Confessions from a College Scholarship Winner August 19th, 2014

Kristina Ellis earned more than $500,000 in college scholarships to pay for college. The scholarships covered her college bills from her undergraduate degree program all the way to her doctoral degree. Last year, she wrote a book, Confessions from a Scholarship Winner. She was featured on several talk shows.

Here’s a YouTube clip from a TV interview with Kristina, where she shares tips for how to get scholarships, finding your “story” to use in scholarship application essays and more:

Scholarship Tips
Get additional tips from My College Guide on finding college scholarships.

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What Students Should Know About Credit Cards August 14th, 2014
Credit Cards

What Students Should Know About Credit Cards

When you go to college, chances are you’ll get bombarded with credit card offers. Many times, sign up tables will be set up on college campuses offering you a free T-shirt or free meal just for signing up.

When budgets are tight (and the tuition bill comes due, plus a new version of your favorite video game is being released) it’s easy to think of credit cards as the answer to your money woes. In fact, a 2013 study by Fidelity Investments found that the average college student graduates with $3,000 in credit card debt.

The decisions you make now regarding credit cards can affect your life for many years to come. So, here’s what you should know before signing up for a credit card.

1. Good (or bad) credit counts. Having a credit card isn’t a bad thing because it helps you build a credit history. But your credit (good or bad) will impact your life. In college (or graduate school), it may impact your ability to get a private student loan to cover tuition, room and board costs.

After you graduate, employers may request permission to run a credit check before they decide to hire you. When you want to rent an apartment, your landlord will run a credit check to see if you’ll be a good tenant. When you want to buy a house, your bank will use your credit score to determine if they’ll lend you the money, how much and for what interest rate.

2. Some cards charge an annual fee. Having a credit card isn’t “free.” You still have to pay for what you buy, and some cards may charge you an annual fee (from about $50 to more than $100 per year) just to have the card in your wallet. If you do sign up for a credit card, avoid ones that have an annual fee.

3. Shop around. Be wary of credit card companies that push the card on you—offering freebies for signing up or using other high-pressure sales tactics. By shopping around, you can compare credit cards online to make sure you get the best credit card deal for you. When shopping around, look for low APRs (annual percentage rate—aka the amount of interest you’ll pay if you don’t pay off your balance in full each month).

4. Don’t charge more than you can pay (or more than your limit). Again, having a credit card doesn’t give you “free” money. You must pay your bill each month. And you can’t spend more than the card’s credit limit. If you don’t pay your bill (or you exceed the limit), you’ll have to pay interest and possibly additional fees. That means the $200 dress you bought for a campus party, could end up costing you $224.80 and take you 15 months to pay off (assuming your interest rate is 18 percent and you pay the minimum balance of $15 per month). The debt can really add up fast.

For more advice on using credit cards, check out Purdue University’s Becoming Credit-Wise article, as well as Consumer Union’s  credit card tips for college students (PDF).

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5 Resources to Help You Understand College Student Loans August 7th, 2014
College Loans

College Student Loan Resources

Do terms like subsidized, unsubsidized, FAFSA, EFC, annual percentage rate, capitalization, consolidation and forbearance make your head spin? Well, you’re not alone.

As you prepare for college, it’s a good idea to become acquainted with these important student loan terms and resources for student loans. To help you understand more about college student loans (what they are, how to get them, how you pay them back and more), we’ve rounded up a list of five excellent resources for you to check out.

FederalStudentAid

The FederalStudentAid website is a good place to start to learn about your student loan options. It explains the types of federal student loans available (direct subsidized, direct unsubsidized, Perkins Loans, PLUS Loans), how much money you can borrow and how to get a federal student loan. It also has a glossary of terms and tips on avoiding financial aid scams.

StudentLoans.gov

StudentLoans.gov is the federal government’s student loan website. This is the place you’ll go when you want to get your federal student aid personal identification number (PIN) and get info on filing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It’s also where you’ll go to manage your loan after you get a federal student loan. (Also check out FAFSA.gov site for more details.)

