Prepping for the SAT: Some Cost Effective Methods

Posted on Jun. 10th 2009 by Amelia

There is little doubt that test preparation can affect your SAT exam scores. Students seeking admission to the most selective universities have been known to pay significant sums of money for personal tutorials to ensure they are well-prepared for these all-important tests.

While it is clear that preparation does matter, those with limited budgets simply cannot afford the costs associated with private tutorial services. But those on a budget should not ignore this important test preparation – they just need to seek out the most cost-effective options.

Options to Consider

Amazon.comFirst, students should gain access to sample tests. These practice exams help students become acquainted with the format of the tests and the styles of questions being asked. Familiarity is a real key to reducing the overall anxiety that comes with taking such important standardized tests.

Students can gain access to one copy of the exam free at the Peterson’s College site. You will need to register and you will be limited to but one sample but it is a great place to start and again the point of emphasis is that the test can be accessed free of charge.

Two of the agencies offering private tutorial options have entered the video game market. Students looking for additional test prep practice options can turn to the Princeton Review for My SAT Coach and to Kaplan Test Prep for the game FutureU.

The games are from two gaming industry giants, Ubisoft and Aspyr. FutureU which is currently available for download to a PC or Mac computer but the My SAT Coach is available only for Ninetendo DS. Both will set the user back about thirty bucks.

A standard, cost-effective option that many students and parents swear by is the College Board’s $19.95 “Official SAT Study Guide.” The reason that most find it the item to purchase is the booklet provides four critical elements.

College Board Booklet
The guide first offers a basic tutorial on the test-taking process. Second, it contains a math review of the key topics that students can expect to see.

Third, it gives students the chance to practice taking timed tests. Finally, it is similar in format to the real process: it is done without a computer using the traditional pencil and paper format that is a hallmark of the SAT.

Other such options do exist. There is the Princeton Review’s Cracking the SAT, Barron’s SAT 2400, Gruber’s Complete SAT Guide, and Kaplan SAT Premier Program. Each works in a similar manner.

Other Important Considerations

If students find that they are weak in the vocabulary areas, they can turn to another tech option, a new site called VerbaLearn. While there is no attempt to tie the building of vocabulary to the actual style of testing one faces on the SAT, access is free and the site is designed to prepare students for any nationally-normed test (SAT, ACT, and/or GRE). The key to making this site effective is to spend time on vocabulary building then return to the actual sample tests to determine if you have indeed built your fundamental vocabulary to a more appropriate level.

Lastly, there is always the issue of self-motivation. Those with a desire to prepare and an ability to structure their own time will find all of these more cost-effective tools great options to consider.

If on the other hand structure isn’t your strongest suit and procrastination an issue, you may well want to consider the test-preparation classes and their related-tutorials. The only issue to remember is that this latter option is the most expensive way to go.

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Buying a New Car: The Right Choice Can Get a Woman’s Motor Started

Posted on May. 20th 2009 by Amelia

It appears that those auto dealers have been right all along.

A new study reveals the car a man drives is critical to getting a second look from a member of the opposite sex. It must be noted that this is a UK study and well, we all know that those European’s are just a wee bit different.

But the results are unequivocal. What a fella’ drives really does matter.

Car Gets a Lady’s Motor Running

A team of university researchers showed a substantial number of women pictures of a male model. In one instance, the model was pictured in a silver Bentley Continental, a luxury car that would set a car buyer back more than a hundred grand.

In the second instance, he was pictured in a “battered Ford Fiesta.”

The 120 women, aged 21 to 40, were asked to rate the man’s attractiveness. In a sign that women rated the motor over the man, they selected the model when he was seated in the fancy Bentley.

One of the researchers, Dr. Michael Dunn of the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff, put it this way: women will rate a man higher if he happens to be driving a “fancy motor rather than in an old banger”.

Lady Gets the Male Motor Running

Dunn went on to repeat the experiment in reverse, picturing a female model in the Bentley and the Fiesta. For the male assessors, they were not inclined to select the women in one setting over the other.

Instead, the men proved more interested in the woman, specifically her face and figure. Status had no bearing on the views of the men, a fact that could prove very interesting as women become more independent and wealthy.

Dunn noted this in both instances, this was an evolutionary and not a social trait. He stated:

“There’s a wide variety of evidence that does suggest that females are more influenced by wealth and status. It’s not a recent phenomenon. It is very ingrained and the evidence is not just anecdotal.

“Females focus on questions of wealth and status because if the male possesses those, that male would be in a better condition to rear healthy offspring.”

On the flip side, those same evolutionary trends caused men to view women in terms of reproductive attractiveness. Wealth or status simply does not enter into the equation.

