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Admission Competition Heating Up at State Colleges

November 16, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

While so far it appears that the recession has not had a negative impact on students' desire to go to college, it may be affecting their ability to get there, or at least to get into their school of choice.

State colleges have endured some significant budget cuts in the last year, while also coping with an increased demand for student financial aid and drops in endowments and donations. These circumstances have left schools scrambling to find additional sources of funding to meet everyday expenses and deal with increased demand. To mitigate tuition increases, many state colleges, especially public flagship universities, have begun to admit more out-of-state and international students. These students pay higher tuition, often without significant help from university scholarships, meaning more revenue for the university and lower costs for the in-state students attending.

This is a win-win situation for colleges and out-of-state students, who are more likely than ever to get into their dream school thanks to these new policies. One example is the College of William and Mary, where the out-of-state admission rate has risen from 22 percent of applicants in 2007 to 30 percent in 2009. While out-of-state admission is still significantly more competitive than in-state, students who are able to pay non-resident tuition at public flagship universities may see more success in 2010 than previous years.

However, with more seats being filled by out-of-state students, in-state students are at a disadvantage. At the same time as admissions ratios are being adjusted, more students are applying to in-state schools to take advantage of relatively reasonable tuition costs, especially where a low price corresponds with a top-rate education.

Where competition is fierce and seats and scholarships are limited, students who had been planning on attending their state's public flagship may want to cast a wider net in their college search. Consider a private college-some in California are offering substantial scholarships to students who would otherwise have attended a state college-or think about putting in a year or two at community college first. You may also find a less expensive, but still highly respected, option in a branch campus of a flagship, or in another state college nearby.  It may even be possible to transfer to your dream college later, as more and more university systems and community colleges develop agreements for how credits will transfer between schools.

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19 Colleges Targeted in Gender Bias Investigation

December 17, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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AP Analysis Targets "Special Admissions" for Student-Athletes

January 5, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

A recent analysis by the Associated Press (AP) shows that student-athletes are 10 times more likely than non-athletes to gain admission to their intended colleges and universities through a "special admissions" process. The special admissions refer to allowing students to attend a school on criteria outside of what is typically judged by admissions officials, such as grades and standardized test scores. Put more simply, if you're a stellar athlete with grades that aren't so stellar, you're more likely to gain admittance to an institution of higher education than your less athletic peers.

The analysis identified more than 25 schools, including Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Alabama, where admissions requirements were bent significantly in favor of athletes. According to the AP, at the University of Alabama, 19 football players got in as part of a special admissions program from 2004 to 2006, the most recent years available in admissions data submitted to the NCAA by most of the 120 schools in college football's top tier. The AP got the information using open record laws. Ten schools did not respond to the AP's request, and 18 other schools, including the University of Notre Dame and the University of Southern California, declined to release their admissions data.

Coaches contacted for the AP story justified the special admissions on the basis that other students with special talents - musicians, for example, or gifted dancers - are also judged based on those talents. "Some people have ability and they have work ethic and really never get an opportunity," the University of Alabama's coach Nick Saban said in the article.

So do you buy it? The AP article suggests there isn't anything inherently wrong with special admissions, until it leads to student-athletes being admitted to schools they aren't prepared to attend. Should NCAA admissions criteria be more lax then? Student-athletes participating in NCAA sports are expected to not only have a minimum GPA and decent standardized test scores, but to maintain those qualifications while on a team. Those admitted for their special skills may not be ready for the rigors involved in maintaining a certain academic standard, or more generally, keeping to a rigorous academic schedule. What do you think? Should certain groups of students be offered "special admissions," or should standards remain the same across the board?

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Colleges Lure Students with Applications Resembling Credit Card Offers

January 29, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

High school juniors who took the PSAT this fall are likely beginning to notice a new phenomenon hitting their mailboxes at home: a wave of mailings from colleges across the country. To parents, the flood of viewbooks and application packets is likely reminiscent of the piles of credit card offers that often make up the bulk of their mail. Beyond sheer volume, there are other traits that college mailings share with credit card offers, and these were recently explored by The New York Times.

