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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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Textbook Buying Tips

August 13, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Both for students starting college for the first time in the fall and for undergraduate students returning for another year, textbooks are too often an unwelcome and unexpectedly large expense. With your scholarship awards and hard-earned money already going towards tuition and room and board, it's difficult and unpleasant to have to shell out well over $100 for a book you're unlikely to even enjoy reading. There are ways to ease the pain of college textbook purchases, though.

Start Early and Get It in Writing: With classes starting up in August or September at most schools, your professors and the bookstore staff probably already know what books will be needed for fall, even if the textbook section of the campus bookstore isn't open for business yet. If you have your fall schedule figured out, now is a good time to start tracking down textbooks. First off, get a book list for each course as early as possible. This could take some doing, as not all professors in all departments have the courtesy to make book lists and syllabi available on a course website. Typically, professors have to get lists to the bookstore, though, and the bookstore is generally supposed to make this information available to students. If you can't find this information anywhere, don't be afraid to ask your professor through a polite e-mail.

Comparison Shop and Buy Used: With book list in hand, make note of prices at the campus bookstore, any off-campus textbook stores in the community, and popular websites that sell new and used books. Try to find the best deal, and be sure to factor in shipping costs and how long it will take the books to arrive. While the used book stacks are always the first to go at the bookstore, this isn't the only place used books are available. Check local used bookstores, as well as online retailers. I've found books for literature classes at library sales, yard sales, and thrift stores too, so be on the lookout if you happen across any of these. There's nothing like picking up a $15 text for 15 cents.

Find It for Free: Got friends or older siblings who may have taken similar classes? See if they hung onto their books and could lend you one or two. You may want to try posting flyers in your dorm and common areas on campus, or utilizing free online classifieds for your campus and community. The end of the semester is often the best time for this, but it could still pay off now. Don't forget the campus and public libraries, either, especially if you have the option of checking out a book for an entire semester, or if you will only need a book for part of the term. Most colleges participate in pretty generous inter-library loan programs, and some let students keep books or renew books for fairly substantial lengths of time. If you can't borrow, you may also want to look into renting. While not free, textbook rental services are less expensive than purchasing new books, and you don't have to worry about trying to sell the books back at the end of the semester.

Apply for Textbook Scholarships: Many scholarship opportunities allow winners to apply costs towards any school-related expenses, including textbooks. Additionally, several scholarship providers offer students money specifically for buying books. Some are local scholarships and others are major-specific, but they are out there! Do a free college scholarship search today to find some textbook funds.


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by Emily

The stress and financial hardships of textbook buying may soon be a thing of the past, as a vast array of textbook rental options are expected to debut or expand this year.  According to a recent article in The New York Times, students will have increasing options for renting, instead of purchasing, the required books for many common courses.  Rental prices are usually substantially discounted from the retail value of the book and students who rent textbooks will not have to worry about whether or not the bookstore will buy back their text at the end of the semester.

A number of colleges and universities have unveiled on-campus textbook rental programs in recent years, making the texts for popular introductory courses available for a small fee.  More bookstores have begun to get in on this, with Barnes and Noble announcing a pilot program this year that will allow students at a few colleges to rent textbooks from their campus bookstores.  These programs allow students to rent textbooks as easily as they can buy them from the campus store, though they're still only available at a handful of colleges and for a handful of textbooks.

Several websites have emerged in the last couple years offering online textbook rental services to students anywhere in the country.  These sites often have a wider array of books available for rental, though after shipping costs are figured in, their discounts may not necessarily be as deep as those offered by some bookstore-based rental programs.  Similar to buying textbooks online, online rentals also require some forethought and don't work well with last-minute schedule changes.  Students have to order their books early enough to have them in hand by the time they begin receiving reading assignments.

Addressing this need for immediately available content is one publishing house that recently announced plans to enter the textbook rental market.  One company, Cengage Learning, plans to rent a number of its most popular titles to students and make the first couple chapters of each book available online to customers who have rented a physical text.  This reduces the stress of waiting for the book to arrive.

Taking advantage of textbook rental programs, as well as other options like used books and free online books, can help you stretch your college savings and scholarship awards further.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Just about a decade ago now, e-mail addresses were created as a reflection of how cool you were, or how funny you could be within the constraints given by AOL or Yahoo!

Today, e-mail addresses are less a novelty than a necessity, used with everything from shopping online to applying to jobs. No one will deny you a scholarship or financial aid if you have a goofy e-mail address, but it's best to get an early start now before you enter into the job world. In a tough economy and competitive job market, something as simple as an e-mail address could drop your resume to the bottom of the pile, or worse, fail to get past the employer's spam filter. Potential new hires spend so much time crafting that perfect resume and paying extra to print it on the fancy paper that topping it off with PartyGrl124@email.com seems counterproductive.

