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by Emily

Want to get into college but don't have the best grades?  Consider making friends with some prominent politicians, then apply in Illinois.

Earlier this month, The Chicago Tribune revealed the existence of a special admissions list at the University of Illinois main campus that consisted of politically connected applicants.  Now, records from University of Illinois, Northern Illinois University and Southern Illinois University have been subpoenaed in the ongoing federal investigation of corruption charges against former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.  Investigators want to determine whether Blagojevich recommended candidates for admission into state colleges in exchange for money or favors.

While going for the wow factor of a big name is an understandable strategy when it comes to letters of recommendation, it looks like more may have been going on with some applications in Illinois. There are concerns that some well-connected applicants received extreme advantages in admissions, in some cases getting in seemingly solely based on who they knew, even over the objections of the admissions officials reviewing their college applications.  The University of Illinois has suspended its special admission list and claimed to have not followed practices out of line with what other colleges do in considering applications.

The practice of relying on political connections in the college application process is not unique to Illinois, but in light of recent scandals in the state, it is garnering a lot of attention.  Using clout to get into college is still a  highly contentious practice in any case, whether the applicant is connected to university officials or state government figures.  Hopefully, this scandal will influence colleges to think twice before overlooking merit in favor of connections in future admissions decisions.


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by Emily

As part of his campaign's focus on education, President Obama pledged his administration would address issues of the financial aid application process, such as the length and complexity of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has previewed some of the administration's proposed changes, with a formal announcement expected today. While not as sweeping as the two-page FAFSA EZ Congress already mandated when renewing the Higher Education Act last year, these changes are still a step towards simpler financial aid applications.

Changes will be rolled out in phases, with the first phase being a smarter FAFSA on the Web.  Rather than forcing students to read fine print to determine whether they need to provide information requested by each question, as of next January, the application will use the information students have provided to determine which questions they need to answer.  Students with independent status will not be shown the questions about parental income and low-income students will not be shown certain questions about assets that they don't need to complete.  This is a fairly simple step to save time and hassle, and eliminate some of the barriers that keep students most likely to be eligible for federal grant programs from applying.

A pilot program has also been initaited to test the feasibility of allowing students to access their tax information online to complete the FAFSA.  If successful, it could be expanded to all users, saving headaches involved in finding their 1040s, W2s and related forms, then scouring each for the correct lines to copy into the FAFSA.

Duncan also stated that the administration will seek permission from Congress to begin taking steps that could eventually result in eliminating the FAFSA entirely and relying solely on tax information to apply for federal student financial aid.  While not explicitly stated by Duncan, it could be an end result of his request to Congress to remove questions from the FAFSA that do not pertain to information reported to the IRS on a student's (or their parents') 1040.  Once the complicated need analysis formula of the FAFSA has been set aside in favor of this simplified process, the idea of allowing students to apply for aid by checking a box on their tax return seems almost within reach.


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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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by Scholarships.com Staff

The fall semester is just around the corner, and in addition to the start of classes, students are also beginning to gear up for scholarship application season, the time from late fall to late spring when the majority of scholarship applications are due. If you are just starting your scholarship search, there are a number of things to keep in mind when deciding which awards to apply for. The size of the award, the application deadline, the amount of work required, and your likelihood of winning are all criteria you likely use in evaluating awards. One other thing to think about before putting together an application, though, is whether there will be any costs associated with the scholarship contest.

Every scholarship application will have some degree of cost associated with it, whether it's postage, time, or the costs involved in creating your application materials (for example, printing an essay or filming and editing a video). However, some scholarship applications are going to be more costly than others, and when a scholarship charges an application fee on top of the time, energy, and money you're already putting into it, it should be cause for some careful thought.

