Monday, September 15, 2014

The easiest way to improve your grades (and your college experience)

Read.

And no, I don't just  mean your textbooks (though you should definitely read those!)

You should read books on college success. Or your intended career path. Or anything that can give you new ideas and strategies in order to get where you are trying to go in your life.

Most people think they don't have time to read extra in college because of all the required reading. My advice?

Make time.

I read at least 10 minutes every morning. Sometimes it turns in to 30 minutes and sometimes in to more than an hour. But most days it's just 10 minutes. And while 10 minutes doesn't seem like a lot in a day, in a year you'll be amazed how how much you've read and how much you've learned. 

What astounds me whenever I'm looking for a new book is that the answers to almost anything people are trying to achieve are out there. 

Trying to be successful in community college? There's a book for that.

Trying to stop procrastinating? There's a book for that.

Trying to improve your grades? There's a book for that.

Trying to figure out what kind of career you might like? There's a book for that.

See where I'm going with this? ;)

There are also a lot of great resources online (like this blog... ;)) that you can fit into your reading time.

The key, is simple. Just read. Make it a daily habit.

Start with books that can help you be successful in college. Even if you're already doing great, I promise you will learn a new strategy or get a new idea from the college success books out there.

I was already a straight-A student and Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship winner when I took a College Success class at my community college. And I still learned so many things - things I still use to this day - that helped me be even more effective.

You will severely limit your success and your potential if you just read what's required of you. Read more. Read often. And watch, just watch, what happens. 

Happy reading!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The craziest thing you can do in college

If you're looking for a wild idea for your college experience, one that's right on the edge - risky - that could even cause you to possibly not graduate, then you've come to the right place.

No, I'm not talking about any nutty party antics (did I just say "nutty?"....yeah...you can tell I've never been a party person).

What I am talking about is the craziest thing college students do - something that makes NO sense, and yet something the majority of students do when they start out - myself included.

It's a crazy thing that you should STOP as soon as possible if you want to be successful in college. But for the most part it's impossible to stop until someone tells you why you should.

What am I talking about?

Doing college alone. 

I spoke to students about college completion yesterday and the Student Life Director who hired me told me about a term her colleague had come up with - "PCP students." It stood for their typical college routine:

Parking Lot - Class - Parking Lot.

In my book I call that drive-thru education.

And it's crazy. It's nutty. It doesn't make sense. And it's the most insane thing you can do.

Because NO ONE DOES COLLEGE SUCCESSFULLY ALONE.

College completion is a team sport.

And trying to do it alone is like one football player - no matter how good he might be - trying to play against an entire team. It makes no sense. He doesn't have a chance. He'll lose, and the dangerous part is that he may think it's his fault - that he's not good enough, that maybe he's not cut out for this.

But the truth is that he's trying to play a team sport alone. He could be great with a team. 

The same is true for you.


I think one of the major reasons students drop out of college is they don't understand how to get connected beyond the PCP routine. 

This is especially relevant to commuter students, of which most community college students are. 

When I started community college I was crazy too. I just went to class and went home. I didn't know there was anything more to do. I figured that was basically all that was important.

Class, of course, IS the most important thing in college. BUT - your ability to stay engaged and do your best in class is also affected by the team you've build around you to help you succeed.

I'm talking about having friends to study with, having professors whose offices you can frequent to ask for help and advice, and knowing the right staff throughout the college who can help you manage your entire college experience (e.g. see 15 places you must visit on your college campus).  

Don't be crazy and try to do college alone. Even Harvard students have a team of over six types of mentors to help them navigate the experience. Everyone needs help!!

Here are three steps to start building your team and not be a crazy person ;) ==>

1) Go visit the Student Life office on your campus and ask about clubs and other events and opportunities they offer. Then make it a priority in your schedule to GO. Join your favorite club. Become an officer.

2) Visit your professors during their office hours to ask about advice on an upcoming assignment, check in with a current assignment you're working on to make sure you're on the right track, or ask their advice about a question you're having about college in general. 

3) Build free-time in your schedule next semester in between classes. Do not schedule your classes back-to-back. Space them out to force yourself to stay on campus where you'll have the time to meet people, ask for help, and explore all the hidden opportunities at your college (as well as having important time to do your HW in the library!). As much as possible, try to work only on nights and weekends so you can dedicate your weekdays to having a successful college experience. 

Okay, so stop being a nutty crazy pants and go build your college success team! You're now officially out of excuses, because now you know. ;)

Oh and BONUS tip - my book is literally all about how to build your college success team. It includes how to make friends, exactly what you can ask professors, and sample e-mail scripts to reach out to professional mentors. Check it out here!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Why you should teach a community college class

I just started teaching a College Success course at a community college - the same college where only 9 years ago I was crying in the advising office, wondering where my life was going to go. 

