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The FAFSA: New Year Means New Application

by Alexis Mattera

Though it’s a day off from school and work, New Year’s Day is also a day to get down to business. While you’re starting in on your New Year’s resolutions, opening up a new calendar, and packing up the holiday decorations, there’s one more thing that college students and college-bound high school students should do each January. The Department of Education starts accepting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (more commonly known as "FAFSA") on January 1 each year. State application deadlines fall soon after—as early as February in some cases. So while you might not start classes until August or September, you want to start applying for financial aid as soon as the FAFSA is available each year.

In order to complete a FAFSA, you will need the following:

  • your social security number
  • a driver’s license if you have one
  • bank statements and records of investments (if you have any)
  • records of untaxed income (again, if you have any)
  • your most recent tax return and W2s (2012 for the 2013-2014 FAFSA)
  • all of the above for your parents if you are considered a dependent
  • a PIN to sign electronically (go to pin.ed.gov to get one)

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Scholarships.com Virtual Interns Wanted

by Alexis Mattera

Whether you're putting pen to paper, live tweeting campus events or blogging until the wee hours of the morning, one thing is certain: Sharing information is your passion. And you know what? It's ours, too, so let's join forces through Scholarships.com's virtual intern program!

Over the last 15 years, Scholarships.com has been a go-to site not only for high schoolers in search of financial aid but for college students living away from home for the first time, trying to balance limited money for food and fun, and adjusting to postsecondary academic expectations. We have plenty of information on those topics and more but we want to hear from you about what's going on at the campus you call home for the majority of the year. From parties to politics, from housing to hazing, and from class registration to commencement exercises, let us know what's trending at your school and your musings could be featured regularly on our blog.

If you're interested in becoming a Scholarships.com virtual intern, please send your resume, a 300-word writing sample detailing a campus issue, and links to your blog/Tumblr/Facebook/Twitter/Google+/Pinterest to virtualintern@scholarships.com with "Scholarships.com Virtual Intern" in the subject line.Thanks and looking forward to hearing what your unique voice has to say!


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Credit Card Crack Down

SUNY Adopts Credit Card Reform Agreement

September 10, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

Ah, the emergencies only credit card. Sounds great in theory but when a student’s cash flow is low, the term “emergency” can take on an entirely new meaning (some sweet new sneakers or a floor dinner at Chez Fancypants, perhaps?). If Mom and Dad aren’t too keen on the idea – maybe they’ve been there, done that and have the credit score to prove it – there hasn’t been much they could do to prevent their child from stopping by the student union during the first week of classes and signing up for myriad cards and repercussions…until Andrew Cuomo stepped into their corner.

Reuters recently posted an article detailing the State University of New York’s agreement with the New York Attorney General to adopt practices to protect students from unnecessary debt. SUNY, with 465,000 students on 64 campuses throughout the state, is the first university in the country to adopt this sort of reform, which calls for mandatory financial literacy programs to educate students on loans, credit cards and finances in general to minimize the nearly $4,100 in credit card debt and $20,000 in loans that most four-year college students graduate with. Letters have also been sent to the state’s approximately 300 higher educational facilities insisting that they evaluate any existing contracts with credit and debit card companies, prohibit the sharing of students’ personal information with card companies without authorization, limit on-campus marketing and never accept percentages of charges imposed on students.

When I began my freshman year at UConn in 2001, I made the decision not to sign up for a credit card for one simple reason: I knew that when I tired of my wardrobe or dining hall food, it would have been all too easy to bust out the plastic. That being said, I knew plenty of people who were tempted by the free t-shirts and bottle openers and they would have surely benefited from Cuomo’s reform and tips like these. Now to our readers: Have any financial wins or woes from your college days you'd care to share? Would you have made different choices if more information was available? Were the sneakers worth it?


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Study Abroad Overhaul

October 18, 2010

Study Abroad Overhaul

by Alexis Mattera

Studying abroad for a semester can be a rewarding experience for college students but do those benefits translate to potential employers? For a long time, they haven't – many have dismissed time overseas as an excuse to backpack and party in multiple countries – but Cheryl Matherly is setting out to change that.

Matherly, the associate dean for global education at the University of Tulsa, is designing a series of workshops and seminars to help students discuss their time studying abroad in a way meaningful to employers. The common perception – that studying abroad is a perk for wealthier students, typically white females in the humanities or social sciences packing their bags for Europe – is exactly what Matherly is attempting to reverse and show to employers that the students who studied abroad may actually be better assets to their companies. "The value isn't that you had the abroad experience itself," she says. "It's what you learned overseas that allows you to work in a cross-cultural environment. Students have to learn how to talk about that experience in terms of transferrable skills, how it relates to what an employer wants."