In recent years, colleges across the country have been sending out priority applications to entice students to apply and hopefully attend. The applications usually come in bright packaging, usually with some language that suggests the student has been singled out as someone of special interest to the college. Some examples the article gives are “Advantage Application,” Distinctive Candidate Application” and “Exclusive Scholar Application.”

Inside, students find a partially completed application and an announcement that the school has waived the application fee, and possibly some of the application requirements, for a select number of students, including the recipient of the application. In reality, most priority applications are sent out in batches of tens of thousands. The wording isn’t always strictly honest, either. One college, University of the Pacific, promised to waive application fees for its “Distinctive Candidate” applicants, but they don’t actually require an application fee from anyone.

Still, the applications are convenient for students interested in attending these institutions. Waived fees can save students $50 or more per application, and the option to substitute a graded high school paper for a freshly written college application essay can also be enticing. They can also provide an opportunity to learn about a college the student might have never considered otherwise. In fact, this is the reason many admission officials state for choosing to launch a priority application campaign.

However, some counselors are worried that the inundation of priority applications may encourage students to wind up only applying for college at schools that mail them priority applications. Students can also be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of mailings landing on their doorstep, especially when each application is a nearly identical, overly fluffy, and not necessarily true portrayal of the college and the applicant's chances of being admitted.  This can complicate the college search for students who, for whatever reason, aren’t able to visit or fully research each school that seems promising. Others in the higher education world worry that these applications represent a prioritization of selling the school, boosting enrollment, and increasing their U.S. News ranking (an increase in applications or in test scores of applicants can be a considerable boost) over their mission of recruiting and educating students who will thrive at their school.

What do you think of these applications? Did you receive any from colleges? Did they affect your college choice in any way?

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Students and Families Unprepared for College, Financial Aid Application Process

February 10, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Despite recent trends of more students across the country enrolling at institutions of higher learning, many students and their families remain mostly uninformed and unprepared to navigate the college and financial aid application process, according to a report issued yesterday called "Planning for College: A Consumer Approach to the Higher Education Marketplace."

The report, from MassINC, a think tank in Massachusetts, looked at decisions students and families need to make when applying to and paying for college, and the information they need to make those decisions. It found that students and parents currently have great difficulty "getting the most out of their col­lege dollar," as the price of higher education only continues to rise.

Perhaps even more alarming is that families have started borrowing more to pay for college, without considering risk and the rate of their return. Related to increases in student borrowing amounts, an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday looks at the idea that doctoral students finish faster if they take out large loans. The most obvious answer why is that taking out more student loans allows the students to take more classes, and quit part-time jobs that may have been reducing their college costs. It's a choice students must make every day - should you sacrifice some comfort to reduce your student loan debt, even if it means taking longer to complete your degree? It's a personal decision, but students should be aware that they'll be expected to start repaying any debt once they graduate.

The Massachusetts study also found that students and families had little knowledge of tax benefits and college savings plans, and how to compare them. For example, there are 118 different 529 Plans, and the resources out there do little in the way of pointing consumers to the advantages and disadvantages of each. Families and students also admit to knowing little about the actual sticker price of colleges, as that often depends on the funds available to assist incoming students, an unknown when those students first apply.

The report's authors suggest families and students must become more like "savvy consumers" who are able to understand and successfully manipulate the college and financial aid application process to their advantage. The process should also be made less complex, an idea that is already being explored by federal legislation such as the Higher Education Opportunity Act. Finally, families need reliable measures about the educational experience that colleges and universities offer beyond the annual rankings we see in the Princeton Review, for example. According to the report, while the U.S. Department of Education is providing increasingly consistent and accessible indicators, such as graduation rates, this branch of the college-bound decision remains the weakest.

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College Goes 3-D to Entice Freshman Applicants

February 11, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Hobart and William Smith Colleges is looking to give juniors narrowing down their college search choices a more unique brochure experience. More than 20,000 of them will receive 3-D glasses to go along with the school's brochures, a strategy the school describes as both a gimmick and symbolic of what the school is all about.

