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The best college advice comes from people who have been there, done that. Take advantage of what they know by reading about their real-life experiences. These students know what they're talking about!


Choosing a College

Public School, Private School…Does It Really Matter?!

Many of you may be confused about what the public or private distinction means. Basically, it comes down to money: how the university is funded and how much you have to pay to attend. This article does a really good job of explaining the difference. For a more in-depth explanation, as well as statements from college presidents, parents, school counselors and students, The New York Times has an awesome article that’s a must-read for all students.

North Carolina, for example, has 16 public universities, some of which start with “UNC” and end with the name of the city or town where the school is located. Others have the word “State” in them to distinguish them as public schools. The state also has 36 private universities, the most well-known of which are Duke University and Wake Forest University.

While finances are a big distinction between public and private universities, it’s not the only difference. Many private schools boast smaller class sizes and a more intimate academic setting. But there’s no scientific way to determine that. It’s all about your needs and preferences. Plus, public and private schools all vary by size, resources, faculty and the list goes on. What seems too big to one student may be just the right size for another. Click here for an editorial from someone who attended both types of schools.

As a final thought, I encourage you to not be intimidated by the cost of any school – public or private. As many of us have and will preach to you time and again, financial aid is out there. You just have to work for it. While it’s smart to educate yourself on the differences between public and private schools, it’s also smart to find the best place for you to thrive. Leave a comment to let me know the top three things you’re looking for in a college.

What’s the Deal with…Liberal Arts Schools?

For those of you starting the college search process, you may be trying to figure out what school – or what type of school – is the right match for you. For some of you, the perfect school is one that’s in your hometown and will allow you to stay close to family and friends; for others, it may be whichever school picks you for its athletic team or gives you the most financial aid.

This post will be the first in a series about the types of schools available for you to choose from. Today, I want to talk about liberal arts schools.

So what the heck is a liberal arts school? It’s a school that encourages a broad approach to knowledge through the study of literature, language, philosophy, history, mathematics and science. A liberal arts education is one that aims not just to teach students a trade, but encourages them to think broadly and analytically about the world around them. These schools don’t require students to take as many courses in one subject in order to “major” in it, because they think that good doctors and engineers, for example, should also know a bit about Buddhism or Shakespeare. This means that it’s also easier to have two majors at a liberal arts school, since no one major will take up all of your courses. All four-year colleges require students to take “general education” courses in subjects like these, but liberal arts schools make them the foundation of every student’s curriculum.

Course requirements are the main difference between liberal arts schools and other types of schools. Here are some others:

  • Liberal arts schools are also often small in size; most have between 500-5,000 students.
  • Many liberal arts schools are private, which makes their sticker price much higher. However, these schools often have more money, and have their own scholarships and grants to give to strong students.
  • Professors at liberal arts schools are expected to be VERY available to their students.
  • Liberal arts schools aren’t always well-known. If you go to a liberal arts school, get ready to be asked, “Where’s that?” Chances are your school’s basketball team won’t be on ESPN, either.
  • Liberal arts schools often have really cool classes. Instead of “Introduction to Communication,” you’ll be taking courses called “Building Utopia” or “Poets and Scientists.”
  • Get ready to write your tail off. Liberal arts classes often require a great deal of reading and writing.
  • If a liberal arts education sounds like one you’re interested in pursuing, look at some schools and see what you think. For starters, check out the Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges or theCouncil of Public Liberal Arts Colleges.

Have your heart set on a state college, but still want a liberal arts curriculum? Fear not: most universities offer a major in “liberal arts” or “liberal studies.” Check your local state school or community college course catalogue.

A liberal arts school was the best choice for me. Do you think it would be a good match for you?

Choosing the Right College Campus for You

Picking the right college campus to attend can be a challenging decision for some students, which is why it is important for you to start looking at campuses as early as middle school.

Now, I’m sure all of you seniors are anxiously awaiting your college admission decisions, but before you decide which campus to attend, take a look at some of my tips on choosing the best one for you!
Location: Think about if you want to be in an urban or rural area, or something in-between. Also, consider if you want to stay in-state or go out-of-state. Ask yourself, “Where will I be most comfortable?”

  • Distance from Home: If you know you want to stay close to home, or commute from home for that matter, then look at campuses in your area.
  • Majors: If you have already decided on a possible major, then of course you should check if your prospective school offers it! That can be a very important deciding factor. But, if you are undecided, then this may not matter as much. Most colleges offer tons of major options for you to explore and choose from.
  • Sports and Social Activities: If you are an athlete or a sports buff like myself, then you might also consider the school’s sports programs. Or see if it offers a certain fraternity or sorority, or a specific club you want to participate in. Keep in mind, most colleges are open to the idea of starting new clubs and organizations on campus, so you may have that option.
  • Cost: College can be expensive. Consider the price of the school and the availability of scholarships. You can check the school’s Web site for that information.
  • Size of School: Do you want to attend a large campus or a small one? If you like small classes, then perhaps a small school would be best for you.
  • Visit the Campus: Experiencing the actual campus, its surroundings and its students, can help you picture yourself there. However, I know that sometimes this is easier said than done. But don’t worry, most schools have a section on their Web site where you can explore their campus and student life.

I hope my tips are helpful for you while you are choosing the right campus. Just remember, there may be other factors that come into play. What is the most important factor for you?

What’s the Deal with…Nontraditional Colleges?

So, you know you want to continue your education beyond high school, but you are tired of the daily grind of your 8-10 period high school schedule. Good news: college course structure is nothing like high school course structure (you’re generally only in class for about 3-4 hours a day). Even better news: there are college campuses out there that make the average college campus look uptight and boring.As part three in our series of types of postsecondary schools, this post will give you some ideas for looking at nontraditional colleges.

As you may have already figured out through your college search, each college campus is different. This is due to the fact that – unlike your high school, which is likely regulated by state and federal government education standards – college campuses have a good bit of autonomy in how they structure their curriculum. For every college campus, requirements vary – from the classes you have to take to graduate, to what is taught in those classes, to how many credits you receive for taking a particular class. There are some college campuses out there, however, that really stretch our ideas about what being college-educated means. For our purposes, I’m calling them “nontraditional colleges.”

Colleges can be “nontraditional” in a number of ways. There are many colleges campus that are single-gendered, use alternative grading methods (such as a “narrative” grading system where you receive written evaluations instead of letter grades), or make internships a degree requirement. Other campuses provide free or reduced tuition in exchange for part-time on-campus jobs, have highly eco-friendly campus lifestyles, or require that all students take a certain series of courses to give them exposure to a certain educational philosophy or worldview (be it a knowledge of biology or a command of the Great Books). Still others strongly urge students to study abroad or dedicate a significant amount of time to community service.

Sound cool? There are many ways to search for such colleges, but the best tool out there is the Internet. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, here, so I’ll give you all some great resources for nontraditional schools that have already been compiled.

Unique Schools

For some of you, a nontraditional college may not seem to answer that burning job question for after college. Relax! Many alumni from these nontraditional schools have gone on to do great things, and most – if not all – of these schools boast pretty significant academic reputations and competitive admissions standards.

So, do you think a nontraditional school might be a good fit for you?

What’s the Deal with…Trade and Technical Schools?

Most of you know that continuing your education beyond high school is important, but some of you may be thinking that a four-year college is not the best choice for you. Some of you want to be auto mechanics, veterinarian assistants, dental hygienists, electricians or nurses. Others may not be the best student in the school, but really excel at hands-on activities. Finally, some of you may have family or financial needs that force you to get out of school and get a job ASAP. For students in these and other situations, trade school may be the best answer.

In this post – the second in our series about types of colleges – I will be talking about trade and technical schools, what the difference is between a trade school and a traditional four-year college, and how to pick the best one.

One of the most important things to know about trade schools is that they really aren’t the type of place to take time and explore your options. Trade schools offer programs ranging anywhere from nine months to four years in length, and they are generally quite focused. This means that you probably can’t go to a nursing trade school, decide halfway through that you want to be a chef, and still graduate on time. If you want to go to a trade school, you need to have a pretty good idea of what careers interest you. The good news is that there are a TON of career interest surveysav ailable – and your high school guidance office or even the trade schools, themselves, should have good ones too.

A second thing to know is that most trade schools do not offer bachelor’s degrees. The goal of most trade schools is to get you in, trained and out into the job market as quickly as possible. This is great for short-term employment, but if you plan to go into management, you should consider either pursing a bachelor’s degree or taking classes at a school where your credits will transfer toward a four-year degree down the road. Ask your trade school about articulation agreements – these are formal agreements that trade schools and community colleges make with local four-year institutions that allow their students to transfer credits. It’s also a good idea to check with your trade school about its accreditation status. If it is regionally accredited, you can usually transfer your coursework to other schools, but if it is nationally accredited, you may not have that choice. Make sure you get a straight answer about your options.

Here are some of the other main differences between a trade school and a four-year college:

Trade School Four-Year College (Bachelor’s Degree)
Train you in a specific trade for a specific field Provide training as well as additional coursework with the intent of making you capable of exploring many careers
You will generally only take courses in your field of study, except for maybe one or two English or math courses tailored to your studies You will be required to take a number of prerequisite courses
Often have open admissions, meaning that you will be accepted as long as you graduate high school or have a GED Generally require a high school diploma or GED, standardized test scores, competitive GPA, and extracurricular activities
Most offer job placement assistance Often have resources to help you find  a job, but rarely provide job placement services
Have a variety of students, including adult learners Generally serve students right out of high school

Just like choosing a four-year college, choosing a trade school can be a difficult decision. Let me know if you have any questions.

Considering Colleges Far from Home

Going to a college far from home is a great opportunity to experiment with living in a new place without having to commit to more than four years, but there are a few things you should keep in mind when considering this option. This list is not exhaustive, but should help you start thinking about attending a long-distance college or university.

First, you need to determine how comfortable you will be away from home. Are you outgoing? Social? Independent? These are all traits you’ll need to integrate into ANY college experience, but especially one that is a significant distance from home.

Second, you will need to think about your ability to be away from your loved ones for extended periods of time. Chances are, it won’t be financially feasible for your family to fly you home for every Thanksgiving, spring break, fall break, etc.; will you be able to handle only coming home for summer and winter break? Additionally, if your family is struggling to pay for you to visit a campus, you need to have a serious conversation about whether they will be able to get you there if you are accepted. The good news is that, if you’re experimenting with the idea of attending a far-away campus, there are a few cheap ways to learn more about a school before committing to that long drive or flight:

Option #1 is to check out some online college tour/fair programs that provide campus tours and online information sessions with admissions counselors. Two good ones are eCampus Tours and College Week Live.

Option #2 is to meet with either a college alumnus or representative in a town or school near you. You can speak to your guidance department to determine whether a campus rep is visiting your school and, if not, you can request that they arrange an appointment. If that doesn’t work, check the college’s Web site or call the admissions department to see if there are any alumni in your area that can meet with you to talk about the college.

Third, you need to think about culture. You may have noticed that people in the next town over or across the state think differently than you – so, imagine the differences in culture across the country! If you’re open to experiencing different mindsets and lifestyles, then this is a great, fun way to learn more about others (as a West Virginian, I taught my hall mates about the culinary wonder of pepperoni rolls and that toboggans weren’t just sleds). However, some students find new settings to be uncomfortable or threatening. If you want to make sure that you won’t be the only person from out-of-state, check with the college’s admissions office to learn more about student demographics.

Fourth, you may want to consider job opportunities. For some careers, going to college in the state or region where you want to work is very important (the most immediate example that comes to mind is teaching). Will attending a college far from home help or hinder your ability to find an internship or job? For most students, this won’t make a difference, but for a few of you, this could be a crucial factor in determining where to attend college.

Are any of you considering attending college far from home? What are some factors you are using to help make your decision?

What’s the Deal with…Community Colleges?

When deciding which college to attend after high school, it is important that you understand that you have many options. You can consider attending a four-year college or university, a trade or technical school, or perhaps a community college. The best way to decide is to think about what type of career or college experience will be best for you. Consider asking yourself, do I want to have the traditional college experience? Do I want to live at home? Is money an issue? Are my grades good enough to get me into my dream school? Am I interested in a specific trade? If you answered yes to all of these questions, a community college might be a great option for you.

So what is a community college? And what degrees or educational opportunities do they offer?

A community college is a two-year, higher education institution that provides you with a multitude of options. You can work toward earning a two-year associate’s degree in various areas, such as nursing, business, computer science and much more! Or you can earn a certificate in a specific trade or area of study, like welding, emergency medical technician, or even Spanish. And, of course, you can transfer to a four-year university so you can earn a bachelor’s degree, or it can simply be a way to enrich your knowledge about anything you might be interested in.

Now that you know what you can study at a community college, here are some additional reasons why a community college might be a good fit for you:

  • Location: Community colleges tend to be more local, therefore allowing you to live at home with your family (keep in mind that this can vary from state to state and city to city). This might be a good option for you, if are not ready to leave home.  Click here to locate a community college near you.
  • Cost: Community colleges are also relatively inexpensive. If you are looking to cut some costs in attending college, this can be a good option.
  • Grades: Anyone can attend a community college for the most part, but if you are a student who didn’t do so well in high school, this can be a great second chance for you to prepare to attend your dream college.

If you are still unsure if the community college route is right for you, check out the following resources about community colleges:

How Do I Choose a College Anyway

Let me tell you, figuring out where I wanted to go to college was kind of a nightmare. There was no handy roadmap to find some direction, at least that I was aware of. When I heard my friend tell me about a school in the UK, I picked that one because I didn’t know where else to go, but was that really the best choice? I mean, I didn’t know anything about getting financial aid to go to another country, and it wasn’t like I was rich and could just pay for everything. Those plane tickets and that tuition and food money was coming out of my pockets! It’s a good thing I had worked since I was 16 and had money saved up, but it wasn’t much.

My problem was that I didn’t think I had any other options available. I jumped on the UK college idea because that was really the only one I knew anything about. It worked out okay for me, but is that really a good way to pick a college? Probably not. Problem was, I didn’t know any better; I didn’t know where to look to find college information and I didn’t have anyone who was trying to help me get that information. Fortunately, you do!

Here are some questions you need to ask yourself before you start looking for a college:

  • Majors/Athletics: Does the college have the major/athletic program that I want to pick?
  • Size: How big is the campus? How many students are there?
  • Community: What kind of students do I want to be around? Do I want people who look/think/talk like me?
  • Housing: Do I want to live in a dorm or maybe an apartment? Do I know anybody there to live with?
  • Parking: Do I need to use a car? If so, can I park it somewhere near the campus?
  • Extracurricular activities: What kind of student organizations and local events do I want to participate in when I’m outside of class?

It’s really important that you think about all of these things, because you’re going to be at the college for a couple years. You want to make sure that you’re happy and comfortable while you’re there! Even if your decision is something like, “I don’t really mind either way,” it’s good to know that you feel that way.

Here are some places to get started:

  • College Matchmaker: You might notice that the questions here are very similar to the ones listed above! That’s because this is a college search engine that finds colleges that are similar to what you want in a college.
  • US News Ranked Colleges: This is a good way to find colleges based on their national rank. The search bar is on the left and the college list is in the middle. If you search for a particular major, you can find all of the colleges that have the best ranks in that area. So, if you do a search for the Mechanical Engineering major, you’ll see all of the best engineering schools in the nation (or in the states that you chose). It doesn’t give the most information about the schools, but it is a good starting point to find some that you like!).

What other factors will help you choose the college that is the best fit for you?

Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Did you know that there are approximately 4,352 colleges, universities and junior colleges in the United States? Wow, right? I didn’t say that number to overwhelm you; instead, I want the number to help you realize that there are tons of options out there when you are considering where you want to go after high school.

When you hear people talking about colleges, have you heard anyone mention the acronymHBCU? Out of the 4,352 institutions, 105 of them are Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). What is an HBCU? The Higher Education Act of 1965 defines an HBCU as: “…any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans….” Even though the original purpose of HBCUs was to serve the African American community, today their goal is to successfully prepare anyone, regardless of race, for the future that lies ahead of them. Dr. Martin Luther King, Oprah Winfrey, Spike Lee and Samuel L. Jackson are just a few notable people who attended HBCUs.  I’m going to use this post to talk about some of the pros and cons of HBCUs. If you have anything to add, don’t hesitate to leave comments!


While the pros of attending an HBCU are endless, I’ve decided to highlight a few that really stand out. The first one is somewhat obvious – the fact that you are surrounded by people who understand where you are coming from. I know what it is like to be the only minority in a class; sometimes you feel as if you have to speak for your entire race. While those experiences were scarce, at HBCUs they would not be a problem. Even though students at HBCUs come from different backgrounds, the possibility of feeling singled out because of your background is slim to none. That feeling of acceptance is not limited to students. Positive vibes also come from seeing people of your same ethnicity in leadership roles. You can use the fact that most of the professors and administrators are African American as encouragement to reach all of your goals in order to be the greatest leader you can be. The best part about HBCUs would have to be the support they offer you. Institutions of higher education are aware of the plights that face high schools in urban areas and they offer more support because of that. HBCUs offer support through many different means, social and academic, to enhance your skills for college and the life you live thereafter.


One of the major cons of HBCUs is the fact that they aren’t located in every state. This means that you may have to go out of state if you want to attend one. On the flipside, most of the HBCUs are located in the South, so if you are a fan of warm weather, these may be right up your alley (check out locations here). Another con of HBCUs affects those that are interested in going to a large institution. These schools are smaller than traditional colleges, with an average enrollment around 2,720. Thirty-seven of them have fewer than 1,000 students! So, make sure you look into the size of the student body before you make your final decision.

