101 books for college-bound kids

Take a respite from the rush and chatter of modern life and spend time with a masterpiece. Even better: entice your teen to join you. Choose a book together and take turns reading it aloud, or track down the audio version and listen to it during your next road trip. This book list, compiled by the CollegeBoard, includes classics your student should read before (or during) college. But don’t use the “s” word! Instead, let your child know that these aren’t just classics, they are tales of romance, war, adventure, and courage, and that — while they won’t love every story — a few are sure to become beloved lifelong companions. As author Italo Calvino wrote: “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”

Middle school books

Achebe, Chinua Things Fall Apart
Crane, Stephen The Red Badge of Courage
Dumas, Alexandre The Three Musketeers
Golding, William Lord of the Flies
Hurston, Zora Neale Their Eyes Were Watching God
Huxley, Aldous Brave New World
Lee, Harper To Kill a Mockingbird
London, Jack The Call of the Wild
Miller, Arthur The Crucible
Morrison, Toni Beloved
O’Neill, Eugene Long Day’s Journey into Night
Orwell, George Animal Farm
Poe, Edgar Allen Selected Tales
Remarque, Erich Maria All Quiet on the Western Front
Rostand, Edmond Cyrano de Bergerac
Stevenson, Robert Louis Treasure Island
Swift, Jonathan Gulliver’s Travels
Twain, Mark The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Welty, Eudora Collected Stories
Wright, Richard Native Son


High school books

Author Title
——- Beowulf
Agee, James A Death in the Family
Austin, Jane Pride and Prejudice
Baldwin, James Go Tell It on the Mountain
Beckett, Samuel Waiting for Godot
Bellow, Saul The Adventures of Augie March
Bronte, Charlotte Jane Eyre
Bronte, Emily Wuthering Heights
Camus, Albert The Stranger
Cather, Willa Death Comes for the Archbishop
Chaucer, Geoffrey The Canterbury Tales
Chekhov, Anton The Cherry Orchard
Chopin, Kate The Awakening
Conrad, Joseph Heart of Darkness
Cooper, James Fenimore The Last of the Mohicans
Dante Inferno
Defoe, Daniel Robinson Crusoe
Dickens, Charles A Tale of Two Cities
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor Crime and Punishment
Douglass, Frederick Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Dreiser, Theodore An American Tragedy
Eliot, George The Mill on the Floss
Ellison, Ralph Invisible Man
Emerson, Ralph Waldo Selected Essays
Faulkner, William As I Lay Dying
Faulkner, William The Sound and the Fury
Fielding, Henry Tom Jones
Fitzgerald, F. Scott The Great Gatsby
Flaubert, Gustave Madame Bovary
Ford, Ford Madox The Good Soldier
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von Faust
Hardy, Thomas Tess of the d’Urbervilles
Hawthorne, Nathaniel The Scarlet Letter
Heller, Joseph Catch 22
Hemingway, Ernest A Farewell to Arms
Homer The Iliad
Homer The Odyssey
Hugo, Victor The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Ibsen, Henrik A Doll’s House
James, Henry The Portrait of a Lady
James, Henry The Turn of the Screw
Joyce, James A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Kafka, Franz The Metamorphosis
Kingston, Maxine Hong The Woman Warrior
Lewis, Sinclair Babbitt
Mann, Thomas The Magic Mountain
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia One Hundred Years of Solitude
Melville, Herman Bartleby the Scrivener
Melville, Herman Moby Dick
O’Connor, Flannery A Good Man is Hard to Find
Pasternak, Boris Doctor Zhivago
Plath, Sylvia The Bell Jar
Proust, Marcel Swann’s Way
Pynchon, Thomas The Crying of Lot 49
Roth, Henry Call It Sleep
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye
Shakespeare, William Hamlet
Shakespeare, William Macbeth
Shakespeare, William A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Shakespeare, William Romeo and Juliet
Shaw, George Bernard Pygmalion
Shelley, Mary Frankenstein
Silko, Leslie Marmon Ceremony
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Sophocles Antigone
Sophocles Oedipus Rex
Steinbeck, John The Grapes of Wrath
Stowe, Harriet Beecher Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Thackeray, William Vanity Fair
Thoreau, Henry David Walden
Tolstoy, Leo War and Peace
Turgenev, Ivan Fathers and Sons
Voltaire Candide
Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. Slaughterhouse-Five
Walker, Alice The Color Purple
Wharton, Edith The House of Mirth
Whitman, Walt Leaves of Grass
Wilde, Oscar The Picture of Dorian Gray
Williams, Tennessee The Glass Menagerie
Woolf, Virginia To the Lighthouse

Getting into College with Bad Grades

Getting into College with Bad Grades

Elizabeth Hoyt

The number one rule to follow in college admissions? Don’t give up!

Have bad grades? Believe it or not, it’s not always the end-all, be-all in terms of gaining entry into the college of your dreams. Don’t give up!

