Is the Four-Year College Degree A Myth?

Four Year Degree: A Myth?Recently, Education Week posted an article entitled “Completing College in Four Years is a “Myth.” In the piece, writer Caralee Adams cites various statistics claiming that virtually no one is actually completing their post-secondary degrees within the anticipated four years.

The numbers don’t lie—it appears that we do have a problem with higher education. And while I can’t argue with the facts, I must admit that as a fairly recent college graduate, I find these numbers very, very surprising.

In my own (albeit, limited) experience, graduating within four years is not only feasible, but overwhelmingly common. Of the many people with whom I interacted during my four years at UCLA, I can name only a handful who took extra time to complete their degrees.

Now, this is not to say that my friends and I are a perfect sample, nor are we necessarily typical of the American college student. Many of us took extra classes during summer or loaded up on courses during the school year.

However, I myself did not choose a major until the end of my sophomore year (the very last minute possible) and still managed to graduate within four years.

Thus, to me, decrying this as a widespread and deeply ingrained problem seems a little extreme.

In her piece, Ms. Adams advocates a prescribed set of courses per semester to remedy this unsustainable trend. While her solution is well intentioned, I think that required classes would stifle the creative thought and academic enthusiasm that so often characterizes the college campus.

Sure, Ms. Adams is correct in her claim that students do earn credits that are unrelated to their degrees and that undoubtedly does add to their days until graduation. However, an education is not a means to an end and a degree is not the only valuable result of college. Students should be encouraged to take courses they enjoy, courses that broaden their intellectual horizons and enhance their educational experience—not just courses that will further their degrees.

I worry that Ms. Adams’ solution would transform the centers of higher thinking and innovation that we know and love into simple degree factories, complete with assembly lines to mold mind after mind into identical forms.

While I do think it’s important to create a four-year plan, it’s also important to leave room for extra courses and flexibility. Additionally, few people enter college with a fully formed idea of what they’d like to study, so picking courses for every semester of college can be an overwhelming, even an impossible task. Though it’s important not to overspend on your degree, it’s also important to explore new knowledge.

Among my peers, completing a college degree within four years has been a doable, engaging learning process and I wouldn’t trade it for any stable, rock-solid four-year map.

This was a guest post by Molly Cornfield, a UCLA graduate.

Student Loans: 7 Tips for Being a Smart Borrower

Student Loans: Borrow WiselyIt’s a well-known and much complained about fact: the cost of college is rising fast. The average in-state student at a public university pays nearly $9,000 per year for fees and tuition, while a student at a private university typically pays just over $30,000 per year—and those numbers exclude costs for room and board. With these ever-increasing expenses, it’s getting tougher and tougher for college students to pay for their education.

At the same time, it’s very difficult to advance your career without a college degree. So to pay for your education, you’ll need a job that requires an education… the ultimate Catch 22. Right?

Fortunately, there are ways to pay for school without readily available money. Here are seven helpful tips to help you borrow money with your future in mind.

1. Do your research about grants, scholarships and financial aid. When it comes to your education, there are all kinds of ways to score free money. Applying for financial aid can help cover a good chunk of your costs. There are also all kinds of grants and private scholarships to help you fund your degree. Look into grants from your state, or scholarships specified for your course of study or from your community. These aren’t necessarily easy to find… but seeking them out certainly pays off. Securing free money means less need to borrow and less debt.

2. Work your way through high school, college and/or during the summer. Spending your spare time at work may not sound especially glamorous, and it certainly isn’t easy. But in the end, using your own hard-earned money to pay for at least part of your college tuition will not only help you to be debt-free after graduation, but will leave you with a distinct sense of accomplishment and satisfaction for having paid your own way.

3. Start at a community college then transfer to a four-year university. At just over $3,000 per year, community colleges are significantly cheaper than your average four-year university. By attending community college for your first two years of college, you’ll save thousands of dollars and finish school with the exact same degree as if you had started at a four-year university.