The Project on Student Debt

The Project on Student Debt is an initiative from the Institute for College Access and Success, an organization that works to increase public understanding of the implications of student debt on families, the economy and society. Under the site’s Resources tab, you can access information on special topics such as net price calculators, private student loans and Pell Grants. It also has a glossary of financial aid terms and advice for you about borrowing money for college, including questions to ask before taking out a private student loan.

Fastweb.com

Although Fastweb.com may be best known for its college scholarship listings, it also has information about student loans as well as helpful tools and resources, including a college budgeting calculator, info on the FAFSA and info on private student loans. Check out its Quick Guide to Financial Aid Terms (PDF) and its financial aid videos on maximizing financial aid.

FinAid.org

FinAid.org walks you through all the types of student and parent loans available, private educational loans, student loan consolidation and more. It also provides a glossary of financial aid terms. Plus, check out the Loan Payment Calculator to estimate your monthly payments once you graduate from school.

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College Major of the Month: Fine Arts August 5th, 2014
Art

College Major of the Month: Fine Arts

Did you know you can make a living with a fine arts degree? Today creativity and art skills are needed in many businesses and careers. We invite you to take a closer look at this month’s College Major of the Month: Fine Arts.

What are the fine arts? A college major in fine arts can prepare you for a career as a professional artist or for a variety of design fields. Fine arts encompass disciplines such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, ceramics, drawing and photography. The fine arts are the foundational skills for related majors such as graphic design, interior design, fashion design and other arts and design fields.

A fine arts degree could lead to a career as a professional artist, a museum or gallery director, illustrator or art director for a publication. With the appropriate teaching licensure as required by your state, it could lead to a career as an art teacher.

What education and experience is required for fine arts majors? While formal schooling is not required for self-employed artists, even they can benefit from a college education. Self-employed artists must understand how to run a business, so taking courses not only in art to improve your skills, but also in business and/or marketing, will help you throughout your career.

If you prefer to work for a company (such as museum or publisher), a bachelor’s degree is typically required or preferred. For specialized art-related fields, such as medical illustration, a master’s degree may be required. To become an art teacher, you need to take courses that meet teaching licensure requirements in your state.

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits fine arts programs at colleges and universities.

How much money do fine arts majors make? In 2013, the average starting salary for students with visual and performing arts majors was $35,600, according to the National Association of College and Employers’ September 2013 Salary Survey. In 2012, the median pay for fine artists was $44,380 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The 2014 Creative Group Salary Guide (which has more specialized creative job salary data), reports a low-end annual starting salary for general illustrators is $39,500, medical illustrators is $64,500 and technical illustrators is $67,500.

How should I prepare in high school to major in fine arts? Take as many art courses as you can. You may even want to take computer courses to learn programs that artists use such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Flash. Also consider taking business courses, especially it it’s your goal to be a professional, self-employed artist.

Most fine arts colleges will require you to show a portfolio of your artwork for admission and/or to receive merit scholarships. To help create a great portfolio, check out events run by the National Portfolio Day Association. At these events, which typically occur between September and January each year, you can have your artwork reviewed, talk with colleges about their fine arts programs and learn about professional careers in art.

What college scholarships are available for fine arts majors? Many colleges offer merit-based college scholarships based on a review of your artwork portfolio. Ask colleges you’re interested in attending what specific scholarships they have for art students.

Other local and national organizations also offer college scholarships. In particular, check with art supply manufacturers, museums, arts-related nonprofit organizations, arts associations and creative businesses (such as advertising or design agencies) for scholarship opportunities.

For example, Krylon offers a nationwide $1,000 Krylon Clear Choice Art Scholarship each year and the Virginia Museum of Fine Art offers $4,000 scholarships to undergraduates studying art at a Virginia institution.

Learn more about fine arts majors in the My College Guide Sophomore Edition or get more advice and information on choosing a major.

Who We Are: Information you can trust. For 20 years My College Guide has produced an annual magazine chock full of free college info for high-achieving high school sophomores and another edition just for high-achieving juniors! Check out our participating colleges.

