TIME Education

Here’s the Best Time to Visit College Campuses

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Know what you want before the visit

There is no doubt that visiting a prospective college or university is one of the best ways to experience the culture of a particular school. By the end of their junior year of high school, most students have compiled a short list of colleges that interest them. The schools on that list will have a mixture of criteria that they do or do not meet: ideal location, reasonable cost, academic rigor, courses of study, etc. Choosing among these colleges often comes down to how a place “feels,” but if you cannot visit them during the school year, what can you do? Should you visit college campuses in the summer?

What can all campus visits teach you?

No matter the season in which you visit, a campus tour allows you to explore the buildings and grounds of a given school, as well as its surrounding community. Perhaps an urban college appeals to you in theory, but you realize on your campus tour that you miss the open green spaces and quiet of a rural setting. Conversely, your claustrophobia may worsen when you see that your prospective home for the next four years consists of the campus, one or two restaurants, and endless miles of farm and forest.

Even if you are comparing colleges in similar settings, you may find that the neighborhoods near each campus significantly impact the atmosphere of a school. For example, I attended the University of Washington and Ohio State University. Both are large state schools located in mid-sized cities. Both have beautiful campuses. But the University of Washington is surrounded by independent coffee shops, ethnic restaurants, and used book stores. Ohio State University, in contrast, is bordered primarily by chain restaurants. This was an obvious difference to me, but other students may not have noticed. If you plan to live off-campus, a campus tour – at any time of year – can help you gauge a city or town’s student neighborhoods.

A campus tour will also include visits to campus buildings. Are these buildings well maintained? Do you like the feeling of ancient wisdom that seeps from the stones of 19th century construction, or are you more at home with modern buildings? This is a small but crucial consideration, as the buildings you live among can have an impact on how you experience your community.

What are the disadvantages of touring during the summer?

The answer to this question will vary from college to college. Some schools may seem abandoned during the summer months, while others may be quite busy. In both cases, you will not glimpse the campus at its liveliest times. You may not realize that you will be swimming through throngs of students during class breaks at a large college, or that you will continually see the same dozen people at a small school. You also may not be able to sit in on a college class or two.

In addition, you may struggle to assess how students truly treat one another. Are people on campus friendly and welcoming during the winter months too? Do they seem disinterested in strangers only because it is oppressively humid out? The student ambassadors and tour guides that you meet during a campus visit are typically hired because they are friendly and outgoing – which means they may or may not be representative of the student body as a whole. The summer student population may be equally as unrepresentative due to its smaller sample size.

So what should you do?

Whenever possible, visit prospective schools during the academic year. Remember that an in-person assessment of a campus can be invaluable to your final decision. If you are only able to visit colleges in the summer, you will need to consider the goals you would like each campus tour to achieve.

If visiting all the schools on your list is prohibitively expensive, do not immediately discount the possibility of a campus tour. You may be able to prioritize which colleges to go to – for example, say you have five schools on your short list. One of them seems ideal for you academically, and its rural location differentiates it from the other colleges. Visiting that one outlier will help you learn whether the setting is a positive or negative factor. Or perhaps you would like to major in a field like life sciences or visual art, where laboratory quality or studio space can have a profound impact on your education. Several of your target schools may make virtual tours available online, but one or two may not. Investigating the colleges or universities without online tours can be a very good use of your visitation budget.

Ultimately, visiting campuses during the traditional academic school year or during the summer is a highly personal decision. It will depend on cost and your overall touring goals. If summer is the best or only time that you can visit colleges and universities, there is truly no substitute for walking across campus and imagining yourself coming back next fall – and happily belonging there.

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 The Ohio State University.

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MONEY College

The Right Way to Borrow for Your Kid’s College

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Follow these 3 rules.

With the August start of the school season right around the corner, parents of college-bound kids may have one more financial hurdle to clear: finding a loan to fill the gap between the savings you’ve earmarked for college, your child’s financial aid and student loans, and the big bill that’s coming up fast.

