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Is Online Distance Learning the Right Choice for You?

Distance learning has some serious advantages. Thanks to online courses, students can work school into their own schedules. This makes higher education far more accessible to non-traditional students of all kinds, including students who have children. Distance learning also allows students to take classes from a variety of geographical locations. It no longer matters if you live in a remote area with no access to a university, or if you live thousands of miles away from the nearest program that interests you.

However, it’s important not to romanticize distance learning as the right solution for everyone. Some students do very well with online classes. But many students find that their learning styles and study habits really don’t mesh well with the expectations of online courses. Before taking an online class, here are some questions to ask yourself.

First, do you have the self-discipline to take an online course? All higher education requires self-discipline, but because online courses are so self-structured, you have to be even more disciplined to be successful. The “do it whenever” structure of an online class is fabulous because it allows you to work around your schedule, but some people don’t work well with so little structure.

Second, can you learn well without the “face time” aspect of the traditional classroom? Some students find they do just fine without direct interaction with the teacher or other students. Online classes often come with student discussion forums and opportunities to interact virtually with the instructor, and some students find that this is plenty of interaction. In fact, shyer students may prefer this. However, some people find it difficult to learn without face-to-face interactions between instructor and student. Others simply find this system too lonely and isolating.

Finally, do you have the time to take an online course? Don’t be deceived by the fact that the course allows for a flexible schedule. You may be able to work in your pajamas, but you still have to work. In many cases, online courses are actually more work than traditional classes because there’s so much independent work involved. In traditional classes, you can sometimes get by without doing the homework. In an online class, it’s all homework, so you have no choice but to do it.

If you’re thinking about taking an online class, be honest with yourself—or give a class a try, followed by an honest assessment of your performance and experience. There’s nothing wrong with being the wrong kind of student for distance learning. It’s a great innovation, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everybody.

Texas Student Not Valedictorian Despite Top GPA

A GPA of 5.898? Pretty good, huh? Not surprisingly, Anjali Datta’s GPA of close to 6.0 was the highest in her graduating class in Grapevine, Texas—and probably the highest in her high school’s history. Nonetheless, Anjali was not awarded the title of valedictorian.

Come again?

Here’s the thing: Anjali managed to graduate high school in just three years, since she had so many credits. According to school board policy, students need to attend school for four years to be the valedictorian. This rule was set in place to prevent students from entering the school district at the last minute with the purpose of swiping the title. Although this isn’t the case, lawyers from the school district insist that the rule has to be followed nonetheless.

Instead, Anjali will be receiving a special title: “Valedictorian: Three Years.”

So why in the world is the school district being so strict about a rule that clearly wasn’t meant to apply to this situation? Why is a hardworking student being penalized for completing the task of high school in three years—which, by anyone’s standards, is one heck of an accomplishment?

It’s hard to say why bureaucracy won out over common sense in this situation. With admission to selective colleges so competitive, perhaps the school district was afraid that somebody’s parents would sue over the coveted title of valedictorian.

Whatever the reason, what kind of message does this send? Bureaucracy is more important than academic excellence? Success only counts if you jump through every hoop with 100% accuracy—even if your slightly faulty hoop jumping reflects an amazing accomplishment?

Valedictorian or not, Ms. Datta will be graduating with an unbelievable GPA, and has a fabulous future ahead of her. Best of luck to you, Anjali. You’re obviously on your way to a life of fabulous success stories—and no school board bureaucracy can take away.

Read more about this story in this Dallas Morning News.

Gender Gap and the “Boy Crisis” in Higher Education

Is there a “boy crisis” in higher education in the United States? Are females outperforming males at disturbingly high rates?

Yes and no. It depends on how you look at it.

The numbers do seem to indicate that something is going on. According to the U.S. Department of Education, significantly more college degrees are being awarded to women than men. Women earn about 62% of all associate’s degrees, 57% of bachelor’s degrees, and 59% of master’s degrees. This is especially interesting because, on the undergraduate level, there isn’t much of a gap at all between males and females entering college. The problem is with male graduation rates.

However, some argue that the so-called “boy crisis” is overstated. A recent report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) argues that the most significant disparity in educational achievement isn’t gender—it’s socioeconomic status and income level, which makes a far greater impact than gender. The gender gap in education is quite high among poorer students, but among students of middle class or higher status, the gender gap in favor of women is only slight.

Another important part of the educational gap to consider is the question of marketable skills and majors. Traditionally, majors that have attracted women (education, nursing, liberal arts) have led to lower paying careers, while majors that have traditionally attracted men (sciences, computers, engineering, business) have led to higher paying careers. As more women take on nontraditional majors, and as these fields open up more to women, this gap is closing. However, this disparity certainly hasn’t gone away—and it’s just as important as the question of whether more women than men are graduating from college.

