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In a move that mirrors the proposal in Oregon we talked about a few months back, Canadian province Nova Scotia has voted to eliminate interest on college student loans. The legislation is a deliberate and explicit move to remove the crippling financial burden of debt from new students as they start their careers.

Other provinces (and states) should take note. This is a no-brainer. Investing in your college graduates is how you build toward a prosperous future. In an era where the rapidly rising cost of a college education makes more and more people question if the degree is worth the investment, it is in the government’s best interest to reassure people about the value of higher education.

The only lesson to take away from the huge recession a few years back is that searching for short-term gains at the expense of long-term growth is never worth the cost. Let’s be more cautious about who we give loans to and more forgiving about paying them back. The purpose of a loan is an investment in a person or an idea, not a bait and switch to rake in interest and penalties. It’s true with houses, and it’s just as true with students’ futures.

cbnew_blue_RGBYou might have heard that the SAT is getting redesigned again. Among other changes, the plan is to shift back to the old 1600 point scale that old farts like me took. (That’s the way it was pre-2005.) It’ll also be the first test available in both print and digital form, a change which seems almost comically overdue. These changes won’t take effect until 2016.

On top of those changes, there are a number of shifts that bring the test more closely in line with the Common Core State Standards, the guidelines that dictate what students should know by the time they’ve completed a certain grade.

Whether you love or hate the Common Core (and everyone seems to be torn between those two extremes), I think it is reasonably safe to say that the SAT of the near future will be a less stressful experience than what you and I remember. Here are a few of the changes for the easier:

1. The essay section is optional

Though it’s less than 10 years old, the essay portion of the test is going to become entirely optional. It’s likely certain colleges and programs will require it and others will not. But generally speaking, the essay will only be attempted by students who are pretty confident in their writing ability. Like when the essay section was originally introduced. I’m of two minds about this change. On the one hand, it’s too bad that learning how to write is apparently considered an “optional” skill. On the other hand, judging an essay on a fixed, standardized scale just encourages writing what the judges want to see, and that’s often not the same thing as good writing. So maybe having an essay on the SAT was always kind of a ridiculous addition.

2. No more penalties for guessing

As you no doubt remember, in an effort to discourage wild, random guessing, an incorrect answer on a multiple choice question on the SAT was actually worth negative points. I have no complaints whatsoever about the new test ditching the guess penalty; it was always a dumb rule anyway. I had a physics teacher in high school who applied the same rule to his tests. However, the point deductions were much, much larger since quizzes would typically only have 10-12 questions on them. True story, I had a friend who, because of this scoring system, once scored a -3/100.

3. Less topics covered by the math section

Rethinking the SAT as a true college preparatory test, the math section is going to cover a less extensive range of topics. The idea is to focus primarily on the ideas that will carry over into college, which won’t necessarily cover everything from high school. Goodbye geometry.

4. Less esoteric vocabulary

As an English major, this one bugs me a little. The new vocabulary list is going to do away with less commonly used words in favor of words that are more likely to be used in students’ future college and professional careers. You might lose a word like… well, like “esoteric”… in place of a word like “empirical” which is more likely to show up in a college course. No doubt this will make the vocab section easier, but what worries me is the impact this will have on etymology. While plenty of people would argue with me that it’s not important to learn the origins of words, understanding how the various roots and fragments come together to express ideas is incredibly useful to studying any language. You might never use a word like “exculpate,” but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in knowing that “inculpable,” “culpability” and “mea culpa” are all built from the same root.

So what do you think? Is it a good thing that the test is taking actual high school and college work into deeper consideration? Or do you think the new test sounds too “dumbed down”?

 

tired students with tablet pc, books and notebooks

Misery loves company. A new study out of USC argues that stress is reduced when the experience is shared. In other words, complaining about your ridiculous deadlines, unreasonable professors, and brutal workloads with your classmates is actually a valid coping mechanism.

For the study, researchers measured cortisol (a hormone released in stressful situations) levels among participants completing a public speaking task. Participants who were allowed to discuss the task among one another in advance were notably less stressed than those in isolation.

