December 1, 2009
Dreading student loan payments? While it may seem counterintuitive, you might want to think about law school. Two law schools are now offering to pick up the tab on student loan repayment for their graduates who go into public service. The University of California at Berkeley School of Law and Georgetown University Law Center are both unveiling new student loan forgiveness programs to complement the federal public service loan forgiveness program.
Attorneys in public service professions typically earn much less than their colleagues who pursue more lucrative legal careers. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the median income of all lawyers at just over $100,000, public interest lawyers can expect to start out making around $41,000 and many law students can expect to graduate with at least double that amount in debt. This can make pursuing a career in public service while living independently and avoiding default on debts nearly impossible. This is where loan forgiveness comes in.
Under the federal loan forgiveness program, college graduates who work in public service (a category with a surprisingly expansive definition-most governmental, non-profit, and education careers are covered) for ten years while making payments on their student loans through the federal Income Based Repayment plan will see their remaining debt forgiven. Income Based Repayment requires borrowers to pay no more than 15 percent of their discretionary income on their loans each year.
The programs at Georgetown and Berkeley take care of graduates' monthly loan payments for the ten years it takes to have their loans forgiven, provided they pursue legal careers in public service areas and earn below particular income thresholds. Berkeley grads qualify for some amount of help if they earn less than $100,000 per year, with their total loan costs covered if they make less than $65,000. Georgetown currently covers graduates earning less than $75,000 but plans to expand its program as funding allows. Until recently, Harvard University offered a plan that provided one free year of law school to students planning to work in public service, but that plan was rescinded due to economic hardships facing the university. However, other schools still offer financial assistance to students pursuing law degrees, especially ones that lead to careers in public service.
These programs still may not cover private loan debt that students amass while pursuing law degrees. However, law students are able to borrow more in federal loans, such as Stafford Loans and PLUS Loans, than undergraduates typically can. There are also a variety of law scholarships available to students who are interested in pursuing legal careers. If you're interested in public service, but not in law, there are other forms of financial assistance available, as well.
December 8, 2009
For those planning on attending graduate school, the Graduate Record Exam, or GRE, has long been a part of the admissions process that seems largely unrelated to their academic ambitions. The Educational Testing Service, the company that administers the test, has been planning and promising alterations for years. Friday, they announced their latest attempt, a plan that would eliminate some of the most onerous questions and revamp the scoring to more accurately reflect students' abilities.
The new GRE, which is set to be implemented in the fall of 2011, will keep the computer-adaptive testing format and the three sections (writing, quantitative, and verbal) of the current GRE, but will make some substantial changes to scoring, student responses, and the content of some sections. Possible GRE scores will change from a 200 to 800 range on the verbal and quantitative sections to a range of 130 to 170, a change which is meant to deemphasize minor differences in scores. The test will also become slightly longer, changing from 3.25 hours to 3.5 hours in length.
The biggest change to the test format will be the possibility to skip and return to questions. Currently, the computer-adaptive format presents test-takers questions they must answer before proceeding, giving them easier or harder questions based on their response to determine their score. The new format will adapt section-by-section, rather than question-by-question, hopefully giving a more accurate picture of test-takers' abilities. The ability to skip questions and return to them later is likely to improve students' concentration and scores as they no longer dwell on the questions they missed--a strategy for taking standardized tests that the GRE's current format makes difficult to practice.
Changes to the sections of the GRE will be more minor, but could still make a big difference to some test-takers. The writing section consists of two prompts, one asking for a logical analysis and one asking for an argumentative essay. It will remain largely unchanged in the new version of the test. The quantitative section asks multiple-choice math questions students are likely to have encountered in high school and college. ETS plans to add a calculator for this section. The verbal section will undergo the biggest changes, with questions on analogies and antonyms eliminated, as these have practically necessitated rote memorization of vocabulary words, largely defeating the purpose of the test.
Prospective graduate students in 2009 and 2010 will still be stuck with the current version of the GRE. Although some students may love analogies and obscure vocabulary words and be sad to see them go, students who have been struggling with elements of the current test may get some relief if they decide to apply for graduate school in 2011. Whether the GRE changes are actually implemented according to schedule remains to be seen, but so far, the revisions haven't been met with much opposition.
December 11, 2009
Everyone knows not to say "fire" in a crowded theater or "bomb" on an airplane. But what about saying "bomb" in a classroom? As a graduate teaching assistant at University of California-Davis learned last week, that might not be such a good idea either.
James Marchbanks, the teaching assistant in question, was arrested last week for making a terrorist threat, false imprisonment, and making a false bomb threat. Why? The graduate student referred to the course evaluations he was distributing to his introductory drama class as a bomb.
