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by Emily

For current and future college students, April is a time for big, and potentially painful, decisions. Right now prospective college students are beginning to sort through their acceptance letters and financial aid offers and current students are starting to think about how to pay for school next year.  If the financial picture is much bleaker than you'd hoped, but you're hesitant to commit to the two-year school as a money-saving option, here's some information you may not have known about the community college experience.

Just like four-year schools, different community colleges offer vastly different experiences, and in fact, depending on your major and location, you can potentially get many of the things four-year schools offer for much less money.  For example, did you know that some community colleges offer on-campus housing, and others offer a selection of four-year degrees?  Other community colleges have articulation agreements with area universities, as well, so you can spend two years paying next to nothing for credits that can potentially transfer to some of the most expensive and prestigious schools in your area.

These programs can be a great deal, since community college tuition tends to be much lower than private colleges, or even four-year state colleges and universities.  With on-campus housing, international student classmates, innovative educational programs, numerous online courses, and challenging coursework, the right community college can start to feel a lot more like the "traditional" college experience, but at a fraction of the price.

So how do you find community colleges with sweet deals like fancy apartments or four-year nursing degrees? Just do a little research.  Start with a college search in your area and see what's available. You could land the educational deal of a lifetime.


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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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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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by Scholarships.com Staff

College rankings, such as those published this week by Princeton Review, always generate media buzz and factor heavily into students' decisions ("Do I really want to go to one of the top 20 party schools?"). However, rankings are not everything, nor is cost (even in a recession), and in your college search, you may find that many colleges offer things that can't be easily quantified.

Rising high school seniors returning from their first round of campus visits and newly admitted undergraduate students who have gone through orientation and registration have likely experienced some of this. In addition to offering good financial aid, academic programs, extracurricular activities, and dorm food, the best colleges will also entice students to imagine themselves living on campus and being a part of the culture there. While prestige is certainly nice, your college experience will be enriched by feeling as though you are engaged with those around you and like you really belong to the campus community.

How colleges try to create this impression varies greatly. I've seen tongue-in-cheek Facebook groups for several colleges, including my alma mater, declaring students' decisions to enroll were based on receiving a free t-shirt, but gestures like this can make a difference. The small liberal arts college my sister ultimately chose to attend offered a package of cookies from the local cookie factory to students who took a campus tour, which we happily munched on while driving home from an impressive campus visit. The most interesting college freebie I've heard of comes from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, which sends each incoming freshman a box of Walla Walla onions. That definitely makes a unique impression!

This has us wondering: Have you received anything cool from a college you've visited or chosen to attend? What unconventional things have caught your attention during the process of choosing a college?


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Following the lead of U.S. News, several other publications have entered the college rankings game in recent years. Yesterday, Forbes revealed its second annual list of America's best colleges. Ranking first was the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY, followed by Princeton University. While Princeton typically does well in college rankings, the appearance of West Point in first place is something of a surprise in the college rankings world. Forbes touts its rankings as being focused on a college's ability to meet students' needs, a factor that includes post-graduate student loan debt (20 percent of the ranking), and the U.S. Military Academy is tuition-free.

As is the case with other college rankings, these should be taken with a grain of salt. Forbes' rankings also draw heavily on data from Ratemyprofessors.com (making up 25 percent of each school's score), a website whose primary metrics for rating professors include "hotness" and "easiness." Similarly, a portion of the Forbes ranking is influenced by the number of graduates appearing in publications like Who's Who in America (12.5 percent), whose significance and methodology have been questioned repeatedly, at least once within the pages of Forbes itself.

Much of the information included in the Forbes rankings is useful, though, such as graduates' average salaries, the likelihood of graduating in four years, and graduates' average student loan debt load. However, when checking out these or other rankings, be aware that the criteria used by publications or the sources they use to determine their rankings may be irrelevant to you and your needs. Think carefully about which factors are important to you when choosing a college and base your choices on those. There are many free tools to help you in your college search, so it's a wise idea to look beyond top colleges lists when making your decision of where to apply.


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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 Obama health plan isn't the only hotly debated controversy in which the of the social good is currently being invoked. College rankings also fall into this category with the release of Washington Monthly's annual rankings this month, which differ sharply from the better-known U.S. News and World Report rankings, and focus primarily on universities' contributions to the "social good."

Washington Monthly publishes two sets of rankings, one for national universities and one for liberal arts colleges, each year. This year, the top three spots in the magazine's national university rankings all went to schools in the University of California system: UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, and UC Los Angeles, respectively. The top three liberal arts colleges were Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, and Williams College. Amherst and Williams both appeared in U.S. News' top three, as well, but rankings differed sharply for many of Washington Monthly's other top schools, which included many state colleges, as opposed to the elite private colleges that dominate U.S. News.

A large part of the drastically different rankings comes from Washington Monthly's chosen methodology, which asks as much what colleges are doing for the country as it asks what they can do for their students. This is determined by looking at factors that include student involvement in national service, university involvement in research, and the social mobility attending college gives students.

