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by Emily

For everyone currently slogging their way through scholarship applications and college placement tests, as well as all of you gearing up for Composition, Creative Writing, or other English-related classes, here's a bit of fun.  Take a break from writing your own bids for essay scholarships and enjoy some really bad writing.  San Jose State University just announced the 2008 winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, an annual challenge to craft the worst opening line for a novel.  Named after the man who penned the famous opening line "It was a dark and stormy night," the competition seeks to give proper recognition to terrible prose.

This year's winner was penned by Garrison Spik of Washington, DC: 

Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped "Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J."
 Submissions are open year-round and people of any age or circumstance in life can enter, but be advised: most of the award in winning this contest is the joy of having your truly awful words in print. The contest is sponsored by an English department, so the official monetary prize is "a pittance" (for those not familiar with what a pittance is, just ask your composition instructor--they can most likely produce a pay stub).  As fun as this contest would be to enter, it's not going to take you very far towards funding your education.

Even if you decide not to try your hand at fiction, perusing the Bulwer-Lytton contest winners could enrich your life in other ways beyond simple entertainment.  See all of those flowery, adjective-rich lines that seem to go on forever with their archaic and polysyllabic prose that looks like what would happen if someone cut the thesaurus apart and taped it back together to form a sentence?  That would be writing to avoid submitting to scholarship essay contests ( poetry contests, too).  While flexing your writing to its full extent is always tempting, there are limits.  When a sentence becomes difficult to read and a metaphor, image, anecdote, or quote is stretched further than it can reasonably go, or plopped down with no clear context provided, an otherwise brilliant attempt at winning scholarships can fall flat.  Even though School House Rock tells you to unpack your adjectives, the Bulwer-Lytton contest reminds us that in some instances it may be wise to leave a few of them put away.


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by Emily

One much-discussed aspect of the college experience is gaining exposure to new people and perspectives.  Another statement that commonly turns up in the college search process is that different schools serve different groups of students--hence the importance of finding a good fit for you.  Many of the most recognizable and commonly referenced differences are based at least in part on the race, gender, socioeconomic status, or country of origin of a college's student population.  A college's mission and ideological and cultural base also play an important role, and exposure to ideological and religious diversity can also be a major component of the college experience.

One student at Brown University recently turned his experiences with such ideological diversity into a book, entitled "The Unlikely Disciple: a Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University."  The author, Kevin Roose, decided to go on a "domestic study abroad" and enroll at Liberty University, a conservative Christian college, for a semester.  What emerges is, at least according to early reviews, an interesting and balanced look at Liberty from an outsider's perspective, as well as an honest exploration of the author's reactions to his new environment.

If you're in the process of choosing a college, or you're just curious about how wide-ranging the student experience can be in America, this book sounds like an interesting read.  Roose's story is also a reminder for current college students that you don't necessarily need to go to an exotic locale to be exposed to people with a cultural experience markedly different from your own.  Though study abroad occasionally can sound like an expensive and protracted sightseeing trip, Roose's "domestic study abroad" is a reminder of the importance of seeing and experiencing a new culture and place and stepping outside one's own ideological bounds.


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by Emily

More material continues to be added to the debate over whether sites like Facebook help or hurt undergraduate students.  Last month, preliminary research by a graduate student at Ohio State University caused a stir by suggesting that the use of social networking websites was somehow connected to lower college grades. Now, a new study published by researchers at Northwestern University, Stanford University, and the University of Pennsylvania suggests that if anything, Facebook users have higher grades than students who do not use social networking sites.

While both studies are very preliminary, their findings have sparked a great deal of discussion and debate.  Many professors and some students regard sites like Facebook as distractions from coursework and assaults on students' attention spans.  Others see no harm and a great deal of benefit from being able to connect with peers and share ideas and information more easily online.  Some instructors have even incorporated social networking into their curricula and have encouraged students to friend them online.

Social networking sites are becoming an increasingly large part of the lifestyle associated with attending college, and are increasingly being used as tools in college admissions, as well.  Do you use any of these websites?  Have you seen any connection between your internet habits and your grades?


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by Emily

Here's something fun for students who have just finished the college application process, and something instructive for students who are about to start. The Wall Street Journal challenged college presidents to write an admission essay to their own institution, based on this year's admission essay prompts. An article about the problems they faced was published last week, along with the end results of their efforts.

While college presidents don't typically serve on admission committees, the article still gives an interesting insight into what colleges may be looking for, as well as how highly educated people respond to the same questions high school seniors are asked to tackle each year.  There's good advice in here for high school juniors, and high school seniors may receive some comfort from the knowledge that even college presidents still struggle when faced with the task of writing a good college application essay.


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by Emily

We're almost a full week into November, which for many students means the end of the semester is nigh. It's likely time to start working on those final papers, or at least generating some paper topic ideas. It's better to start sooner than later to avoid pulling all-nighters or finding out too late that the jerk in your English class who's writing a similar paper has checked out all the relevant books in the library before you get your chance.

