Prep Talk Blog > March 2009

You probably know that great grades and a trophy case of awards are prime ingredients for winning scholarships. But did you know that some schools trade off tuition entirely for work on campus?

According to Scott Alan’s article published on, the following colleges are tuition-free for students willing to commit themselves to the college work-study programs:

    * College of the Ozarks,also known as “Hard Work U.®”, is  a Christian college founded by James Forsythe, a Presbyterian missionary, in 1906. According to the college’s website, all full-time students work rather than pay tuition and are evaluated on their academic and work performances. The total cost of attending this college is estimated at $16,400 yearly. Students attend absolutely free of charge!
Work study commitment for full-time students: 15 hours a week; 42 work weeks a year.

    * Deep Springs College has an annual enrollment of 26. The liberal arts students (all of them male) live on a cattle-ranch and alfalfa farm in California ’s high desert for the duration of the two-year program.  After two years of working from sun-up to, often, after sundown, many students transfer and complete their degrees at some of America ’s most prestigious institutions.
Work study commitment for all students: At least 20 hours a week for the two year study program. For a candid view of daily life at Deep Springs College , click here! 

    * Berea College, like College of the Ozarks, is a “work college” with an enrollment of 1,500 students who all attend completely free of charge! As the first interracial and co-educational college in the South, Berea College has an amazing history and inspiring commitment to equal educational access.
Work study commitment for all students: Ten to fifteen hours a week in over 100 departments. Check out their website for more work study information.

   * Alice Lloyd College is a four-year, private liberal arts college in Pippa Passes , Kentucky . As a work college, all students can afford the tuition-free education through the required work study program.
Work study commitment for all students: Ten to fifteen hours per week during the academic year and additional summer work programs to meet extra costs of attendance, such as room and board.

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Truth: Maybe and maybe not. Don’t cut out a few thousand colleges and limit yourself to a fraction of the options before the facts are in!

Seth Allen, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Grinnell College, weighs in with the following thoughts for your consideration:

    * Public and private colleges both calculate your need-based financial aid package using your FAFSA application (which determines your “Expected Family Contribution"). Allen points out that if your family is expected to contribute $15,000, for example, then that amount would be the same for both a public and private college.

    * Private colleges and public colleges operate using different types of funding. Allen advises students to look at the type of financial aid they are offered, not just the dollar amount. If a public university is facing tight times, then students may have to take out more loans. As you are comparing the cost of attending colleges, you need to focus on how much student loan debt you will have beyond graduation. A private college may have additional gift or merit-based aid available and you could graduate with less debt than at a state university.

    * State universities are vulnerable to funding cuts, especially in the current economic crisis. Allen claims that state universities may have to reduce merit scholarship awards and lay off faculty members, which would lead to larger classes and fewer program offerings. In times of recession, private colleges may have more resources to devote to students.

    * Students generally graduate in less time (four years) at private colleges than at public universities. Allen believes that the resource cuts at public universities may further delay a student's ability to graduate in four years, which would lead to additional costs for extra semesters or years in college.

    * Public and private colleges all have different sticker prices but students need to consider the net costs of attending these colleges (including financial aid packages, amount of student loans, estimated years spent to get a degree, and differences in costs of living) before deciding on the best value.

My advice: Take an open-minded approach as you search for colleges that may be right for you. You owe it to yourself to make an informed choice after you have reviewed what your top college selections have to offer you in terms of quality of education, campus environment, activities and extracurricular offerings, and financial commitment. You may be a great candidate for your local state university or choose to venture out of state for a great public university elsewhere, but don’t limit your college future because of stereotypes about the price of going private.

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Not completely! Don’t give up on the last leg of the race!

After the application has been mailed or the “send” button has been hit, you can start to rejoice that you've come a long way toward your building your college future! But don’t get too comfy, you still need to make sure that college admissions officers know you are still interested!

Truth: Colleges are into accepting students that will actually enroll and attend.

According to Jackie Burrell, colleges often base their final acceptance decisions on how a student demonstrates interest in actually attending the college. You see, no one likes rejection and colleges want to extend acceptance letters to students who will likely enroll in their college. The percentage of accepted students who end up matriculating is called “yield”, and this affects everything from a school's public image to its rankings. If you were a college admissions officer trying to do decide between two applicants with similar strengths and qualifications, how would you decide?

