Sunday, October 30, 2011

How four students turned chance encounters into incredible opportunities (and how you can too)

Picture this: you’re a college student working at an athletic shoe store arriving for a normal shift at work. You’re ringing up purchases, straightening sneakers, and then you offer to help another normal customer. You start up casual conversation as usual, but instead of the conversation turning to whether the customer wants black or brown shoes you find out he has a career very similar to one to which you aspire (e.g. orthopedic surgeon). What do you do?

You can brush by the detail and continue talking about shoes. 

OR. You can tell him you really want to be a radiologist and ask his advice if you are in the right major for what you want to do.

If you do the latter, you will get great advice, build a relationship, and get invited to observe an orthopedic surgery.

How do I know?

Because this week a student - Milva - came bounding into my office saying “Isa – guess what?! I’m going to get to observe a surgery!"
 Now even though I’m squeamish and would never personally want to observe a surgery I leaped for joy because I knew how important this opportunity was for someone interested in the medical field.

And even more than that I was so proud of Milva for taking the chance, making the leap, and having the courage to boldly proclaim her future goals and ask someone for advice.

Because having the skill to ask adults in professions to which you aspire for advice almost always leads to incredible opportunities. Think back to some of your greatest opportunities to date - how many of them evolved from similar “chance” happenings and connections?

But of course – they aren’t simply left up to chance. There are a million ways Milva could have handled the situation. Not to mention if she had no idea what she wanted to do or had at least not made the effort to research a variety of prospective majors she wouldn’t have been able to proclaim to the surgeon that she had similar interests.

And more than just getting to observe a surgery, she now has a possible surgeon mentor and connection. This is huge. Because this is how internships, opportunities, and jobs happen.

And the earlier you can start the better.

Connections and opportunities like these also give you the chance to learn more about your prospective career and decide whether or not it is right for you. If it is, then you have incredible mentors and connections that will guide you towards resources and opportunities that you don’t even know exist right now. 

And if it isn’t, then you get to find out before you’re stuck in a job that wasn’t what you thought it would be.

Are you taking advantage of every opportunity you have to ask others for advice and get to know people in professions that interest you? It will literally change your life.

How do I know? Because it changed mine and I am seeing daily how it is changing the courses and the lives of the students around me.

Edwin (who aspires to be an engineer at Lockheed Martin) was honored at a Hispanic scholarship gala where he met a guy from Lockheed Martin who offered him an internship on the spot.
Jessica wants to be an event planner at Disney and after getting an hourly job at the park doing quick service food she expressed her future aspirations to her manager who arranged for her to job shadow an event planner inside the Cinderella Castle.
Erica wants to be a lawyer and possibly a judge and after volunteering to help with check-in at a big college dinner she checked in a judge. After striking up a conversation she was given the judge’s contact information and e-mailed her a few days later inviting her to lunch in order to ask her advice. Erica now has a mentor who is a judge.
 For some students these stories may not seem like a big deal. Some students know plenty of judges and engineers and surgeons. But if you’re a student like me  a first generation student, a minority student, and/or come from a low-income family – you don’t know people in a lot of professions. You don’t know a lot about these types of jobs. And you don’t have the connections you often need to get ahead.

These students now have these connections and have engaged in incredible experiences that have energized them further towards their goals and have ingratiated them to these professionals. Because as a professional there is nothing more gratifying then having a student truly care about what you do, want to hear your advice, and then actually take it.

So what do you need to do to make these connections? The answers are in the stories, but let me break it down for you as well:

1. Choose a major that you truly find interesting
What all the students above have in common is that they are truly excited about their majors. They have done research, they have asked many people for advice, and they have figured out their personalities and learned what professions really suit their strengths and interests. They are genuinely excited about their futures and their future fields and thus when they meet a professional in that field they can easily hold a conversation because they instantly have something in common with that person – they are both interested in the same thing. 

If you’re truly interested in your major it will be much easier to strike up conversations with strangers who also share that interest. And they will respect you much more than if you’re like “ya I’m majoring in this because, ya it seems like it’ll make money….so…..ya….”