The most popular options are federal parent PLUS loans, private student loans, and a home-equity line of credit. The best one for you comes down to several factors, including how long you need to pay off the loan and your credit history. Here’s how to weigh your choices.

For Flexibility, Pick a PLUS

A federal parent PLUS loan has, well, pluses and minuses. The current interest rate, 6.8%, is high compared to other options, and you’ll owe an origination fee of more than 4%. If you plan to retire the debt in less than a year, the more than $400 you’d pay to take out a $10,000 loan would essentially raise your rate to 11%.

Still, the application process is simple, and the credit requirements are looser than for other loans—your income and credit score aren’t factors. You can take up to 30 years to pay back the loan (though 10 years is standard), and you automatically qualify for repayment breaks if you run into a financial hardship, like a lost job.

For a Low Rate, Go Private

With a private student loan from a bank or credit union, you can beat a PLUS loan’s high rate and avoid origination fees. Traditionally your student takes out this loan, with you as a co-signer. But increasingly many banks, including Wells Fargo and Citizens, are offering private loans directly to parents. Lender SoFi has a borrowing program for parents of students attending one of 2,200 schools.

Variable rates on private loans run from 3% to more than 10%, depending on your creditworthiness, while fixed rates range from 4.5% to double digits. You can deduct up to $2,500 in student loan interest a year on your taxes, as long as your income is below the cap ($160,000 for a married couple filing jointly in 2015).

For Ready Cash, Tap Your Home

Another way to get a low rate is to borrow against your home equity. On average you’ll pay a 4.75% variable rate on a HELOC today, reports Bankrate.com, and just a few hundred dollars upfront.

Trouble is, you’ll pay more for your HELOC once the Federal Reserve starts hiking interest rates. That makes them best if you can pay off the loan quickly. Or lock in. With many lenders, you can convert the outstanding portion of your HELOC to a fixed loan (rates average 6%), leaving the rest of your line available for future costs.

Finally, trust your instincts. “What keeps parents up at night varies,” says Leonard Wright, a California certified public accountant and personal financial specialist. “For some a HELOC takes away the peace of mind of having a paid-off or nearly paid-off home loan. For others there’s peace of mind in having the guaranteed options for payment breaks from a federal loan.”

TIME Education

See How the First SAT Compared to Today’s Test

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John Nordell—Getty Images A student pauses while taking a sample SAT in 2005

June 23, 1926: The first SAT is administered

The math section required little knowledge beyond basic arithmetic, and the test itself took just over an hour and a half, but the first SAT wasn’t any easier than the one tormenting high school seniors in our era.

On this day, June 23, in 1926, when the first batch of college applicants struggled through the Scholastic Aptitude Test, they were given 97 minutes to answer 315 questions—meaning that to complete the test, they’d have to answer about three questions per minute. No one was expected to finish the entire thing.

While the time pressure was more intense than in today’s test—which provides a luxurious three hours and 45 minutes to answer 170 questions and write an essay—it did streamline the process for applicants to the nation’s top colleges, who’d previously had to take a different essay-based test for each college they applied to. “Up until that time, if you wanted to apply to Harvard, you did that totally differently than how you applied to Yale versus how you applied to Princeton,” an official with the College Board, which produces and administers the SAT, told Smithsonian Magazine in 2013.

Just as the test itself has stood the test of time, so has controversy surrounding it. Although the SAT was adapted from the IQ test used by the U.S. Army during World War I, per the New York Times, and intended to measure innate intelligence—regardless of class or race—it has been plagued by accusations of elitism throughout much of its nearly 90-year history. This original iteration in particular served a highly select demographic: Of the 8,040 college candidates who took the first test, 60% were male, according to a PBS Frontline special on the SAT. Most of the men were applying to Yale; most of the women were hoping to get into Smith.

