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The Unique Challenges Facing Online Students

May 23, 2011

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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Facebook College Group Etiquette

June 22, 2011

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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Blogging Bridges the Digital Divide

July 25, 2011

Blogging Bridges the Digital Divide

by Alexis Mattera

Teaching students how to write (and write well) has long been a challenge for educators. Sure, there are always those students with a knack for style and syntax but how can teachers get less-proficient or ESL students excited about writing and bridge the digital divide at the same time? Through blogging.

Jon Schwartz, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher from Oceanside, Calif., found that more than 60 percent of his students “came from households where English was the second language, or wasn’t spoken at all." To increase their interest in writing, Schwartz forewent the traditional pencil-to-paper route and introduced his students to blogging. After teaching them the basics, Schwartz required each student to submit a 90- to 100-word writing assignment each day. They had the option to turn in their assignments via the blog or on paper but after hearing how much some of Schwartz’s former students enjoyed blogging, almost all of them opted for the digital method.

From there, Schwartz said "creativity and productivity skyrocketed because they knew that their work had the potential to be viewed quickly by an authentic audience that mattered to them." In addition to the new-found enthusiasm about writing – Schwartz’s students continue to blog on their own time even when no assignment is required and utilize the Internet for research – the project has helped to bridge the digital divide. "If they aren’t trained to use the computer as a tool for learning, work, and personal growth, they’ll not be able to compete in high school, college, and job markets."

What do you think of Schwartz’s experiment? Would a program like this one get you more interested in writing in and out of the classroom?

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Roommate Request Accepted

Students Find Dorm Roommates via Social Networks

August 8, 2011

Roommate Request Accepted

by Alexis Mattera

When I began college, I knew three people at my school of choice: a high school classmate, a friend of a friend set to become an RA and a girl I met while we were both waiting to triple jump at a track meet. This was fine by me, as I was excited to meet new people and thought the best way to do so would be to go the random roommate route. It didn’t work out but today, some incoming freshmen aren’t tempting their roommate fate and finding the person they’ll share an 11’-by-14’ room with online, the Washington Post reports.

With the advent of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, it’s easy for first-time college students to seek out their ideal roommates based on their online profiles and 140-character musings on life. While some schools still prefer having control over housing assignments to ensure new students are exposed to different points of view – the University of Virginia has seen requests for first-year roommates skyrocket over the past five years and can no longer honor all requests – others are slowly but surely embracing social networking as a resource. At American University, incoming students are presented with a list of possible roommate matches based on their replies to short questionnaires and the University of Maryland has set up its own internal social network for admitted students to get to know each other and look for roommates. These methods can result in fewer roommate conflicts but some college officials – and even some students – fear they focus on the wrong qualities: One USC student revealed a few potential roommates asked her for her clothing and shoe sizes, not what her sleep and study habits were.

Current and soon-to-be college students, did you find your first-year roommate online or did you let your school choose for you? What characteristics did you cite as important in a roommate? Do you regret your decision?

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Need Merit Aid? Apply Here!

August 10, 2011

Need Merit Aid? Apply Here!

by Alexis Mattera

A few months back, we wrote about helpful tips on maximizing merit aid, or aid based on a student’s attributes like academics, athletics and extracurriculars. For college applicants who aren’t deemed financially needy in terms of their FAFSA or EFC, merit aid can make a huge difference in the schools they can realistically afford to attend. Students and families seeking this extra financial aid boost should consider researching schools more likely to dispense merit-based awards but with so many colleges and universities in the U.S., which ones are the best financial bets?

Help has arrived in the form of U.S. News, which has compiled a top 10 list of schools that awarded the highest percentage of merit-based funding to non-needy students during the 2009-10 academic year (the stats do not include financially needy students who were given merit aid or students who received athletic scholarships or other tuition breaks). Take a look:

High school students, does this data have you looking at these schools in a new light? Current college students attending one of the schools listed above, did merit aid make the difference as to whether or not you enrolled?

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Tuition, Food, Books: Pick Two

Rising Costs Have Students Skimping on Textbooks

August 12, 2011

Tuition, Food, Books: Pick Two

by Alexis Mattera

If you’re a current or soon-to-be college student, you’ve probably heard the saying “Friends, school, sleep: Pick two.” If you haven’t, it means you won’t have time to do everything you want...and sometimes need. While there are students who can balance all three, they have another difficult decision to make at the beginning of each semester: tuition, food or books?

According to survey conducted by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, seven out of 10 undergraduate students reported not buying one or more textbooks because the cost was too high. How high? The Government Accountability Office estimated textbooks cost a quarter of the average state college tuition (three-fourths at community colleges) and the U.S. PIRG revealed textbook prices have risen faster than overall inflation with a 22-percent uptick in the past four years. For students, this means some serious money management is in order. "Generally what we get from students is 'Yeah, it's only a few dollars, but it could be my dinner,'" said Jessica Bruning, a student at Iowa State University. "It adds up pretty quickly." The survey also revealed four out of five students said new editions prevented them from purchasing cheaper used books and half cited bundles or custom editions as the culprits for increased costs.