2. Ask people for advice
When in doubt just ask people you meet who have a job or a major you find interesting what advice they might have for you. You will always learn something – and it’s an easy way to break the ice and genuinely connect.

3. Put yourself out there and have courage
All of these students didn’t just sit around waiting for these opportunities to knock on their door. They volunteered for random events, they were involved in student activities, they were student leaders on campus, they were fully present and engaged in their side-jobs, and they all took chances in order to meet the people that they did. Above all, they had courage to speak up and ask for help. And that my friends, sums up my book and everything else I’ll ever tell you – constantly ask for help.

Despite this crazy and often cruel world we live in you’ll be amazed at how many people will bend over backwards to help you if only you genuinely ask. 

Whether you would love to observe a surgery, run a special event in the Cinderella Castle, or anything else in between – most of those opportunities will come from connecting with other people and learning their advice.

You may think today is just another day – but if you’re living your life with some semblance of passionate pursuit you never know who you might meet or where your life might lead. You have to be ready. You have to have courage. And you have to ask. 

What to do if you fail (or get less than a B) on a test

Have you ever gotten less than a perfect grade on a test? We've all been there and it's never a good feeling. But what sets a successful student apart is what you do with the test once you get it back. Watch this week's vlog to find out how to turn not-so-great-grades into tools for future A's.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Is your college car clean?

I don’t know about you – but I have an old car. My car is 13 years old. The color is faded, some of the paint is scratched off on the side, one of the lights is slightly cracked, and to open the window I have to lift the entire right console piece to find the button because it has come unattached.

But my car still runs beautifully. It has great A/C (a must in FL). And it gets me where I need to go. And the longer I keep it the longer I can put off car payments.

But sometimes, having an old car, I don’t always feel a lot of pride in it’s easy to let it get messy – very messy.

Recently an assortment of trash and randomness piled up in my car so bad that a car that could seat 4 could barely seat 1.

I put it off for a while but then it was finally time to clean my car. The mess was making me feel stressed everyday and whenever I made a turn the things I did need for that day (e.g. my purse, lunch, water) would shift and slide and spill everywhere.

So I got a large black trash bag and went to work. Thirty minutes later I had an empty car and it felt good – really good. I felt a little pride in my car.

And you know what I did next? I drove it over to the car wash and had it washed and had the inside vacuumed and detailed. My car was beautiful.

And then I had an epiphany.

I would love a new car, sure. The car I have now isn’t my favorite. I actually didn’t even choose it – it was my husband’s old car that he gave to me when my car previous car died a smoky death on the 417.

But I realized my lack of love and choice in this car had allowed me to let it get completely trashed. I had allowed me attitude to take over my car and literally buried myself in trash that made it difficult to drive peacefully.

How can I ever expect to get a new car if I can’t even be thankful and take great care of the car I do have? I’ll just develop bad habits and when I do get a new car begin to trash that too.

And then I thought about you. And college. How many of you feel like community college was chosen for you? How many of you feel like your dreams died a smoky death on a highway and that community college was the only option that you could afford?

Are you letting any negative thoughts trash your current college experience? Are you just going to class and going home as you wait for your “real” college experience to start when you transfer? Are you carelessly spending this time in community college because it just really isn’t that exciting? Do you not feel like your college experience is worth bragging about; do you not feel like driving it down the beach with the windows open?

It’s time to clean out your car.

Remind yourself like I do that while my car might not always be the nicest, there are so many who don’t even have a car. There are so many people in this world who do not have access to an education.

I also think about how nice it is not to have car payments. If you are in community college you are saving so much money and still are setting yourself up for a Mercedes-Benz of an education.

And finally, if you are not making the most of your community college experience how in the world can you expect to have a great transfer experience or even a great job? You doom yourself from the beginning if you halfheartedly approach your community college vehicle.

Because community college will take you places you could never dream. It can launch you to Harvard, it can launch you to your dream job, it can launch you to wealth, it can launch you to finding a job that allows you to contribute to the world, feel fulfilled, and support your family.

But community college doesn’t automatically do those things for you. It is a vehicle. You have to get in the front seat. You have to drive. And you have to take advantage of everything it has to offer.