To matriculate along with the upper crust of 1920s high school society, you’d have to demonstrate knowledge in a number of areas, including:

Arithmetic: “If a package containing twenty cigarettes costs fifteen cents, how many cigarettes can be bought for ninety cents?”

Classification (Instructions: Each group contains six words. Three of these are related to each other in some definite way. Indicate which three are MOST CLOSELY RELATED): Group 1. anemia, tuberculosis, sickness, diphtheria, typhoid, doctor.

Group 2. Keats, Petrarch, Schopenhauer, Franklin, Byron, Mendel.

Analogies: 1. Beacon is to helmsman as wisdom is to 1) ruler, 2) tooth, 3) sagacity, 4) wizard, 5) grief.

2. Thorn is to flesh as vice is to 1) voice, 2) crime, 3) virtue, 4) evil, 5) society.

Paragraph Reading (In each paragraph, one word has been substituted for another word and spoils the meaning of the paragraph. Find this word and cross it out): “We were informed that the lady of his heart, when living, received the addresses of several who made love to her, and did not only give each of them discouragement, but made everyone that she conversed with believe that she regarded him with an eye of kindness.”

How well you do will be your own best guess: According to the Washington Post, which published the full test online last year, the answer key has been lost to the ages.

Read a 1950 article about the test, here in TIME’s archives: Cure for Chaos

MONEY College

How Can I Make Sure My Ex Pays Her Share of Our Kids’ College Costs?

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Failure to take immediate action is risky.

Q. I’ve had an ugly divorce and I think my wife will refuse to pay her part of college costs for our kids. The oldest kid starts in September, and I can’t afford to pay the whole thing. I’m also not sure I want to go through another fight and go back to court. Plus, I can’t really afford an attorney again. What are my options?

A. What you need to do is act quickly.

Failure to take immediate action may be interpreted by the court, in the future, as you having waived your right — and your child’s right — to seek financial contribution from your ex-wife toward the satisfaction of your child’s college costs and expenses, said Kenneth White, a divorce attorney with Shane and White in Edison, N.J..

White said for starters, he makes it a point never to convince anyone that they need an attorney to appear in Family Court, and nearly 50% of those who appear before the court in New Jersey do it without an attorney. (And while this is specific to New Jersey, no matter where you live, it’s important to find out what the rules and deadlines are so that you can advocate for your child.)

Whether to hire an attorney or not often rests upon just how comfortable the non-attorney individual is appearing before a judge, coupled with how competent that individual is. However, you often only get one chance to correctly present an issue before the Family Court, he said.

“After the fact, if you did something wrong or otherwise failed to raise a specific point it will be 10 times harder and more costly for an attorney to try to undo something you did wrong and that attorney, after the fact, may not be able to undo something done wrong,” White said.

So back to acting quickly.

Specifically, White said, there is case law in New Jersey allows a judge to deny an application by one party against his/her ex-spouse for contribution toward the satisfaction of their child’s college costs and expenses if that application is made after the actual costs and expenses were incurred.

“Therefore, it is essential that you file your application with the court to compel your ex-wife to contribute to the satisfaction of your child’s college costs and expenses before the same are incurred — this fall,” White said.

He said another reason to file your application sooner rather than later is that it will likely protect you from many additional defenses that your ex-wife could raise.

“For example, she will be unable to claim that she was unaware and otherwise kept in the dark about your child’s intentions, such as wanting to attend college and where, and perhaps that she was denied an opportunity to have a say in the matter,” he said.

Moving sooner will allow everyone involved — your ex-spouse, you and your child — to look at all the relevant financial considerations, such as if it’s practical for your child to attend his/her first choice of college, he said.

Unlike divorce litigation that can take a year or perhaps longer depending upon what county your case was heard in, White said a post-judgment application to address an issue such as satisfaction of college costs and expenses may be filed, argued and resolved by the court in as quick as a 24-day cycle. Post-judgment motions must be filed 24 days before the return date, i.e. the date the judge is to have a hearing regarding the issue. Therefore, White said, you shouldn’t be intimidated by the potential of additional litigation because it will not be as complex as your entire divorce was.

