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by Emily

We're almost a full week into November, which for many students means the end of the semester is nigh. It's likely time to start working on those final papers, or at least generating some paper topic ideas. It's better to start sooner than later to avoid pulling all-nighters or finding out too late that the jerk in your English class who's writing a similar paper has checked out all the relevant books in the library before you get your chance.

But finding something new to say can be challenging, even for graduate students and undergraduate students in upper-division college courses. If the usual strategies aren't working, we've come across a couple of links that can help humanities students generate ideas for academic prose, or at least provide some much-needed levity while you're agonizing over your coursework. Note: you may not want to actually use these to write your papers, since your professor or TA is likely to see some of his or her own writing reflected in them.

The University of Chicago writing program has a tool to help both students and career academics craft a sophisticated argument without backbreaking labor: Make Your Own Academic Sentence. By simply selecting from drop-down menus of current buzzwords in literary theory, you can stumble upon a unique academic argument, and possibly lay the groundwork for a final paper! If you're not sure of just what concepts to piece together, some samples are provided by the website's Virtual Academic and his counterpart the Virtual Critic.

If you've got a great academic sentence, but no research area to apply it to, a recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education can help with that. James Lambert's article "Heteronormity is Hot Right Now" provides some helpful (and hopefully humorous) guidelines for humanities grad students on declaring their research interests (and possibly finding topics for their first seminar papers). Both of the above are also great for answering that question about your academic interests in your grad school application essays.

As a bonus for grad school applicants, the above links are likely to teach you some new (and obscure) vocabulary, so that's even more of a time-saver for studying for the GRE. However, if nerd humor is not your taste, but you are concerned about getting papers started early and beating the finals week frenzy, you may want to check out our college resources on study skills.


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Are You Ready for Finals?

November 18, 2009

by Agnes Jasinski

Although you're probably ready to sit down and enjoy a big Thanksgiving meal, you may be feeling some dread about what you'll be facing once you return to college after that turkey coma. Finals Week Many of you will have been procrastinating up to this point, falling behind on the study skills you honed in your high school AP classes to prepare for this moment. Luckily, it's not too late.

If you're really behind, chances are you may need to pull an all-nighter or two to catch up with your studies. Do it.  Even if you're just a freshman getting used to your first year on campus, you should still focus on making your grades the best they can be. There are still a ton of scholarships out there if you're a sophomore, junior, even a graduate student, so don't assume the loot you won to pay for your first year is out of your reach once you complete your freshman year.

If you're in better shape than I was in college, you haven't fallen too far behind and actually have notes from most of your lectures. Make a list and check it twice of all that you need to do before finishing off the semester. Talk to your professors if things aren't clear before final exam time to feel more prepared and more confident going in to those testing sessions. If you've been fairly responsible up to this point, you probably don't need to be reminded not to cram, but don't catch the procrastination bug now.

Here are some of our other favorite tips on improving your study skills in time for college exams:

  • Stay focused. If you're less distracted at the library, go to the library. Dorm rooms and apartments are full of potential time-wasters - TV, video games, snacks, chatty roommates. If you can't study in silence, bring your books and headphones to a less distracting place.
  • Figure out your learning style. What may have worked for you in high school may not be relevant anymore. You probably have more work to do, with more opportunities for distraction and non-academic related activities. Figure out how you manage your time best and what makes you the most successful learner, because the study method that works for your friend down the hall may not be the one that will work best for you.
  • Keep everything. That syllabus you used as a coaster the first week of class? It could have some important information about final exam week buried in between the professor's introduction and the required textbooks. File away every handout you get from every class, because they could be useful later. Toss them once the course is over and you've turned in that exam.
  • Don't panic. If this is your first experience with finals week, put things in perspective. Yes, you'll need to do well so that you're around for finals next semester, but panic will only stress you out and potentially cause you procrastinate even more. Focus, breathe, and take care of yourself. You want to be feeling healthy and alert when you're staring down at that college exam, and, as prepared as you're able to be.