Viewing things in 3-D has only become more popular thanks to the success of James Cameron's "Avatar." But looking at a brochure is undoubtedly a different experience than sitting in a movie theater with a bucket of popcorn in your lap. The New York Times talked to the school's director of communications, Cathy Williams, this week. She sees it this way: Hobart is looking to change the way students "see the world." The 3-D glasses are symbolic of that idea, and the brochures ask potential applicants to "open your eyes to new possibilities at HWS."

Nearly 10,000 of the recipients requested the catalogs; another 12,000 or so were identified through a College Board search program. (Institutions of higher education are able to purchase lists of students who have scored above a certain level on standardized tests or who have expressed interest in a particular field of study.) Those who receive the brochures don't only get the 3-D experience on paper. They're also then able to view videos of professors explaining the science behind the concept of 3-D.

Colleges have been working extra hard lately to entice potential applicants. Some have revamped their college application packets to resemble credit card offers, now speeding up processing times, waiving application fees, and using language typically used by credit card companies: Advantage Application, Distinctive Candidate Application, and the Candidate’s Choice Application, to name a few. More than 100 colleges and universities paid the same marketing company to send out variations of these applications last fall. Some spent more than $1 million on these application campaigns, according to the New York Times.

While their applicant pools have indeed increased thanks to the marketing campaigns, it makes one wonder how colleges find advertising dollars in their budges while tuition and fees continue to increase, schools shutter their "no loans" programs, and colleges struggle with budget deficits. What do you think? Would 3-D glasses included in your college brochure spark your interest in a school more than the glossy materials you usually receive? What other gimmicks have you seen colleges use to get students to apply to those schools?

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Scholarships.com's Kevin Ladd to Speak on CollegeWeekLive.com Today

March 24, 2010

by Administrator

Today, at 7PM EST, Scholarships.com's own Kevin Ladd will be giving a presentation on the scholarship search, focused primarily on high school juniors. The webcast will be hosted and produced by CollegeWeekLive.com, a site that offers virtual college fairs featuring all sorts of presentations from colleges, financial aid professionals, and much more. There is a College Chat, Student Chat, information on federal aid such as the FAFSA and even video chats.

Today, Kevin's presentation will address scholarships and the importance of beginning your search early, citing scholarships offered throughout a student's high school years as well as the benefit of having familiarized yourself with the financial aid and scholarship search process long before your senior year. In fact, there are some scholarships specifically targeting high school juniors for which you won't qualify if you put off searching for financial aid until your senior year in high school.

The earlier you begin searching for scholarships, the better chance you have of finding the best ones and being awarded free money for college. For more on this and to "virtually" visit some college halls while you are at it, check out CollegeWeekLive.com and don't forget to be there at 7PM Eastern Time to see Kevin's presentation on finding scholarships. If you do miss it today, you can search for it in the College Week Live archives tomorrow and thereafter, but if you catch his live presentation today, you will be able to text any questions you might have.

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Space Still Available at Many Colleges for Fall

May 5, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

May 1 is traditionally the day many students submit enrollment deposits to their intended schools and make their college choice official. For colleges will late and rolling admissions, however, now begins the time to woo students into choosing their school for fall.

Despite what you’ve heard about increased competition and limited space at the most selective institutions (and colleges in California, where the state school system is using wait lists for the first time), space is still available at a number of colleges across the country. A survey released today by the National Association for College Admission Counseling lists those public and private schools, and whether slots available for new freshman and transfer students are limited or more plentiful.  The Space Availability Survey is also probably good news for students on wait lists, as it shows there are still options for those who may be rejected from those schools they have been waiting to hear back from. The survey also lists which schools still have housing and financial aid available to incoming students, as both may be limited this late in the game.

For once, it seems, the ball is in the students’ courts. Schools that may need to reach deep into their wait lists or that may have lower enrollments overall due to high price tags that may not be as desirable in a tough economy may need to put in a little extra effort getting students interested in their campuses. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education described the “sweet and subtle science” of wooing students who have yet to make their final decisions. At Lafayette College, for example, admissions officials spend much of the late spring reaching out to high school seniors and their parents with personalized follow-up letters, e-mails, phone calls, and on-campus events meant to showcase how their school is different than the rest and is more interested in building relationships with new additions to their student body.