Next Study

Sorry ladies, but not only does Dunn suggest these basic human traits will not change in the future, most will interpret these results as evidence that women are shallower than men.

In an effort to take the idea one step further, Dunn plans to follow up with another status-type study to determine what happens when a middle-aged man chooses to purchase one of the more expensive cars. Specifically, Dunn would like to determine if the high-status car can actually overcome the current negative impact of age on attractiveness.

The question: can the right car overcome a receding hairline and a corresponding growing waistline.

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Obama Unwelcome Choice as Commencement Speaker at Notre Dame

Posted on May. 6th 2009 by Amelia

Top honoree rejects recognition based on choice of Obama as graduation speaker.

It is not often that someone turns down a prestigious award from a college like Notre Dame.

But then again, it is equally unusual that the presence of a newly-elected, highly-popular president, would be the catalyst for rejecting such an honor.

But that is precisely what Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon has done. Citing the school’s invitation to Barack Obama to deliver the 2009 commencement address and plan to award the president an honorary degree, Glendon has politely said thanks, but no thanks to the university.

Initial Acceptance

The issue centers upon the conflicting position of Catholics and the president on the issue of abortion.

In December, Glendon, a former ambassador to the Vatican and a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had been selected to receive the 2009 Laetare Medal. Described by the university as the “most prestigious award given to Catholics” yearly, the medal recognizes those “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity.”

Glendon, chosen as commencement speaker and given an honorary degree from Notre Dame in 1996, was at first pleased to learn of her selection last December. However, when she became aware that Obama was selected to receive an honorary doctorate and given the opportunity to give the commencement address, she found herself extremely dismayed.

From Critic to Absentee

Still, it appears that Glendon was set to attend, at least initially. Reports had the Harvard Law professor attending the ceremony and accepting her award so that she could take advantage of her opportunity to provide public remarks to criticize the president’s position.

But later, when it appeared that Notre Dame might utilize her presence at graduation as a step towards defending the school’s choice of Obama as commencement speaker, Glendon decided to reject the prestigious honor.

Directly citing the abortion issue, Glendon wrote in her university rejection letter that the choice demonstrated “disregard of the U.S. bishops’ express request of 2004 that Catholic institutions ‘should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles’ and that such persons ‘should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.'”

Moreover, in her letter to Rev. John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, she noted that the university appeared to be seeking to use her to balance off the more recent, unpopular selection of Obama.

She first cited one of the Notre Dame talking points regarding the matter:

“We think having the president come to Notre Dame, see our graduates, meet our leaders, and hear a talk from Mary Ann Glendon is a good thing for the president and for the causes we care about.”

Then soundly rejected the idea that commencement was a place for dissenting views to be aired. She wrote:

“A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision—in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops—to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.”

Tough Position for the President

Given Obama’s ability to see the large picture, the rejection by Glendon, a professor at the president’s alma mater, has to be upsetting to him personally. In addition, the fact that such a prestigious honor, awarded prior to his being chosen to speak, would be summarily rejected on account of his being selected definitely puts the president in a very difficult position.

It is perhaps too late for either Notre Dame or the president to rescind. Most notably, if he does preside at commencement as expected, Obama will need all of his rhetorical skills and speech writing talents to ensure his presence does not undermine the spirit of the day for those graduating.

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Five Steps to Graduating College, Debt-Free!

Posted on May. 3rd 2009 by Amelia

Most people will insist that college cannot be done without some form of financial assistance. That is most likely true for the vast majority of prospective college students.

However, the idea that one must borrow significant sums of money to earn that coveted diploma is not entirely true. In fact, it is possible to graduate with little, to no debt if you follow these five basic steps.

Earn Money While Attending College

While it is far more enjoyable to ease through four years of college study with a focus entirely on academics and your social life, the simplest way to minimizing debt is to work when you can.

During the summer months look to work two jobs if you can. Not only can you bank significant amounts of your earnings if you set your mind to it, keeping busy during the summer months helps reduce your spending tendencies. The result is a win-win.

In addition, plan on working, at least part-time during the school year. Working as little as 6-8 hours a week can produce ample amounts of ongoing spending money. Push it to 12-18 hours and you can actually earn enough money to pay next semester’s fees and book costs.

Lastly, research schools that offer co-op work options. Many schools are affiliated with specific industries whereby students can combine work and study options. With such a program, students earn money while working in their desired field or the company receiving work services helps pay a portion of the student’s college costs.

Select Your College Based on Costs

After countless hours of preparation, it may seem that your choice of college should be based on prestige. That simply is not the case in the long run.

