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You Majored in…What?

What Your College Degree Really Means to Employers

September 21, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

Two students from two schools majored in the same subject and obtained degrees in the same field. They took equivalent classes, received identical grades, won similar scholarships and are now both being considered for the same job. Who is the better candidate? Put it this way: You don’t want to be the hiring manager.

In fields like nursing and accounting, there are licensure examinations in place to determine which graduates studied smart and have the greatest understanding of the material they have learned in school. The results are cut, dry and conclusive here but for those organizations hiring graduates from fields without these tests, finding the perfect candidate isn’t easy. In his recent Chronicle of Higher Education article, Forrest Hinton states that the disparity in grades and academic standards is so significant between institutions, departments and instructors that comparing applicants’ transcripts is often just as useless as offering someone a job because of their connections, alma mater or the hiring manager’s gut instinct. Hinton argues that the only way to mend this ailing hiring system is for academia and industry to work together to conclude which skills and knowledge students need to master most. Just because a candidate went to a less-selective college doesn’t necessarily mean they are any less qualified than a graduate of a more competitive institution and the same goes for students who are first-generation, low-income or minorities. Hinton suggests common and field-based assessments should be implemented to separate the candidates who thrive from the ones who will do just enough but, unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in…yet.

Though assessments across a wider variety of fields may be difficult to implement, I think they would make a huge difference in the quality of candidates employers hire and, in turn, the quality of work they produce. What about you, readers? Should someone get the job based simply on where they graduated from or their fluency in the field they seek to work in? What DOES a degree really mean these days and, more importantly, what SHOULD it mean?


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The Early Student Gets Admitted

Colleges See More Interest, Accept More Students Early

October 21, 2010

The Early Student Gets Admitted

by Alexis Mattera

Hiring managers and interviewers like to say “If you’re early, you’re on time and if you’re on time, you’re late” and over the course of the most recent recession, that motto has been unofficially adopted by admissions committees and prospective college students.

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC)’s annual “State of College Admission” report, many colleges (private and public) have reported increased interest from applicants in applying early and a jump in the number of students admitted this way. The former remained relatively the same as over the last two years but the latter – 65 percent of schools accepting more early decision applicants compared to 43 percent just one year prior – is pretty remarkable. The same can be said about the growing gap between the admissions rates for early decision and regular applicants at the same institutions: Colleges with early decision admit about 55 percent of all applicants, but 70 percent of early decision applicants, though only 7 percent of applications received take advantage of the early decision option. Another facet of the NACAC report is the overwhelming popularity of applying online, up to 80 percent in 2009 from 68 percent in 2007.

Does this mean schools are becoming less selective and simply rewarding the early birds in their quests for the worm? Not entirely…and not at all for the Ivies. The top criteria remain grades, the strength of the high school curriculum and admissions test scores but what NACAC calls "demonstrated interest in enrolling" is also climbing those ranks. Does this info change how you plan to apply?


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ABA to Law Schools: "We (Might) Object to LSAT Reporting!"

Change Could Allow More Flexibility, More Diverse Applicant Pools

January 14, 2011

ABA to Law Schools: "We (Might) Object to LSAT Reporting!"

by Alexis Mattera

Ophiuchus, schmophiuchus. If you’re considering applying to law school, this next story will take precedence over what moon is in your house.

In the wake of many undergraduate programs making the SAT and ACT optional, the American Bar Association is considering ending the requirement that law schools use the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Will the elimination of the LSAT create an influx of underqualified applicants? Just the opposite: This shift is expected to create more diverse applicant pools without leading to any loss in academic performance.

If the ABA approves the change – Donald J. Polden, dean of the law school at Santa Clara University and chair of the ABA committee studying the standards, said a "substantial majority" indicated that they would like to drop the LSAT requirement – all law schools will have the option to dismiss LSAT requirements but will not be forced to. Polden went on to say that while there are "good arguments" for the change, he was not endorsing it and didn’t expect Santa Clara to alter its admissions policy.

Standardized testing is the norm but I believe it’s not the only way students should be measured. Do you think this proposed change is a step in the right direction in law school admissions or think the current system is fine as is? Our scholarship search and law scholarships page will be useful to you either way!


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The Pros and Cons of International Recruiting

Applications, Diversity and Competition are Up at Many Schools

February 14, 2011

The Pros and Cons of International Recruiting

by Alexis Mattera

So you’ve found your dream college. The place where you’ll not only obtain the knowledge and skills to succeed in the real world but will make personal connections and precious memories to last a lifetime. As you take the appropriate standardized tests, schedule an interview with a member of the admissions committee and make sure your applications are in on time, you can’t help but begin counting the days until your acceptance letter arrives. The only problem is that you’re not the only one thinking these thoughts: Your competition has increased thanks to many colleges’ upping their marketing efforts abroad, specifically in China, to increase diversity on campus. And you thought finding a valentine was hard.

According to the New York Times, American institutions are seeing surges in applications from China, where a booming economy means more parents can turn their children’s dreams of American higher education into realities. At Grinnell College in rural Iowa, for example, nearly one of every 10 applicants being considered for the class of 2015 is from China. These applicants also display high test scores and exemplary grades but lack command of the English language (some families even hire agents to pen application essays) and access to Advanced Placement courses, making it difficult for the school’s 11-member admissions committee to determine who gets big envelopes and who doesn’t because they cannot be judged using the same standards as American applicants.

