Filed under Resources

Microsoft YouthSpark Challenge for Change


Do you have an idea that could improve the lives of people at your school, in your neighborhood, or around the world? Microsoft wants to help you translate your idea to action. All you have to do is answer some questions about your project for social change and describe how Windows and Office could help you in your effort. This form can be found on their Facebook page.

Terms: Applicants must be 18-25 years old and have an idea that could change people’s lives
Application Deadline: May 24

  • Everyone who enters between now and May 24 will receive a $25 gift card to help you fund your projects for social change
  • 20 Finalists will receive a Microsoft Surface with Windows RT and Office Home and Student 2013 to help create their winning video entry.
  • Five Grand Prize Winners will receive:
    • An all-expenses paid volunteer trip to Kenya in August 2013
    • $2,500 cash to help kick-start their ideas
    • A Microsoft technology bundle including a Windows Phone 8 and Xbox 360 with Kinect
    • The opportunity to serve as a YouthSpark ambassador for the year

Here is more information about the program.


Top Five Scholarship Application Mistakes

Don’t make these scholarship application mistakes!

Before I get to application mistakes that you want to avoid, let’s start by talking about the problem. My first year of college my tuition and fees was $25,000. By my last year of college the cost had risen to $37,000. Last year, my alma mater’s tuition and fees were a whopping $48,000! My school is not alone. On average, college tuitions are rising 4.2% for private schools and 4.8% for public schools per year. Meanwhile, overall median income of Americans has dropped 8.1% since 2007. Needless to say, scholarships, grants, and loans are a necessity for college applicants. While loans are a legitimate option, you do not want to launch a new life post graduation with a seemingly endless mound of debt. Student debt in the U.S. has soared to $1 trillion. We can do better!

Here are three things you can do to increase your chances of getting scholarships:

    1. Start EarlyHere is a complete list of things you can do as a junior. Already a senior? No problem. Start today!
    2. Work Hard – Getting free money for college takes a lot of work. Here are some tips to make your scholarship search efficient.
    3. Proof Read – I know, this is a no brainer. But you’d be surprised how many people make basic and costly mistakes when filling out applications. Here is an infographic that points out the five most common scholarship application mistakes.


Prepare for College as a Junior

prepare for collegeHigh school seniors aren’t the only students that should prepare for college. There are many things that juniors can do to prepare for college to help them get a  jump of the scholarship and college application process.

Prepare for College

1. Remember that organization is key to efficiency. Create a schedule that will help you stay on task with your goals. Create a deadline calendar for scholarships to which you’d like to reply.  Keep all of your awards, community service records, and other accomplishments in a folder.
2. Build strong and healthy relationships with your teachers. You will need some good recommendation letters for the colleges that you apply to your senior year.
3. Not all scholarship websites are good. We found great website reviews created by U.S. News & World Report and that can help you figure out which scholarship websites are helpful.

Fall College Preparation

1. Enroll in AP or dual credit classes. They look good on transcripts and, if you do well, you can get college credit. Make sure that you take a load that you can handle. I have met many students that end up miserable because they take too many AP classes at one time.
2 . I doubt you need to be reminded of this, but make sure you are paying attention to your GPA and class rank. Ask your school counselor if you don’t know.
3. An important way to prepare for college is to create your college resume.
4. Ditch your goofy email address you created as a kid. Create a professional one on websites like gmail or yahoo. For example, if your name is Sue Cho, you can simply create an address like “”
5. Begin researching your top schools. Some people start with potential majors to narrow down the school selection. Regardless of your method, it is important to find schools that fit you well. Try to select five to ten schools that you think will fit you well.
6. Start researching potential scholarship opportunities.
7. Research ACT and/or SAT dates for the upcoming spring. Go ahead and sign up and put the date on your calendar. Come up with a preparation plan.

Spring College Preparation

prepare for college1. Begin preparing for the SAT or the ACT. There are many schools and tutors that you can pay to help you prepare. You can also find many free online SAT prep resources
2. A very obvious but important thing you need to do to prepare for college is take the SAT and/or the ACT.
3. Narrow down your college list to a manageable number.
4. Make two or three college visits to give you a more tangible idea of what you are looking for in a school.   You’ll have more time your senior year to make visits.
5. Begin applying for scholarships.
6. Organize a community service project for spring break and invite your friends to participate. Not only is it a great way to use your resources to help others, college admission counselors will love your initiative, leadership, and servant mindedness.