“Unfortunately, absent confirming an amicable resolution directly with your ex-wife, your only option is to file an application with the court as soon as possible,” he said. “Alternatively, you — and more importantly, your child — may lose the opportunity to have your child secure a college education that he/she may be entitled to.”

So you should consider consulting with an attorney who can review all the circumstances of your case and offer you an opinion, even if it’s just a consultation.

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TIME Education

The Next Great American Scientists Will Not Graduate From Harvard

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Small classes, intense mentoring, and hands-on research make liberal arts colleges scientific breeding grounds

In response to billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson’s recently announced commitment of $400 million to support the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University, the journalist Malcolm Gladwell summed up many people’s reactions in a single facetious tweet: “It came down to helping the poor or giving the world’s richest university $400 mil it doesn’t need. Wise choice John.”

That reaction is understandable—and wrong. This gift should be saluted, not derided.

If history is a guide, both cutting-edge science and Harvard University may be better long-term investments in “helping the poor” than almost any other philanthropic alternative.

The lifting effect on all humanity of research that successfully addresses intractable societal challenges of disease, nutrition, climate change, and poverty cannot be underestimated. With government and industry research dollars shrinking or plateauing, America’s competitive success in science and technology depends more than ever upon the excellence of our great research universities. And 21st-century science facilities and research do not come cheaply.

Those who decry “the rich get richer” phenomena of big-time philanthropy miss the point. The follow-up to magnificent gifts such as this, after applause, should be to ask who will produce the human capital to make use of the opportunities the gift will facilitate. Where will the future scientists who achieve the breakthroughs at Harvard, Stanford, and other research centers begin their careers as undergraduates?

One answer to that question: Small liberal arts colleges, which already provide a disproportionate share of the “seed corn” of students for graduate and post-graduate science. This includes not just national schools such as Amherst and Swarthmore, but lesser known (and much less well-funded) regional institutions such as Augsburg, Lawrence, and the 155-year-old private school where I was president, North Central College.

These schools have a remarkable record of inspiring careers in science that lead to important breakthroughs at the National Institutes of Health and the top research universities, and to numerous Nobel Prizes. In a recent 20-year span, according to former Princeton President Shirley Tilghman, of the 70 Americans who received their undergraduate education in this country and won Nobel Prizes in chemistry, physics, and medicine, 16—more than one in five—attended liberal arts colleges.

Former Howard Hughes Medical Institute President Tom Cech, himself a graduate of tiny Grinnell College and a Nobel Laureate, has noted that despite offering no doctoral programs of their own, “liberal arts colleges as a group produce about twice as many eventual science Ph.D.’s per graduate as do baccalaureate institutions in general.” And while private research universities such as Princeton, Stanford and Chicago are “more selective than any of the liberal arts colleges,” Cech has said, “their efficiency of production of Ph.D.’s, while excellent, lags behind that of the top liberal arts colleges.”

In a memorable speech to college presidents a few years ago, Tilghman, who is a molecular biologist, posed what she referred to as “the $64,000 question”: Why are liberal arts colleges so successful in producing this result?

The answer to her question is to be found in both the character of liberal arts education and the location of these small colleges. Many talented American students like to go to smaller colleges near home. Much to the consternation of academic elitists and economists who cannot understand why all the “smart” students don’t choose to attend the most selective universities as undergraduates, much of American higher education is regional. Many top students remain reluctant to go far away or to big universities—and, historically, it has been these students whom liberal arts colleges have nurtured and inspired and provoked into careers in science. A glance at the biographies of the Nobel Laureates referenced by Tilghman suggests how important proximity to these regional institutions has been to their growth and success.

