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The Recession and College Admissions

April 2, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Earlier this week, we blogged about the recession making getting into a PhD program more difficult for prospective graduate students.  Prospective undergraduates are also facing a changing admissions landscape, but the picture for them is more complicated. Articles about colleges' admission conundrums have abounded this week as acceptance letters and financial aid notices make their way to anxious high school seniors.

Top schools with big endowments and generous financial aid packages, such as virtually the entire Ivy League, are facing increased applications and some of their lowest admission rates ever.  Meanwhile, other private colleges are admitting more students than last year, and also putting more students on their waiting lists.  Many state colleges and community colleges are also seeing increased interest and jumps in enrollment, and schools with limited resources are forced to turn away a larger percentage of applicants.

All of this adds up to a lot of uncertainty for students, and for colleges trying to create next year's freshman class.  Many sources are saying it also means increased flexibility for some students in terms of negotiating admission or financial aid at their top choice schools.

Since schools are hurting financially and admissions offices are as nervous as students this year about their decisions, students who are able to pay full freight (either out-of-pocket or through a generous outside scholarship award) may face an advantage getting off the wait list, since several schools admit to considering ability to pay when deciding whether to admit waitlisted students. Students who have received an acceptance letter from their dream school, but have been offered larger amounts of institutional aid from other colleges may also have more options this year. Students in this boat may want to let their favorite private colleges know about their dilemma to see if they can get a slightly better offer.  Many schools may be willing to drop a couple thousand extra dollars on you if it will secure your tuition payment.

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Study Compares College Graduation Rates

June 3, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you're planning on attending college, chances are you're also planning on one day graduating.  Depending on which school you choose, getting out in six years or less could be anything from a long-shot to a near certain bet.  A new study has been published by the American Enterprise Institute comparing graduation rates among colleges based on selectivity ratings as part of an overall push for more accountability and transparency in higher education.  In addition to discussing the gaps in graduation rates among schools, the study also lists some of the best and worst performers in each category by name.  If you're a high school junior or senior just beginning to compare colleges, this could be good information to have.

Overall, the data show that about 53 percent of first-time college students at four-year universities graduate from the school they enrolled in as freshmen with six years. The study does not include non-traditional students or transfer students.  Not surprisingly, students at the most selective schools, such as elite private colleges, were among the most likely to graduate from the school at which they initially enrolled.  Six-year graduation rates at individual schools ranged from the single digits to nearly 100 percent across the whole spectrum of schools, with the most competitive category graduating nearly 88 percent of students on average, and the least competitive schools graduating only 35 percent of students.

Graduation rates also varied greatly within selectivity categories.  Two schools in similar locations with similar ratings could have vastly different graduation rates.  This is where the study becomes particularly useful for students choosing between schools.  If you have a roughly equal chance of getting into two colleges, and one graduates a significantly larger percentage of students then the other, it's not hard to imagine that having this information might influence your decision of which school to apply to or attend.  You can read more over at Inside Higher Ed, which also includes a link to the full study. Along with things like available financial aid and quality of on-campus housing, graduation rates are definitely something to consider incorporating into your criteria for your college search.

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New Report on Highest-Paying Colleges and Majors

July 21, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

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

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

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

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

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Swarthmore College Gives Best Financial Aid, Say Princeton Review Rankings

July 28, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

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

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

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

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

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College Choice: More than Just Rankings

July 29, 2009

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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Unemployed Grad Sues College for Tuition Refund

August 4, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

A recent college graduate who has failed to find a job since April has sued her alma mater. The student, Trina Thompson, filed suit against Monroe College, a career-oriented college in New York, asking to be reimbursed the full cost of her tuition, which was $70,000.

Thompson's suit claims that the Monroe College career center failed to do enough to help her find a job after graduation. As a result, Thompson is struggling to make ends meet and, according to the New York Post, facing the prospect of homelessness as her student loans are about to come due. While Thompson has been regularly submitting job applications and making use of resources such as job listings available through her college's career center, this has not been enough to find work. So she is suing Monroe College for failing to provide her with the leads and career advice she says she was promised.

While the merit of this particular lawsuit remains to be determined, it does raise questions about what students should expect from college, as well as what services colleges should provide and can promise to their students. Especially right now, when jobs are scarce and competition is fierce, current students and recent graduates are dealing with greater stress and desperation as they try to navigate the job market. Meanwhile, career centers have fewer contacts and resources to work with, as fewer places are actively recruiting or even hiring recent college graduates. As a result, many college career counselors are finding themselves nearly overwhelmed, as more students need to rely on more services for longer to try to find post-graduate employment.

Finally, this lawsuit serves as a reminder for college-bound students of more good questions to ask during their college search: What are the job placement rates for the school and the department, and what career services are offered to help alumni find work? Considering these things while choosing a college may make all the difference when it comes time to find a job after graduation.

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U.S. Military Academy Tops Forbes Best Colleges List

August 7, 2009

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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Military Friendly Schools List Helps Veterans in College Search

August 18, 2009

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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Washington Monthly Ranks Colleges on Social Good

September 3, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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Now is the Time to Score Athletic Scholarships

September 8, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

With college football season underway, it's a good time for high school athletes starting their senior years to be making their decisions on whether they'll be pursuing sports on the college level. Athletic scholarships go a long way toward making those decisions easier, and even in a struggling economy, sports programs continue to set aside funding to better their teams. Better yet, even those who aren't the top soccer, baseball or tennis player on the roster are eligible for scholarship opportunities offered by local groups outside of the NCAA awards looking to reward students who balance their schoolwork with athletics.

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune points to several tips for talented athletes in the market for scholarships, including making yourself known to coaches and schools early and often and making sure your grades are where they should be. Most athletic scholarships require a minimum GPA for eligibility, even if you're the star of your basketball team. And even if you do get that coveted sports scholarship, you'll be expected to maintain a decent GPA to be eligible for continued funding and a spot on the team. Student athletes should also keep an open mind about schools they're targeting. Big-name schools are much more competitive, and unless you're one of the top athletes in your field, they may offer much less play time even if you do make the team than smaller colleges outside of Division I. A college search is a good place to start to learn more about colleges offering your sports program.

It isn't easy to be recruited for a full ride at a top university. A strategy of more students recently has been specializing in one sport, or getting involved in sports outside of football, baseball and basketball that get less attention to stand out more in the competitive world of sports scholarships. New sports scholarships in fields like lacrosse, for example, are becoming more common, and with new scholarships, the competition is often much less fierce than with more popular, established award programs.

For those who excel in both sports and athletics, straight academic scholarships may prove to be a good option as well, especially if you're a good essay writer.

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