Summer College Preparation

1. Use your summer to prepare for college by building your resume. College admission counselors love to see community involvement. Check out local nonprofits for which you can volunteer regularly. Don’t just volunteer to build your resume. Make sure you take time to learn from the people you are helping. It could change your life.
2. If you need to retake the SAT or the ACT, begin researching test dates for the upcoming fall.
3. Don’t forget to keep applying for scholarships.
4. Get ahead of the game by applying early decision to one or two of your top schools. You will be happy to get those two out of the way.

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The Most Affordable Colleges in Texas

Here are five of the most affordable colleges in Texas. The tuition rates were taken from the National Center for Educational Statistics for the 2011-2012 school years.

5. Texas Women’s University | Tuition $5,429

Texas Woman’s University is located in Denton, TX. While the name would lead one to believe that men do not attend the school, the school administration is clear that “qualified men” are welcomed to apply. 9% of the enrollment is comprised of men. There are slightly over 8,300 undergraduate students and around 6,400 graduate students. TWU has one of the most competitive nursing programs in Texas. Forbes considers TWU one of the top 250 research universities.  This affordable college in Texas is top notch! The total cost for students who are Texas residents and who live on campus is $15,749.

4. The University of Texas at Brownsville | Tuition $5,352

The University of Texas at Brownsville has slightly over 13,000 students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate studies. This affordable school has 68 bachelor programs, 25 master programs, and 2 doctorate programs. U.S. News and World Report considers UTB a premier school for engineering at schools that do not offer engineering doctorates. It is apparent that part of UTB’s ethos is to heavily invest energy and resources into the local community. If you want an affordable college in Texas that is “committed to students, participatory governance, liberal education, the expansion of the application of knowledge, human dignity, the convening of cultures and respect for the environment” then this is your place. The total cost for students who are Texas residents and who live on campus is $16,586.

3. Tarleton State University | Tuition $5,281 

Located near the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex in Stephenville, Tarleton is a growing institution, known for its internationally recognized horse production program and innovative teacher education programs. The university has one of the largest and oldest public school improvement partnerships in the United States that benefits more than 50 area school districts. In the Fall of 2006, the university had 9,462 students enrolled at two campuses up from 8,540 in 2004 making it one of the fastest growing universities in Texas and the third largest university in the Texas A&M system. The school has students from 45 different states and 34 different countries. Tarleton boasts a student to professor of 18 to 1. The total cost for students who are Texas residents and who live on campus is $17,583.

2. Texas A & M University-Texarkana | Tuition $4,974

Texas A&M University – Texarkana offers small classes that create space for students to know professors and to be known. The school has a remarkable 14 to 1 student to teacher ration. There are close to 2,000 students enrolled. Because of the school’s proximity to Arkansas and Oklahoma, residents of those states are allowed to attend the school at the in-state tuition rate. Residents from bordering parishes of Louisiana also enjoy the in-state tuition rate. The total cost for students who pay in-state tuition and who live on campus is $14,393. This school is the most affordable college on this list when all costs are considered.

1. Sul Ross State University | Tuition $4,764

Sul Ross State University is nestled in the Davis Mountains in the town of Alpine, TX. It is part of the Texas State University system. The university has three satellite campuses in Del Rio, Uvalde and Eagle Pass. The enrollment of the school is around 2,000 students so the class sizes are small. This allows for a much higher level of personal attention from professors. Sul Ross State University offers associate, bachelor, and master degrees. Rodeo is significant part of the Sul Ross program. The university is the birthplace of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. Many team members have gone on to become world champions. 1951 graduate Harley May is a charter member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Hall of Fame. The total cost for students who are Texas residents and who live on campus is $16,074.

Honorable Mention:
Texas Tech University | Tuition $7,380

Texas Tech University is located in Lubbock, TX and has an enrollment of slightly over 26,000 undergraduate students. The school is listed as “honorable mention” because there are a number of more affordable college in Texas. However, the college is the most affordable option that is well-known with a competitive FBS football program. The total cost for students who are Texas residents and who live on campus is $20,753.