What is true is a diploma from a prestigious school can help you with that first job. But thereafter, your value to any employer will be based on your performance.

If choosing a dream college means borrowing then you should rethink your choice. State universities offer quality educational options often at half the price.

Beginning your career in a financially stable position will allow you the time to prove yourself. If you accrue significant debt while in school, that debt will impact your career options for years to come, forcing you to choose employment based solely on pay.

Apply for Scholarships and Grants

Research every scholarship and grant option available to you, whether it be from your home town, your high school, your chosen college, etc. Then apply for every one that matches your situation.

This is free money, as good as any you can earn, and can go a long way towards reducing college costs. Also, many scholarships and grants are renewable: once you have obtained one, as long as you meet the academic expectations you may well receive the funds for all four years.

Be sure to research school-related options that pertain to your area of study. Some may not be available until your third or fourth year of school.

One, Paid-off Credit Card

As you enter adulthood, you will be besieged by credit card offers. Each will likely offer a free gift in return for signing up.

Select one card based on its cash back or reduced-expenditure percentage that makes sense for you. Some cards reduce gas purchases by a nickel a gallon, others offer cash back on all online purchases, still others offer travel benefit options.

Select the one card that works best for you and say no to all other cards. Limit your use to those purchases where it directly benefits you; otherwise pay cash to ensure you realize just how much you are spending with each transaction.

Most importantly, pay the monthly balance every month. Do not accrue interest or payment fees. Those costs can kill you, putting you quickly into a position where the card expenses are more than you can handle.

If you cannot discipline yourself to pay off the monthly balance, then cut the card in half and dispose of it. A significant amount of debt accrued by college students is directly attributed to the ease at which credit cards facilitate unwarranted discretionary spending.

Consider Living at Home

One of the biggest college expenses is the cost of room and board. Clearly, if you are attending school a significant distance from home, you will need to consider living on campus.

But living at home can save you significant sums of money. Many students are taking advantage of their community college network, living at home for the first year or two of study while earning their basic course credits.

For those who live near their state college, the same opportunity is available.

Living at home will limit the social options, no doubt, but college is first and foremost about earning a degree. Minimizing room and board expenses is an excellent way to reduce the costs of college and helping you graduate debt-free.

Graduate with a Secure Future

Earning a college diploma can be the catalyst to a wealth of career options but the debt you accumulate while earning that diploma can greatly impact those options. The best way to ensure your future is to minimize the debt you accrue while securing that coveted diploma.

With a little extra effort and a few sacrifices, it is possible to earn a diploma and remain debt-free in the process.

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Getting College Credit for Life Experience – It Can Be Done

Posted on Apr. 29th 2009 by Amelia

Last week we took a look at diploma mills and the sites that advertise degrees that will be awarded based on a person’s life experiences. Such a notion is of course a scam; instead, a fictitious university sells you a document that at first glance might resemble an authentic degree but really is nothing more than a worthless piece of paper.

While the idea of awarding a degree based solely on life experience is ludicrous, some authentic colleges will consider awarding credit to students for some of their past life experiences and/or prior educational experiences.

The key to receiving credit for prior experiences from schools is for the potential student to somehow demonstrate that he or she has indeed mastered the material associated with a specific course or courses.

Assessing Prior Learning

In simplest terms, colleges and universities will consider awarding credit for knowledge that has been gained through life experience or prior educational experiences. To determine whether a student has acquired the specific knowledge and skills associated with a course that is taught at the collegiate level, schools use two separate methods of assessing.

Learning Portfolios

One option is referred to as a learning portfolio. A learning portfolio is a collection of written documents that demonstrates a student has learned the materials that would be presented in a specific college course.

To receive credit for a portfolio, the materials contained within must demonstrate college-level learning. In other words, they are not materials that could be associated with a typical high school course or some remedial course given through a continuing education program.

Generally speaking, such a portfolio often begins with a list of the specific learnings for which credit is being requested. Once the list is presented, students generally complete an essay or learning request statement that notes how their prior learning relates to both the degree program and the course for which they are seeking credit.

The portfolio must also contain some documentation that a student had actually learned what he or she claims to have learned. It could be in the form of certificates from various training programs or letters from employers that attest to the skills and knowledge a person has obtained.

In some cases, the portfolio may be part of a sequence of courses where a student takes sections of one, two or three courses while preparing a portfolio that helps them demonstrate knowledge of the other sections taught in those respective classes.

In many instances, students then present this portfolio orally to a professor, a college official or a committee of combined college representatives. At that time, those observing may ask specific questions regarding the portfolio.

Without a doubt, preparing such a document can be time-consuming. It can be particularly difficult to locate specific artifacts to place in the portfolio that offer evidence of specific knowledge.