The next con is common for all small schools, not just HBCUs. There is chance that the school you are interested in attending may not offer your major. If you find a school you are interested in, make sure they have your program before you apply! There are plenty of HBCUs, and if your intended major isn’t at one, look into another one.

HBCUs seem pretty awesome, right? If you are interested in attending one, remember you need to make sure that it is the right fit for you. That means consider the cost, size, location and programs they offer before you decide to attend. I want to end this post with some interesting facts from the United Negro College Fund that might shed some light on the success of HBCUs:

  • HBCUs graduate more than 50 percent African American professionals.
  • HBCUs graduate more than 50 percent of African American public school teachers and 70 percent of African American dentists.
  • Fifty percent of African Americans who graduate from HBCUs go on to graduate or professional schools.
  • HBCUs award more than one in three of the degrees held by African Americans in natural sciences.
  • HBCUs award one-third of the degrees held by African Americans in mathematics.
  • The average graduation rate at many HBCUs is higher than the average graduation rate for African Americans at majority institutions.

Two-Year Schools are Cool

In my two years as a college adviser, I have probably spent more time convincing students that two-year schools are a worthwhile option than anything else. Community and technical colleges really are the best fit for a lot of college-bound seniors, so I want to dedicate this week’s post to addressing a few negative comments about starting your college journey there.

Are certificates, diplomas and Associates Degrees from two-year schools worth anything?

Of course! In fact, some careers only need small amounts of schooling to get students into the workforce. Many technical careers, from automotive technology to cosmetology, are better taught through practice and experience in the workplace than in a classroom. If you are more excited about starting your career early, and a technical school or community college can offer you the schooling you need, then maybe that is the option for you!

Are there any disadvantages to transferring from a two-year school?

There is absolutely nothing different about getting credit from one school or another as long as the credits transfer accurately. Since schools all over the United States offer different classes and have different graduation requirements for majors, students must check to see how their previous credits will transfer to their new institution. As an example of how students would find this information, the University of Georgia has an amazing Transfer Equivalency website for students to use. If you plan on transferring, do some research on how easy it might be to transfer the classes you are taking now to where you want to go. In the end, the only school that will show up on your diploma is the one you graduated from!

Selecting a College

I always look at two things when researching colleges – retention and graduation rates. A retention rate tracks how many freshmen come back for sophomore year. A graduation rate measures how many students graduate in four, five and six years. These numbers hint at the overall well-being of a college. When I see low retention and graduation rates, I wonder what is happening at that school that causes so many students to be unsuccessful.

Many students don’t have the time or the money to go to a school where only 60% of students are retained and 35% graduate in four years. Unfortunately, these statistics aren’t all that uncommon at colleges and universities across the United States. So, my students and I must examine other aspects of colleges to figure out if a school is a best fit.

To beat the trend of more and more students going to college but not graduating, look at the academics offered at schools. Don’t just look at the list of majors offered, but explore professor-to-student ratio, lectures vs. discussions, student research projects, internships, study abroad programs, etc. Basically, look for anything that provides a student-led experience where what’s learned in the classroom can be applied in real-life situations.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, get involved in activities or organizations in college. Research shows that students who had a highly satisfying collegiate experience all cited events of significant importance occurred outside of the classroom.

Selecting a best fit college is a personal experience. You need to understand your own values and strengths in order to make an informed decision about where you want to go and what you want to study. While exploring colleges, ask admissions representatives questions about academic opportunities as well as retention and graduation rates.

Staying Close to Home

Many students I meet want to stay close to home, close to their high school friends and close to their family. Sometimes, students perceive staying close to home negatively, but when it’s done for the right reasons, it can be the best choice for many students. Here are some of the benefits to staying close to home – and a few drawbacks as well.

Cost: For most students, the final cost of attendance after scholarships and financial aid will be a major factor in their decision of where to attend. Many students who choose to go to a local college do so because they consider it a more sound financial choice. State colleges generally offer reduced tuition to residents, and usually tuition drops to an even lower amount at a public community college or junior college. Some students can also save money by living at home.

Family: Many students choose to stay close to home to help support their families. Others stay because of the support they receive from their families. Only you know what’s best for you, but it’s important to consider all options when deciding between staying close to home or moving far away.

Environment: Some students want to stay close to home because they’re familiar with their environment. Although some students like new places and new experiences, others don’t see a reason to go somewhere new when they’re happy right where they are. I tell my students not to be afraid to challenge themselves. Choosing a college because the environment is familiar and comfortable can be a great option, but students who stay close to home should make sure they are challenging themselves in other ways, like meeting new people or studying abroad.

Students shouldn’t dismiss local colleges without considering all options. A far away school may be better in some aspects, but a local college may offer a different set of advantages that make it a better fit for that student.

Explore Your Interests

So You Want to Be a…Nurse?

One of the most popular career choices for students today is nursing – and for good reason! With 587,000 new Registered Nurse (or RN) positions and 105,000 new Licensed Practical Nursing (or LPN) positions by 2016, the nursing field is one of the fastest-growing in the job market. Unfortunately, many students who want to be nurses do not know what it takes to enter into the field. In this post, you will get the scoop on what you need to know about the field of nursing, what you need to do to prepare for nursing school and some resources for more information.

First of all, you should know that there are many types of nurses. From Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) to Doctoral Degree nurses, there are incredible opportunities in the field! Most students want to become Registered Nurses (RNs or BSNs) and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs). Here are the basics of each (as found in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook).

RNs and BSNs

  • Students can earn a bachelor’s degree (BSN, four years), an associate’s degree (ASN, 2-3 years), or a diploma (RN, three years). BSNs have more opportunities for promotion, and can later earn a master’s degree in nursing (MSN, two additional years of school) to work in a nursing specialty.
  • RNs and BSNs work in four main areas: perioperative (in operating rooms), with certain health conditions (cancer, diabetes, etc.), with specific organs or body systems (dermatology, etc.) or with a particular population (elderly, children, etc.).
  • RNs and BSNs work irregular hours (weekends, holidays and evenings) and are often on-call
  • RNs and BSNs receive a median income of $57,280 per year


  • Students attend one year of full-time training at a vocational/technical school, community college or other certified training program, and pass the NCLEX-PN licensing exam
  • LPNs care for patients under the direction of doctors and RNs, most of which is bedside care
  • LPNs work irregular hours (weekends, holidays and evenings)
  • Employment for LPNs is expected to grow by 14% by 2016, with the most growth in nursing homes and in-home care facilities
  • LPNs make a median income of $36,550 per year

Preparing Yourself for Nursing Careers

The most important thing you must know is that nursing is a science field! If you want to go into nursing, you should take the toughest science courses you can in high school; most RN and BSN programs require you to take chemistry in high school, and will ask for SAT scores of at least 1000 (verbal and math sections combined). That means that you should be taking Algebra II, Geometry, Chemistry and Human Biology, Anatomy or Physiology, if your school offers it!

Important: Many students think that clinical or co-op experience will best prepare them for nursing school, but RN and BSN programs care more about your high school chemistry class. Remember, you will have plenty of clinical experience during your RN or BSN training. LPN programs are less competitive, but you will still be taking chemistry and human physiology at these schools, and any experience in these classes during high school will help.

If you are looking for more information about the field, check out these sites:

And don’t be afraid to talk to nurses in your community, at your doctor’s office or even your school nurse about careers in nursing!

When I Grow Up, I Want to Be…

Do you remember making this statement when you were younger? I know I did all the time, but what I wanted to be changed several times. I think I went from doctor to astronaut to diplomat to psychologist to lawyer. I am not sure if people change their minds as often as I did, but as I got older, I became more aware of my interests and options. In short, there were too many.

Over the years, I have learned one thing though: I love working with people. In the same way, you can discover what you like and what you want to do. There is no rush. Most of my students tell me that they are concerned about their future, because they do not know what their interests are and they do not have any career plans. This is normal. Generally, you are not supposed to know in high school what you want to do for the rest of your life. For those who do, great! But for many of us who are not sure or are constantly debating, we have the opportunity to explore our options. College is the best time to do it.

While in college, you will be able to take different classes, meet different people and become involved in a variety of activities. This will allow you to discover your interests and passions, and strengths and weaknesses, and will be a great learning opportunity. In time, you will discover what motivates you and what will make you happy. Go to college and figure it out!

So You Want to Be an…Engineer?

Engineering is one of the top career fields that high school students explore, both due to the abundance of career opportunities, and (let’s be honest) because it’s often associated with a nice paycheck. Becoming an engineer is no walk in the park, though, and you have to start preparing yourself now if you want to get accepted into – and succeed within – a college engineering program. As part of our “So You Want to be a…” series, I want to discuss some key things that prospective engineering students must know about the field, as well as what you can do to achieve your dream of becoming an engineer.

Step One: Take the Right Classes

I know we talk about this in almost every post, but you have to prepare yourself for collegiate engineering programs by taking the right courses in high school. Along with required courses such as English and history, you need to make sure you are taking math and science all four years of high school – and you need to make sure you’re earning good grades in these courses. For math, engineering programs are going to want you to have taken at least pre-calculus in high school, but if you can, take calculus. In addition, you need to take chemistry, biology and physics courses.

Along these lines, many students make two very common – and very foolish – mistakes. First, don’t think that you can wait to take physics or calculus in college. Although you will be taking years of each of them in your collegiate engineering program, you won’t regret having some exposure to them in high school. I promise. Second, please don’t pursue a career in engineering if you do not enjoy your science and math courses. I know it sounds crazy, but many students who are struggling to get Cs in Algebra II tell me they want to become an engineer. It’s never wise to choose a career based on glamour or money, but engineering is one career, in particular, where you won’t last if you make this mistake.

Step Two: Job Shadow and Explore Summer Programs

Not sure if you’ll like engineering? What a better way to find out than by checking out a summer engineering program or by shadowing some engineers in your community? First of all, this is a good idea because there are several fields within engineering – and they are each quite different. You need to learn about the differences between mechanical, civil, chemical, aerospace and environmental engineers, and decide which one you like best. Second, it can be cheap! Although summer camps or programs can be very costly, many engineering firms or schools want more students to become interested in the field, and offer cheap or free exploration programs. If you are struggling to find a summer program, job shadows are always free!

Step Three: Explore Great Websites

There are tons of awesome resources out there for prospective engineers, and they are great, free ways for students to learn about different fields of engineering. Check out eGFI, the National Academy of EngineeringOpening Engineering to Girls (and its sponsor, the Society of Women Engineers), Discover EngineeringEngineer Your Life and many more!

Step Four: Accept That You May Change Your Mind

One thing that you should know is that many more students go into collegiate engineering programs than come out of them. For many students, the calculus and physics courses required of engineering students are a lot harder – or a lot less fun – than they had anticipated. It’s okay to change your mind! If you are steadfast in your decision, however, or are simply looking for more advice, check out some advice from real engineering students.

These tips are by no means all you’ll need to succeed as an engineering student, but they are a good start!

So You Want to Be an…Intern?

As a high school student, I had no idea what an internship was, how to get one or who should get one, but when I got to college, everyone was talking about them. In this post, I’ll briefly describe the internship, its benefits and how to start looking for one

First thing’s first, what is an internship? Basically, it’s a job. You can get an internship that takes place during the school year, but most college students take advantage of full-time internships during their summer breaks. Some internships are paid, some are volunteer work to help you gain experience, some provide housing stipends but no salary, and still others help you earn college credits toward graduation. When I was in college, I thought internships were only for business or advertising majors, but there are internships for almost every conceivable major – from the arts to sciences to education and beyond.

So, what’s the value of an internship? First, it allows you to learn more about a field of work, because you get to do the work first-hand. Some students think that they really want to work in finance, then take a summer internship and decide it’s not the field for them at all. It’s much better to find out you don’t like careers in your major before you spend all of that time and money in college. So, an internship (if taken early enough) can allow you to change your area of study to something you find more interesting – or to help you narrow down certain careers in your field of study that you would like to pursue after you graduate. Second, paid internships or for-credit internships can help you earn extra income or save you some money on college coursework. Third, internships help make you a more marketable job candidate when you graduate college and enter the workforce. Employers would much rather hire someone with work experience, and although it may not be as fun, chances are your internship will be more career-oriented than your summer job as a lifeguard. Even better, really competitive companies may reserve full-time positions for their interns after they graduate, or may only hire individuals who have served as interns on their staff.

Think you want to pursue an internship? The best place to look, in most cases, is your college’s career services office (or internship office, if they have one). Your college should be able to connect you with a database of internships (by career field or major), or provide you with a list of graduates that work for companies who are looking for interns. Sometimes, they’ll even help you prepare your internship applications and resumes, and help you practice for your interviews. If your school doesn’t have an internship office, or if you can’t find an internship in your field, don’t be afraid to search for yourself. Many larger companies and nonprofits will list internship opportunities on their websites, and you can also search government agencies. Here are some trustworthy sources (as always, when searching the Internet, look out for scams!):

  • USA Jobs – Helps you find government internships
  • Idealist – One of the largest databases for nonprofit jobs and internships
  • US New – Check here for internship opportunities abroad

Take an Inventory Test

Learning about yourself is one of the most important steps you can take to prepare for college. Discovering what you can improve on, identifying words to describe your skills, and matching those skills to specific careers will help you select which classes you should take during high school, what job shadowing or internship opportunities to look for, and how to decide on a college that offers the major related to your career of choice.

Furthermore, learning about yourself and your careers of interest will help you plan for success in college. Many college students change their major four times before they decide on their final choice! There’s nothing wrong with being undecided about your major, but having some general idea about what careers interest you will help you plan your coursework and graduate on time!

Formal assessments are scientific tools used by counselors that help you better identify your skills, attitudes, values, decision-making style, etc.  Formal assessments vary in length and style, and are most effective when interpreted by a professional counselor. But, many are now available online and provide results within seconds! Ask your school counselor to suggest some good resources.

The following links are examples of great FREE formal assessments that can be super useful:

Don’t Worry If You’re Undecided

If you’re heading off to college soon, you may be wondering about your major. Even if you already know what you want to do, I suggest waiting a semester before diving into your requirements. When I was accepted into Texas A&M, I wanted to be a doctor. I took all science-related courses and I was doing well. Someone suggested that I volunteer at a hospital to gain practical experience. A month into my internship, I realized that being a doctor was not right for me.

After that experience, I took my core classes to get them completed. I started exploring other majors and I took classes in the fields in which I was interested. I quickly learned that engineering and business were not for me and that, although I was good at computer programming, I didn’t enjoy it one bit. Then I explored law and took an internship at the local court. I loved it!

Now came the hard part: picking a major that would lead to a career. I went to the law school fair where schools came to speak to students. I spoke with almost all of them, trying to figure out the best major that would help me get into law school. I learned that the most important thing for me was to choose a major I enjoyed and do well in it. I picked English as a major because I had always enjoyed it and I was good at it, too.

Moral of the story: Gain experience to truly find out if what you think you want is right for you. Don’t freak out if you haven’t figured out what you want to do yet. Take the classes you enjoy and major in something you really love. Where there is passion, there is happiness.

What’s the Deal with…Criminal Justice?

Thanks to the growing popularity of crime scene investigation and court television shows, criminal justice is one of the most popular careers for the current generation of students. Every year, the majority of students tell me they want to go into law enforcement, crime scene investigation and forensics, and many colleges are adding these fields of study to their lists of majors. I find that many students, however, are unfamiliar with how to get into their vocation of choice, and even more are unaware about the vast array of careers available in the criminal justice field. In this post, I’ll help you answer the question: What’s the deal with criminal justice?

First, let’s talk about the majors. Many colleges have majors in criminal justice, criminology or forensics – although there are some colleges with more specialized majors such as national/homeland security, juvenile corrections or safety studies. These majors aren’t simply different names for the same set of courses; they typically specify the school’s unique approach in the field.  One school may focus on the sociological causes of crime, while another program may teach its students to apprehend and process criminals, while still another may teach its students how to conduct lab or computer forensics. Take the time to look at a school’s website to learn more about their approach, what sorts of courses you would be taking and what sorts of careers graduates have pursued. Here are examples of criminal justice and criminology programs at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania and Indiana University at Bloomington.

Second, you should know about career fields and what they entail. Want to be a police officer? This career often does not require a college degree (although it’s always a good idea!), and many officers simply pass a series of physical and written exams, as well as a number of background checks. Want to be a crime scene investigator who checks the scene for evidence? Most CSIs have had a career as a police officer and have taken necessary courses in college including criminal justice, photography and forensics. Want to be the whiz in the lab running the blood samples? I hope you like science! You’ll need to major in chemistry, forensics or biology. Other students tell me that they’re majoring in criminal justice because they want to be a judge or a lawyer. If your passion is learning about criminals, this may be a good choice, but you should also know that lawyers come from a wide variety of majors – including philosophy, economics, English or even art. Law schools require you take an exam called the LSAT for admissions (don’t worry, this is after college!), which tests your logic and reasoning abilities – not your knowledge of the judicial system. My point here is that you should consider your interests and make sure you choose the right major.

Finally – and as always – do your research! Talk to police officers, probation officers and lawyers in your community, and see what they have to say about the field.

