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Your Scholarship of the Week Challenge? Earn $15,000 for College!

HISTORY® and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Announce National Civil War Student Challenge

March 28, 2011

Your Scholarship of the Week Challenge? Earn $15,000 for College!

by Alexis Mattera

Want to put a serious dent in your tuition? You’ll need three things: a working knowledge of the Civil War, a Scholarships.com account and the link directing you to the National Civil War Student Challenge.

The National Civil War Student Challenge is an academic competition presented by HISTORY® and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that gives students a chance to showcase their knowledge of one of the most pivotal events in American history and qualify to win up to $15,000 in college scholarships. Although all U.S. high school students who are in grades 9 through 12 and are between the ages of 13 and 19 are eligible to participate, content is geared toward the 11th grade curriculum. The top-30 scoring students will be invited to take a 90-minute, proctored in-school Final Exam to determine the top 10 scholarship winners.

Registration is now open on the official website so sign up and start studying. And remember, there are plenty more scholarship opportunities in the Scholarships.com database...check out our free college scholarship search today!


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Acceptance Rates Plummet for Class of 2015

Record High Applications Don't Translate to Equally Impressive Acceptance Numbers

April 1, 2011

Acceptance Rates Plummet for Class of 2015

by Alexis Mattera

It’s not long into April Fools' Day but we’ve already encountered lots of fake educational news. First, it was revealed that GWU President Steven Schnapps’ fist pumping was responsible for the destruction in a campus residence hall. Next, Bryn Mawr announced it had partnered with Bithnian University of Science and Technology to take its alien research to the next level. And lastly, college acceptance rates plummeted at universities across the country. Oh wait, that last one wasn’t a joke at all.

The New York Times’ The Choice blog recently published a table of admissions statistics from 32 selective U.S. colleges and the data show a drop in acceptance rates across the board. Not surprisingly, the lowest acceptance rates were at Harvard (6.2 percent, an all-time low for the Ivy), Columbia (6.9 percent), Stanford (7.1 percent), Yale (7.4 percent) and Princeton (8.4 percent) but what’s interesting is that this year, records were broken for applications received. The schools’ explanations for the limited fat envelopes sent out? They just had far too many outstanding applicants.

There are many factors to consider – for example, high school seniors are applying to more schools than ever before to ensure they have at least one place to attend college – but nothing takes the sting out of "We regret to inform you..." topping a decision letter. Applicants, how have you fared in the admissions race? Were you rejected or waitlisted at a school you considered a safety? Did you score admission at your first-choice school? Are any of you still waiting to learn your higher education fates? Have you already sent in a deposit or are you still securing enough financial aid to pay for school?


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Cheating Scam Busted in Beijing

by Alexis Mattera

There have been countless movie and television show plots surrounding forms of academic dishonesty but in real life, cheating doesn’t pay. The cheater’s reputation, on the other hand, does. Dearly.

The Associated Press reported 62 individuals have been detained by China's Education Ministry for selling wireless devices they believe would be used to cheat on the upcoming college entrance exam. Since the plot was discovered before the exam, however, the ministry hopes its actions will protect the test's integrity, which more than 9 million high school students are expected to take this week.

Whether it’s copying and pasting someone else’s words into your paper, crafting the tiniest of crib sheets or constructing an elaborate system of two-way radios to relay information in real time, cheating is everywhere. The good news is that educators are fighting back with new outlooks, smarter software, harsher punishments to curb students’ urges to cheat. Are these tactics working? The jury’s still out. What’s being done at your school to limit and eventually stop academic dishonesty? Do you have any suggestions how to make these methods more effective?


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Faith Trumps Graduation Speech for One H.S. Valedictorian

by Alexis Mattera

Imagine studying hard, taking AP classes and earning a stellar GPA for four years and having that hard work pay off by being named the valedictorian of your class. Sounds like a dream, right? Not necessarily. Just ask Carolyn Fine.

Fine received the news that she'd been selected as Vacaville High School's valedictorian and but her heart sank when she found out the date of the graduation ceremony: It was scheduled to take place on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, a day prohibiting the use of anything requiring electricity until after sunset. This meant she would not be able to use a microphone during her speech, drive to the ceremony or pose for pictures in her cap and gown after receiving her diploma. Fine spent the next few weeks struggling to decide between honoring her faith and delivering her valedictory address and ultimately decided the former was more important. Admiring her choice, school administrators offered a solution to satisfy all parties. “They prerecorded my speech and they are going to play that while I’m standing up there,” Fine said. “It was a tremendous relief. It seemed like I had reached a compromise where I could keep to my faith and accept this, because it’s a huge honor.”

What would you have done in Fine’s situation – honored your faith or given the speech using a device powered by electricity?


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College Acceptance in 500 Words

Common App Sets Essay Word Limit, Counselors Voice Concerns

June 10, 2011

College Acceptance in 500 Words

by Alexis Mattera

The college application essay has long been the place where students with mediocre grades, lackluster standardized test scores and nonexistent extracurricular activities have displayed their above-average writing skills and possibly turned admissions tides in their favor. College hopefuls will still be able to achieve this feat next year but with far fewer literary devices.

Officials for the Common Application have announced they’ve set a new word limit for its essay section. For the 2011-2012 application cycle, students will choose from one of five prompts – for example, "Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence." – and have 250 to 500 words to respond AND effectively sell themselves to college admissions officers at 415 colleges and universities. Some guidance counselors have complained about the limit, saying students will not have enough space display their writing abilities; in truth, the new parameters are plenty wide if students have received sufficient writing instruction in high school.

I believe brevity is a virtue but know this truncated word count will be shocking to college applicants. What do you think of the Common App’s announcement? Are you up for the challenge or has the change deterred from using the application entirely?