Even so, if students believe they have the knowledge and skills associated with a specific course, they should definitely examine the portfolio opportunity. There is no doubt that it will be less of a time commitment to prepare a portfolio then it would be to attend and subsequently meet all the course expectations of any legitimate college course. Most importantly, it could easily save a prospective student hundreds to a thousand dollars (the cost of having to pay tuition to take the course in the traditional manner).

Testing Out

Another typical way of earning credit for outside learning is through the use of some standardized test or tests. These tests can be national-standardized exams, state-standardized or even university-standardized. The reason for standardization is to have real data regarding what represents a passing grade and the fair awarding of credits.

One of the typical tests used is the College Level Examination Program or CLEP test. These exams are offered through the College Board and cover a number of different general subjects: mathematics, English composition, humanities, natural science, and social science and history.

There is also a second type of CLEP exam that is subject specific. For example, students could take a subject exam for Biology, a test that would cover the material typically taught in undergraduate, college-level Biology course.

For CLEP exams, depending on the school, various amounts of credit may be awarded depending on the student’s score.

Another such test that might be used is the Graduate Record Exam or GRE. This is the exam typically used to assess a student’s ability to enter graduate school.

However, given that the test is used to determine mastery of college level skills, some schools use it as a method for assessing prior learning. Depending on the school and the student’s request for credit, students could be asked to take the general GRE test that measures a variety of general skills or a subject-specific test that measures achievement in a particular field.

Some schools will also consider a student taking an exam created by the school for specific courses. For example, professors might get together to create a comprehensive final for introductory calculus and all students, regardless of who their instructor was during the semester, take this exam at the completion of the course.

Such a test may also be made available to students who believe they have mastery of such a subject and a passing grade on the exam be used to award the student such credit. In certain instances, schools may administer this test orally rather than in written form.

In other cases, the constructed test might be a departmental level exam that is more comprehensive. For example, engineers generally must take three separate calculus courses as well as differential equations.

Within a school, the engineering department may prepare a comprehensive exam that would test mastery of these four courses as a block and subsequently award credit for all four if a student passes the exam. Such a concept is also often used within foreign language departments to determine the level of expertise of a student in a specific language and allow that student credit for several introductory-level courses.

In addition to the aforementioned test options, vocational schools often have job-related assessments that demonstrate advanced standing in a certain technical field. These assessments are generally standardized at the national level and can be used by students to demonstrate knowledge of specific entry level classes.

And lastly, anyone who has served in the military should investigate the Defense Activity for Nontraditional Educational Support or DANTES program. DANTES is a recognized program that can help a student earn credit for the materials commonly taught in introductory college courses.

Be Prepared

If students are considering one of the test options, it is important to prepare accordingly. Pursuing practice materials for standardized tests represents an excellent way to prepare for these types of exams.

For college-created exams, students should request a syllabus and reading list to be certain they clearly understand what will be tested. Students should then review those materials carefully and spend whatever time is necessary to review and read up on areas that they do not recall with ease or topics that may seem vague.

Ultimately, either through a portfolio or an exam, students can often obtain credit for coursework provided they are able to demonstrate mastery of the materials. While schools may limit the total number of credits that can be awarded through exams and/or a portfolio, or a combination thereof, every course for which they can gain credit places them closer to earning their degree.

And potentially save countless dollars in the long run.

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Using a Credit Card to Pay College Tuition – Say It Ain’t So!

Posted on Apr. 26th 2009 by Amelia

There are those news stories that really give you pause. And we are not talking about those AOL headliners mind you, the ones like “NASA astronaut insists government covering up evidence of alien visits.”

What we are talking about is the latest news regarding college students and credit cards. According to a study from Sallie Mae, many students are now using credit cards for almost all of their college expenses, including tuition.

Talk about giving one pause – we might have expected students charging books and fees on their card. But we could never imagine anyone in their right mind putting their tuition on one, not with those cards carrying anything from 14.99 to 18.99 percent interest rates.

The Numbers

Today, Sallie Mae notes that more than 84 percent of undergraduates have at least one credit card. Half of all college students carry four or more cards with the current average at 4.6 per student.

An incredible 92 percent of all undergraduates with a credit card charged textbooks, school supplies or other education expenses. College seniors led the way with an average credit card debt of $4,100.

According to the report, “How Undergraduate Students Use Credit Cards: Sallie Mae’s National Study of Usage Rates and Trends, 2009,” students charged an average of $2,200 in direct educational expenses per person, more than double the $942 amount from four years ago. Of those charging educational expenses, roughly 30 percent actually placed tuition on a credit card as well.

