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by Agnes Jasinski

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro unveiled a new program yesterday that would allow undergraduates to graduate within three years. The initiative, UNCG in 3, would target "highly motivated students," according to the school's press release, and would address the growing number of high school seniors who enter the university with transferable college credit earned through Advanced Placement (AP), UNCG iSchool or other early college programs.

Graduating early isn't a new phenomenon. Many college students consider graduating early to save costs (the UNCG in 3 program would save undergraduates about $8,000 in tuition, fees, room and board) and get a jump on their post-college careers. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former president at the University of Tennessee turned Republican lawmaker, has said the three-year degree track would would save students money, ease the dependence on federal and campus-based financial aid, and allow students  to move into the working world or to pursue an advanced degree in less time. But it is unique for a college to set up a program specifically to get students on that track

Incoming freshmen in the following degree programs would need 12 college credit hours prior to enrollment to be eligible: Accounting, African-American Studies, Business Administration, Communications Studies, Economics, Elementary Education, English, Entrepreneurship, Finance, German, History, Information Systems and Operations Management, Political Science, Psychology, Religious Studies, Romance Languages and Russian. Those eligible students would need to take and pass at least 16 credits each fall and spring, plus seven credits each for two summer sessions.

The decision to offer the program came following a survey of the North Carolina school's student body. According to the school's press release, in the fall of 2009, 526 freshmen came to the college with AP credits; 92 students had 12 or more credits. That year, 59 first-year students entered with credits from UNCG iSchool, joining 139 continuing students with iSchool credit. A number of high schools across the country are also set to begin offering early high school graduation plans, further shortening not only the college but the high school experience.

Other colleges are looking to keep students from taking too long to graduate. At the University of Texas at Austin, a 20-member committee has recommended placing a limit on the number of semesters it should take undergraduates to graduate at 10. The current average length of time is 8.5 semesters; the national standard is four years, or eight semesters. According to the Associated Press, another task force recommended a 10-semester limit in 2003. Students would be able to appeal the limit, which would not apply to those in some architecture and engineering programs, or to shorter summer sessions. The committee also looked at limited the number of times students should be allowed to switch majors.

The Texas college has been looking to place such limits on the student body to better serve those students. According to the committee's report, "By remaining at the university for extended periods, these students reduce the university's capacity to serve other students who wish to attend UT, both freshmen and transfers." The Associated Press did not address whether there was a financial incentive for the school to graduate students early and get new freshman applicants enrolling.


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Head(s) of the Class?

Naming Multiple Valedictorians Becoming More Common

July 6, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

If you just attended your high school graduation, you probably still remember some of the advice given to you by the valedictorian for your class, the student who received the highest marks and highest GPAs over their four years there.

If you attended graduation at Long Island’s Jericho High School, though, it may not even be that easy to name who was up on stage, no matter their words of wisdom. That’s because seven high school seniors were named valedictorians at the school, according to a recent article in The New York Times. Rather than giving a captive audience seven inspirational speeches, the group came up with a skit about their experiences at Jericho. Each valedictorian also had 30 seconds to devote to their personal well wishes.

Honoring multiple students with the title of valedictorian isn’t unique to Jericho. Many of the best suburban schools across the country are now naming more than one student to the top spot, and administrators say this leaves students less stressed and less focused on competition. According to the Times article, administrators say it is usually mere fractions that separate the top five (or seven) spots at any given school, making it difficult to be fair when it comes to choosing a valedictorian and even salutatorian, traditionally the second-place finisher.

How has this changed the make-up of high schools? Consider this. According to the Times, eight high schools in the St. Vrain Valley district in Colorado crowned 94 valedictorians. Cherry Hill High School East in New Jersey chose a speaker via lottery among its chosen nine valedictorians. Harrison High School in New York City got rid of the title altogether, naming top graduates a part of the “summa cum laude” class instead. Does this mean students are just more serious about academics, and more are doing better in high school? Or does it mean more have access to a traditionally elite group of high school graduates?

