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by Emily

For students beginning to pen those college application essays, some good news appeared in today's Inside Higher Education: several competitive colleges are shortening length requirements for the essays they ask their applicants to submit.  Along with the request for briefer essay responses, colleges are increasingly looking for informal and honest responses from students, welcome news to anyone who doesn't view formal writing as their greatest academic strength.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has replaced a long-form essay (500 words) with several shorter and less formal essay responses of 200 words or less. The University of Pennsylvania has taken an opposite tack, combining two separate essay questions into one, but reducing the overall amount of writing students need to do for their application. Other schools that use the Common Application are also increasingly favoring shorter essay responses in their supplemental materials.

Whether universities ask for long essays or short ones, their admission officials seem to want similar things from applicants. Rather than a carefully crafted application meant to highlight an applicant's scholastic and extracurricular abilities, along with his or her impeccable grammar and excellent writing style, colleges are asking to actually get to know the student behind the application. A number of application questions adopt an informal tone to solicit a less stilted and more informative response, even using humor (or the closest thing to humor one can expect to find in college admissions). Some application questions go so far as to plead with the student to answer honestly and reveal some of their personality. This represents a change from what most students have been told to expect when it comes to college admissions, and it also represents a conscious move by admissions into a system that can less easily be gamed by students willing to invest in coaching.

After a months long college search filled with research, campus visits, and correspondence, students already have a lot invested in each application they complete. The intensity of the college application process often prompts students to stifle creativity and rely too heavily on outside help, in some cases employing college admissions consultants or intensive writing coaches (perhaps even ghostwriters) to help craft an application that reflects less what the student brings to the table than what those around the student understand colleges to want.  By requiring more informal responses and fewer formal essays, colleges hope to circumvent this problem, while getting a better sense of whether each applicant is a fit for their institution, which is what the application process is supposed to determine in the first place.


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by Emily

While most scholarship application deadlines occur between January and March, a number of large scholarship awards for high school seniors have deadlines that fall much earlier in the academic year. To make sure you're not missing out on major sources of college funding, be sure to start your scholarship search when you start your college applications, if not sooner. If you haven't gotten around to applying for scholarships yet, check out these awards with approaching deadlines for motivation. You may want to mark them on your calendar and clear some space in your schedule to apply.

Horatio Alger National Scholarship Program

Deadline: October 30

Dollar amount: $20,000

Who qualifies: High school seniors who plan to enter college next fall and to pursue a bachelor's degree. Students must be U.S. citizens with grade point averages of 2.0 or higher and critical financial need (typically, a family adjusted gross income under $50,000).

Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation

Deadline: October 31

Dollar amount: $20,000

Who qualifies: Current high school seniors planning to enter college in the fall. Must have a minimum high school GPA of 3.0.

VFW Voice of Democracy

Deadline: November 1

Dollar amount: $30,000

Who qualifies: Any high school student in grades 9-12 who composes a taped response of 3-5 minutes to the question, "Does America Still Have Heroes?" Entries should be submitted through your high school or the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

Intel Science Talent Search

Deadline: November 18

Dollar amount: $100,000

Who qualifies: High school seniors who have individually completed a research project in science, math, medicine, or engineering. More information on qualifying projects is available on the contest website.

AXA Achievement Scholarship

Deadline: December 15

Dollar amount: $25,000

Who qualifies: High school seniors who plan to enroll as undergraduate students at a two-year or four-year university. Winners will be chosen based on outstanding achievements in school, work, or their community.

These are only a few of the scholarships for high school students in our database, and only a few of the awards with upcoming deadlines. For more information about these and other scholarship opportunities, conduct a free college scholarship search. If you qualify based on the information you provided, you will see a link to the award in your search results.


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by Emily

High school students face a lot of pressure when it comes to planning their future. There's a persistent idea that if you don't have your entire life mapped out by the end of 11th grade, you're somehow doomed to a life of vagrancy or doing whatever job your parents pick out for you. If you're a high school senior still uncertain about choosing a college major and setting career goals, a career Q&A that appeared in the New York Times earlier this week might help. It primarily offers advice to parents, but can also serve as a road map for high school students who are thinking about potential college majors and post-college careers.

Focus on Strengths and Interests: Rather than starting out by exploring careers and seeing which one you can fit into, begin by thinking about what you're good at and what you like doing. Maybe you're amazing at math and like to build things in your spare time, or maybe you get joy out of helping your classmates edit their English papers. Think about what you like doing and what environments you prefer to work in. Then begin looking for careers that play to those strengths. By focusing on both what you enjoy and what you excel at, you stand a much better chance of finding a major or a job you can enjoy doing.