Terrible Choice

While many students were using the cards for convenience, the overall findings of the study pointed to college students using credit cards to live beyond their means. In fact, 82 percent of the students incurred finance charges by carrying a monthly balance.

In a clear indication that credit management was a huge problem, roughly 40 percent indicated they had charged items even though they knew they did not have the funds to pay the bill.

Given the going interest rates and monthly charges of as much as $30.00 for transactions beyond credit limits, the idea that students would place their tuition charges on their credit card demonstrates a real lack of knowledge regarding how credit cards work.

There is no doubt that credit cards offer great convenience. No need to fill out the FAFSA forms and no need to complete additional paperwork to apply for a loan. Add in the ease of online payments and the process is indeed extremely easy.

But credit card interest rates of 15 percent are more than double the current rate for Federal Stafford loans (6.8 percent). Even private loans, considered the least advantageous of loan options carry current rates of only 8 percent.

The result is that credit card users are overpaying for college big time. Unless a student pays off his or her card in full, by placing these charges on a credit card he or she is paying far more than the list price for books, fees and tuition.

College, Expensive Enough

There is no doubt that college expenses are extremely taxing – however, students should be aware that using credit cards to cover these costs only makes the costs of college less manageable in the long run.

First and foremost, students need to build a budget ahead of time that tallies the cost of tuition, books, fees and travel. Once the need is determined, students must pursue the most advantageous funding help available.

That means completing the FAFSA, the standard federal form that is the ticket to potential grants, scholarships and federal loans. Filling out the FAFSA form does take time but it is a must for any serious student.

Even if students do not qualify for grants or scholarships, the first credit option everyone should pursue is the Federal loan program. Simply stated, they represent the best borrowing bargain.

Only after completing the federal application process should students pursue the more expensive private loan option. Such loans carry higher interest rates and other processing fees may be assessed depending on a student’s credit standing.

Still, private loans are a bargain compared to the fees and rates associated with credit cards. Unless a student has a wealthy friend or relative paying that credit card bill for them, placing one’s tuition on a credit card is a recipe for disaster.

In fact, it is as preposterous to us as that NASA astronaut claiming our government is hiding evidence of intergalactic visitors.

Editors note: The full study is available in PDF format online.

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And The Winner Is…

Posted on Nov. 22nd 2008 by Amelia

Congrats to David Mauro for being awarded the Blogging Scholarship. David Cameron finished as the first runner up, and Thomas Peters is the second runner up.

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Vote for the Winner of the 2008 Blogging Scholarship

Posted on Nov. 6th 2008 by Amelia

Who Should Win the 2008 Blogging Scholarship?
View Results

A list of the finalists, along with their schools and blogs, is located here.

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Announcing the 2008 Blogging Scholarship Finalists

Posted on Nov. 6th 2008 by Amelia

Here is a list of the 2008 Blogging Scholarship finalists. You can vote for the winner here.

David Malinowski, University of California at Berkeley, co-author of Found In Translation.

Brian Switek, Rutgers University, author of Laelaps.

Justin Higgins, The Ohio State University, co-author of Shots on the House.

Ross Taylor, University of Missouri, author of Rock M Nation.

Evans Boney, California Institute of Technology, author of Boneye.

Omar Hossino, Radford University, author of Abu Hatem.

Thomas Peters, Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception, American Papist.

Justin Varner, Penn State, author of Justin Varner.

Kyle de Beausset, Harvard College, author of Citizen Orange.

Jennifer Lynn Jordan, NYU, author of Per Omnia Saecula.

Thursday Bram, University of Baltimore, author of Thursday Bram.

Shanan Glandz, Ithaca College, author of The Spectrum.

David Cameron, UNC-Greensboro, author of USS Mariner.

Gavin Rehkemper, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, co-author of The Quad Blog.

David Mauro, Colorado College, author of Burnt Orange Report.

Evan Lisull, The University of Arizona, author of Desert Lamp.

Jonathan Dingel, Columbia University, author of Trade Diversion.

Pamela Aghababian, Simmons College, author of Cave Cibum.

Michael Snively, MIT, co-author of MIT Admissions.

Danielle Lee, University of Missouri – St. Louis, author of Urban Science.

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Announcing The 2008 Blogging Scholarship

Posted on Oct. 15th 2008 by Amelia

We are now accepting submissions for the blogging scholarship, and the submission deadline is October 30th, 2008. One lucky blogger will be eligible for the $10,000 grand prize.

Our panel of judges will decide on 10 finalists and public voting will be enabled the morning of November 3rd. Voting will be closed on November 17th 2008. During this time, check our blog for announcements, updates, finalists, and voting information.

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