I was an offender myself, and recall a great deal of anxiety surrounding that first e-mail address. I went with a variation of my birthday and a personal quality I believed I had, "funnie," spelled that way because the right way was already taken by another individual who believed they were just as funny. Once I discovered Gmail, I went with the straight first and last name combo, and the old e-mail address is probably still collecting spam somewhere. I was also blessed with a college e-mail address that I used to apply to internships or correspond with professors as an undergraduate, but as some colleges are no longer assigning freshmen their own e-mail addresses or run forwarding services; instead, many are left to their own devices.

More often than not employers now prefer that resumes and cover letters be e-mailed to them rather than sent through snail mail. So get yourself on a free email site and see what's available related to your actual name, like John.Smith@email.com or JohnSmith321@email.com. Even something as innocuous as showing your love for your pet or baseball or food (spaghettilover@email.com) could put off or even offend an employer. (What if they hate cats, the Cubs or spaghetti?) If you're trying to be funny, charming or original, you're probably trying too hard. Maybe it's not fair, or an example of e-mail discrimination. Or maybe a professional e-mail address makes you look more professional.

If you have a sentimental attachment to your old e-mail address or feel that the new, straightforward address infringes on your creative side, keep the old one as your personal address. If you want to change user names across the board, UserNameCheck.com will show you which names are taken and which are up for grabs.


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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

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

For students beginning to pen those college application essays, some good news appeared in today's Inside Higher Education: several competitive colleges are shortening length requirements for the essays they ask their applicants to submit.  Along with the request for briefer essay responses, colleges are increasingly looking for informal and honest responses from students, welcome news to anyone who doesn't view formal writing as their greatest academic strength.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has replaced a long-form essay (500 words) with several shorter and less formal essay responses of 200 words or less. The University of Pennsylvania has taken an opposite tack, combining two separate essay questions into one, but reducing the overall amount of writing students need to do for their application. Other schools that use the Common Application are also increasingly favoring shorter essay responses in their supplemental materials.

Whether universities ask for long essays or short ones, their admission officials seem to want similar things from applicants. Rather than a carefully crafted application meant to highlight an applicant's scholastic and extracurricular abilities, along with his or her impeccable grammar and excellent writing style, colleges are asking to actually get to know the student behind the application. A number of application questions adopt an informal tone to solicit a less stilted and more informative response, even using humor (or the closest thing to humor one can expect to find in college admissions). Some application questions go so far as to plead with the student to answer honestly and reveal some of their personality. This represents a change from what most students have been told to expect when it comes to college admissions, and it also represents a conscious move by admissions into a system that can less easily be gamed by students willing to invest in coaching.

After a months long college search filled with research, campus visits, and correspondence, students already have a lot invested in each application they complete. The intensity of the college application process often prompts students to stifle creativity and rely too heavily on outside help, in some cases employing college admissions consultants or intensive writing coaches (perhaps even ghostwriters) to help craft an application that reflects less what the student brings to the table than what those around the student understand colleges to want.  By requiring more informal responses and fewer formal essays, colleges hope to circumvent this problem, while getting a better sense of whether each applicant is a fit for their institution, which is what the application process is supposed to determine in the first place.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Soon enough, financial aid application season will be upon us, and you'll need to know how to navigate the process so that you don't make any mistakes that could delay that application, and your funding for college. The first and important step will be getting ready to fill out your FAFSA, which the U.S. Department of Education starts accepting starting Jan. 1 of each year. If you take away anything from this blog though, remember this: FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It should never cost you anything to fill it out.

The easiest way to fill out your FAFSA will be online, directly through the Department of Education's website at www.FAFSA.ed.gov. In your research you may find sites that charge to prepare your FAFSA for you, like www.FAFSA.com. That site, run by Student Financial Aid Services, Inc., charges a fee of $79.99 to prepare and advise you about your FAFSA, and while studies have shown that professional help through the financial aid process does lead to some positive results and more generous aid packages, with some time and effort you can become a FAFSA expert, too, without the added cost. Your intended college's financial aid office will also be happy to help you - for free - if you come across any roadblocks or feel like you've make a mistake when filing your FAFSA.

The Department of Education's site will walk you through the FAFSA application process, even allowing you to come back to your application if you find that you don't have all the necessary paperwork handy. While some students have reported feeling intimidated by the process, you won't be awarded financial aid from your college if you don't fill it out. And if you're uncomfortable filing the FAFSA online, you can also submit the paper form through the mail. (This could delay your application somewhat, though.)