The confounding variables do not cease there – Grinnell is "need-blind" when considering American students but is "need aware" for international students, meaning an applicant could have an edge if he or she does not need financial aid and can pay full tuition – but the school does appear to be selecting the right applicants: About 84 percent of students who enroll graduate in four years and double major in subjects including math, science and economics. Do you think there should be different standards for U.S. and international students applying to college? Would you rather have greater diversity in your classes or a better chance of gaining admission to your first-choice school? Does this information impact the schools you'll put on wish list?


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Why Students Drop Out of College

New MSU Study Cites Key Risk Factors

February 17, 2011

Why Students Drop Out of College

by Alexis Mattera

It may seem counterintuitive to work hard throughout high school, score well on your standardized tests, get accepted to your first-choice college and wrangle enough financial aid to pay for your education only to drop out before graduation but it does happen. What causes this academic 180? That’s what researchers at Michigan State University revealed in a new study.

The team, led by MSU assistant professor of psychology Tim Pleskac, used a mathematical model to analyze surveys from 1,158 freshmen at 10 U.S. colleges and universities. The surveys listed 21 "critical events" and students were asked whether any of the events happened to them in the previous semester; later, the students surveyed were asked whether or not they planned to drop out. Among the top risk factors reported were depression, loss of financial aid, tuition increases, unexpected poor marks and roommate issues. Other "critical events" like family deaths, failure to get into a specific program of study, significant bodily injury and addiction, however, were less likely to impact a student’s decision to leave school. "Prior to this work, little was known about what factors in a student’s everyday life prompt them to think about withdrawing from college," Pleskac said. "We are now better suited to think about what students we should target in terms of counseling or other assistance to help them work through these issues."

Would any of the factors listed above effect your choice to drop out of college? If they did, do you think you would eventually return to obtain your degree?


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DePaul Joins the Test Optional Club

University Says Standardized Testing is Out, Essays are In

February 18, 2011

DePaul Joins the Test Optional Club

by Alexis Mattera

Standardized testing is as much – if not more – a part of the college process as dancing when the fat envelope arrives, Facebooking your new roommate and shopping for extra-long twin sheets. That will no longer be the case for DePaul University applicants for the freshman class entering in 2012 because the Chicago school has announced its plans to make the reporting SAT and ACT scores optional.

But don’t start shredding your test prep materials into confetti just yet: Students choosing not to submit ACT or SAT scores will be required to write short responses to essay questions designed to measure "noncognitive" traits, such as leadership, commitment to service, and ability to meet long-term goals. These essays were introduced a few years ago and subsequent research convinced the admissions committee that the nontraditional measures did more than the ACT or SAT to predict the success of low-income and minority students at the university. Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment management, said he wants to encourage applicants with high grade-point averages but relatively low standardized test scores to apply and believes the new method will allow his colleagues to better select applicants who are most likely to succeed and graduate.

DePaul is now the largest private university to join the FairTest list, joining Wake Forest as one of the most selective institutions to adopt test-optional policies. Do you think giving students the choice to report their scores will produce the results DePaul expects? What do you think is a better barometer of qualified applicants: test scores or essays?


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Beware the Ides of March...and the New GRE Format

Changes Will Be Implemented August 1st

March 15, 2011

Beware the Ides of March...and the New GRE Format

by Alexis Mattera

Advice to heed today: Don’t leave your house if a soothsayer warns you not to, don’t run through the Tufts quad sans clothing and don’t study for the GRE using last year’s study guides.

Beginning on August 1st, graduate students to-be will make the acquaintance of the new Graduate Record Examination (aka the GRE). For those unfamiliar, the GRE is currently computer-adaptive and adjusts the difficulty of each successive problem based on the answer given to the previous question; the new version allows students to skip questions and return to them later (the computer just modifies the difficulty of the next part at the end instead), which prevents test-takers from losing time and could ultimately lead to a better overall score. As for the content, the writing section will include two pre-selected essay prompts that will require "more focused" responses, the math section will swap out a number of geometry problems for real-world data interpretation (bonus: an on-screen calculator will be accessible) and the verbal section will feature more reading comprehension but no more antonyms and analogies. GRE scoring will range from 130 to 170 rather than 200 to 800 per section but the cost of taking the test will hold steady at $160. There will also be changes to the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), but those won’t take place until June 2012.

What do you think of the changes to the GRE? For those who have taken the current version, which format appeals more to you? For those who are preparing, do you think you'll fair better, worse or the same when these changes debut?


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Not-So-Standardized Testing

Controversy Surrounds Unconventional SAT Essay Prompt

March 16, 2011

Not-So-Standardized Testing

by Alexis Mattera

This past Saturday, one-third of high school students taking the SAT opened their writing sections and were met with a prompt that even the most extensive prep courses couldn’t have prepared them for. The topic? Reality television and its impact on its viewers.

While the prompt didn’t ask test-takers to cite specific shows or characters (as a New York Daily News headline suggests), SAT owner the College Board has been called culturally insensitive because the question assumes all students have a television, watch reality television and watch enough reality television to distinguish between them. Angela Garcia, executive director of the SAT program, responded that all essay prompts are pretested with students and then reviewed "to ensure that they are easily understood and that each student has an opportunity to respond, and is wide-ranging enough for a student to demonstrate their writing skills." Still, students, parents and school officials are equal parts distraught and confused, anxiously awaiting to see how answers to this question will impact scores.

Standardized testing – whether it’s about changes to existing exams or the decision to make submitting scores optional – is a hot topic as of late and now, we want to hear from you. Did you receive the reality prompt? How did you respond? Do you think you would have fared better if you were given a different prompt? Do you think the SAT (or standardized testing in general) is an accurate measure of a student’s worth?


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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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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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