Prep Talk Blog > January 2009

If you're in high school, your parents and guidance counselors are likely pushing you to do some sort of community service work. They've probably told you the following a million times: "It will look great on your resume!" "You will be helping people in need!" "It will make you look well-rounded!"  However, community service doesn't just look good on a college application. Nowadays, volunteering for free can literally pay off in the form of scholarships and even full rides, reports USA Today.

Sure, star athletes and geniuses are still first in line for the annual $29 billion in institutional grants given out by colleges, but there is a growing trend in what are called service scholarships. Schools such as The College of New Jersey, Tufts University, and Drew University have implemented major service scholarship programs to help those who give back. 

The USA Today article discusses a young woman from Rochester, New York, who was always very active in community service. She thought that would make colleges more likely to accept her, but she was shocked when she opened up an envelope and found that Drew University was offering her a service scholarship that would cover her entire tuition (which is about $36,000 a year).

While these service scholarships award students for helping the community while in high school, once they get a service scholarship to a college, the hard work doesn't end there. In order to attend, most of the schools require you to fulfill a certain number of community service hours (sometimes up to 300 hours per year). However, the community service activities are frequently related to classroom learning.  

Schools and organizations that are beginning to add more service scholarship programs hope this will help take away a little emphasis on grades and put more on giving back to the community.

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If you're a “Jack of All Trades” who signed up for every club in school, you may win the prize for most memberships but you won't be winning the hearts of any admissions officers.

Fact: Colleges are looking for well-rounded, committed students.

Think about your track record for extracurricular activities:

Do you rock at one or two activities?
Do you flop around from club to club spending the minimum time possible in each?

As you build your college resume, think about how you are going to truthfully demonstrate that you are well-rounded (engaged inside and outside the classroom) and committed (dedicated to these outside pursuits). Colleges want to see that you have well-developed interests and the ability to make and reach goals.

My advice: Pick a manageable number of activities (less than three, for most of us) and devote your time to being the best that you can be. Show steady progress toward a defined goal, such as a leadership position or a higher standing on a sports team.

Remember, your core academics are still the primary focus when you apply. Extracurricular successes aside, you must demonstrate that you have what it takes to graduate successfully.

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When choosing the college you want to attend, one of your main considerations is probably the cost of tuition. But have you ever thought about how a school's price tag compares to how much its degree will earn you in the future? SmartMoney recently released a list of the universities that offer the biggest payoffs. By comparing tuition costs with how much graduates were earning five and 15 years after graduation, they created a payback ratio which shows the schools that are the best long-term investments.

It turns out that several major public universities offer the best bang for your buck. The Ivy League schools may come with more prestige and better business networks, but their graduates do not necessarily earn more than public school graduates in the long run.

To learn more about SmartMoney's findings and their ranking methodology, read the full article. Here are some of the schools with the best payback ratio: 

Public Schools:

   1. Texas A&M University (Average payback: 315%)
   2. University of Texas at Austin – my alma mater! (Average payback: 306%)
   3. Georgia Tech (Average payback: 263%)
   4. University of Georgia (Average payback: 239%)
   5. University of Washington (Average payback: 225%)

Liberal Arts Schools:

   1. Washington and Lee (Average payback: 145%)
   2. University of Richmond (Average payback: 130%)
   3. Lafayette College (Average payback: 115%)
   4. College of the Holy Cross (Average payback: 114%)
   5. Bucknell University (Average payback: 114%)

Ivy League Schools:

   1. Princeton (Average payback: 132%)
   2. Dartmouth College (Average payback: 131%)
   3. Yale University (Average payback: 127%)
   4. Harvard University (Average payback: 124%)
   5. University of Pennsylvania (Average payback: 124%)

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What do high school students, military members, and football players have in common?

For the second year in a row, eKnowledge, a company that sells SAT, ACT, and LSAT preparation software, has teamed up with the NFL and the Department of Defense. Together they will be contributing millions of dollars worth of eKnowledge's SAT/ACT PowerPrep Programs to members of the military and their families. They want students in military families to have as much access to higher education as possible during these trying times.

Anyone in the military, whether retired or active, can request as many of the programs as they need for students in their families. The Standard PowerPrep Program normally costs $199, and military families get it for free (they only pay for shipping). The Premium Program retails for $299.95, and military families can get this for $50. The Combo Premium retails for $599.95 but is available to military families for just $75.  The software can be shipped to United States addresses and APO addresses.

To ensure the discount only goes to those who are eligible, the Department of Defense has made a secure website that confirms military status.

At the time this blog post was written, 95,117 copies of the program had already been donated to military families. To learn more about the military sponsorship and to order your copy of the PowerPrep Program, go to the eKnowledge website.

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Truth: You're not out of the woods yet! You have to continue to demonstrate that you challenge yourself and are committed to academic progress. Take pride in your acceptance letters and live up to your future college's expectations. You never know- your college of choice could ask for second semester course selections and grades. Do you think that your college is looking for the applicant that benched his or her brain during senior year?

Ways to stay in shape for college:

Keep up the great work in AP classes: You could test in beyond college freshman level courses. In some cases, you can even rack up college credit!
Even if you are not scoring AP credits, taking college preparation courses will help you ramp up for college-level courses.
Come on, you've come so far in achieving your college dreams. Finish the race strongly by steering clear of senioritis pitfalls!

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Don Munce