Attempt to combat your admissions struggle by considering these helpful tips:

Submit an explanation (in certain cases) –

First, consider why your grades were, um, less than stellar. College admissions officers don’t want to hear excuses unless the circumstances were absolutely out of your control. If that’s the case, submit a brief but thorough explanation of the circumstances. Again, only submit an explanation regarding your grades if the circumstances were completely, utterly, nothing-on-earth-you-could-have-done-to-avoid-it, one hundred percent out of your control.

What falls under this? An illness or injury that impacted your cognitive abilities (head trauma, dyslexia diagnosed later in your high school career, etc.), a death within your immediate family (sorry, grandma and your third cousin don’t count, no matter how difficult it was) and, perhaps but not always included are moving and switching schools mid-year or a poor domestic situation that was out of the norm, like a messy parental divorce.

Remember, excuses like breaking up with you high school significant other, not getting along with or claiming a teacher was unfair and other stresses typical in high school won’t work. In fact, they will work against you because it comes across as placing blame on others (no matter how real or true they are). Anything that a typical high school student experiences is likely a poor excuse.

Also, make sure your grade or grades are really bad, if you’re submitting an explanation. Explaining the lone “B” amongst your straight A’s will likely just irritate the admissions counselor.

Apply regular admission rather than early –

Your odds of being accepted during regular admission are far better than the selective process of early admission. Early decision/early admission is meant for students that not only are sure of the school they want to go to, but also confident in their ability to get into that school.

Consider community college –

Why not consider attending a community college for a year (or two), getting your grades up and then applying to the four-year college you originally wanted to attend.

Look at schools with conditional acceptance programs –

If you’re on the cusp, there are plenty of schools out that that give students the opportunity to attend the school on conditional basis. This is ideal for those who have lower grades but are great applicants otherwise. Many schools will offer conditional admission and the student must keep their grade point average at a certain point to remain enrolled within the school. If you had a bad run in high school but feel you can improve in college, this may be a route to consider.

Plan your comeback –

It’s never too late to improve- the time is now to boost your academics and show that you’re making progress in a positive direction. Get extra help or a tutor if you’re still struggling and poor grades weren’t just in the past. Sure, you may not boost them enough to get into your top choice, but it will make a difference in whether or not you’re accepted to any school.

Play up your strengths –

Schools look at more than grades alone. They also want students who will enhance campus life and that participate in school and extracurricular activities. Think about your strengths: do you volunteer a lot? Play on several sports teams? All of these activities are important factors in addition to your grades, so make sure you detail all of your strengths, too!

Get recognized –

Perhaps your grades are poor in math but you’re the next Hemingway. Show off whatever talent you have by getting recognized outside of school. Get an article or poem published locally. Submit artwork in to a local show. Enter science competitions. No matter where your talent lies, there are ways to gain recognition academically to include on your application.

Make your essay epic –

If you have poor grades and a terrible essay, why even apply? There is absolutely no excuse to have a terrible essay, since you have time to work on it and have people around you that can help you edit, proofread and structure your wording!

Ace your college entrance exams –

To be fair, this is easier said than done. By “ace,” we mean prepare to the best of your ability through studying, utilizing practice questions, working with tutors (often times, you can get free help!) and taking preparation courses (either enroll, if you can afford it or find free preparation courses online).

Review your options with a counselor –

When in doubt, you can always go over strategies and options with a counselor, teacher or admissions officer. They’re there to help you throughout the process and want your application to reflect the “real” you.

Need money to pay for college?

Every semester, Fastweb helps thousands of students pay for school by matching them to scholarships, grants and awards for which they actually qualify. Sign up today to get started. You’ll find scholarships like the $2,000 “No Essay” Scholarship from Niche, a scholarship open to all U.S. students and those planning on enrolling within 12 months.


6 Realistic New Year’s Resolutions for College Students

6 Realistic New Year’s Resolutions for College Students

Let’s face it, most New Years resolutions don’t stick. Why? Because they’re hard.

Finding the motivation to keep a year-end goal is no easy task, and when you factor in class, homework, and exams it seems impossible to find the time for anything else. How’re you supposed to dedicate yourself to a year-long change AND get a passing grade in bio-chem?

What I’d like to propose is a different take on the standard New Year’s resolution. Instead of setting some kind of grand, life-altering ambition for the year, why not focus that energy into a few small, everyday changes? Pretty soon these small changes can become part of your lifestyle and second nature.

Here are six practical, realistic New Year’s resolutions that any college student can make. Most of them only take a few minutes to do, and over the course of a year can really add up.


Yes, we could all be a bit more financially frugal, that’s a no-brainer. If it was that easy though we’d all have a nice little cushion hanging out in our savings account.

Rather than stressing over creating a yearly savings plan or calling up your local Charles Schwab branch, find an empty jar and start putting your loose change in it (personally I use a pasta sauce jar). Every time you come home and change your clothes throw whatever coins that are in your pockets into that jar. Once the jar fills up count how much was in there and go treat yo self.


Another tried and true New Year’s resolution, the annual pledge to eat healthier. Eating right is tough enough on its own but balancing school, a social life, or a job can make it that much harder.