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College Scholarships Ending in August 2014 July 31st, 2014
Scholarship Money

Apply for College Scholarships

Summertime is a great time to apply for college scholarships. This month, we’ve rounded up several scholarships for you to consider, with awards ranging from $500 to $10,000. So, what are you waiting for? Take a look at these college scholarships with deadlines in August 2014, and start writing your application essays (or making your application video) today.

ARTBA Student Transportation Video Contest: High school (grades 9-12) and college students can create and submit a video to apply for this $500 scholarship. Videos need to be about any aspect of transportation in the United States. Deadline: August 1

Nurses Make a Difference Scholarship: This $1,000 scholarship, offered by Cascade Healthcare Solutions, is for students currently enrolled in or accepted to a school with an undergraduate nursing program. A 300-word essay about how nurses can make a difference in people’s lives is required. Deadline: August 1

Thermo Scientific Pierce Scholarship Program: Current college students majoring in biology, chemistry, biochemistry or a related life science field can apply for this scholarship. Two $10,000 scholarships and four $5,000 scholarships will be awarded. Deadline: August 1

Choice Home Warranty College Scholarship: High school seniors can write a 1,500-word essay on one of three home-related topics (what home means to you, the home of the future or homes for all) to apply for this $1,000 scholarship. Deadline: August 15

Race to Inspire Scholarship: Are you a runner? If so, this $500 scholarship could be for you! If you’ve run in a 5K, 10K, half marathon or marathon, simply write a “race story” between 1,000 and 2,000 words about what inspired you to run, what challenges you faced and what you learned from the experience. Deadline: August 15

Varsity Tutors College Scholarship Contest: Varsity Tutors offer monthly $1,000 scholarship competitions. To apply this month, write an essay on a “personal experience when failure made you stronger.” Deadline: August 15

Atlanta Dental Spa Scholarship: No need to live in Atlanta (or Georgia) to apply for this $1,000 scholarship. High school juniors and seniors, as well as current college students, can apply by submitting an essay (up to 1,000 words) on a difficult challenge you’ve faced, where you see yourself in five years and how the scholarship will contribute to your goals. Deadline: August 18

Clubs of America Scholarship Award for Career Success: To apply for this $1,500 scholarship, write an essay about how your current courses will help you achieve success in your career. Essays must be 800 words minimum, and YouTube submissions are optional. This scholarship is for current college students. Deadline: August 31

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Awesome Stuff for Your College Dorm Room July 24th, 2014
Moving to College

Awesome Stuff for Your College Dorm Room

What should you take with you to college? As you’re putting together your list of the usual items like extra-long sheets, a bedspread, shower caddy, clothes, laptop, power strip and mini-fridge, consider these additional 12 items that you may not have thought of and that you’ll find helpful all semester long.

Portable laptop safe: While we’d like to believe everyone’s honest, the fact is that theft can happen on college campuses. Protect your laptop with a portable laptop safe. The safe holds laptops that are up to 15-inches in size, and can be secured to immovable furniture. Price: $56.96 from Dormco.com

Over-the-door shoe organizer: Even if you don’t have a lot of shoes, this over-the-door shoe organizer may come in handy. Not only can you store shoes in it, but you could also use it to store hair brushes, makeup, curling irons, lotions, first aid items, hair accessories, jewelry, small kitchen utensils (forks, knives, spoons), extra school supplies (such as scissors, pens, pencils, tape, Post-It Notes) or even snacks. Price: $13.33 from Dormco.com

Hi-Light clip light: Clip this light to your lofted bed or desk hutch for extra light where you need it. Choose from a variety of colors. Price: $39 from PBteen.com

Bedside storage caddy: Keep your smartphone, glasses, tissues and more close, even if you’re up in a loft. This bedside storage caddy has six compartments and attaches to the side of your bed. Price: $8.99 from UniversityHousewares.com

Bed clip fan: No air conditioning? No problem! Get a mini (6-inch) fan with a clip, so you can position it near your bed or desk to keep you cool as you study or sleep. Price: $12.98 from Dormco.com

