I love my summer.  I cherish the slower pace, longer days, better weather, and free time the season provides me.  Every summer I like to read more books and go to more movies than I normally would be able to.  The only exception this summer is that I’ve had even more free time than normal.  In addition to movies and books, I also taught my dog how to fetch and sharpened my cooking skills.

I’ve already been to more movies in the last couple of months than I did in the preceding year.  Best of all, each one was entertaining; which is nice because like everything from gas to White Castle Sliders, the prices have gone up.  The very least I expect when I fork over $10+ is to be entertained for a couple of hours.  Just recently I checked out Wall-E which was really good.  I find it hard to stay away from Pixar movies.  They make one movie a year, and it’s usually exceptional.  I didn’t find Wall-E as great as most of the reviewers, but it was cute and enjoyable. Not so cute, but equally enjoyable was the new Indiana Jones movie-Crystal Skull. It’s impossible not to like Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, but overall the movie was closer to Temple of Doom than Raiders of the Lost Ark.  The problem Lucas and Spielberg have is that Indy will never have a more compelling villain to deal with than the Nazis.  My favorite movie of the summer so far has been Iron Man.  Each element of the film was quite good from the actors, to the plot twists, to the open ending letting me know that there will undoubtedly be a second and third movie.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention a movie I recently saw on cable: Surf’s Up.  It is, without a doubt, absolutely and unequivocally, the greatest movie ever made about surfing penguins.  It has been a while since I saw a movie that was so head and shoulders above every other movie in its category.  The last movie I saw of that caliber might have been Vision Quest which set a new standard in High School Wrestling movies.

When not watching movies I try to catch up on my reading.   I recently read Chuck Klosterman’s book “Fargo Rock City” which celebrates his own youth, growing up listening to Heavy Metal Music in a small North Dakota town.  Klosterman has a great voice and tends to make some very unique points, some of which are profound and other equally idiotic.  His main point in Fargo Rock City is that Heavy Metal was the dominant musical style from the early 80’s to early 90’s but has never been considered a serious musical genre by writers.  The onset of Grunge and collapse of Guns ‘n’ Roses amongst others obliterated Heavy Metal.  This book celebrates Klosterman’s love of a musical era and an attempt to cast new light on music most people took for granted.

The most interesting book I read this summer had to be “Freakonomics” by University of Chicago Professor Steven Levitt.  Professor Levitt has a way of examining old issues in light of new statistics and interpreting them in surprising ways.  Chapter by chapter he examines abortion, gun control, the economics of drug dealing, sumo wrestling, standardized testing, and even the long term affects of baby names.  One of the more interesting facts I came away with is that swimming pools kill more children every year than handguns.  It’s a fact, but so little known that there is no swimming pool lobby yet.

And, just so no one thinks I’ve been completely slacking all summer long, next week I will report on some things I learned over the summer when it comes to financial aid.

By: Dan Russell

Recently John Hechinger of The Wall Street Journal reported on a growing trend in the Textbook Industry: Custom Textbooks.  For those unaware let me take some time to explain.  A custom textbook is one that is published specifically for one school and one school only.  Often, these custom texts are published annually or even semi-annually every semester, and they are usually required reading.

According to the WSJ, a typical custom book would be used in a Freshman English Course.  Acme University will require all incoming freshman to enroll in this English Course and purchase the Acme Version of ‘A Writer’s Reference’.  The only difference between the standard Writers Reference by Dana Hacker that most schools use and Acme’s is the cost, the Acme name across the front, and an extra 30 pages detailing Acme U’s writing program.  Oh, and it’s nearly impossible to buy a used version because the notice on the back cover reads “This book may not be bought or sold used.”

For those students who are pinching pennies and relying on their end of semester textbook sales to fund their next semester’s textbook purchases this can be a real problem.  Unlike other textbooks that are no longer being used, custom textbooks cannot be sold to other campuses due to their custom nature.  So, what can you do?

First, when you are purchasing your books be aware of custom texts.  They are fairly easy to spot and have a few tell-tale markers.  They will usually be spiral bound to cut costs, and they will almost always have the University’s name, Department, or Professor’s name across the front cover.  Second, talk to your professors.  Find out what you can about the new custom text, i.e. what makes it custom.  Sometimes the only difference is the front and back cover.  Or, if there is additional text included, you might discover that text is downloadable for free through the University’s website.  Knowing this little bit of information might save you some money.  In addition, it is always in your best interest to introduce yourself to your professors.

By: Dan Russell

As with most things, and certainly all things involving money, scholarships and other financial aid opportunities are sometimes scams designed to part you from your money. It’s an unfortunate, but time proven fact that there is a small percentage of the human population making life worst for the rest of us. They cheat the elderly out of their life savings, they sell broken down cars to newly expecting parents, and they put lead in toys sold to babies just to make a few dollars more. They also prey upon students and their parents who are desperate to find just a few extra dollars in order to go to school to get a better life.

