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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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Study Abroad Overhaul

October 18, 2010

Study Abroad Overhaul

by Alexis Mattera

Studying abroad for a semester can be a rewarding experience for college students but do those benefits translate to potential employers? For a long time, they haven't – many have dismissed time overseas as an excuse to backpack and party in multiple countries – but Cheryl Matherly is setting out to change that.

Matherly, the associate dean for global education at the University of Tulsa, is designing a series of workshops and seminars to help students discuss their time studying abroad in a way meaningful to employers. The common perception – that studying abroad is a perk for wealthier students, typically white females in the humanities or social sciences packing their bags for Europe – is exactly what Matherly is attempting to reverse and show to employers that the students who studied abroad may actually be better assets to their companies. "The value isn't that you had the abroad experience itself," she says. "It's what you learned overseas that allows you to work in a cross-cultural environment. Students have to learn how to talk about that experience in terms of transferrable skills, how it relates to what an employer wants."

Much of the blame for this falls on the schools themselves, as the paths of study abroad and career counselors rarely cross, and Martin Tillman, a former associate director of career services at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, stresses the importance of deliberate efforts to build connections. The University of Michigan offers panel discussions each year on what it calls "international career pathways” and the Georgia Institute of Technology touts a Work Abroad Program to place students in international internships and jobs and advises them throughout the process. Some schools are even bringing in third-party providers, like Cultural Experiences Abroad, to help students translate their study-abroad experience into terms employers can understand. CEA has createda semester-long career development course which includes pre-arrival reading assignments, Webinars with career consultants and regular meetings that incorporate experiential exercises and journal writing.

I knew a number of people who studied abroad in college (I didn’t because I couldn't find the right program for my major and regret it to this day) and I’m sure they would have benefited from programs like the ones detailed above. Any graduates in the same boat? And for current college students considering studying in another country, do you think you’d take advantage of these resources if they were readily available to you?


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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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Young Alumni Give Undergrad a B-Plus

Nearly 90 Percent Say College Worth the Time, Money

December 15, 2010

Young Alumni Give Undergrad a B-Plus

by Alexis Mattera

They may not agree on politics, health care or Scarlett Johansson and Ryan Reynolds’ divorce but the consensus among recent college graduates is almost unanimous about one thing: Eighty-nine percent say they are happy they earned a college degree.

This statistic, found in a new report by the American Council on Education is surprising considering the economic climate but the 800 young alumni surveyed were more than pleased with their post-secondary educations. Close to 9 out of 10 respondents said undergrad was worth the time and money spent, and 85 percent reported their educations prepared them for their current jobs. The Chronicle of Higher Education and University of Wisconsin president Kevin P. Reilly both agree the findings will help combat the higher education budget slashing proposed by some government officials.

Some of the survey’s findings aren’t as overwhelming – only 62 percent of national respondents believed college generally prepared grads for working life – but the overall alumni satisfaction considerably strengthens the case for greater access to and increased quality of higher education. And as for the students who said they left college unprepared for the real world, an extra internship or semester abroad could have easily provided the experience they craved. College IS what you make of it, after all!


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Mind the Gap

Should You Take a Year Off?

December 30, 2010

Mind the Gap

by Alexis Mattera

The road to college – once thought to be straight and narrow – is detouring into uncharted territory. It was once expected for all high school seniors to matriculate to an institute of higher education the semester after they graduate but today, many students (and their parents) are considering the notion of taking a year off from formal schooling first.

But what do students do during this time, often called a gap year? Not catching up on “Extreme Couponing” or trying out online dating: Students use this time to volunteer abroad or build their resumes and schools are adopting formal programs allowing incoming freshmen to defer admission for a year to do so. According to the Wall Street Journal, "gap fairs" are becoming just as common as campus job expos. The results? Mixed. While most students end their gap years better prepared to attend college, some get so waylaid that they abandon a collegiate education all together.

