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by Scholarships.com Staff

Back to school season is also college rankings season, and in addition to well-known lists like those published by U.S. News and Princeton Review, several other organizations publish their own college rankings based on often-overlooked criteria. One such list was released this week by G.I. Jobs Magazine, naming the top military-friendly schools in the United States. To make the list, a school must be in the top 15 percent of colleges, universities, and trade schools in the nation when it comes to recruiting and serving military veterans.

This information is timely for many veterans who may be starting their college search after the new Post-9/11 G.I. Bill took effect at the beginning of this month. Expanded benefits will help more veterans pay for school at more institutions, with funding available for up to the full amount of tuition and fees at the most expensive state college in each state, as well as housing and book allowances. However veteran students, like other adult students, often need additional support to succeed in college, both where their coursework and their financial aid are concerned.

Rather than just including four-year universities, the military-friendly schools list also features community colleges and trade schools, institutions that attract veterans and other returning students, and that are expected to play an instrumental role in President Obama's push to increase the number of Americans attending college.

Based on survey responses and published information, G.I. Jobs ranked schools on their committment to recruiting veterans, providing programs for military students, and maintaining overall academic excellence. The complete list, as well as survey questions and information on methodology can be found on the G.I. Jobs Guide to Military Friendly Schools website.


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by Emily

The new Post-9/11 GI Bill went into effect on August 1, bringing expanded educational benefits for students who have served in the military since 2001. These benefits are supposed to be available to students for the fall semester, but a mounting backlog of applications has the Department of Veterans Affairs saying recipients should expect processing delays of up to 8 weeks.

This means that many veterans attending college may not receive their first payments from the VA until potentially October or even November, despite classes starting in August and September. So not only will their tuition and fees go unpaid, but they also will have to find other sources of funding for housing, books, and living expenses, which many veterans expected to rely on VA stipends to pay. While most colleges are working with their veteran students to arrange stopgap financial aid, the delayed payments still represent a huge problem for students going back to school after military service.

The application process for VA benefits under the GI Bill is somewhat complex and involves multiple steps between a student's initial decision to enroll in college and his or her ultimate receipt of a check from the VA. Students, schools, and the VA all need to complete paperwork to set up benefits, and May 7 was the earliest students could begin applying. In addition, current VA employees and new hires needed to be trained to process applications under the new program, so processing is taking longer than normal.

Add in the popularity of the expanded GI Bill benefits, the recession bringing students back to college in droves (with fewer financial resources available to them), and colleges across the country dealing with massive budget crises and increased demand for emergency aid, and you get the potential for disaster. More students are applying for benefits, the VA is less able to process these applications in a timely manner, and schools have more students in difficult situations to assist. All parties have fewer resources at their disposal to deal with the situation, making it still more challenging.

Still, vets who have found their benefits delayed should talk to the financial aid and veteran's affairs contacts at their school if they need additional financial aid to cover their expenses in the short term. While money is scarce, it is still available in most cases.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

As students begin the fall semester, news of the H1N1 swine flu virus spreading across college campuses is everywhere. But whether the flu has hit your college or not, getting sick at school is a real concern and can quickly derail your semester.

Living far away from home, many college students aren't well-equipped to take care of themselves and stay on top of their coursework while ill, especially if they contract something more serious than a cold. While the flu's getting all the attention now, other common illnesses can put students out of commission for days, or even weeks, causing them to miss class, miss work, and get behind on projects that are crucial to their success in school. Missed work due to illness can even jeopardize your financial aid. Part of taking care of yourself when you're sick at school is taking care to minimize the impact of illness on your semester.

Beyond attending to your immediate needs (seeing a doctor, getting rest, etc.), the most important thing to do if you get sick is to contact your professors, preferably before you miss a class or an assignment. If you're really ill and need to miss more than one class or an important assignment, quiz, or test, the earlier you establish communication, the better it will go. If you have a diagnosis, you can share it, but don't go into the minute details of what your body is doing and don't assume that because you're sick with something verifiable, your professors will instantly cater to your every whim. A doctor's excuse doesn't always go as far as demonstrated willingness to take responsibility for your missed work and to work with your professor to get caught up. Most instructors will be willing to provide you with information and course materials from missed classes, and depending on circumstances and how you approach the situation, they may allow you to make up work, as well.

If you're going to miss a lot of school or you have professors unwilling to budge, contacting your academic advisor is a good step, as well. A note from an advisor carries more weight than a call from a student, and if you lack the time or energy to address each professor personally and immediately, talking to your advisor can save you some time. They can also give you advice and information on what to do about missing class, and help you keep from falling behind.