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by Scholarships.com Staff

It's the day before Thanksgiving. As the day progresses, your college campus will increasingly take on the look and feel of a ghost town-it may already be one if you're one of those lucky students whose school didn't even hold classes today.

However, gorging themselves on home cooking is not the only thing college students are anticipating this weekend. Right on the heels of Thanksgiving comes finals week for most college students in the country. So while you're packing for the weekend with your family and rushing to join the mass exodus from the dorm, you may find yourself throwing in some homework along with the laundry you plan to do at home and you may find yourself hurrying to finish a paper before you run out the door.

Balancing school and the rest of your life is hard enough, and it becomes even harder when holidays with the folks are involved. Here's this four-day stretch of no classes, and unless you're stuck working retail or food service, no work, and a sense that you can do anything you want with it. It can be tempting to put off your homework in the preceding days, telling yourself that you've got all weekend to get caught up-and even ahead-on what's been assigned before finals are due. Equally tempting, however, is the impulse to take the weekend as a vacation you've earned, focusing on football and catching up with friends and family, and spending most of the weekend in a food coma.

So how do you enjoy your Thanksgiving weekend and get your homework done?

Know your environment.

When I started college, I didn't yet have a laptop and the family computer was in the living room, right next to where my relatives would congregate for Thanksgiving. We still had dial-up and ancient word-processing software that effectively made completing a paper at home impossible. Yet I'd still schedule not only writing but research for Thanksgiving weekend. If your home environment is difficult to work in, don't plan on working at home. If there are things you absolutely need to get done, think of a place you can go to do them, and a time you can make that trip (the coffee shop next to the mall on Black Friday? Not a good work environment, either).

Know your schedule.

Will you spend Thursday at a relative's house hours from home? Does your mom insist on dragging you along for the 4 AM stampede at stores on Friday? Do you have high school friends clamoring for a piece of your time on Saturday or Sunday? If you have other scheduling obligations to contend with, planning to pencil in a 10-page paper or an intensive cramming session might not be a good idea. If your homework needs to be done, and needs to be done now, you may need to see who you can put on hold. An unfortunate part of the college lifestyle is the realization that you may need to disappoint someone to make time to pass your classes. Accept this reality, but be smart about it and don't burn bridges.

Look ahead.

So you have all this homework to do and not a lot of time to do it in. What do you do? Look at the due dates for your assignments you'd scheduled for the weekend, as well as your school obligations when you return next week. Is there time to work this stuff in before it's due and still enjoy your holiday weekend? Are there other, less important tasks you can potentially rearrange? I won't advocate neglecting homework or skipping class to spend quality time with friends and family, but I won't be so naïve as to say it doesn't happen. Be smart about your decisions and be aware of their long-range impact. If the class you plan to skip on Tuesday to write your paper is one more than you're allowed to skip without dropping a letter grade or failing the class, then it might be wiser to attend it, and get your paper done this weekend--even if it means pulling an all-nighter or two.

Finally, if you're nervous about all the work you have to do, take some time today and make a plan, possibly while you're stuck in a car, a train, or the airport. Having a plan of action can keep you from freaking out about your homework while you should be enjoying a meal with your family and a well-deserved break from school.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A new study surveying community college students in Virginia shows that more attention should be paid by those schools, and perhaps at schools across the country, in making sure students are getting the proper guidance when making course decisions and are being placed in the appropriate classrooms.

The study, from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College, tracked more than 24,000 students entering Virginia's community colleges in 2004. It found that most of those students never completed, or even reached, the important "gatekeeper courses" necessary to complete most fields of study. Gatekeeper courses are typically prerequisites that students must take - and pass - before moving on to more advanced courses that may have more to do with their intended degrees. These are considered the fundamental college courses, often in subjects like math and English, that often make up general education requirements at four-year institutions. Most of those students surveyed never made it past the remedial courses they were placed in when their academic records suggested core courses would be too intense for their first semesters on campus.

