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Consider Bringing a Bike to College

August 7, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Earlier this week, I blogged about two community colleges whose students could save money by attending college full-time on Fridays.  One of the most significant savings of this program will be gas costs for commuter students. Full time Fridays are by no means the only way for students to save money on gas and car maintenance this fall, though.  According to a recent article in USA Today, several colleges are getting on the bandwagon of encouraging students not to drive to campus, including several colleges that are instituting a bike sharing program, one that's moving a bike shop into its student union, and one that's giving free bikes to students who opt not to bring cars with them to college.

So now more than ever, leaving the car at home may be a great way to save money in college, and use that hard-earned scholarship money for other expenses besides gas.  While policies to discourage driving have existed for years at some campuses, such as high parking permit prices ($300 is a number I've heard from students at more than one state college) and limiting access to on-campus parking through means such as parking permit lotteries and limiting parking to upperclassmen, many colleges and universities seem to be showing a far greater commitment to making it possible for students to easily get around without a vehicle.

So, freshmen, as you're starting to pack for school this fall, ask yourselves, "Do I really need a car on campus?"  Furthermore, look to see what your new college might be doing to help students get around town.  Is there good public transportation?  Are there bike racks outside campus buildings and bike lanes on campus or around town?  Does your school have a bike sharing program or a bike club or repair shop that will help you with maintenance and repairs?  High school seniors, these might be good questions to ask in your college search.

With our society becoming increasingly environmentally conscious, now could be a great time to propose a fuel-saving plan at your high school or college, as well.  More and more scholarships and grants are being awarded to students who create eco-friendly projects, so if you're sick of having to drive to school and you can propose a solution to the problem, start searching for available scholarships and grants to see if anyone's interested in funding your education, or at least your project.  Saving on gas, looking good for college admissions, and possibly getting some money out of the deal--what's to lose?
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Preparing for College: the End-of-Summer Checklist

August 13, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

It's that time again! Most students attending college will be starting school in the coming weeks, and as move-in day and the first day of classes approach, now is a good time to make sure you're all set to begin the semester.  Once you know you're ready to go, you can sit back and enjoy what remains of your summer, possibly even squeezing in a last-minute camping trip or road trip. 

     
  1. First, and most importantly, make sure your bills are paid.  Have you gotten a tuition statement from your school?  How about a financial aid award notice if you're using financial aid to pay for school?  Make sure you've signed everything you need to sign, especially if it's your first year of college.  Also check with scholarship providers and your financial aid office if you have not yet received any scholarship money you've been awarded for the fall or heard about your school receiving it.
  2.  
  3. Be aware of dates and deadlines.  When do classes start?  When is financial aid disbursed?  When is your bill due?  When can you move into your dorm or apartment?  Is there an orientation program you need to attend before school starts?  Do you still need to register or choose classes?  Write down all the important dates and times you have to remember for the start of the term and make sure you don't have any scheduling conflicts.
  4.  
  5. Look for syllabi and book lists online for your courses, while also making sure that no classes has been canceled, rescheduled, or given to a different instructor in your absence.  Comparison shop for textbooks, especially if your bookstore lists prices on the website, and buy as many books online as possible.
  6.  
  7. Know what you need to bring.  Talk with roommates if you're going to have any to make sure you don't bring duplicate items or have to go without important items.  A lack of communication and planning can leave you with an odd assortment like three couches, five floor lamps, two coffee tables and four end tables, but no microwave or silverware.
  8.  
  9. Pack and plan your move well in advance.  If you're moving into a dorm or apartment, make sure you know what you plan to bring and whether it will fit into available vehicles.  If you need to reserve a moving truck, do so soon.  The better an idea you have of what you're bringing and what size space you're moving into, the better you'll be able to coordinate the move.  Also, leaving packing until the last minute leads to leaving things behind, such as your toothbrush and razor, your favorite DVD, or that ugly dress your mom swore she'd throw out the second you weren't looking (and don't you think she won't do it).  While some of this stuff can be bought at college, you'll have to do without the rest until your next visit home (or possibly forever if you have younger siblings angling to annex your bedroom and all abandoned possessions).
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 While the above items are likely not all you'll have to take care of before you leave (convincing your dad that they do oil changes in your college town is a project in itself), they should help you get started and ease your transition back to school.

