October 24, 2008
So you've finally hit your senior year of college and you're anxiously awaiting the day when nobody will ever force you to write another 8-page paper about James Joyce or take another three-hour-long college exam. You're about to be on your own, earning real money and living the high life (Goodbye, roommates! Goodbye, budget diet!). All you have to do now, aside from completing those 21 required credits you need to cram into your spring semester, is find a job.
Survey says you'd better start looking now.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers polled 146 employers in a range of industries this month and calculated a projected hiring increase of just 1.3 percent for 2009. Anything under 6 percent is considered pretty bad news, according to an article on the subject appearing in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Campus career centers are advocating that students who plan to graduate in May or August start their job hunt now, rather than waiting until closer to graduation. Another idea is to look into nonprofit organizations, government jobs, and other fields where demand remains steady in a recession. Of course, many of them offer lower pay than a college graduate might need to live comfortably while repaying student loans.
Of course, you could also go to graduate school. It's not too late to register to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), put together a personal statement and some letters of recommendation, and throw yourself into application process. Some master's programs accept applications into March or April, and possibly even later. Graduate students gain more knowledge and experience in their field, including valuable teaching and research skills, and can continue to rely on financial aid (including scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships) for two or more years while the economy hopefully stabilizes and job prospects improve.
November 6, 2008
U.S. News had an interesting piece in their education section last week about the monetary benefits of a college degree. Citing government statistics and several recent studies, the author related that students who complete a bachelor's degree can expect to earn $300,000 more in today's dollars over the course of their working lives than students who just complete high school. Students who earn a professional degree, go to law school, or complete business school can expect to earn even more.
A full-time worker with a bachelor's degree makes about $20,000 more a year than a student with a high school diploma, and a student with, say, an MBA can expect to make about $100,000 more than a high school grad each year. While such annual income disparities add up to more than $300,000 over a lifetime of work, studies citing that figure also adjusted for inflation, the extra money high school grads earn in those first four or five years, and the average cost of attending college for four years.
Another benefit of a college degree is a better chance of landing and keeping a job: the unemployment rate for college grads is half what it is for those who don't go to college. Students from low-income backgrounds also reap more benefits from receiving a degree, as they're able to land not only higher-paying, but also more stable jobs and better-benefited jobs, and to have opportunities that would not have been available to them otherwise. Going to college can also provide significant academic advantages for your future children.
So if college costs are daunting and you're considering whether your education is going to be worth the price you pay for school, do some research. You're statistically more likely to live a better life in a lot of ways if you go ahead and earn that degree. There are tons of reasons to go to college, and also tons of ways to help with funding your education. Do a thorough college search to find the best and most affordable fit for your educational goals, and then search for available scholarships and other financial aid to help you pay the bill.
November 7, 2008
College students who receive generous scholarship opportunities are relieved of some of the financial burden of paying for school. But to what extent does this benefit translate into other positive outcomes? How, specifically, does winning scholarships help students achieve their college goals? Four studies being presented this week at the Association for the Study of Higher Education's annual conference seek to answer these questions.
Two studies focused on recipients of the Gates Millennium Scholarship, an extremely generous scholarship for minorities offered by Bill and Melinda Gates. A third tracked recipients of the Kalamazoo Promise, the first in a series of large-scale full-tuition local scholarship programs, which provides scholarship funding to all qualifying Kalamazoo, Michigan residents who choose to attend one of Michigan's state colleges. The fourth looks at University of Iowa applicants' responses to financial aid offers.
The study of University of Iowa students reinforces the idea that scholarship money steers students' college plans, especially among certain minority groups. African American and Hispanic students were less likely to attend the university, presumably choosing a more affordable or more generous institution, if they did not receive the amount of financial assistance they had hoped for. These results reinforce the importance of college affordability and will hopefully encourage universities to offer more generous awards to student populations they wish to attract.
While institutional financial aid influences students' college choices, so do other scholarships. Studies showed that Gates Millennium Scholars and Kalamazoo Promise recipients appear more inclined than their peers of similar backgrounds towards applying to and ultimately choosing colleges that are pricier or more competitive.