Knowing that there are unscrupulous people and companies in the world fraudulently representing scholarship and Aid opportunities will hopefully make you more careful as you sort through applications. In this case, the mind numbing task of filling out applications is actually working in your favor. With the exception of the essay portion almost every application requests the same information- grades, address, interests, field of study, extracurricular activities, etc. When you come across an application that requests your credit card or banking information it should raise a giant red flag. If it looks a little peculiar, it probably is. Set that application aside and take a few minutes to investigate it. Ask the school guidance counselor about it or better yet, contact the Federal Trade Commission whose job it is to investigate these issues.

Students and parents should also be weary of opportunities that cost money to apply for. Often a student will be invited to an ‘exclusive’ seminar where they will be given a high-pressure sales pitch to pay for an opportunity or risk losing it. Or they will be asked to pay a membership fee to an organization that awards scholarships. Sure, that $25 membership fee is pittance compared to the $2,000 annual scholarship. But, that’s because the scholarship isn’t real. ALWAYS investigate any organization promising you financial aid if there is a fee involved.

The FTC is always on the lookout for scams such as these. With their help and the help of vigilant students and parents across the country fewer and fewer students are getting scammed. If you encounter a scholarship or Aid opportunity that looks too good to be true; or just want ore information on what to look out for please visit the Federal Trade Commission’s site http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/alerts/ouchalrt.shtm.

By: Dan Russell

Thanks to Fastweb.com and similar websites students now have access to a huge number of scholarships.  Billions of dollars in free financial aid is now easily accessible via the internet.  These Free Money sites are similar to job sites in the way they simply list out all those opportunities that fit your parameters. It can be easy to get carried away simply clicking on scholarship opportunities that you then forget what you’ve done.  Let’s face it, after reading through 50 links over the course of an hour, they all start to look the same anyway.  If you go through 50 links everyday for a week there is no chance you’ll remember the first link you looked at after lunch on Tuesday.  Living in the information age is a great boon for students.  But, if you don’t know how to organize all that info you might wind up drowning in it.

With so much information at our fingertips it becomes even more important to keep track of everything.  Trust me, as I have learned the hard way, being organized will pay off in the long run.  There are a number of good reasons to keep track of the Free Money you have applied for.  First off, you don’t want to waste time doubling up your efforts by applying for the same scholarship 3 times.  Many of these applications also need an essay.  If you are organized you will be able to keep track of these essays and you’ll find that certain essays are a fit for a number of Free Money applications.  The students who are winning multiple scholarships typically do so with just one or two very well-written essays.

In order to make things easier on yourself it helps to build a simple spreadsheet when you begin.  On that spreadsheet you’ll want to list out all the info pertinent to each Free Money opportunity.  The Company or Organization, the due date, amount of award, application requirements.  Do that for every single opportunity before you apply for anything.  At the end of a period of time, organizes that spreadsheet.  What you’ll discover is that many of these applications require the exact same information and have similar essay questions.  Taking a day to fill out all the applications rather than doing them one at a time will save you time and energy in the long run.

by: Dan Russell

Seeking out and applying for scholarships, fellowships, and grants is easier than ever, but that doesn’t mean slackers are rewarded. Just because you have access to so many more opportunities doesn’t mean you should take the application process lightly. I have always felt that people take more care to read and fill something out when they are doing it with pen and paper rather than by mouse and keystroke. I know I do. For some reason my attention span seems to lag when I scroll too long.

If you are like me, than straighten up and refocus. When it comes to filling out information for Free Money (as I will now refer to scholarships, fellowships, and grants) you don’t want to miss anything. For example, the survey form for fastweb.com’s scholarship search will probably take you a good 10 minutes to fill out. There are the typical questions about grades completed and GPA, as well as boxes to check for your extracurricular involvements. But then they proceed to ask questions about organizations, your parent’s jobs, and any number of unfortunate incidents that might have befallen you. In a word, it’s extensive. But that’s a great thing. The more you are able to tell them about yourself the more opportunities you’ll have to apply for Free Money.

Fastweb.com takes all of your answers and sources Free Money opportunities for you. There are far more than you could possibly dream of. There are scholarships for children of specific unions and professions, grants for children who are adopted or victims of domestic violence, and even money for students willing to create blogs for Corporations. The more you can tell Fastweb.com about yourself the more Free Money you will be eligible for. A quick word of advice though not to be dishonest or over embellish. You don’t want to be bogged down with opportunities that you truly aren’t eligible for. You may have written the best essay of all time for that AFL-CIO Scholarship, but if no one in your family is a member of the Union all you did was waste your time.

by: Dan Russell