But finding something new to say can be challenging, even for graduate students and undergraduate students in upper-division college courses. If the usual strategies aren't working, we've come across a couple of links that can help humanities students generate ideas for academic prose, or at least provide some much-needed levity while you're agonizing over your coursework. Note: you may not want to actually use these to write your papers, since your professor or TA is likely to see some of his or her own writing reflected in them.

The University of Chicago writing program has a tool to help both students and career academics craft a sophisticated argument without backbreaking labor: Make Your Own Academic Sentence. By simply selecting from drop-down menus of current buzzwords in literary theory, you can stumble upon a unique academic argument, and possibly lay the groundwork for a final paper! If you're not sure of just what concepts to piece together, some samples are provided by the website's Virtual Academic and his counterpart the Virtual Critic.

If you've got a great academic sentence, but no research area to apply it to, a recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education can help with that. James Lambert's article "Heteronormity is Hot Right Now" provides some helpful (and hopefully humorous) guidelines for humanities grad students on declaring their research interests (and possibly finding topics for their first seminar papers). Both of the above are also great for answering that question about your academic interests in your grad school application essays.

As a bonus for grad school applicants, the above links are likely to teach you some new (and obscure) vocabulary, so that's even more of a time-saver for studying for the GRE. However, if nerd humor is not your taste, but you are concerned about getting papers started early and beating the finals week frenzy, you may want to check out our college resources on study skills.


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by Emily

Whether you're applying for college, considering a transfer, or nearing graduation, chances are moving somewhere new has crossed your mind. Any number of factors can come into play in such a big personal decision: closeness to family, availability of jobs in your field, the cost of living, the quality of education, and more. But regardless of their other criteria, few people want to feel like one of the only people under 40 living in their town. This week, The Wall Street Journal came out with a list of ten cities that have the potential to be post-recession "youth magnets." If you're undecided as to where to head for college or after graduation, their list may be worth a perusal.

While the Wall Street Journal is not exactly known as the authority on hip, this list is the product of a panel of six experts on geography, demographics and economics assembled for this purpose. Panelists each provided their top 10, giving reasons for their choices, then the cities with the highest total rank were chosen for the list.

First place, somewhat surprisingly, went to Washington, D.C. (in a tie with Seattle), which doesn't have much of an established reputation as a hot destination for young people. The recent explosion in federal hiring and President Obama's cool are drawing young job seekers, and the museums and live music, as well as the large number of universities in the area also help attract young people beyond just political science majors. The down sides of D.C., though, are its high cost of living and the potential for government to drastically scale back hiring next year.

Seattle, on the other hand, has a diverse economy and a relatively low unemployment rate (currently 7.7%). Its music and media scenes and employment prospects in these areas are strong and well-known, and other high-tech job opportunities for computer science or medical students abound. Like many of the other cities in the list, Seattle also has a strong university presence, providing more incentive for college students and graduate students to place it at the top of their lists as well. The best part: the only negative listed in the article is the weather.

The rest of the top 10, in order, were New York City; Portland, OR; Austin, TX; San Jose, CA; Denver, CO; Raleigh, NC; Dallas, TX; Boston; and Chicago. Several of the cities in the list struggle with high unemployment or high costs of living. Most feature excellent colleges and universities and may already be focal points for your college search. A number also have an excellent variety of things for young people to do; for example, Portland and Austin are well-known cultural outposts and Chicago also has a lot to offer in terms of entertainment and night life, though sports fans may be disappointed that Chicago didn't land the 2016 Olympics.

What do you think? Are any of these places you'd consider heading for college or after?


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by Emily

It's nice to know that in the event of a disaster, your school will be prepared. Colleges and universities nationwide already have contingency plans for situations such as fires, floods, and other on-campus emergencies. In anticipation of on-campus outbreaks of the H1N1 swine flu virus, colleges are also reviewing and tweaking their plans for dealing smoothly with infectious diseases on campus. While undergoing this process, one official on the University of Florida campus decided to do one better and prepare his college for another type of outbreak-a zombie attack.

The zombie attack disaster preparedness plan was initially posted on the University of Florida's e-Learning website along with response plans for other, more likely, disaster scenarios. The plan's author, e-Learning Support Services Manager Doug Johnson, composed it as a joke one night during a bout of insomnia while his office was working on strategies for handling a campus closure, then posted it to provide a bit of levity for fellow e-Learning staff members.

Highlights of the plan include humorous definitions of "zombieism" and "zombie behavior spectrum disorder," as well as a form for university employees to complete if they need to deal with undead coworkers. While it was removed from the University of Florida website shortly after discovery and publication by local media, The Gainesville Sun still has a copy available online.