Furthermore, it’s important to look at the entire socioeconomic picture for women after college. Women still only make about 76 cents for every dollar that a man makes. The degree to which this gap has closed over the years (it was closer to 50 cents after World War II) is certainly something to applaud—but there’s still a serious gap. Moreover, the gap between male and female wages increases quite a bit as women get older and into the years where people typically accumulate wealth. Right out of college, the gap isn’t all that high, but after the childbearing years are over, women tend to make significantly less than men. Women who choose to have children commonly find themselves downwardly mobile in the workplace, and the same is not true for men who have children—a fact that is not being offset much at all by women’s increased graduation rates.

So should we be concerned by the gap between male and female educational achievement? Of course. But the situation is more complicated than it looks on the surface. For a more accurate understanding of gender inequality in education and beyond, it’s important to look at the bigger picture.

Writing Skills are Important Preparation for College

Are you a high school student thinking about what classes will be most helpful for college, or a returning adult student wondering what skills you should practice before you go back? Here’s something many students don’t realize: college students need to know how to write, and how to write very well. In my experience, it sure seems like high schools are failing students terribly when it comes to teaching them how to write.

Unfortunately, many high school students simply are not being prepared nearly well enough in the crucial area of writing skills. There’s often a huge gap in what professors expect students to know how to do in terms of writing, and in what students actually do know how to do. This results in low grades, frustrated students, and frustrated instructors. It also results in many students falling through the cracks and never learning how to write well enough, which can be an enormous disadvantage when it’s time to get a job.

pencilWhen I was a professor, the level of writing exhibited by many of my students was incredibly frustrating. In my experience, here are some of the elements of writing instructors expect students to understand that they do not:

  • How to use punctuation properly—especially commas
  • How to use proper nouns properly
  • How to write and use a thesis statement
  • How to organize a paper in a way that makes the information easy to understand and easy to follow
  • How to write a bibliography
  • How to follow a style guide (APA, MLA, etc.) and cite information correctly throughout the text of a paper
  • How to cite information in a way that doesn’t unintentionally plagiarize
  • How to back up claims made throughout the paper with evidence
  • How to write a strong paper introduction
  • How to do research for papers that doesn’t exclusively involve the Internet

So, if you’re a high school student, how do you obtain the skills you need to write well enough for college? One thing you can do is to take all the writing classes you can in high school with teachers who have a good reputation for knowing how to teach writing. If you’re not doing well in these classes, meet with the teachers for extra help. If Advanced Placement English is available in your high school, consider taking it, even if English really isn’t your thing. Hands down, AP English was the best class I took in high school, and it prepared me well for college level writing.

If you’re a returning student, how can you prepare? If your writing skills aren’t as strong as you think they should be, consider taking a remedial class at a community college before officially enrolling as a student.

For all students, here’s one thing you can do to help you become a better writer: read, and read often! Many of the skills needed in writing come intrinsically as you immerse yourself in language.

Also Read:

How to Become a Better Writer

Using the Internet to find the right college

Finding a school has never been easier than it is today. Whether you’re looking for prospective colleges to attend or you need to know whether a certain neighborhood has a nearby elementary school for your child, using an online school finder can save a tremendous amount of time and effort.

For aspiring college students, a school finder can help narrow a nationwide search for a suitable university. You can conduct searches across thousands of colleges while focusing on a variety of criteria that are important to you. That will help you find a school that can offer the college experience you’d like to enjoy.

For parents, a school finder can help them search for elementary, middle and high schools across the country. This can help them decide whether a move to a certain area is a good decision. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the benefits of using a school finder.

How A School Finder Helps Aspiring College Students
With thousands of colleges from which to choose, the decision of which to attend can be difficult (especially when choosing a college far from home). Your college experience can have a significant impact on your life. The people you meet and the experiences you share can create friendships that last a lifetime.

A school finder can make your decision easier by narrowing your choice based upon the elements that are most important to you. For example, if you prefer to attend a small college, you can search for universities with a small student body. If you’d like to get involved in on-campus groups, a school finder can help you find a college that offers a variety of such groups. You can also search by the types of degrees offered, locations of the schools and available scholarships. Using an online school finder makes the traditional chore of reading college packets tedious and practically irrelevant.

How A School Finder Helps Parents
Parents can use a school finder to locate schools within certain districts, cities, or counties. If you’re planning to move or relocate, you can use this tool to determine whether certain neighborhoods offer a school for your children.

You can also search for a school based upon the type of education offered. For example, if your child requires the need for special educational services, a school finder will help locate elementary, middle and high schools that offer such services. If you prefer a school that can offer vocational or alternative programs for your child, you can locate such schools using this tool. For parents, this can be invaluable for deciding whether moving to a certain city or neighborhood is a good idea.