But there’s a harder and more important question for the United States and the world that needs to be addressed. Will this seed corn of science—produced by small classes, intense mentoring experiences, and hands-on research opportunities at small liberal arts colleges—be there in the years to come?

Even though cutting-edge science facilities and opportunities on liberal arts college campuses are smaller in scale than major universities, they still don’t come cheaply! The more regional the institution, the more likely it is that it lacks the funding base that goes with national prestige and visibility.

There is an immense opportunity here for philanthropists who care as much about the future of American science as John Paulson. Why not establish a data-driven challenge grant program inviting liberal arts colleges struggling with the cost of upgrading their science facilities and programs to re-engage this vital element of their historic mission and societal role?

The great research universities such as Harvard would be the first beneficiaries of the seed corn that results from such a program. And eventually, thanks to the discoveries that would follow, the beneficiaries would include everyone.

Harold R. Wilde is president emeritus of North Central College in Naperville, Illinois.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

5 Things I Learned From Writing Other People’s College Essays for Money

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

"I didn’t charge enough"

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The year 2009 was a year of big changes for me. I graduated with my M.A. in Professional Writing. My husband and I moved across the country from Georgia to California. And the economy fell off a cliff.

I know what you’re thinking. Someone with a degree in “Professional Writing” should probably expect to have a hard time finding a job regardless of what’s happening in the economy, but I swear I thought this out.

Graduate school gave me tangible skills with classes in document design and editing. I had a great experience and you should all shake your heads sadly and learn from my choices.

I wasn’t worried because I have had a job since I was 15. So what if nobody’s hiring? Convenience store, call center, restaurant, doesn’t matter. I’ve worked them all and I have no shame.

After a few weeks I realized just how competitive the job market actually is in Los Angeles. Restaurants asked for head shots with my application. My master’s degree made every retail store give me the side eye. I was suddenly unqualified and overqualified for everything.

Aside from being underemployed, I quickly learned that LA is a super expensive city. Like $7 for a domestic draft beer expensive. My part-time job and unpaid internship kept me firmly at home watching television and eating ramen noodles every night while interest added up on my student loans.

My husband suggested that maybe I could make some money offering college students help with their college essays. Sure! After 19 years of school, I was definitely qualified to help someone with their homework.

I put together a Craigslist ad detailing my credentials and the responses started rolling in. But instead of “Could you edit my paper?” I was getting “Hey, just do my assignment” or “Could you take my online class?” Well, beggars can’t be choosers, so from 2009 to 2013 I wrote dozens of papers and took several online classes. Here are a few things I learned along the way:

1. People who buy papers come from every walk of life.

It’s easy to assume that all students who buy papers are 20-somethings using mom and dad’s money so they can spend more time being hungover. Sure, there are plenty of those, and those are the ones who were the most demanding and difficult to work with. 20 pages by tomorrow? I’m not a wizard, kid.

But aside from the ne’er do wells, there were non-traditional students who were having a rough time balancing work, family, and a full class load. These students often expressed a lot of guilt, and I have a lot of sympathy for the pressure they were under.

Finally, there were those who were simply overwhelmed and unable to do college level work. Students who bought papers from me went to community college, online programs, USC, and UCLA.

2. I didn’t charge enough.

I loved school, and I even had fun doing a lot of the assignments. Who has two thumbs and had a great time researching a paper about the religious symbolism in the movie Groundhog Day? This gal.

But I also cared too much. I got the same worried knot in the pit of my stomach every time an assignment was due, and I stressed over the work as if I were the one getting the grade. If I had to do it over again I would realize that $75 for a four-page paper that required research and MLA formatting was practically giving it away.

3. You probably won’t get caught.

In the beginning, I would tell students that it would be a good idea to take the paper I wrote and put it in their own words. You’d think it would be a glaring issue for a student who’s had trouble the entire semester to turn in an “A” paper that doesn’t sound like anything else they’ve written. You’d be wrong.

