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by Scholarships.com Staff

The National Survey of Student Engagement is an annual survey given to undergraduate students at colleges and universities nationwide for the last ten years. Participation has grown from 140 schools in its 1999 pilot program to 643 colleges this year. Nearly 1,400 schools have participated at least once, with many opting to participate every other year, rather than every year. The survey attempts to measure what students get out of their college experiences and to track whether students are becoming more involved in college life over time.  The categories NSSE measures schools in are level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, enriching educational experiences, and supportive campus environment. The NSSE also features questions on special issues each year, and this year the focus was on transfer students. The survey tracks trends from year-to-year, and also categorizes results as "promising" or "disappointing."  While the results of NSSE are largely seen as beneficial to campus administrators and to national policy-makers, students can get a lot out of it, too. It gives students a rough idea of what most schools are doing, providing them some context in which to compare their colleges of choice as they're conducting their college search. As the New York Times education blog The Choice points out, the questions asked by NSSE may be questions you want to ask on campus visits. Also, the factors linked with college success and more enjoyable college experiences may be things you want to make a point to seek out while attending college. Noteworthy results:

  • About 1 in 3 seniors participated in a capstone course, senior project, comprehensive exam, or some other "culminating experience." Of those, more than three-quarters felt that it contributed substantially to their education.
  • Over half of students surveyed "frequently had serious conversations with students of a different race or ethnicity" and only 1 in 7 reported never having such conversations.
  • Transfer students were less likely than students who completed their education at one institution to participate in "high-impact" activities like learning communities, internships, and study abroad. Men were also less likely than women to participate in these.
  • One in three seniors rated the quality of academic advising at their school as fair or poor.
  • One in five students said they frequently came to class without completing reading or assignments.
  • Forty percent of freshmen reported never discussing ideas from reading or classes with faculty members outside of class.

NSSE results are available online for free from Indiana University.  There's a lot of information to sort through, but there are tools to help, both on the NSSE website and others. In 2007, schools began sharing their NSSE results with USA Today, which publishes and tracks the data in a more user-friendly format. Over 400 schools chose to list their results this way in 2009, making comparisons easier for students and parents.


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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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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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Building Your Network in College

by Shari Williams

It’s the beginning of the semester, meaning there is still plenty of time to get involved on campus. If your school is offering some sort of “Meet the Clubs” fair, find some time between classes to stop in. Why, you may ask? In addition to allowing you to meet people that share the same interests as you, clubs are great networking tools.

As a college student, you may hear some variation of the word “network” just about every day. From social networking to networking events put on by various organizations, making connections is vital. Depending on the type of club you join, members often share the same majors. Knowing the people within your major will give you a good support system especially during exam and course selection time. It’s easier to set up study sessions or discuss requirements for a class you are planning to take with someone who's already taken it.

You will find that the people who join clubs that are major-related are very serious about their future careers. For example, the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) is a student offshoot of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) that provides equal access and networking for student members and professional members. If you’re looking for a mentor or internship opportunity, a club like this is an excellent place to start your search.

No matter what year in college you are, it isn't too late to join a club and start networking. Take the time out to check out the clubs offered at your school – major-related or not – and get to know those around you. You’ll make friends, be better prepared for your classes and even get a leg up in your job search after college – you never know when and where you’ll see your fellow club members again!

Shari Williams is a senior 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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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

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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The Politics of Student Government and Greek Council

by Thomas Lee

In my last article, I mentioned some of my experiences with college political parties and gave a little advice on how to choose one. While the two main choices are College Democrats or College Republicans, there are other ways one can get politically motivated on campus.

One way is joining Student Government Association or SGA as it is called at many schools. SGA is a student-led body that usually has a president and senators who help make operational or financial decisions that affect student life. I was an SGA senator my sophomore and junior years and helped plan the budget on the financial committee. SGA was allotted a certain amount of money from the main budget every three-month grant period and the finance committee would then receive proposals from all the organizations and departments on campus requesting money for specific functions. SGA then usually granted money to campus functions and student events that would promote campus life. It wasn’t a perfect process, but when has politics ever been?

Although it might not seem political at first glance, campus Greek life also plays a large role in making decisions that impact non-Greek students. At Methodist University, we instituted a Greek Council my junior year, as there ended up being a total of two fraternities and two sororities by the time I graduated. Greek Council was a governing body made of members from all four groups. They helped promote SGA events and raised money for community causes, such as helping soldiers. Ultimately, Greek Council influenced the university board of directors to approve the construction of a four-house Greek village. Academic Greek clubs such as Alpha Chi also may help in campus and community service.

So just because you don’t identify as a donkey or an elephant doesn’t mean you still can’t rock the vote on your campus!

Thomas Lee recently graduated from Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina with a BA in political science and journalism. His father is an ordained Church of God minister and his mother is a private school teacher; he also has two younger sisters. Thomas’ interests include politics, law, debate, global issues and writing fiction and he believes in a personal relationship to Jesus Christ and a strong commitment to biblical morality and ethics. He currently resides in Washington, North Carolina and will be attending law school in the near future.