Using A School Finder To Save Time
Instead of spending hours on the phone or reading pamphlets, use a school finder to save time and narrow your search based upon your criteria. It can make the job of finding a school easier and time-efficient. Whether you’re looking for a university that offers the perfect college experience or an elementary school for your child, an online school finder literally puts the education system at your fingertips.

Article by Damon Zahariades

Understanding the GED Exam

In 1942, there was a dramatic need for education amongst soldiers in the Armed Forces. At the time, millions of young people were enlisting to fight in World War II. However, they were doing so before they had earned their high school diplomas. That problem prompted the military to ask the American Council on Education to create a series of tests that could be used by those who had enlisted to show they had the necessary academic skills to get jobs outside the military. The tests became known as the General Educational Development program or GED.

What Is The Purpose Of The GED?
When people began to enlist in the Armed Forces in the 1940’s, the military recognized a growing problem amongst soldiers’ eligibility for civilian jobs. Without a high school diploma, soldiers returning home were often denied jobs. The GED was created to measure and demonstrate these soldiers’ grasp of subjects taught in high school. Today, millions of adults who lack a high school diploma earn their GED to prepare them for the workplace and help them compete for jobs.

How Do You Pass The GED?
The GED tests a person’s understanding of five fundamental subjects: math, social studies, reading, writing and science. Each test is graded individually with a score from 200 to 800. In order to pass any of the five tests, a person must score at least 410. However, to actually earn their GED, an average score of 450 across all five tests is required. If a person fails to pass one or more of the five tests, they need only to retake the tests they failed to earn their GED.

What Is The Best Way To Study For The Test?
One of the best ways to study for the GED is to take classes specially designed to prepare students for the test. You can often find these classes at a community college or high school in your area. That said, many people find it difficult to attend these classes. Often, they have jobs or families that create a scheduling conflict. If you have this issue, your best alternative is to purchase a GED preparation book at your local bookstore and study when you have time available. These books are updated regularly to keep up with any changes made to the GED tests.

Benefits Of Getting Your GED
There are several benefits to earning your GED. First, getting a job is easier as many employers want to see that prospective employees have the fundamental academic skills equivalent of a high school diploma. You’ll also find it easier to get promotions at your job because your employer knows that you’re able to learn and apply new skills. Studies have shown that the average person with a GED can make hundreds of thousands of dollars more over their lifetime than a person without a GED or high school diploma.

To earn your GED, you’ll need to commit some time and effort to learning the material well enough to pass the tests. But, it’s an investment that can pay dividends for the rest of your life.

Article by Damon Zahariades

Getting to Know Your Freshman Year Roommate Over the Summer

Incoming students, your first year of college is just months away! And like many freshmen, you may be about to experience the most frustrating part of adjusting to school: living with a total stranger in a tiny dorm room. However, with a good attitude, life with a roommate doesn’t need to be painful. And the first thing you can do is establish a good relationship with your roommate over the summer before school starts.

As soon as you get information about your new roommate, make contact. Back in the “old days” when I went to college (1988), that meant a phone call. Of course, today there’s email. And if you’re both on Facebook or MySpace, add each other for sure. Getting to know each other a little bit now will make the transition easier, and you can use cyberspace to do this easily.

When meeting your roommate, keep an open mind. When I first called my roommate, I felt like she was looking for things not to like about me. Don’t do this. You certainly don’t have to be best friends with your roommate, or even friends at all—but you will have a much easier time if the two of you are friendly to and respectful of each other. So assume the best about your roommate, especially at first.

Once you get to know each other a little, summer is a good time to talk about expectations you have about the room, or even to draw up a roommate contract. Compromise is important, but it’s also important that you let each other know what you expect. For example, if one of you isn’t cool with overnight visits from the opposite sex, get that out in the open now before it becomes a problem. If cleanliness is very important to you, let that be known.

On a more practical note, summer is a good time to discuss things you’re going to bring to the room. One of you might choose to bring the fridge, and other the rug. You can also discuss color schemes to make sure things don’t horribly clash.

If you can, meet your roommate in person. This will make the first day in the dorm a whole lot less weird. If you live close to one another, get together for coffee or lunch. If you’re a long drive away from each other, consider getting together for lunch on campus, or invite your roommate over to your home.

Spend some time getting to know your roommate over the summer. Remember, freshman year is stressful, and the time you take to establish a comfortable relationship with your roommate can make things much easier.

Adult Students: College Instructors Love You!

Nervous about returning to school because you’re afraid that the instructors won’t welcome you? Well, think again. In my experience as a professor, most college instructors are delighted about having nontraditional students in their classes. Oh, there are exceptions, of course. (Some professors just don’t like anyone, unfortunately.) But here are some reasons why many instructors—myself included, back in the days when I taught—adore nontraditional students.

First of all, adult students appreciate their education. They’re working hard to balance work, kids, and whatever else is going on in their lives, and they wouldn’t be in college if they didn’t know it was worth their time. With so many undergrads around who see college as a burden, or who are only in college because it’s “what you do” after high school, it’s refreshing to have students around who are delighted to have the opportunity to get an education.