Remember that you should never feel forced to pay to apply for and receive financial aid. Also avoid scholarship search engines that charge you to come up with a list of awards you may be eligible for, and awards that come with large processing fees attached. Scholarship scams are unfortunately a common occurrence, but if you know what to look for, you should have a positive financial aid experience. Browse through our site for more information on filing your FAFSA, and conduct a free scholarship search to see scholarships you may qualify for to supplement your financial aid package - all without paying a dime.

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FAFSA , Federal Aid , Tips

Tags: College Tips , FAFSA , Financial Tips , Tips

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by Emily

Community colleges are becoming increasingly popular options for young people looking to save money on their college degrees. However, despite their initial college plans, community college students are statistically less likely to earn a degree within six years than students who enroll immediately in a four-year college or university.

A report released this week by Demos, a non-partisan public policy research and advocacy institution, looks at the role of financial obligations in college completion rates for community college students under the age of 24. The report points to two things students can do to beat the odds and achieve their college goals: enroll full-time and work no more than part-time.

One of the key findings highlighted in the report is that most community college students have thousands of dollars in unmet financial need, even after accounting for grants and student loans. The lowest income quartile of students had $7,147 in financial need on average after grant aid, and $6,544 in need after accounting for all financial aid. Virtually all students in this quartile had unmet need and 92 percent of these students still had unmet need after all scholarships, grants, and loans. The overwhelming majority of students in the bottom 50% of family income had unmet financial need, averaging nearly $5,000 even after all financial aid.

Based on the substantial amount of unmet financial need these students had, it's not surprising that most community college students worked through school. The report shows 84 percent of young community college students worked while attending college in 2007-2008, and 61 percent of these students worked more than 20 hours a week, despite research showing that students who work fewer than 15 hours a week are the most successful academically. Community college students are more likely than students at state colleges to work their way through school and to work more hours while attending school. Of students who worked, 63 percent said they would not be able to pay for college without work, and 72 percent said they worked to help pay their college costs.

Community college students are also increasingly likely to enroll part-time, despite full-time enrollment being a key predictor of college success. Over half of community college students enrolled part-time in 2007-2008, compared to 19 percent of state college students, and most of these students worked more than part-time, primarily at low-wage jobs that are unrelated to their major or field of study. Just over half of students who initially enrolled part-time left college after 3 years without earning a degree or certificate, compared to only 14 percent of students who initially enrolled full-time.

This report adds to the growing body of research suggesting that borrowing heavily or relying entirely on income from work are not the best way to pay for college. In order to succeed in community college or any higher education institution, students should strongly consider attending full-time and only working part-time. To do this, saving for college or finding additional financial aid may be required. Applying for and winning scholarships can become a major component of college success--not only can scholarships help students meet their full financial need, but students who earn scholarships are also more likely to earn a college degree.


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by Emily

Still trying to choose a college, or perhaps a college major? Now, more than ever, quality job prospects are likely to figure into that decision. Work opportunities that come with a generous salary and great potential for growth, yet allow you to have the quality of life you want are the holy grail of employment and it's understandable to want to tailor your college goals towards obtaining such a job. To help make your decision a little easier, Money Magazine and PayScale.com put together a list of 50 lines of work that come with all of the features mentioned above, entitled Best Jobs in America.

CNNMoney.com has the results online already, with the print version appearing in the November issue of Money. The full top 50 are listed in order (along with another 50 high-ranking jobs), with detailed descriptions available for the top ten, and additional lists of top paying, most job growth, and best quality of life also posted online. This year's top ten are Systems Engineer, Physician Assistant, College Professor, Nurse Practitioner, Information Technology Project Manager, Certified Public Accountant, Physical Therapist, Network Security Consultant, Intelligence Analyst, and Sales Director. The top ten best jobs primarily consist of careers that may appeal to students pursuing medical or technology degrees, but students with virtually any academic interest are likely to find something in the list appealing.

To arrive at their selections, Money and PayScale started with career fields in which the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates growth 10% or more over the next decade and that require a college degree. They focused on jobs with median pay above $65,000 for workers with 2-7 years of experience and more than 10,000 positions nationwide and weeded out jobs that did poorly during the recession to arrive at a list of top 100 jobs. To arrive at the top 50 and top 10, data from a survey asking 35,000 workers to rate their jobs on quality of life (flexibility, stress, personal satisfaction, etc.) was used, along with data on current employment, long-term growth, pay, security, and projected openings. Finally, industry experts were interviewed to determine top 10.

Top jobs require different levels of training and candidates face different levels of competition. Many require additional training beyond a bachelor's degree, ranging from one-year certification programs to PhD and possibly post-doctoral experience. These top jobs are also not entry-level positions, so workers starting out in these industries may not see high pay or low stress immediately. So don't get discouraged if the career you want to pursue isn't on this list. Ultimately, the best job for you will be one you like to do and are able to do well.  That's also good advice for choosing a college major.


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