Additionally, here are some useful websites to help you learn more about careers in criminal justice and criminal justice-related areas.

Visit the Campus

I’m on a College Tour…Need I Say More?

With spring break just around the corner, what better way to spend it than investing in your future with a couple of college tours? I know what you’re saying, “I want to do something else during spring break,” like spending time with friends, going to the beach, going on a family vacation or even just sitting at home and taking a break from everything. Trust me, I understand, because I was the same way during middle and high school. But if you are in a similar situation as I was, not knowing which school you want to attend, you should definitely plan a college tour as quickly as possible. Plus, you never know, this could be the best thing you do over spring break. You can make the trip with your friends or family, visit a campus near a beach, or just sit on a campus and take in the entire college atmosphere.  Let’s get started in thinking about how we are going to make this happen.

When planning a college tour, one thing you should consider is how long your stay should be on campus. Of course, you will have the one-hour walking tour along with the one-hour informational session, but take into account that you will want to spend extra time walking around campus, asking students questions or even getting a quick bite to eat at the student dining hall. This way, you can get a real feel for what the campus is like, instead of just hearing what the admissions counselors want you to hear. Plan on a college tour taking up your entire day, because who knows, the one that you visit may be the one that you fall in love with.

As I said, while on campus, you may want to do other things than the traditional campus tour and informational session, such as asking students questions. When thinking about what questions to ask students, just remember that these questions could be formal or informal. If the students are as helpful as you think they should be, then that is a great sign that you may fit in there; if they are consistently rude, then that is a different story. If you are having trouble thinking of some questions, here is a list to get you thinking about others:

  • Do you love being at this university?
  • Does your professor treat you more like a person or a number?
  • What type of activities are you involved in? Are there a lot of things to do here?
  • What do you do on the weekends?
  • Do you spend most of your time studying or do you have time to do other things?

It’s also important to test the food and pick up a copy of the campus newspaper. If you do not like the food they are serving, then what is the point of going there? Realize that you will have to spend four years at this school and you may have to eat the food there for all four years as well. While reading the campus newspaper, look for what is important to the student body. Nine times out of 10, the newspaper covers what is happening at the university and in the community surrounding it. If you see a lot of crime is taking place, that may not be the university for you, but if you see things that you are interested in, then you may have found the school that you want to attend.

All-in-all, just understand that you will spend four years, maybe more if you stay for graduate school, at the university of your choice. Choose wisely and remember that a great way to do this is by visiting each campus that you think you want to attend.

Campus Tours

Believe it or not, I didn’t go on a campus tour when I was in high school! It seems crazy for me to think about now, but it is the truth. Sure, I set foot on a number of college campuses in Macon, Georgia, while I was in high school (Mercer UniversityMacon State CollegeWesleyan College), but never did I think about what I would want out of a college campus when I finally went off to college.

In fact, the first time I stepped on the campus at the University of Georgia was during my freshman orientation! Just think about that. I had already committed to going to a college without having seen it with my own eyes!

In hindsight, I feel extremely fortunate to have blindly chosen a college that worked for me. UGA’s campus is nothing like the other college campuses I had seen, and Athens is a completely different city than Macon, so I feel lucky to have stumbled on a school that really fit me so well. (So much so that I’m still there!)

This is why I encourage students to see college campuses as often as possible. Just because a college might have your major or might be convenient to go to does not mean it’s the right fit. Here are a few things you might want to consider:

  • How big you want your college or university to be
  • Where you live – there’s a big difference between the North, South, East and West
  • What friends you might want to be close to, if any
  • The usual college questions (your major, extracurricular activities, etc.)

Go on a Campus Tour

A campus tour experience, in my opinion, is one of the best ways to develop a sense of the college and have a direct source of information.

Have an Open Mind

It’s difficult to pick a college to attend if you’ve never been there. And you might think you know what kind of college you want to go to until you visit and discover something completely outside of your expectations. So make a list of schools to visit, including an assortment of 2-year, 4-year, public, private, liberal arts, research, large and small institutions. Keep in mind what majors are offered at each.

Schedule a Visit

Usually, you can find a phone number on the school’s website. There are several activities that you can participate in during your visit. Typically, there is an admissions presentation where a representative from the school will give you information about tuition and fees, housing, majors offered, financial aid, and campus activities. You should also ask for a student panel where current college students tell you more about day-to-day life on campus. They’ll talk about going to class, getting involved in organizations, living in dorms, and other fun experiences they’ve had. Feel free to ask questions!

On your tour, the guide will show you around campus. Get a sense of what the atmosphere is like – how do the buildings look? What are students doing – sitting on a couch or park bench studying or talking with friends? What do the flyers on the bulletin boards say?

An important aspect of a college visit is being able to interact with a professor, which might be something you will have to ask for when you schedule your tour. You want to have the ability to have a professor tell you what classes are like and what the academic expectations are. You also want to find out what opportunities – such as research, internships, or independent study – will be available to you in the major you choose.  Also, try to sit in on a class so you can get an idea of the teaching styles on campus.

Take Notes

Take notes while you go along on your tours. Schools might start to blend together, so keep track of what each tour consisted of and the thoughts, feelings, and experiences related to them.
A tour is just one factor in the decision process, so have an open mind about each school you visit. Take the time to visit schools so, when the time comes, you can make a well-informed decision about college.

The College Visit

Get on the Internet, grab your calendar and schedule a college visit to the campus of your choice! When you’re learning about schools you might apply to, college visits are crucial. While in high school, I toured a total of 18 college campuses. Those info-sessions and tours helped me decide what college I wanted to attend.

When planning a campus tour, here are a few things to remember during your visit:

Attend an admissions info-session.

These sessions are usually available for anyone interested in learning more about the college. You’ll get a better understanding about the school’s mission, goals, and admission requirements.
Sit in on a class in your major.

You’ll get to experience firsthand what it’s like to be in a college classroom. Are there too many students in that class? Do I really like the small lecture style classroom setting?

Eat at the cafeteria.

Food is important! Is the food good? Are there healthy options? I promise you’ll get a better sense of the student life if you eat at the school’s dining hall.

Visit the financial aid office.

Grab all of the financial aid material that’s available! You can learn about the school’s financial aid process and ask any important questions.

Other places to visit on campus:

  • Library
  • Classrooms
  • Recreation Center
  • Dormitories
  • Student Union Buildings
  • Computer Labs

Take lots of pictures and notes. Talk with faculty, staff, and students. College visits cover all aspects of what it’s like to live on a college campus.  So, get ready….get set….go schedule your college visit today!

Applying to College

How to Write a Great College Essay

Writing a college essay is the most challenging part of the application process. I remember finding it difficult to explain who I was on two pieces of paper. It was especially difficult figuring out what to write about. For those of you who are not seniors yet, it is never too early to start thinking about essay topics. It will make your lives much easier once you get to senior year.

The college essay is an ongoing process for the students I work with. For some, it takes two topics and 10 drafts to finally get to the end product, while for others, it takes one topic and three drafts. Either way, it is a lot of work!

You can make the process easier by choosing a topic that is important to you and that you are passionate about. The essay topic should also say something about you that cannot be found, or isn’t explicit, elsewhere in the application.

I look at writing the essay as a three-part project: Brainstorming, Writing and Editing.


Most students do not know what we want to write about or how to start. That is why brainstorming is a crucial part of the process. A strategy I have found very useful is asking yourself questions these questions:

  • What is your background and what are some of your experiences?
  • What is most important to you?
  • What are your aspirations?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • Then, narrow down potential topics even more by asking these specific questions:
  • If you were to write an autobiography, which 7-10 events would be included?
  • What are your 3-5 biggest accomplishments over the last four years?
  • Which five extracurricular activities are most important to you?
  • Which three people do you admire most?


Once you have identified a topic, think about why you chose it. You need to decide on the point you are trying to make, and how you are going to make it. One way to get your point across is through the use of specific details and stories. Personal experiences can help to validate the statement you are making.
Additionally, most of the students I work with struggle with writing too much or too little. I tell them to write too much, if necessary, because it is much easier to cut down an essay than add to it. So, write your heart out! Get your message across and then worry about the word limit. As long as the essay is two pages, double spaced, size 12 font, you should be fine.


PROOFREAD! PROOFREAD! PROOFREAD! Editing the essay tends to be the bulk of the writing process. Ask two or three caring adults to read your essay and provide feedback. If you don’t have someone in mind, send it to me! And be open to people’s suggestions for improvement.
That said, I hope all you seniors have started this most time-consuming part of the college application process!

Don’t Be Scared

Sometimes, the college application process doesn’t end when you submit your final documents online or by mail. A college might write or call you to request an in-person interview. This gives them a chance to get to know you better before they make a decision. And it’s always a good thing – a chance to impress them in ways you can’t on paper.

Now, before I begin, let’s get one thing clear: not all colleges require interviews for the admissions process, and not all students will be invited for an interview. So, don’t worry if you aren’t contacted.
But, if you’re faced with a college interview, take it as seriously as you would take a job interview. You’re one small step away from being admitted, so bring your “A” game. Here are some general rules to follow:

  • Arrive at least 15 minutes early
  • Know the answers to questions they might ask (“Why do you want to attend [insert school]?” or “Tell me about a leadership experience you’re particularly proud of.”)
  • Bring extra copies of your resume, transcript and test scores (just in case)
  • Most importantly, be yourself

In a nutshell, impress the interviewer with the type of person you are – and the research you’ve done ahead of time. Don’t worry about saying or doing the right things; if you’re passionate about going to the school, the interviewer will be able to see that.

Have You Applied to Enough Schools Yet?

I have some students who come in with a large list of schools, while others have no idea where they want to apply. Eventually, we come to a compromise and everyone ends up with a good range of schools. But is it possible to apply to too many or too few schools? Where do we draw the line?

Everyone I speak to has a different opinion. After much debate, I have come to the conclusion that the number of schools a student should apply to is relative to your interests and needs.

I have students who have applied to only one college, and that usually ends up being students who are considering community college. I also have students who have applied to as many as 12 schools; these are students who take chances, but want to keep their options open. I make sure that these students have a balanced list of schools: reach, likely and safety. The best way to figure out which schools fall under each category for you is to sit down with a school counselor or college advisor, and discuss your options. These adults are aware of your academic record, but it is important for you to tell them about yourself and your interests, so that they can better guide you.

On average, most of my students apply to between three and five schools. Given the increasingly competitive admissions process, I have been encouraging students to apply to between six and eight. This year, in particular, I have had a large number of students who have applied to seven or more schools. There is nothing wrong with applying to more schools than your friends, as long as you have picked a range of schools that match your interests. In the same way, there is nothing wrong with applying to one or two schools, as long as you have considered all of your options.

On that note, if you are still thinking about applying to a couple more schools, check out this list of rolling admission schools. Make sure you consult your guidance counselor and college advisor regarding the schools on the list, before you decide to apply.

College Student Interview: Lakeysha

This week, I had the amazing opportunity to talk to Lakeysha about her college experience at UC Berkeley. Lakeysha is the first in her family to attend college – and to graduate. And she’s ready to pursue something even bigger. Starting this fall, she will be the first in her family to head off to graduate school. Lakeysha will attend San Jose State University to pursue her master’s in counseling.

Name/Location: Lakeysha, Richmond, CA
College: University of California, Berkeley
Major: Sociology
Fun College Fact: You are able to plan your own schedule in college.

What do you wish you would have done differently in high school to prepare for college?

I wish I would have taken advantage of seeing my counselor and college adviser in my earlier years in high school rather than waiting until my senior year when everything seemed to move so quickly.

How did you decide that you wanted to go to college?

I grew up in a community filled with lots of crime and violence. Most of my friends were wither pregnant, in jail or dead. I wanted to make my family proud and going to college was a way to escape the drama of my community. Also, when I was little, my grandpa would always say “one day you will become the first lady president.” That motivation and drive got me where I am today.

How difficult is college compared to high school?

I don’t like to say college is difficult, but it is more challenging. The workload challenges your mind to think outside the box, where high school is all about memorization. Once you get to college, you must learn how to ask for help and seek out resources to be successful. All things are possible if you put your mind to it.

Do you have any piece of advice for current middle school or high school students?

Be sure to take Advanced Placement courses and get involved in your school and community. Colleges and universities are seeking well-rounded students. Also, be sure to apply to as many schools as possible to give yourself options. Lastly, start looking for scholarships to help pay for your education.

College Interviews

Many of you will be applying to colleges this fall. Not all of the colleges you apply to require interviews. But for those that offer, I recommend scheduling one. No matter how compelling of a candidate you are on paper, having a face-to-face interview – whether it is with an alumni or an admissions officer – does play into your candidacy. Being able to put a face with your name and being able to see your wonderful personality shine through will help you in the process.

This recent article on The Washington Post Blog, “How important is the admissions interview?” got me thinking about the college interview process, and the preparation that goes into it. Here’s some of my best advice:

  • Pick a flexible date and time. For instance, do not decide to meet right after school at a coffee place thirty minutes away. You might get stuck in traffic and show up late to your interview. Also, do not schedule something right after the interview, because it might run long and you will naturally feel rushed. That will affect your interview.
  • Dress well. Do not go in a suit and tie, but do not go in ripped jeans and a wrinkled t-shirt. Maybe that is you and your look; but, as important as it is to represent yourself honestly, it is also important to respect the interviewer by trying to look put together.
  • Do research on the school you are interviewing for. It shows the interviewer that you have taken a genuine interest in the school.
  • Ask questions. Have a couple of questions already in mind when you go into the interview. That shows the interviewer that you not only have an interest in the school, but also an interest in what he or she has to say.
  • Do a mock interview with an adult. This always helps. Even if the interviewer ends up asking you different questions, you still have practice sitting in an interview.
  • Be confident and be yourself! Interview questions tend to vary from school to school, but there are some common questions that interviewers tend to ask. Check out this list of questions and prepare your answers. There will always be a lot of questions about yourself, so make sure you know yourself and know what to say.

How Not to Fear the College Application Essay

During my first year as a college adviser, a senior came into my office and asked for my help in printing out a college application. When I handed him the application, he immediately said he didn’t want it any more. When I asked why, he told me without hesitation:

“I’m not filling out an application that requires me to write an essay!”

I was flabbergasted! While it is no surprise to me that a lot of students dread writing essays in general, I had never thought of them as an obstacle to the application process. Since this experience, I have tried to help students understand that college essays are worth embracing and should not be something to be afraid of!

’ve asked a number of admissions representatives about college essays and they all have the same advice for students applying to their schools: “Use the college essay to show how you are different from every other applicant.” With schools receiving thousands of applications from around the world each year, it is really important that you paint a unique picture of yourself. Be humorous, passionate, and proud of who you are! Talk about what you know, not what you think the college or university wants to hear – the person reading your application will be able to tell the difference.

Just a few other simple notes

  • Have someone spell-check your essays. Another set of eyes always helps.
  • Follow the directions! That sounds simple, but it bears repeating. If the essay has a word limit, or has specific instructions for the topic, follow them. You wouldn’t want the college to deny your application because you missed some simple guidelines.

It’s Time to Get Some Letters

This is the point in the year when seniors should start getting letters of recommendation. If you’re not a senior, start thinking about who you want to write you those letters and ask them about it soon. I waited until the last minute in high school to get my letters and, although one of my teachers was really wonderful and put aside some other work to do mine, I got rejected from other people who were too busy. Don’t let that happen to you!

Before we go further, let’s talk a little bit about what letters of recommendation are and what they do. Basically, a recommendation letter is a short letter to a school/scholarship/program from a person who isn’t you (or a family member) that talks about how awesome you are. They are important because every other part of your application comes from you!

How do I ask for a letter?

When requesting a letter of recommendation, it’s important to ask someone you know really well. It should be a teacher, counselor, mentor or family friend who can say good things about you outside of the classroom. Remember to ask early – they take a while to write!

When you get someone to write one, be sure to remind them about your personality, experiences and aspirations. That includes info like:

  • What was your experience at your school like and what are you known for at the school?
  • Did you take any upper-level classes? If so, why?
  • What are your grades like? What’s your GPA? Class rank?
  • What kind of extracurricular activities are you doing? Remember to explain what the organizations are and what your role in them is. Your groups might have really cool names and be really important, but the recommender might not know all about it, so you have to tell them.
  • What are your goals after high school? If you know what you want to major in and where you want to go, tell the recommender about it.

Isn’t it their letter? Why should I write all that?

Your recommender needs to know what motivates you and why you’re going to succeed. They need to know what you’ve accomplished, and what makes you memorable and awesome. The better you show the recommender this sort of thing, the better the letter.

If you don’t give them that information, the letter they write could look very vague. The admissions people might ask, “Why did this student ask for a recommendation from someone they didn’t really know that well? Does this student not have someone who knows who they are and is proud of them?”

Four Things I Wish I Knew About the College Application Process

Speaking from experience, I understand how stressful the college application process can be. These are just four things that I wish someone shared with me when I was sweating over completing college apps before the deadlines.

Your Transcript: A Little Piece of Paper That Reads Like a Book

Just about every school will request an official transcript from your high school when you apply. What is in a transcript that makes it so important? Yes, it has your grades, GPA and in some cases your ACT score; but a transcript is more than that. It reveals if you have challenged yourself throughout your high school career. Colleges look on your transcript forAP/Honors/Dual-Enrollment – courses that show a challenging curriculum. Make sure you prove to colleges that you are up for the challenges they have to offer by taking advanced courses if they are available (don’t worry, if your school does not offer any of the options listed above, chances are you will not be faulted!).