Trying to meal prep every week requires access to a kitchen, which isn’t a luxury all college students have. In lieu of being able to cook every single one of your meals, start small by focusing on snacking. It’s so easy to grab a bag of chips and soda while on the go, but this year try packing your own healthy snacks and a water bottle. I’m not saying you need to pack celery and kale, but some fruit, nuts, or granola are a lot better for you than Cheetos.


Have you ever scrolled through your newsfeed, saw a picture of a friend from back home, and smiled? What did you do in that moment? Sure, you may have given their latest post a thumbs up, but why not go a step beyond that?

You’re so focused on your day-to-day that it can be hard to catch up with old friends and family members. Next time that random thought about someone crosses your mind send them a quick text. It doesn’t need to be a lengthy letter, and could be as simple as, “You were on my mind, hope you’re doing well.”


Spinning out of the above tip, when was the last time you talked to mom or dad?

It’s true that every relationship is different, and for some students going to college is actually a chance to get away from family. If you are in a position though where you can reach out to your family every so often, then you should.

Consider setting 15 minutes aside each week to talk to your parents on the phone. Sure you could text or email or Facebook message, but trust us, a phone call would make them happiest.


If you’re like most college students your room is short on space and full of stuff. You don’t know how it happened, but seemingly overnight your closet is now brimming with clothes and there’s a chair in the corner with who-knows-what stacked on top of it.

Now is the best time to take a look through your room and see which things are taking up too much space or that you could simply live without. That random energy drink t-shirt you got as a promotional item? Donate it. That half-used notebook that’s been lying around since last spring? Recycle it. That empty yogurt container that’s now starting to change color on the inside? Toss it.


As a college student you’re technically already learning new skills, but this piece of advice is geared more towards learning a practical skill. A practical skill is predominately a skill you perform by hand, like woodworking or blacksmithing, but it’s not just limited to the kind of stuff you see on Game of Thrones.

There are tons of practical skills you can pick up as hobbies like cooking, baking, or gardening. If your living space makes it difficult there are still some fun options like crocheting or painting. One of the greatest senses of self-satisfaction comes from creating something with your hands, so search for creative ways to indulge in that kind of activity.

The old saying “new year, new you” seems like such a cliché, but in reality, it’s about as practical a perspective as you can have. The New Year is the perfect starting point to make a change and track your progress. So before you write off New Year’s resolutions as a set of cheesy promises, give some real thought to small tweaks you can make in your daily routine that could have a big affect on your quality of life.


The Art of Networking

The Art of Networking
You may have heard the saying “it’s not what you know, but who you know that counts.” And then you may have immediately thought, I’m a college student, I don’t know anyone! But don’t throw up your hands and give up so easily. You’re not just in school to build what you know, but also to build who you know. Now is the time to start building your contacts. Doing this while you’re still in college is the key to finding employment post-graduation. Here’s how to start:

Socialize with as many people as you can

Start with class then work your way through campus clubs and student organizations. Don’t limit yourself by sticking close to your circle of friends you made freshman year in the dorm or your sorority sisters. Jump into the deep end of the pool by mixing with new people. How can you do that? By reaching out to new groups of people. This could be organizations related to your major and/or areas you’d be interested in working in after graduation; like a business club, a marketing organization or a speaker event hosted by your campus’ career center.

Additionally, you could sign up for events that grow your skills while stretching your socializing capabilities; like a hackathon, engineering society, or toastmasters. Never underestimate who you could meet!

Initiate the conversation

Now that you’re at an event take full advantage of it. Don’t sit in the back and text all your friends that aren’t there, get up and start mingling. This can be as simple as walking up to another member, professor or the speaker herself, sticking out your hand and introducing yourself.

The first impression you make should be to establish rapport, not make a request. Don’t start with “Hi, I need an internship this summer.” Instead, start with something small, but sincere, such as “Hi I’m Michael. I really enjoyed the point you made about how consumer preference dictates market demand, did your research always prove this theory?” People love it when they feel they have been heard. Picking one or two things out of a presentation and reiterating back to them makes an instant connection. If you are genuinely trying to connect with someone, you’ll never go wrong.

Follow-up after making a connection

Why spend all that time locating and attending events if you do nothing with those connections once you have them? The key to growing your network is following up once you’ve met someone. This could be done through text, email or by sending a LinkedIn connection request. If you haven’t created a LinkedIn account, stop everything and do that now! Even if your profile is basic and you don’t have any experience, you can start to build connections immediately.

Once you’ve connected make the point of giving more to your network than taking from your network. This means contributing! This can be adding content to LinkedIn, connecting people you met to each other, and recommending or endorsing connections with proven skills. Remember to be an advocate for others, so when the time comes they will advocate for you.

Do some company investigation

Another bonus of attending events and making connections is that as a college student you begin to get to know yourself more, understand what you’re passionate about and what you’re not. All of these events and people expose you to more opportunity and you’ll begin to better know what you want to do post-graduation. Interning with the government, a non-profit or at a company like Chegg is naturally the next step in the process to gaining exposure to a possible career path.