Gates Millennium Scholars are also more likely to graduate--matching graduation rates of higher-income students--as well as to graduate on time. In fact, 90 percent of these students finished a four-year degree in four years, which is proving to be an increasingly rare accomplishment among students currently attending college.
In some ways, these studies reinforce things many students already knew. Scholarships influence students' college choices. Scholarship winners go to better schools, are more likely to graduate, and are more likely to graduate sooner--and the studies suggest this because they won a scholarship, not just because they're smart and motivated. Even if none of this is news to you, it should still be a powerful motivator for you to start your own scholarship search. It does appear to be the formula for college success.
November 25, 2008
It's hard to believe, but next week it will be December. While it's tempting to train your eyes on the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and the accompanying problem of consuming enough homecooked food to sustain you through finals, the next few months will be busy, especially if you're planning to apply for any sort of financial aid. Between your high school or college coursework and adjusting your schedule and budget to accommodate winter holidays, December and January tend to fly by. Since many scholarship application deadlines happen in December and January, now is the perfect time to do a quick scholarship search and double check that you don't miss out on applying for scholarships while you're in Thursday night's turkey-induced coma.
A Thanksgiving week scholarship application checklist:
December 24, 2008
Continuing on the college admissions theme from yesterday, there's a great piece in the Wall Street Journal about the dreaded college application process. If you're still struggling with those application essays or the thought of the college interview has you panicked, you might want to check out their tips from admissions officers at several competitive private colleges. Two things struck me when reading their tips. First, most of this sounds a lot like what I told my students as a college composition teaching assistant. Second, this advice can easily extend to writing effective scholarship essays.
Most of the advice falls into the category of "be yourself." Colleges aren't necessarily looking to admit the most indisputably brilliant students in the country, but rather individuals who will contribute to the campus community. The best tips the Wall Street Journal article offers, at least as far as admissions essays and writing scholarships go, are to choose essay topics that are meaningful to you (even unconventional ones) and to avoid polishing essays to death.
While it's tempting to go straight for the most impressive or altruistic thing you've done if you're asked to describe an experience, admission officials say it's better to go with a topic that actually reveals something about your character. This definitely goes for scholarship applications, too. In a stack of essays about volunteering in South America, your story about convincing your peers in the rural Midwest to walk the 12 blocks to school rather than drive may stand out more than you think. A seemingly mundane essay topic can be interesting if it's written well and it has a clear purpose.
As far as writing well goes, proofread (at the very least, check spelling and grammar and take out notes to yourself or your parents before submitting) but don't adopt such a formal style that all personality is lost. As long as an essay is written well and isn't way too informal (avoid slang, cursing, and stories of sex, drugs, and bodily functions), your essay is probably professional enough for most admission offices and scholarship essay contests. Even when you're applying for a law scholarship, writing like a lawyer isn't necessarily the recipe for success.
For more essay-writing tips, check out our resources section. To find somewhere to use this advice, you may want to use our college search and our scholarship search.
January 13, 2009
While the focus for many students right now is planning for and paying for the next year of college, some students are still struggling with bills from the current or previous semester. An e-mail survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers reports a perceived increase in unpaid tuition bills in the 2008-2009 academic year. While being caught short on one semester's tuition can seem stressful enough, it can carry serious consequences for college students.
For students with the funds to easily cover tuition, either through family income, college savings plans, or financial aid awards, the figure on their bursar bill may be unpleasant, but it is soon forgotten. However, carrying a bursar balance--in some cases, even a small one--can cut off your ability to register for classes, request transcripts, and even graduate, among other consequences. Students who are unable to pay for a semester by the school's deadline may even find themselves dropped from their classes and kicked off campus. These consequences can essentially derail your education, and many students who take a semester off from college to save money and pay off bills never go back to finish.