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Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

August 14, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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Reminder: Spell Check Isn't Always Correct

August 29, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

An article that appeared yesterday in the UK's Times Higher Education carries an important reminder for students attending college on both sides of the pond: don't trust spell check to always suggest the right word.  The publication's recently revived contest for the best college exam bloopers asked professors to submit anonymous examples of some of their students' worst for-credit writing.  Most of the entries highlighted in the article are a case of students accidentally using a different word than what they meant.

If you're not the best speller, you may want to take these examples to heart and remember to use the dictionary to look up the meanings and spellings of words you're not sure of, rather than simply relying on a spell checker or guessing. For example, "academic" and "epidemic" may sound similar, but they carry very different meanings.  And don't think these mistakes are something that only the stereotypical stuffy tweed-clad British professor will notice--anyone in the business of evaluating writing is likely to pick up on errors of meaning in essay writing.

This advice applies not only to essays you'll write for introductory college courses, but also to college applications and scholarship application essays, as well.  Many students run their entries for scholarship essay contests through a spellchecker of some sort (though some don't even do that), but a surprising number of students fail to take the next step and make sure that the words they're using mean what they think they mean.  Over-reliance on the thesaurus can produce a similar effect.  While the denotative meanings of two words may appear to be closely related, their connotations could be worlds apart.

While using the wrong word in your essays can produce unintentionally hilarious effects, it probably won't help your chances of winning scholarships.  So before you seal that envelope or press that submit button, pull out the dictionary and read back through your scholarship application.  If you are not 100% sure you're using the right word in any place, double-check.  It might make the difference between winning a scholarship award and having your work entered in a different contest like the one mentioned above.

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College Living Expenses Can Add Up Quickly

September 3, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Don't forget about spending money when planning for college costs.  This advice comes from Alabama's Birmingham News, which spoke with some students, parents, and financial aid administrators in the state about dealing with expenses that fall outside of paying tuition and room and board.  However, Alabama students and families are by no means the only ones not sure how to deal with how much living at college will cost.

Financial aid offices typically figure a few thousand dollars into a student's cost of attendance estimate to cover such expenses as gas, car maintenance, toiletries, clothes, entertainment, and food and drinks not from the dining center, but actual experiences vary widely among students.  Some college students certainly choose the spartan lifestyle of staying in the dorm, using their meal plan, and biking around campus to attend free school-sponsored activities.  Others fail to resist the urge to splurge, doing their studying at the all night diner just a short drive from campus or swinging by the mall for some retail therapy and a movie after a particularly grueling week of class.  I was certainly in the latter category, despite my best intentions of being thrifty and only spending what I earned working at my work-study job (work-study, for those unfamiliar, is a campus-based aid program that is more easily used to cover living expenses than tuition).

But don't assume the worst and rush out to borrow an extra $10,000 to cover unforseen expenses.  Instead, practice some basic money management.  Take an honest look at your spending habits and how much you'll realistically want to scale them back to save money.  Then look at how much you can earn while in school without getting off-track for graduation, and start figuring out how to make up any differences between the two.  A summer job or an extra scholarship award or two could give you enough money to survive the next 9 months without having to resort to student loans to fix your car, get you home for Christmas, or feed you until you land a new job.  As a recent grad who looked to borrowing as the easy way out of tight financial situations, believe me, those little loan amounts add up.

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More Colleges Offer Financial Literacy Programs

September 4, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

For many students, the college experience can be a financial minefield.  Even if they manage to avoid the lure of blowing their financial aid check on a plasma TV or a brand new car, there are thousands of other potential pitfalls.  These include the credit card companies lining the main drag of campus offering free college t-shirts to anyone who signs up for their card; your first dorm or apartment to outfit and decorate; and then all of the opportunities for shopping, dining, and entertainment that a college town provides.  And we haven't even gotten to the actual act of paying tuition yet!  Even if your scholarship search was fruitful and you were able to find money for college, there's still the chance of overspending and winding up turning to less wise solutions to make it to the end of the term.

So how are students supposed to survive college without unnecessary credit card or student loan debt?  Many schools are offering money management courses and one-on-one financial counseling services to help students be more judicious with their college funds.  I can certainly think of some lessons I could've used as an undergrad, like "3 AM is not dinner time," its corollary, "espresso is not an adequate substitute for sleep," and of course, "you don't have to buy it just because it's on sale."  Being forced to budget out just how much that 10-block drive to class (plus the 15 minutes of circling the "good" parking lot for a spot) actually cost me that last year of school would've also been helpful.