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How to Find Cheap Moving Boxes

It’s August and that means thousands of college students are looking for cheap moving boxes to help them move to school. If you have the cash to using moving companies check out Box My Dorm. If you are looking for the cheapest possible route here are a few suggestions.

1. Check for your particular area. If you act quickly, you can find good free moving boxes that are used. If you miss out on the free options you can always find people selling cheap moving boxes.

2. Check with local food, produce, or liquor venders. Call your local Old Navy and see when they get their shipments of gear. See if your local McDonalds will let you have their heavy duty french fry boxes.

3. Uhaul’s new boxes are extremely expensive. However, the company set up an online box exchange center. This is a great place to find cheap moving boxes!

4. If you are running out of free options, check out companies like who sell cheap moving boxes that are used. Most of these companies have a quality control process. That means that the boxes they sell you are high quality.

5. If you don’t feel like working hard to find free or cheap moving boxes that are used you can go the new route. The cheapest new options I could find were at Lowes and Home Depot. I just purchased some new medium boxes for about $1.10. That is cheaper than some of the online used options. Home Depot will ship boxes to your home. CLICK HERE to access Home Depot’s online store.

If you find any other options please let us know in the comment section.


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SAT Prep Apps That You Need

There are dozen of SAT prep apps for the iPhone and iPad. Most aren’t worth your time or money. Here are a few SAT prep apps that you need to check out!

Word Dynamo SAT Guide designed this college prep app. The app combines engaging games with’s entire word library empowering students to master their word learning. With different learning modes including audio, flashcards, and definition matching. Purchase the app for $4.99 by CLICKING HERE. There is a free website that corresponds with the app.

SAT Vocab – MindSnacks
Mindsnacks has done it again! SAT Vocab is not your average vocabulary focused SAT prep app. The creators came up with fun games that help users learn SAT words. Everybody I introduced this app to thinks it is a ton of fun. In fact, it is one of the most reviews SAT prep app that I found. SAT Vocab by MindSnacks has 272 reviews and almost has a 4.5 star user rating out of 5. CLICK HERE to download it from iTunes.

SAT Connect

SAT Connect is a premier SAT prep app. It includes preparation on all facets of the standardized test. The app includes 4,000 vocabulary words, SAT practice tests, math lessons, and progress reports. Users get all of this great content for free. CLICK HERE to download from  iTunes.

Adapster Flex – SAT Math

This SAT prep app is free initially. You simply download it and take a diagnostic test. When you get the test results, you purchase the parts of the app that you need. The aesthetically design is simple and easy to understand. The progress reports are clear and helpful. This is one of the top math related SAT prep apps available. CLICK HERE to download it.



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The Most Affordable Colleges in California

We are starting a series on the most affordable colleges in America. We will choose one state at a time and list five of the most affordable colleges. This week our focus is on affordable colleges in California. I focused on public colleges but scroll to the bottom and you will see a list of five affordable private colleges. The tuition rates were taken from the National Center for Educational Statistics for the 2011-2012 school years.

5. California Maritime Academy | Tuition $6,536

While there are technically a few Cal State locations with slightly cheaper tuition rates, this institution made the list because of its great value. It deserves be be listed as one of California’s most affordable colleges. California Maritime University is located in Vallejo, California. In 2011 Forbes ranked CMA as the #1 “Best Value” college in California and #2 in the Western U.S. In 1996 the school became part of the Cal State system. Though it was founded in 1929 as an institution to help men prepare to be officers in the American Merchant Marines, current students are not required to participate in armed services. The school specializes in engineering, business, and global studies.  They have approximately 880 undergraduate students. The total cost for students who are California residents and who live on campus is $22,778.

4. California State Polytechnic University | Tuition $6,106

Cal Poly Pomona is one of two polytechnics in the 23-member California State University system. Kiplinger ranked the university at the 10th best school in California in 2012. U.S. News & World Report ranks Cal Poly Pomona as 4th in ethnic diversity.The school is primarily devoted to the instruction of technical arts and applied sciences. Around 19,400 undergraduate students attend the univeristy. It is clear that Cal Poly Pomona is a good school at a good price. The total cost for students who are California residents and who live on campus is $20,914.