Luckily, as Kim Clark stresses in an article on the subject in U.S. News and World Report, universities are willing to work with students to keep them enrolled and get their bills paid, especially in the current economic climate. Many schools are establishing or adding to emergency loan and grant funds to help students stay in school. Federal student financial aid is also still available mid-term. You can still complete the FAFSA for 2008-2009 anytime before June 30. Even if you've already applied for the current year, talking to the financial aid office could still come through big time, especially if your circumstances have changed. Federal grants, as well as some campus-based programs may be available to students whose family contributions have significantly dipped. While Clark's article emphasizes the surprising success networking and asking family for donations can bring, conducting a scholarship search may be a safer bet. Most importantly, be sure to stay in communication with your school. You may have to deal with three different offices on campus, but don't get discouraged. The process may be more streamlined than you'd expect. It is possible to stay enrolled regardless of the financial troubles you're facing.
January 20, 2009
A frequent feature of this year's college application season has been discussion and debate surrounding the CollegeBoard's new Score Choice program, which allows students to select which SAT scores they want to submit as part of their college application packets. Schools are beginning to announce whether they will still require students to submit all SAT scores, and much ado is being made about whether students will use Score Choice and expensive and extensive standardized test prep to game the system. At the same time, a number of college admission officials are talking, or in some cases cheering, about de-emphasizing standardized tests in the admissions process.
Meanwhile, numbers are emerging that suggest much of the hype surrounding the competitiveness of the college application process is a bit overblown. As The Chronicle of Higher Education reported today, just over half the students who take the SAT take it a second time, and the vast majority stop there. A study discussed last week in Inside Higher Ed says that despite the relatively small number of repeat test takers, 88 percent of college students surveyed were admitted to their first choice school. In addition, students typically apply to only three or four colleges on average. The high school students who spend years testing and retesting and compiling an extensive list of reach schools and safety schools may be well-represented in media, but prove to be scarce almost everywhere else.
To summarize, getting into college may involve a lot of work, but it doesn't have to involve a lot of worry. If you're a high school senior waiting nervously for an acceptance letter or a high school junior starting a college search, try not to stress. If you write a strong application essay, maintain decent grades and some kind of extracurricular or community service activities, land a solid test score, and apply to a few colleges that seem to be good fits for you, or even if you just do most of these, you will most likely find yourself in the majority of students who wind up going where they want to go. Now all that's left is figuring out how to pay for school.
October 26, 2009
Would you consider yourself professional? Out of all the things you're worried about when it comes to landing a job after college in a difficult economy, worrying about how you come off to employers may not be at the top of your list. But a recent study by York College in Pennsylvania may have you thinking otherwise.
The purpose of the study from the school's Center for Professional Excellence was to find a measure of how professionalism factors into the hiring process, to define "professionalism" when it comes to recent college graduates, and to determine the role colleges should play in developing professionalism among students. The study's findings? Students aren't behaving as professionally as their employers would like them to.
The study surveyed more than 500 human resources professionals and business leaders, and suggests that students need more guidance in college before going out on job interviews. An Inside Higher Education article last week describes the findings as a "gap between employer expectations and student realities." But the article also looks at whether the findings could be partially explained by the trouble an older generation has of defining appropriate behaviors of a younger generation.
So should you worry? It shouldn't come as a surprise that it's tough out there right now. A recent opinion piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education describes the additional obstacles of students entering the job world today - high unemployment rates and the tough decision whether a lower paying job outside of a graduate's interest area is better than no job at all. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds is about 15 percent. The National Association of Colleges and Employers claims that just 20 percent of those who graduated this year did so knowing they had a job waiting for them once they received their diplomas. So it probably wouldn't hurt for you to do what you can to stand out at that job interview, and wow those employers who apparently feel that many of the candidates they see exhibit unprofessional behavior.
The study's findings included the following:
November 4, 2009
So, you want to be a teacher? Students pursuing degrees in the liberal arts are all too familiar with this question. It can seem at times like no one around you can fathom a career beyond teaching high school English or history, or some other subject that may have little beyond a name in common with your actual college goals. But the follow-up, "what do you want to do, then?" can also be a cause for uncertainty. The widespread assumption exists that four years of interesting classes inevitably lead to a lifetime of low salaries and limited career prospects.