Administrators on the college level warn that the practice only contributes to “honor inflation,” according to the article. Competition exists on the college level, and a healthy degree of that in high school serves as preparation for the rigors of keeping up at institutions of higher education, they say. One Harvard University dean quoted in the article described the case of a home-schooled student applying to the Ivy League institution. That student claimed they were at the top of their class—of one student. What do you think? How many valedictorians did you have at your own graduation?


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by Agnes Jasinski

As more high schools across the country begin offering students alternatives to Advanced Placement like dual enrollment partnerships with local community colleges, the College Board, which offers the exams, has been forced to take a look at the AP program in order to make it more relevant to the college-bound.

One of the things the AP provider hopes to do is make sure the high school courses do a better job of preparing students for college-level work. As competition for enrollment increases, especially at the most selective colleges and universities, more schools are becoming stricter about awarding credit for students’ efforts on AP exams. For students interested in those schools, there remains little incentive to sign up for an AP course over a college course elsewhere, as one of the main draws of AP is the fact that you’ll start your freshman year of college with some credits under your belt. According to a recent article in Inside Higher Ed, the test provider will work to improve communication between the program and colleges, to both make sure students’ credits are being accepted and to make the courses look more like college-level classes.

Another criticism of even those educators who take on AP courses has been that teachers focus less on looking at topics in an in-depth way, and more on covering the maximum content possible so that students are ready for the AP exams at the end of the class. With more students failing AP exams, particularly in the Southern states, teachers and students are under even more pressure. Such statistics make signing up for dual enrollment, where there may not be a similar comprehensive exam at the end, more desirable, especially for those students who may not be good test-takers. The College Board also plans to make the AP program more flexible by adding computer-based testing dates and making sure students receive their scores earlier.

So what are the benefits? For those who may not have the option of dual enrollment or who may feel more comfortable in a high school classroom, AP is a good option to get some exposure to college-level work. With more than 30 AP courses to choose from, high school students may also be able to take those classes that they’re more interested in, improving their chances of doing well on the final exam. (This must mean your high school has a wide variety of AP offerings, of course.) Finally, if you are confident in  your abilities to do well on an AP exams and you do well in a course that will give you the opportunity to transfer college credits to a two- or four-year school, you’ll be getting college-level instruction at a deep discount.


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by Agnes Jasinski

While you’re unpacking a semester’s worth of your belongings in your shared dorm room, there are other recent high school graduates packing up for different adventures—volunteer experiences abroad, internships across the country, or backpacking trips through Europe. These students are taking a “gap year,” or time off from the traditional college experience.

The gap year is a popular option in Europe, where students opt out of university-level coursework in favor of experiences they feel will make them wiser and more independent. But the idea has also grown in popularity in the United States. USA Today announced a new blog this week from Mira Fishman, who will be leaving her home in Ann Arbor in three weeks not to go to college, but to volunteer abroad. She’ll spend six months in Buenos Aires at a nonprofit, then another six months in a “grittier city.” She hopes to improve upon her Spanish and boost her resume, and as her plans were worked out independently rather than through the dozens of organized gap year programs out there, she hopes to keep to a strict budget.

Despite the high cost of organized gap year programs—some run up to $20,000 for the year—they’re also growing in popularity, especially among those who want a bit more structure to their gap year. Such programs promise a support network for gap year students, and experiences that are crafted to the interests of the student. Students like Fishman, however, may prefer a gap year that requires more independence and responsibility. An article several years ago in USA Today described “gappers” who completed internships at software start-ups, explored careers to clarify what they’d like to do in college before enrolling, and learned life skills at manual labor jobs. (One student interviewed worked as a deckhand on a “floating classroom” in Baltimore.)

Taking time off may also be an option for those who weren’t able to get in to the school of their choice, although that time off may be spent becoming a more attractive candidate to that chosen college. The gap year then becomes more of a “bridge year,” where the college-bound look to enhance their applications by taking—and acing—courses at the local community college, volunteering, or pursuing internships in their intended fields of study. Bridge years also exist for those already admitted to college; at Princeton University, officials have introduced a bridge year program for admitted students where they pursue service work abroad before coming to campus the following year.

Are you taking a gap year? What are the pros and cons of taking time off before committing to college? Are traditional study abroad programs through your college the right way to go if you're looking to go overseas? Tell us your stories!