The good news – yes, there is some! – is that groups like Textbook Rebellion, Campus Progress and even individual professors are doing their part to keep textbook costs from negatively impacting students’ college experiences. "Better options are out there," said Nicole Allen, textbooks advocate for the Student PIRGs. "Between used books, rental programs and long-term alternatives like open textbooks, we have the tools we need to make textbooks affordable for more students." Have you had to choose between tuition, food or books? What are you doing to keep your college costs in check?

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Comparing and Saving on Textbooks Just Got Easier

August 22, 2011

Comparing and Saving on Textbooks Just Got Easier

by Alexis Mattera

If you think college textbooks have been in the news more than usual lately, you’re right: Classes are starting up again at many college campuses and students are looking for any ways they can to keep their college costs in check. When it comes to books, there are plenty of options to do so without skimping...but between work, interning and moving in, do you have the time to research each individual option to find the best deal? Yes, actually, you do.

The amount of textbook options available to students today is staggering – new, used, rent, digital, rent digital – but students trying to get the most bang for their educational buck now have some much-needed assistance, the Chronicle reports. For example, Amazon (which recently launched its own digital textbook rental service) has created Amazon Student, a free iPhone application designed to help students compare book prices on Amazon as a whole via barcode snapshots. There’s also BookSavr.com, a site formed by two Yalies in the vein of Kayak and Orbitz: The site shows prices from a variety of retailers – online, the campus bookstore and other physical booksellers close to the school's New Haven campus – all in one place.

Not to be outdone, nearly 100 campus bookstores have added research features to their sites through the Harvard graduate-created Verba. Similar to BookSavr.com, Verba displays prices for books at the store, on Amazon, on Half.com, through rental programs, etc. Some campus stores even include signs on each shelf reminding smartphone-wielding customers about the online comparison tool.

Have you had the opportunity to try any of these options when buying your textbooks? We’d love to hear firsthand feedback!

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College Costs Continue to Outpace Savings

August 24, 2011

College Costs Continue to Outpace Savings

by Alexis Mattera

There are lots of ways students and their parents can pay for college – at Scholarships.com, we’re familiar with nearly 3 million options – and many begin socking away funds early on. As admirable as this timely planning is, a new study shows it won’t come close to covering the ever-rising cost of higher education.

Boston-based Fidelity Investments has revealed that while 67 percent of parents surveyed have put money into some sort of college fund this year, current and expected savings project the typical American family will only be able to pay for 16 percent of college costs when the time comes. Why? Many factors contribute, like the less-than-stellar economy and existing student loan payments (more than half of parents with children under five still have outstanding balances) but perhaps the hardest-hitting element is the colleges' steep price tags: Over the past five years alone, college costs have jumped 26 percent.

This news may sound bleak but families are still finding ways to afford school without going into debt...or having their children graduate with a mountain of it. More parents are asking their kids to work part-time, commute to save on room and board, opt for state schools over private ones and take additional credits - all to keep costs in check. These are all excellent options to defray ballooning education costs but don’t forget scholarships and grants – aka free money for college! Just like saving, it’s important to start searching for scholarships early and often. No time’s better than the present – complete a free scholarship search today!

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What National University is the Best Value?

U.S. News Reveals Sneak Peek at Latest List

September 8, 2011

What National University is the Best Value?

by Alexis Mattera

With college costs at an all-time high, the likelihood of college applicants and their parents selecting the school offering the most financial assistance is pretty high. But what national schools provide the highest quality education for the lowest price? Just ask the experts at U.S. News.

Though the official ordered list will not be revealed until next week, U.S. News published a sneak peek of its top 10 best value schools in the National Universities category today. (Keep in mind the schools are only listed in alphabetical order at this point.)

Is your dream school represented? Excellent! What school do you think will be named the best value and why?

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Bradley Adds Interactive App to Customize Campus Tour Experience

September 9, 2011

Bradley Adds Interactive App to Customize Campus Tour Experience

by Alexis Mattera

It can be difficult for prospective college students and their parents to visit the campuses they’re interested in when classes are in session so instead, tours are often scheduled on weekends or between semesters. Though this may be more convenient, it’s harder for the tour takers to get a true feel for the school they may one day call their alma mater...unless their tour is taking place at Bradley University.

Though colleges have long employed virtual tours, Bradley could be the first to provide a complementary iPad application during in-person campus tours. Jim Ferolo, an associate professor and chair of Bradley’s interactive media department who helped come up with the idea, said the app is meant to give students a fuller sense of what campus life is like if they visit during off-peak hours. In addition to supplementary videos, the app suggests particular spots on campus to see depending on the data (intended majors, extracurricular interests, etc.) users input at the beginning of the tour, all of which are routed to the tour guides’ iPads to best customize each tour. Ferolo said the app is not meant to replace the traditional campus tours at Bradley but his department will track how prospective students use the application so it can be improved – possibly with on-the-fly likes and ratings – down the line.

Sounds pretty cool to us but what do you think? Would you be interested in using an app like Bradley's on a campus tour or would you rather get a feel for a school sans technology?

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