Yet sadly many community college students just don’t believe they’re worthy of great success. I know because I didn’t think I was worthy either. It took incredible people in my life and in my community college to not only tell me I could be more – but to expect it.

I expect you to be more.  I expect you to rise above average. I expect you to take advantage of every moment of your community college experience. Clean out the trash of your negative thoughts. Vacuum up knowledge. And pay attention to the detail (e.g. join honors program, join PTK, lead a club, go on a leadership retreat, study abroad, visit the career center, attend every class, go to tutoring center, meet new people, get to know your professors).

Wherever you are in life – whether in college or even if you’re one of my post-grad readers who are in a job you just don’t like – make the most out of it.

Even if it’s cracked and faded in certain places shine it up as best you can and wear it proudly. Because no matter where you are in life there is a lot to be thankful for. And you are worthy of a clean car, an amazing college experience, and an incredible job.

You’d be surprised at the power you have to change your life with a simple change of attitude and a black trash bag.

Once your car is clean – drive far and fast and proudly.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Share your community college success with the world

I'm almost finished writing my book on community college success (to be released by NorLights Press late Spring 2012) and as I've been writing I've been thinking about all the incredible and successful community college students who inspire me every day. I've been thinking about you. 

My stories and my advice are weaved throughout the book; but as I've been writing I can't help but think of all of your stories and experiences and advice. This has never been about me because I am just one voice. Just one story. Representing so many incredibly stories, so many incredible voices, and so many talented students. And once students get their hands on my book I want them to know that I'm not the only one. 

I want them to see how many other students have found success in community college and learn what they did to help them achieve their goals. I want them to get to know you and hear how you've succeeded.

You might not even think you have succeeded yet. But I bet if you read through my book survey you'll see that you have something to say, something to share. I promise you there is something in your life that will inspire others. And you've obviously succeeded in many ways because it is only successful college students who would take the time to read a blog like this. 

I won't be able to use every story or comment in my book, but please know everything you share will play an important part in the success of others by informing and inspiring me with what you go through and what you've overcome and how you've succeeded. 

So if you are willing to step out and share your story and advice to inspire all the students who will read my book then please read through my community college success book survey and answer the questions that resonate with you (you do not have to answer all the questions and in fact most of you will not need to.....even reading through and answering 1 question would be so helpful as your answer to that one question might appear in the book). 

I think we need more community college students to speak out and share what they are doing to be successful. Please share your story often. So many students need you. And if you would be willing to share it in my book too I know my future readers will be forever grateful.

Click here to speak out, step up, and possibly get your story/advice in a book. 

(please note the survey will close November 30, 2011 so be sure to get to it quickly). E-mail me at if you have any questions. 

Thank you so much!!! You guys are the best.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Having the wrong email address is like showing up to an interview in a bathrobe and backwards hat

How is having the wrong email address is like showing up to an interview in a bathrobe and backwards hat?

It's funny, awkward, and TMI.

I run a college e-mail list and I cannot tell you how many or email addresses I see. And while it often provides a good laugh, I know these e-mails are not beneficial to students - and I want to help. 

If you are still rocking your e-mail from high school (or middle school for some) it’s time to let it go and tell the internet world that – while you may still be hot n sexy and eat cookies - you have grown up.

Your e-mail is a first impression - like what you wear on a job interview. It's not everything - but it does make a difference. 

But before I tell you how to make the right e-mail first impression, I realize many college students do not check their e-mail all that often. I recently heard only 25% of students were checking their college e-mail account. This is bad.

I know it’s hard because e-mail may not seem as important in your lives right now. But trust me – it is and will only become more so. And I find the most successful students (and the ones for whom I am more apt to write stellar recommendation letters for and bend over backwards to help) are the ones who check their e-mail every day and usually respond to my e-mails within 24 hours. These students are superstars and I naturally perceive them as more organized and responsible. If I hear of a scholarship or job opportunity, who do you think I’ll think of first?

You can be that superstar if you’re not already.