At Menlo College, admissions officials don’t expect to have their incoming class finalized until the first week of September, according to an article yesterday in The Chronicle, with many of those late registrants coming from overseas and transfer students from across the country. Pennsylvania State University at Schuylkill is about two-thirds of the way to their enrollment goal for their new group of incoming freshmen. At the same time, recruitment officers there are contacting juniors for next year.

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Penn State Seeks Answer to Students Who Plagiarize

June 23, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

An obvious increase in the number of students who submitted plagiarized essays as part of their applications to Pennsylvania State University’s business school this year has forced the college to go public about their use of plagiarism detection software.

An article in Inside Higher Ed today described how admissions officials at the college discovered they may have a problem, and how bold students have been getting when it comes to turning in essays lifted from Internet sites and elsewhere. Essay answers on the topic of “principled leadership” as part of the college’s M.B.A. program application led admissions officials to discover at least 30 essays that “borrowed” from outside sources without the proper attribution. According to the article, a number of students plagiarized the same article on the term, lifted from a business school association’s newsletter.

In the article, the school’s admissions director says students have surprisingly only gotten worse at plagiarizing. One year, she said she looked over an application that included an essay lifted in its entirety from another source. The applicant didn’t even change fonts before sending in their essay.

According to Inside Higher Ed, a number of schools across the country already use software to detect plagiarism when evaluating students’ college applications. (The article mentions that it’s typically used by graduate and professional schools that often have multiple essay requirements.) But Penn State is the first to be so vocal about it. Faking one’s way into college has been a popular topic lately, thanks to the efforts of former Ivy League student Adam Wheeler, who faked his way into Harvard University and was able to nearly transfer to Stanford University before his deception was finally discovered.

Plagiarism software is more commonly used in the classroom by professors and instructors on high school and college campuses. Being found out typically means at least a failing grade on an assignment, and depending on the school’s policy, may mean expulsion as well. So, there’s only one way to avoid getting yourself into trouble. Don’t do it, even if you’re struggling in an essay-heavy course. Don’t try buying term papers online, either, as that won’t keep you from being detected by the software. (You didn’t think you were the first one to use that paper, did you?) If you’re concerned about attributions or references, talk to your instructor about properly citing sources. And if you need help on where to start with your application essay, check out our tips on how to do so.

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"Test-Optional" Policy at American University Expanded

July 15, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

American University has expanded its “test-optional” application policy, giving all students who apply to the school before Nov. 1 the option of choosing whether or not to submit their ACT or SAT scores as part of their applications. The college had up to this point only allowed early-decision candidates to opt out of providing standardized test scores.

Although the early-decision deadline is later—Nov. 15—being accepted by a college early typically means you need to decide right then and there whether you’ll accept admission to that college or go elsewhere. Opening up the policy to even those regular decision students will give more students the power to decide what they’d like to include in their applications to the school. Those students who do take advantage of the policy and submit their applications early won’t necessarily hear back about whether they’ve been accepted to the school early; they’ll be notified by the regular April 1 deadline.

According to an article yesterday in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a good number of even the early-decision candidates chose not to submit their standardized test scores last fall. Of the 538 early-decision applicants the school received, which in itself was an increase of about 33 percent over the previous year, 191 did not submit test scores, according to The Chronicle. While administrators said it takes longer to review applications that don’t include the test scores, giving students who may not do as well on their standardized tests but who excel elsewhere an opportunity for admission is worth it. Admissions officials now pay more attention to the kinds of courses students took, including AP classes and other college-level work.

Standardized testing has been criticized for years, with the National Association for College Admission Counseling going so far as to say the practice should end altogether in favor of a more holistic application process. American University isn’t the only college to go test-optional in recent years, either. Saint Michael’s College in Vermont no longer requires that potential new students submit SAT scores as part of their application process. The school reasons that some students are better test-takers than others, and that there are other ways to evaluate applicants instead. Students there may still choose to submit either their ACT or SAT scores if they feel it will help their applications.

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