3. California State University - Los Angeles | Tuition $6,095

California State University – Los Angeles is located 5 miles east of downtown. The university boasts of over 70 undergraduate degrees. Approximately 17,400 undergraduate students attend the school. The engineering department is one of the best in the country. In 2008 U.S. News & World Report ranked the department the 34th best in the country. The total cost for students who are California residents and who live on campus is $21,335.

2. California State University – Dominguez Hills | Tuition $6,095

California State University – Domingues Hills is located about 16 miles south of downtown Los Angeles in the town of Carson. CSUDH offers 45 undergraduate majors. The Los Angeles Galaxy of the MLS plays in the Home Depot Center which is located on campus. The university has a little less than 12,000 undergraduate students. The total cost for students who are California residents and who live on campus is $21,290.

1. San Diego State University – Imperial Valley | Tuition $5,706

Founded in 1959, San Diego State University – Imperial Valley Campus is nestled on the California/Mexico border in the town of Calexico. The school offers 12 Bachelor’s degrees. Around 650 undergraduate students attend the univesity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the main campus of San Diego State University among the best public colleges (No. 89) as well as the most diverse (No. 18). This is a good option if you want to have access to a great school at an affordable rate. By the way, there is practically no student housing for this campus. The total cost for students who are California residents and who live off campus is $22,424 .

Check out this list of affordable private colleges:

School City State Tuition
The National Hispanic University San Jose California $7,908
Bethesda University of California Anaheim California $7,620
Cal U. of Management & Sciences Anaheim California $7,510
Northwestern Polytechnic U. Fremont California $7,450
Trident University International Cypress California $6,120
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The Importance of a College Visit

by Richard McNeal

It wasn’t until I first set foot on a university campus that I realized how absolutely essential college visits are. I used to think college visits were optional and only for the particularly proactive breed of student—you know, the kind that gets named “Most Likely to Succeed” in the yearbook. Now, it’s a vital step of the college decision process that I make sure everyone knows about.

When I was in high school and beginning to look at colleges, my teachers kept encouraging me to visit as many college campuses as possible, especially all the ones to which I was applying. At first, I casually dismissed the wisdom behind this advice.

As a product of an Internet-savvy generation, I figured all the information I needed to make an informed decision could be found on the World Wide Web. I mean, there are all kinds of college ranking and review sites, so why waste time and money traveling to a physical campus when I could just visit a virtual one?

Regardless, during my junior year I reluctantly began planning to make a couple campus visits. I started with two at the top of my list (thinking the visits would only cement my decision to attend one of those universities). Surprisingly, after visiting each, they quickly made their way to the bottom of my list. In spite of what my research told me, I left both campuses knowing neither would be a good fit. Frankly, I was shocked at how polarizing the experiences had been.

Fast forward to late in my senior year: I had narrowed down my college search to four universities, all to which I’d been accepted. Money wasn’t exactly plentiful for my family, so a huge part of the decision I was about to make would be based on which institution gave me the best deal—or so I thought.

After my campus visit to the college that was asking me to fork out the most cash, I knew I had to go there. There wasn’t really a tangible reason why; it was something that I just felt. From the moment I first stepped on campus, I felt home. The crazy thing is, I’m a numbers and logic guy. I don’t make decisions based on intangible emotions. But this time, I did—and from speaking with my peers and other college students over the years, I know I share this experience with many others.

So, I leave you with these few pieces of advice that were given to me. Visit every college or university campus you can. At the very least, visit the college you intend on attending, and then, every college to which you’ve been accepted. You might be surprised how a college visit influences your final decision.

There are, of course, many other factors to consider when choosing a college, but I believe the campus visit is one of the most important. Maybe you don’t want to make the drive or spending the money on a plane ticket seems unnecessary, but let me assure you, it is well worth the investment. Simply stepping foot on a campus could significantly impact your decision one way or the other, as it did mine. And either way, you’ll be relieved you made the decision to visit.


About the Author
Richard currently works as a marketing associate for, a local binding supply and document finishing company in Hillsboro, Oregon. His wife, Christine, is an admissions counselor for a local university. They are both passionate about seeing students succeed in higher education.


Organizing a Community Service Project: An Interview

Students painting the sign for the Cactus Street Community Garden on east side of San Antonio, TX

A few weeks ago I wrote a post that gave five tips for organizing a community service project. The intent of the post was to give students a guide to help them strengthen the resume they send to college admission counselors. This week we are featuring a newly graduated student named Hannah who organized a community service project in her city, San Antonio, TX. I had the privilege and honor of helping Hannah get the ball rolling on the community service project.