Schools not only focus on the overall GPA, they look to see if your GPA increased year-to-year throughout high school (meaning most schools are pretty forgiving of a sub-par freshman year performance). An upward trend shows academic growth and maturity, attributes that are needed throughout your postsecondary experience!


I remember when I wrote my college app essays, I thought that they were just there to discourage people from applying to a billion schools (good thinking right? LOL). I discovered, to my surprise, that schools do indeed read your essays, not once but in some cases three times! Your essays bring a 3-D view to your application and allow the school to learn more about you. They can convey how you process ideas and display your creativity. Use this opportunity to take a chance and put yourself out in the open! But please do not make the mistake of offending people in your essay or putting in items that you think will appease the school.

Fee Waivers

Let’s be honest, applying to postsecondary institutions can cost a pretty penny. Applying to 10 schools at the cost of $30 per application would cost $300, and I know that I didn’t have that type of money lying around when I was in high school! When applying to different schools, take note whether it’s free if you apply online or bring in your application when an admission representative visits your high school. If your parents make below a certain amount or you are a recipient of free and reduced lunch, you qualify for a fee waiver.

Clicking Submit Doesn’t Mean You’re Finished

This is probably the most important thing to remember after all of the applications are complete and you feel like you have some weight lifted off your shoulders. Even though you think you’re finished with the entire college app process, you should know that the process is continuous and lasts throughout the entire year. Some schools may ask to see your 7th semester transcripts or ask you to retake the ACT. And did you know that even when you are accepted into the institution of your choice, it’s contingent on the successful completion of your senior year? That means don’t slack off because the school has the choice to deny your acceptance after they see your final transcript! What that boils down to is that you need to stay focused!

Once you’re ready to start, here are some tips for actually writing your essays:

Before You Write

Different people write in different ways, but almost everyone can benefit from an outline before getting started. An outline will help you get an idea of where you want to go, so you will be able to keep a consistent theme throughout.


The person or people you are writing to matter! It is important to understand what they are looking for—it could be the difference between admission and rejection.


The first thing you can do to get an idea of what your audience will be looking for is to look up some key information about them. For example, look at some common words they use in their website descriptions, and use similar key words in your essay when you’re making your points.

Writing the Essay

It helps to make your essay more interesting and give you more voice if you start with a personal story that is related to the essay topic. It doesn’t have to be long, but it should capture your reader’s interest./p>


Try to stick to an overall theme (or two) that will help everything in your essay flow together. Remember to end that first paragraph with a sentence that gives your reader hints about where you’re going to go with the rest of the paper.

Show, Don’t Tell

It’s all well and good to say that you are hard-working or intelligent, but you can go one step further. You can PROVE it by showing us that you’re hard-working. Talk about what you learned during your hours of community service or the time you spend at work. The reader can fill in the character traits on his or her own.


Conclude by answering the question, “So what?” You’ve told the reader about how taking care of your sweet-but-ailing grandma was the best learning experience you’ve ever had; now tell them why they should care. (Hint: Because you can take what you learned and apply it to your Major in Nursing or Psychology.) Don’t forget to relate your ideas back to your audience!

Admissions Role Play

You are an admissions counselor. You read thousands of applications each year and are tasked with making choices in the admissions process. Your university has already sent out tons of acceptance letters and only has one spot left. You have two applications on your desk, but you can only accept one student. Your choices are:

Tom Jones

The valedictorian of a small fine arts magnet high school. Graduated with a 3.98 GPA. He is the captain of the Academic Team, member of the National Honors Society and has played on the varsity soccer squad at school for three years. Your college has a top 10 ranked soccer squad, so he would be an invaluable asset to the team. While he is very intelligent, he only took one APclass during his four years of high school. Tom would be the first in his family to go to college and had to help support his single mother at home.

Lucy Smith

Ranked #65 in a senior class of 450 students. Graduated with a 3.39 GPA, but managed to take eight of her school’s 12 offered AP courses. When Lucy isn’t in class, she spends her free time volunteering at a local homeless shelter. She has also hosted art shows and theater performances to help raise money for the shelter. Her application essay is one of the strongest you’ve ever seen and she has shown great interest in studying at the school’s top-ranked journalism program. Both of her parents are school alumni.

Who should be accepted? The truth is: there isn’t a correct answer. Decisions like this are made every year by college admission teams and it frequently comes down to the smallest of margins. Moreover, what a specific school is looking for can change year to year; last year, community service and academically oriented could have been the hot item for the school you want to go to. Next year at that same school, it could be French horn players. I wrote this exercise in the hope that you would understand how important it is to show who you are in your applications. The smallest detail might make all the difference.

Now here is a topic that applies to everybody. Whether you’re in high school or about to graduate from college, it’s important to have a strong resume and find people to write you a good letter of recommendation.

In this post, I’m going to talk about the main areas you want to focus on in your resume, and what you’ll want your recommendation writers to talk about in your letters.

For Your Resume

  • Describe Your Experience: When you put down work experience or activities/organizations you’ve participated in, you need to write about what sorts of things you did in them. Let’s say you were in student council for three years. Putting that on your resume is important, but your reader also wants to know about what you actually did while you were there. It’s good to be more descriptive than something like, “planned student events.” Go into more depth by saying, “Organized bake sales with the event planner to pay for prom decorations.”
  • Make It Relevant: If you’ve done something that’s related to your prospective major, put it on your resume! If you’ve worked at a clothing store for the last year, but two years ago you volunteered at a hospital, and you want to be a nursing major, the hospital work should go first. It’s important to prioritize what you’ve done so that the more important experiences are higher up.
  • Think Outside the Box: I’m not saying you should make stuff up about your work/organization experience, but just because you only worked at Target for a year doesn’t mean that isn’t related to your college goals. For example, if you handled a tough customer situation, or you were really organized and got your work done quickly, you should emphasize that on your resume. Being a hard worker or a good employee shows that you’ll make a good student at your prospective school!

For Your Letters of Recommendation

First of all, start asking about them right now. Second, remember that anyone can get one of their teachers to write them a letter. You have to make sure that the person writing it knows you well and can talk about your character.

Having a teacher say, “Chris was a good student and always came to class on time,” isn’t going to help you. You want someone who will describe you outside of normal contexts, like, “Chris regularly came by after school to ask me for more information about the biology subjects that we covered in class. I’m really impressed by the breadth of his knowledge as well as his interest in the subject. Out of all of my students, I believe he has the best chance to succeed at your college due to his dedication and drive.”

Seniors – Get Ready

___ Days Till I am a Senior!

Fill in that blank, juniors. That is how much time is left before you are officially seniors!

The thought of being a senior can be exciting and intimidating at the same time. Most of my juniors are waiting for their Senior Picnic, the Prom, the Pep Rally and the opportunity to rule the school. With the millions of senior year activities comes the responsibility to start planning for life after high school. Yikes!

For many people, the postsecondary option is going off to college. This is the choice that most of you will make, but getting to that point requires a lot of work and dedication to the college process. This is why it is important to get a head start!

So what are some of the things that you can do now?

  • Take the SATs
  • Start thinking about where you want to go to college, what you want to study and what your interests are.
  • Look into the different types of schools that are out there. College Board is a great place to check out schools.
  • Talk to your parents, your guidance counselor and your college adviser about college! They will be able to help you in different ways. Your teachers, coaches, older siblings and family members are also great resources.
  • Start brainstorming a college essay.
  • Go see your guidance counselor or college adviser today to get started on your college process!

I’ve Been Admitted: Now What?

If you are a senior, I am sure you have been receiving both admission and rejection letters in the mail from the different colleges you applied to. Congratulations on your admissions! And do not fret about the rejections; many opportunities still await you.  Just remember, you are not the only one in this situation. I am right there with you! I have been applying to graduate school and am also in the process of deciding which college I will attend.  For younger readers, although this may not be directly applicable to you, it is still important for you to know what to expect after you have been admitted.

So, after doing all of this waiting, I am sure you are asking yourself – now what? At this point, you should more than likely have some sort of idea which school you want to attend. If not, consider the following to help you decide:

To make your decision, think…

Location and Size: Where is this campus located? Is it in an area you will be happy with?  Do you want a small or a large school? If you want to live at home, then consider the distance from your house. Try not to overwhelm yourself with a long commute, especially not during this transitional year. If you want to live on campus, make sure you look into it now. Many residential halls require an early application, sometimes even before you have been notified of admission, so don’t wait any longer to look into this.

Financial Aid Package: Most colleges and universities send out a summary of what type of federal, state and university aid they will be offering you. Make sure you look at those thoroughly and compare them with other college packages – you may be surprised to see that some schools offer you more free money than others. Also, keep in mind that this their first offer. You have a right to request that they reevaluate your award, especially if your family’s financial situation has changed from 2009 to 2010. Dream Campus: If you did not get into your dream school, consider attending a community college and then transferring. This can still be a viable option and may lead you to other opportunities.

Major and Extracurricular Activities: It is also very important to make sure that the campus you decide to attend offers the major and extracurricular activities you are interested in. The major, for obvious reasons, because you want to study something that you are interested in. But the activities are also important, because college is not just about studying, it is also about having fun, networking and meeting new friends with similar and different interests.

After you’ve decided…

Keep in mind that you will also have to do various things in order to follow up with your admission. Most colleges and universities require you to take an assessment or placement test to see where your reading, writing and math skills are. They also require that students attend an orientation session or even meet with a counselor to help them pick and sign up for classes. You must also make sure you maintain your high school grades; after all, you have only been admitted conditionally. All of these steps are crucial and are an integral part of maintaining your spot at the college of your choice. Last, but definitely not least, make sure you submit your Student Intent to Register form. Some schools may have other names for this, but this basically means you have to officially tell them you will be coming to their campus. Usually, there is a fee to reserve your spot, and that amount can vary from campus to campus.

Summer is a great time to start preparing for the college process. Once September rolls around, you will find yourself with a list of too many things to do. Save yourself the headache by getting some things out of the way.

For starters, most seniors will be taking the SATs and/or the SAT IIs, also known as Subject Tests. The more time you spend preparing for these tests, the better you will do; so, why not start studying for them now? College Board can help create a Study Plan or you can even create one for yourself and stick with it for the rest of the summer. Trust me, in the fall, between classes, extracurricular activities, jobs, responsibilities and the college process, you will be glad you started preparing for standardized tests now.

Another thing you can do is start brainstorming for your college essay. Your college essay is an essential part of your application and it is also very challenging and time-consuming. Save yourself time and start thinking about essay topics. This way, you can have the adults in your life read and re-read your essay and give you useful feedback. I have met with my students over the summer to work on their college essays. Once school started, they were the ones who were ahead of the game and the least stressed.

One thing that you all should be doing is researching the different types of schools out there. It is very important to take into consideration your interests and needs. That will help you determine how big or small you want the school to be, which parts of the country you are willing to travel to, what kind of a social environment you would like to surround yourself in and what your academic interests are. These things will factor into the type of schools you end up applying to, so check out College Board and do a bit of college searching to get closer to finding your match.

Senior Planning Timeline

Welcome back, seniors! This is your last year of high school, and you obviously want to spend it with friends and family, but you also need to put the proverbial pedal to the metal on your college planning and application process. Here are four very important things you should do this fall so that you can go to college next fall!

Take the SAT/ACT

If you haven’t taken them yet, you need to sign up for the SATs/ACTs – ASAP! You have untilSeptember 10 to register for the October 9th SAT or September 17 for the November ACTwithout incurring any late fees, and you need to take them sooner rather than later.

Here’s why: you don’t receive your scores until two weeks after the exam date, and if you don’t like your score, you’ll still have time to register for the December date (but you will have already missed the November late registration deadline).

Also note: at this point, you may have to be willing to travel to a nearby high school to take your exam. Do not forego taking an exam earlier because it is not offered at your high school until November or December.

Finally, please remember that you may qualify for a fee waiver if you qualify for free or reduced lunch or other financial assistance. If you’re not sure, ask your guidance counselor (they’re the ones who disburse them).

Research & Visit Colleges

Most high schools allow you a few days of excused absence so that you can visit colleges while they’re in session.

If you haven’t already narrowed a list down to at least 3-5 schools to which you’d like to apply, visiting colleges can help you create a more solid list of schools. If you haven’t toured any colleges yet, then you really need to start touring.

When you’re arranging your campus visit (through the admissions department), remember to ask about visitation programs that may allow you to meet professors, students, athletic coaches or other individuals of interest while you’re on campus.

If your college requires an on-campus interview, you should probably have completed this step by December.


Many colleges require that your applications be submitted by a certain deadline – either to gain admissions or to ensure that you’ll have access to on-campus housing. Check with the colleges you plan to apply to and create a list of different deadlines (applications, financial aid, etc.) for each. This information is almost always available on the college’s website.

Some schools also have Early Decision or Early Action options for students who have identified that college as their first choice (make sure to read the college’s commitment policy for students applying under those options).

You may want to start keeping a file to help yourself stay organized.

Essays: If your college application requires an essay (or multiple essays), you need to start on these ASAP. Waiting until the last minute to write your essay is a terrible idea; remember, this is not an assignment, it’s part of what determines whether you get into your choice college!

Ask for help with your essay! Another benefit of completing a draft of your essay early is that you can have others (parents, friends, teachers, etc.) proofread it. This may be your first time applying to a college, but chances are your English teacher is pretty familiar with the process!

Collect Letters of Recommendation & Transcripts

Every college requires a copy of your high school transcript and many also like letters of recommendation from your guidance counselor, teachers, coaches or members of your community. You should submit requests for these at least two weeks before your application deadline (and please inform them of this deadline). If you’re asking for recommendation letters – the earlier you ask, the better.

Many of the individuals writing letters for you will be doing so on their own time; please respect their willingness to help by giving them enough time to complete this task. And, remember to write thank you notes!

If your college requires letters of recommendation, choose teachers from academic subjects who know you well. If your college requires a letter from your guidance counselor and you barely know him/her, it may be a good idea to provide more information about yourself – preferably by meeting with him/her face-to-face. Talk about your college plans, your passions and things that you would want a college to know but can’t tell them yourself. Otherwise, you may end up with a form recommendation letter that could be for any student.

Those are my top five tips for seniors.

Almost There

Congratulations to the seniors who already have college acceptance letters in! You guys have been on task, and that’s awesome.

In relation to this topic, I want to spend some time talking about the importance of staying on task in your last semester of high school. Seniors – even those of you who already have acceptance letters – need to stay focused. Some of you might have heard that colleges don’t pay attention to anything you do in your last semester of high school, but that is completely untrue.

Colleges and universities have the right to revoke any acceptance or scholarship they have already offered to you based on changes in your academic performance. You wouldn’t want the amount of money a school offered you to go down just because you made a C in a class you easily could have done better in, would you? Don’t let that happen!

Also, spend some time in your last semester of high school getting prepared for college life. When I went to the University of Georgia, I can tell you I was unprepared to live on my own. I coasted in my last semester of high school and was not prepared for the increased stress of college-level school work. My first semester was a disaster, academically, and I was fortunate to recover from my mistakes. Study harder than you ever have in your last semester of high school. I promise it will translate in your first year of college.

Most of all, I want you to enjoy yourself! When you aren’t studying and preparing for next year, spend time with your friends – many of them will probably be going to another college or university somewhere. Cherish your friendships and make sure your friends know how much you mean to them. Seriously! I promise those memories will mean a lot to you some day.

Cost & Financial Aid

Dollar Dollar Bills, Y’all

My first lesson in saving money came with the best sugar rush of my life. It was Easter Sunday 1997 and my cousins and I were tearing into our Easter baskets. Early on, my family had come to terms with the fact that I was hopelessly addicted to chocolate and so they correctly assumed that I would give the greatest care and attention to anything having to do with the heavenly confection. This is how I ended up with a Tootsie Roll piggy bank in my Easter basket.

As I fantasized about having Tootsie Rolls for breakfast the next day, my mom talked to me about the importance of saving my money, even if it was just a few coins that I dropped into my piggy bank each week. Obviously, that conversation had an impact on me, as I still remember the value of savings to this day.

For younger readers, is a great place to get started in thinking about savings and money management.

For those of you preparing for college next year, money management will take on a whole new meaning, as the world of credit opens up to you.

Extra Credit

Remember that you are now a prime target for credit card companies. You’ve come out from under mom and dad’s thumb just enough to be able to sign for and receive your very own piece of shiny plastic. Credit card offers can come from unexpected places. I remember walking across campus during my first semester at UNC and being stopped by two classmates who were distributing credit card applications as a part of a fundraiser for their organization. Please don’t ask me how that worked. Just remember that you will be approached at random times and in random places, and you should be educated on credit card lingo and prepared to handle aggressive credit card pushers.

Talk to your parents and other adults you trust about the best ways to establish credit. Also, read this College Board article and visit to educate yourself.

Credit is a wonderful thing when handled properly. When misused, however, it can put a huge strain on your plans for the future, including preventing you from getting a cell phone, that dream apartment and even certain jobs. Be informed and be smart!

The Formers are Never-Ending

Have you filled out the CSS Profile? If not, don’t worry, not everyone has to. It depends on what the schools you’re applying to require. So what is this form? Who requires it? And why do they ask so many questions!? I hear this every time students realize they need to submit this extra financial aid form. I simply encourage them to read up on the benefits of completing and submitting the Profile.