4. Choose your school practically. Consider the price tag before committing to a college. Do the math and be sure that you can afford a specific school. If not, then it’s probably not the right school for you.

5. Choose a major that will help you pay back your loans. 70K of debt seems a lot more intimidating when you’re making $30,000 per year than when you’re earning $90,000 per year. Study a topic that will make you a marketable job candidate and make your education worth your debt.

6. Research lenders before taking out a student loan. Not all loans are created equal. Talk to others to get the full story about your lender, compare rates with other lenders and read the fine print. Be sure that your loan is straightforward and your lender is honest before borrowing money.

7. Only borrow what you must. If you’re taking out a loan, do so wisely. Don’t take out excessive amounts just because it’s available and convenient. You’ll likely need to cut back on your spending for a bit, but you’ll thank yourself later.

Being Financially Responsible in College

college finance A big part of growing up is learning how to be financially responsible. Now, this doesn’t necessarily entail becoming financially independent all at once. But it does mean making wise financial decisions while in college.

It’s important to understand the value of money and that cash is the result of hard work. Even if you’re not the one working to earn the money you’re spending, it’s essential to remember that somebody – likely your parents – is putting in the labor for your lifestyle.

Not to mention, it’s a bit nearsighted to go on spending sprees in your late teens and early twenties. Not only will you drain accounts, but you’ll also form unsavory banking habits for years and decades to come. So, to prevent any future financial strife, here are a few tips to better the health of your money habits.

1. Treat your parents’ money as your own. Just because you didn’t have to work to add it to your account, doesn’t mean that it appeared out of thin air, and it certainly does not warrant frivolous spending. Appreciating your parents’ generosity goes hand-in-hand with establishing smart money moves, which will serve you well with your own income in the future.

2. Know the difference between what you need and what you want. There are a lot of things to buy in this world, and most of us have limited cash to spend. It’s easy to convince yourself that you absolutely need new sunglasses. And while protecting your eyes is crucial and you certainly could use a better pair of shades, it’s important to understand that such material goods are not on the same level of necessity as rent, food, bills or books.

3. Do give yourself an allowance for “unnecessary spending”. Allot a reasonable amount of for-fun-spending-money for yourself every week. This tactic will not only help you keep a healthy account balance, but also teach you how to budget, and not feeling deprived will make it easy to stick to your budget.

4. Monitor your account. Spend smart by keeping an eye on your expenditures. Keep tabs on what you’re buying, what’s necessary and what could be cut from your budget. By checking your account on a regular basis, you’ll avoid overdrawing or maxing out your credit card, which can lead to financial troubles in your future.

5. Save up for later. Whether you’re receiving an allowance from your parents’ or working to earn your own income, don’t spend it all immediately. Save a bit of money each month and you’ll have a decent sum come college graduation.

Balancing High School Finals and College Applications

College ApplicationThis upcoming month is perhaps the most stressful month for students applying to college. December is the time of great holiday cheer, cozy sweaters and the last four weeks a student can perfect his or her college applications. Most Common App schools have the deadline set to January first or second, and many high schools will distribute their finals exams about one to two weeks away from these deadlines. I have personally felt a lot of anxiety about the upcoming month so here are some of the things I will be doing in order to help me stay organized and on top of my school work as well as my college applications:

Start Supps Now
Many Common App schools will have supplementary questions that will require another essay or two. In fact, there are some schools that will ask for four or more extra responses. It’s important to know which schools are asking for what – that way you can plan what you need to write. There are many occasions in which two or more schools will have overlapping questions, so you will be able to use one response multiple times. But the most common question schools will ask is why you are applying there, and that takes a lot of research. Make sure that you have a final list of all your schools and try to space them out evenly throughout the month. For instance, I am applying to ten schools on the Common App so I will try to write complete supps for three (or four) schools per week and on the last week I will revise them. This will help me stay calm and know that I have dedicated time for each and every school.