While the University of Florida zombie attack plan was humorous in nature, zombies have been used to model disease outbreaks in serious contexts. Earlier this year, a group of Canadian graduate students modeled a zombie attack as a classroom exercise that is now slated for publication in the upcoming book Infections Disease Modeling Research Progress. Their zombie attack model could have useful implications for modeling and understanding the spread of other infectious diseases, including swine flu.

One of the jokes in Johnson's paper was an allusion to the field of Zombie Studies (which, sadly, is not yet a viable college major), but given the recent uptick in interest in zombies on college campuses, can it be long before zombies find their way into more standardized parts of the college curriculum? Perhaps we will soon see more eye-catching titles for college classes dealing with the undead.


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Three Books Every Student Should Read Before College

by Jacquelene Bennett

Soon-to-be college students, be warned: You’ll be doing a lot of reading and writing during your postsecondary education. From the moment you start to the moment you finish, you will read until your eyes bulge out and write until your fingers are numb. That being said, I can see how the thought of reading during your summer vacation may be unpleasant but you’ll soon realize the most successful and active college students share one thing in common: They are all well-read.

Now it is not necessary for you to read the entire Library of Congress before school starts but I’ve gone and listed three books that I think are important for all students to read before starting college.

These aren’t the only books you should read but they are definitely among the most important ones. Grab copies at your local library or bookstore and enjoy!

Jacquelene Bennett is a rising senior at the University of Redlands where her areas of study are creative writing, government and religious studies. When she is not studying or working, you can usually find her eating frozen yogurt or blogging about her day. She has a cactus named Kat and believes that Stephen Colbert is a genius. Jacquelene works hard, laughs hard and knows that one day you’ll see her name in lights.


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My Favorite Blogs and Websites

by Jacquelene Bennett

Today’s world (and our generation especially) is dependent on the Internet. We use it for school, work, to interact with friends and strangers, to find directions...the list goes on and on. There is so much information on the web that navigating it can leave you lost, so to help ease this confusion, I thought I would share some of my favorite websites and blogs with you all.

Smart Pretty & Awkward: While this blog is mostly geared towards college girls, guys might find some of the advice helpful, too. The author, Molly Ford, gives daily tips on how to be smarter, prettier, and less awkward; this advice ranges from social situations to decorative ideas to how to find good deals on online shopping.

Hyperbole and a Half: I love this blog because it is hilarious and just pure awesomeness. Creator Allie Brosh writes and illustrates stories about her life and childhood and the stories are always so funny. If you’re taking a study break and want a laugh, definitely read this blog.

The Onion: This website is satire and sarcasm done right – they make fun of how the mainstream media pick and deliver news stories. The stories and articles are completely ridiculous and always entertaining.

The New York Times: Don’t get me wrong, I do read the print version of the New York Times (I think everyone should!) but its website is updated every few minutes throughout the day. No more waiting until the following morning to read about the latest breaking news!

Now these are just some of my favorite sites. If you don’t like any of these, you can always start your own blog!

Jacquelene Bennett is a rising senior at the University of Redlands where her areas of study are creative writing, government and religious studies. When she is not studying or working, you can usually find her eating frozen yogurt or blogging about her day. She has a cactus named Kat and believes that Stephen Colbert is a genius. Jacquelene works hard, laughs hard and knows that one day you’ll see her name in lights.


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Planning Your Final Semester

January 18, 2012

Planning Your Final Semester

by Jacquelene Bennett

It is a new year, which means new classes, new professors, new people and new adventures but for some of us, this January marks the beginning of the end: It is our last semester of college before we go out into the real world.

That day isn’t here quite yet, though, and we soon-to-be graduates still have classes, homework and the responsibilities of extracurricular activities on top of applying for jobs or grad schools and taking care of last minute graduation stuff. In addition to all the work, we still want to spend time with our friends, go on spring break, relax and just have fun. So how do you do it all without going crazy?

I'm not an expert but I am quickly learning that the key is to prioritize. Make a list of all the things that you need to do – think: class assignments, preparing for tests, etc.) – and schedule when to do those things. With this method, you will know when you have to be serious about your school work and when you have time to kick back a little.

I personally have come to adopt a "work hard, play hard" strategy: I work hard by getting all my school work and studying done before and after classes, applying for jobs and taking care of any administrative stuff during the week and then I have the weekend to hang out with friends and have fun.

Just because this method works for me doesn’t mean it will work for you - we all have different goals and there really is no “right way” to handle your last semester. Take the first few weeks to determine your path but I recommend organizing, prioritizing and scheduling your commitments and leisure activities. You may not have time to do every single thing you want to do exactly when you want to do it but you’ll come pretty close!

Jacquelene Bennett is a senior at the University of Redlands where her areas of study are creative writing, government and religious studies. When she is not studying or working, you can usually find her eating frozen yogurt or blogging about her day. She has a cactus named Kat and believes that Stephen Colbert is a genius. Jacquelene works hard, laughs hard and knows that one day you’ll see her name in lights.


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