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by Agnes Jasinski

A Web site that aims to help more Hispanics graduate from four-year colleges has kicked off a research campaign to find out about those students' perspectives on higher education to make services for them more effective.

Latinosincollege.com will offer the survey, designed with the National Society of Hispanic MBAs, for the next few months on their site. The questions, which target high school, college and MBA students, explore students' thought processes in choosing careers, whether they apply for scholarships and how many receive them, and where they seek out their career advice. Also included are questions specific to students' experiences as Hispanics, namely how they feel about assimilating and maintaining their identities post-high school. The site's founder Mariela Dabbah said she hopes the results will make it easier for outside organizations to find more ways to help Hispanic students succeed in college and the workplace.

The site is geared toward the college-bound with blogs by educators and high school and college students, a resource guide that includes posts on topics like leadership development, managing a social life, money and time in college, and being the first in the family to attend college. Students also have access to other students and professionals, with "Ambassadors" responding to questions. The Ambassadors, who mentor high school students applying to college, attend youth workshops to learn about issues and concerns on the minds of those pursuing a higher education.

Dabbah came up with the site as a response to her own experiences looking for a job as an immigrant from Argentina and the lack of information for a population that she felt was being underserved. According to the site, Hispanic students have the highest high school dropout rate of any group at 50 percent and a college enrollment rate of 20 percent. A study done several years ago by the Pew Hispanic Center showed that although the number of Hispanics going to college was slowly rising due in part to the rapidly growing population, they were still half as likely to finish their bachelor's degrees as white students.

Joan Sotero Alvarez, a blogger on the site and assistant principal in the Progreso Independent School District in Texas, struggled to earn his bachelor's degree. He felt the pressure as the first in his family to finish college, resulting in several failed attempts at the state's entrance exam. Eventually, he was not only a successful undergraduate, but completed a master's degree as well. Today, he mentors students in Texas and Mexico who are at risk of dropping out of school. "I don't see failure in my students; I see hope," he says.


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by Agnes Jasinski

High school students now have more proof that it's as hard to get into college as they think it is. A study released this week titled "Playing the Admissions Game: Student Reactions to Increasing College Competition" looked at the record number of students applying to the country's top colleges and the decrease in admission rates at those schools.

Not surprisingly, the "most pronounced increases in competition" were in the Northeast - New Jersey, Rhode Island, District of Columbia, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York - where the most prestigious schools are located. The number of applicants accepted there fell by about 25 percent between 1986 and 2003. But competition has also increased everywhere else. Between 1972 and 2004, there was a 9 percent decrease in admission rates to four-year colleges.

The study, done by scholars from Harvard University and the University of Michigan for the National Bureau of Economic Research, looked at potential reasons for the numbers. Students have become more competitive on their own, taking more AP classes and upper-level math courses, and the sheer number of applicants for the same number of slots at colleges has contributed to the frenzy.

So is this good or bad?

The study suggests that students are getting more stressed than anything else. Among those applying to the most selective colleges, more students are doing homework for 10 hours or more per week. But the majority are spending less time on homework than studying for and taking standardized tests. More students are taking both the ACT and SAT, multiple times. (The results of the latest batch of SAT-takers shows a drop in two points, according to the College Board.) Students are also applying to more colleges than ever before, perhaps a reflection of more schools using common online applications and the pressure to get into the most competitive schools.

One good trend coming out of the data and contributing to a more competitive applicant pool is the higher number of female applicants in recent years compared to the 1970s when the study's research pool began, an article by Inside Higher Ed says. Overall, it seems intense competition is here to stay, and it may do well for high school students to look beyond the most competitive colleges and make decisions based on whether a school has the programs they're interested in pursuing instead.


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Coca-Cola Scholars Program

August 31, 2009

by Emily

Scholarship opportunities abound for students who devote their time and energy to helping those around them. One such opportunity is this week's Scholarship of the Week. The Coca-Cola Scholars Program, one of the most generous and well-known community service scholarships, is awarded each year to high school students who have demonstrated academic achievement and community involvement.

