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by Emily

The University of Texas has announced plans to withdraw as a sponsor of National Merit, a popular national scholarship program that students qualify for based on standardized test scores. In an effort to focus on providing need-based financial aid, the university will no longer offer scholarships specifically for National Merit Scholars. The University of Texas, which was second only to Harvard University in the number of National Merit Finalists it enrolled, offered qualifying students awards worth up to $13,000 over the course of four years.

Texas is not the first major university system to choose to cease participating in National Merit, a program that offers $2,500 scholarships to high school juniors who do well on the PSAT, with the potential for honorees to receive much larger scholarship awards from partner companies and universities. Other institutions, including the University of California system, have previously chosen to withdraw sponsorship of National Merit, while many other schools have chosen not to offer awards specifically for National Merit winners.

National Merit has previously drawn criticism for its strong emphasis on high PSAT scores (other application materials are considered in selecting finalists, but semifinalists are chosen solely based on test scores). Students from wealthier families who have access to the best high schools and a variety of test preparation resources typically do best on standardized tests, such as the PSAT, which results in scholarship awards like National Merit skewing towards affluent students who need less assistance paying for college.

A University of Texas official cited similar reasoning in the university's decision to stop awarding National Merit Scholarships, stating that only one fourth of students receiving the scholarships typically bothered to apply for federal student financial aid, indicating the vast majority had access to other means of covering their college costs. The students who are most likely to be hurt by the loss of this scholarship opportunity will likely be helped by the increase in need-based financial aid that the university is promising.

University officials stressed that applicants who would have been eligible for this award will still be able to compete for other academic scholarships, and the undergraduate students currently receiving this award will continue to do so for their full four years of eligibility. Still, this announcement is likely to upset some students and to fuel the fires of the ongoing debate over merit-based versus need-based financial aid in colleges and universities.


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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 Agnes Jasinski

Briana G. wants to create a "healthy Twinkie." While completing an Associate's degree in Baking and Pastry Arts, she became concerned about America's obesity epidemic and realized she wanted to learn to craft more forgiving sweets. To help her complete her degree in Food Science and Dietetics at Colorado State University, Scholarships.com has named Briana the 2009 recipient of the annual $1,000 College Culinary Arts Scholarship.

Scholarships.com has been awarding Area of Study College Scholarships since summer 2008 to help students like Briana meet their college and career goals. The competition grants a $1,000 scholarship each month to a high school senior or undergraduate student planning to pursue a career in one of thirteen areas of study, including Culinary Arts.

"These students have such creative ideas and reasons for choosing a particular major and, through this program, we are able to help them share these ideas and aspirations," said Kevin Ladd, Vice President for Scholarships.com. "The Area of Study College Scholarships help students pay for college and also challenge them to really think about why they want to study a given subject or go into a particular field."

Applicants are asked to compose essays describing what influenced their career choices. In her submission, Briana described reconciling her desire to make "delicious, eye-catching desserts" with her growing awareness of how poor diets contribute to obesity. Her goal now it to make healthy version of the "sweet treats that Americans love."

The Scholarships.com Area of Study Scholarships are open to all U.S. citizens who will be attending college in the fall of 2009, regardless of age, test scores or grade point average. To apply for the Scholarships.com Area of Study College Scholarships, students can visit www.scholarships.com, conduct a free college scholarship search and complete an online scholarship application.

A complete list of Area of Study scholarship winners, as well as their winning essays is available on our Student Winners page.


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by Agnes Jasinski

As unemployment rates remain high and budgets stay tight, more people are looking to wait out the struggling economy by going back to college. Competition then has become more fierce not only on the admissions level, but for funding to pay for those educations. While many schools are doing whatever they can to continue offering scholarships and grants, the economy has affected some schools' available funding. Good news is, scholarships do exist, and there are things you can do to have a better chance of landing one.