A great tool to better learn about possible career paths is Chegg’s Career Center. Once you know approximately which career path(s) interest you, begin to research companies that you can see yourself interning at. Start researching by googling brands that you love, shop at and use. Research their corporate website, their reviews on Glassdoor and LinkedIn site. Keep an Excel sheet recording your research and take special note of when they offer internships and how to apply.

Grow your network

Begin to branch out even more by connecting via LinkedIn with a professional aunt, cousin or alumni who are outside of your college network. This will expand your first, second and third connections on LinkedIn, making it easier to connect with more people in the future. You’ll also come up more often in recruiters’ searches.

Another viable option is to attend a career fair on campus, live and in person. This may seem like a scary prospect, but all those events you’ve been attending will have laid a nice foundation for you to know how to socialize in a professional setting. Make sure you talk to the recruiters at booths of companies you’ve researched and are interested in interning at. Take note of companies you’ve never heard of or never thought of working at before and research them when you get home. Get recruiters’ business cards at the fair and connect with him/her after the fair.  A friendly note post-career fair is a great way of getting on someone’s radar. Don’t be discouraged if one fair doesn’t lead to an internship, keep getting out there, keep connecting and eventually you will be noticed!

Today’s post was written by Chegg’s University Recruiting and Intern Program Manager, Lora Kyle. Lora has an undergraduate degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences from San Francisco State University and a Master’s in International Relations from Middlesex University, London. She has over eight years of professional experience in Human Resources, including a tenure as Driscoll’s Global Campus Program Manager.


The Art of Resume Writing

The Art of Resume Writing

Your resume is the first step in transitioning from an unemployed college student to a fully employed intern. However useful it is, to most college students ,writing a resume is a daunting task. It can be an overwhelming idea that you need list all your academic achievements, extracurricular activities and any jobs you’ve had in a way that makes an employer want to hire you, all while keeping it to one page!  But don’t freak out just yet.

Writing a resume can be fun if you look at it from the right perspective. Begin by not thinking about it as a detailed list of everything you’ve done, but rather a snapshot of your successes; a way to entice recruiters to interview you. A resume is a tool to start a conversation with a potential employer. It’s a way to get yourself noticed and Chegg Recruiting is here to help! Here’s a few things to make your resume a complete success:

Get some (free) help

Staring at a blank word doc with a blinking cursor could spell your doom. Don’t start there. Instead, begin online by searching for resumes of positions you’d like to have one day. Use these resumes as a roadmap of how your resume should look. (But don’t copy them!)

Obviously your resume needs to be of your accomplishments and skills, not a seasoned professional. However, by viewing these resumes’ formatting and vocabulary, you’ll have a better understanding of where to start.

Look at a couple of resumes, check out the formatting and a pay attention to the action verbs used to describe their accomplishments. If you need more help try Googling key phrases like: effective resumes, college student resumes, marketing intern resumes, etc. If you prefer in-person than online, check out your campus’ career center. They often have resume writing workshops you could attend or you could schedule an appointment with you campus’ career center representative for a 1×1 meeting.

Formatting, grammar and length are critical

After reviewing a few resumes online, take a stab starting to construct a resume. Start with the basic of all resume formatting:

    • Name (first and last.)


    • Contact information (email address and phone number are enough.)


    • Objective (typically a brief summary of who you are and what you’re looking for.)


    • Education (list college name, major, the semester and year you anticipate to graduate. When applying for an internship, add your GPA.)


    • Experience (have you worked before? Even if it’s at your colleges’ cafeteria, this is the area where you can show your positive indicators; such as trustworthiness, willingness to take initiative, or accuracy. When listing experience write the name of the business, dates worked, your title, and give a brief description of what you did there. Items to mention could be handling $2,000 of cash sales daily, training new employees, managing a lab’s database, report writing, or organizing shipments.)


    • Extracurricular activities (add clubs, sports teams, or organizations you belong. Put the dates you belonged and what positions you held. This is the perfect section for noting leadership qualities. We suggest to refrain from adding any political or divisive associates.)


    • Technical skills, soft skills and languages (add in any software knowledge, communication or language skills you have. Note the item you know and the level of proficiency you are, such as intermediate Java skills.)


This format can vary, but generally all resumes have a section for each. One thing that can’t vary is correct grammar. Make sure your spelling and punctuation are correct. Ask a friend to proofread once you’ve finished for any fine-tuning needed.  Unless you’re a PhD candidate, your resume should also be no more than 2 pages long with 11 or 12 point font. The font should be easy to read (i.e. Times New Roman, Calibri, etc.) and that’s what you want; an easy to read doc that gets a recruiter excited to contact you.

If you’re finding yourself writing a 3, 4, 5 page resume, take a break and come back to omit or summarize a few items. Recruiters probably won’t read past the second page, so try to condense.

Tailor it

Now that you’ve got a beautiful resume, you may want to start sending it out to hundreds of potential employers like Chegg! While we applaud your enthusiasm, the resume you just wrote is your template. That’s right, you’re not quite done.