Current high school seniors can win up to $20,000 towards their college education through this scholarship program. By demonstrating the ways they've served their communities and made a positive impact on the world, students can earn one of 250 four-year achievement-based scholarships from the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation.  Finalists will also receive a trip to Atlanta for personal interviews and an awards ceremony.

Prize: 50 National Scholars awards of $20,000; 200 Regional Scholars awards of $10,000

Eligibility:: Current high school seniors (at the time of application) attending school in the United States with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0. Applicants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents planning to pursue a degree at an accredited college or university in the United States.

Deadline: October 31, 2009

Required Material: Completed online scholarship application, found on the Coca-Cola Scholars Program website. Semifinalists will be selected and notified in November, at which time they will be required to supply additional application material, including essays, letters of recommendation, and official transcripts.

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.


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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 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 Emily

Most high school seniors are now entering the last leg of their college search and selecting the colleges to which they plan to apply. Many are already beginning the college application process, especially if they plan to meet rapidly approaching early decision or early action deadlines at their top choice colleges. For students looking for a last bit of data with which to game the college admissions system, the National Association for College Admission Counseling has just released their annual State of College Admission report.  Included below are some highlights.

Competition: The report shows that, on the whole, while most colleges and universities aren't terribly selective, they appear to be becoming slightly more selective on average as they deal with larger numbers of students applying for admission. Between 2001 and 2007, the average acceptance rate at colleges and universities surveyed declined from 71.3 percent to 66.8 percent. Colleges largely seem to be expanding enrollment to meet increasing applications, though, with the growth in applications (24 percent) only slightly outpacing the growth in enrollment (20 percent) between 2002 and 2006.

The number of applications colleges received continued to grow in 2008, with approximately three out of four colleges reporting an increase in applications over the previous year. Students also appear to be applying to more colleges on the whole, with the number of students submitting 7 or more applications growing from 19 percent in 2007 to 22 percent in 2008. This growth in applications, especially multiple applications, has resulted in a decrease in yield (the percentage of admitted students who ultimately enroll) by about 4 percentage points. However, a student's odds of getting admitted off the wait list remain largely unchanged, hovering around 1 in 3 for 2008.

Selection Process: Also included in the survey were questions about the criteria college admission counselors considered most important when reviewing college applications. The following criteria were given "considerable importance" (the highest level of importance in the survey) by college counselors:

  • Grades in college prep classes (75% of counselors gave it considerable importance)
  • Strength of high school curriculum (62%)
  • Admission test scores, such as SAT and ACT (54%)
  • Class rank (19%)
  • Criteria that received less importance in consideration were race, first-generation college student status, gender, alumni ties, high school attended, state or county of residence, and ability to pay.  Inside Higher Ed has an article with some nice charts comparing the level of importance given to all of the above criteria.

The Take Away: While there's a lot of attention given to schools that are more selective, the majority of colleges admit most students who apply. While more students are kicking the college application process into overdrive and applying to seven or more schools, these students still make up a minority of the college-going crowd. Additionally, while applications are increasing everywhere, the pace at which early applications are increasing at early-action and early-decision schools seems to be slowing.

Overall, the admission process is only as frantic as you make it. However, if you are applying to a lot of highly selective schools and the 1-in-3 chance of getting off the wait list if you wind up on it scares you, make sure you're putting your all into your applications. Get going on those application essays early and make sure to leave time for feedback and revision. Also, you'll want to approach your counselor for any letters of recommendation early--another item noted in the NACAC report was an increased workload for college counselors nationwide.


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by Emily

High school students face a lot of pressure when it comes to planning their future. There's a persistent idea that if you don't have your entire life mapped out by the end of 11th grade, you're somehow doomed to a life of vagrancy or doing whatever job your parents pick out for you. If you're a high school senior still uncertain about choosing a college major and setting career goals, a career Q&A that appeared in the New York Times earlier this week might help. It primarily offers advice to parents, but can also serve as a road map for high school students who are thinking about potential college majors and post-college careers.