  • Apply early, and apply often. Scholarships wait for no one, and a later deadline doesn't mean you should wait until the very last moment to apply. Generous scholarships like the Coca-Cola Scholars Program have deadlines in October, for example. It's not a bad move to look ahead and start applying for awards beyond this year, either, to get an idea of funding you'll need in the future. To see scholarships that have deadlines this fall, conduct a a free scholarship search and see the dozens you could be eligible for.
  • Don't rule out local scholarships. While funding packages from your intended college are often more generous than outside awards, it won't hurt to supplement any funding you're awarded or have a backup plan in case what your school offers covers less of your fees than you thought. Local scholarships from your dad's employer or your local bowling league are also less competitive than college-based awards or the more well-known contests, and often look at things beyond your GPA and test scores to factor in things like community service, your experience with that organization and financial need. New scholarships are being created all the time, so check on your search throughout the school year for the most up-to-date results.
  • Stand out on the application. It's not too late to make up for that less-than-stellar grade in your high school Algebra class, especially if you're looking ahead to scholarship opportunities beyond your freshman year in college. GPAs matter from your entire high school career, so don't slack off when the senioritis hits. Don't be afraid of AP classes unless it's a subject you know you'd get a low grade in, and get involved in your school and your community as it's also not always about academics. Work on that resume by applying for internships that fit your intended major, and put in more hours of practice if you're going for a sports or music scholarship. It's never too late to make yourself a more desirable scholarship candidate.
  • Appeal your award. If you've done everything you can - filled out your FAFSA early, put together impressive scholarship applications - and you feel the financial aid you've been offered from your school is unfair or if your circumstances have changed dramatically since applying for government aid, you still have options. Schools are more likely to reconsider packages in the current climate, and you could be eligible for more grant and scholarship funding, the best kind that you don't need to pay back.

For more information on upcoming scholarships and other helpful financial aid tips, visit our College Resources. Tomorrow, we'll explore your options on keeping college costs low and looking at a school's program versus its reputation.


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by Emily

High school seniors in a school district in Texas will receive $1 million in scholarships after their district was named the winner of this year's Broad Prize for Urban Education. The award is offered annually by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and is designed to reward notable gains in student achievement and in narrowing the achievement gap for poor and minority students. Aldine Independent School District, which serves the Houston area, won the top prize this year, after having previously been a runner up for the prize three times.

The Broad Foundation names five finalists each year and from them, chooses a winner for the $1 million Broad Prize. This year, the other finalists were Broward County, Florida (a two-time finalist); Long Beach, California (a former winner and three-time finalist); Socorro Independent School District in El Paso, Texas; and Gwinnet County Public Schools in the Atlanta, Georgia area.

Aldine won the prize based on a number of factors. The Broad Foundation cited the district's gains in breaking "the predictive power of poverty," as the district's predominately low-income students outperformed peers of similar backgrounds on state standardized tests. The achievement gap for both low-income and minority students has been closing at Aldine, with a 14-point reduction in the achievement gap for African-American middle schoolers in math over the last four years. Other successes included Aldine's recruitment of highly qualified teachers, engagement with students, and districtwide standardization of education practices and curriculum (many poor families move around within the district, so making what is taught in each grade more uniform across the district helps them keep from falling behind).

The scholarship awards will help further the success of graduates from Aldine, with $20,000 over four years going to students who enroll in four-year colleges and universities and up to $5,000 over two years going to students who enroll in community colleges. Students at other finalist schools will also receive scholarship money: each of the prize's four finalist districts will receive $250,000 to award to their high school students.


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by Agnes Jasinski

The Common Application, which allows students to fill out one form and send it to participating schools, has been around for a while. A competitor, the Universal College Application, came out with a similar form in 2007 that attempted to draw more public schools into the mix. (The Common Application is used by nearly 400 private and public colleges, and includes additional requirements specific to schools that include elements such as essays and recommendation letters with their applications.) This week, another competitor has come into the fold, with claims that this new application will be even more accessible to public institutions and students intimidated by the college application process.

The SuperAPP, which will be offered by the online high school transcript delivery system ConnectEDU thanks to their recent acquisition of college applications company CollegeZapps, aims to take the common application a step further. The new form will not only allow applicants to fill out several forms at once, but will include software to point students to sections of college applications specific to each school. Colleges that use the SuperAPP would also not be required to ask for supplemental materials, as in the case of the Common Application, increasing the pool of potential schools who use the new form. At first, the SuperAPP will be most accessible to high school students already using the company's online high school transcript network. The announcement from ConnectEDU was made at the National Association for College Admission Counseling Conference (NACAC) in Baltimore Thursday.