The resume you’ve crafted is just a jumping off point for when you want to apply for an internship. When searching for an internship, read each intern job description carefully. When you’ve decided you have the skills necessary to apply, you need to tailor your resume for that job description. By tailoring, we mean adding the key words from the job description into your resume. These are often “power” verbs; like assist, deliver, direct, manage, maintain, prepare, process, supervise, test, update, etc. For each requirement, make sure you call out how you’ve demonstrated this in the past. It can be in your academic work, campus employment or sports activity. This relationship from your resume to the job description is key to getting a call back.

Today’s post was written by Chegg’s University Recruiting and Intern Program Manager, Lora Kyle. Lora has an undergraduate degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences from San Francisco State University and a Master’s in International Relations from Middlesex University, London. She has over eight years of professional experience in Human Resources, including a tenure as Driscoll’s Global Campus Program Manager.


Timeline: Key Steps for Completing College Applications Successfully


Rising seniors should map out deadlines early to help them stay on track with their college applications.

Students should prep for college throughout high school, but for rising seniors time is limited. Applying to college can be stressful, but proper planning can help alleviate some of the pressure on students and their families.

Students can use the following timeline to map out their college application process. For a general timeline on when to apply for financial aid, students should refer to our college savings plan for 2014.

12:00 AM
June 1, 2014 — 12:00 AM
June 30, 2014

Ask for Recommendation Letters

Students who want recommendation letters from their junior year teachers should reach out to them before the school year ends.

“It’s really ideal if you ask before the start of the summer because if you have a teacher who is on top of things he or she might actually write the letter over the summer, so you’ll have it when you come back to school in September,” says Elizabeth Heaton, senior director of educational consulting at College Coach.

12:00 AM
July 1, 2014 — 12:00 AM
August 31, 2014

Start Test Prep

“As you’re putting your list of colleges together, you want to make sure you’re making note of the different testing requirements at each school,” Heaton says. Most schools accept either the ACT or SAT, but some institutions require additional testing or make standardized testing optional.

12:00 AM
August 1, 2014 — 12:00 AM
August 31, 2014

Write Your College Essay

Application essays are one of the most daunting parts of the college application process, but students can get that part done during the summer. The Common Application has announced that essay prompts will remain the same for the 2014-2015 school year. The application will be available to students on Aug. 1. For schools that don’t use the Common App, Heaton says students can reach out to those institutions directly to ask about the prompts.

12:00 AM
August 1, 2014 — 12:00 AM
October 30, 2014

Go On A College Tour

Summer can be a great opportunity for students to see schools on their application list. Many schools have programs and students on campus during the summer, so prospective students can still get a feel for campus culture and life.

12:00 AM
September 1, 2014 — 12:00 AM
October 30, 2014

Take the SAT or ACT

Fall is the best time to retake the SAT or ACT because it allows students to get their scores ahead of early decision application deadlines.

12:00 AM
September 1, 2014 — 12:00 AM
December 31, 2014

Search for Scholarships

It’s never too early to start searching for scholarships. Many national scholarships have fall deadlines, so if you haven’t started your search already, now is a good time to start.

12:00 AM
September 1, 2014 — 12:00 AM
September 30, 2014

Create an Application Timeline

Heaton encourages students to map out their deadlines for the rest of the year. With school in session, managing time becomes more important, she says.

12:00 AM
January 1, 2015 — 12:00 AM
January 31, 2015

Fill Out the FAFSA

Everyone who is planning on attending school should fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The application is used to determine what loans students can receive and award applicants with need-based scholarships. Learn more about some of the most common FAFSA mistakes.

U.S. News Education

12:00 AM
January 1, 2015 — 12:00 AM
March 3, 2015

Apply for Summer Jobs

A summer job is a great way to build your resume and assist with some of your college expenses. Many summer jobs and internships start accepting applications for summer jobs in the beginning of a new year. Start searching now to hopefully have something secured by graduation.

12:00 AM
April 1, 2015 — 12:00 AM
May 1, 2015

Make Your College Decision

By now you’ve likely researched your top choices, gone on tours and analyzed your financial aid packages. The national response deadline for accepting a college is May 1.

12:00 AM
May 1, 2015 — 12:00 AM
May 31, 2015

Apply for Late Admissions to Schools if Necessary

Students who haven’t secured a spot at an institution still have hope. Some schools still have places open after the May 1 national response date, but space is limited.

12:00 AM
June 1, 2015 — 12:00 AM
August 31, 2015

Prepare for Freshman Year

From selecting dorms to negotiating financial aid, there’s a lot more to do after you’ve been admitted. Stay up-to-date on all of your paperwork, enjoy the summer and prepare for the new school year.

Images from iStockphoto and Getty
pic3Briana Boyington is an education Web producer at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter or email her at bboyington@usnews.com.

5 Steps to Choose How Many College Applications to Send


Make sure you’re comfortable with the number of colleges on your list.

The magic number depends on how much you can spend and the selectivity of your intended major.


There are more than 1,000 four-year colleges in America. Most experts agree that it is important to submit college applications to several of them, but how many is “several”?

