is incredibly competitive but here are a few simple (though easy to overlook) tips that make you a stronger candidate.

First, do your research before making contact with a potential employer. Know what the company does, what your potential job entails and the names of most major staff members (including everyone you would potentially be working with/under). Now don’t be creepy – just because you recognize someone doesn’t mean you should shout out their high school GPA and prom date’s name (you’d be horrified what people can find on Google) – but use the info to tailor in-person and written responses to be relevant to what they’re interested in adding to the company. I recommend Glassdoor.com for good insider information on popular companies.

Second, take what you learned about Google and search yourself! I guarantee you that many potential employers are doing just that, as well as looking at your Facebook, Twitter and Google+ accounts. (You can probably leave your unupdated-since-2005 MySpace alone – even employers don’t care about that anymore.) I know I sound like a parent but I cannot stress enough that you should improve your privacy settings on everything. Worst case scenario, your employer doesn’t use search engines and you’ve frustrated that dude from freshman year algebra who still looks at your pictures. Best case scenario, potential employers won’t see that “awesome” happy hour/prank/streaking incident.

Finally, remember the benefits of networking. I know I’ve always felt embarrassed about using a friend or acquaintance to find a position – it feels like my achievement is less real – but a job is what you put into it, not how you get it. Talk to as many people as possible about your goals, set up informational interviews and even shadow someone for a day. Take friends or family members up on every opportunity – it feels like nepotism but they might be seeing something in you that would be an asset to their company. Don’t turn anything down just because you didn’t apply on Monster.

What’s that? You followed these tips and got the job? Great! Just don’t forget to take a minute to enjoy that feeling of success and achievement before you actually start working.

Liz Coffin-Karlin grew up in Sarasota, Florida, where the sun is always shining and it’s unbearably hot outside. She went to college at Northwestern University and after studying Spanish and history, she decided to study abroad in Buenos Aires. In college, she worked on the student newspaper (The Daily Northwestern), met people from all over the world at the Global Engagement Summit and, by her senior year, earned the title of 120-hour dancer at NU’s annual Dance Marathon. She just moved to San Francisco and is currently working on a political campaign on ocean pollution but will be teaching middle school or high school Spanish this upcoming fall and working on her teaching certificate.


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How and Why High Schoolers Should Find Summer Jobs, Internships and Volunteer Programs

by Liz Coffin-Karlin

Baby, it may still be cold outside but summer is on its way – three glorious months to fill with projects, internships and mildly soul-numbing jobs. Hey, high schoolers, I'm talking to you: Colleges care what you do with that time, even if you'd rather just hang out and play water polo...or whatever kids do these days.

For most high schoolers, there are two kinds of summer experiences: you pay them (hang gliding in Costa Rica, French language lessons in France with French people) or they pay you (yeah, I worked at a bagel shop). They both have their places and their benefits so if you can get to some faraway place and have adventures, go for it; however, most people aren't in that financial bracket in high school. The good news is that a first job can be just as interesting an experience, whether it's at a fast food joint or selling t-shirts at the Jersey Shore. Check out your local museums and colleges to see if they have special internship programs for teens over the summer. The application process may be brutal but a competitive internship program looks great on your resume and the money in your pocket will be worth it. Working with those programs will also give you a chance to meet teens from other high schools or outside your normal social circle; remember, college is all about learning to get along with people totally different than you – now's a good time to start.

But don't forget secret option number three: No one pays you but you get to practice something you think you'd like to study or work in. It's like volunteering (except you go every day instead of when you feel like it) but you should think of it as a job, minus the monetary compensation. The summer before my senior year of high school, I called around and became a journalism intern at a small local paper. I pitched and wrote my own articles and even used the amazingly complex 9-megapixel digital SLR camera (hey, it was 2005). While I wasn't exactly producing Pulitzers, I got great articles for my portfolio and the experience of working as an adult. In this economy, everybody wants free labor and by finding a place to volunteer regularly, you may just find a career. Start your search early, though: These opportunities fill up fast!

Liz Coffin-Karlin grew up in Sarasota, Florida where the sun is always shining and it’s unbearably hot outside. She went to college at Northwestern University and after studying Spanish and history, she decided to study abroad in Buenos Aires. In college, she worked on the student newspaper (The Daily Northwestern), met people from all over the world at the Global Engagement Summit and, by her senior year, earned the title of 120-hour dancer at NU’s annual Dance Marathon. She currently works in Buenos Aires on freedom of speech issues but is thinking about returning to the U.S. for a job in urban education.


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The Perks of Volunteerism

March 26, 2012

The Perks of Volunteerism

by Liz Coffin-Karlin

I think about volunteering the same way most of us think about fruits and vegetables – important to your health, good for your future and, every once in a while, the last thing you want added to your day. No one talks about it but I've seen it as both a volunteer supervisor and as a volunteer myself. However great the cause, however much you care, some days you just want to stay in bed. After all, they're not paying you so what does it matter if you miss a day or two?

What professional volunteer coordinators know is that volunteering isn't just good for showing the world you're a good person who cares about others: Choosing to volunteer builds skills you might otherwise not have the opportunity to develop, making you immensely more attractive to future employers and colleges. If you volunteer with young students at a religious school or daycare, for example, you will be better at working with young students than someone with no experience but that commitment also adds to your organizational ability, proves to potential employers that you are responsible and able to do self-directed work and shows your commitment to causes outside your normal purview.