Mini-futon: Need somewhere else to sit other than your desk chair or bed? Check out this dorm-sized mini-futon. It comes in several colors. Price: $49.99 from Dormco.com

3-Tier towel rack: What are you going to do with your wet towel when you’re done with your shower? Consider using an over-the-door towel rack so your towel can dry out between showers. Price: $8.57 from Dormco.com

Laundry duffel bag: Your large laundry basket or hamper may be nice to have in your dorm room, but what are you going to use to haul your dirty clothes all the way down to the laundry room in the dorm basement? This laundry duffel bag has a drawstring top and a shoulder strap to make hauling your laundry easier (and to keep everything from falling out). Price: $9.50 from Dormco.com

Clothes drying rack: Not all clothes are dryer-safe (think: sweaters and silk shirts, or delicate or embellished fabrics). A foldable drying rack is just what you need for those “line dry” or “lay flat to dry” items. You can fold the rack and hide it away when you’re not using it, and pull it out and set it up when you need to air-dry an item. Price: $17.77 from Dormco.com

Delicates wash bag: Doing laundry at college can be expensive! We know you’ll want to cram as much into a single load as possible. These lingerie and sweater wash bags are great for protecting clothing made of delicate fabrics (sweaters, undergarments and anything else that requires the “gentle cycle”). You can throw them in with the rest of the wash, without worrying about those items getting snagged or ruined. Price: $4.91 for 3 bags from Dormco.com

Cordless hand vacuum: Don’t forget you’ll need to clean your dorm room at some point, too! A small hand vacuum, like the Black and Decker Compact Cordless HandVac, can help you clean up most messes. Price: $29.99 from UniversityHousewares.com

Dorm tool kit: How many of your electronics items require a screwdriver to access the batteries? You never know when tools will come in handy, whether it’s for putting together your loft, changing electronics batteries or building a project for class. This Deluxe 30-piece Dorm Toolkit Kit has all the tools you might need. Price: $39.99 from UniversityHousewares.com

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Who We Are: Information you can trust. For 20 years My College Guide has produced an annual magazine chock full of free college info for high-achieving high school sophomores and another edition just for high-achieving juniors! Check out our participating colleges.

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5 Questions to Ask on College Campus Tours July 22nd, 2014
College Tour

5 Questions to Ask During a Campus Visit

Last year, we brought you information on three questions to ask during a college campus tour. This year, we’re bringing five more questions to ask, so you can get more out of your college campus tours and make sure you choose the right college for you.

1. Will I take any classes in my college major during my freshman year?

At many colleges, your first year of school will include taking mostly general education classes. However, at some colleges, you’ll get to take courses in your college major, such as Engineering 101 or Psychology 101, right away. The earlier you can take courses in your major, the earlier you can know if you made the right choice or if you want to change your major.

2. How easy or difficult is it to get into classes I’ll need to graduate?

At college, some courses aren’t offered every semester. Some courses are extremely popular and are hard to get into. Some entry-level courses in certain popular majors may fill up quickly. On your campus visit, you may be able to meet with an academic advisor in your intended major. Ask which courses fill up quickly, and how they’ll help you get into classes you need to graduate if a course is full by the time you register.

3. Do most students stay on campus or leave campus on weekends?

The answer to this question will tell you a lot of about what campus life is like. If most students live nearby and go home on weekends, your options for weekend fun on campus may be limited. If students tend to stick around, it likely means there’s lots to do on campus and in the town where your university is located.

4. Who can get into the residence halls?

Your safety is important, and each school handles access to residence halls differently. At some colleges, any visitors in the residence halls need to check in with security or a Resident Assistant (RA) at a hall desk. Some colleges lock external residence hall doors after certain hours so only residents can get in with a key (or key card). Other colleges may have more relaxed policies. Make sure you know what to expect so you can feel comfortable living on campus.

