Wednesday, October 12, 2011

More Cheap Textbook Websites

I came across these while listening to a podcast today. I suggest doing a search for you textbook on all three in addition to to find the best deal.
(I love this idea, buy or RENT your textbooks - renting makes sense to me!)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I just found a great website for saving money on textbooks:

Find out which textbooks you need for your classes on you school's website (bookstore) and compare to the prices that this search engine finds. It basically searches the Internet for the best deals on the textbook you are looking for. Make sure that the shipping doesn't make it more expensive than buying it at your local bookstore, and remember to factor in your student discount that you would get locally.

Another option - if it is a book that you will only need for a few weeks of your class, borrow the book from someone who has already taken the class or check it out at the library. Don't forget the public library; they don't often carry textbooks, but if you are looking for another type of book they offer better checkout terms. Often professors put their required textbooks on reserve at the library, but they are so overused that it's hard to get your hands on them when you need them.

Community Colleges

The first two years at a four year public university are very exciting, but I have to say that community colleges are a better bet for someone who is trying to get the best education deal for their money. Here is why:

1.) Community colleges are cheaper, sometimes by as much as 50%, and one can usually pay for tuition at one by working a part time job.Community colleges don't waste their money on sports teams, stadiums, lavishly kept grounds, and palatial buildings. The professors make less, and they are often subsidized more heavily by local government.
2.) While overworked and underpaid, the professors at community colleges are usually not researchers at the head of their fields. This seems like a bad thing? Not at all - at the typical four year university many of the discussions, labs, help sessions and sometimes even lectures are taught by graduate students only a few years older than yourself.
This is because the professors listed for each course spend the majority of their time researching and publishing. They need to publish academic papers and books so that they can get tenure, and their institutions promote this setup because professors who publish garner interest and publicity for their schools. This increases the school's status, which is like free advertising, and thus more students will matriculate there. Graduate students need teaching experience and work cheaply, therefore, they are allowed to pass on to you what they learned from another graduate students just a few years before.
At community colleges everything is taught by someone who teachers for a living - period. You are their main focus and you don't have to put up with any attitude from professors who think you are there to distract  them from their research.
3.) Your first two years of college should be about exploring a wide variety subjects, not getting into whatever program you have had your eyes on since you were twelve. Even if you feel that you know exactly what you want to do with your life after school, force yourself to take classes in a wide variety of disciplines. And no matter what, learn a language during these first two years; Spanish, Chinese and French are all good options. They will help you in pretty much whatever field you go into. If you don't yet know what you want to do, community college is the place to explore different fields. Take internships and practicums in fields you are interested in, and take classes that help you understand the basics in a wide variety of subject matter.
4.)  The content of the classes in the 100 and 200 range is almost exactly the same whether you learn it at a community college or a four year university. Just see the registrar at the university you are transferring to, and get information on how your community college credits will transfer. You should look to take classes that transfer as a named course at your new school. Elective credit isn't a bad thing, but if you do have your eye on a particular program of study, you want to make sure that your prerequisites are satisfied.

So there you have it. Graduate from high school. Start your education at a community college, and transfer after your second year of study to a public four year university. More on choosing a university coming in later posts.

Monday, April 18, 2011

For Profit Colleges

I will be honest with you, all colleges make money off of their students. However, there are some that are worse than others. Most colleges and universities do cost a lot of money, but the product they provide, a high quality education and a reputable degree, is worth the expense. As some of these schools advertise on my blog, I will not name names, but I will say, beware colleges that are entirely online (no campus for you to visit), and those that claim to shorten your time to degree. There are no shortcuts to becoming educated.  I highly suggest every high school senior watch the film Declining by Degrees: Higher Education at Risk for the full truth. You can purchase a copy on Amazon or view it online for free. Declining by Degrees: Higher Education at Risk

High School Lessons Learned

To start at the beginning, some lessons learned that might save you some time and energy getting into the "real" world:

1.) An honors diploma of any kind from your small local high school is meaningless once you graduate. A regular diploma or GED is all anyone cares about (i.e. employers, colleges, and the military). It will not help you get into any school (especially Ivy League) and it will not go onto your college transcripts. Unless you are interested in the classes offered anyway, don't bother! One caution, a GED, while technically equal to a diploma, carries a certain stigma with it until you get your first college degree or job experience. If you are looking for entrance to a more prestigious school, program or job, I would advise that you do everything in your power to get the diploma.

2.) Advanced placement (AP) classes are also often worthless; although there is some potential for getting college credit from them and the college-like class structure is somewhat valuable as an experience. It all depends on your expectations. When I was in high school the teachers and counselors always touted that we would get college credit if we took the AP classes. This was misleading, because what they didn't tell us (until the first day of class) was that you had to take and get a good grade in the class, pass an AP test at the end, and pay an extra fee to actually get the credit. What we didn't find out until after we took this test was that only two or three people from our class actually passed. What we didn't find out until college was that for those two or three who passed the test, all they got was general elective credit, and not specific class credit towards their degree. Using the above example to illustrate, the AP Biology credits (which usually transferred as 100 level elective credits) did not take the place of Biology 101 (the introductory biology class for non science majors) so you still had to take the same content over again if you wanted credit for it. Those general elective credits may or may not count towards your degree, and probably won't count towards your cumulative GPA. So basically, if you take an AP class in high school you are spending money for credit that has very little value once you get to college, and quite likely, you will have to spend more money to get recognition for the same class content.