I know a handful of adjunct professors, and as long as the paper is original (meaning chunks of the writing isn’t being recycled from other papers or online sources) they often don’t have the time or support of the administration to accuse someone of plagiarism. I would also add that they don’t get paid enough to weed out people buying papers, but that’s another essay.

4. You really are only cheating yourself.

Do I feel guilty? A little, but mostly for the other students who are working hard and giving it “the old college try” and getting lumped in with people who are buying assignments. It’s not fair, but life isn’t fair.

People who avoid work in college will find other ways to get through life and it will either catch up with them, or they will have to spend the rest of their lives trying to find people to do their work.

5. We should really stop herding people into college.

I can’t tell you how many students couldn’t compose a simple email that told me what their assignment was and when it was due. Red flag right? Not for “for profit” colleges it isn’t. You got a pulse and qualify for student loans? You’re in!

These students lack basic skills and aren’t ready for college, but that doesn’t stop schools from signing them up for thousands of dollars in student debt. These institutions have much lower graduation rates than the national average and students from for-profit colleges are much more likely to default on their student loans. It’s still a tough economy out there and most of these folks will end up in the same position I was in 2009 — but without the skills to do other people’s homework for cash.

Beth Seaver wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

How to Make the Most of Summer College Courses

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Seek out unusual electives

There is something magical about college campuses during the summer months. The physical space is unchanged from the traditional academic year, but a feeling of quiet possibility infiltrates the empty lawns and unused classrooms. There are, of course, a hardy few who brave the summer term, and perhaps you are among them. If so, here are several basic considerations to help you maximize your summer college courses:

Remember that the summer term is compressed

Most American schools utilize the semester system, where each class you take is typically 15 weeks in length. Summer classes, however, are much shorter – often just four or six weeks long. This compressed schedule is ideal for introductory courses, so if you need to complete a prerequisite class or a general education requirement, the summer term can be an excellent opportunity to do so. For those courses that develop a theme over a period of weeks, and that benefit from in-depth discussion and writing, a shortened summer semester can sometimes be harmful.

Ultimately, learning takes time and practice. Before you register for a class, consider the course content, and decide whether you can master it at an accelerated pace. Remember that one effect of this compressed schedule is that falling behind in class becomes even more problematic. For example, in the summer microbiology courses that I teach, we still meet twice per week, but we cover 18 chapters of the textbook in 16 class sessions, rather than in 26. Begin studying on the first day of the semester, and stay current with your homework and reading.

Also be aware that this shortened schedule makes multitasking more difficult. Take a college where 15 semester hours is normally a full course load. During the summer, a 15-hour load might mean meeting for 22 hours, with all the extra work that entails outside of the classroom. My advice? Take a lighter course load during the summer.

Research possible instructors

Many summer classes are taught by adjuncts on short-term contracts. Most adjuncts love to teach, and they typically know their subjects very well. However, some adjuncts are hired mere days before the semester begins, and they are forced to make do with just a textbook and a copy of last summer’s syllabus. Before you enroll in a course, check the department website to see if the instructor is a full or associate professor. If the instructor is listed as an adjunct – or not listed at all – it is perfectly acceptable to contact the department office to ask about a teacher’s credentials and whether they have taught that class (or one like it) before. You may find that an adjunct with experience teaching a given course is the best possible scenario. Tenured professors are sometimes promoted based on research and publication record, with teaching performance a lesser consideration. Adjuncts, on the other hand, live and die by their abilities in the classroom.

Consider your long-term needs

Most departments schedule their core requirements in a way that encourages students to take them in a certain sequence. You will generally benefit most by following this sequence. If you are pursuing a double major, or if you are interested in a rarely-taught special topics course, summer may be your chance to complete an essential class. To be clear, courses offered in the summer are usually compressed versions of core requirements, but by taking a core requirement during the summer, you may be able to resolve a conflict with a rarely taught or specialized class during the regular school year.