Here's how I feel about teaching so far:

!!!!!!!!!!!! :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D !!!!!!!!!!!!!

Makes sense, yes? I have no words. I know I've only just started, but I'm in love with everything about it already.

A picture I took while preparing for my first class
And like any new endeavor I pursue, I read tons of book about it, and I wanted to share them with you.

I originally planned on sharing them on another outlet since I thought, students won't really care about teaching books, right?

But then, I thought, you know what, I'm GOING to write this article here because I want you to start thinking NOW about teaching a community college course one day.


(In general to teach a community college course you have to have a master's degree and 18 graduate hours in the subject you'd like to teach.)

No matter what your future career, I want to challenge you to teach one community college course sometime in your career (many people adjunct one evening class along with a full time job). 

You certainly don't have to be a community college graduate to be an excellent community college instructor. But here's the thing, if you are a community college graduate, you do know exactly what your students are going through. You can share your success story. You can inspire them. 

And I hope you do. 

We don't graduate college successfully without the help and inspiration of so many. I want to encourage you to pay it forward. It doesn't have to be teaching of course, but I hope now at least you know it's an option.

And for any of the professionals or current faculty members who've stumbled upon this blog, below are the books that I have just LOVED when it comes to learning about what makes a truly great professor. 

1. What the Best College Teachers Do, by Ken Bain
The author did a study of the best college teachers around the country and shares, well, what they do! And by "best," he means the ones who really engage all their students in transformative learning experiences. 

2. On Course, by James Lang
This is an ideal book before you teach a college course for the first time. James has a great sense of humor so this is also a fun book to read. 

3. Happy Professor, by Erin Lovell Ebanks
 Erin and I recently became friends and both her book and her presence on the opposite side of a Panera table have pumped me up for teaching like nothing else. Erin IS a happy professor. She has made a full time job out of adjuncting at colleges in the area, and truly loves the opportunity to make a difference in students' lives.

Her book shares how she does it, as well as tips for how to get adjunct teaching positions and how to make the most of the opportunity (including some fascinating tips on how to not spend a lot of money). Erin also writes the Happy Professor blog. No one has inspired me like she has when it comes to finding joy in teaching. Go ahead, let her make you happy. :)

4. Student Engagement Techniques, by Elizabeth F. Barkley
To be honest I just started reading this one this morning, but I'm already in love with it. It's jam packed with actual activities and techniques to engage students in learning. 

If community college has made a difference in your life and you plan on getting a master's degree I do hope you'll seriously consider teaching a course one day. Just a warning though, you might fall in love with it.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

15 places on your campus you should visit your first semester

Check this list and make a note to visit any of the places you haven't already! Trust me, knowing where they are and what they're for will pay off big time.

1. Financial Aid Office
If you don't cry, wait, or feel frustrated at some point in this office, I'm not sure if you can call yourself an actual college student. ;)

2. Records Office

Where you'll deal with paperwork for things like withdrawing from a class or applying for graduation. 

3. Advising Office
Don't only go here when it's mandatory! Check in often to make sure you're on track to graduate and/or transfer. Be sure to ask about creating an educational plan. 

4. Counseling Office 
Sometimes this is housed within the advising office. Trained professionals are on hand to help you with any personal issues you may be having that are affecting your college success.

5. Library 
I always did my homework here. Quiet and distraction free. The librarians are also your best friends when it comes to research papers. Ask for help!

6. Computer Lab
Sometimes also housed within the library. Great place to do homework and print.

7. Security 

Often where you'll get your parking pass.

8. Tutoring Center 
Use this! It's free. (Well, technically, you are paying for it in your tuition...so go get your money's worth!!)

9. Career Center
Ask about all the services they offer and then pick one. Just kidding, TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THEM ALL!!! My favorites were the career personality assessments and the mentor database.

10. Student Life Office 
Ask about clubs on your campus and ways to get involved. 

11. Disability Services Center 
They offer a lot of great services to help get you what you need to be successful in college.

12. Gym 

You'd be surprised how many community colleges have workout facilities or group classes. Ask around. 

13. Online student center
Okay, so these next three aren't technically "on" campus, but they are just as vital. Get to know your online student center very well - this is the place where you'll see your schedule and often do things with financial aid, like deferring your payments (when you don't do this you can get dropped from all your classes!)

14. Student email 

Get your student email forwarded to your main account and your phone. Be sure to check this a few times a day - lots of important reminders and information will come through here. 

15. Learning management system
There are a few different ones out there, and it should be clear on your college's website which one they use. This is where you'll manage your online classes, as well as online components for on-campus classes (e.g. discussion boards). Get familiar with it early so that your grades don't ever suffer because of a technical issue.

Get on your college's website, grab a campus map, and get going! ;)