Like many students, Hannah originally started to organize the community service project to meet the requirements of an award for which she was applying. Unlike most students, once Hannah found out her proposed project did not meet the organization’s requirements, she decided to forgo the award in favor of making an impact in her city. Her community service project proposal was to create a community garden in a low-income area of town.

The following is a brief interview I did with Hannah:

TCC: What was the best part of doing the project?

Students planting in Cactus Street Community Garden
© 2012 Glen Lam

Hannah: The first day of the project that I scheduled to clear out the lot was the best part. I did very little planning it seemed like, and was so nervous the night before. So many things fell through perfectly and unexpectedly on the clearing day, like who showed up and the tools they had on hand.

TCC: What was the hardest part?

Hannah: Getting people to come and help. It seemed like classmates at school didn’t care, and this discouraged me. I thought people would want to come but I kind of had to bribe/be creative in the end.

TCC: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?

Hannah: I can’t be impatient or want people to believe what’s valuable to me is the most important.

TCC: What was your goal in doing the garden?

Hannah: The food from the garden is only going to feed a few families in the neighborhood, and only a few people from the neighborhood are currently involved. Therefore, my optimistic hope is that the people on Cactus Street have been watching the vegetable plants grow bigger and healthier week by week and that it’s been healing or uplifting in some way.

TCC: What will happen to the garden once you go to college?

Hannah: This is a big unknown. Maybe “master gardeners” from the botanical gardens will take some responsibility for it because they owe service hours for the gardening program they just completed.

TCC: Any words of wisdom for high school students wanting to do service projects?

Hannah: I would say there are ups and downs to starting and leading a project of your own versus volunteering for already established service organizations, and to think carefully which is better for the circumstance.

If you are in the San Antonio area and would like to help keep Hannah’s efforts alive by volunteering at the Cactus Street Community Garden contact me. Here is a video that celebrates all of the work Hannah and the volunteers did to complete the garden.

Cactus Street Community Garden from Cactus Street Community Garden on Vimeo.

Have you tried to launch your own community service project? If so, we want to hear from you. Tell us about your experience. Help us learn how to empower others to launch their own community service projects.

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SAT and ACT Resources

Recently I’ve been corresponding with a company out of the Dallas/Ft. Worth Area that helps equip high school students to succeed on the SAT and ACT. The name of the company is DFW College Counseling. Last week we shared a blog post from one of their counselors title SAT or ACT. Their blog is updated a few times a week with really good SAT and ACT Resources. Check out this recent tip for taking the SAT on a post titled 3 Tips for Optimizing Your SAT Score:

Make Your Best Guess! Let’s say you have to guess on 20 questions overall on your SAT. Statistically, you have a 1 in 5 chance of getting a question right. Out of 20 questions, you should be able to guess correctly on 4 questions (+1 x 4 = +4 points) and guess incorrectly on 16 questions (-1/4 x 16 = -4 points). Guess on these 20 questions and you should be able to come out even in points. If you guess poorly you may do worse and if you guess well you may do slightly better. But hopefully you can look at each of those 20 questions and be able to eliminate some obviously wrong answer choices. If you’re able to eliminate one or more incorrect answer choices, your expected gain will more than offset any incorrect answers you are penalized for:

Eliminate 1 incorrect answer choice from each of 20 questions= 1/4 chance of guessing:

20*(1/4)*(+1)= +5 points

20*(3/4)*(-1/4)= -3.75 points

+1.25 points overall

Eliminate 2 incorrect answer choices from each of 20 questions= 1/3 chance of guessing:

20*(1/3)*(+1)= +6.67 points

20*(2/3)*(-1/4)= -3.33 points

+3.33 points overall

Eliminate 3 incorrect answer choices from each of 20 questions= 1/2 chance of guessing:

20*(1/2)*(+1)= +10 points

20*(1/2)*(-1/4)= -2.5 points

+7.5 points overall

You can see that the more answer choices you can eliminate, the quicker you are able to gain extra points. And +7.5 points overall can mean a difference of almost 100 points in your overall score!

DFW College Counseling adds resources to their blog weekly.

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