Academic credit is usually not awarded for remedial coursework. A long-standing criticism of remedial courses has been that the classes do little in the way of preparing students for college-level work. The study found mixed results on the issue. Students who were placed in remedial courses and completed them did just as well in the gatekeeper courses as those who didn’t need remediation, but the researchers suggest getting rid of remedial courses would be a mistake. Instead, students should take remedial courses at the same time as gatekeeper courses, to use what they learn in remediation in courses that may be more difficult for them.

So what kind of supports do community college students across the country need in place? Schools should consider having additional supports for those targeted for remediation. While those students may need more help in terms of developmental coursework, they should also be introduced to college-level coursework as soon as possible, as the study found that students who needed multiple remedial courses rarely reached the gatekeeper courses.

Schools should also maintain the financial supports many community college students rely on to attend those institutions. The new NBC comedy "Community" plays with the idea of a stereotypical community college and stereotypical community college population, but the reasons college-bound students choose two-year schools are much more complex, and often not as funny, than the show allows. Most often, cost considerations and personal responsibilities come into play when students are considering alternatives to four-year schools in their college search. If you're planning on attending a community college for your post-secondary education, make sure you and your study skills are prepared for the rigors of a college education just like any traditional four-year student so that you're successful, and that you know of the financial aid options available to you to pay for that education.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Stressed about finals? Pet a puppy. That's what one college is urging students to do to relieve their stress over finals week.

A student group at Chapman University will station a group of puppies outside the school's main library next week as part of operation "Furry Friends for Finals," inviting studious students passing by to take a minute to pet the pooches. The group, the Active Minds Club, promotes mental health, and believes that the "puppy therapy" will help their worried peers relax a bit, and maybe even smile.

In an article in the Los Angeles Times today, Jennifer Heinz, an organizer of the event and a Chapman University sophomore, described the way her poodle-Maltese mix helped her keep things in perspective, even during the most stressful times of her college experience. "Dogs are always so happy and want to play, and that helps make you happier," she said in the article.

Using animals to relieve stress isn't a new idea. There's a lot of research out there showing that therapy dogs in particular have a marked positive effect on the people in hospitals, nursing homes, or in crisis situations they're "hired" to comfort. Dogs have also been used in motivating children to read, improving the communication skills of the disabled, and generally improving the quality of life of the sick and depressed. The dogs providing Chapman's student population with some much-needed puppy love include 10 Malteses, Yorkies, pugs and dachshunds, and will be provided by a pet group based in Torrance.

What kinds of things is your college doing to help you de-stress during finals? Many schools have events set up post-finals as a motivator for students once they reach the finish line, or host special meals outside of the usual cafeteria fare for those too busy studying to make decisions on what they'll be having for dinner. If you're worried about the studying getting the best of you, look through our site for tips on beating the finals week frenzy. It may seem right like you'll never get everything done that you need to, but winter break is just around the corner, so take a breather, get yourself organized, and pet a puppy if you have to.

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Just for Fun , Tips

Tags: Just for Fun , Study Skills , Tips

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by Agnes Jasinski

Two articles in The Dallas Morning News this week take a look at trends happening across the state regarding Advanced Placement course offerings. One article looked at data evaluating Texas high school students that showed more than half fail the AP exams, where passing marks of a 3 on a 1-5 scale are typically required to receive college credit for the courses. Another article looked at inequities in AP choices across the region. Some schools offered students more than 30 courses to choose from; others offered a less than impressive slate.

AP courses have been growing in popularity over the last few years, as guidance counselors urge excelling students to take more of the courses to get more college credit, and, in most cases, save on the college costs of many general education requirements if they end up passing those final exams. AP classes often mean a more impressive academic transcript, and at a time when college admissions are more competitive, any boost on that transcript might be worth the effort.

But as the data from Texas suggests, questions remain about the shortcomings of the program. Supporters of the courses say that with the growing number of students taking AP classes, it is only natural for there to be a larger number of students failing their comprehensive AP exams. However, even the administrators of the AP program agree that more should be done to address the low number of college-level offerings at lower-income high schools. According to The Dallas Morning News, schools in low-income districts don't have the funds to not only cover the costs of an extensive AP program, but attract educators to teach those courses. Many of those schools have decided to offer college-level through other means, such as partnerships with local community colleges.