Many private institutions require the Profile in addition to the FAFSA. The students and families I work with find it to be very time-consuming. But, I like it, because it gives colleges an accurate picture of the family’s financial circumstances. So, be sure to find out if the Profile is required – and get it done on time!

Another concern students have with the profile is the cost. Depending on the number of schools students are applying to that require the profile, they could end up paying between $25 and $100. Since the Profile takes into account a number of different factors in determining eligibility, it’s best to assume you will have to pay. If your fee is waived in the end, consider it a bonus!

Scholarships, Scholarships, Scholarships

Because I came from a fairly low-income household, most of my educational costs were covered by federal and state grants. But not all people have the same financial background. That’s why, on top of submitting your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), students should also constantly be searching for private scholarships to apply for. But what are scholarships? Simply put, scholarships are free money that you can receive to use toward your education upon submitting an application to a private company or foundation. This is usually money that you do not need to pay back, and most often it only requires you to maintain a certain grade point average (if renewable), or sometimes asks that you do some sort of community service in return. More often than not, scholarships will not require anything from you in return.

Who can apply for scholarships?

Everyone! There are tons of scholarships that students of all ages can apply for, but typically you will find more available for students in high school, especially 12th graders. Also, there are a wide variety of scholarships available for undergraduate and graduate college students.

What kinds of scholarships are there?

There are all sorts of traditional scholarships that look for students of certain ethnic backgrounds, GPAs, demonstrations of leadership, involvement in community service and volunteer work, involvement in sports or music, or even religious affiliation, but there are also nontraditional ones that look for originality (for example, the famous “Make your Prom Dress out of Duck brand Duct Tape” Scholarship, or the Left-handed scholarship).  Also, keep in mind there are local, state, regional and national scholarships. Remember, local means a lot less competition.

How can I become eligible for a scholarship?

Since there are such a wide variety of scholarships available, there will always be some that everyone can apply for; you just need to do your research. The best way to increase your chances of getting scholarships and have a wider range of scholarships available to you is to keep your grades up and stay involved in on- and off-campus activities.

Where do I find scholarships?

Typically, schools l have a designated counselor that coordinates scholarships for students, so make sure you ask around to see who does this at your school. In addition, you can always do your own research online. Keep in mind, there are for-profit companies that will try to get you to buy books or sell you their scholarship search service – never pay for this information! This is free information that you can find on your own or with the assistance of a knowledgeable adult. If you cannot find someone to help you, ask me! =) Here are a few legitimate Web sites to get you started on your search:

Scholarship applications can be a lot of work, but the payoff if is even greater. So, start working!

Appealing Financial Aid

A lot of my students have started to receive their financial aid award letters from schools. It’s really nice to see colleges award large amounts of grants and scholarships, both in the form of need- and merit-based aid. BUT there are some financial aid awards that are very loan-heavy. It is especially disheartening when they come from students’ dream schools.

So, what do we do in a situation like this? APPEAL!

There are many ways of going about trying to get the school to give you more money or direct you to useful resources. It does not hurt to call the financial aid office of the school. If there is a specific financial aid officer that you can talk to, that is even better. Explain the extenuating circumstances to them and why the financial aid award is far from feasible. Do not hesitate to outright ask for more money. They might ask you to send them a letter explaining your circumstances. In that case, sit down with an adult who can help you draft the letter or an e-mail that highlights your need for additional aid.
The worst that can happen is that they cannot provide additional funds for you. Under those circumstances, you have to sit down with your family and your college advisor to figure out what is best for you and what your next step should be.

In any case, advocate for yourself and appeal to schools, if you have not received adequate aid from them. Let me know if you have other questions about getting the most financial aid possible from the schools you’re interested in attending.

Saving Cash in College

If you’re a high school graduate heading off to college, you have about a month until you begin to make some serious life changes. In a few short weeks, you may find yourself living with a person you don’t know, sitting in a classroom full of complete strangers, and maybe even adjusting to a new town or state. One of the first realities that hits you when you step on campus – if you haven’t figured it out already! – is that college can be expensive. Here are some tips to help you live on the cheap while in college.

First thing’s first – avoid buying your books at the campus bookstore. Sure, it’s convenient, but it’s also a rip-off. With a little planning, you can save yourself hundreds of dollars a semester by purchasing your books elsewhere. If you have already scheduled your classes, see what texts will be required. You can do this by either accessing your college’s bookstore in person (or online), or by e-mailing your professors directly to see what texts they will be requiring for the semester. Don’t be afraid to email your professors about this; first, it shows you have a little bit of initiative, and second, if there are multiple editions of a textbook, they may tell you that you can get an earlier (read: older and cheaper) version of the text if you can find it. After you know what books you’ll need, check out how much they cost at your campus bookstore (new and used), and then compare this with costs of these books online (don’t forget to add shipping costs). This website does all of the work for you, but also don’t be afraid to do your own research. Note: Often books can take a while to arrive – especially when ordering them from independent sellers at sites like – so make sure to give yourself at least two weeks before classes start to buy your books; being proactive about book ordering makes a good impression, but not having your books the first week of class does not.

Second, save money on room and board. Most schools offer a cheaper meal plan for students who don’t need to eat in the dining hall three times a day, seven days a week. If you sleep in, or if you eat cereal for breakfast, save yourself some money by purchasing a smaller plan and buying the basics for your dorm room. Most meal plans cost an average of $6-8 dollars per meal; if you’re not eating a full buffet every time, chances are you could eat cereal or soup in your dorm for less money. Also, while I’m a huge proponent of living on campus your first year, if your school allows you to live off-campus after your freshman year (and if you don’t go to school in an expensive city like New York or San Francisco), then you’ll probably find it more affordable to share an apartment near campus with some friends. Even if you find a place that costs the same amount as a dorm room, you can save yourself some money in loan interest by working part time and paying your rent month-to-month. As always, make wise choices about this one!

Third, don’t get sucked into credit card debt. Credit card companies have taken a lot of heat lately for preying on college students, because they know most of them are going to spend tons of money that they can’t pay back – at least not without accruing some interest, first. Credit cards are a good way to establish credit, but not if you rack up a ton of debt. If you do apply for a credit card (emphasis on “a” credit card, as in one), make sure that it’s a good deal: has a good interest rate, little to no annual fees, and no other hidden scams. Also make sure to pay off as much as possible as soon as possible; if you spend beyond your limits, you’re well on your way to a ton of debt. Check out this article and this article for more helpful information.

Fourth, get a job! Studies have shown that students who work part-time in college do just as well – if not better – than students without jobs. Why? Because you have to balance your time to get all of your work done. Even better, college jobs can be fun and easy. Most schools have part-time, work-study positions that students can receive as part of their financial aid package. These positions are usually on campus, often allow you to do your homework during work if you’re not busy, and are generally VERY cooperative with mid-term and final schedules (good luck getting your boss at a fast-food or retail chain to give you a week off in December to concentrate on your studies!). If you didn’t receive work-study, call your school’s financial aid office to see if you can; most schools open up positions to the entire campus once financially qualifying students have selected their jobs.

Finally, take it easy on the field trips. While it’s easy to grow tired of your dining hall, eating out can get expensive. The same goes for shopping, going to the movie theater or going out for a night on the town. The great thing about college is that there are usually plenty of cheap or free activities on campus (movies, cultural events with food, concerts, etc.). If you do want/need to get off campus every once in a while (which is definitely important sometimes), be creative and judicious about your spending.
These are some tips that helped me save money in college. Do any of you have good money-saving strategies that have helped you or someone you know?

Doing a Scholarship Search

With only a few months left before the summer, now’s the time to start hunting for scholarships if you haven’t already started. There are literally thousands of different scholarships available out there, and it’s just a matter of looking for them to get the college dollars you need.

Before you search, let me tell you about what kinds of scholarships are out there to give you an idea of what to look for.

Scholarship Types

  • College-Specifc: These scholarships come directly from colleges and universities. You can only get them if you’re enrolled in those schools. Talk to your college’s financial aid office to find out what kind of scholarships the school offers.
  • Merit-Based: These scholarships can come from anywhere, and they’re based on your grades and test scores. These are the kinds of scholarships that have GPA requirements and ask for your test scores.
  • Need-Based: These scholarships can come from anywhere, and they’re based on your family income. Some scholarships exist specifically for families that have financial need, and they help those families cover expensive college costs.
  • Athletic: These you get for accomplishments in sports. The best way to get them is through the NCAA. Talk to your coach about getting into the NCAA clearinghouse if you want to do college sports.
  • Miscellaneous: Other scholarships go into this category, and can be based on all sorts of things ranging from your major of choice to your religious preferences. My friend got a scholarship for being tall!

Pretty much every big company has a scholarship available if you know to look for it. The easiest way to find these is just go to Google and type in the name of the company followed by the word “scholarship.”

The next way to look for scholarships is to type in the name of your major, or an activity that you participate in (like working with the Red Cross), followed by the word “scholarship.”

Once you’ve exhausted those, you can start using the scholarship search engines like Zinchand

Decoding Those Financial Aid Awards

By now, a lot of seniors are starting to get their financial aid awards back from different colleges. Usually, the award has a few different kinds of numbers on it, and it’s not always clear what you’re getting.

We’ve already talked about what kinds of financial aid there are in a number of different posts. Now, we need to talk about how you actually accept the aid you get from your school.

The letter is usually on paper, but a lot of schools are doing it online too. Here are the kinds of things you might see on the award:

  • Federal Pell Grant – This is the main grant you get from your FAFSA. Students nationwide get this grant.
  • FSEOG Grant – This is a grant for students with extra financial need. It stands for Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant.
  • ACG Grant – This one is for students who completed the distinguished program at their high school or a different kind of rigorous academic program. It stands for Academic Competitiveness Grant.
  • Other Grants – You may see other grants on your award letter. You should always accept grants, because you don’t have to pay them back!
  • Scholarships – Any scholarships given directly from the school should be listed here. You generally won’t see any scholarships you got outside of the college unless you reported them to the financial aid office. If you did get other scholarships, remember to figure those numbers into your award too!

Everything else on the list you will have to earn or pay back later, so be careful when you see these:

  • Work Study – If you’re planning to get a job, work study is super awesome and you should do it. Especially if it’s a choice between work study and an unsubsidized loan, get work study!
  • Perkins Loan – If you have to take a loan, this is the best kind. It doesn’t accrue interest that you have to pay until six months after you graduate from college.
  • Stafford Loan – This is the second best kind of loan. The interest rate is a bit higher, but you still don’t have to pay any interest for this until after you graduate.
  • PLUS Loan/Parent Loan – This is a loan that your parents can pay to help you afford college. They don’t get any of the benefits you do from unsubsidized loans like Perkins or Stafford, and they have to pay interest as soon as you start getting the loans. Only do this kind of loan if you really have to.
  • Unsubsidized Loan – These loans start accruing interest as soon as you get the money for them (like the parent loan, except you have to pay it). That means that every month you have the loan, it costs a little bit more money. If you have to take an unsubsidized loan, be sure to think about how you are going to pay it back. If you don’t really need it, don’t take it.

Okay, that’s a lot of different kinds of things, but I hope it helps you understand what you’re seeing on your award letter!

What’s the Deal with Scholarships and Priority Deadlines?

Application deadlines are just around the corner! It’s really important to know about college priority deadlines and scholarship deadlines. Why are they so important? It can help your chances of getting in and also determine whether or not you get extra scholarships from your school!

Let’s start by talking about normal college deadlines. A college deadline is just the final day that they’ll accept your application. If you turn your stuff in after the deadline, they won’t look at it. Okay, that’s pretty simple, so what are priority and scholarship deadlines, exactly?

The main difference that you’ll see is that these deadlines are always earlier, usually by a month or more. Colleges post early deadlines for two main reasons. Priority deadlines allow the college to review a batch of applications before the tidal wave of all the other ones hit them. If you’re part of the early group, you’ll get first dibs on being accepted to the school, and you’ll get more attention and consideration given to your application.

The other kind of deadline, the scholarship deadline, is just as important! If a college has one, you have to apply by this date if you want to be considered for scholarships that the school offers. Many colleges and universities have their own specific scholarships, and you can only get them if you’re eligible for them AND you applied by the scholarship deadline. If you miss this deadline, you can still get financial aid, but you won’t be eligible for the extra ones the college offers, so make sure to get your application in early!

So how do you figure out if a school has a priority or scholarship deadline? The easiest way I’ve found so far is to check the College Board’s college search. You can just type in the name of a college on the “College Quickfinder” on the right. Then, when you pull up the school’s profile, you just click on the “Deadlines” tab to find out all of their deadlines. If you want to be absolutely sure, though, you should call the school’s admissions office directly.


I know many of the high school students I work with are getting prepared to fill out the FAFSA. This can be a very overwhelming process, but it is essential to making sure you explore your options for financing your college education. There is so much to cover when it comes to FAFSA, so I am going to start with four steps to help you prepare to file your FAFSA.

You may be asking, “What is the FAFSA?” The FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. By filling out this form, you’re applying to get assistance from the federal and state government. This money can help you to pay for your postsecondary school in a number of ways: tuition and fees, room and board, books and other expenses. The FAFSA is now available to be filled out at


When you are filling out the FAFSA, you are applying for federal and state aid. It is critical for you to know when your deadlines are, because if you don’t submit your application on time, you may not qualify for aid. You can talk to your high school counselor for this deadline.


Getting a PIN (Personal Identification Number) is very important when dealing with the FAFSA. This PIN allows you to:

  • Sign your FAFSA online
  • Sign federal student loan contracts or review your loans in years to come
  • Find out where your FAFSA application is in the completion process
  • Make changes to your FAFSA after it has been filed

You should do this before you sit down to fill out the FAFSA!  Go to to apply today!


Oftentimes, high schools or local libraries will host financial aid presentations to help you and your parents get a better idea about your options for financing college. The people giving the presentations are the experts! Take advantage of them and ask questions about your next steps in the process.


As you begin to hear back from schools, there will be financial information for you to review and understand. Most schools will include information about your financial aid office and their contact details. If not, your school’s website will have a main toolbar or link that will direct you to the Financial Aid Office.  I tell my students that the financial advisers at their institution should be their new best friends. They know the ins and outs of the FAFSA and are willing to help you. If you are unsure how to answer a question, call your school’s financial aid office.

These four steps are just a few tips to completing the FAFSA, but hopefully they get you off on the right foot.

Types of Financial Aid

For high school seniors, April brings showers and financial aid packages. Here’s a refresher or crash course on financial aid. There are four main types of financial aid:

  • Scholarships. Scholarships provide money to talented or high-achieving students based on grades, test scores, or another special set of skills or performance. Colleges want to recruit the best students, so they offer money as an incentive. These are great – they don’t need to be paid back!
  • Grants. Like scholarships, they don’t need to be paid back. That’s awesome! The big difference is that grants are usually awarded based on financial need. The Pell Grant awarded through the FAFSA from the U.S. Department of Education is an example, but universities can give out their own grants too.
  • Work-study. Work-study gives you the opportunity to pay some of your college costs through working part-time at the college or university. Many jobs on college campuses are filled by students doing work-study. I had friends who did work-study as library clerks, cafeteria workers, theater stagehands, computer help-desk workers, as assistants for professors, and tons more.
  • Loans. Many students take out educational loans in order to pay for college. Loans need to be repaid, usually with interest. Use the other forms of financial aid and any money in your own savings first. Stop to think about how much you are borrowing and how much you are likely to earn after graduation. Never take out more than you can pay back.

In addition to these four types of financial aid, colleges will sometimes lower their cost of attendance in other ways, for instance, some universities will give in-state tuition even to certain out-of-state students.

If you’re uncertain about some part of the financial aid you’ve been awarded, always talk to your high school counselor and/or a college financial aid officer (they want to help you go to the college that they work for, so they’re usually very helpful!). It is much better to take a little bit of time to understand your financial aid offer than to agree to something that hurts you later on. Good luck!

College Life

Check My Footwork

I know some of you may love fashion and love to look good, but when you get to college, the situation may change. Why, you might ask? Well, because what you wear to class at the collegiate level is not that important at all.

There is an understanding that if you have an 8:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m. or even a 10:00 a.m. class, there is no need to be the best dressed on campus. A lot of times, students wake up and go to class in sweatpants, basketball shorts or even pajamas. Especially for my friends and myself, we did not care about what we wore to class; we just saved our best outfits for social gatherings or parties.

In college, no one cares about what you have on during class, as long as it looks clean. Something that also must be understood is that it may be too hot or cold for some of the things you want to wear. At the end of the day, you just want to be comfortable. For example, if you notice in some of the pictures, I have on basketball shorts and plain t-shirts, and made it look like something. If you love to dress your best, then you can take anything you have and make it look nice. Always remember that it is not about what you wear, it is about how you wear it.

Fashion might be one thing that you look at when you are deciding what school to go to. The reason is that, if you aren’t comfortable with who you are, you might end up trying to impress people by wearing stuff that you might not like or be able to afford. One thing that I always preach is to be yourself and be comfortable. When that takes place, you will definitely fit in and will not have to worry about anything.

To be Greek or not to be; that is the Question

I’m a proud member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. So, what makes a person want to join a fraternity or sorority? If you want my honest opinion, I would have to tell you that everyone joins for a different reason. I wish I could tell you why, but I can’t. What I can help you decide is if one is right for you or not.