Much of the blame for this falls on the schools themselves, as the paths of study abroad and career counselors rarely cross, and Martin Tillman, a former associate director of career services at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, stresses the importance of deliberate efforts to build connections. The University of Michigan offers panel discussions each year on what it calls "international career pathways” and the Georgia Institute of Technology touts a Work Abroad Program to place students in international internships and jobs and advises them throughout the process. Some schools are even bringing in third-party providers, like Cultural Experiences Abroad, to help students translate their study-abroad experience into terms employers can understand. CEA has createda semester-long career development course which includes pre-arrival reading assignments, Webinars with career consultants and regular meetings that incorporate experiential exercises and journal writing.

I knew a number of people who studied abroad in college (I didn’t because I couldn't find the right program for my major and regret it to this day) and I’m sure they would have benefited from programs like the ones detailed above. Any graduates in the same boat? And for current college students considering studying in another country, do you think you’d take advantage of these resources if they were readily available to you?


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Proofing College Applications: More Than Just Spell Check

by Alexis Mattera

After hours at the computer, you add the last punctuation to your admissions essay with great flourish. You scan the document for any red or green squiggles and, noting nary a mark, you hit the send button. But before you can pump your fists in victory, you notice something out of the corner of your eye. Is it? It CAN’T be. But it is: You wrote that being “excepted” to Ivy U. has been a lifelong dream of yours. Well, that dream just became a nightmare.

The NYT’s The Choice blog has been running an excellent series of posts this month as the college application process kicks into high gear. One of the most valuable pieces thus far is today’s about proofreading. The author, Dave Marcus, spoke to members from a variety of admissions staffs and they all have seen their fair share of application snafus. The main culprit? Students’ dependence on technology. Here are some of the most memorable misses:

  • An applicant to Oberlin College wrote about her admiration for Julie Taymor, an Oberlin graduate who created the “The Lion King” on Broadway. The essay was passionate…but also inaccurate: The writer kept referring to “The Loin King.”
  • An admissions officer came across an essay that said, “It’s my dream to go to Boston University.” That’s fantastic…except the essay was being reviewed at Cornell.
  • An applicant to Molloy College wrote "Steve" in the field asking her expected graduation date. Um, what? The applicant later explained she was in a relationship with a man named Steve and hoped he’d be her date at graduation.

The moral of the story? Technology is helpful, but not magical. Instead of immediately taking Word’s suggestions, print copies of your application and essay and review the hard copies with a real or metaphorical red pen in hand; giving it to a friend or parent to review is beneficial, too, as a fresh set of eyes can catch something you as the writer missed. A few typos won’t necessarily kill your chances of acceptance but its inn sane to think you’re spell check is all ways write.

Yep, I’ll be here all week.


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Finals Week Goes to the Dogs

Furry Friends and Other Quirky Events Ease Exam Stress

December 16, 2010

Finals Week Goes to the Dogs

by Alexis Mattera

Ah, finals week. It’s been almost six years since my last one but all the hairy details – the tensing of muscles, the firing of brain synapses and the pain of paper cuts as I shuffled through my notes the night before a huge exam to absorb one last piece of information needed to fill a blue book – still come rushing back to me like clockwork every December and May. It’s far from fun but some college students are actually enjoying this time of year thanks to some furry friends. No, not Joakim Noah...puppies, you guys!

First featured on the Jumbo Shorts blog last month (by my good friend, University of Connecticut alum and web content specialist Kaitlin Provencher, no less!) and now making headlines in a variety of news outlets, Tufts University has foregone the traditional finals week perks like extended library hours and wider availability of counseling services and is instead giving its students a much-needed reprieve from exams by bringing therapy dogs to campus for them to play with. Resident director Michael Bliss fashioned the idea after a similar program he participated in as an undergrad at NYU and the results were just as positive then as they are now. "Every college student has stress around finals," said Bliss. "And taking a break out from that with something as easy and simple and loving as petting dogs is really helpful."

Tufts isn’t alone in its quest to bust stress (though its program is by far the cuddliest): Over the last decade, community, state and private schools have been employing untraditional finals week events to keep students less frazzled and more focused including late-night yoga, massages, oxygen bars, impromptu dance parties, pizza fairies and rubber ball deluges. "These events help students acknowledge the fact that you have to put these more stressful times in perspective," said Lori Morgan Flood, director of wellness and health promotion at Oberlin College. "You'll get through it."

College may be about learning the information and skills to prepare students for jobs, graduate school and life after college in general but throwing a little something unexpected or unusual into the mix is just what many students need to perform at their absolute best. My advice: Step away from the books if only just for a moment and have some F-U-N!


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Self-Testing Boosts Info Retention

Retrieval Bests Traditional Concept Mapping as a Study Method

January 24, 2011

Self-Testing Boosts Info Retention

by Alexis Mattera

Did you spend your Sunday distraught over Jay Cutler and the Bears or horrified by the atrocity that was Mean Girls 2? I know I’m not completely alone here but, being the diligent students you are, many of you were probably holed up in the library preparing for your first exam of the spring semester and quizzing yourself on key pieces of information. Good thing, as a new study says self-testing while studying is the best way to retain facts and figures.