Scholarship opportunities are generally seen as altruistic offers made by organizations that want to help students succeed in college. Sure, many scholarships have a promotional nature, as there are few better ways to attract interest in a company than by giving something away for free. However, some companies actually charge students to apply for scholarships. For example, we came across one scholarship essay contest that offered a $500 award and charged a $15 application fee. The scholarship provider boasted of receiving 10,000 applications in a year, meaning they hauled in $15,000 and only gave away $500. Unless they're spending over $14,000 promoting the contest and paying people to judge the essays, it's reasonable to believe they're profiting off the scholarship in more ways than just boosting traffic to their site. Not necessarily the most altruistic endeavor, huh?

This isn't the only example of a scholarship contest charging a seemingly unnecessary application fee. Offers like this aren't necessarily scholarship scams, as legitimate awards are offered to people who apply. However, why would you pay money for something when there are so many other ways to get it for free?


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by Agnes Jasinski

High school students now have more proof that it's as hard to get into college as they think it is. A study released this week titled "Playing the Admissions Game: Student Reactions to Increasing College Competition" looked at the record number of students applying to the country's top colleges and the decrease in admission rates at those schools.

Not surprisingly, the "most pronounced increases in competition" were in the Northeast - New Jersey, Rhode Island, District of Columbia, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York - where the most prestigious schools are located. The number of applicants accepted there fell by about 25 percent between 1986 and 2003. But competition has also increased everywhere else. Between 1972 and 2004, there was a 9 percent decrease in admission rates to four-year colleges.

The study, done by scholars from Harvard University and the University of Michigan for the National Bureau of Economic Research, looked at potential reasons for the numbers. Students have become more competitive on their own, taking more AP classes and upper-level math courses, and the sheer number of applicants for the same number of slots at colleges has contributed to the frenzy.

So is this good or bad?

The study suggests that students are getting more stressed than anything else. Among those applying to the most selective colleges, more students are doing homework for 10 hours or more per week. But the majority are spending less time on homework than studying for and taking standardized tests. More students are taking both the ACT and SAT, multiple times. (The results of the latest batch of SAT-takers shows a drop in two points, according to the College Board.) Students are also applying to more colleges than ever before, perhaps a reflection of more schools using common online applications and the pressure to get into the most competitive schools.

One good trend coming out of the data and contributing to a more competitive applicant pool is the higher number of female applicants in recent years compared to the 1970s when the study's research pool began, an article by Inside Higher Ed says. Overall, it seems intense competition is here to stay, and it may do well for high school students to look beyond the most competitive colleges and make decisions based on whether a school has the programs they're interested in pursuing instead.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

A new book is shedding light on graduation rates at state colleges, and also causing a stir with its findings and recommendations. The book, Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities, was written by William G. Bowen, a former president of Princeton University, Michael S. McPherson, a former president of Macalester College, and Matthew M. Chingos, a graduate student at Harvard University. It shows many of the nation's top public schools are coming up short when it comes to graduating students in four years, especially low-income and minority students.

The book analyzes the four-year and six-year graduation rates of students at 21 flagship universities and 47 four-year public universities in Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia.  Among the findings, the authors reveal that flagship universities, typically the most competitive and prestigious in their state university systems, graduate only 49 percent of their students in four years, with other state colleges having even less success.  The six-year graduation rates for both sets of schools are better, but vary widely based on several factors discussed in the book.

Disparities by common demographic factors, namely race and socioeconomic status, were found in the research for the book, and were most pronounced among male students. However, the most striking differences come in terms of schools' selectivity. Some of these disparities include:

  • Graduation rates of 82-89% for the most selective and second most selective categories of schools and most competitive category of students (3.5+ high school GPA and 1200+ SAT score), but graduation rates of only 59% for the same category of students at the least selective schools.
  • Graduation rates of above 70% for all students at the most selective schools, regardless of GPA or test scores.
  • The disparity between the graduation rates of the most and least competitive students at the least selective schools was only 11 percentage points, while the disparity between students of similar ability at schools of different selectivity ranged 21 to 30 percentage points.
  • The least competitive group of students (GPA of less than 3.0 and/or SAT of less than 1000) did better at the most selective schools (71% graduation rate) than the most competitive students did at the least selective schools (59% graduation rate).