You have probably seen movies about fraternity and sorority life like Old School or Stomp the Yard, but don’t let those be your understanding. Most of the time, when you hear about a fraternity or sorority, the first thing that comes to mind is parties, stepping or improved popularity. The part of a fraternity that seldom gets attention is the community service that each organization does. When I was in college, everyone in my fraternity had to complete at least 50 hours of community service outside of work, schoolwork and maintaining a social life. Being Greek can be very tiring, but it’s a great source of networking and other benefits.

Each fraternity and sorority has its own set of rules, principles and ideals. For example, my fraternity believes in scholarship, brotherhood and service, and our motto is “Culture for Service and Service for Humanity.” We also believe in excelling in education (you have to maintain a 2.5 GPA to join and stay active), being there for your fellow members and for others, and giving back to the community as much as you can.

Please note that you don’t have to be in a fraternity or sorority to fit in at school. No one will make a big deal if you are or aren’t. When I was on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, only 16 percent of students were in Greek organizations. Just know that it’s a lifetime commitment to join one, but it’s not necessary to join at all. Let the decision be yours and not anyone else’s. If you need more help, check out this article.

What’s the Deal with…Study Abroad?

For many students, moving away from home to live on a college campus with an unknown roommate is enough of an adventure. For others, and for those emboldened by the success and fun of their dorm and college experience, college provides a great opportunity to experience a new country and culture – and get college credits at the same time! So, what’s the deal with study abroad?

First of all, students should know that most four year colleges and universities offer, or at least allow, study abroad programs. If you aren’t sure if your college offers study abroad – ask!

Second, you should know that many colleges include the costs of your study abroad program in your tuition costs. This means that, in many cases, you only pay the cost of your normal college attendance to live and go to school in another country. Some schools will even provide a travel stipend if your trip requires airfare costs. Schools’ policies on this vary, so check with your college to make sure.

Third, study abroad is a great way to travel – especially if this is your first experience outside of the country. International travel can be very complicated and confusing; not only might there be a language difference, but you will also encounter varying passport and visa policies, cultural practices and forms of transportation. For example, I decided that I wanted to study abroad in India. By traveling through a study abroad program, I was able to see places and do things that I would have NEVER been able to had I gone alone – and I also received guidance on respecting local customs. Also, it was nice to have a group of friends when I felt overwhelmed or homesick.

Fourth, there are tons of different study abroad programs. Some last a semester, and others last a full year. Some are simply an exchange from one campus to another, where students live in dorms and attend classes at a university just like they would in the United States. Other programs emphasize host family residency, or have their own classrooms and teachers – and some even break out of the classroom, emphasizing independent research or international aid/service activities. Every program is different, so chances are there is a program that will work for you!

If study abroad is an interest of yours, it may also help you choose the right college. As you visit colleges, ask if the school offers study abroad, and how supportive they are of students partaking in it. Other questions should include how many students study abroad, how easy it is to transfer credits, if the school only works with certain study abroad programs, and how the schools calculate study abroad costs. You also need to think about your career and major. For example, many of the pre-medicine students at my college didn’t study abroad because they were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to meet all of their course requirements for their majors and graduate on time. Find out from your college if it’s easy for students in your planned major to participate in a semester or year abroad program. If not, that doesn’t mean you can’t partake in study abroad programs, but it may mean that you should explore your school’s offerings for summer or winter break programs.

What’s the Deal with…ROTC?

Many students struggle with the decision of whether to go to college or serve in the military. Some fear that college will be unaffordable and see the military as way to obtain vocational training. Some simply want to serve their country by participating in the armed forces as soon as possible. And others just want to travel! What many students don’t know, however, is that you can obtain a college degree and be in the military at the same time – and you can even get scholarship money for doing so!

In this post, I will brief you on the various Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (a.k.a., ROTC) programs available to students who qualify.

ROTC programs are offered by the Army, the Navy (which also encompasses the Marine program) and the Air Force. If you participate in an ROTC program, you will be given the rank of officer in your branch of service once you have completed your college education and other ROTC training requirements (this rank takes YEARS to attain for those who enlist straight out of high school, and the pay is MUCH better).  Even better news – if you quality for an ROTC scholarship, the military will pay up to the entire cost of your college education, as well as provide you with a monthly stipend for books and living expenses.

Here are some other things you should know about ROTC programs:

  • Only certain colleges, universities and trade schools participate in ROTC, and many campuses only host one military branch. Check the military ROTC Web site and/or your prospective schools’ Web sites to see which colleges participate.
  • ROTC participants must either qualify for ROTC programs straight out of high school (by meeting certain academic, standardized testing and fitness requirements), or, in some cases, college students can participate in ROTC classes and work their way into the scholarship program.
  • ROTC students must fulfill certain requirements during college, which may include taking military education courses, attending morning Physical Training sessions, training during the summer or another break – and, of course, maintaining certain college GPA requirements.
  • If you receive an ROTC scholarship, you will be required to serve in the military following graduation (after all, you’ll be a trained officer). The general requirement is four years of active-duty service and four years of reserve service after college, but check with your college’s ROTC office to confirm specific details.
  • If you receive the ROTC scholarship as a high school graduate, you have until the end of your first year of college to decide whether or not you want to stay in the program. If you quit, you won’t be penalized.
  • If you drop out of college or fail your classes after your first year, you may be required to pay back your scholarship as loans or enlist.

So, what to do next? Talk to the ROTC office at the college you’re interested in attending. You can also meet with a local recruiter, but campus offices will know more about their specific requirements and scholarship availability. If you’re a younger student, make sure you’re taking a competitive, college-preparatory curriculum; this will not only help you get into college, but will also help you to meet the ROTC’s SAT/ACT test score requirements. Finally, do your homework. The military is a big commitment (just like college!), so you want to make sure that you’re informed about your choice.

The Social Stuff

So…you’ve made stellar grades in high school, blew the SAT and ACT out of the water, received acceptance to your first choice school, survived move-in day and are in the throes of college life. For the next four years, your life will consist of eating and studying, with a bit of sleep whenever you can catch five minutes, right? Perhaps…if you’re a martian!

Smart college students know that college life is all about balance. Of course, the first semester will require a huge adjustment, as you become accustomed to bigger classes, a heavier course load (especially reading) and living on your own for the first time. All of those changes can be stressful; you will find the need to relax and blow off some steam from time to time. You may find relief in working out and staying physically fit. You may find that you really enjoy hanging with members of an organization that you decide to join. There are also tons of opportunities to attend concerts, poetry readings, step shows and almost any other event or festival you can imagine, usually for free or at a low cost. However, you may also find that, once in a while, you feel like getting in touch with your inner dancing queen (or king), and you want to attend a college party.

As I searched for articles to link to this post, I was somewhat disappointed to find that many of the articles I found either advocated the “anything goes” mentality of college nightlife, or targeted parents with advice on how to talk to you about partying in college. Therefore, in an effort to broaden the conversation, I’d like to share the three most important lessons I learned as an undergraduate partier:
Yes, you can party every night…but you probably shouldn’t. Generally, you can probably find a social event on your campus every night of the week. However, as a freshman, you’ll probably also be stuck with at least one 8 a.m. class, and if you’re up late every night painting the town red, believe me, your classroom performance will be affected. Make a pact with your friends that Friday or Saturday will be your party night and stick to it. At the end of the semester, you’ll be glad that you got your rest and that your class notes are in order as you prepare for the final exam.

If you’re not 21, you should not be drinking! You will probably face pressure to drink, and it can be tough to say no. Personally, I chose not to drink before I was 21, because I have a terrible fear of going to jail and I just don’t look good in prison orange. In addition to facing legal issues for drinking underage (and for engaging in other activities as a result of your drinking), you can face a multitude of other consequences, some of which are outlined in this article. On the other hand, when you are 21 and you can legally drink, know that drinking brings with it a whole new world of responsibility. I don’t want to preach to you, but I want you to understand that while drinking in moderation can be a fun way to enjoy a social event, you must also be safe and smart. 

There is way more to your college social life than partying. I admit, I got a lot of partying out of my system during my freshman year. It was exciting to be able to make my own rules and stay out as late as I wanted. However, after a while, I discovered that there was a whole other social scene that I had completely ignored: a capella groups, spoken word performances, dance presentations, lectures, the list goes on and on. I even found myself joining a few organizations, including some of the campus magazine staffs and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Incorporated. I found that just as I needed to maintain balance between my work and my social time, I also needed to maintain balance within my social life, between parties and other cultural events. I’m happy to say that, as I look back on my four years at UNC, I have fond memories of taking part in a wide variety of activities, some of which I never thought I’d consider.

The best thing about college is that there’s probably an organization of people who share your interest in almost everything and, if there isn’t, you’re usually encouraged to create one. What are some of the activities you look forward to participating in?

Moving Away to College

This past week has been an emotional roller coaster. I have been happy, excited, nervous, sad and even a little scared. The reason I have been feeling this way is because I am on my way to New York City for graduate school (I am currently in Chicago visiting some awesome friends) – and I am happy, excited, nervous, sad and scared about the journey I am about to embark on.

At the age of 25, this is the first time I am really leaving my family and friends (I was fortunate that the University of California at Berkeley was only a 30-minute drive away). And, although I had my own apartment and lived on my own with roommates during college, this is the first time that I’ve moved really far away from home.

Going all the way across country can be scary for anyone. But, now that I am in the process of transitioning to my new home, I realize that although it is scary and nerve-wracking, overall this will be an amazing learning and growing experience. That being said, I wish I would have done it earlier, and I encourage anyone who has ever wanted adventure, independence and growth in their life to consider moving away for college.

Like me, some of you may already be in the process of moving away. If you want some advice on how to make the transition a little easier, take a look at the following list:

  • Start Early: Start packing up and cleaning out your room early so you are not rushed the last couple of days before your move. This is a time to purge, get rid of or donate stuff that you no longer use.
  • Pack Light: If you’re flying like me, you will be lugging around your own luggage, so save yourself the trouble. And remember, most airlines also charge for checked baggage. Look for flights on airlines that allow one or more bags free.
  • Clothing: One way to pack light is to only take what you really need. If you will be in a place that gets really cold – like New York City – plan on possibly shipping a box with warmer clothing closer to winter time. Or, if you plan on coming home before then, consider picking it up on your trip back. Remember, your dorm room will have limited closet and storage space (also, on your trip back, you may want to bring back clothes that you will no longer use).
  • New Purchases: If you need to make new purchases, like rain boots or school supplies, consider waiting until you arrive at your final destination. I made the mistake of purchasing heavy rain boots prior to leaving California, and now I have to ship them to myself since I did not have space for them. You can also order stuff online and have it shipped to you at your dorm after you arrive.  
  • Plane Tickets: Book your flights early! The earlier you book, the cheaper it will be. I like using websites that allow you to compare prices with various airlines. Also, when buying tickets to go home during the school year, anticipate what your academic schedule will be like before booking—you do not want to accidentally book before a midterm exam.

For those of you on your way to college now, or for middle or high school students thinking about college, I hope these tips help. I will be sure to fill you in, on my next post, about my actual transition into the dorm.

Getting Involved

Many of you are ready to embark upon your first semester of college life. Several posts have talked about the importance of getting involved in campus activities such as athletics, clubs and community service activities, but many students wonder how they’ll integrate themselves into campus life as they settle in. Fortunately for you, colleges make it pretty easy! In this post, I’ll outline some of the ways in which you can get involved in campus life, and why it’s so important to do so.

To get started, let’s talk about why extracurricular activities in college are such a great idea. First, and most obviously, they’re among the best ways to make friends. Joining clubs, playing sports and committing to community service activities allows you to connect with people who share similar interests and who might become lifelong friends. Second, extracurricular activities provide a productive use for your spare time. Although the open schedule of college life can allow you a great deal of time to keep abreast on the up-to-the-minute happenings of your friends on Facebook or watch all of the seasons of Scrubs on Hulu, these activities are a time-suck that often can interfere with more productive activities (like homework!), and aren’t really going to help you in the long-run. Finally, if you haven’t heard, the current job market isn’t the greatest – especially for college graduates with little work experience. Taking the time to involve yourself in leadership activities on campus and internships over the summer can set you apart from other applicants, and can help you secure that job after graduation.

So, how do you get involved? The easiest way to get involved in campus activities is to attend your college’s activity fair. These generally occur within the first weeks of school (and sometimes during the first weeks of each semester), and are often the only time where you see all of the school’s activities represented in one place. Activity fairs allow you to see which clubs are available, allow you to chat with some of the members to see if they’re the type of people with whom you could see yourself getting along, and allow you to maintain non-committed but engaged with various clubs by signing up for their e-mail lists. Plus, clubs often offer free food!

If you missed your school’s activity fair, make sure to check out your college’s website – usually the Student Life section – to learn more about activities on campus and to check out their clubs’ webpages. Some student life sections even have e-newsletters or campus calendars to keep you posted on upcoming events. If your college’s student life website isn’t up-to-date, stop into the actual student life office or the community service and career centers to get more information on how to get involved. And remember – it’s usually never too late to join a club, so don’t be afraid to show up to meetings mid-semester!

Finally, keep in mind that there are many events on campus that aren’t exactly clubs, but are important to stay involved with, nonetheless. Most colleges host music, cultural or academic events such as talks, film screenings, concerts, roundtables, dances or food tasting events that are usually cheap or free to attend, and help to expand your horizons. Don’t think that learning stops in the classroom – these events provide some of the most memorable times of your college experience, and can also help you to make new friends and meet new people.

First-Year Tips

Over my two years as a college adviser, my job has allowed me the opportunity to sit in on a lot of student panels from recent high school graduates who are finally getting their footing into college life. I believe these panels have been some of the most interesting and informative sessions of my career, and I always encourage high school seniors to really pay attention to what college freshman have to say about their transition from high school to college. I wanted to create a brief list of helpful recommendations that I have heard in some of these sessions as a simple overview of what to expect your freshman year:

  • In most cases, your professors will not treat you like many of your high school teachers do. Many college professors give a syllabus the first day of class outlining the dates for the rest of the year, and fully expect students to keep track of test and assignment dates without any reminders.
  • If you are living with a roommate, expect to have to get used to some of their living habits. Don’t be afraid to talk to your roommate if their habits are bothering you in any way. If you aren’t able to reconcile your differences living together, get another roommate!
  • Study! College classes often cover larger portions of information in shorter amounts of time, so be prepared to develop your study habits. Learn your best study habits, and utilize them as best as possible. Schedule your classes around your study habits too.
  • If you are feeling homesick, it’s ok to go home every once in a while. Moving to a new place can be frustrating or scary in the beginning, so don’t be afraid to go back home if you need a break from college life. Your friends and family will be happy to see you.

What’s Studying Abroad Like?

I get asked this question all the time. When students hear that I traveled to another country to go to school, it’s a huge surprise for them. Many of the students I work with haven’t even left their home city, let alone the country!

If you haven’t read my introductory post, you should know that I traveled to England for my first year of college. I didn’t join a study abroad program with any school; I just signed up for school, got on a plane, and moved there. To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was doing, and it made life much harder for me as I had to pay for everything out of pocket and I didn’t have any kind of backup or safety net.
When I arrived, I felt some culture shock, because it turns out that not everybody in England talks like they do on TV!

Everyone’s accents were way different than mine, and even though we were speaking the same language, it was hard for me to understand what people were staying sometimes. I also felt pretty homesick because I didn’t know anyone.

That sounds pretty scary, right? It really wasn’t so bad, though. Making friends was actually super easy, and I ended up relaxing and enjoying myself pretty soon into my stay there. Also, I was so busy with my classes, adventuring, and meeting people that I didn’t have time to miss my previous home. If you’re planning to do a study program through a school, you’ll also be living with other students from your school, so you’ll have plenty of people to get friendly with before you venture out into the new city!

A lot of European countries have good public transportation, and so if you’re going there, it’s really easy to travel and visit new places. I got to sightsee just about all the time when I wasn’t busy with something else. If you’re studying abroad anyway, you should definitely think about visiting other cities and nearby countries if you can. There’s so much to see and do, and you’re in the perfect place to do it!

I had to pay for pretty much everything out of my own pocket during the trip, but most study abroad programs will cover all your costs with the initial fee. It might seem kind of pricey, but you can apply for financial aid and scholarships to help you pay for it! That would definitely have made my life a lot easier if I had known that.

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience of going to school at another country. Would it have been better for me to have signed up for an actual Study Abroad program at another university? Probably. I would have had more access to financial aid and been able to meet other students in the same program. Either way, I had an absolutely awesome time, and I’d recommend studying abroad to everybody!

Living in the Dorms

College is around the corner, and it’s time to start thinking about where you’ll be living and what you’ll be doing when you start living on or near a college campus!  I lived at a dorm for my first year at the University of Texas. It was totally different than my life at home, and it took some getting used to. So what exactly is living at a dorm like?

The Good

The Roommate: I didn’t know my roommate until the day I met him, which made for an interesting experience. He was from China, and we had totally different lifestyles.  Despite our different backgrounds, we got along well for the most part.

The most important thing to talk about with a roommate is not just personal habits, but SLEEPING HABITS. If you and your roommate go to sleep at totally different hours, you’ll keep each other up all the time! Talking about this at the beginning is a great way to get to know each other, and an even better way to ensure that your living situation is one that you are happy with.

The Location: The thing I loved the most about the dorm was how close it was to everything. Since it was on campus, I was just a five minute walk away from most places I wanted to go. My dorm also had an activity center with pool tables and Ping-Pong tables which was great for meeting people and having fun with my friends.