AP classes aren't for everyone. While your GPA may see a boost if you get a high grade in the course, if you don't do well, you could hurt your academic record more than help it. Still, there are a number of advantages. We've already mentioned the cost benefits. 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. A taste of college-level courses could also better prepare you for your first year on campus. So if you're willing to challenge yourself and put the work in that will be required for you to ace those final AP exams, consider your school's offerings. If those offerings are slim, look outside your high school. AP isn't the only way to earn college credit and prepare yourself for college.


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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 Agnes Jasinski

A recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research has shown what many among the older generation may have been saying all along. College students today just don’t study as much as they did.

According to the paper, compared to their campus counterparts in 1961, the average full-time college student in 2003 spent at least 10 fewer hours per week on academic work (attending classes, studying, and completing assignments). The paper, titled The Falling Time Cost of College: Evidence from Half a Century of Time Use Date, included analysis from two California researchers of data from both 1961 and the more recent National Survey of Student Engagement. <

The paper showed that there has been a decline in the number of hours spent on academic work since that first study in the 1960s. Students in 1961 spent about 40 hours per week in class and studying; about 24 hours of that was spent hitting the books specifically. Students today spend about 27 hours per week on academic work; 13 hours of that was spent studying and working on homework.

So are college students just lazier? The research doesn’t really point to an answer, but they did describe which factors probably weren’t the behind the decrease in study time. The declines can’t be explained by any one reason alone, like work or choice of college major, according to the paper, or "compositional changes" in the students themselves or the colleges they’re attending. The paper also showed that study times declined across all student groups and populations, meaning one group didn’t account for the decline more over another, skewing the data. The paper did suggest the way students study may be different.

Why do you think students are studying less? Articles on the paper since have suggested that college students simply have less time for school than in previous generations. They work more, spread themselves thin, and engage in more extracurricular activities to make themselves more competitive on the job market after graduation. Or it could be a technology issue. The Internet and social media may have made completing assignments easier, or, in a more negative light, have become such a distraction to students that it is  much easier to spend time online (and procrastinate, pull all-nighters) than open up a textbook. You’ve already heard about the hard time students have unplugging from their phones, computers, and social networking sites. What do you think?


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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

A report released yesterday shows that college students today study about 10 hours less on average than college students in the 1960s. The report explains further that technology isn’t the cause of less time hitting the books or the library, as has been traditionally believed. The researchers say it’s up to the colleges to give students more work and to enforce academic standards and requirements to boost study times.

The American Enterprise Institute report, “Leisure College, USA,” looked at a number of national surveys over the last several decades to come to their conclusions. In contrast to previous theories over why students study less these days—some students choose tougher college majors, attend “easier” colleges, or work part- or full-time while in school—the researchers say the evidence points to other factors at play. Achievement standards at post-secondary schools have fallen, they said, and there’s been an overall shift in “college culture” to allow for more leisure time.

According to the study:

  • In 1961, the average full-time student at a four-year college studied 24 hours per week; today, college students study about 14 hours per week.
  • Although students are spending more time working than they did before, the number of hours spent studying fell for all kinds of students, including those who didn’t have a part- or full-time job on their schedules in addition to their coursework.
  • Employers seem to care less about students’ GPAs while in college and more about an applicant’s individual experiences and college choices. This gives students less incentive to study hard for those good grades.
  • Students seem to be spending more time on applying to college and getting accepted to the college of their choice; once they’re there, the pressure seems to be off.
  • How's this for incentive? Students who study more in college earn more in the long run.

As with any report like this, it’s important to consider that these are theories of the researchers that could be explained in a number of different ways. Why do you think students are studying less? Should professors be tougher on their students? If you need some tips to stay motivated and meet your own personal academic goals, there are things you can do to stay on track. Check out our Study Skills section to learn more about topics like how you can become a more efficient student by studying smart, how you can feel more prepared going into a college exam, and how to tackle that first all-nighter, among a number of other topics. Have more tips? Share them with us!


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