Know your finals
As a senior, finals can get pushed to the back of your mind, but it’s crucial to make them one of your priorities. Make sure you know which classes will have finals and decide which ones will in the end affect your letter grade. If there is a class that you are particularly strong in and the final will not have an impact on your final grade then do not dedicate more than two hours to study. Instead, focus your energies on classes that are borderline. Colleges do look at your senior semester grades so make sure to finish strong! I know that I am going to be getting three final exams and one final essay so I have distributed all my studying hours in the month of december according to how strong I am in each of the subjects. I have allotted enough time for preliminary review, practice testing and final studying; giving me peace of mind knowing that I will have enough time to prepare.

Finish the Common App essay as soon as possible
One of the things I am most grateful for is that my Common App essay is completed. I spent my summer writing it and now I have the time to focus on my school work and my supps. If you are not done or have not started it yet, make sure that you begin as soon as you are done reading this blog post! Not only is it the longest essay, it is the only essay that each and every one of your schools will read. Make sure that it is a piece you would submit to your dream school and not only to a target or safety school, because many students forget that it does go everywhere. Also, if you end up cramming a couple days before the deadline, this essay will not be your best work. It’s one of your only chances to express yourself to universities and let them see who you really are, so do not take it for granted. Have it done at least two to three weeks prior to the deadline so that you have time to go over it with many trusted friends and family members and make necessary edits.

December is a stressful month for high school seniors, but with a bit of planning, you’ll survive it – and maybe even enjoy the holiday season!

This is a guest post by Noa Livneh, a high school senior in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Thanksgiving Break: Keeping Costs In Check

Thanksgiving BreakAs November rapidly approaches its end, college students are counting down the days until the brief Thanksgiving break where they’ll finally have the chance to relax, watch football, recuperate from tests and reunite with family.

And while Thanksgiving offers much needed respite from the academic, extracurricular and social rigors of campus life, Turkey Day travel can easily make a dent in your wallet, cause you to fall behind on school work or simply eat away at your valuable time. So, here are four tips to help you minimize travel costs, keep up in the classroom and save some precious time.

1. Travel on Thursday. Thirty-seven percent of Thanksgiving travelers opt to depart on Wednesday, making it the busiest travel day of the weekend. By heading home on Thanksgiving Day instead, you’ll score lower airfare, avoid the airport rush and enjoy a traffic-free road trip. And if you hit the road by Thursday morning, you’ll still arrive at your destination in time for the Thanksgiving feast.

2. Carpool (if driving). Although, at under $3.00 per gallon, gasoline costs are at a recent low, its cost doubtlessly add up when you’re on a road trip. To mitigate these expenses, find other students who are heading in your direction and share the journey. That way, you’ll be able to split the cost of gas and get some roadside company. Plus, as a bonus, you’ll get some karma points for lessening your impact on the environment.

3. Stay on top of your schoolwork. Thanksgiving has managed to sneakily wedge itself in the short lull between midterm season and finals week. And while you may still be breathing the sweet air of liberation after weeks spent slaving away under the tyranny of midterms, it’s dangerous to get too used to your newfound freedom. Using the entire break to kick back and become one with your parents’ sofa may catch up with you once you’re back in the lecture hall. Don’t push all your schoolwork aside for after the break. Rather, do a little bit of work each day to stay in motion, academically speaking.

4. Remember to relax. Though keeping up with school is definitely a priority, it’s also important to spend time reconnecting with high school friends and family. While you may put currency into being a good student (and rightfully so!), make sure to put an equal emphasis on being a good child/sibling/grandchild/friend/ and put that extra effort into striking that fine balance between academics and home life. So no matter your academic will, be careful not to lock yourself in your room with your chemistry textbook for the entire long weekend and be sure to dedicate time to the people who matter and made your education possible.