Tips for what to do after you apply:
Schedule a visit to the college with an admissions officer. In addition to displaying your level of interest to the admissions folks, you are also getting another opportunity to gather information before you make your final enrollment decision.
Call or email with informed questions and proactively respond to any emails or phone calls that you receive from them. Remember, no one likes a stalker! You should think of questions that will show your interest in some unique area of the college and send a brief email. Just like in other relationships, you need to wait for the college to respond to your question before following up.  Demonstrate your interest with confidence and develop communication plans for touching base for more information about the college. Resist the temptation to ask about your application status or acceptance odds! Just show that you are serious about learning more about their college and pursuing your educational future.

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We first covered CollegeWeekLive back in November, and this March, it's back and bigger than ever. Attending this completely virtual college fair is as easy (and free!) as logging in to the website. Forget the time-consuming road trips, two-dimensional viewbooks, or overenthusiastic tour guides -- save energy and money with this one-stop destination for information on where to go and how to get in. Involving hundreds of schools and over 100,000 attendees, CollegeWeekLive caters to both high schoolers and their parents. Keynote presentations include topics such as "Sports Scholarships", "The College Interview and Visit", and "How To Go To College In A Tough Economy". The live Q&As and panel discussions make this online experience as interactive as a real college fair.

Besides the hundreds of admissions and financial aid reps who will be available to chat live with prospective applicants, there will also be over 50 schools, ranging from Emerson College to Yale University, running video chats that feature real college students giving their take on campus life and culture. Though nothing can compare to an overnight stay or in-person visit, CollegeWeekLive is a good alternative for students who are still making up their minds or narrowing down their choices.

Remember, however, that there's no replacement for doing your own independent research. Though they may offer valuable advice, many of the featured CollegeWeekLive speakers represent for-profit companies which sell consulting and counseling services. Hopefully, in the future, the fair will feature more speakers from non-profit organizations without economic interests tied to admissions.

You can register now for the next fair, which will take place on March 25th and 26th.

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Lauren Starky, who writes about college admissions for, recently listed the “Ten Worst Reasons to Choose a College”. To help you avoid making big mistakes, I'm sharing Starky’s list and discussing how to steer clear of common errors.

   1. "The website and/or brochure look great." ALL college websites and brochures look great. Even if the school is in a slum, the photographer will shoot the tiny patch of grass at an angle to make it look like an urban oasis.  The students are always happy, studious, and good looking, and the weather is perfect. Remember that these are marketing tools—they might have information you need, but they’re also about selling an image.

     What NOT to do in your college search: 

      Don't make your search list solely based upon a college's marketing material! While official websites are great primary resources for learning core facts about what each school has to offer, you won't gain insight into the potential downsides of a campus. Try to get the full picture by reading blogs about the college and watching candid student-created campus videos.

   2. Prestige. There’s nothing wrong with going to a highly selective school; you’ll receive a great education and have access to an alumni network that could help you land a high-paying job. However, choosing a school solely for its prestigious reputation is shallow. You’re going to be there for four years—make sure the attraction is more than skin deep.

      What NOT to do in your college search:

      Don't put all your eggs in the most prestigious baskets! The colleges with the big names draw the most attention, but that also means they're the toughest to get into. If you're genuinely attracted to the most popular schools, go ahead and apply! Work hard to make yourself the most qualified candidate you can be and realize that everyone else is doing the same to win that much-coveted spot in the incoming class. At the same time, make sure that you have back-up “safety schools” with less “sizzle” that are equally as attractive in terms of “substance” (i.e. comparable academic opportunities and extracurricular programs). 

   3. Your friends are going there. Just because they’re your friends doesn’t mean you share the same goals, study habits, or lifestyle preferences. Going to college is the first real step to becoming independent, and choosing a school should be about thinking for yourself.

      What NOT to do in your college search:

      Don't be a follower and limit your college options! Chances are that your friends will end up pursuing career opportunities different from yours, and their paths may take them to a different state or even a different country! Remember “The Game of LIFE®” board game? Each player chooses a path on his or her first turn and that first choice dramatically influences the course of the game and the eventual winner. Your decision about where you are going to college is setting the course for your adult life- it should be a decision based on your strengths and interests!