According to The Sacramento Bee, Marchbanks reportedly walked into class on the last day with his backpack on one shoulder and told the class, "I have a bomb, this is the last time I am ever going to see you. I am going to leave class before the bomb goes off but you are all going to stay here until it's done," then tossed a packet of course evaluations and pencils on the desk at the front of the class and ran out
The move was widely interpreted as a dramatic and lighthearted delivery of evaluation forms that he felt could potentially destroy his career. In fact, 13 students signed a letter to this effect. Unorthodox teaching methods, relaxed and informal attitudes, and extreme nervousness about their effectiveness as teachers are all pretty standard for graduate students, especially in the arts and humanities, so for many students in Marchbanks' Drama 10 class, his delivery of course evaluations probably seemed on the quirky end of ordinary.
However, a few students took his remarks seriously and decided to file a complaint, even when it became clear that he was alluding to the destructive power of negative evaluations, and not to a homemade explosive device. Campus police obtained a warrant for his arrest and a judge set bail at $150,000, a figure substantially higher than the Sacramento Bee calculated the charges should carry, and a price certainly well out of the reach of what a student receiving a graduate fellowship or assistantship could afford. It was eventually decided that there was insufficient evidence to charge him with a crime and he was released, but only after he had spent four days in jail.
While few people are likely to argue that Marchbanks deserved jail time for his comments, it does raise questions about what's appropriate to say in a classroom. With multiple incidents of on-campus violence, including a graduate student's recent murder of a professor at the State University of New York-Binghamton, appearing in the media, many already stressed-out students may be more on edge than normal right now. Did students overreact? Do graduate students need to be more aware of their actions in the classroom as new teachers? What do you think?
January 6, 2010
Thinking about graduate school? You now have more options than ever, including several varieties of specialized master's degrees for growing industries.
The New York Times recently profiled ten of these new programs, giving a run down on who offers them and what graduates can do with them. If you're thinking of pursuing an advanced degree and want to consider something a little outside the box, you might want to check out the "Ten Master's of the New Universe." Ranging from programs that fill a current demand for workers to programs aimed more at enhancing participants' current jobs or anticipating future needs, the degrees profiled provide an interesting cross-section of new graduate programs.
If you're looking for a graduate degree that will make you more immediately marketable to a growing industry, you may want to consider homeland security, cybersecurity, or education leadership. Programs in these areas have largely been created to meet new demands: keeping the country safe, keeping information on the Web private, and running innovative new schools. These degrees can help you get hired in growth industries, or help you move up within them. However, there are many other valid paths to careers in these fields, so while specialized degree programs can give you an advantage over other candidates, a degree alone may not be enough to get you hired.
Many new master's programs are also focusing on more specialized areas of long-standing fields, or on intersections of different disciplines. For example, Columbia University offers a Master of Science in narrative medicine, which promotes a better understanding of patients as people through a better understanding of literature involving illness. Master's degrees in sustainable cultures and urban environment also blend ideas from multiple fields to address more specific problems in their own. While none of these degrees translate into a direct career demand, they allow professionals and students to gain new perspectives on their disciplines and the problems that interest them.
Finally, there are master's programs that you may have never imagined could exist or have a market. From degree programs in construction management to social networking, highly specialized master's degrees are giving candidates an edge in the business world by providing in-depth training that puts job candidates on the cutting edge of developments in their field. Specialized MBA programs are part of this trend. If you know exactly what you want to do in the business world, you may want to skip the generalized degree and go straight for a graduate education tailored for your job, such as the MBA in pharmaceutical management at Rutgers University.
As a warning, master's programs in general, but especially somewhat esoteric ones, are unlikely to come with large financial aid awards. If you're interesting in pursuing a master's degree in one of the fields above, be prepared to shell out a significant amount of cash or throw some serious effort into your scholarship search.
January 11, 2010
If you’re applying to graduate school or law school for 2010-2011, it looks like you’re going to have some competition. While the recession had little impact on graduate and professional school applications last year, early reports indicate that this year will be a different story.
As of October, the number of people taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) was up 20 percent from the same month in 2008, reaching a record high of 60,746 test-takers. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) also saw a substantial increase in test-takers, with 670,000 people taking the test in 2009, a 13 percent increase from 2008.
Application rates have shot even higher at some law schools. According to an article in the New York Times, several law schools have seen applications increase by 30 percent or more. Cornell University has seen law school applications rise 44 percent between 2008 and 2009, despite making no substantial changes in recruiting practices.