The point of all common forms is to simplify the application process. The SuperAPP's developers claim the original Common Application is not as easy for students to fill out as it suggests, since students are still asked to send in additional paperwork once they're done with the basic form. In an Inside Higher Ed article today, the Common Application's defenders say its requirements prevent an open admissions policy, and that the company's mission isn't profit but a system that emphasizes judging applicants based on the whole package, which often includes outside recommendations and personal statements. In response to an increase in applications per student, some schools using the Common Application have made their essay requirements more lax, allowing for shorter responses in their supplemental materials.

No matter where you apply, whether you'll be asked to fill out a common online form or come up with an entirely unique application package for each college you're applying to, make sure you keep yourself organized so that you don't miss any deadlines or make an easy mistake. Make a list of everything you'll need to send to each school, as missing any elements could send you directly to the rejection pile. For more information on college requirements, start off with a college search to start narrowing down your choices and determining what you'll need to do for each application.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A growing number of high school students are considering their options outside of Advanced Placement courses when it comes to pursuing early college credit. More are now looking into dual enrollment courses at community colleges to pad their academic resumes and get a taste of college life before they graduate high school. Some high schools have even begun offering fewer AP offerings in favor of partnering with community college programs.

An article in The State Journal-Register today explores the options available to students across Illinois. Nearly 1,900 high school students are currently taking courses online and on campus at Lincoln Land Community College, according to the article, and many are foregoing the typical high school experience of proms and pep rallies in favor of a preview of the college experience. Most of the courses are general education requirements students would take their freshman year. One student quoted in the article said she enrolled in college classes while in high school so that she will be able to work as a certified nursing assistant while going to college after her high school graduation.

We see value in both options. Dual enrollment at a community college may help prepare high school students for the college experience, giving them the confidence they need to excel that first year. There also won't be an AP exam to take at the end of your course, putting less pressure on students who may not be the best test-takers. (Most colleges require that you get a score of 3 or better on an AP exam to receive credit for the course.) Your academic transcript will also be more impressive when you're ready to apply to college, and you could be looking at a shorter, and subsequently less expensive, college experience. (This last point could be a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective.)

But AP courses aren't bad either. If you do well on your AP exams, you could be saving thousands of dollars on college costs because you’ll be testing out of those basic general education requirements. While you won't be taking classes on a campus, the rigors of AP courses could still help you prepare for college and the study habits you'll need to succeed after high school. If your school offers both dual enrollment and AP classes, consider all of your options to find the program that will work best for you, and you may be drawn toward one over the other.


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by Emily

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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by Agnes Jasinski

The number of high school students signing up for Advanced Placement (AP) courses has grown significantly over the last year, but the number of students failing the exams to receive credit for the classes grew right alongside those figures, according to a USA Today analysis released today. The number of students failing the exams was particularly high in Southern states like Arkansas and Mississippi.

AP courses, typically offered to high school juniors and seniors, allow students to take college-level classes in high school and potentially earn college credit.  Most colleges require students to receive a 3 or higher to receive credit for the courses, based on a 1-5 scale. Nearly 3 million students took the tests last year; more than two in five, or about 41 percent, earned a failing mark of a 1 or 2. In the South, about half of all students failed the exams, a failure rate up 7 percentage points over the last 10 years. The worst performer was Arkansas; more than 70 percent of AP test-takers there failed their final exams. Ten years ago, about 36.5 percent of AP test-takers nationwide failed their exams.

The CollegeBoard, which offers the exams, has already responded. Officials there say it's misleading to consider all AP exams equal. Some courses, such as AP Physics, have seen higher numbers of students passing. The number of students taking AP English Literature, however, have not been as successful. Statistically, it shouldn't be all that surprising that there are more students failing the tests, as the number of students taking the tests has grown significantly. Enrollment in AP courses has grown from about 704,000 students in 1999 to 1.7 million last year.

Should you be worried? If you're eager to get your college career started or get some college prep under your belt, and feel confident enough in your abilities and academic record to tackle the extra work, these numbers shouldn't dissuade you from adding an AP course or two to your course schedule. As long as you weigh the benefits and drawbacks, AP courses are worth considering.  AP credit can be a way to build your resume and explore a potential college major, and save money on your college education if you do well enough on those exams to get some college credit.


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by Agnes Jasinski

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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