Campus Overload Live with Jenna Johnson

Feb 17, 2011

Campus Overload's Jenna Johnson introduces you to ambitious student leaders, journalists, activists, interns and newsmakers from colleges across the country in her blog daily. In her live chat, she'll be answering your questions about college life, on and off campus.

Happy Thursday, everyone!

It has been a crazy busy week for me, thanks to a day-and-a-half in jury duty and my apartment being completely ripped up so a majority of the plumbing can be replaced.  So, our theme for today's chat is... well... Themeless Thursday. Ask me about anything! I have asked chat producer Ryan Kellett, a recent Middlebury grad, to also join in...

Need some ideas? Here's some college news that caught my eye this week:

* Colleges go trayless: I just posted a story online about colleges ditching their cafeteria trays to cut down on utility costs and wasted food. But now what are students going to use as makeshift sleds!? (Know of other creative uses for trays? Tell me on Twitter using the hashtag #trayless.)

* DREAM Act, MD-style: Maryland teens lobbied state lawmakers on Wednesday, begging them to offer in-state college tuition rates to all students who graduate from in-state high schools -- not just those who are full citizens.

* Fake ID crackdown: Over the weekend, DC police busted more than a dozen college students who were allegedly using fake IDs at the Georgetown bar Third Edition (aka "Thirds"). Apparently, many of them bought their IDs from a Chinese manufacturer that has mastered holograms. Anyone have one?

* Tuition rates for 2011-2012: Colleges are setting their tuition rates for next fall, and some have proudly announced they will only raise tuition by 1% or not at all for returning students. Then Sewanee in Tennessee totally topped everyone by announcing a 10% DEDUCTION in tuition and fees.

* Dress the Griffin: And the College of William & Mary introduced a new mobile app that allows you to dress their pantless mascot. Cheesy? Or brilliant?

What else is going on? Ryan and I can't wait to hear your thoughts and answer your questions!

Hi Jenna, I'm a college prof. at a big state university that has had about 28% of it's state budget cut in the last 3 years. As a consequence, our tuition, which is quite low, has gone up something like 25% for in-state students, even while many parents are out of work or not getting any pay raises. Yet at the same time, students here still tax themselves for "free" football and basketball tickes, as well as a huge student rec. center.

I'm curious if you see budget stress reflected in student life? I worry that there is a minority of struggling students on most campuses whose voices are drowned out by a majority of fairly well off students that don't worry about tuition increases, etc.

I was just at a conference for higher ed writers, where this topic resulted in a heated discussion. The idea of colleges adding rock climbing walls while cutting faculty positions particularly angered one professor.

I think students are extremely stressed by all of the costs of college -- tuition, housing, meal plans, books, clothing, Thursday night pitchers, spring break travel AND student fees. But I don't think the average student is fully aware of the exact cost breakdown -- or that they have the power to lobby their student government to reduce their student fee. (Or in some cases, have part of their fee refunded if they agree not to use the rec center or pick up a student newspaper.)

Student government reps, college newspaper reporters and super-involved-types can talk you to death about the need for student fees and how students choose to take on this expense. But those students are not average students. And the ones who truly can't afford even a small increase in any expense are the ones hurt the most.

A lot of people don't quite understand "students taxing themselves." I agree with Jenna that often students don't understand or even know the dollar amount of their student "fees."

At Middlebury (my alma mater), the "student activities fee" is a hefty $380 per year and it is doled out to student organizations left and right. But I find it interesting to see the intersection of what the administration cuts and students in response pick up on their "tab." For instance, when dining services cuts midnight breakfast during finals, the Student Government Assoc. picked up the tab. 

Do you see similar examples? What costs are being redistributed from administration to students by way of the student fee?

How can I get birth control from the campus health center without them alerting my parents?

While some policies vary campus to campus, if you are over 18, no one should have access to your health records without your permission except for you.

What do you think about Sewanee reducing its tuition?

Frankly, I was surprised -- it's definitely a bold move, which is why there have been so many national headlines about it.

But, with that said, it will be interesting to see if it really changes the amount that most students pay in tuition and fees.