Part of the overall rise in test-takers and applicants could very well be due to increased promotion of these programs. You’ve probably seen at least one advertisement encouraging you to take the GRE in the past few months. Many colleges are also promoting their graduate options as a way to make up for budget cuts and endowment losses: generally, graduate students (especially in master’s and professional programs, where tuition waivers are less common) pay higher tuition and receive fewer tuition discounts than in-state undergraduates. A number of schools are expanding seats in graduate programs to meet rising demand and generate revenue, and it's possible to see some offering more assistantships to shift a greater percentage of teaching duties onto graduate students, as well.
Whether or not they received substantial graduate scholarships, students who are currently finishing PhD and JD programs may find their job prospects aren’t much better than those of students who don’t have an advanced degree. Job openings at universities are down across the humanities and social sciences, by close to 50 percent in some cases. Law students also are facing bleak hiring pictures, as they compete for fewer jobs against more laid-off lawyers who have substantially more job experience. The uncertain job prospects awaiting many students at the end of years-long graduate programs have prompted some in academia to question the wisdom of pursuing an advanced degree right now.
Graduate school can still be a good choice and a good investment, though. If you love your subject, excel in it, and cannot imagine yourself doing anything else, a doctorate or a law degree may be the right choice for you, especially if you can get a substantial scholarship or fellowship to assist with costs. There are also a number of master’s degree programs that can prepare you for professional work, help you gain a promotion in your current industry, or otherwise pay off in terms of earning potential and personal enrichment. The best bet for finding the right graduate program is to do a thorough college search, paying particular attention to where graduates of your prospective programs ultimately wind up working. If most graduates wind up with good jobs in their field, the degree may very well be worth your while.
March 4, 2010
The number of undergraduates registering for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) increased by about 675,000 in 2009, a record 9 percent increase over the previous year. The news was announced this week by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which also reported a 6 percent increase in graduate admissions in 2009.
The ETS attributes some of the increase to the number of MBA programs that now accept the GRE rather than the GMAT exclusively. (In 2009, there was a 68 percent increase in the number of business schools accepting GRE scores for their MBA programs, and the number of GRE test-takers who took the GRE to get into business school doubled.) This also makes it even easier for those unsure about whether they'd like to go to business school or another graduate program.
The news comes at a time when the ETS is getting ready to roll out a series of changes to the graduate exam. The new GRE is set to be implemented in the fall of 2011. Changes will include the possibility to skip and return to questions, a change from a 200 to 800 range on the verbal and quantitative sections to a range of 130 to 170, and an increase in length from 3.25 hours to 3.5 hours. The ETS says the changes are meant to allow for a test that paints a more accurate picture of test-takers' abilities, as it will rely less on strategy—the ability to skip questions and return to them later is likely to improve students’ concentration and scores as they no longer dwell on the questions they missed—and more on the accuracy of their answers.
If you're considering registering and eventually taking the exam, we have a number of resources to help you master the GRE and learn more about what you need to know about the new GRE format, since you'll now need to freshen up those test-taking skills even if you've taken the GRE in the past. The most important thing to know is that you should prepare for this test as you would for any other standardized test. Chances are it's been a while since you've taken the ACT and SAT, and while the study skills you honed to complete those exams successfully are useful on the GRE, it's important to get to know the specific content you'll be tested on when taking the GRE. Practice tests are never a bad idea. Finally, don't stress too much. You can retake the GRE up to five times in one year.
April 8, 2010
One California law school is being very transparent in their attempts to make their students' grades more competitive, thanks to recent revisions in their grading system. Loyola Law School in downtown Los Angeles recently announced they would be bumping students' GPAs up by one-third of a point, to align themselves with other schools in the area they feel already grade on a higher curve. Students who had an A- in a course would now receive an A, for example.
The fix may not be considered grade inflation in the traditional sense, as it involves a school-wide decision to raise the student population's GPAs and includes the full support of the administration. Grade inflation is typically less obvious, and may vary course by course. The stereotype at many of the most prestigious private colleges across the country is that once you gain admittance to such a school, you won't meet much resistance in your goal to graduate with an impressive GPA.
The situation at Loyola suggests that schools are paying more attention to their grading policies as a way to keep students from seeking out colleges where they have better potential to graduate with a higher GPA. According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the school decided to give students' GPAs a boost when it noticed many of their graduates had been entering the job market at an unfair competitive disadvantage. The change won't only affect current Loyola students, but recent graduates since 2007. The boost will make the most difference to students on the cusp of a B-average, as many employers are hesitant to consider job applicants with GPAs below that point.
Critics suggest it will make it even harder for graduates to land jobs now that the change has hit the news, as now employers know the school has artificially inflated the students' GPAs. Administrators disagree: "We're not trying to make them look better than other comparable students at other schools. We just want them to be on an even playing field," Victor J. Gold, the school's dean, said in The Chronicle. The students' class ranks will not be affected by the change.