Research Potential Careers Now: Don't wait until your final year of college to decide whether or not you like the professions you found fascinating in high school. Look for opportunities to learn more about potential careers and the people who pursue them. Internships, volunteer experiences, and job shadowing can be great ways to do this. If you know any adults whose job sounds interesting, see if you can arrange to talk to them about it, observe them at work, or even help out after school. Consider reading books about careers you find interesting, as well, but be sure to balance glamorized or fictionalized accounts with real-world observations and experiences to avoid disappointment. Career exploration and research don't have to stop in high school, either. You don't need to go to college with a career plan set in stone, nor do you need to wait for your department or advisor to take the lead on preparing you for a career or showing you what options exist. Feel free to choose classes that interest you and find time outside of school to continue to learn about what people with your degree can do and take advantage of opportunities to gain exposure to and experience in fields you find interesting.

Don't Feel Forced: Finally, and most importantly, don't worry if nothing comes to mind right away, or you're still hearing nothing from your parents and teachers but "you're good at math! Be an accountant!" It's normal to be undecided for awhile or to change your mind later, and you likely have a lot more talents and interests than what you can recall immediately as a high school student. College students switch majors and adults switch careers and both groups do so successfully. So don't feel like you have to make a lifelong commitment to the first idea that appeals to you or those around you. If you keep your mind open and have some strategies in place, you'll eventually come across something that will stick.


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by Emily

It may not always seem like it, but going to college can actually make you happier.  Perhaps not in the short term--there are finals, after all, and that general lack of money or personal space that comes with the college lifestyle--but in the long term, people who go to college consistently report being happier.  They also claim to be healthier and more likely to make good choices.  This comes on top of the financial benefits of receiving a degree, which include better job security, lower unemployment, and higher salaries.

In a working paper entitled, "How Large Are Returns to Schooling? Hint: Money Isn't Everything," available from the National Bureau of Economic Research, two researchers use data from General Social Surveys from 1972 to 2000 to gauge whether increased education has any correlation with increased happiness, job satisfaction, and other indicators of a better life.  While it's difficult to show direct causation, their analysis did find a strong correlation between college education, especially receiving a bachelor's degree or higher, and many positives in life.

People with college degrees were more likely to report having satisfying jobs with a greater degree of autonomy, sense of accomplishment, and opportunity than other workers with similar backgrounds but less education.  This can play into greater happiness, since work is such a big part of many people's sense of identity and fulfillment.  Their research also backs up earlier reports that college graduates are less likely to face unemployment long-term or need to rely on public assistance, which can also correlate with higher self-esteem and a lower likelihood of depression.

Recipients of college degrees also make better decisions, likely due in part to the reasoning and research skills they gained in college.  They report being healthier, possibly because of making positive decisions about their health, including both lifestyle choices and healthcare decisions.  They also are less likely to get divorced, more likely to hold off on having children until they're financially and emotionally ready to do so, and may be more likely to develop better relationship and parenting skills than less educated counterparts.  They also are likely to plan for the future, as opposed to living only for today.  Finally, those who had more education were likely to be more trusting, believing that people are basically good, which can lead to more social participation.  Having stronger friendships, stronger family ties, better health, plans for the future, and positive attitudes can all tie in easily to increased happiness.

Achieving any amount of post-secondary education can influence all of these figures, and even respondents who just finished high school were more likely to report positive results than respondents who did not.  While increased education can correlate with less free time and more job-related stress, many people consider these acceptable trade-offs for overall improvements in quality of life.  So if you're wondering, " why go to college?" you hopefully have some good reasons.  If your question has now changed from "why" to "how," check out our free college search and scholarship search to get started on the path to a happier life.


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Coca-Cola Scholars Program

August 31, 2009

by Emily

Scholarship opportunities abound for students who devote their time and energy to helping those around them. One such opportunity is this week's Scholarship of the Week. The Coca-Cola Scholars Program, one of the most generous and well-known community service scholarships, is awarded each year to high school students who have demonstrated academic achievement and community involvement.

Current high school seniors can win up to $20,000 towards their college education through this scholarship program. By demonstrating the ways they've served their communities and made a positive impact on the world, students can earn one of 250 four-year achievement-based scholarships from the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation.  Finalists will also receive a trip to Atlanta for personal interviews and an awards ceremony.

Prize: 50 National Scholars awards of $20,000; 200 Regional Scholars awards of $10,000

Eligibility:: Current high school seniors (at the time of application) attending school in the United States with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0. Applicants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents planning to pursue a degree at an accredited college or university in the United States.

Deadline: October 31, 2009

Required Material: Completed online scholarship application, found on the Coca-Cola Scholars Program website. Semifinalists will be selected and notified in November, at which time they will be required to supply additional application material, including essays, letters of recommendation, and official transcripts.