Finally, once you're healthy, back in class and taking care of your missed work, there may still be other matters to attend to. Even if you have tried your hardest, you may wind up with too much work to catch up in a class. If talking to your professor and your advisor about incompletes and other options doesn't bear fruit, you may need to drop classes or you may see your GPA suffer.  If you have scholarship awards or other financial aid, lower grades or less than full-time enrollment can have an impact on your eligiblity for these awards. Be aware of the GPA and enrollment requirements for your scholarships and grants (even some student loans) and if you are in danger of not meeting them, talk to the scholarship provider or your financial aid counselor to find out your options. Your financial aid office is also a good place to stop if illness has generated medical bills or lost income for you--they may be able to adjust your aid package to help you deal with these expenses.


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by Emily

Student veterans still waiting on their financial aid this fall have finally gotten a bit of relief from the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The VA announced Friday that due to delays in processing requests for veterans' education benefits under the new post-9/11 GI Bill, they will be issuing emergency checks of up to $3,000 available to students whose benefits are still pending. These advances will be available through regional VA offices starting October 2, and students will need to bring a photo ID, a class schedule, and a certificate of eligibility to receive them.  The emergency funds will come out of future benefits checks due to the students.

The massive backlog at the VA office first began to make headlines in August and early September when it was revealed that the VA had made it through only a tiny segment of pending benefits requests. The VA has hired additional staff and ramped up processing since then and anticipates dispensing with the backlog entirely by November 1. However, as the weeks wore on, a clamor has been growing among veterans and the press as students went days, then weeks, and now potentially months without receiving payments for tuition and fees or, more importantly, monthly stipends that allow them to pay for living expenses while attending college.

Part of the delay is due to the massive popularity of the new benefits, with requests simply overwhelming the capacities of the VA office, especially since implementing new rules and procedures can also slow down processing. In addition, the procedures themselves make speedy processing difficult. The VA cannot issue benefits checks until schools have confirmed students' enrollment and tuition charges, which in some cases didn't take place until late summer. Between back and forth correspondence with schools and veterans, and the manual labor involved in processing each claim, a backlog built up quickly and veterans wound up having to borrow money or use credit cards to pay for rent, books, and other expenses.

Colleges have been working with veteran students to minimize the impact of delays, accepting late tuition payments without dropping students from their classes, allowing students to charge books to their bursar accounts, and issuing emergency loans where possible. Between schools' efforts and the new emergency aid through the VA, most student veterans should be able to make it through the next month until they--hopefully--begin receiving regular benefits checks.


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by Emily

If you’re applying to graduate school or law school for 2010-2011, it looks like you’re going to have some competition. While the recession had little impact on graduate and professional school applications last year, early reports indicate that this year will be a different story.

As of October, the number of people taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) was up 20 percent from the same month in 2008, reaching a record high of 60,746 test-takers. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) also saw a substantial increase in test-takers, with 670,000 people taking the test in 2009, a 13 percent increase from 2008.

Application rates have shot even higher at some law schools. According to an article in the New York Times, several law schools have seen applications increase by 30 percent or more. Cornell University has seen law school applications rise 44 percent between 2008 and 2009, despite making no substantial changes in recruiting practices.

Part of the overall rise in test-takers and applicants could very well be due to increased promotion of these programs. You’ve probably seen at least one advertisement encouraging you to take the GRE in the past few months. Many colleges are also promoting their graduate options as a way to make up for budget cuts and endowment losses: generally, graduate students (especially in master’s and professional programs, where tuition waivers are less common) pay higher tuition and receive fewer tuition discounts than in-state undergraduates. A number of schools are expanding seats in graduate programs to meet rising demand and generate revenue, and it's possible to see some offering more assistantships to shift a greater percentage of teaching duties onto graduate students, as well.

Whether or not they received substantial graduate scholarships, students who are currently finishing PhD and JD programs may find their job prospects aren’t much better than those of students who don’t have an advanced degree. Job openings at universities are down across the humanities and social sciences, by close to 50 percent in some cases. Law students also are facing bleak hiring pictures, as they compete for fewer jobs against more laid-off lawyers who have substantially more job experience. The uncertain job prospects awaiting many students at the end of years-long graduate programs have prompted some in academia to question the wisdom of pursuing an advanced degree right now.

Graduate school can still be a good choice and a good investment, though. If you love your subject, excel in it, and cannot imagine yourself doing anything else, a doctorate or a law degree may be the right choice for you, especially if you can get a substantial scholarship or fellowship to assist with costs. There are also a number of master’s degree programs that can prepare you for professional work, help you gain a promotion in your current industry, or otherwise pay off in terms of earning potential and personal enrichment. The best bet for finding the right graduate program is to do a thorough college search, paying particular attention to where graduates of your prospective programs ultimately wind up working. If most graduates wind up with good jobs in their field, the degree may very well be worth your while.


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by Agnes Jasinski

High school seniors preparing for college and the task of choosing a major may be more aware now than ever before about the repercussions of choosing one field of study over another. Sure, the economy is looking like it could rebound this year, but all of those who lost their jobs in the crisis - many of whom have quite a bit more experience to boast than a recent college graduate - will be causing more competitiveness on the job market for years to come.