It may sound tempting to take a year off to explore the unknown but there are a few confounding variables. First, the price tag is far from alluring – unless you feel $35,000 is a reasonable figure. (The upside is that costs can be defrayed by stipends, grants, research fellowships and scholarships or the agreement to work in a very remote area.) Next, the hazy direction of your future. I won't deny that your late teens and early 20s are the best times to gain life experience but if said experience is going to leave you in debt or questioning once-important educational goals, is taking the time off worth it?


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William and Kate Get an Early Wedding Present…and It Could Benefit You!

University of St. Andrews Creates a Scholarship in Royal Couple’s Honor

February 25, 2011

William and Kate Get an Early Wedding Present…and It Could Benefit You!

by Suada Kolovic

At Scholarships.com, we know scholarships and if you’re interested in attending the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, then we have the scholarship for you! The Scottish university where Prince William and Kate Middleton met and studied is presenting the royal alumni with an early wedding gift – a scholarship in their honor. The unnamed scholarship will pay about $115,000 in tuition costs, accommodation and living expenses for an undergraduate degree in science, arts, medicine or divinity. The award will be open to applicants of all nationalities who would have been unable to attend the university without such financial support.

"This will be the first scholarship of its kind at St. Andrews and a reflection of this university's commitment to ensure that we find, attract and support the most gifted students from anywhere in the world," said Louise Richardson, the university's principal and vice-chancellor. St. Andrews is Scotland’s first university and the third-oldest in the English-speaking world.

For those of you who aren’t lured by the idea of studying in the former halls of the royal couple, conduct a free scholarship search at Scholarships.com for scholarship opportunities in your own backyard.


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The NYU Global Network Gains a New Member

NYU Shanghai to Begin Enrollment in Fall 2013

March 28, 2011

The NYU Global Network Gains a New Member

by Alexis Mattera

There’s some big news coming out of Greenwich Village that will have an impact on students nearly 4,000 miles away. It’s NYU Shanghai and no, it doesn’t involve James Franco.

Late Sunday, the school announced plans to launch "a comprehensive research university with a liberal arts and science college" in Shanghai. This is a big deal for New York University, as the campus will be the first American university with full, independent authority in China and another step toward creating NYU's goal of a "global network university." (The school has a similar facility in Abu Dhabi.)

Application materials aren’t available just yet – the first students aren’t expected to be enrolled until the fall of 2013 (half from China and the other half from the rest of the world) and will be admitted based on factors beyond China’s national college admissions test – but nearly 3,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students could eventually call NYU Shanghai home. Like at its home campus, students will have access to a comprehensive liberal arts education, dormitories, athletic programs, student clubs and career counseling and but unique to the NYU global network university model, students can spend as many as three semesters studying in New York, in Abu Dhabi, or in one of the other NYU global sites that form what NYU calls its "circulatory system."

Will you be adding NYU Shanghai to your college search?


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Meet Scholarships.com’s Virtual Interns: Mariah Proctor

by Mariah Proctor

In my senior year of high school with the decision of where to go to university pressing, I informed my musical theatre teacher that I had been accepted to Brigham Young University. He smirked at me and said “I hope you’re not going there just for religion.” My religious affiliation is certainly not the only reason that I choose BYU, but the element of the experience – being in an environment with people that share your values and standards – cannot be ignored.

Jibing with your university’s culture and atmosphere are underestimated parts of the choose-the-location-for-the-next-chapter-of-your-life process and though moving to Provo, Utah from Washington, D.C. came with no shortage of culture shock, I think I’ve found a place for myself here.

That place includes a study of theatre and German, both of which make me laugh every time I tell someone about them because neither will provide me with any guarantees after college. But life has no guarantees so why not embrace passion over practicality? The business of creation (and I believe that’s what theatre is) puts you constantly in a position of vulnerability, but the emotional growth and most of all the empathy you develop is unparalleled by any other area of study.