As with most things in life, the correct answer is individual. “Several” is the number that allows you to confidently enter application season. Here, then, is a five-step guide to choosing your magic number.

Step 1: Determine Your Admissions Budget

Before you begin to apply to colleges, take stock of your admissions-specific financial resources. Entrance exams like the ACT and SAT​ cost money, as do campus visits. Even the applications that you submit carry a fee. While this is a small amount relative to the tens of thousands that you might spend on tuition, it does add up quickly. How many schools can you afford to apply to, given your budget?

 Note that you are eligible for four college application fee waivers if you took the SAT or an SAT Subject Test with a fee waiver​. All Common Application schools accept fee waivers, but other colleges may not. Check a particular school’s policy here.

Step 2: Consider the Rarity of Your Intended Major

If you intend to major in a particularly narrow field, you may find that relatively few colleges offer such a concentration. For example, there are only a handful of schools with an undergraduate degree in astrobiology. If your major is rare, apply to those colleges that offer it – you may ultimately apply to fewer schools than a prospective English major, but that is perfectly acceptable.

A corollary to this step can be summed up in the following question: “How important are specialized university facilities to your career plans?” When I applied to college, I pictured a career spent studying particle physics, and having a functional particle collider on campus was one of my primary college decision criteria.

Almost every college in the U.S. offers a degree in physics, but fewer boast of particle colliders. Even more relevant to my search was the fact that many large state schools required science faculty to include undergraduates in their research activities. Some small schools offered that opportunity too, but their research facilities were sometimes limited.

Step 3: Gauge the Selectivity of Your Intended Major

If your prospective major is highly competitive, consider applying to a greater number of schools. This can help you ensure that you are admitted to at least one college in your program of choice. Many business and engineering concentrations, for instance, require an accessory admissions process that is often more rigorous than the one that the school as a whole uses.

There is no hard and fast rule for determining the number of competitive programs to apply to. The upper limit on applications will be dictated in part by your budget.

You can also speak with admissions officers to gain a sense of how competitive you will be for entry to a particular college or major. If you are set on a specific concentration, but your admissions portfolio is not ideal given the competitiveness of the major, you may want to apply to a larger number of schools – perhaps six to 10.

Step 4: Review Your Other Needs

Colleges vary widely in their culture, location, social environment and a host of other nonacademic features. Depending on your criteria, you may have a very short list of possibilities to work with – the Department of Education’s College Navigator lists exactly two private, nonprofit colleges located in rural settings in Alabama, for example.

Another important need involves finances. If your tuition budget is limited, it may be important to you to attend a public college in your state of residence. In some states, this requirement may present you with just two or three choices, naturally shaping the number of schools you will apply to.

Step 5: Ensure You Are Comfortable With Your Number

I would recommend a minimum of three applications: one target school, one stretch school and one safety school. Even if you are positive that just one college is perfect for you, it is well worth having a backup plan.

The more difficult problem lies in deciding your maximum number – in other words, how many is too many? Again, the goal is to feel as comfortable as possible as you begin to apply to schools. Ideally, you want to have several acceptance letters to choose from.

If your discussions with admissions counselors and your own research suggest that you are borderline for admittance, six or seven applications may be warranted. More are likely unnecessary – if seven of seven colleges turn you down for a competitive program, the eighth almost certainly would have as well.

Remember that there is a cost in time, money and stress when sending out applications. The key to success lies in striking a balance between the factors discussed above.

Brian Witte is a professional SAT tutor with Varsity Tutors. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and holds a Ph.D. from Ohio State University.

Varsity Tutors is a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement. The company’s end-to-end offerings also include mobile learning apps, online learning environments and other tutoring and test prep-focused technologies. Got a question? Email admissionsplaybook@usnews.com.


How Veterans Can Afford Pricey Private University Tuition

About 11 percent of student veterans enroll in private nonprofit schools, according to one study.


Private universities that are members of the Yellow Ribbon Program can help make tuition more affordable for eligible students.

​When Air Force veteran Bridget Burks applied to the private nonprofit Saint Leo University in Florida, the 32-year old had a concern.

“I was nervous about the cost,” says Burks, who was active-duty for four years and a reservist for two.

And it makes sense. Private tuition tends to be expensive, averaging $31,381 in the 2014-2015 academic year, compared with $8,794 for in-state public tuition, according to data collected from ranked colleges in an annual U.S. News survey.

Saint Leo charged more than $20,000 in tuition and fees this year.

Student veterans tend to choose public universities, with just about 11 percent attending private nonprofit schools, according to data collected by Student Veterans of America, a veterans support organization.

But the higher price tag doesn’t mean that private college tuition is out of reach for student veterans.

“I’ve had 100 percent of my tuition covered from the beginning. And I’ve had my living expenses covered,” says Burks, who’s received a combination of funding from the Post-9/11 and Montgomery GI bills and the Yellow Ribbon Program.

As with public school students, veterans enrolled at private universities have access to funds from various GI Bill programs, depending on the length of service, dates served and other factors.