In addition, peer mentoring or tutoring (paid or unpaid) adds to your employability. First, it shows that you are good at working with other people – a requirement for many jobs – and second, many employment opportunities (from consulting to banking to physical therapy) require that employees can clearly and concisely explain their point of view to others. Teaching someone how to do a math problem may be as applicable to your career in management consulting as any classes you took in college: It's a transferable skill that you will use again and again.

Finally, if you are interested in working in the industry that you're volunteering in, there's a good chance that you'll be considered an internal candidate for any job opportunities that come up. That usually means that your application will be read before outside candidates (even if they have more direct experience) and often increases your chances of getting an interview. Besides, if you've done good work, you've effectively gained an extra (positive) reference so think about your time volunteering as an extended job interview.

On that note, go forth and volunteer! As a former volunteer supervisor, I know we welcome the help but you're probably getting as much from it as we are.

Liz Coffin-Karlin grew up in Sarasota, Florida where the sun is always shining and it’s unbearably hot outside. She went to college at Northwestern University and after studying Spanish and history, she decided to study abroad in Buenos Aires. In college, she worked on the student newspaper (The Daily Northwestern), met people from all over the world at the Global Engagement Summit and, by her senior year, earned the title of 120-hour dancer at NU’s annual Dance Marathon. She currently works in Buenos Aires on freedom of speech issues but is thinking about returning to the U.S. for a job in urban education.


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Meet Scholarships.com’s Virtual Interns: Liz Coffin-Karlin

by Liz Coffin-Karlin

Hi all! I’m Liz, the newest virtual intern here at Scholarships.com. I’m from Sarasota, Florida originally, and then moved way up to Chicago to attend college. I picked Northwestern University for a lot of reasons – it was in a whole new part of the country, it had great academics and it had a lot of student involvement – and I wound up with double majors in Spanish and history and a minor in Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

While academics were important to me, I always felt I expressed myself best through student activities. I worked on our newspaper, The Daily Northwestern, for four years, was an executive board member on the Global Engagement Summit and participated in NU’s huge Dance Marathon. Along the way, I also volunteered at a Chicago soup kitchen, worked as a lifeguard for our sports center and once even sold hot dogs at a football game to raise money for a student group. (It is COLD in those stands!) I also studied abroad in Buenos Aires, where I fell in love with empanadas, tango music and backpacking in the Andes.

I loved my time at NU but most of all, I loved the connections I made and the friends I met. I took a public service fellowship in Chicago right after graduating from college in 2010 and ran a teen internship program last summer at the Adler Planetarium. When that ended, I felt it was time to use my Spanish skills and after studying abroad in Buenos Aires and then getting a research grant to come back before my senior year, I had the language skills and the connections to get an internship at the Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information.

Now, I’m excited to be with Scholarships.com, where I'll be sharing travel tips, college tips (make sure you set the microwave timer for two minutes not 20 minutes...unless you want to burn your dorm down) and professional tips for getting that internship or job you wanted. Nice to meet you guys – can’t wait to start writing!


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Bilingual Benefits at Home and Abroad

by Liz Coffin-Karlin

I live in Buenos Aires full time, I was a Spanish major in college and I’m about as obsessive about Latin pop music as any actual Latina I know so naturally, people laugh when I tell them I almost didn’t take AP Spanish my senior year of high school. Once upon a time, I thought foreign language classes were good for silly skits and fluffing up your college resume but looking back, I can honestly say that even if I had no idea at the time, my high school Spanish classes were probably the most important classes I took in those four years.

Most colleges require language classes to graduate and have varying levels of language requirements for different study abroad programs. The thing about really trying to learn that tricky foreign language is that it lets you become part of whatever culture you’re visiting, whether you flew to another continent or just visited a part of your own college city that you’d never been. Instead of being just a tourist, you can become an observer – an anthropologist of that new and exciting land – but if you don’t know the language (or your basic cultural history), that task becomes impossible and you’re just a tourist with a resident visa. Think about practicing your French in a New York Haitian neighborhood, your Cantonese in San Francisco Chinatown or your Arabic in Dearborn, Michigan. You don’t have to fly a thousand miles away to get out of your comfort zone or expand your horizons.

Now I’m not advocating walking into Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood and expecting your six words of Spanish to make you a whole bunch of new friends. Just like when you’re a visitor in someone’s home, be polite and know that your presence can easily become a burden rather than a novelty. If you work at understanding the people around you, finding out about their lives and listening to their opinions and goals, your limited language skills might rapidly expand.

Liz Coffin-Karlin grew up in Sarasota, Florida where the sun is always shining and it’s unbearably hot outside. She went to college at Northwestern University and after studying Spanish and history, she decided to study abroad in Buenos Aires. In college, she worked on the student newspaper (The Daily Northwestern), met people from all over the world at the Global Engagement Summit and, by her senior year, earned the title of 120-hour dancer at NU’s annual Dance Marathon. She currently works in Buenos Aires on freedom of speech issues but is thinking about returning to the U.S. for a job in urban education.


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