Now students at numerous colleges in several states can choose to educate themselves and avoid learning similar life lessons the hard way.  Unfortunately, many of these programs go under-publicized and under-utilized, as budgeting honestly isn't fun, and many students may be afraid that setting a budget means giving up their college lifestyle, staying at home, and having to go on a budget diet.  However, the Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that students can benefit immensely from financial literacy courses, and anecdotal evidence suggests these students take on less debt and have an easier time transitioning into the "real world" after graduation.  Courses are often offered to incoming freshmen or graduating seniors, with counseling services typically being made available to any students currently attending college.  If you're interested in finding out about how to stretch your college fund, student loans, or scholarship money further, check with your college to see if they offer any of these services.

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Online Textbook Rentals Catching On

July 8, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

While fall classes may still seem far off for many students, incoming college freshmen and transfer students are already attending summer orientation and registration sessions. Choosing classes leads directly to one of college's biggest sticker shocks: the price of textbooks for those introductory classes. With individual texts regularly carrying triple-digit price tags, a semester's worth of textbooks you may never touch again can seem an unreasonable expense.

Increasingly, students skilled in money management are finding an array of options to make acquiring textbooks less painful. Used bookstores abound just off campus at many colleges, giving the campus bookstore some competition and mitigating prices at least to some extent. Particularly on-the-ball students race to the university library or avail themselves of inter-library loan options to check out required reading for free. Other college campuses have begun renting popular textbooks for prices significantly lower than the cost of buying them new.

For other students, though, the Internet is the place to find discounted books for class. A number of popular retailers offer used textbooks, though students may run the risk of getting an outdated edition or an instructor's edition of any text they buy sight unseen. Students who buy books online also face the same problem as students who buy from the campus bookstore: after the semester's ended, you may well wind up stuck with an edition of a book you didn't really want to own in the first place.

A few companies are now offering services that combine the convenience of online textbook shopping and textbook rentals. The New York Times recently profiled Chegg.com, a website that allows students to rent textbooks online, similar to online video rental services. While paying $50 or more (plus shipping) for a book you don't even get to keep if you want it can be hard to swallow, online rentals do have advantages: Rental prices can be significantly cheaper than the price of purchasing a textbook, online rentals offer more selection and students don't have to worry about whether they'll be able to find a buyer for their unwanted books at the end of the semester.

Whether or not you choose to rent your books for class, it's nice to know that there are ways textbooks are becoming more affordable. Cheaper books mean your financial aid and college savings can be stretched further...and that's always a good thing.

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New Report on Highest-Paying Colleges and Majors

July 21, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

When choosing a college, a number of factors come into play, but for students applying for admission in the middle of a recession, expected salaries undoubtedly play a major role. The website Payscale.com recently published a list of both starting and mid-career salaries, as reported by users of the site, broken down by both college and major. The New York Times Economix blog provides a useful breakdown of this information, which may come in handy for students beginning the college search process.

In general, graduates of top colleges earned more than graduates of less competitive schools, especially at the mid-career point. Starting salaries were also high for graduates from schools that focus on training students for highly technical lines of work. Students majoring in engineering, economics, physics and computer science had the highest salaries, while social work, elementary education and theology were the lowest-paying majors. Music also falls near the bottom...not surprising since few musicians will have as lucrative of careers as, say, Michael Jackson, and "American Idol" often seems to be as viable a route to success as earning a music degree.

There were some surprises, though. For example, philosophy majors actually outranked information technology majors for mid-career salaries, and engineering schools ousted many Ivy League universities for top starting salaries. Additionally, the spread between the top salaries and bottom salaries at many universities was wide; for example, the top quarter of graduates from the lowest-paying school still earned more than the bottom 10 percent of those from the school with the highest median mid-career salary.

While the Payscale report relies on self-reported information from users of the site, rather than a scientific study with random data samples, it still could be useful in choosing a college or choosing a major, especially when paired with other information about the highest paying majors and the value of a college degree. In the end, your choice of major, your choice of college, and your personal drive and abilities will all affect your starting salary and lifetime earning potential. While choosing schools and majors that produce the highest salaries is tempting, playing to your stengths is still likely to pay off the most in the end, and may also give you a better college experience regardless of where you end up.

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Swarthmore College Gives Best Financial Aid, Say Princeton Review Rankings

July 28, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Princeton Review released its annual college rankings yesterday, based on a survey of 122,000 students at colleges nationwide. The purpose of the list is to help students choose colleges based on what current undergraduate students at each school say, and rankings include such categories as best and worst dorm food, most politically engaged students, and most GLBT-friendly schools.