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An Unfair Hike

California Supreme Court May Up Tuition for Illegal Immigrants

October 7, 2010

An Unfair Hike

by Alexis Mattera

Proposed tuition increases at several institutions have been in the news lately. While the ones being discussed at the University of Colorado and Adams State College will affect all students as the schools compensate for the lack of state funding, California’s are targeting one specific sect of the student population: illegal immigrants.

No official ruling has been made yet (one is expected within 90 days) but California’s Supreme Court is currently reviewing whether illegal immigrants must pay higher tuition at state universities. The arguments center on a 2002 law that allows anyone graduating from a California high school can pay in-state tuition at a California state school – a law that more than 40 out-of-state students from the University of California and other public colleges say violates federal immigration law. If the court rules in the students’ favor, illegal immigrants will be required to pay out-of-state tuition. To put the cost in perspective, that would be $34,000 per year instead of $11,300 at the University of California. That’s not pocket change.

As someone who once paid out-of-state tuition and has the student loan bills to prove it, I can say from experience that ponying up the monetary difference isn’t fun…but if I was living in-state and got slapped with a tuition bill more than triple what I was expecting to pay, wow. It doesn’t matter if you’re living in California or the Carolinas, are a citizen or in this country illegally, how do you feel about this proposal and the impact it could have if it’s passed?


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KFC Offers $20K for Best Tweet

This Scholarship of the Week’s Deadline is Friday!

November 22, 2010

KFC Offers $20K for Best Tweet

by Suada Kolovic

>Through November 26, KFC wants high school seniors to put their tweeting skills to good use and apply for the $20,000 Colonel’s Scholars scholarship. KFC is asking college hopefuls to tweet why they exemplify Colonel Sanders’ commitment to education and enriching their communities, and why they are deserving of a college scholarship. The scholarship winner, announced on December 1, will receive up to $5,000 per year for the next four years to pursue a bachelor’s degree at an accredited public university within his or her home state.

And a scholarship for tweeting is definitely S-O, G double O D good! For more information on this scholarship and others you may be eligible for, conduct a free scholarship search!


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The Early Student Gets Admitted

Colleges See More Interest, Accept More Students Early

October 21, 2010

The Early Student Gets Admitted

by Alexis Mattera

Hiring managers and interviewers like to say “If you’re early, you’re on time and if you’re on time, you’re late” and over the course of the most recent recession, that motto has been unofficially adopted by admissions committees and prospective college students.

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC)’s annual “State of College Admission” report, many colleges (private and public) have reported increased interest from applicants in applying early and a jump in the number of students admitted this way. The former remained relatively the same as over the last two years but the latter – 65 percent of schools accepting more early decision applicants compared to 43 percent just one year prior – is pretty remarkable. The same can be said about the growing gap between the admissions rates for early decision and regular applicants at the same institutions: Colleges with early decision admit about 55 percent of all applicants, but 70 percent of early decision applicants, though only 7 percent of applications received take advantage of the early decision option. Another facet of the NACAC report is the overwhelming popularity of applying online, up to 80 percent in 2009 from 68 percent in 2007.

Does this mean schools are becoming less selective and simply rewarding the early birds in their quests for the worm? Not entirely…and not at all for the Ivies. The top criteria remain grades, the strength of the high school curriculum and admissions test scores but what NACAC calls "demonstrated interest in enrolling" is also climbing those ranks. Does this info change how you plan to apply?


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WISE Reinvents Senior Year

Independent Study Program Quells Boredom, Increases Motivation

November 3, 2010

WISE Reinvents Senior Year

by Alexis Mattera

Despite the numerous advancements in medicine, there is still no cure for a highly contagious disease plaguing high school seniors. Symptoms include excessive yawning, lack of concentration, procrastination, class skipping and a blasé attitude toward anything relating to education. Dun dun dunnnnn…it’s senioritis!