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Facebook College Group Etiquette

by Alexis Mattera

You’ve been accepted. You’ve paid your deposit. You’ve stocked up on apparel emblazoned with your future school’s name. What’s next? For many students today, it’s joining their new school’s Facebook page to share their excitement, concerns and any other feelings about their upcoming postsecondary experience. Sure, some students think that what they say or do on this page won’t matter because it’s “just Facebook” but others – like incoming Wake Forest freshman Nicole Echeverria – will tell you that being “that guy” or “that girl” won't help your cause.

Echeverria recently penned a piece for USA Today Education detailing her experiences on her school’s Class of 2015 page and the recent high school graduate has created some pretty good guidelines for other incoming freshmen to follow online. Metaphorical pinkies up!

  • Introducing yourself with a few simple facts (name, hometown, prospective major, interests, etc.) and initiating conversations with other admitted students is a great way to make friends before setting foot on campus in the fall. Meeting new people can be difficult for some; breaking the ice online makes the process that much easier.
  • Asking questions about anything and everything can bring about some excellent insight about the coming year. You could find a mentor on campus, seek out help filling out housing forms or see who else is going to a meet-up for students in your major.
  • Limit your comments and likes to a reasonable amount. Chances are, other members of the group have notifications sent to their inboxes and if they see your name on each and every one, you can bet they’ll want to delete you from all friend lists – virtual and real.
  • Feel free to friend others, but don’t do so with reckless abandon. If you notice you and another person have been commenting on all the same threads, send them a friend request with a short message noting this. Who knows...you could have just met your new roommate!

First collegiate impressions are no longer made on move-in day but instead in the months leading up to it. How are you putting your best foot forward online?


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Fed Law Requires College Net Price Calculators, Experts Question Accuracy

by Alexis Mattera

How much will it cost to attend the school of your dreams? The federal government hopes its new law will make that question easier to answer but higher education experts have their doubts where accuracy is concerned.

By this October, the federal government will require all U.S. higher education institutions to offer net price calculators on their websites so prospective college students can easily compare attendance costs earlier in their college searches. Users will be asked questions about their financial and academic backgrounds and their answers – and the calculator’s tallies of tuition, fees, books, housing and food, minus scholarships and grants – will reveal the net price to attend that particular school. Though many experts are glad students will have access to this information, accuracy is a concern. Certain factors won’t be taken into consideration because direct student-to-school contact has been eliminated; for example, Washington University is willing to adjust financial aid packages if a parent loses their job and this might not be reflected in the calculators’ answers.

It’s likely the law will be revised to make side-by-side comparison more accurate before the calculators are implemented - read more about the net price calculators in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch - but would you use this new technology or do you think it’s still too early to glean accurate information?


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Standardized Test ACTually May Not Predict College Success

by Alexis Mattera

Are standardized test scores and collegiate success one in the same? Not necessarily, a new study says.

The National Bureau of Economic Research’s latest findings reveal that while the English and math sections of the ACT are "highly predictive" of college success, the segments unique to this exam – science and reading – have "little or no" ability to help college admissions committees predict whether applicants will succeed. Because of this, the validity of the ACT as a whole is in question because colleges typically rely on the composite score rather than individual subject scores. "By introducing noise that obscures the predictive validity of the ACT exam, the reading and science tests cause students to be inefficiently matched to schools, admitted to schools that may be too demanding — or too easy — for their levels of ability," the study says.

ACT refutes these findings, stating it has "decades of research supporting the predictive validity and application" of its scoring in college enrollment, performance and retention and is in the process of reviewing the study’s methodology and findings. For those of you who have taken the ACT, do you agree with the study or the testmaker? Do you find high school performance is a better indicator of college success than any standardized test out there?


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History Proficiency Low in America

by Alexis Mattera

Do you know who becomes our nation’s leader if the current president and vice president should both die? Who said “Give me liberty or give me death?” Not sure of the answers? Neither are American students.

According to the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress test – an exam that measures proficiency in mathematics, reading, history, science, writing, the arts, civics, economics and geography – American students just aren’t “getting” American History. The results revealed high school seniors have the worst grasp on the subject with an 87-percent failure rate, followed by eighth graders (82 percent) and fourth graders (78 percent). These marks should be cause for parent-teacher conferences...except when the CBS affiliate in Boiling Springs, South Carolina asked locals some sample exam questions, not one person could answer how many justices sit on the U.S. Supreme Court or name the Chief Justice and only one person could name South Carolina's two U.S. Senators and who American patriots fought against in the Revolutionary War.

Sure, not everyone is a history major and most people don’t have careers requiring the recollection of these facts on a daily basis but being informed about the country you call home is never a bad thing. Check out some of the questions here then tell us what you would do to increase these unsatisfactory scores.


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Illinois Erases High School Writing Exam

by Alexis Mattera

Assessing students’ writing skills takes a keen eye, an open mind and – sometimes – a lot of red ink. In an effort to save some green, however, Illinois has eliminated its last standardized state writing exam.

The writing assessments for elementary and middle school students were dropped last year but now Illinois high school juniors no longer will be tested on writing skills. Though the move is saving the state about $2.4 million, educators are worried it will impact the focus on and resources for writing skills in Illinois classrooms. They speculate reading and math will take precedence, as these two subjects are used to measure public schools’ performance under the No Child Left Behind Act. According to Barbara Kato, director of the Chicago Area Writing Project, there has already been a shift: When the state nixed the elementary and middle school grade school writing tests last year, requests for teacher training in writing instruction plummeted.

Oregon and Missouri have also eliminated writing-centric exams but others, like Washington, have managed to preserve funding despite serious budget deficits. What do you think about Illinois’ educational editing? Do you think eliminating the writing exam will be doing a disservice to students?


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