On the other hand, professors at some schools have been faced with "quotas" that limit them in awarding a certain amount of one letter grade over another, leading some students to complain of grade deflation. This has created some discontent at Princeton University, for example, where students worry that grade inflation at nearby Ive League schools will place them at a disadvantage. (Princeton has been working to urge professors to offer grades based solely on work and merit, not outside pressures, for several years.)
May 20, 2010
Once you’ve figured out what you should do with your life after graduation in the short-term, it’s a good idea to start thinking long-term, and determining where you’d like to see yourself a few years down the line. The first step may be getting your affairs in order. If you’re expecting a move within a year or two after college, look into how much money you’d need to save to make that happen, and what you need to know about your intended location’s housing/rental stock and job outlook.
Speaking of jobs, finding the perfect one isn’t an exact science. Deciding on a long-term gig shouldn't be taken lightly, and if you can, take the time to do your research when considering where you'd like to work. It’s hard to tell how long the process may take, but there are ways for you to improve your chances of finding a job that is a good fit for you. Use your school’s career center and alumni networks. Sometimes, it is all about who you know. The counselors at the career center may also help you retool your resume, the most important piece of your application package that you’ll be giving to potential employers. If your job search is hampered by a weak economy, or if you’ve gotten word that a job you think you qualify for and would really enjoy will open up in a few months, make the most out of your time. Look into seasonal internships related to your college degree to impress employers once jobs do open up. You’ll look like self-starter who takes initiative rather than waiting things out.
If you’re interested in a career where it would be beneficial to have an advanced degree, graduate school right after you’re done with your undergraduate degree may be an option for you. Just know that this option may not be for everyone, especially if you’re feeling burned out from your four years in college or if you’re only interested in graduate school because you’d like to put any decision-making about your future career on the back-burner. Depending on your field of study and college major, graduate school may help you tremendously, giving you openings to positions higher up in the food chain, or it may not be as beneficial, giving you an additional mound of student loan debt.
Did we miss anything? What else do you think new graduates should consider when thinking about their long-term goals?
This is the last post in a three-part series on dealing with that “What’s next?” feeling college students may get post-graduation. The Scholarships.com blog will be back to giving you the latest higher education news and tips on financial aid and college life tomorrow!
November 4, 2010
The true cost of a college education is seldom the number that’s printed in school brochures and on various college comparison lists. When you figure in federal aid, scholarships, grants, room and board, books and supplies, that price fluctuates. One thing remains constant - higher education doesn’t come cheap - but a new poll finds students are willing to stretch their finances for several key factors.
In April, right up until enrollment deadlines, students were still considering “too expensive” schools and were willing to stretch to pay for their education, poll conductors the College Board and the Art & Science Group report. While it would be more financially sound to select the school with the lower tuition and better financial aid package, “too expensive” colleges remained in play if they had strong academics in students’ fields of interest, were places students felt comfortable, had prestigious academic reputations or had excellent records of graduate school acceptance or good job placement after students graduated. Here’s the breakdown:
If you think back to every award show you’ve ever seen, you’ll recall those who do not win always say it is an honor just to be nominated. The same can be said for college admissions: It’s an amazing achievement to be accepted to a prestigious college but is attending worth it if the cost of attendance is going to drive you and your family into debt?
December 29, 2010
I met many people during my undergraduate years that, upon hearing my major, had a good chuckle before informing me I was never going to make any money doing what I loved – writing. Their majors? Usually something involving business. I still giggle a little thinking of that irony: They not only picked the wrong field but the wrong school if they were concerned with raking in a hefty salary.
According to a new survey from PayScale.com, Harvey Mudd College's 2011 graduates are have the highest salary potential, beating out Princeton, Dartmouth, Harvard and Caltech. The college's potential starting median salary is $68,900 while its midcareer median salary is $126,000 yet a campus official said the school does not plan its curriculum based on salary potential. Thyra L. Briggs, vice president of admissions and financial aid, said Harvey Mudd students receive a strong math and science education wrapped in a liberal arts context, meaning students can “solve even the most demanding technical problems, but they also know how to work collaboratively, present their ideas to a broad range of audiences, and write well - traits that may distinguish them from other high-level math and science graduates." Instead of being pigeonholed into only one discipline, she said, Harvey Mudd grads leave school with an adaptability that's an asset in the working world or graduate study. Not bad!
Briggs agrees that the number one ranking is impressive but she’s more excited that more people are looking at Harvey Mudd – especially prospective students and their parents. Future college students, does this news change your opinion about Harvey Mudd? What’s more attractive to you about a college – higher earning potential upon graduation or a higher quality of education as a whole?
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