The key was the emotional state of the person who spoke with the participant. When the emotional profiles were the same — because they were in a similar situation — stress levels decreased. That suggests there’s something more socially advanced going on than simple catharsis. Stress levels aren’t just dropping because the participants are getting the stress off their backs, they’re dropping because the participants see that someone else is stressed out too. There’s an automatic surge of social support that comes just from knowing somebody else is having a similar reaction.

So next time your professor announces that you’ll be having a final paper AND a final exam, don’t call up your parents or your boyfriend/girlfriend to complain. They’ll support you, saying, “I’m sure you’ll do just fine.”

But you’ll feel a lot better talking to that person who sits next to you in lectures, who’ll tell you, “This is impossible. We are both going to fail.” It’s just nice to know someone else feels the same.

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Have a passion for writing and want to be featured here in our blog? How about a chance of winning a Kindle Fire?

We’re looking for writers that are passionate about sharing their college experiences by writing exciting content on our blog. We see tremendous value in providing content to college students from college students and we want your help!

Whether your passion is sports, campus politics, fashion, or anything else under the college experience umbrella, we’d love for your stories to be featured in our blog.

We’ll be selecting one blog entry per week and rewarding the lucky writer with $100 in free textbooks that’ll surely come in handy next semester. Plus you’ll receive the esteem of having your work published and seen by a large audience of readers! Oh, and let’s not forget about the chance to win a new Kindle Fire!

If this sounds like a challenge you are up for, please visit: http://www.bookbyte.com/write-to-win.aspx where you can find the rules and submit your entry. Good luck and happy writing!

iStock_000011798346SmallThe following is a guest post written by Carl Berry. Berry is a financial writer who covers tips and tricks for saving money on travel, college expenses, and everyday items.

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This winter has brought some of the worst weather in recent memory. If you’ve been bombarded with snow, ice, and sub-zero winds — or even if you’re just tired of hearing about them — you can find some much-needed mental respite by sitting down and planning your spring break. However, before you start booking your tickets and packing your bags, be sure to start off on the right foot financially. You’re more than likely to graduate with a hefty student loan balance, which means that the better you manage your money during your college years, the easier it’s going to be to establish yourself after you don the cap and gown. Here are five ways to save money during your spring break.

1. Start Researching Airfares Now

Whether you’re going to Cancun, Daytona Beach, or somewhere in between, start researching airfares now. Use travel aggregator websites such as Kayak or BookingBuddy where you can receive updates on sales and discounted prices. To truly maximize your savings, book through Priceline’s Name Your Own Price program. You won’t necessarily know your carrier or flight time until you book, and you may have to deal with a layover, but you can save a lot of money by going this route.

2. Book Your Hotel Room Strategically

Snagging a beachfront hotel room in Ft. Lauderdale sounds great, but it’s also expensive. Instead, book a room at a hotel a few blocks away from the water. A short walk is a small price to pay for significant savings. If you’re traveling with friends, split a room. Often you can add an additional cot for a small fee. Lots of hotels offer beach-view rooms at a premium. Don’t take the bait. Book a cheaper room and save your cash. You’re not there to look at the sand, you’re there to walk on it.

3. Couch Surf

You could score free digs by checking out a website like Couchsurfing. Create a profile, enter the city you’re visiting, and search the free places to stay. You may not have total privacy and, again, the location may not be ideal, but you can’t argue with free lodging. If that’s a bit extreme for you, try Airbnb, which allows you to book shared rooms, rooms within an apartment or home, or an entirely private home. Depending on the properties available, you could score a pretty good deal.

4. Consider a Non-Traditional Destination

Cancun, Ft. Lauderdale, and South Beach are all classic, go-to spring break destinations - and because of that, they’re pricey. A beach is a beach, though, and by going with a non-traditional option, you can still get all the perks of a vacation with less of a drain on your finances. Plenty of college students travel to Tampa, Clearwater, and Charleston or Myrtle Beach in South Carolina to enjoy Spring Break. Costs across the board are generally cheaper at these destinations, so you save on transportation, food, drink, and accommodation.

5. Eat and Commute on the Cheap

Once you decide on your destination, get creative with your travels. Pack your own lunches and drinks for the beach and either walk or rent a bike for an inexpensive way to get around. Cab rides and rental cars, not to mention beachfront seafood restaurants, go a long way toward making your getaway more expensive.