The study, "Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping," was conducted by Purdue’s Jeffrey Karpicke and Janell R. Blunt and found that since learning is fundamentally about retrieving, practicing retrieval while studying is crucial to learning. The study focused on two groups of students (200 altogether) who were asked to read several paragraphs about differing scientific topics but one group was instructed to use the information to create a concept map and the other was told to put away their articles and spend 10 minutes writing what they recalled. When the students were tested on the same material one week later, the group that practiced retrieval retained 50 percent more information than those who engaged in concept mapping. Strangely, researchers also found that despite learning less, the students who engaged in concept mapping were more confident that they would remember the material than those who practiced retrieval while studying.

What’s your preferred study method? Is it producing the results you want? Will you employ the retrieval method given this study’s findings?


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Scholarship Scam Spotting 101

February 16, 2011

Scholarship Scam Spotting 101

by Alexis Mattera

Applying for scholarships requires hard work, creativity and time...not boatloads of cash, frustration and empty promises. Each year, however, students are duped into ponying up exorbitant application fees for scholarships they aren’t even guaranteed to win. This is just plain WRONG, people – scholarships are supposed to be free money for college! – and while we’re betting you’ve already checked out our pages on scholarship scam prevention, the Washington Post recently published some refresher info:

  • Filling out the FAFSA is 100-percent free and you can do it either online or on paper. If you would like to fill it out online, be sure your search terms are correct: A seemingly small typo like "FASFA" can direct you to sites that ask you to pay to file...and the forms they have are sometimes the wrong ones.
  • It's legal for for-profit companies to charge for providing scholarship information but it's illegal for them to collect fees but never provide the information, misrepresent themselves as government officials or guarantee they'll get the student full funding for college.
  • Voice any concerns about an organization to a high school or college counselor; they've been there and done that and can point you to the truth.
  • If you are alerted that you're a finalist for a contest you've never entered or if credit card/banking information is requested online, go no further unless you are positive the organization is legit.
  • Don't give in to anything branded as a "limited time offer" or "exclusive opportunity." They're just high-pressure sales tactics.
  • Investigate the success stories presented at seminars. These so-called "satisfied customers" could have been paid to give glowing recommendations so ask for a list of at least three local families who used the service and contact them directly to make sure the organization delivered on its promises.
  • If you do find a legitimate organization that requires payment, get in writing how much the service costs, what exactly the company will do and the refund policy.

College is expensive enough so save those application fees for books and other college expenses: All Scholarships.com’s services – from the scholarship search and college matchmaker to financial aid information and college preparation tips – are available completely free of charge. You’re welcome!


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Scholarships.com Virtual Interns Wanted

by Alexis Mattera

Whether you're putting pen to paper, live tweeting campus events or blogging until the wee hours of the morning, one thing is certain: Sharing information is your passion. And you know what? It's ours, too, so let's join forces through Scholarships.com's virtual intern program!

Over the last 15 years, Scholarships.com has been a go-to site not only for high schoolers in search of financial aid but for college students living away from home for the first time, trying to balance limited money for food and fun, and adjusting to postsecondary academic expectations. We have plenty of information on those topics and more but we want to hear from you about what's going on at the campus you call home for the majority of the year. From parties to politics, from housing to hazing, and from class registration to commencement exercises, let us know what's trending at your school and your musings could be featured regularly on our blog.

If you're interested in becoming a Scholarships.com virtual intern, please send your resume, a 300-word writing sample detailing a campus issue, and links to your blog/Tumblr/Facebook/Twitter/Google+/Pinterest to virtualintern@scholarships.com with "Scholarships.com Virtual Intern" in the subject line.Thanks and looking forward to hearing what your unique voice has to say!


Comments

The Unique Challenges Facing Online Students

by Alexis Mattera

For the past two years, I have attended college entirely online. For some people, the idea of going to school online is like wading into a swamp – terrifying even to contemplate – but for me, online learning has been a dream.

This doesn't mean, however, that online classes are for everyone. Quite frankly, those of us who are not self-starters are not suited for online schooling. E-learning has deadlines, exams and papers just like traditional learning but teachers don't always remind students when assignments are due as they would in a traditional classroom, since they assume students who choose to take classes online are responsible enough to keep up with the coursework. In addition, e-learning is difficult for students who learn by listening to lectures; for online classes, lectures are provided in a visual format and some people find the fairly lengthy notes difficult to read through. Finally, although most teachers are willing and able to address any concerns online students have, students are largely expected to overcome obstacles themselves. Consequently, online students are encouraged to be much more independent than traditional students.

For me, this sense of independence is both liberating and empowering. I have been forced to adapt to an environment where I have minimal supervision and am required to make my own decisions. My achievements as a self-motivated individual have transcended to other areas of my life, such as my interpersonal relationships. I have grown as a person and as a thinker as a result of being an online student and I am proud to say I have completed my entire associate degree online. Although online learning may not be for everyone, the rewards of being a self-motivated individual have far exceeded the costs of online learning for me.

Lisa Lowdermilk is a soon-to-be published author, an avid video gamer and an artist. Her first novel is a murder mystery for young adults set in the future. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa completed her Associate of Arts degree entirely online and is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.


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