These results have many questioning the effectiveness of academic scholarships and other merit-based aid, especially in light of the University of Texas at Austin's recent decision to stop sponsoring the National Merit Scholarship Program. More so, though, they have experts, including the book's authors, wondering what is causing this disparity in graduation rates.

Price plays a huge role for students of low socioeconomic status, pushing them to attend the least expensive (and often least selective) schools or to opt out of four-year colleges entirely. Rising costs also could play a role in dropout rates among poorer students, so the availability of financial aid for all four years is crucial to graduation.

One of the biggest problems identified in the book is a phenomenon dubbed "under-matching." Highly qualified students are aiming low in the college application process, attending less selective schools with lower graduation rates when they could easily be accepted to and graduate from more selective schools with higher graduation rates. Students most likely to under-match are low socioeconomic status students whose parents did not attend or did not graduate from college. The higher a student's income and parents' level of education, the less likely the student is to under-match.

Based on this information, the authors suggest that schools focus their efforts on encouraging students to graduate in four years and to remain in school until they graduate. Keeping tuition low is a part of this, as are readjusting requirements to make graduating in four years more doable and, above all else, making it clear that students are expected to graduate in four years.

Graduation rates are gaining attention from other corners, as well. Washington Monthly included graduation rates in their recently released college rankings, and another study published this summer by the American Enterprise Institute compared graduation rates at colleges.The Education Department is also doing its part to make information on graduation rates available to students who complete the FAFSA on the Web.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Unless you're lucky enough to happen across an extremely obscure and unusual scholarship with only one or two qualified applicants, you are going to have to face some competition to receive a scholarship award. In the case of essay scholarships that are easy to enter or that come with a substantial award, you may be facing quite a lot of competition. In fact, with many scholarship competitions, you may be up against so much competition that there's no guarantee a reviewer will even have time to completely read and digest each scholarship essay submitted. This makes your essay's introduction vitally important.

The first sentence of your scholarship application is your first, best and possibly only chance to capture your reader's attention. To have the best chance at winning scholarships, you need to know how to start your essay off right. The following are some tips to help you craft an eye-catching introduction that gets your foot in the door and gets your application the attention it deserves.

Put it in your own words. While starting with a quote is a common technique in speaking and some writing, it may not work best in a scholarship application essay. Leading with a quote shows the reviewer that you know how to read, but it doesn't tell much else about you or your ideas. Use your own words to begin, and if a quote supports or enhances your argument, consider bringing it in later in the essay.

Avoid clichés and tired phrases. One of your essay's goals should be to distinguish you from the competition, and it won't do this if it rehashes the same overused expressions that everyone else employs. Keep in mind that the scholarship reviewer will be reading hundreds or even thousands of applications. What seems clever or cute the first time doesn't seem that way after the 50th or 100th iteration. A good rule to follow is that if a phrase belongs on a bumper sticker or in an e-mail from your mom, it likely does not belong in your scholarship essay.

Establish a personal connection. If your experience gives you a unique perspective on the essay's topic, show your reader this. Most people are suckers for personal anecdotes, provided the stories are interesting and well-told. Make sure the story you tell fits these criteria and actually enriches your essay and contributes to your overall message. Don't get melodramatic and don't bog down your introduction in an overly long, detailed or irrelevant narrative, but if you've got a good story to tell to frame your essay, use it.

Say something new. Are you arguing something that falls well outside the typical series of canned responses? Consider leading with your thesis, or at least some of the information or realizations that guided your essay towards its thesis. There's no better way to stand out from a pile of fairly standard responses than to have something fresh and thought-provoking to contribute with your scholarship application.

With a solid introduction and a thoughtful and well-written response, you'll be well on your way to writing a scholarship-worthy essay.


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by Agnes Jasinski

The Common Application, which allows students to fill out one form and send it to participating schools, has been around for a while. A competitor, the Universal College Application, came out with a similar form in 2007 that attempted to draw more public schools into the mix. (The Common Application is used by nearly 400 private and public colleges, and includes additional requirements specific to schools that include elements such as essays and recommendation letters with their applications.) This week, another competitor has come into the fold, with claims that this new application will be even more accessible to public institutions and students intimidated by the college application process.