Should you sacrifice where your interests are for what you think may be a more secure, safe major? An opinion piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week says "no." Obviously you need to exhibit some marketable skills to land a job post-graduation, but many of those skills are things you're able to pick up on your own. (The article gives the example of computer science majors. Many of the things you'll learn as a computer science major could be obsolete in the real world by the time you graduate, as those technologies are typically very fast-paced and ever-changing.)

It's also probably not a good idea to go into a field you have no interest in just because your parents think that major will land you an impressive salary later on. If you don't have a knack for a particular field of study, chances are greater that you won't do well in your core classes, and potentially even flunk out of school. You really won't be making that great salary if "college dropout" is a part of your resume. If you're interested in English, go for it. You'd be surprised to learn the premium employers place on good writing and communication skills. And if you're at the University of Texas at Austin, the course "The English Major in the Workplace" will offer you tips on building a resume, interviewing, and networking - skills that are important in all fields of study.

On the other side is the idea of "careerism," or that intense desire to succeed professionally. Schools are beginning to see this as a good thing, introducing ways to improve their graduates' chances when they're ready to start looking for jobs and to help those students worried about what they're going to do with their degrees. An article in the New York Times recently discussed ways colleges were adapting to a difficult economy by making drastic changes to their curricula. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette has gotten rid of its philosophy major; Michigan State University did the same with American studies and classics. Declining enrollments in those fields suggested the students, at those schools, not administrators, were looking to more practical majors that would make them more marketable job candidates.

If you're able to, dabble a bit. You may not even know what you want to major in as soon as you get on campus. Reflect on where you'd like to see yourself after college, and what your goals are while you're in college. For some a high-paying major may be just the ticket. Others may not be left-brained enough to become engineers and computer technicians. It's fine to take some time to think about what you'd like to spend the next two to four years doing.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Most of the student veterans who had been affected by numerous backlogs and delayed payments of their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits have finally received those funds, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs office. The payments came at a critical time, as not only the students but colleges began to worry whether their military populations would be able to afford tuition at the schools this spring semester.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill, which went into effect August 1, offers expanded education benefits to veterans who have served their country since 2001. GI Bill benefits include money for tuition and fees, a stipend that covers living expenses, and the option of transferring education benefits to their family members. A problem that has plagued the program since its inception, however, has been has been a months-long backlog of claims to be processed by an understaffed Veterans Affairs office. The delay caused a variety of problems for more than 68,000 veterans who applied for the new GI Bill benefits in the fall; more than 26,000 veterans were still waiting for checks at the end of the fall semester.

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday describes how the Veterans Affairs office was able to catch up - hundreds of new employees were hired, and existing employees were reassigned to focus on the backlogs. All veterans who filed for benefits before Jan. 18 of this year have had those claims processed, according to the agency.

Still, problems remain. According to the Chronicle, the emergency funds issued by the agency while they were trying to get a handle on the problem will need to be repaid. About 68,000 veterans received those advanced payments last fall in the form of $3,000 checks while waiting for their benefits to be processed. The Veterans Affairs office has decided that the money can be paid back either through monthly repayments or through deductions from future benefit payouts. Some veterans also owe the agency because they have dropped courses since, or were mistakenly paid twice by the agency.

There will also be other changes to the present GI Bill. Several bills are moving through Congress that would change who receives benefits, including one that would allow veterans to use the benefits for non-degree programs. And to address any future backlogs, the Veterans Affairs office plans to move the processing of benefits to an automated system by the end of this year. Students worried about how they will be affected by new changes are able to visit a website for veterans that breaks down the process.


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by Agnes Jasinski

As the number of returning and adult students continues to grow in an economy where advanced skills are necessary to not only land a good job but keep that job, it was only a matter of time when we'd start seeing more students in school at the same time as their parents.

We've already written about growing community college enrollment. The numbers speak for themselves—nationwide, full-time enrollment at community colleges is up 24.1 percent since 2007, with overall community college enrollment increasing 16.9 percent over the same period, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. Many of those enrolled are returning adult students who want to amp up their skill sets or start on a path toward a new career, perhaps due to a recent layoff or desire to go into a more desirable field. Community colleges have also always been an affordable option for traditional students either looking for a two-year start before transferring to a four-year university, or a two-year associate's program that will get them out onto the market faster. It's only natural then that there would be some overlap, with students and their parents taking courses at the same time.