Students can get a sense of how much funding they can expect and how it will apply to tuition with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ GI Bill Comparison Tool.

Those who qualify for 100 percent of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, for example, can use up to $20,235 toward a private college education this year. Plus, they can receive money for books and housing.

Another financial resource for veterans who are eligible for the maximum amount under the Post-9/11 GI Bill is the Yellow Ribbon Program.

Member schools cover tuition and fees that exceed GI Bill funding with the help of a match from the Department of Veterans Affairs. But the extra money may be limited to a set number of veterans and given on a first-come, first-served basis.

For eligible students, the combination of these two programs can mean a full ride, even at a costly private institution. “A veteran can come to Syracuse University as a fully funded student,” says Mike Haynie, vice chancellor for veterans and military affairs at the New York school.

Veterans can also qualify for civilian financial aid if they submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

“We recommend filling out the FAFSA and using that, in combination with benefits, to compensate the costs not met,” says Melanie Monk, a financial aid counselor and VA school certifying official, who helps certify and provide education on military benefits for both veterans and their dependents, at Virginia Wesleyan College.

Students who qualify for federal Pell Grants, which run up to $5,730 depending on financial need, can use that money on top of other funding to pay school expenses, says Monk. Plus, federal loans, which experts typically recommend over private debt, may come in handy down the line.

Outside scholarships that are designated for tuition expenses, on the other hand, may not be as valuable for fully funded veterans since schools must deduct the award amount when they bill Veterans Affairs. “With any scholarship or grant that goes toward tuition, the school subtracts that out from cost of tuition,” says Monk.

But don’t discount them completely, says Mary Frances Causey, director of financial aid at Prescott College. A scholarship may still carry intangible benefits, such as networking opportunities and resume fodder.

Student veterans might hedge the financial risks of dropping out or delaying graduation, which can exhaust their veterans benefits, by enrolling in programs geared toward nontraditional students, say experts.

“We do know that there’s this trepidation toward this traditional four-year institution,” says Haynie of Syracuse. The school is working on implementing veteran-friendly policies, such as priority class registration, to ensure that student veterans can take required classes before exhausting their benefits.

Another option for students who want to try out higher education before committing to a private four-year school is community college, says Haynie.

Veterans can sample the higher education experience more safely on both a financial level and a lifestyle level that way, he says.

For Burks, Saint Leo was the right choice, both academically and financially. She’d had experience with the institution, which offered classes on her Air Force base. “Transitioning back into the real world can be difficult,” she says. “Being at a private institution that supports veterans as strongly as Saint Leo does, they understand that.”

pic3Susannah Snider is an education reporter at U.S. News, covering paying for college and graduate school. You can follow her on Twitter or email her at ssnider@usnews.com.


3 Steps to Take Before Using GI Bill Benefits at For-Profit Colleges

Experts recommend that veterans approach for-profit colleges with caution and ask probing questions.


The Department of Defense recently put University of Phoenix on probation, restricting its access to military bases.

Sarah Serrano, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, got off to a rocky start when it came to pursuing a college degree.

“Over the past 10 years, I have come and gone at University of Phoenixes all over the country,” says Serrano, 31, who also bounced around various community colleges. “I have never received my bachelor’s, but I used my entire GI Bill benefits.”

For-profit colleges, like the University of Phoenix, have gained notoriety for their treatment of veteran and active-duty military students. When for-profit Corinthian Colleges collapsed earlier this year, students who’d used GI Bill benefits at those colleges were unable to reclaim them.

This past October, the Department of Defense put University of Phoenix on probation, which included restricting the for-profit’s access to military bases. Federal reports have described for-profit employees recruiting aggressively on and around military bases, even targeting hospitals and wounded warrior centers in an effort to enroll veterans.

Industry critics say for-profits aim to bypass a rule that limits the revenue they can earn from federal dollars, including federal student loans and grants. GI Bill benefits, which veterans use to help cover educational costs, don’t count against that limit.

Critics add that veterans at for-profits borrow more than they do at public and private nonprofit schools.

On the flip side, advocates argue that veterans find much needed flexibility in the for-profit sector. “Costs with veterans benefits are minimal, and the programs are very quick,” says Michael Dakduk, executive vice president and director of government relations at the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, the lobbying arm of for-profits.

Here are a few steps veterans can take when considering a for-profit school.

1. Consult the GI Bill Comparison Tool: Veterans and active-duty military looking to understand how their benefits will apply to college costs can plug their information into the GI Bill Comparison Tool.

Each school’s summary provides information on whether the school is a for-profit, public or private university, costs and other information. For students worried about predatory practices at an institution, the school summary page includes the number of complaints against the institution and “caution flags,” which indicate that the school is under increased regulatory or legal scrutiny.

2. Don’t just sign on the dotted line: Veterans should be vigilant when it comes to tracking – and understanding – paperwork related to their education benefits and any other financial aid.