All that being said, AP classes are often taught differently than your average high school class. Most of your classmates have the same goal of getting to college. This allows your teacher to treat you more like adults and provides an opportunity for you to take greater control of your education. For example, when I was in my AP Biology class in high school, I chose to work with sharks. My teacher ordered for me a REAL (preserved)  three foot shark to work with. It was a really cool and enriching experience. If you do choose to take an AP exam, be sure to use a study guide other than your text book before sitting for it, such as those provided by Barron's or Princeton :
Cracking the AP Chemistry Exam, 2008 Edition (College Test Preparation)
AP US History Flash Cards - AP US History Review with 1400+ flashcards. APUSH For PC/MACBarron's AP World History5 Steps to a 5 AP US Government and Politics, 2010-2011 EditionCracking the AP Biology Exam, 2011 Edition (College Test Preparation)
Cracking the AP Biology Exam, 2011 Edition (College Test Preparation)

3.) Graduate EARLY! Talk to your school's counselor, and figure out exactly what it takes to graduate a year ahead of time. It usually doesn't take a great deal of sacrifice,  nor a super high IQ - just careful planning. You get to college a year before your peers and increase your eventual lifetime earning potential by a year. Assuming you can make $20,000 in a year at even the smallest job, that gives you an extra $20,000 to add to your lifetime income! Plus, you can escape all the high school drama a year ahead of time. You can usually even come back and walk with your class at graduation if you want to.

4.) Unless you are the next Joe Montana, Brad Pitt or Glee cast member, extracurricular activities like sports, drama, and band  are probably not going to get you a scholarship. Most of the guys on my teams were offered partial scholarships, which they probably could have earned the equivalent of by working part-time during summer break. These after school activities provide a good chance to socialize and to experience competition, but don't devote your entire high school career to them. I promise you, after you graduate, the experience is quickly forgotten. Employers and colleges don't care that you started for you high school football team, or went to state in wrestling.

While I'm on the subject, if you do decide to do a sport, do one that doesn't involve concussions and broken bones. Stay clear of football, wrestling, boxing or any other sport that might involve a strong knock to the head. These hits can cause permanent brain damage, and while I was lucky enough to escape this, I do have a few nasty injuries to my joints that I could do without now that I'm 30. And as far as band and drama club goes, I would suggest that you do, at some point, take part in a school play (maybe even learn to play an instrument), but don't get so into that scene that people start making fun of you for it. I am friends with a few people who went through that particular bit of high school hazing, and they still carry the scars and resentment around with them.

5.) Work a job and save money for college. Don't waste your money on a fancy car, clothes above and beyond what it takes to fit in, or any of the other crap you buy at the mall. I'll be honest, what you save from this probably won't be nearly enough to last you through your first year of school, but it will help quite a bit in getting you through your first term.

6.) Don't bother with letters of recommendation from your teachers unless your colleges or universities  specifically requests them, but do ask three or four of your favorite teachers to be references for you. Often when schools ask for a letter of recommendation, they have a particular form they like your references to fill out. So having them written ahead of time is a waste. Also, when you apply for a job, most of the time you can simply list the names and contact information of your references, you don't need a whole letter. Make sure you get phone numbers, addresses, and emails of everyone on your reference list.

7.) The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is due at different times depending on which school you decide to go to. Familiarize yourself with this form and attend any college nights put on by your school to learn about how to fill out this application. The deadlines for your school can be found here:

FAFSA is the means by which most financial aid is distributed by post secondary institutions in the USA. If you don't fill it out you will miss out on  a whole bunch of low interest or interest free loans and grants. You fill out the form (which you can do online before you even apply to a school), and then after a fair bit of time get an award letter in the mail. Each school you sent your application to, as indicated when you filled out your FAFSA, will send you an award letter indicating how much they are willing to offer you in aid. You respond by the date indicated on the award letter indicating whether you will accept or decline the award. More on this in later posts. Just be sure, if it is your terminal year, that you know about FAFSA and its deadlines. A great place to find out more can be found in the book 101 Tips for Maximizing College Financial Aid: Definitive Guide to Completing 2011-2012 FAFSA.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

College is a Game - & You Should Come Out On Top

Post-secondary education is a game; as many of us who have successfully navigated and worked in its hallowed corridors can attest. First and foremost, the new student must realize that colleges and universities are businesses. No matter what their slogans say, their existence is predicated on their ability to make money. This is not to say that they do not do good things for their students, far from it, a person's earning potential increases significantly with a simple associates degree. Job security is also increased, and this is to say nothing of the non-tangible benefits of having some acquaintance with the arts, sciences, and letters of our world. It is an impoverished soul who has not been acquainted with the great philosophers, and gained an understanding of how the world operates through a science curriculum.

Consider the following links on the benefits of a college education:
State Farm's Statistics on earning potential
USA Today: Amount of Schooling Affects Earning Potential
Bureau of Labor Statistics: More Education Means Higher Earnings for Life
Occupation Outlook Quarterly: College at Work: Outlook and earnings for college graduates, 2000-2010

So, there you have it, I could devote pages to proving links like this - studies show that a college education is worth it. However, these are all very general studies. Not all college degrees are equal, and not all institutions are either. Even so, one could get a degree from Harvard that was completely worthless if they didn't study the right subjects, get the right experience and make the right connections.

That is what this website is about; helping those new to the college experience avoid making the costly mistakes that so often turn a valuable degree into a very costly piece of paper. Stay tuned to this website as we guide the new student through the college process from beginning to end.