In Illinois, college students who are 40 and older make up about 23 percent of the community college populations. A recent article in the Chicago Tribune looks at mothers and daughters taking community college courses together, such as Diana Gudowski, a 52-year-old attending Prairie State College in Chicago Heights with her 19-year-old daughter Marissa. The two found themselves on the same campus when the family decided collectively that they could not afford Marissa's first choice, the $30,000 per year St. Mary-of-the-Woods College. Marissa plans to complete her prerequisites at the community college and then transfer to Northern Illinois University. Meanwhile, her mother is taking classes toward a bachelor's of fine arts in photography; she already has an associate's from Prairie State in photographic studies. Although their courses don't overlap, their schedules do—the two carpool to campus, as the family shares one car.

"When I got out of high school, I thought ‘Cool. … Now I can take my first class at noon.' But four out of five days, my Mom starts at 8 a.m.," Marissa said in the article.

The article's focus is on mothers and daughters because the female population has been hit harder by the struggling economy. Despite some upturns, there are still more than 15 million people out of work across the country, and many of those are older women with limited educations, according to the Tribune. Are you (or your parents) interested in the community college option? Try our free college search or look through our library of resources for more information.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A new survey looking at entering community college students' opinions on the obstacles they face during their first year found that those students need more guidance to succeed as they transition from high school to higher education.

The study, released yesterday, was the ongoing Survey of Entering Student Engagement (SENSE), which was first given to poll students in 2006. Since then, more than 91,000 students have been polled, with the results used by community colleges to improve preparedness programs and tactics to help new students achieve. The survey this time around looked at data from more than 50,000 students at 120 participating community colleges in 31 states and the Marshall Islands.

The survey looks to examine the first three weeks of new community college students' experiences at their respective colleges. Most of the respondents felt their colleges were doing a good job with the welcome wagons, and making them feel comfortable in their new surroundings. But others still felt more could be done to help them prepare for college, and to navigate administrative processes that seemed complicated at times. The findings included the following:

  • About 72 percent agreed or strongly agreed that they felt welcome the first time they came to their colleges; 25 percent expressed no opinion on this item, which concerned the providers of the SENSE survey.
  • About 49 percent said they agree or strongly agree that their colleges provided them with adequate information about financial aid, while 25 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed.
  • About 33 percent agreed or strongly agreed that a college staff member helped them determine whether they qualified for financial assistance; 40 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed.
  • About 45 percent agreed or strongly agreed that at least one college staff member (other than an instructor) learned their names, compared with 37 percent who disagreed or strongly disagreed.
  • About 23 percent said that a specific person was assigned to them so they could see that person each time they needed information or assistance.
  • About 90 percent agreed or strongly agreed that they have the motivation to succeed in college, but about a quarter of those students also admitted to skipping class or failing to turn an assignment in at least once.

According to an analysis of the survey from Inside Higher Ed yesterday, the results point to the missed opportunities that face students and administrators on a daily basis on community college campuses. When students were asked to elaborate on their answers using short answers, some said they were forced to make decisions on choosing college courses, for example, with little guidance from their counselors, something they could well enough do on their own. The article also pointed to contradictions in the study; for example, students responded that they enjoyed the access they had to college staff members, but still felt unprepared to navigate college processes.

The providers of the survey suggest more needs to be done to engage students, and that administrators should take regular looks at their processes to make them even more easy to access by students who may need more help as first-year community college students.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Whether it's about a little cross-promotion or getting students' hands on the latest technologies out there, Seton Hill University will join a handful of other colleges across the country in offering students the iPad, Apple's newest tablet computer.

The school will begin distributing the iPad to its 2,100 students this fall; every full-time student is eligible to receive one. (Often, similar offerings are limited to incoming freshmen.) According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the effort is part of the school's Griffin Technology Advantage program, which will expand hybrid and fully online course offerings at the college. The program does come at a cost. Students will see an additional $500 fee tacked on to their tuition and fee bills to cover a wireless campus. The school will absorb the costs of the iPads themselves.

Many schools currently offer their students laptops and computers to supplement course curricula or level the playing field for those who come onto their campuses unable to afford new technology. At Seton Hill, incoming freshmen also receive 13-inch MacBooks, with the option to request an opt-in to the program for sophomores, juniors, and seniors. George Fox University is getting on the iPad bandwagon as well, offering incoming freshmen the choice between the tablet and a MacBook. That school has been offering students computers - as part of their tuition - for the last 20 years. Duke University offered incoming students iPods between 2004 and 2006; Oklahoma Christian University has been offering students Apple laptop computers and iPhones or an iPod Touch since 2008; Abilene Christian University has been offering students iPhones since 2008 as well.

Technology on college campuses is here to stay, despite a persistent technology gap - or the perception of a technology gap - on some college campuses. Social networking in particular has become more common in college coursework. Students in a journalism course at Depaul University, for example, have been using Twitter as a research tool and learning how to use the site to supplement their reporting techniques. At Harper College, a one-time course there showed students how to use Facebook and Twitter from a business perspective.

What kinds of technology tools are being used at your college? Does your school offer laptops, desktops, or other technologies as part of your college experience?


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