The high school me would laugh (or cry) if she knew that I was pursuing a degree in German. I hated my high school German classes, but I love that studying a new language helps you to appreciate and understand your own language better and see that there is more than one lens through which to perceive the world. I’m headed to Vienna this summer for my third study abroad and my first chance to put my language to practice.

I have expensive taste in experience and Scholarships.com has helped me to take my education around the world. Come with me!


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Prepping for a Summer Abroad: Financial Edition

by Mariah Proctor

When people hear I’m getting ready to leave on my third study abroad, there are no questions asked – just resentful looks that say ‘Well, aren’t you the cultured little rich girl.’ Okay, maybe the looks aren’t that venomous but the idea holds true. If you are considering studying abroad but think you can’t afford it, listen up: You can.

My first study abroad was paid for in the way many people pay for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land: through money left by my grandparents. There was something tender about imagining my grandfather working hard as a schoolteacher and saving every penny – pennies that would one day take me to Jerusalem. But the inheritance-type funds had run dry when I was asked to go to Southeast Asia for a summer, so my second study abroad saw a more creative, financial-finagling me.

The first step in paying for a semester of international intrigue is finding funding from your home institution. Most international study programs have discount or program-specific scholarships. Also, make sure you fill out the FAFSA to get a Pell grant if you’re eligible. Not everyone knows those government pick-me-ups can be applied to international study...but now you do. Go after one!

There are study abroad-specific scholarships all over the Internet (Scholarships.com is rich with financial opportunities that can be applied). The Phi Kappa Phi Study Abroad Scholarship and the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship are two of the most well-known sources of study abroad funding, plus oodles of country-specific and area of study specific-grants.

If you are persistent about diversifying your sources of funding, studying abroad can be less expensive than staying on campus. The most important thing is not to let the cost of a plane ticket or the dollar-to-euro exchange rate scare you away from what will be a fulfilling experiences in your young life. There’s no rule that says only rich kids can travel; if you dream of pyramids or tropical breezes, stop dreaming and start doing. Bonus: Studying abroad provides rich material for grad school application essays.

Mariah Proctor is a senior at Brigham Young University studying theatre arts and German studies. She is a habitual globe-trotter and enjoys acoustic guitar, sunshine and elephant whispering. Once the undergraduate era of her life comes to an end, she plans to perhaps seek a graduate degree in film and television production or go straight to pounding the pavement as an actor and getting used to the sound of slammed doors. Writing has and always will be the constant in her whirlwind life story.


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Meet Scholarships.com Virtual Interns: Cameron Pybus

by Cameron Pybus

My name is Cameron Pybus and I’m privileged to be one of Scholarship.com’s newest virtual interns. I’ve just finished my junior year at Texas A&M and have also just returned from my study abroad semester in Italy. I am majoring in environmental design or architecture and plan to attend graduate school in the fall of 2012.

Architecture and Texas A&M go hand in hand for me because they are both goals I have imagined achieving for some time now. My two sisters and I value our dad’s artistic traits that he passed down to us; this is a big reason why I pursued architecture, as creativity has fueled much of my life. Through high school, I enjoyed various art studios and competitions that really opened my eyes to creative thinking. Being able to harness this creativity and design environments that invoke different visual responses is thrilling and I’ve enjoyed having the opportunity to apply this creativity. Texas A&M has been a tradition in my family and I’m proud to attend the same school that my great-grandfather, grandfathers and parents all did. Being a part of this legacy made A&M so much more special to me and an easy choice when selecting what school to attend.

I’m excited to be a virtual intern for Scholarships.com. I was also attracted to this internship because it’s a great way for future and current college students to gain different perspectives. Each virtual intern has a unique story and experience, allowing each reader to see these different possibilities in a college or university setting is important. It’s a unique opportunity to express things I’ve learned through my college years and hopefully you can find some of them useful. College is what you make it - learn from others and keep an open mind!


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