The service index is achieved by looking at the number of current students involved in ROTC, the Reserve Officer Training Corps, as well as graduate participation in the Peace Corps. Research is determined by the university's production of PhD graduates, the number of degree recipients going on to achieve PhDs at other institutions, and other components such as research spending and faculty awards. The matrix is slightly different for liberal arts college, as many don't award PhDs and some don't provide data for all of the research categories. Social mobility is based on each school's ability to enroll and graduate needy students, determined by a calculation involving the percentage of students who receive federal Pell Grants and the school's undergraduate graduation rate.

Washington Monthly provides a more thorough description of their rankings system, as well as the rationale behind their decision to rank colleges, on their College Guide website. Other magazines participating in the college rankings game include Princeton Review and Forbes Magazine.


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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 Emily

For-profit career colleges have had a rocky history, being met with skepticism and criticism from traditional academic institutions, as well as undergoing a great degree of government scrutiny over the years, as some institutions have been revealed to engage in a variety of questionable practices. So, when the Government Accountability Office announced an investigation of proprietary institutions that participate in federal student financial aid programs, few in the education industry were surprised. The results of these investigations were released on Monday, and they indicate that in at least some cases, distrust towards career colleges may still be warranted.

For-profit colleges have higher student loan default rates than any other sector of higher education, with two-year cohort default rates topping 11 percent according to recently released annual Department of Education data, and four-year default rates clearing 23 percent according to the GAO report. By comparison, state colleges have two-year default rates of 6 percent and 9.5 percent respectively, with the default rates for private colleges falling even lower.

While acknowledging that much of this discrepancy is likely due to the different student populations these institutions serve, the GAO found that part of this high default rate could be connected to questionable admission and aid application practices at for-profit colleges. Under current federal law, in order for students to qualify for financial aid, they need to demonstrate "ability to benefit" from higher education. This means that they must have either earned a high school diploma or GED or passed a test indicating they are prepared for college-level instruction. Some of the proprietary colleges investigated by the GAO encouraged students to purchase high school diplomas from diploma mills to circumvent the testing process.

It appears that in at least one case, employees of a career college helped prospective students cheat on an ability to benefit test, even changing their answers after the fact to ensure their scores were high enough. GAO investigators posed as sudents at a school in the Washington, DC area and attempted to deliberately fail this test.  According to the report, they were given some of the answers to the test and also saw evidence of the school tampering with their scores to ensure that they passed and qualified for aid.

These practices allow students who wouldn't otherwise qualify for federal aid access to college instruction and money for school, but also can saddle students who are likely to be unable to complete and benefit from college coursework with large amounts of student loan debt. The Career College Association, which represents proprietary colleges, assures that these practices are not widespread and that strict standards are in place. However, the GAO still urges the federal government to provide more oversight of ability to benefit testing and financial aid disbursement at for-profit colleges.

If you're considering attending a career college, be sure to make sure its practices are legitimate and you are likely to enhance your earning potential by completing a degree or certificate there. Do your research about the school's reputation, the program's reputation and job and salary prospects for graduates of your prospective program.  Also, be wary about borrowing and make sure you don't get into a position where you've taken out too many federal or private loans to be able to pay them back. Attending a career college can help you land a better job or a higher salary, but this report indicates that there are still schools with dodgy practices out there, so diligence is still required when choosing a college.


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by Emily

Whether you're applying for college, considering a transfer, or nearing graduation, chances are moving somewhere new has crossed your mind. Any number of factors can come into play in such a big personal decision: closeness to family, availability of jobs in your field, the cost of living, the quality of education, and more. But regardless of their other criteria, few people want to feel like one of the only people under 40 living in their town. This week, The Wall Street Journal came out with a list of ten cities that have the potential to be post-recession "youth magnets." If you're undecided as to where to head for college or after graduation, their list may be worth a perusal.

While the Wall Street Journal is not exactly known as the authority on hip, this list is the product of a panel of six experts on geography, demographics and economics assembled for this purpose. Panelists each provided their top 10, giving reasons for their choices, then the cities with the highest total rank were chosen for the list.

First place, somewhat surprisingly, went to Washington, D.C. (in a tie with Seattle), which doesn't have much of an established reputation as a hot destination for young people. The recent explosion in federal hiring and President Obama's cool are drawing young job seekers, and the museums and live music, as well as the large number of universities in the area also help attract young people beyond just political science majors. The down sides of D.C., though, are its high cost of living and the potential for government to drastically scale back hiring next year.

Seattle, on the other hand, has a diverse economy and a relatively low unemployment rate (currently 7.7%). Its music and media scenes and employment prospects in these areas are strong and well-known, and other high-tech job opportunities for computer science or medical students abound. Like many of the other cities in the list, Seattle also has a strong university presence, providing more incentive for college students and graduate students to place it at the top of their lists as well. The best part: the only negative listed in the article is the weather.

The rest of the top 10, in order, were New York City; Portland, OR; Austin, TX; San Jose, CA; Denver, CO; Raleigh, NC; Dallas, TX; Boston; and Chicago. Several of the cities in the list struggle with high unemployment or high costs of living. Most feature excellent colleges and universities and may already be focal points for your college search. A number also have an excellent variety of things for young people to do; for example, Portland and Austin are well-known cultural outposts and Chicago also has a lot to offer in terms of entertainment and night life, though sports fans may be disappointed that Chicago didn't land the 2016 Olympics.

What do you think? Are any of these places you'd consider heading for college or after?


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