The SuperAPP, which will be offered by the online high school transcript delivery system ConnectEDU thanks to their recent acquisition of college applications company CollegeZapps, aims to take the common application a step further. The new form will not only allow applicants to fill out several forms at once, but will include software to point students to sections of college applications specific to each school. Colleges that use the SuperAPP would also not be required to ask for supplemental materials, as in the case of the Common Application, increasing the pool of potential schools who use the new form. At first, the SuperAPP will be most accessible to high school students already using the company's online high school transcript network. The announcement from ConnectEDU was made at the National Association for College Admission Counseling Conference (NACAC) in Baltimore Thursday.

The point of all common forms is to simplify the application process. The SuperAPP's developers claim the original Common Application is not as easy for students to fill out as it suggests, since students are still asked to send in additional paperwork once they're done with the basic form. In an Inside Higher Ed article today, the Common Application's defenders say its requirements prevent an open admissions policy, and that the company's mission isn't profit but a system that emphasizes judging applicants based on the whole package, which often includes outside recommendations and personal statements. In response to an increase in applications per student, some schools using the Common Application have made their essay requirements more lax, allowing for shorter responses in their supplemental materials.

No matter where you apply, whether you'll be asked to fill out a common online form or come up with an entirely unique application package for each college you're applying to, make sure you keep yourself organized so that you don't miss any deadlines or make an easy mistake. Make a list of everything you'll need to send to each school, as missing any elements could send you directly to the rejection pile. For more information on college requirements, start off with a college search to start narrowing down your choices and determining what you'll need to do for each application.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Scholarships.com has a guest blog on CampusCompare today on the start of the scholarship application season, in honor of November being National Scholarship Month. Whether you’re just beginning to apply early decision to colleges on your list or are already on the campus of your choice, November is the perfect time to begin seeking out and applying for scholarships for the following year.

To read more and to check out the site, visit http://www.campuscompare.com. CampusCompare is a free website that helps college-bound students find the right school for them by offering free college search tools, like information on 15 categories of college life for over 3,000 colleges, and college admissions advice.


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by Agnes Jasinski

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has chosen 19 schools across the country that it will investigate for instances of gender bias in the admissions process. The schools were chosen based on their proximity to Washington, D.C., with an eye toward making sure the list was a mix of the different kinds of liberal arts public and private four-year institutions.

The commission began its inquiry into whether colleges were being more selective when considering female applicants in November. Why is this happening now? Female enrollment has grown steadily over the years, with about 58 percent of bachelor's degrees being awarded to women, and there has been some concern that men have been given some admissions preference over women as the number of female applicants continues to rise.

The issue has been made even more controversial due to its link to Title IX, the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal funding. The law has been most often applied to athletics, as it mandates that men and women are equally represented on sports teams at these institutions. Advocates for female athletes have grown concerned over the inquisition, as it could raise questions about Title IX and whether the legislation is even still needed because the number of women in higher education has grown so significantly.

Perhaps the real question, however, is why the number of men enrolling in college has decreased. A focus on liberal arts colleges in this investigation could point to the fact that fewer men are interested in liberal arts educations, preferring instead technical or research universities or institutions that have proven backgrounds in male-dominated fields like engineering. Regardless, the results of the investigation should at least answer some questions as to whether gender bias is as prevalent as the commission believes, if women are being treated unfairly, and if there need to be changes made on the federal level regarding legislation to prevent inappropriate admissions practices.

The schools receiving subpoenas include the following: Georgetown University, Howard University, Johns Hopkins University, Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, Shepherd University, Virginia Union University, Gettysburg College, Goldey-Beacom College, Goucher College, Messiah College, Washington Colleges, Catholic University of America, Loyola College in Maryland, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, York College of Pennsylvania, the University of Delaware, the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, and the University of Richmond. All of the schools were chosen based on their location and how representative they would be in the sample with the exception of the University of Richmond, which has been criticized extensively for reports of gender bias in its admissions policies.


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