Focus on Strengths and Interests: Rather than starting out by exploring careers and seeing which one you can fit into, begin by thinking about what you're good at and what you like doing. Maybe you're amazing at math and like to build things in your spare time, or maybe you get joy out of helping your classmates edit their English papers. Think about what you like doing and what environments you prefer to work in. Then begin looking for careers that play to those strengths. By focusing on both what you enjoy and what you excel at, you stand a much better chance of finding a major or a job you can enjoy doing.

Research Potential Careers Now: Don't wait until your final year of college to decide whether or not you like the professions you found fascinating in high school. Look for opportunities to learn more about potential careers and the people who pursue them. Internships, volunteer experiences, and job shadowing can be great ways to do this. If you know any adults whose job sounds interesting, see if you can arrange to talk to them about it, observe them at work, or even help out after school. Consider reading books about careers you find interesting, as well, but be sure to balance glamorized or fictionalized accounts with real-world observations and experiences to avoid disappointment. Career exploration and research don't have to stop in high school, either. You don't need to go to college with a career plan set in stone, nor do you need to wait for your department or advisor to take the lead on preparing you for a career or showing you what options exist. Feel free to choose classes that interest you and find time outside of school to continue to learn about what people with your degree can do and take advantage of opportunities to gain exposure to and experience in fields you find interesting.

Don't Feel Forced: Finally, and most importantly, don't worry if nothing comes to mind right away, or you're still hearing nothing from your parents and teachers but "you're good at math! Be an accountant!" It's normal to be undecided for awhile or to change your mind later, and you likely have a lot more talents and interests than what you can recall immediately as a high school student. College students switch majors and adults switch careers and both groups do so successfully. So don't feel like you have to make a lifelong commitment to the first idea that appeals to you or those around you. If you keep your mind open and have some strategies in place, you'll eventually come across something that will stick.


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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

Whether it’s preparing students for college or providing vocational education, one of the purposes of high school is to help students transition from depending on their parents to living in the real world. Recently, more high schools have begun incorporating personal finance into their core curricula, hoping to prepare students to manage the money they make once they move out on their own.

Money management courses have been offered by high schools for decades, but they were often included in family and consumer sciences classes, often with vague and unappealing names like “independent living.” Many college-bound students would regard these as blow-off classes that couldn't possibly relate to their lives, while other students might avoid them out of fear of having their GPA torpedoed by demonstrating inadequate ability to sew, cook, or care for a baby doll.

However, widespread financial difficulties of the last few years have prompted an increased interest financial literacy among high school and college students who are hoping to avoid the mistakes they see their family and friends making. Financial literacy classes have also changed, focusing on a wider range of skills required for modern life, including taking out a mortgage and starting a retirement fund, rather than the checkbook-balancing and grocery shopping skills students may have found themselves learning just a few years ago.

As the value of personal finance education has become more apparent, states and school districts have begun incorporating it into their core curricula. According to the Council for Economic Education, 13 states require personal finance courses for high school graduation, up from seven in 2007, and a total of 34 states now require schools to implement content standards for personal finance education.

Taking personal finance classes in high school can prepare students to make smart financial choices right out of the gate, rather than learning the hard way in college or after. Students with a strong personal finance education may be able to avoid the financial pitfalls that trapped their parents, potentially helping to break the cycle of poverty for some, and helping others minimize suffering from credit cards or student loans acquired in college. Some school districts believe so strongly in playing a greater role in financial education that they’ve started guiding students toward healthier financial habits as early as kindergarten, according to an article in USA Today.

Colleges have also begun putting more emphasis on financial literacy. In the last few years, a number of colleges have added financial literacy courses, while others are offering or better publicizing financial counseling and advising services. One school, Syracuse University, has even tied financial aid to financial literacy for some students, offering grants to a selected group of students if they agree to participate in a financial education program.

Even if your high school or college doesn’t offer financial literacy training, it’s important to educate yourself about personal finance and build money management skills. Learning how to budget, pay bills on time and build your credit score can help you live a better and less stressful life before, during and after college.


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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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