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.


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by Emily

The University of Texas has announced plans to withdraw as a sponsor of National Merit, a popular national scholarship program that students qualify for based on standardized test scores. In an effort to focus on providing need-based financial aid, the university will no longer offer scholarships specifically for National Merit Scholars. The University of Texas, which was second only to Harvard University in the number of National Merit Finalists it enrolled, offered qualifying students awards worth up to $13,000 over the course of four years.

Texas is not the first major university system to choose to cease participating in National Merit, a program that offers $2,500 scholarships to high school juniors who do well on the PSAT, with the potential for honorees to receive much larger scholarship awards from partner companies and universities. Other institutions, including the University of California system, have previously chosen to withdraw sponsorship of National Merit, while many other schools have chosen not to offer awards specifically for National Merit winners.

National Merit has previously drawn criticism for its strong emphasis on high PSAT scores (other application materials are considered in selecting finalists, but semifinalists are chosen solely based on test scores). Students from wealthier families who have access to the best high schools and a variety of test preparation resources typically do best on standardized tests, such as the PSAT, which results in scholarship awards like National Merit skewing towards affluent students who need less assistance paying for college.

A University of Texas official cited similar reasoning in the university's decision to stop awarding National Merit Scholarships, stating that only one fourth of students receiving the scholarships typically bothered to apply for federal student financial aid, indicating the vast majority had access to other means of covering their college costs. The students who are most likely to be hurt by the loss of this scholarship opportunity will likely be helped by the increase in need-based financial aid that the university is promising.

University officials stressed that applicants who would have been eligible for this award will still be able to compete for other academic scholarships, and the undergraduate students currently receiving this award will continue to do so for their full four years of eligibility. Still, this announcement is likely to upset some students and to fuel the fires of the ongoing debate over merit-based versus need-based financial aid in colleges and universities.


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by Emily

The Obama health plan isn't the only hotly debated controversy in which the of the social good is currently being invoked. College rankings also fall into this category with the release of Washington Monthly's annual rankings this month, which differ sharply from the better-known U.S. News and World Report rankings, and focus primarily on universities' contributions to the "social good."

Washington Monthly publishes two sets of rankings, one for national universities and one for liberal arts colleges, each year. This year, the top three spots in the magazine's national university rankings all went to schools in the University of California system: UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, and UC Los Angeles, respectively. The top three liberal arts colleges were Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, and Williams College. Amherst and Williams both appeared in U.S. News' top three, as well, but rankings differed sharply for many of Washington Monthly's other top schools, which included many state colleges, as opposed to the elite private colleges that dominate U.S. News.

A large part of the drastically different rankings comes from Washington Monthly's chosen methodology, which asks as much what colleges are doing for the country as it asks what they can do for their students. This is determined by looking at factors that include student involvement in national service, university involvement in research, and the social mobility attending college gives students.

The service index is achieved by looking at the number of current students involved in ROTC, the Reserve Officer Training Corps, as well as graduate participation in the Peace Corps. Research is determined by the university's production of PhD graduates, the number of degree recipients going on to achieve PhDs at other institutions, and other components such as research spending and faculty awards. The matrix is slightly different for liberal arts college, as many don't award PhDs and some don't provide data for all of the research categories. Social mobility is based on each school's ability to enroll and graduate needy students, determined by a calculation involving the percentage of students who receive federal Pell Grants and the school's undergraduate graduation rate.

Washington Monthly provides a more thorough description of their rankings system, as well as the rationale behind their decision to rank colleges, on their College Guide website. Other magazines participating in the college rankings game include Princeton Review and Forbes Magazine.


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by Emily

Here's something for new college freshmen and college-bound high school seniors to keep in mind: college students and professors often have very different expectations when it comes to grades.  An article appearing earlier this week in The New York Times highlights just how vast this difference can be, citing testimony from students, faculty, and one recent study.  According to the study, one third of students feel they deserve a B or better just for attending class, and 40 percent feel they should earn at least a B by doing the reading for a class.  The faculty members cited in the article disagree with these assumptions, emphasizing merit over effort in awarding final grades.

While many students believe that hard work should result in high grades, many faculty members believe that grades should be based on the finished product, not the effort it took to arrive there.  While a student may pour hours of studying or research into a college exam or paper that only earns a C, the outcome can be perplexing and discouraging.  Often, this experience is vastly different from the experience students have in high school, especially since many undergraduate students are used to being high achievers.  Students perceive grading as unfair and instructors perceive students as having too great a sense of entitlement.