5. What will the career services offices do to help me get a job or internship?

Internships during college are increasingly important to help you land your first job. But to land an internship or a job, you may need help or advice from your university’s career services office. Ask what resources are available to help you find jobs: Does the school have a job search board or connections with employers in the community? Where have they helped students find internships or jobs in the past? What workshops or one-on-one training are offered to help you craft your resume, write cover letters or prepare for interviews?

Who We Are: Information you can trust. For 20 years My College Guide has produced an annual magazine chock full of free college info for high-achieving high school sophomores and another edition just for high-achieving juniors! Check out our participating colleges.

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6 Cool College Classes You’ll Want to Take July 17th, 2014
College Classes

Cool College Classes

English. Calculus. Physics. These may be some of the classes you would expect to take at college, and they probably don’t sound too exciting. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting classes to take.

Check out these unique college courses, and look in your own college’s course catalog for similarly interesting courses you could take.

Circus Arts: At Triton College (IL), you can learn skills such as juggling, swinging trapeze, web rope, unicycling, clowning, and more. The class meets twice a week in the evenings during the spring semester and performs at the end of the semester in the Triton Trouper Circus. This course is considered a continuing education course (which means it won’t count toward degree requirements) and it’s sponsored by the school’s Office of Student Life.

Feminist Perspectives: Politicizing Beyoncé: If you’re a Beyoncé fan, you’ll love this undergraduate course at Rutgers University (NJ). According to the course description, “the course will attempt to think about our contemporary U.S. society and its current classes, racial, gender and sexual politics through the music and career of Beyoncé.”

Golf Course Management: Love to golf? This undergraduate course at Tarleton State University (TX) may be just for you! Study turfgrass, greens management, water conservation, course setup, personnel management and budgeting. We hear there are field trips, too. The course is part of the university’s Environmental and Agricultural Management bachelor’s degree program.

The Hunger Games: Young Adult Dystopia in Popular Culture: Mount Holyoke College (MA) is offering this online course on The Hunger Games this summer. The course focuses on how this book “… understands, interrogates, and shapes young adulthood for a contemporary audience,” and teaches you important critical reading and effective writing skills.

Introduction to Wines: Become a wine snob (or at least learn what to order at a business meeting after college). Cornell University’s (NY) School of Hotel Administration offers this popular two-credit course each semester to juniors and seniors. You can learn what all the terms on a wine label mean, as well as about wine-producing regions of the world, wine evaluation techniques, factors that influence production, food and wine pairing, wine etiquette, and responsible consumption.

Zombies: Can’t miss an episode of “The Walking Dead”? This class at San Diego State University (CA) may be just the right course for you. During the course, you can discuss zombie films, video games and texts. But don’t think this is an easy A: a midterm, final research paper and a multimedia presentation are just a few of the course requirements.

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Who We Are: Information you can trust. For 20 years My College Guide has produced an annual magazine chock full of free college info for high-achieving high school sophomores and another edition just for high-achieving juniors! Check out our participating colleges.

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How to Graduate College in Four Years July 10th, 2014
Graduate

How to Graduate College in Four Years

Did you know that only 59 percent of students graduate college with a bachelor’s degree within six years? For each additional semester it takes to graduate, the more money you’ll spend on tuition, room and board, and other fees (like textbooks).

Your ability to graduate from college in four years depends largely on the requirements of your college major, the size of your school (and how difficult or easy it is to get in the classes you need), your own motivation, and whether you decide to participate in a study abroad or other extra programs.

If you’ve always envisioned yourself graduating in four years (or if your college budget requires it), use these tips to get to your college graduation on time (or sooner).

1. Earn college credit in high school. There are lots of ways to earn college credit in high school, from taking (and passing) AP tests to enrolling in approved courses that count for both high school and college credit.

In addition, some colleges let you “test out” of taking certain general education courses (such as English, math or a foreign language) based on your college entrance exam test scores or through taking proficiency or placement exams once you’re on campus.

Ask your academic advisor (after you arrive at college) or admission counselor (before you go to college) for details.