   4. It’s cheap. Once it’s time to decide which college you’ll attend, finances are of course a major consideration. But we’re talking about applying: if there's a school you’d like to go to which seems out of reach financially, apply anyway (you might even be able to get the application fee reduced or waived). If you get in, they may offer an aid package that makes it possible for you to attend. Cost alone is not a good reason to apply to a college.

      What NOT to do in your college search:

      Pay too much attention to the college sticker price! Colleges and universities are supported by grants, endowments, alumni, corporate funding, private donations, and so on. Each student’s tuition is just a drop in the bucket to the college and, for the right students, colleges are willing to negotiate! If you are an excellent fit for the college, you may find that your ideal college matches will extend a competitive financial aid offer that allows you to attend. If you limit your search to dollars and cents, you may be matching yourself to colleges that don’t fit your needs at all.

   5. The online matching program told you it was a good school for you. Those free programs can help you learn about schools you might not have considered and give you ideas about narrowing down your choices. But they’re not foolproof and they’re highly impersonal (no matter how much they try to appear otherwise). Don’t give their “advice” more weight than it deserves.

      What NOT to do in your college search:

      Don't rely on one source to make your college decision! Whether it's your friends, a website, or an admissions counselor, no one but you can make the final decision that best fits your unique needs, interests and talents. Programs like My College Options® are designed to provide helpful tools and tips for making an informed, confident decision after you have considered your college options.

   6. You know you’ll get in. Everyone needs a safety school, but you should give as much thought to choosing that school as you have given to your reach schools. Just because something's a sure thing doesn't mean you wouldn't love to attend all the same.

      What NOT to do in your college search:

      Don't choose a college just because! With over 3,500 college and university options to choose from, you shouldn't ever have to resort to randomness to make a selection.  If I were you, narrowing down my options to the ones that I am most excited about would be the real challenge! 

   7. They offer the major you’re interested in. If they’re also in a great location, are the size you’re looking for, and overall match your other criteria, then apply. If not, an academic program alone (unless it’s so unique that you really don’t have another choice) is a bad reason. Can you spell t-r-a-n-s-f-e-r?

      What NOT to do in your college search:

      Don't make a complex, multi-faceted decision based upon one factor! Your primary goal for attending college is to earn a degree in your major field of study. However, you also need to consider how your future college is going to meet your needs while you are working on your degree. Chances are, you can find your major at a college that matches your size, location, activity, budget and lifestyle needs.

   8. Your mother/grandfather/uncle went there. Again, does it match your criteria? If not, then being a legacy is not as important as attending a college that’s a great fit for you.

      What NOT to do in your college search:

      Don't design your future for someone else! Choosing a college just because you have family roots there is like picking a college to be with your high school friends. You should listen to input from family and friends and take their experiences and advice into consideration. But, ultimately, you are the one who is going to devote four years (at least) to your college education and the decision has to be right for you!

   9. It’s always on the list of top-ten party schools. And you’re going to college why? Everyone needs to unwind, but if partying takes precedence over education now, before you’re even there, it might be a wise idea to consider taking a year off. There are some great “gap year” programs out there to help you get some experience and identify what you’d like to study.

      What NOT to do in your college search:

      Don't base your college choices on ANY top-ten list! Do you ever completely agree with the top ten songs, movies, bands, fashions or sports teams? No! Because, “best” is an expression of opinion and opinions differ- radically- from person to person. “Best”, or “top ten”, in your college search should apply to the colleges that have the most to offer you as an individual!

  10. It’s the only school you’ve seen and you like it. After seeing five more schools, you might still like it. Or you might discover that it only looked good when you had nothing to compare it to. Going to college takes a considerable amount of time and money. Get out there and visit a few more.

      What NOT to do in your college search:

      Don't be hardheaded or close-minded, and only apply to one college. Ask yourself; is there only one good restaurant in town or one good song on the radio? When you have literally thousands of colleges to choose from, why would you ignore all of your other options? And, what if that one college happens to receive three applications for every one spot in their incoming class? By all means, it is good to focus on your goals and hone in on what you really want- but you also want to know that you have choices and solid alternatives.

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Don Munce