There is another factor the article doesn't address, which may become a concern for readers of our site--sometimes, students don't just feel they deserve a good grade, but they might actually need one to pay for school.  Many scholarship awards have minimum GPA requirements, and nearly all financial aid programs require students to maintain satisfactory academic progress, which includes maintaining a certain GPA.  So while a student's freshmen year of college can be a learning experience and a period of adjustment to a new grading system, it can potentially be a period of fear and worry about the security of their student financial aid.

If you're struggling to maintain the grades to keep your aid, don't be discouraged by your professors' attitudes towards grading.  Talk to your instructor if you're struggling with a class and explain your concerns.  Many will be more than willing to sit down with you and offer some help, or at least point you in the right direction.  Join a study group and consider signing up for tutoring.  If writing is your problem, look up the university's writing center--they usually offer free consultations and can help you with the problem that's standing between you and the grade you want or need.  All of this is part of the increased time management and overall responsibility that comes with attending college, so prepare yourself accordingly and don't be caught off guard.


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by Emily

This week's Scholarship of the Week is a scholarship essay contest sponsored by the National World War II Museum.  High school students are invited to write an essay of 1,000 words or less related to the theme of a special exhibit at the National WWII Museum this spring.  The exhibit focuses on the stories of seven Americans of varied backgrounds who fought for equality, freedom, and justice before, during, and after World War II.  Following this theme, students are asked to address the theme "'E Pluribus Unum': How Then/How Now?" in their essays, describing ways diversity can strengthen American society.  Responses should be rooted in World War II history, but should also address more current issues and events.

Prize: 

     
  • $1000 first prize
  •  
  • $750 second prize
  •  
  • $500 third prize
  •  
 Eligibility: 

Current high school students in the United States, United States territories, and military bases

Deadline:

March 27, 2009 (the contest will end earlier if 500 submissions are received)

Required Material:

An online application with a scholarship essay of 1,000 words or less.

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.


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by Emily

Paying for college can be a struggle.  Nobody wants to repay student loans forever, not everybody is going to land a full-tuition scholarship, and federal student financial aid seldom takes care of all college costs.  If you're a parent or relative looking ahead to cover college costs for a child, finding scholarships is a great step now, but you may also want to consider college savings plans.

Read below for information on 529 savings plans, which are one of the most popular and diverse options for college savings.  If this is not for you, check back tomorrow for more information on other savings options.

529 Savings Plans While 529 plans have sustained average losses of 21 percent in the last year, they can still be a good idea, especially if you choose your plan carefully and have plenty of time to save.  Many 529 plans allow you to move your savings into a much more conservative portfolio when the student nears college, an option they're sure to publicize based on the recent behavior of the stock market.  While there are limits on how many changes can be made to a 529 plan per year, the plans are otherwise quite flexible and varied, so it's easy to find one that works for your situation. Plus, 529 plans can be taken out in the parent's name, rather than the student's, so they will only minimally affect a student's financial aid eligibility.

Additionally, contribution limits are high, income limits are nonexistent, minimum contribution requirements tend to be low, and many states offer a variety of incentives for residents who contribute to their plans.  As an added bonus, many 529 plans can accept contributions from anybody anywhere, not just the people named on the account, and several programs have been created to take advantage of this.  For example, some plans allow a portion of credit card purchases or purchases at certain stores to go towards a particular student's 529 plan.

Prepaid Tuition Savings Plans If you're hesitant about sticking money for college in the stock market with uncertain returns, another type of 529 plan is also gaining popularity.  Prepaid tuition plans allow families to contribute a fixed amount now in exchange for a certain portion of tuition being covered in the future.  Many states do this for their state colleges and universities, and the Independent 529 plan, which is accepted by over 200 private colleges, also fixes contributions to portions of future tuition.  Both of these varieties eliminate worries about tuition inflation, though if tuition actually goes down between now and when the student starts college, a prepaid plan might not be the most lucrative option.

The Down Side 529 plans do have drawbacks and limitations.  Money must be spent on education, and the expenses that qualify are limited to undergraduate tuition, fees, educational expenses like books, and now computers. However, if the student is enrolled at least half-time, money from a 529 plan can also go towards room and board, so even if your student earns a full-tuition scholarship, it's possible to still take advantage of 529 savings.  Money must stay in a plan for at least 3 years, so if you're saving for a college sophomore, you're out of luck with these.  However, you can transfer the unused portion of a 529 plan to another family member without incurring the heavy withdrawal penalties, and it may also be possible to use the funds towards graduate or professional school.

Plans also vary from state to state, so your state's plan might not have the best benefits for you, or might not offer as sweet a deal in terms of tax breaks or low fees as the next state over offers its residents.  Luckily, you can shop around among a variety of plans, including ones offered by several other states.

529 plans are not the only college saving option, though they remain the most popular and perhaps the most well-known.  Check back tomorrow for information on the rest of the pack.


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