However, that doesn't have to be the case. In a commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education, author Katharine S. Brooks shares some stories from her 20-some years of experience in career services of liberal arts education leading to career success, which is encouraging for students just beginning to think about how their degree can aid them in the job search. Examples she gives include a philosophy major whose logic class helped him score a perfect 180 on the LSAT, and a student whose knowledge gained in a film class helped him turn an internship into a job offer. Other stories abound. A liberal arts education is remarkably useful in all sorts of unexpected ways.
Her article focuses on encouraging colleges to provide better career services to liberal arts majors, but for students whose schools don't yet offer these services, she also has good advice. Instead of simply taking your English degree and assuming you need to work in writing or publishing because that's what you've learned to do, Brooks urges pausing to think about the skills you've learned and interests you have and trying to find meaningful connections among them. In the end, you'll have a more complete picture of yourself as a student and as a potential worker. In addition to writing, perhaps your major has given you great skills with finding, interpreting, and evaluating vast amounts of information quickly. Skills like those can easily be applied to a wide variety of careers, and you can use your inventoried interests to focus your search.
Evaluating your interests and experiences is a must for students nearing the end of college, especially in majors that aren't clear-cut paths to a particular career. Students in the humanities and social sciences have gained college experiences that can lead them in a number of different directions. In addition to adapting their interests and experiences to the corporate environment, they also have potential to further their knowledge of their field as graduate students, to enter into a public service profession, to earn a teaching certificate and become an educator, or to puruse their interests in whatever ways they find appealing. Which direction you choose depends less on the limitations of your major than on your personal preferences and abilities to seek out and seize opportunities-and based on what your degree has taught you, those should be quite well developed.
November 13, 2009
Cancellations and cutbacks to scholarship programs have been making the news a lot lately. Michigan recently ended its state Promise Scholarship in the face of a budget crisis (though the state's governor vows to restore funding) and other states and companies are also having to make some hard cuts. The latest round has left five high-achieving Arizona high school juniors without the four-year full-tuition scholarship they signed a contract to receive in the fifth grade.
Budgetary cutbacks aren't the only way that students can lose scholarship money. Many scholarship funds are only designated for a set amount of time: four years, two years, or just one check. Other awards are contingent on strict eligibility criteria. A dip in your GPA, a semester where you drop below full-time, or a transfer to another college or university could potentially make you ineligible for a renewable scholarship award. All of this can change your college funding picture dramatically from year-to-year.
Students who are transferring will want to see if their new college offers scholarships for transfer students. If your scholarship is from your college, it's unlikely to transfer to your new school unless there's a preexisting special arrangement between the two institutions. However, if you've won an outside scholarship, especially one from a state or national organization, you should contact the provider to see if the award will transfer to your new school. You also will want to do a scholarship search--many national scholarship awards are designated specifically for transfer students, especially students who are moving from community colleges to four-year schools.
Students who have lost their scholarship from not meeting eligibility criteria will often have a chance to appeal the decision to revoke the award. Ask the scholarship provider if there's an appeals process, and follow the instructions exactly in as timely a manner as possible. If there are extenuating circumstances that led to the situation, you may need to document them. Above all, be polite and respectful and try to create a good impression, even if your appeal is denied. Awards that run out can also occasionally be appealed for an extension, or applied for again for a possible second round of funding. Check the rules for the contest or ask the scholarship provider if this is the case. Even if you lose eligibility for one award, it doesn't mean you're ineligible for all scholarship opportunities. Search for scholarships to see what else you may be able to find.
Finally, if your scholarship program has been canceled, there are still things you can do. Some providers, like our Arizona example above, will help students find alternate funding, and may even be able to supplement some of the difference between what they promised and what you can't find on your own. Some colleges are also making up for cuts in high-profile state and local scholarship programs by creating their own scholarship funds for the students affected. Other schools have emergency aid or one-time scholarships available to students who find themselves suddenly without the means to pay their tuition. Check with your financial aid office to see if your school can help.
Students who have already succeeded at winning scholarships are also likely to win more, since so many scholarship providers have similar criteria. If you find yourself caught without scholarship money you had planned to use, try to find some time to apply for additional awards. You may even win more money than what you lost.
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