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College is a Real (Political) Party

by Thomas Lee

As a day-to-day college student, the political arena may not be the first thing on your mind, unless you’re a political science major like me. But even if you aren’t, joining a college political group is a good way to get involved in the campus and local community.

I was a member of College Republicans and am also a registered Republican. My first foray into the political arena was putting in 20 hours of phone banking as required by my Electoral Process class. I went to the Fayetteville Republican Party office each weekend and spent a few hours making survey calls to find out who would vote for John McCain in 2008. It wasn’t glamorous (except for the Election Day party!) but it was a great way to network with other students and state and local candidates. The following year, our group focused on campaigning for NC Republican Senator Richard Burr and the NC State House of Representatives candidate Lou Huddleston. I frequently met at schools and other community outlets to hold signs, give out t-shirts and shake hands. I even had the opportunity to meet Senator Burr and many other state candidates in person.

If you’re considering joining a college political club, make sure it corresponds with your own beliefs and interests and doesn’t try to shape you into something you’re not. Although as far as mainstream campus groups go, your main choices are College Republicans and College Democrats and only one of those groups may have a presence at your campus. Just like voting, make an informed decision before you decide to commit to anything so your fellow members won’t see you as insincere or indecisive...like a politician.

Thomas Lee recently graduated from Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina with a BA in political science and journalism. His father is an ordained Church of God minister and his mother is a private school teacher; he also has two younger sisters. Thomas’ interests include politics, law, debate, global issues and writing fiction and he believes in a personal relationship to Jesus Christ and a strong commitment to biblical morality and ethics. He currently resides in Washington, North Carolina and will be attending law school in the near future.


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Don’t Object to Pre-Law Classes

by Thomas Lee

My major was political science but I took some pre-law classes in preparation for law school. Taking pre-law classes or attaining a pre-law minor looks great on a law school application; if you’re interested in taking this path, here’s what you can expect.

My pre-law classes included Constitutional Law, Intro to Law and Criminal Justice. Students participated in mock trials during Criminal Justice class, which involved class members acting out the various roles portrayed in a real trial. I played one of the witnesses and had to field a series of questions from the defense and prosecution. I found it to be a very enriching experience and gained a better understanding of what legal proceedings really involve.

While I did not pursue a pre-law minor – and somewhat regret not doing so – I am still glad I took pre-law classes in order to gain at least a basic background of the legal system. I also wish I had taken a class entitled Legal Research and Writing, as I found it would have gotten me on the fast track to an internship. When deciding what classes to take, keep in mind which classes will advance your career the most and opt for those ones over fluff courses.

Pre-law classes will also prepare you for the Law School Admission Test, aka the LSAT. It works similarly to the SAT or ACT, as it is used to determine your aptitude for success in law school and is a requirement for admittance to most law schools. I have already taken the LSAT and scored a decent 149 out of 180, but a score of at least 160 is considered an achievement for the schools I’m interested in. Because of this, I am in the process of studying and plan to retake the LSAT this October.

Once I achieve the score I desire, it’s law school application time. Then, it’s three more years of schooling, countless hours of research, a few internships and a passing score on the bar exam until I can achieve my goal of becoming a civil lawyer and eventually running for political office. Wish me luck!

Thomas Lee recently graduated from Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina with a BA in political science and journalism. His father is an ordained Church of God minister and his mother is a private school teacher; he also has two younger sisters. Thomas’ interests include politics, law, debate, global issues and writing fiction and he believes in a personal relationship to Jesus Christ and a strong commitment to biblical morality and ethics. He currently resides in Washington, North Carolina and will be attending law school in the near future.


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Student Soldiers: Attending College While Serving in the Military

by Thomas Lee

With its proximity to Fort Bragg and its extensive ROTC program, Methodist University could be considered in many ways an “army school.” Because of this, a number of Methodist students were non-traditional – soldiers who were stationed on base or local residents who attended classes at night.

I certainly respect but do not envy the life of a soldier. Not only must many of them balance classes and family life, but a military career is considerably more difficult than an office job. They must be in peak physical condition and reliably meet the demands of their commanding officers, as well as other supervisors both on and off base. Their usual days can be exhaustive, with schedules consisting of morning training and exercises, day classes, personal errands, night classes and then family duties. Since my time at Methodist, I have gained a greater respect for soldiers and military families and all they manage to accomplish.

There are practical benefits to being a student soldier. Depending on one’s status, the U.S. government may pay most – if not all – tuition costs. Soldiers and their families also have medical and dental care provided by the military. Attaining a degree while in the service may mean a pay increase or advance in rank. Despite experiencing difficulties the average college student will not face – imagine being in class one morning and receiving deployment orders that night – all of the student soldiers I met had one thing in common: They were deeply proud to be part of the military and of having been able to faithfully serve their country.

Thomas Lee recently graduated from Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina with a BA in political science and journalism. His father is an ordained Church of God minister and his mother is a private school teacher; he also has two younger sisters. Thomas’ interests include politics, law, debate, global issues and writing fiction and he believes in a personal relationship to Jesus Christ and a strong commitment to biblical morality and ethics. He currently resides in Washington, North Carolina and will be attending law school in the near future.


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