Fortunately, there’s a potential vaccination circulating which could quash most strains and keep seniors on track until graduation. It’s called WISE, or the Wise Individualized Senior Experience, and it’s been helping students not only stay focused but gain real-world experience while they’re still in high school for more than 30 years. Take Ralph Vasami, for example: He spent the majority of his senior year as a WISE participant interning at a weather forecasting company and though the self-described “ordinary student with ordinary ambitions” wasn’t even sure if he would attend college, his experience with WISE opened his eyes to the possibility. He went on to attend Lyndon State College and today, he is the CEO of the company he interned at, Universal Weather & Aviation Inc., which has 1,300 employees in 20 countries and $860 million in annual billings. Yeah. Wow.

WISE participants spend most of their days outside the classroom but many, like Vasami, report they are more motivated to learn than ever. Dave Marcus, the writer of this piece, was a classmate of Vasami’s in 1970s and was also a WISE participant when the program was in its pilot stage; he feels is one of the few education reforms that actually delivers what it promises and Marcus’ former classmates agree, saying they would have floundered in their college classes without the practical experiences they had during internships at museums, publishing houses and engineering firms the WISE program provided.

So seniors, think WISE will keep you on track for the remainder of your time in high school? If so, see if your school is one of the program’s partner schools. And if there are any former WISE participants in the audience, did the program have the same impact as it had on Vasami and Marcus?


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GPA, SAT, and a Great Sense of Humor Walk into a Bar

by Suada Kolovic

When you envisioned what your college application process would be like, I’m sure you anticipated stress and anxiety but I doubt you expected a joke could get you in. This was the moment you were told to draw on your strengths and articulate every achievement – countless community service hours, stellar GPA, and the fact that you were senior class president. Every sentence would be so perfectly and meticulously thought-out that who you were just leapt right off the page. You prepared your answer on why you belonged at your dream college and pinpointed what you had to offer…until you opened the actual application and found a serious curveball.

In addition to common essay prompts, more and more institutions are jumping on the unconventional question bandwagon and are interested knowing not only in why students want to gain admission but just how creative they can be when challenged. Here are the far-from-average questions schools are asking this year:

California Institute of Technology

Caltech asks applicants to not overanalyze:

  • “What are three adjectives your friends would use to describe you?”
  • “Caltech students have long been known for their quirky sense of humor and creative pranks and for finding unusual ways to have fun. What is something that you find fun or humorous?”

University of Chicago

Each year the University of Chicago asks newly admitted and current students for essay topics:

  • “Dog and Cat. Coffee and Tea. Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye. Everyone knows there are two types of people in the world. What are they?”

Yale University

Yale asks applicants to write essays, plus answer the following questions in 25 words or less:

  • “If you could witness one moment in history, what would it be and why?”
  • “Recall a compliment you received that you especially value. What was it? From whom did it come?”

University of Dallas

Along with three conventional questions, including “What influenced you most to apply to the University of Dallas?” the school also asks:

  • “Tell us your favorite joke or humorous anecdote.”

Soon-to-be college applicants, what do you think of this technique? Are you a fan of the challenge or frustrated by the fact that not only are you expected to impress them with your achievements and extracurricular activities but now you’re expected to be witty, too?


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Six is the Magic Number

Report Reveals Half of First-Time Students Finish School in Six Years

December 2, 2010

Six is the Magic Number

by Alexis Mattera

Theoretically, earning an undergraduate degree takes four years. But when you factor in internships, work and extraneous circumstances, getting a diploma or certification seldom happens within that timeframe. How long does it take? The U.S. Department of Education says six years…for just half of first-time students.

The DoE’s new report, "Persistence and Attainment of 2003-04 Beginning Postsecondary Students: After 6 Years," states that of students who entered higher education in 2003-4, about half had earned degrees or certificates by June 2009 – the breakdown is 9 percent certificates, 9 percent associate degrees and 31 percent bachelor's degrees – 15 percent were still enrolled and 36 percent had left higher education. The report further dissects trends among students who began their post-secondary education at public two-year schools and four-year colleges (both state and private) as well as whether these students stayed with their initial institution or transferred to and graduated from another school.

I was able to graduate from the same university I enrolled in as a freshman in four years but I had to sacrifice several things – studying abroad, working more, accepting additional internships – in order to do so. Graduates, does the report sound at all like your college experience? Current students, are you on track to finish school when you thought you would when you started? High school students, what are your plans for the next four (or more) years?


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