Second of all, adult students are respectful. When I started teaching in my early twenties. I feared that nontraditional students wouldn’t take me seriously because I was younger than them. Not so. Adult students respected me because they knew I had something to teach that would be useful for their careers and lives. They understood how much I work I put into my teaching, and because they were hardworking professionals themselves, they appreciated this.

Instructors also like nontraditional students because they don’t play games. They don’t have time. There’s nothing teachers hate more than students who try to do as little work as they can to get by, or who whine and try to bargain for points and special exceptions. Most adult students are way past this kind of nonsense, especially because they’ve been in the working world for awhile and know it doesn’t work.

Finally, professors who teach discussion-oriented classes love nontraditional students because they bring such a diversity of experiences to the table. Many traditional students appreciate this as well, and feel they can learn from those experiences.

So, if you’re going back to school, don’t worry about whether you’re going to be welcome. Sure, not everyone will be eager to have you around, but that’s true in every situation. Most college instructors will be delighted to see you in class the first day.

Make an Effort to Find College Scholarships and Grants

It’s no secret that higher education has become outrageously expensive. With that in mind, it’s worth putting in some serious effort to find yourself some financial aid that doesn’t have to be paid back—that is, scholarships and grants. Yes, it can be time consuming to look for scholarships and to fill out all of those applications, and it can be frustrating when the answer is “no” (and it will be more often than not, most likely). But with some work, you can reduce your student loan debt and your stress level by finding some free money—so believe me, it’s worth all that painful effort!

So where do you find scholarships? Here’s one thing many students don’t know: most scholarships are local, as opposed to national. That is, you’ll find lots of businesses, religious organizations, minority organizations, and others who are looking to give away money to students from a specific geographic region. These scholarships usually are for less money than national scholarships—but they also are far less competitive.

How do you find these local scholarships? Your high school guidance counselor or college advisor is one good source to ask. Be sure to visit the library and check out the most recent scholarship directory you can find. If you or your parents belong to a community or religious group, ask if there are any scholarships available to members, or if they can refer you in the direction of a scholarship. Also, take a look in local publications. And, of course, you’ll want to search the Internet.

One thing to watch out for: companies that want to sell you information about scholarships and grants. They’re all over the Internet. Scholarship and grant information is readily available for free, so don’t let anyone sucker you into this scam.

Remember, lots of money is out there. You just need to take the time to apply, and to have a thick enough skin to deal with rejection. Best of luck searching for scholarships and grants!

Are Professors Willing to Accommodate Students with Children?

Let’s face it—some professors and college instructors are more eager than others to help out the parents in their classrooms. Some professors are completely understanding when a student is late or absent because of a child’s needs. After all, many college teachers have children too, and even if they don’t, most of them have a clue about how real life works.

Unfortunately, some of your instructors really don’t get it. When I was a professor, I heard way too many of my colleagues whine about the “special accommodations” needed by a student with a sick child. And no, it wasn’t only men who had this attitude.

So what’s the best way to approach a classroom situation when you know you may be absent, late, or in need of some extra time for deadlines because of a child? One of the best things to do is to talk to the teacher. Instructors want to know that students are serious about their classes, so if a student demonstrates they are serious, a teacher is much more likely to allow reasonable accommodations. Say something like, “I’m really excited about this class and am a serious student. I wanted you to know that I’m the single parent of a four-year-old, and I may be a little late because I have to get her to preschool in the morning. I’ll try my very best to get here on time.”

This professional approach will go a long way—and if you’re professional and ask, you may just find that the instructor is more than willing to help you out.

In one case, I had a student who was often quite late to my early class because she had to take her son to school. I invited her to sit in on my later class when necessary, and that solved the problem. In a few cases, I invited students to bring their children to class on days when child care glitches occurred. While this was sometimes a minor distraction to the class (although most were delighted to have a cute little kid around), I felt it was important to demonstrate that children should not be seen as a burden, and that society needs to do what it can to accommodate parents.

So what happens if you encounter an unsympathetic teacher? First, try to have a friendly conversation, and reiterate that you are a serious student who needs just a bit of extra consideration. If your instructor is simply unreasonable, complain—either during or after the semester. Familiarize yourself with the grievance procedure in your school. You may not know it, but many schools have an office of equal opportunity and diversity that handles issues such as this one. Visit them and discuss your options. In addition, look for resources on campus for nontraditional students and parents. A network of people in a similar situation can help you navigate the system.

Remember, you’re not doing anything wrong. Going to school and being a parent at the same time is an accomplishment to be proud of, and any reasonable instructor will respect you for this. I know how much I respected my students with kids—both before and after I became a parent—and you’ll find that this attitude is not unusual.


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