College: Balancing your Budget

College Student BudgetAs a college student, you’ve likely found yourself living on your own with little to no income. Perhaps your parents help you out financially, or perhaps you’re working part-time to pay for your day-to-day wants and needs. Either way, you’re most likely living life on a budget while studying for your degree.

Since living on a budget can feel pretty straining, we’ve compiled a list of a few helpful techniques to aid you in tracking your finances and minimizing your spending.

1. Check your bank accounts regularly and frequently. When you pay with plastic, it’s all too easy to lose track of your spending. It’s important to pay attention to your accounts at all times and know exactly how much money is in your account and be sure that all your bills are paid. This way, you can avoid finding yourself with sudden and surprising debt.

2. Keep a spreadsheet of your expenses. Add your purchases to your master list immediately afterward. By logging all your expenditures, you’ll be able to oversee all your spending, even if you’re paying in cash. Additionally, as a bonus, this system will help you see where you can cut down on your spending, should you go over your budget.

3. Divide your weekly budget into amounts for food, rent and fun. Knowing exactly how much you need to spend will help you calculate the precise amount of disposable cash you’ll have left for a shopping trip, a night on the town or your birthday party. By splitting these expenses into separate categories, you’ll ensure that you don’t overspend.

4. Before spending money, as yourself “do I really need this?” We all want things, and there are a lot of things on which we can spend our money. But when you’re on a budget, it’s dangerous to indulge yourself too often. Before making a purchase, determine whether this is an item that you’ll use, or some fad that will sit in the closet. Of course, it’s alright to splurge every once in while, but it’s important to know your limitations.

5. Instead of spending money out, plan a fun night in. Time out on the town can really do some damage to your funds. Rather than going out to dinner, a movie or whatever other activity you have in mind, organize a homemade dinner with friends.

6. Pack a lunch. After spending your entire day on campus, you’ll inevitably get hungry. In the midst of your busy day-to-day student life, it’s always tempting to buy a hot lunch on campus. But $10 per day adds up. You can lower this daily cost by packing your own homemade lunch and/or carrying snacks along with you.

College Thanksgiving: Remember to Say Thank You!

Being Thankful As the holiday season quickly closes in, college students around the US count down the few short weeks until they’re home enjoying their Thanksgiving turkey with family.

And while it’s always nice to see your family again, your relationship is different from the days when you lived at home. Now that you’re in college and you’re surviving life on your own, you may feel as if you’ve earned the right to think of yourself as an independent adult. After all, you do you own laundry, make your own meals and set your own alarms.

Most importantly, you set your own rules. Over the last few months, you’ve done as you please, when you please. Sure, your parents have been great, but you’re a grown up now and you get to do what you want. Right?

We frequently maintain the mentality that once we leave our parents’ house, we’re free of our obligation to follow their rules—whether at home or away. So whether we find ourselves back home with the same curfew from high school or at school with a weekly call quota, these old rules may seem a little juvenile.

And since we’re all so anxious to grow up, reverting back to these parentally enforced regulations can feel both stifling and insulting.

It’s important to remember that despite all this uncomfortable tension and the conflicting viewpoints, our parents only have our well being, and a little bit of sentimentality, in mind. They only want us to come home safely, to do our best and to stay on track. And they definitely don’t want to feel like we don’t need them anymore. They are our parents, after all.

And let’s face it, we really do need them.

Many of us forget the hard work (and sometimes loads of money) that our parents invested in guiding us to our so-called independence, and we’re often so busy reveling in our newfound freedom that we forget to appreciate the people who made it all possible.

While you might feel okay about spurning study hour for a party, it’s vital to understand that your college education is not all about you, and you’re not the sole force in getting you there. Generations before you have struggled, sacrificed and spent so you can obtain an education.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have a good time in college. Of course, you should make the most of those four short years not only academically, but also socially. Just be sure to stay on top of your schoolwork and keep in mind that though college should definitely be a good time, you are primarily there for the academics.

So this Thanksgiving, let your parents know how thankful you truly are for their support, be it financial, emotional or academic.