At most private universities, hardly any students pay the "sticker price," which is routinely reduced through financial aid and scholarships. While Sewanee has reduced that sticker price, some students will not see a dramatic reduction in what they pay, because they are likely already paying a discounted amount.(University officials have promised that no one will end up paying more under the new system.)

What does everyone else think?

Bold move for Sewanee president John McCardell (who is also known for his Choose Responsibility campaign to lower the drinking age to 18). If they can afford it, why not? The national attention around tuition could usher in more applications next year and maybe further improve the quality of their students.

A Facebook friend of mine messaged me earlier today about my blog post about Sewanee cutting its tuition and fees by 10 percent. She thought I totally glossed over the academic achievements of the respected liberal arts school. Fair enough.

So, here is just one of many, many academic facts about The University of the South: "The university has had 25 Rhodes Scholars — a number exceeded by just 15 other institutions nationwide — and has been home to 27 NCAA Postgraduate Fellows, 39 Watson Fellows, and dozens of Fulbright Scholars."

Any idea where the money saved from less wasted food will go? As a recent college grad, I saw a lot of efforts to cut back on wasted food. Administrators never offered to refund the amount of money saved to students, who were the ones paying hefty board fees.

A lot of savings can come out of going trayless, and I too have never seen a rebate for that savings. If you think about it, though, there seems to be very little incentive to offer a rebate for the savings when a school can reinvest the money back into dining. Wouldn't you want to get better food out of the deal? Still other schools have plenty of other places to reinvest the funds too.

I think some people miss the sheer enviromental impact of going trayless. That's certainly why Middlebury went trayless over four years ago. Students actually voiced very little complaint when it happened. Instead, taking away juice at dinner stirred outrage. 

A lot of times, that extra money goes to off-set increasing operating costs. This morning I talked with Jonathan Bloom, who runs the blog Wasted Food. He said some colleges have put that money towards sustainable practices, like adding more organic or locally grown food to the menu.


This seems to be a great time to apply for internships for the summer, but how do I stand out from the other candidates? Do you have any tips for applying/interviewing?

Personalize, personalize, personalize. Intern coordinators are currently being swamped with dozens of applications that look like copy-and-paste jobs. Spend some time getting to know the places where you are applying and the type of work you would do -- then customize your resume and cover letter to highlight accomplishments and expertise that directly speaks to those things. Recruiters can tell when an application was created just for them, and when it's simply one of dozens.

And don't wait until the last minute -- the sooner you can send off those apps, the better.

(And for more tips, check out our Intern City Web page.)

The majority of students applying to internships slap a cover letter together from some template and ship their pre-formatted resume out to dozens of places. Stop doing that. You're not going to win the numbers game.

So, yes, personalize and select internships you really think fit you well. But really, if you want to stand out, you should be exceptional in the effort you put forth. Get into the head of an intern coordinator. What would you look for in their shoes?

Better yet, try to find people that have already interned there. What do they say about applying? Who do they know that might be able to help?

How important is a law school's ranking or reputation when it comes to graduates' ability to find work afterward? Do employers look hard at where your degree came from, or is a lawyer basically a lawyer?

OK - tough question for those of us not considering law school. But from what I know and hear, it's not so much a law school's reputation but rather where you intern/work during law school. The argument then goes that the more prestigious the school you go to, the better internship opportunities you have or at least the more accessible certain positions at law firms are. Other perspectives welcome.

Ryan is right -- reputation is definitely something you need to take into consideration before applying and paying thousands for a law degree. The truth of the matter is, there just aren't a lot of job openings for lawyers right now. At least, not as many as there once were. And not at the same starting pay rates.

Graduates of the top schools usually don't have too much to worry about -- but grads of lower-tier institutions could face a tough job market when they graduate.

Hi, Our daughter is a HS Junior. We have done no college visiting and can't do any until summer most likely. Are visits really that important as far as admissions goes? Is it worth the expense to go during the summer if the students are not on campus? Are tours offered, etc.?

Admissions officers say it doesn't matter how they get to know a student -- it can be through a campus visit, a college fair or a well-written essay.

The most important reason to visit a college campus before enrolling? To make sure that your daughter loves it! You wouldn't believe how many high school and college students have told me they were determined to attend one certain college... until they visited and didn't feel comfortable.