The most publicized of these rankings is the list of top party schools, with Pennsylvania State University unseating the University of Florida as number one this year. The party schools ranking is often seen as closely related to a combination of other rankings, which involve the availability of alcohol, the amount of time students spend studying and the presence of Greek life on campus. Many students at schools that top the party school list take pride in this designation, while university officials often see it as a cause for concern.

Other rankings may be more useful to many students and parents, especially the list of schools whose students are most satisfied with their financial aid packages. Swarthmore College, Stanford University, and Harvard University comprise the top three spots in the "Great Financial Aid" ranking, with a total of 13 colleges receiving an additional distinction from Princeton Review for receiving the highest possible rating for financial aid in their survey.

However, the self-reported nature of the information and relatively small number of students answering the surveys may not paint a wholly accurate picture of campus life, so incorporating other resources into your college search is important. This and other tools can help you find colleges to investigate further, but don't rule out a school entirely just because it is or is not on one of these lists.

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Deadlines and Details: Things to Watch for When Submitting a Scholarship Application

July 30, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

As our annual Resolve to Evolve scholarship essay contest draws to a close and we move closer to the time of year when a number of other scholarship competitions begin accepting applications, we thought it would be a good time to review an often overlooked aspect of applying for scholarships: the actual act of submitting your scholarship application.

By applying for a scholarship, you are making contact with someone who could potentially award you money, so you want to make sure that your application makes a good first impression before the reviewer even gets to the content.  At the very least, you certainly do not want your application to wind up in the discard pile due to a failure to follow the contest's official rules. While official rules for scholarship opportunities can often come across as dense and full of legal language, you should still take time to review them and ensure your application complies before you spend the time, money, and effort involved in creating and submitting a scholarship application.

A good idea is to make a note for yourself of the requirements for each scholarship for which you intend to apply. Print off sheets or make a spreadsheet on your computer. Get organized. We suggest including the following items in your list of rules to note:

Eligibility Requirements: This may seem like a no-brainer, but before you apply for a scholarship, make sure you're actually eligible to win. Pay attention to details like age, grade level, and enrollment status, since your answer for these could be different from what you think, depending on the scholarship provider's cutoff dates. For example, a scholarship could ask for "currently enrolled" students as of summer 2009, but if your first class starts during the fall term, you may not be eligible to apply. If you are not sure whether you are eligible based on the official rules, it doesn't hurt to contact the provider and ask.

Length and Format of Submission: Once you've made sure that you are eligible to apply, make sure what you plan to submit is eligible to win. Your 20-page scholarship essay may provide a brilliant analysis of the subject matter, but if the upper limit for the contest is 800 words, you are not going to win a scholarship with it. Your scholarship application also can't win if you forget to provide appropriate contact info or include required items, so make a list of what you need and check off each item as it goes into your application packet. Similarly, you'll want to pay attention to any rules about file format, typeface, and other details that may disqualify you, or at least generate the impression that you didn't carefully read the rules.

Submission Method: Does this scholarship contest ask for applications to be submitted via e-mail, via a form on their website, or via postal mail? Do they request that you use a specific mail carrier, or avoid using others (some scholarship providers will include stipulations such as sending your application only through the United States Postal Service)? Do they want you to label your submission in a particular way or address it to a particular person or office? All of these questions are important not only to make sure your application gets to where it needs to go, but also to demonstrate your interest in the award and your ability to follow instructions.

Deadline: If your essay is to be submitted online, make note of the exact time of day at which the contest ends. Is there a time zone indicated in the official rules? You don't want to find yourself searching for a scholarship submission form on a website at 11:50 PM PST when the contest closed at 11:59 PM EST. If your esay needs to be submitted through the mail, check whether the application deadline is a postmarked by date or a received by date.  For example, our Resolve to Evolve Essay Contest requires that applications be postmarked by July 31, so students who are sending them overnight on July 30 are unnecessarily paying more for postage. Meanwhile, students who attempt to submit an application for a scholarship with a received by date of July 31 would not want to simply stick a stamp on it today and hope it's still accepted.

In the end, your application will still be judged primarily on its merit, provided it meets basic requirements.  However, closely following rules for each contest and showing that you have a legitimate interest in the scholarship as more than just a potential source of easy cash will improve your chances of winning scholarships.

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