Summer is also an excellent time to repeat a course (if necessary). If you did not do well on your first attempt, you may find that the summer section is taught by a different instructor with a teaching style that better suits your learning needs. The smaller class size, and your familiarity with the material, may also help you improve. Either way, the summer semester can be an important step in graduating on time.

Seek out unusual electives

One of the best uses of the summer semester is taking unusual courses that do not otherwise fit into your schedule. In biology, for example, the summer is an excellent time for classes focusing on ecology and field work. Multi-day expeditions do not work well during the regular school year because they interfere with other academic obligations. The summer session is also a great time for short courses in unusual settings, such as an art class in Rome, a literature course at the University of Oxford, or a science class in Hawaii.

You may find that the best use of your summer is to rest, or to complete an internship, or to work to save money for the regular academic school year. But if you do decide to take summer courses, a little planning can go a long way in maximizing your college experience.

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 The Ohio State University.

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TIME Innovation

Why Religion Isn’t Good for Politics

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Religion in America is disappearing. That’s great for politics.

By Michael Shermer in Politico

2. What should we do if ISIS wins? Live with it.

By Stephen M. Walt in Foreign Policy

3. To get rid of Dengue fever, we’re modifying the mosquitoes that carry it.

By Marc Zimmer in the Conversation

4. Putin’s warlords are slipping out of control.

By Adrian Karatnycky in the New York Times

5. Don’t get a degree in a “hot” field.

By Peter Cappelli in Money

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY College

6 Financial Musts for New College Grads

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Nail these moves and you're on your way to financial success.

You did it! You passed your finals, you graduated from college, and you even landed the coveted job you have been working so hard to get. So now what?

Many grads are carrying student loans that will be weighing them down for years to come. Since you’re facing plenty of new expenses—moving, rent, furniture, a suitable office wardrobe—now is a great time to make a financial plan. Here are six things every new graduate should do:

1. Make a budget

A good starting place for your monthly budget can be easily remembered as “50-30-20.” When you receive your first paycheck, sit down and figure out what your monthly take home pay will be. Out of that, put 50% toward needs such as rent, utilities, and groceries. Thirty percent goes toward “wants” such as shopping, entertainment, restaurants, and fun. The final 20% goes to your savings and debt repayment. If your student loans are substantial, you may have to flip the percentages so that 30% goes towards debt repayment and 20% toward wants. By following this plan, you can quickly put a dent in those loans.

2. Manage your debt

Student loans often have multiple tranches with varying interest rates that can be fixed or variable. Your best option is to pay off the loans with the highest interest rates first, though that practice is far less common than you might think. When the time comes to start repaying, access your student debt details online to figure out the interest rates for each tranche. Pay the minimum towards the balances with the lowest interest rates and make your largest debt payments on the balance with the highest interest rate. The biggest mistake you can make is paying the minimum into each loan and waiting until you “make more money when you’re older” to deal with them.

3. Prepare for emergencies

An emergency savings account is the best way to plan for the unexpected. What would you do if your car breaks down and you need $800 to get it fixed? If your laptop stops working and you need one for work, how will you buy a new laptop? What would you do if you lost your phone? People often go into debt to cover unexpected expenses, but it’s a problem that can be solved with a little planning. By contributing a small amount of each paycheck into a conservative investment saving account, you can be better prepared to pay for life’s inevitable emergencies.

4. Take advantage of a 401(k) match

Most employers offer 401(k) retirement plans and many offer some form of a match. A traditional 401(k) is an employer-sponsored retirement plan that allows you to save and invest a portion of your paycheck before taxes are taken out, thus decreasing your tax liability. When an employer offers a match, they are matching your contributions, often up to a certain percentage of your income. By choosing not to fully participate in these programs, you are effectively turning down free money from your employer.