“The first thing that I would tell any student, and we work with veterans, is ‘Don’t trust what you’re told,'” says Walter Ochinko, policy director of Veterans Education Success, a group that aims to protect the promise of the GI Bill. Ochinko tells the story of a DeVry University student who unwittingly took on $15,000 in student loans, thinking they were Pell Grants.

“If you didn’t get it in writing, it didn’t really happen,” he says.

3. Ask tough questions: “Consumers should make sure they ask tough questions when choosing a school, including cost, the ability to transfer credits and whether it can qualify you for a job in the field you want,” says Seth Frotman, acting student loan ombudsman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The easiest way to get a sense of how well an institution serves its veterans: “Connect with current student veterans at the school,” says William Hubbard, vice president of government affairs at Student Veterans of America. “That’s the best source of information.”

For Serrano, the University of Phoenix student, the future is looking brighter. She recently gained admission to the University of Southern California, her dream school, after attending a workshop through the Warrior-Scholar Project, which aims to prepare veterans for the transition into the classroom.

She has advice for veterans in her position: “Find the resources that are available to you, rather than do the quick and fast route, which is going to exhaust all your money and your resources,” she says. “Slow down and really do it one time the right way.”

pic3Susannah Snider is an education reporter at U.S. News, covering paying for college and graduate school. You can follow her on Twitter or email her at ssnider@usnews.com.


5 Financial Questions to Ask Before Getting an Online Degree

Students should find out about costs for the entire program – and what happens to financial aid if studies are interrupted.​

pic1If you’re not making progress toward your online degree, talk to a financial aid counselor, says one expert.


Online students have many of the same cost, financial aid and student loan questions​ as their counterparts attending brick-and-mortar schools.

But some unique money questions may arise as well.

“There are certainly a few regulations that online students should understand going into the process, given that so many of them are working adults, who attend college part-time,” said Susan Aldridge, president of Drexel University Online, in an email.

For example, enrolling in fewer than six credits or taking a semester or two off may affect aid or trigger loan repayment, says Aldridge.

Other questions may arise about how the program handles financial aid or transfers academic credits.

Below are five money questions that students should ask before pursuing an online degree.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Deana Coady, vice president of student financial aid for Apollo Education Group Inc., parent company of Western International University and University of Phoenix

What is this degree going to cost me, and how am I going to pay for it?
If you’re speaking with a school representative who cannot clearly give you the cost of the program, I’d suggest hanging up the phone. And don’t just think about cost over one year. You want to look at the entire experience as you would with a home or a car. Understand what it’ll cost you over the life of that program and think of loans as an investment.

Betty Vu, director of MBA and MPA programs, California State University—Dominguez Hills

How does the financial aid process work within the program? At some schools the online programs are not a very big component, so they might not have specific financial aid processes that cater to those online programs.

At my school, online programs are not a huge component, so I warn students that their financial aid disbursement is not going to go by the academic calendar. My online program runs on a quarterly system, but the university runs on a semester system.

So, my students can start school in June but the university doesn’t start until August and they don’t disburse financial aid funds until then. That might be a deal-breaker for some students.

Vicky Phillips, 
founder, GetEducated.com

Does your chosen school maintain scholarship programs just for older online degree seekers? 
Look for scholarships just for online degree seekers or adult students. But be wary of Internet ads that promise scholarships for studying online but that only let students use these scholarships at one school or at a group of specific for-profit colleges.

These “scholarship programs” are really advertisements paid for by the limited schools listed on the application forms. These programs are designed to get your name and contact data which is then sold for X amount to the ad client schools.

The schools listed on these programs pay Internet sites upwards of $100 for each student “lead” – that’s the ad term for your contact data – the sites are able to send to their telephone call or recruitment centers. Filling out one of these forms is a great way to end up on the relentless end of a telemarketing loop or email spam operation.

​Meg Benke, past president of the Online Learning Consortium and professor at SUNY—Empire State College

What happens if I need to take a break for an emergency? 
Ask what happens if you get out of step and need to move forward. And leave room in your schedule, so that when life happens, you can catch up. Recognize and give yourself room as a parent or someone caring for an elderly family member, whatever the circumstances. If you’re not making progress, you should immediately get in touch with the financial aid office or student services office. Financial aid has complicated regulations, and it takes a professional to help interpret them.

If you’re not making progress toward your online degree, talk to a financial aid counselor, says one expert.

Cheryl Storie, associate vice president for financial aid, University of Maryland University College

What are the real, fixed costs of this online program? Regulations governing federal financial aid require that schools include tuition and fees, room and board, books, transportation, personal and miscellaneous expenses in their cost of attendance, even though the majority of these costs don’t apply for online institutions.

So, you may be able to borrow to cover room and board, even though the institution doesn’t have dormitories, or transportation, even though you’re attending class online in your living room. You run the risk of over-borrowing, taking out $25,000 thinking that it covers a year’s worth of education, when tuition may have only cost $5,000 or $7,000. It’s not inaccurate, but it’s confusing. ​

Trying to fund your online education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for Online Education center.

pic3Susannah Snider is an education reporter at U.S. News, covering paying for college and graduate school. You can follow her on Twitter or email her at ssnider@usnews.com.