The Neighbors: I had neighbors who were fun to hang out with, and I saw a lot of the same people in local clubs and activities. Living in a dorm is a great way to meet interesting people to become friends with!

The Bad

The Cooking Situation: I really love to cook, and unfortunately, it’s not super easy to do that at a dorm. There was a cooking station on the third floor (I was on the bottom floor) and I didn’t want to lug all my cooking stuff upstairs every time I wanted to make something.

The Neighbors: Although I met lots of cool neighbors, some of them liked to party more than me and kept me up at night sometimes. Living so close to lots of people means it’s easy to meet people, but also means you deal with their sleeping schedule too, so it’s good and bad.


I liked living at the dorms. There was a lot to do and it was so easy to get where I needed to go quickly. A few things (not being able to cook) made me decide to move out after a year. Everyone’s experience is different, though! I recommend that everyone live in a dorm at least once just to see what it’s like. If you love it, you can stay! If you don’t, you can always move out after the year is over.

Being Active on Campus

As I look back on my college career, my fondest memories are the ones that occurred outside of class. Not that I didn’t enjoy my classes – I certainly did. I was just so amazed at how much fun I had interacting with other students on campus instead of staying in my dorm room alone.

My first year of college, I didn’t do a whole lot. I spent most of my time on my computer after class, only going out to occasionally see my friends from high school. My inactivity turned to laziness; and my grades showed it. I truly wasn’t enjoying my time at college – I went home nearly every weekend, and wasn’t making the friends I wanted to make.

After my first year, I decided that I needed to branch out. I started by auditioning for shows through UGA’s Theatre Department. I was fortunate enough to get cast my first time out, and never looked back. The friends that I made in the department encouraged me to try out for other shows as well. I began acting in student-run productions, and I got into a student-run improv troupe! I was so busy – but I didn’t care. My grades improved and I realized I worked better when I had less time to goof off. I was able to balance my social life, extracurricular activities and classes – it was great! By the end of my college career, I had acted in six University Theatreshows, two student-run shows and 12 shows with my improv troupe. I even became captain of the improv troupe in my last year!

Colleges have so much to offer every student on campus, but you have to be active to find out where you fit in. Don’t miss the opportunity to meet new people, explore new places and branch out while you are at college!

How Do I Make Friends in College?

Here’s a question that so many people wonder about before they set foot on a college campus (I know I did). The idea of going to a school that’s in a new city or a state, or (gulp) a new country can be scary if you don’t know a lot of people there.

So, what do you do? I’ve got a list of tips for you, but first I want to make an important point. Everybody else will be just as nervous as you. Most of the people in your classes and dorm won’t know that many people yet, and they’ll be worried that they won’t make any friends either. You’re not alone!

Also, you have one huge advantage in making friends at college: you always have something to talk about! Everybody you talk to is doing the same student thing you are, so you can always talk about your major or the best place to eat or study.

With all of these things in mind, here are some tips for making friends on campus:

  • Sit next to someone on your first day of class and trade numbers or e-mails with them. This is the perfect opportunity to meet somebody new, and you’ve got a good excuse! You can introduce yourself and say that you want somebody to exchange notes with in case one of you is absent. This is a great way to start chatting and finding out what they’re interested in. If you do this in every class, you’ll have 4 or 5 new friends on day one!
  • Join student organizations! Oh man, this is really the best way to meet interesting people. I met so many people this way and made a lot of good friends too!
  • Check out events. There are lots of events like movies, plays, fundraisers and public speakers on campus that bring students to see what’s up. You should too! These are all opportunities to talk to people who are there and find out what’s going on. You can just walk up to somebody and ask, “Hey, I just stumbled on this event, what’s it about?” and go from there. Whether they know about the event or not, it’s a good excuse to start chatting with them!
  • You will wait in line for stuff, be it to get food or change your schedule, or get tickets for something. The people in line are probably as bored or as nervous as you, so this is a good opportunity to see what they’re all about. I made some interesting friends just chatting with people in the lunch line, and you can too!

Making new friends takes courage, but so did getting into college. You’ve got what it takes!

Motivation and Inspiration

College still means a lot to me.

As I am just about to finish up my third year out of college (time flies by so fast!), I am still amazed by how much I changed over my four years at the University of Georgia. I continue to reap the rewards of the friendships I made, and the work ethic I gained through my course work has continued to impress all of my “real-world” employers. I cannot stress enough the importance of finding motivation and seeking inspiration throughout your college career.

I have previously touched on my early lack of motivation in college, and how being active on campus helped me become a better student, but my search for motivation in college was more complex than that. While I was really impressed by how hard some of my peers worked to do well in their classes, I learned that I had to find my own motivation for doing well in school. I found college to be more challenging than I ever imagined, so I had to motivate myself to become a better student. Don’t get scared away by the difficulty of college – make it a challenge you are willing to take on!

Finding inspiration through my professors and my peers helped make my college career more fulfilling too. In my first semester, I had a Pulitzer Prize-winning professor! I was astounded by how passionate he was about his class and I was intimidated by how much work he expected me to do for his class. While I wasn’t as interested in the subject matter as he was, I was inspired by his passion to teach a room of more than 300 students. This class inspired me to take more academically challenging classes throughout my college years, in hopes of finding inspiration in the classes I least expected.

What’s the Deal with…Student Organizations?

So, you might have some clubs or organizations at your high school that you participate in. Every school is different and some schools allow certain clubs and not others. Most high school clubs require a teacher to be a sponsor. College is different in that you can start your own organization without needing someone else to sponsor you. As a result, college campuses usually have tons of awesome clubs that you can join, and if you don’t find what you like, you can make your own!

When I first got to UT, I didn’t know anybody. I was worried that I wouldn’t make a lot of friends and end up really lonely, but that went right out the window after I joined a few clubs. I generally recommend that everyone do what suits them best, but college organizations are something that everyone needs to try out at least once. Some of my best experiences at college happened thanks to the friends I made when I joined and interacted with different student organizations.

The first club I joined was the UT Ballroom club, where I learned how to dance all sorts of formal dances like Tango, Waltz, Salsa, Cha-Cha, Swing Dance and more. I met lots of really cool people and got a good work-out with all the dancing.

Something else I did was a club called El Cafecito, which was a Spanish speaking club. I got to meet students and teachers of Spanish and just hang out with them in a café learning to speak in Spanish. It was great practice and a lot of fun, because it was so relaxed. Being able to sit near high-level speakers also helped me improve my own Spanish.

During all that, I even started my own club! It was called the Rhetoric and Writing Society, which was the first Rhetoric department club that had ever been started. We watched the presidential debates and worked to help promote the Rhetoric major to new students as well as being a fun social group for all of the current Rhetoric majors.

Student organizations are a huge part of college life. There’s a club for just about anything you can think of in college, and you can always start your own if there isn’t. The people you’ll meet and the experiences you’ll get from joining these organizations will change your life for the better, so be sure to give them a try!

The Perks of Going Greek

TOGA! TOGA! TOGA! TOGA! Is this one of scenes you visualize when you hear someone mention college Greek life? Many people form their ideas of Greek life from images they see in the media (i.e., Stomp the Yard, School Daze, GREEK, Animal House), but these sources rarely show the more realistic parts of Greek life. I joined my sorority (Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.) as a junior, and I quickly learned that there is more to being Greek than step shows and toga parties.

Community Service

When I used to see Greeks wear their paraphernalia around campus, I thought they didn’t do much more than wear sweatshirts and engage in social activities. Once I became Greek, I realized that this is probably one of the worst misconceptions out there. Did you know that most Greek organizations participate in community service activities on a regular basis? In many instances, service to the community is the foundation of the organization! For instance, my sorority’s slogan is “Greater Service, Greater Progress” and we pride ourselves for our involvement in many national campaigns, such as theMarch of Dimes and National Bone Marrow Donor Program. If you love getting involved in community service, and want to do it with a large group, consider joining a fraternity or sorority.

Networking Opportunities

If you join a Greek organization, you are not only joining the chapter on your campus, you are forming a bond with people across the nation and even around the world in some instances. This provides the perfect environment for networking! Networking is one of the most important skills that you can develop as an undergrad. Who you know can lead to summer internships, potential jobs after college or even a sofa to crash on when you need to go out of town. Going Greek provides many opportunities for networking, mainly at conferences where undergrads have the chance to mingle with professional members of their organization. If you have a chance to network with your brethren, make sure you take advantage of it!

Leadership Building

I am pretty sure that most people are aware of the importance of leadership roles in high school. But what you might not think about is the fact that holding office during college is an important factor when applying to jobs and graduate schools. When you hold an executive position in an organization, you are demonstrating your potential as a leader. This allows you to show others your skills regarding time management and organization, as well as leadership. Going Greek provides many instances where you can step up and become more to your organization than just a general member. Just think, all the offices that exist in your traditional student organizations like President, Vice President, etc., are present in fraternities and sororities - and they need determined students like you to fill them.

Friends for Life

In my opinion, this is one of the most important aspects of Greek life. Sure, when you join an organization, you instantly gain thousands and thousands of brothers and/or sisters nationwide; but what’s truly special is the brotherly/sisterly bond you form with a select few. The type relationships where you genuinely feel like a member of your organization is a member of your family. Creating such bonds is the best part of Greek life, and it is what really makes going Greek a special privilege.
Stay tuned for an upcoming post discussing the different types of Greek organizations. In the meantime, can you tell me what you think about potentially going Greek?

Managing the College Lifestyle

A big sticking point for me when talking to students about going to college is how different college life is from high school life. I want to take a few minutes to highlight the main difference I noticed between my time in high school and my time in college: managing the college lifestyle.

High school can certainly be challenging, but college is challenging in different ways. I graduated in 2004 from Central High School in Macon, Georgia, through an International Baccalaureate program, which is essentially one of the most rigorous degree programs a student can go through at the high school level. While my high school degree certainly prepared me for the rigors of my college degree, it did not prepare me for living in a college dorm room or help me understand how to manage my time.

It had not even occurred to me before I signed up for my classes (something I never had to do in high school) that I would only be going to class about four hours a day, and that I was free to spend the rest of my time as I chose. I was so used to the school schedule that had been made for me my entire life that I had become dependent on it to survive. At first I attempted to plan my days in college much like they were in high school, but there was so much to do and so many people to see that I quickly became overwhelmed, and struggled to find the extra time I needed to study and prepare for the next day’s events.

It took me about a year to get a grip on how I could manage my free time around my college coursework, so don’t be afraid when college life doesn’t work out exactly how you expect it to. College is full of life-changing experiences, and some of those experiences are gained on the way – embrace your college life and don’t let it overcome you. If you are having difficulty taking it all in, talk with your friends, professors, or even your parents about the transition, and they will be happy to help you in any way they can.

Making New Friends at College

Few high school students end up going to college with enough of their friends to not meet some new people along the way. College is, in my opinion, the greatest opportunity in in your life to network with new groups of people; there are so many people in the world worth meeting, and college could not be a better opportunity to broaden your horizons!

As I’ve talked about before, being active on campus is the easiest way to meet new people. Start with your hobbies; people who enjoy doing the same things as you with their free time are probably the kinds of people you want to see when you are out of class! Find these people through clubs and organizations, or make a club of your own if there isn’t one like it on campus! Colleges supply resources for students to find and interact with one another, so take advantage of this opportunity and look outside your dorm room and outside friends you’ve brought with you to college.

Take opportunities to talk to students in your classes as well. If you are in the same class with someone, chances are you might have the same major or similar interests. Some college majors are so big on campus that you will never meet everyone like you – take some opportunities to introduce yourself to people you haven’t seen before, and you might find yourself a new social circle.

Finally, take some time at college to try new things with friends – their hobbies and interests might be exciting to you! Your new friends might introduce you to a band you’ve never heard about that you end up loving, or work with you on a short story you’ve always wanted to write – college is the perfect time for exploration for how to spend your time and who to spend it with. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

The Commuter Student

Unlike many of my friends, when I attended college I lived at home and traveled to and from school. I am what you would consider a commuter student, but I was still engaged in campus life and in my academic program.

The following table outlines some of the things I experienced as a commuter student:

Although I wasn’t as involved on campus and had to find alternate ways of achieving aspects of the traditional student life, I don’t regret my decision. Some colleges now even have commuter associations that help commuter students stay connected with resources, organizations and events on campus.


As I’ve met with students this year, several have indicated that they would like to know more about campus life. This question is perfectly valid, especially if the student is the first in his or her family to go to college. My instinct is to answer students with a resounding “College is awesome!” but I realize that this statement still doesn’t indicate what campus life is like.

Instead, here is a list of some favorite college moments of mine. I am a little surprised that, when I look back, it’s the little moments that I have become sentimental about.

  • Walking to class freshman year under an umbrella with a new friend, who eventually became one of my best friends
  • Eating as many double chocolate chip cookies from the dining hall as my stomach could handle
  • My first time seeing real snow! Eighteen inches of snow equals epic fun!
  • Traveling to Eugene, Oregon, with the track and field team
  • Two words: Mizzou Football
  • Taking a 2-D design course
  • Grey’s Anatomy watch parties every Thursday in the dorm lounge
  • Being a part of the Summer Welcome legacy (hosted overnight freshman orientation – lots of games, school pride and a variety show)
  • Speaking in hushed tones under the archway of Memorial Union
  • Singing Disney songs on the charter bus while traveling with the track and field team
  • Taking a fibers course – underwater basket weaving!
  • Building a tent in the living room of our apartment with my best friends
  • Chips and queso
  • Mizzou Reads The Tortilla Curtain by T. C. Boyle
  • Walking downtown to get two for one ice cream on Tuesdays
  • Calling my family every week to hear familiar voices and encouragement

Hopefully, these little moments help illustrate a slice of campus life. Everyone creates their own moments to look back on!

Dorm Sweet Dorm

One of the biggest adjustments at college is living with someone. Whether it is a close friend or a complete stranger it’s nerve racking to get used to a new way of living. I know many seniors are intimidated by the idea of rooming with someone so I have created a list of things you can do to make your transition from home to college a bit easier.

Take time to study your college or university’s living options – Many schools offer a variety of living options for incoming freshman. Make sure to research these options before filling out your Housing Application for the Fall. Some schools only allow students to live in the Residence Halls/Dormitories their freshman year while others allow students to live off campus. Hopefully you have had a college tour of your school but if not, check out your college website for an interactive campus tour. These tutorials might help you to see what areas of campus you might prefer and you can use this as a way to help you decide where to live.

Suite Style vs. Community Style Rooms – These two styles are the most common set-ups for college residence halls. The typical layout for a Suite Style is two bedrooms (each with two students) and one bathroom, so four people total share one bathroom. This means you and your roommates are responsible for keeping the bathroom clean. In a Community Style layout each pair of students has their own room and all of the students along one hall share a large community bathroom on the floor. I remember this was a tough decision for me to make as a freshman.  First of all, I thought a community style bathroom meant they were set up like high school locker room showers and I was so nervous. In fact, it is nothing like that at all. They are very private and clean, with individual stalls. Both styles have pros and cons, so you have to pick what is right for you. Many colleges have actual floor plans and dimensions on their website so you can see the set-up of each style of room. Have fun exploring your options!

Fill out the Roommate Survey Carefully - Many schools now offer a roommate survey when you turn in your housing application.  They ask a number of questions. For example: Are you a morning person or a night person? Are you clean or dirty? Would you like a loud roommate or a quiet roommate? The most important thing about these surveys is that you answer them truthfully. You and your roommate will get along a lot better if you are honest about your living style.

Be Cautious! – One of the biggest fears many people have is rooming with a stranger; therefore they room with someone they know from high school or a best friend. Be cautious about doing this. Often, it can be as difficult to live with someone you know as someone you don’t know. Regardless of whether they are your BFF, learning to live in a small space is a challenge and takes patience and communication. A compromise to consider might be living in the same building or on the same floor as a good friend but rooming with a new person.  Although it may seem daunting to live with a complete stranger, some of the best friends you make are complete strangers when you arrive freshman year.

Try to enjoy this new living experience and remember every incoming freshman is nervous about living with a new person. Trust me, you will make some of your best friends in college during your freshman year, so look forward to this new adventure!

Approaching Your Professors

So… you’ve been accepted to a school, submitted your financial aid paperwork, received your aid package, sent your enrollment paperwork and scheduled your classes. There are plenty of social matters to consider for the fall, but one major issue involving your academic life remains: your professor. In this blog, I want to give you some tips on approaching your college professors, and how to let them help you succeed and excel in your studies to make college the best experience possible.

First thing’s first: you are no longer in high school, and you should treat your professors accordingly. This is important not only because they are trained experts in their field (many professors have spent at least 10 years in higher education earning their doctoral degrees), but also for the more practical reason that you are meeting these individuals for the first time and you’ll find that your semester goes much smoother if you practice a little bit of respect. There are four major themes that you should keep in mind when interacting with your college professors:

Use the Right Title. Most of my professors preferred the title “Professor,” but some students address their professors with the title “Doctor,” so you may need to pay careful attention to the way they introduce themselves or how other students refer to them. Some professors may invite you to call them by their first name, but NEVER assume that you should do so because they put their first name on the syllabus or because you hear older students or faculty members addressing them as such. A safe bet is to always call your professor “Professor” until you find that another title is preferred.