Some employers also offer a Roth 401(k), where your contribution is made with after-tax dollars (meaning that you pay the taxes now) and the funds grow tax-free for retirement. The Roth 401(k) is often seen as the better option for younger investors who are typically in a lower tax bracket and who would not get as much benefit from a tax deduction today as they would in retirement.

5. Open a Roth IRA

Similar to a Roth 401(k), a Roth IRA is an individual retirement account allowing you to invest up to $5,500 for the 2015 tax year. These accounts are often considered ideal for younger investors, who may benefit from decades of tax-free compounded growth. Investing $5,500/year from age 22 to age 30 may create an account of more than $1 million when you’re using those funds in your retired years. If you invested the same amount annually but waited until your 30s to start, your account might be worth half as much. For Roth IRA contributions in the 2015 tax year, your modified adjusted gross income must be less than $116,000 if you’re single (or a combined $183,000 if married.)

6. Automate your savings

By setting up automatic transfers from your checking account to your Roth IRA and emergency savings, you’re effectively drawing money straight from your paycheck. This allows your plan to be put into action with minimal maintenance and oversight on your end.

Congratulations, graduate! With these six tips you could be on your way to a successful financial future.

Voya Retirement Coach Joe O’Boyle is a financial adviser with Voya Financial Advisors. Based in Beverly Hills, Calif., O’Boyle provides personalized, full service financial and retirement planning to individual and corporate clients. O’Boyle focuses on the entertainment, legal and medical industries, with a particular interest in educating Gen Xers and Millennials about the benefits of early retirement planning.

MONEY College

More Parents Say They Won’t Pay Their Kids’ Tuition Bill

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Tim Robberts—Getty Images

The reason: they can't afford it.

As the cost of attending college continues to dramatically increase, parents of college-bound students are rethinking their role in helping their children earn degrees. Sixteen percent of parents with children ages 16 to 18 who plan to attend college said they will not be helping their kids pay for school, up from 12% in 2013, according to the latest edition of an annual survey from Discover Student Loans. That 16% figure is the same as it was in 2014.

Parents who do plan to pay for college may not be paying as much as parents used to: 24% said they couldn’t afford to pay anything (compared to 21% in 2014 and 2013), but the most common answer (31%) is that the parent plans to cover up to 25% of education expenses. Only 9% said they can pay for all of it (down from 11% in 2014 and 2013), 8% said they could pay for three-quarters of it (down from 11% last year and 12% the year before), and 18% think they can cover half the cost (19% in 2014 and 18% in 2013 said the same).

The trend continues: This year, a greater share of parents said their children will borrow student loans to pay for school (54%, up 2 percentage points from last year and 4 points from 2013), though 20% aren’t sure if their kids will need to take out loans, which is a lot of uncertainty for students so close to the traditional enrollment age.

Based on the responses to the survey, money is a huge concern for these parents: 58% said they are very worried about that student loan debt will affect their children’s ability to buy a home, a car or another large purchase, up slightly from 55% in 2014. It seems they want their kids to get a grip on their future finances, as well: 47% said earning potential after graduation is more important to their children’s education than their major (up 7 percentage points from 2014), and 44% said they would be more likely to fund education expenses if their children majored in fields with a higher likelihood of getting a job — just 33% of parents said that last year.

So, college students of the near future, take note: You might want to talk to your parents about how to approach paying for college, because it looks like you’re going to be responsible for some of it, if not bearing the vast majority or all of the expense. Using student loans to finance your education isn’t an inherently bad choice, but if you’re not careful about anticipating your expenses and future earnings, you could end up in a very difficult financial situation upon graduation. Student loans must be repaid — they’re rarely discharged in bankruptcy — and falling behind or defaulting on the debt will seriously damage your credit standing, which you need to buy or rent a home, get a car or even access utilities, without having to pay a hefty deposit. If you’re not sure where you stand credit-wise, there are many ways to get your credit scores for free.

This is the fourth edition of the Discover Student Loans survey, which includes responses from a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults with college-bound 16- to 18-year-olds. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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