A growing trend among college students is to extend their college years from the traditional four year degree, into five, six, or even seven years. This time frame is not to pursue an advanced degree; this is just for an undergraduate Bachelor degree!
This extra time enrolled in college is detrimental for many reasons. First, it costs students (or parents) a lot more money. Obviously the classes beyond four years are not free, so every additional credit hour costs more. This also might mean more student loan debt, because many financial aid programs end after 8 semesters.
Second, this will postpone getting a job. The goal of graduating with a college degree is to get a job, and begin earning money. Obviously, the longer it takes to graduate the longer it will take students to find a job and begin earning a paycheck.
Finally, extended enrollments are bad for colleges. Colleges are rated and often funded on graduation rates, and many of these rates are determined by a cohort of students. The longer it takes for a cohort to graduate, the lower the graduation rate will be.
Recently, a few colleges have come up with a new strategy to combat these extended enrollment periods and push their students to graduate in four years.
At a few small private and public colleges and universities around the country there is an optional ceremony that can be completed before a student begins their freshman year of college. The student, along with their parents and the college president, will sign a document that states the student will participate in regular academic advising sessions, complete certain milestones while enrolled, and keep a certain academic standing. In return for this agreement, the college agrees to guarantee the student will graduate in four years.
If a student upholds their end of the bargain, and the student does not graduate in four years due to classes being unavailable or poor academic advising, then the college will pay for any additional semesters required to graduate!
This guarantee has a very positive effect on all involved.
Parents feel confident that their hard earned money is going to support a goal with a defined end, and not an open-ended price tag. They can feel assured that their student is getting the direction and support they need to reach their goal of graduating, and graduating on time.
The college uses this guarantee as a marketing tool to show that they are committed to helping their students succeed. It also demands excellence from adademic advisors because they know that the college could potentially be footing a tuition bill if they offer bad advice.
Students can feel confident in the advice that their advisors give them, and they can see their hard work pay off as they steadily progress towards their goal of graduating on time. It is also great motivation to know that your school is taking such a personal interest in your success.
According to the University of Nebraska’s website “The four-year guarantee for graduation relies on mutual commitment from the student to follow a list of practical guidelines while attending college, and from the university to ensure that required courses or acceptable alternatives are available.”
Western Michigan University has a similar stance “Part of putting students first is a commitment to helping students save money. Yet, no matter how much we contain costs and keep tuition affordable, nothing will save money for students and their families as much as earning a degree in as few as four years. Every semester we can shave off of a student’s time in college is an automatic savings in tuition and living expenses and a chance to be earning money in the work force or getting a head start on graduate or professional school.”
There are about 15 colleges and universities across the nation who have all implemented a form of a graduation guarantee:
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Western Michigan University
California State University, Fullerton
University of the Pacific
Virginia Wesleyan College
University of Nebraska
Montana State University
Lebanon Valley College
Green Mountain College
Currently about 80% of students who attend private colleges finish their degree within 4 years. At public colleges and universities that number drops to 50%. Graduating on time is a serious problem.
It is important to note however, that not all programs are designed to be completed within 8 semesters. Many programs require internships, excess lab work, and other requirements that are designed to extend the program beyond the four year mark.
The main problems arise when students are unable to enroll in the classes they need, are poorly advised, slack off and take less classes each semester than they are capable of, and change their majors multiple times.
The Graduation Guarantee is a great first step to solving that problem.
I stepped onto campus in 2003 as the first child to go to college on either side of my family. Leading up to that point, my parents had pushed me to apply to every college I was remotely interested in.
They also pushed me to apply to every scholarship that I could find. I did both of these, ended up being accepted to every school that I applied to, and ended up getting paid to go to school for my freshman year.
My number one tip for finding and winning scholarship? Avoid FASTweb like the plague!
FASTweb gets a lot of attention because they have over $3 BILLION in scholarships. They have a snazzy website, and are often featured in the press. However, for every one person I have encountered that has actually won a scholarship through FASTweb, I have met 50 who have not.
The concept behind FASTweb is excellent. You create a profile based on your unique skills, experiences, and credentials. FASTweb then matches this profile with its extensive database of scholarships to find ones that match your qualifications. They will then continually monitor their database for you, and email you updates as often as you would like.
This all sounds great until you actually get your first list of scholarships that FASTweb has determined you qualify for. For the purpose of research, I actually created an account on FASTweb with the information that I would use, if I were about to enter my senior year of high school.
My first scholarship: Vacancy dot com blog contest. They want me to write a blog post about my experience getting an apartment from their site. I’m a rising senior in high school. I still live with my parents. Fail.
Second scholarship: Womenetics Essay contest. Requirements? Be a woman. I clearly stated I was male in my profile. Fail.
Third scholarship: MonsterCollege sweepstakes. Requirements? Enter your contact information. The company will randomly select one $2000 winner per month (and sell your contact information to endless marketing agencies). Fail.
Final scholarship: Siemens Foundation Competition. This is a legitimate competition where you can win up to $100,000 in scholarship money by entering a math, science or technology project and competing against thousands of other student projects from across the country. For the time it would take to focus on this one scholarship and the infinitely small chance of success: Fail.
The main problem with using FASTweb is that all of the scholarships you find are either sketchy sounding websites offering “essay challenges” and sweepstakes, or large nation wide scholarship competitions with millions of applicants. The FASTweb marketing materials make winning a scholarship seem like something you can do on a whim.
There is no auto-pilot for winning scholarships. FASTweb has created the illusion that scholarships are rewards for little or no work, which is simply not true.
The Good News
Before you take me to the cleaners and call me a debbie downer, let me be clear. I work in college financial aid, so I have seen the frustration that countless students have had with trying to find scholarships on FASTweb. I have also seen the elation that students have when they actually DO win a scholarship. My purpose for writing this article is to show you the most effective way to search, apply for, and win scholarships!
My number one piece of advice for any student or parent interested in applying for scholarships: start searching local. Just like produce, local scholarships are the best (bad analogy I know, please forgive me). The two main benefits of local scholarships are that the applicant pool is exponentially smaller than any scholarship you would find through FASTweb, and a local scholarship granting organization likely has a personal relationship with your high school, or the in-state college you might be planning to attend.
For example, the town I graduated in had a club exclusively for graduates of the college I was planning to attend. They offered a scholarship and I applied. No brainer! My Dad had friends in the local Shriners club which provided scholarships to students from my high school. I had spoken to the local Ruritan Club for a high school project which created another scholarship opportunity. My Dad’s employer offered a scholarship to employee’s children. I applied and won.
You should apply for every local scholarship opportunity that you can put your hands on. The best source of local scholarships will be your high school guidance counselor. Most local organizations send their scholarship notices and applications directly to guidance offices. If you exhaust your own office, then ask around to other local high schools.
My senior year of high school I entered a local scholarship competition for the Carolina Tall Club. Requirements were that males be over 6’2. I wrote an essay about what being tall meant to me, and won $1000 after a round of interviews.
The possibilities are endless!
I would also suggest that you check out your local library. Local scholarship organizations often put up notices for their scholarships in the bulletin boards when you first enter the library. Your local librarian will be happy to help you search.
Scholarships do exist, and they can be won. It takes tenacity to apply for every scholarship you can find, and perseverance to see it through to the end.
The end result however, is free money for college; which is pretty awesome!
Have you had any success in searching for local scholarships?
Am I completely wrong about FASTweb?