And if your daughter is still a junior, you have tons of time. I know a lot of families that don't do their college visits until they know which schools have accepted their children. And I think most schools offer lots of summer tours -- just check their Web sites for full info.

Oh, and good luck!

Schools do look favorably upon people who have visited but it's a tiny fraction of what goes into gauging interest from the point of view of the admissions committee. Jenna is right - the real reason to visit is to get the feel for the place: how far are buildings away from one another? Do students drive from one side of campus to another? Are there hills? trees? This "gut feeling" matters.

I should also mention that a lot of students don't visit far away schools for financial reasons. And that's why a good website with a virtual tour can be indispensible for students who want to attend but know they won't get a flight out to visit any time soon. If you do get an acceptance, are choosing between schools, and want to see the campus -- ask the school to see if they can help you financially to come for a visit.

Unfortunately, yes it matters if you are looking to work in the biggest national and international firms (i.e., those $160k/yr jobs you hear about). It matters a lot less if you're looking for a small or mid-size regional firm. I say unfortunately because the big firms tend to cut out a lot of good candidates this way. More problematic is that they hire people who are terrible lawyers, but who have gotten into good schools and done well on the basis of academic and testing skills, neither of which necessarily correlate to the ability to do legal work.

Oh, great advice. Thanks so much. Anyone else have some insight?

Friends and I love your blog (and we follow you on Twitter)! Sorority rush is coming up soon and I really want to rush, but I'm not sure the process, what to wear, what my name tag should be (I heard you have to make your own name tags), the difference between the Northern and Southern sororities. Do you think you could have a chat one day focused all about sororities and rush? Thanks!

Hmmm, that's a great idea! I must confess: I am far from the expert on sorority rush, especially this business about making your own name tag. Who should I have on to answer questions?

There's an interesting discussion over on EphBlog (of Williams College) today on whether news outlets, or really anybody, can access and use undergraduate theses. If theses go into college libraries, do they become public? 

Interesting take with professors weighing in on both sides.

Would you want someone quoting your undergraduate thesis?

My son tells me that a number of students are carrying their own laptop-sized lunch trays (in backpack). Makes sense if you don't want to head back to the lunch line and you're sporting a backpack.

Really!?! That's fascinating. That is some extreme tray devotion. And where does one buy such a tray?

BYOT - bring your own tray. That's dedication.

I have done the college tours twice and I can't tell you how important they are. In both kids cases there were a couple of schools that looked good on paper but not when they arrived. Go to some schools in your area just to get feel for big vs smal and urban vs. rural campuses. Seeing what turns a student off is just as important as finding what excites them. Do look at dorms. Just some suggestions

Right on. Awesome suggestion to "just get a feel." Big differences between urban and rural, big and small, state vs. private, etc.

And I know some parents that go much earlier in a student's life not really to put pressure on their children, but rather to just get that "feel" thing out of the way so more focused college visits can ensue come Junior/Senior year.

I think there needs to be some kind of lower interest rate of the loans that kids are getting from the government and other private loan companies because i don't think kids realize how much payments are going to be when the finish school. especially if families have multiple kids in school. What are you thoughts?

Already, student loan interest rates are some of the lowest out there. But -- you have a point -- many of the 18-year-olds taking out these loans don't fully understand how their monthly payment will factor into their post-graduation budget.

Financial aid officers need to make this very, very clear to students. Parents need to ask lots of questions and not be afraid to say "no" to their kid's dream school if it's not affordable.

Thanks to Jenna for allowing me to weigh in today. I produce this chat regularly -- meaning I mostly hang out in the background helping guests with our Q&A system. Thanks for dropping by and you know where to find Jenna on Thursdays at 1 p.m. Bye and see you next week! -Ryan

Phew -- even without a theme we got lots and lots of interesting questions! Thank you, everyone, for joining in. And thanks, Ryan, for stepping out of the chat wings and helping me answer questions today!

Remember, if you have an innovative use for a college cafeteria tray, tell me about it on Twitter using the hashtag, #trayless.

See you next Thursday! Have a fabulous week.

In This Chat
Jenna Johnson
Jenna Johnson writes about college students and campus trends for the Post. She also runs the blog "Campus Overload," which chronicles national college news, drinking fads, admissions buzz and the latest exploits of Hill interns.
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