Be Proactive. Unlike in high school, your professors in college are not held accountable for making sure that you pass their class or graduate on time (if at all!). In some cases, a professor may seek you out if you’re struggling in their class, but more often you need to keep track of your own academic success. If you fail a test or receive a low grade on a paper, it is your responsibility to meet with the professor after class or during their office hours to see what you can do better next time. If you are concerned about an upcoming test or paper, it is an even better idea to meet with your professor before tests and due dates to ask about test content or to review an outline or draft of a paper. Some professors may have the time to help you out, and others may refer you to a tutor who can spend more time with you. Respect their advice and follow it!

Grow Up. One more major difference between high school and college is that you have to be responsible for yourself. College professors hate it – I repeat, HATE IT – when parents call thinking that they can harass a professor into giving their child an extended deadline or a better grade. You are now responsible for your academic progress and you need to accept that good grades do not come easily in college. If there is truly a problem with severely unfair grading practices and you have tried to speak to your professor to no avail, then you need to take the issue to your advisor, the department chair, or the dean of students and/or provost’s office. Keep in mind, however, that this approach is only for the most serious infractions on the professor’s behalf, and that reporting a professor through these means will likely involve a lengthy and ugly process, and several burned bridges.

Your Professors are Cool People! Sure, your professors deserve respect and you need to become increasingly responsible for yourself in college, but this doesn’t mean you cannot or should not talk to your professors. In most cases, your professors are there because they love what they study and want to share it with others. Don’t be afraid to talk to them after class or visit them during their office hours when you find something interesting in the reading or want to know more about a topic. More importantly, engage in class discussion when there’s a chance. You’ll get more out of college if you read the materials and participate in class, and I promise that you’ll meet some incredible people if you get to know your professors.

A couple extra tips (although I know this is getting long):

Do not friend your professor on Facebook. Although some professors may friend their students, this is quite rare, and many prefer to FB as a means to contact their old students, colleagues and family members – not to see pictures of their current students hanging out with friends until the wee hours of the morning before their test or receiving wall posts that request that class be cancelled. In many cases, they simply won’t friend you back, but play on the safe side and don’t bother asking.

Be wary of professor rating websites. While some students participating on these websites are writing genuine reviews, many are simply angry that they didn’t get an “A.” Be judicious in following their advice.

Success Stories

College Student Interview: Marlon

This week I had the wonderful opportunity to speak to a friend of mine about his educational journey and experiences.  Marlon, my long-time friend since middle school, is currently working on his bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology at San Francisco State University. With his degree, Marlon aspires to open up his own sports gym one day, or to become a head trainer for a major sports team. He also plans to attend graduate school sometime in the near future, and hopes to end up back in his hometown of Palo Alto, CA, to attend Stanford University.

Name & Location: Marlon, Concord, CA
Age: 25
College: San Francisco State University
Major: Kinesiology
Fun College Fact: The food in college is way better than in high school!

What do you wish you would have done differently in high school to prepare for college?

Well, I would have taken more honors classes. Honors English, Honors Physics, etc. These are the types of classes that would have given me the biggest edge before going to college. Also, I would have taken high school a lot more seriously. I thought that I would just be able to turn on the “serious switch” once I got to college, but I realized that the same bad habits I had when it came to studying in high school carried over into college. High school teaches and helps you master study techniques that you will need in college and later in life. If you are not serious about learning and mastering these techniques at the high school portion of your educational journey, it may prove detrimental to your college success, as I found out during my freshman year.

How did you decide that you wanted to go to college?

I am originally from East Palo Alto, CA, which was and still is a really rough city. After seeing so much violence at such a young age, I decided that I wanted to do better. I wanted to have a life like the people I saw on the Cosby Show and Fresh Prince, and I knew that the only way to attain that was to “get smart” as I used to say when I was young. So, I guess did.

The funny thing was that I never thought I would be able to afford college, because I believed it was only for rich kids. But then I found out about scholarships and financial aid. Where there is a will, there is a way, I guess. Yay for free money!

How difficult is college compared to high school?

In my honest opinion, college is not much harder than high school at all. The only difference is that in college, all of the responsibility to get your education falls upon you, the student. No more teachers to hold your hand and scold you when you don’t show up to class, or to blame for your bad grade. As I said earlier, if you don’t have a studious mindset going into college, a mindset you should have developed in high school, then college will prove to be a challenge. If, however, you take care of business in high school and then apply that work ethic at the next level, college will be a breeze. A four-year long, labor-intensive breeze, but a breeze nonetheless.

Do you have any piece of advice for current middle school or high school students?

PUSH YOURSELF! If you honestly feel like you can do more, then do it. Every extra bit of work you do will only help you when it comes time to applying and finally going to college. Also, don’t ever settle. Don’t get into a habit of saying that something is good enough when you honestly know it is not and that you can do better. Some of the best advice I ever got was from my high school history teacher during my senior year and it was, “Never settle for mediocrity. The mediocre rarely come out on top.” Words to live by.

College Student Interview: Felicia

Name/Location: Felicia, San Jose, CA
College: Evergreen Valley College
University of California, Berkeley
Major: Ethnic Studies
Fun College Fact: While studying abroad in South America, Felicia had the opportunity to hike Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Felicia is a recent college graduate who serves as a college advisor in the metropolitan area of San Jose, CA, where she helps high school students go to college. Felicia is currently in the process of applying to graduate school, and plans to continue serving her community as a social worker.

What do you wish you would have done differently in high school to prepare for college?

If I had wanted to be best prepared to attend a four-year university right out of high school, then I would have to say that the effort that I put into high school would have needed to be different. However, I wasn’t motivated in high school as much as I was when I entered community college, so instead I will comment on that. Once I entered community college, I wish I had taken advantage of the resources offered on campus and reached out to current four-year college students attending campuses I was interested in.

How did you decide that you wanted to go to college?

My influences came primarily from my family. I grew up admiring my father’s educational journey. He came here as an immigrant from Mexico as a teenager and put himself through college and later graduate school. Growing up, I knew that he had to overcome many struggles to make it through college and life, and because of his stories I was motivated to continue my education.

How difficult is college compared to high school?

It is hard to compare high school to college because my experiences were completely different. In high school, it feels like there are no choices. You must complete a specific academic plan and there is little room to explore your educational interests. Once you enter college, you experience a new sense of freedom. Some people may find this difficult, because it is up to you to find the motivation to get up every day for school, but for me, I enjoyed every day of college because I decided what I wanted to learn.

Do you have any piece of advice for current middle school or high school students?

Think about why you are in school and what it means to your family. Sometimes school can feel repetitive and unrelated to your interests in life. However, it is important to remember the importance and value of attending school every day and receiving your education. I did not realize just how important college was until the last semester of my senior year in high school. And if I could do one thing differently, I would work harder earlier on so I had the option to apply to universities instead of only community colleges.

College Student Interview: Jazmin

I recently had the opportunity to interview a current community college student in Pittsburg, CA, who had a slightly untraditional path to college. She graduated from a local continuation high school – a school that helps students who are behind on high school credits graduate on time. Her unconventional path led her to another local college, where she hopes to one day transfer to the University of California, Berkeley or to the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Name/Location: Jazmin, Pittsburg, CA
Age: 19
College: Los Medanos Community College
Major: Undecided
Fun College Fact: I secretly hate my speech class! Although it is almost over, I am still terrified to speak in public.

What do you wish you had done differently in high school to prepare for college?

Well, I wish I would have done a lot of things differently.  First off, I wish I would have had the chance to graduate with my classmates, the ones I started with. Unfortunately, my junior year, I found out that if I didn’t move to a continuation high school, I was not going to be able to graduate from high school at all. That being said, I wish I would have studied harder and actually tried to pass my classes the first time around. Scratch that, not just pass, I wish I would have done good enough to have been able to go straight to a four-year college.  In general, I regret not doing well in school the first time around because now I feel like I am behind academically due to the fact that I did not make an effort in high school.

How did you decide that you wanted to go to college?

I decided that I wanted to go to college because I realized that my parents came to this country to try and better their lives. They suffered working two minimum wage jobs just to get us by, because they had no education.

How difficult is college compared to high school?

I don’t think that it is that much different, but you do have less time to learn everything. You have to stay on top of everything yourself. Unlike high school, the teachers in college won’t go out of their way to help you if you are not making an effort to do well. You have to be responsible for doing your own work.

Do you have any piece of advice for current middle school or high school students? I just want to say that school can be a lot of fun, and you may even be tempted to cut class from time to time, but don’t make it a habit. I know this because I lived it. My mistakes reflect on my life today, and if I would have made better choices, I would not have to play as much catch-up in college as I am today.

Although Jazmin struggled in high school, she decided that college would be the best way for her to better her life and make her family proud. She is a prime example for what a student can achieve if they simply put their mind to it. Jazmin is succeeding in college, so why can’t you?

Military & Veterans

Dear Returning Veteran,

Veterans returning home from active combat know they will encounter a significant number of challenges. Although the potential danger many of them have faced on a daily basis has now disappeared, for those I have had the honor to meet and advise, the uncertainty that lies ahead - readjusting to civilian life, learning to reestablish ties with family and friends, choosing a civilian career and seeking employment - can be pretty scary as well.

I tell everyone I counsel that the Post 9/11 GI Bill was designed to take a lot of anxiety out of that transition. The funding available to each veteran who has served on active duty provides a break - up to 36 months of housing allowance, tuition and books - to explore options, new interests, train for a change in career direction, enhance skills in a pre-deployment profession, do some serious thinking or just go off on an intellectual adventure. The American people wanted to give each veteran this opportunity. It is the smallest gift we could offer in return for the service they have given us.

I rarely meet veterans who are not extremely intrigued by the possibility of a college degree. For many, the cost had always been the greatest obstacle. Others lacked the focus and motivation, "I did well in classes that interested me" or "I always managed to pass the tests, I just did not want to do the homework" or "I wanted to do something exciting, to be a part of something important and high school sure wasn't the place I could find that."

Now, thanks to the GI Bill, cost no longer stands in the way. The military has trained service members to focus, organize, and execute as no school could have, and college students get to choose their field of study. Even more important, veterans bring what was exciting and important back with them into the academic communities they join. What they have seen and accomplished in their military careers makes them valuable assets to colleges - inspiring leaders both in and outside the classroom.

BUT, veterans ask me, did I wait too long? Can I remember my math and English? How can I compete with kids who didn't take this post-high school "break" of three, six, ten years? That's when I tell them the good news that my time as an advisor to veterans has taught me your skills are still there. They could probably use a little refreshing but with a few weeks of tutoring and brushing up on these skills, you will be more academically capable than you ever could have been straight out of high school and competition with 18- year-olds will not be a concern.

The first thing I discuss with potential college applicants is location. There are interesting colleges and universities near almost any spot the veteran hopes to settle. Very frequently, I find a veteran has always dreamed of attending a particular school and I never discourage any dream. If the chosen school requires an academic record or standardized test scores the veteran lacks, then a year or two at a nearby community college can both provide that record and prepare the veteran for transition to the four-year school. Many colleges no longer require an SAT or ACT score, and there are adult or continuing education programs at most universities that offer non-traditional entrance doors and permit veterans to demonstrate their capabilities as they go. The most important thing I want veterans to know is: it is not true that college is for "other" people. There is a college or university out there with a spot just for you and you will not only succeed, you will excel. This I know from experience.

When I inform those I counsel that the first thing I want them to do is write a college essay, the response is rarely enthusiasm. The fact is, however, I could publish a book of the most extraordinary essays written by the veterans I have advised. You see, unlike the typical high school applicant, veterans have a story to tell – an important account of trials and accomplishments. That is what the admissions office wants to hear. 1) why did you choose the military instead of college 2) how have you been strengthened and molded by your experience in the service 3) why are you now ready and anxious to take education seriously 4) where do you hope education will lead you? Though some applications describe essays as "optional" – I would never permit an application from a veteran to be submitted without one. An application should highlight the greatest assets of the applicant. A veteran's story, what he or she has experienced, overcome, conquered, is a story no new high school graduate can match.

Letters of recommendation, also often listed as "optional" additions to an application, are equally essential. I tell the veterans, a letter from someone who knows and respects you is usually far stronger than one from someone famous or celebrated who really does not know you personally at all. Most high school students request letters from teachers and if a veteran can contact an old teacher from one of those classes he or she really enjoyed, then that is one excellent possibility. I suggest the veteran send a note or email with some background information to help teachers remember few facts they may have forgotten. A second letter from a commander, a supervisor or battle buddy is always a good choice. A chaplain, pastor or employer might also write a valuable recommendation.

What remains to be gathered are official transcripts from each school the veteran has attended, a military transcript, a completed application form (usually online), and a Post 9/11 GI Bill application (on the VA website FORM 22-1990). I always make sure the veteran has established contact with someone in the admissions office, one who handles military applicants is my first choice.

This process may seem overwhelming at first, but, if you take it step-by-step, you will soon realize you have all the necessary pieces to submit your application and gain acceptance at an institution of higher education. While in the military, you have demonstrated your drive, discipline, perseverance, and ability to successfully overcome obstacles you never thought you would face. Use these skills to accomplish your academic goals, setting yourself up for continued success as you pursue your military or civilian

Heather Bernard
Your College Advisor


Confessions of a First-Generation Latina College Mom

Recently, I was thinking about first-generation college parents and how much information out there is really is targeted to them. In doing in so, it made me think about my parents and their experience with my attending college. This gave me the idea to talk to my mom and ask her about her concerns and overall insecurities with the American college system. My parents emigrated from Mexico and just barely finished middle school, so their knowledge about preparing and applying college was very limited.
There are many parents like mine – parents who cannot even begin to imagine how to help their children. That’s why I thought it would be great to get the first-generation college parent perspective. Keep in mind, there is an indefinite number of concerns that first-generation college parents will have, but here are a few from my mom:

Concern 1: Cost and Paying for College

“I thought we would have to sell our family home…”

Just like any other parent, my mom’s number one concern was money and how we would pay for college. She asked herself, “How is the family supposed to pay for a college education when we were practically living paycheck to paycheck?” To my mother, like many other parents of college students, this was a huge concern that she did not know how to solve.

How to Help

It wasn’t until my junior year in high school that I found out about FAFSA and the various financial aid options available for college students. When learning about those options, it was my turn to inform my parents. This took a huge amount of pressure away from the family, which made them more confident about supporting me in my academic endeavors.

Concern 2: Moving Away from Home

“But mija, what if you get sick? It’s not like I can just hop on a plane to see you.”

Unlike most American families, many Latino families have a difficult time understanding the benefits of letting their child move away to attend college. Or, more importantly, why it is important for a student to find a school that is a good match for them according to their unique criteria. This is something my mother really struggled with, and still does. When I told her I was considering attending the University of California, San Diego (a campus that is an eight hour drive from home) she began to worry. How will I visit you? What if you get sick? What will you eat? Luckily for her (and me), I decided on the University of California, Berkeley, a campus only 30 minutes from home, because ultimately it was the best fit for me.

But now that I am ready to attend graduate school, we have come back to the same predicament — only the campus is much farther away. I have decided to attend Columbia University in New York City, a whopping two-day drive from home. She is still just as concerned with the idea of not being able to just “hop on a plane” whenever I need her, however, she now understands the idea of finding a good match in college programs. She knows that Columbia will equip me with some of the best tools to continue on my desired path of Higher Education Administration.

How to Help

If you need help explaining to your parents why it is important to find the right college for you (no matter the distance), check out this link.

Debunking College Myths

Myth One: I need to know my major by the first day of college.

Did you know that “undecided” is the most common major among freshmen? I entered college wanting to major in Biology, but graduated with a degree in History of Art. A lot will happen within your first year of school. Use the time to take classes that interest you AND meet some of your graduation requirements. Doing this will allow you to explore what different concentrations entail and help you find what is right for you. Besides, at most schools, you don’t have to declare your major until the end of sophomore year!

Myth Two: The bigger the school, the harder it will be to make friends.

Every time I hear this uttered, I say the same thing: “False, false, false, false, FALSE!” While larger institutions aren’t for everyone, those who do decide to attend have a plethora of opportunities to meet people that share common interests. You can find and become a member of clubs on campus that relate to any of your interests (cultural, social or academic). Maybe consider playing the sport you played in high school by joining an intramural team. But one of the best ways to meet friends is through your dorm. If you are sitting in your room, leave your door open so that your fellow hall-mates can stop by, peek in and say hello! Or think about participating in your residential hall association, if you are interested in making change for your peers. Basically, what all of this means is that if you want to find a place for yourself on campus, you need to make sure that you get involved and STAY involved!

Myth Three: The Freshman 15

Just about everyone has heard about the dreaded Freshman 15 (the weight gain that college students experience during their first year of college). This myth is more of a half-truth; meaning it’s as fake as the Abominable Snowman for some, but for others, it is a rough reality. The Freshman 15 is something that can be prevented if you take the right steps! First off, beware of all the free food you will find around campus during the first couple months of school. Overeating is one of main culprits that lead to the F15. Everywhere you go will seem like an all-you-can-eat buffet. The majority of clubs will provide food for their first meeting, which is awesome, but it is up to you to make sure that you don’t go overboard with the pizza at the Squirrel Club meeting. Partner the free food with overindulgence of cafeteria food and late night eating, and you have a recipe for disaster! Making sure you exercise is another way to avoid the F15. Create a playlist of your favorite songs that make you want to move, load it on your iPod, and go to the campus gym or take a lap around campus. More suggestions can be found here.

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