Conclusion

Now that we’ve talked about ways to save money during spring break, here are a few ways you shouldn’t. Never throw a beach towel over your shoulder or slip a pair of shades on and walk out of a retail store. Similarly, when eating at restaurants during busy times, it’s neither funny nor cool to jet on your tab. Plus, it’s illegal. These businesses wait all year long for high-season, and you’re doing serious damage to their bottom line by stealing. And, if you get caught, you could end up in jail and have to pay for an attorney to straighten out the mess. Do the right research and planning before your trip, and you won’t be tempted to save money by doing anything immoral.

What plans do you have for spring break?

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Source: xkcd

Oof. Cable news network HLN, originally a CNN off-shoot, has taken the page from the strategy of networks like TLC or AMC: abandoning the original concept for the station (Headline News, The Learning Channel, and American Movie Classics, respectively) but keeping the original acronym. The new, refurbished HLN is doing away with the endlessly repeated news cycle and the Nancy Grace-like “outrage news” segments, and replacing them with new material targeted to the millennial demographic.

Apparently the people at Turner Broadcasting don’t have a very high opinion of your demographic.

Here are the new show titles, ranked in increasing order of absurdity:

  • Keywords
  • Vacation Hunters
  • Videocracy
  • One.Click.Away
  • I Can Haz NewsToons
  • #What’sYourFomo

The idea behind the network reboot is to integrate social media with news in original ways that encourage greater levels of engagement. That’s nothing inherently wrong with this idea, but you’d think they could have found some people to come up with ideas that actually understand the advantages online and social news have over cable news, not somebody who browsed Urban Dictionary and KnowYourMeme for an hour.

I don’t understand what the network could possibly offer that couldn’t also be found online without 8 minutes of advertising per half hour. For example, from the description, I Can Haz NewsToons (just typing that makes me shudder) will apparently just show off politically minded e-cards and webcomics. How is that a show? Will the host just read them to us? Will they be crudely animated? I’m not sure which is worse. Why would anybody sit through 2 parts slideshow and 1 part ads for half an hour when they can just scroll through a Tumblr that gives them the exact same thing in two minutes?

Look, HLN, I understand you have a challenge to face trying to reach a younger audience. But if you want to engage with people, you don’t need gimmicks, you need better content. You’re not going to out-Internet the Internet. The fact that you’re trying to shows just how clueless you really are.

Millennials do engage with the news. Really. But almost never through cable. There’s no reason to. This generation is not used to passively consuming information. Young people want the ability to comment, to discuss, to share, and to control how much news to consume. It’s an active experience, as anyone who’s ever done a deep-dive through link after link knows. And no amount of misused hashtagging is going to make cable look more appealing.

(Quick aside, didn’t anyone point out that punctuation closes hashtags? That show can’t even use its own dumb name as a functional hashtag.)

The only way to get millennials to pay attention to cable as a news source is with a strong personality. If you want a model for that, look to Stewart and Colbert. No gimmicks other than entertaining commentary and spot-on satire. It doesn’t even have to be funny, just engaging and… read carefully, because this is the important part… NOT TALKING DOWN TO THE AUDIENCE.

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What’s worse? Being wrong on purpose or being wrong accidentally?

For a Presidents’ Day promotion, Groupon announced a promotion for $10 off a $40 purchase. Nothing unusual about that, except they said it was in honor of Alexander Hamilton, “undeniably one of our greatest presidents.”

Needless to say, people were quick to deny this claim by pointing out that Mr. Hamilton was never president. Groupon’s response basically boiled down to, “We were just seeing if you were paying attention.”

I suppose this might be the truth, but it seems like it could just as easily be a hasty excuse. If this was always intended to be sarcastic, shouldn’t the rest of the press release been sarcastic, playing up the gag of getting Hamilton’s role in history wrong? The press release did contain other, accurate facts about Mr. Hamilton, so you have to figure the copywriter at least glanced at his Wikipedia page.

Regardless of whether or not Groupon is telling the truth, they certainly got a lot more people linking to the press release — an often ignored way of making an announcement nowadays — because of the inaccuracy than they would have if they played it straight. Granted most of those stories were negative. But I guess no publicity is bad publicity, so… success?

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