2. Avoid changing your major. Changing your major once or twice early in your freshman or sophomore years shouldn’t set you back too far, but changing your major once you’re a junior or senior (or changing your major multiple times), can start impacting your time to graduation.

The reason? Each major has different requirements and prerequisite courses. So, if you change your major from say English to engineering, chances are not too many major-specific credits will count toward meeting your new major’s degree requirements. And that means it’ll take you more time to complete your degree.

3. Avoid transferring to a new college. Sometimes it takes attending a college for a semester to figure out it’s just not the right place for you. And that’s okay. But if you’re going to transfer colleges, check in advance with the new college you want to attend to confirm which credits from your current school will transfer and count toward your degree requirements. In many cases, not all credits will transfer, so it’s best not to transfer more than once, if you can help it.

4. Check for a four-year guarantee. Some colleges offer a four-year guarantee to students. If yours offers this, take advantage of it. You’ll likely need to create a four-year course plan during your freshman year and may need to fill out paperwork to make the guarantee official.

Be sure to read all the fine print so you can fulfill your end of the agreement. Talk to your academic advisor or an admission counselor to learn more.

5. Take a full course load. A full-time course load typically includes a minimum of 12 credits and a maximum of 18 credits. Once you reach full-time status, there’s no additional tuition charge to take more courses. To stay on track to graduate, try to take as many credits as you can handle each semester. In fact, many states and universities are now implementing “15 to Finish” campaigns, which encourage students to take at least 15 credits each semester in order to graduate in four years.

Keep in mind, the more courses you take, the more homework you’ll have and more tests you’ll need to study for. So, start out with 12 or 15 credits your first semester to give yourself time to adjust to college life and learn how to balance your time for work, studying and fun.

6. Choose extra programs wisely. Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture, while still going to college. Many colleges encourage (or require) you to participate in study abroad or other experiential learning programs. Before you decide which program to participate in, though, make sure the credits you’ll earn during the experience will count toward your major’s degree requirements. If not, look for a different program that has more compatible courses.

Image credit: Courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Who We Are: Information you can trust. For 20 years My College Guide has produced an annual magazine chock full of free college info for high-achieving high school sophomores and another edition just for high-achieving juniors! Check out our participating colleges.

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How to Make the Most of Your College Freshman Orientation July 8th, 2014
Students Bowling

Make the Most of Your College Freshman Orientation

Attending your college’s freshman orientation is a big step toward becoming a college student. While each college does things differently during orientation, you can most likely expect to get your student ID card and university e-mail address, learn about campus policies and resources, become familiar with where things (like the dining center) are on campus, meet other new students, and even register for classes.

How can you make the most of this experience? Use these four tips to maximize your college freshman orientation experience.

1. Plan ahead. Check out your school’s orientation website so you know what to expect at orientation (such as where you’ll be staying, what activities are planned, what paperwork you need to bring, and if you need to register in order to attend). Many colleges also have you register for classes during orientation, so check out the school’s Web page for your major, as well as the course catalog or fall semester course schedule to learn about degree requirements and courses offered in the fall.

2. Participate in activities. Keep an open mind at orientation and play along with the activities the college has planned. Participate in getting-to-know-you games, movie nights, field trips and more. These activities will help you bond with your new classmates. Who knows? Maybe you’ll meet your new college BFF.

3. Take notes. You’re going to get a lot of info about rules and policies, resources on campus, registering for classes and more at orientation (sometimes in a boring lecture-style format), but the information colleges provide during orientation will be helpful throughout your entire college career. Pay attention and bring a pen and paper (or a laptop or tablet) to take notes on the important stuff.

4. Get out of your comfort zone. Orientation may seem a little awkward at first, since you’re in a new place with people you don’t know. But guess what? Everyone else is in the same boat as you. Make an effort to get to know your new classmates and try new activities that you may not normally try, perhaps things like climbing the rock wall at the rec center.

Get more tips on getting started at college.

Who We Are: Information you can trust. For 20 years My College Guide has produced an annual magazine chock full of free college info for high-achieving high school sophomores and another edition just for high-achieving juniors! Check out our participating colleges.

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