And even more importantly, while in college you are receiving vital information about when to register, when to check financial aid, when to apply for graduation, etc. The students who keep up with this kind of information daily are the ones who will succeed. Even if you’re a star student the internal college process is complicated and the e-mails your college sends are meant to make it less so.

Students who don’t check their college e-mail often don’t get the classes they wanted because they didn’t register early, miss out on financial aid, sometimes get their classes dropped, and sadly many miss out on graduating on time.

It happens every day.

So what should you do to avoid this? It’s actually quite simple. And the habits below will serve you the rest of your e-mail life.

1. Set aside specific time (10-20min) to check your e-mail at least once per day every day.
2. Delete quickly and unsubscribe from everything that is irrelevant.
3. Read and respond to each e-mail that is left. If you can’t attend to it at that moment add the task to your to do list or calendar and file the e-mail away in the archives.
4. File away all the rest in appropriate folders/labels.
5. Have a clear e-mail inbox at least once each day.

Now back to your e-mail address identity. 

What does your current e-mail address say about you? If you walked into a room and you were a visual representation of your e-mail address what would you be wearing? What would you look like? What would people be thinking?

If it makes you laugh than it’s time to get a new e-mail address.

This is daunting for some because you think of all the information that is already being sent to your current e-mail. It feels like having to get a new cell phone number.

But trust me it’s much easier.

You can get your old e-mails forwarded to your new professional email account. You can direct your school e-mails to this portal as well. I am sure many e-mail servers can do this but I have found the best and easiest is Google Mail.

You can sign you for a free Gmail account here (and no Google has not paid me to say this – I wish! – I just seriously think they are the best).

And below are the 4 quick and easy steps to enter into the land of e-mail adulthood.

1. Use your name as your e-mail address
I recommend using your first name and last name (e.g. If that is taken try using a period or underscore in between (e.g. or You can also try using your middle name (e.g. If you have a common name sometimes you have no choice but to add numbers at the end, but try to avoid that as much as possible. 

2. Forward your old high school e-mail AND your school e-mails to that new account
Google explains it best but if you want further help feel free to e-mail me at

Also be sure to check the box that allows you the option to also send e-mail with the forwarding addresses so that when you receive an e-mail in google from your college you can also email the college back using your college email to ensure it doesn’t go into a professor’s spam folder.

3. Never give out your hotnsexy305 email again.

4. Set up a professional signature at the bottom of your e-mail like:


First Name Last Name
Student, Awesome Community College*

*If you have a prestigious leadership position share that here as well. For example: 
Vice President, Student Government Association
Awesome Community College

Now when you walk into someone’s e-mail inbox what will they think about you? They will know your name. And that is good. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Please share your opinion =)

I'm in the final stages of choosing the title for my book and I want your help :) Please click the link below to answer the really quick multiple choice question to choose your favorite subtitle (the main title will be Community College Success). If you have any other title ideas there will be a space for you to share those too - or you can e-mail me at

Thank you so much!

Click here to choose your favorite subtitle for the Isa's Community College Success book

**Also please note the Weekend 4Cast will be going on hiatus until January. My book is due then and I'm having to simplify some things in order to have time to get it all done =) In the meantime be sure to check out the archives.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Commuter students can still have fun

A student recently asked me how she could still enjoy her college experience while being a commuter student. In this vlog I share tips about what I did during my 4 years as a commuter college student to have a memorable experience. Keep sending your questions to =)

Top 5 Surprising Ways to Increase Your Popularity

When you think of popularity you probably think of snobby girls with Louis Vuttion purses or some version of the movie mean girls.  This is not the kind of popularity I am talking about. I just wanted to get your attention ;)

The better term would be likeable. Most "popular" people by our cultural definition are not necessarily likable. 

Being "popular" in that sense is not desirable. But being likeable is an incredibly valuable skill that can serve you well in every aspect of your life - (e.g. social, academic, professional, and self-esteem). 

So how do you be someone whom most people like? Someone who is popular on your campus amongst both students and professors. Someone people truly want to be around.

First of all you do not need your own reality TV show. Nor do you need to buy a designer purse. 

Start by asking yourself these questions: Do people like to be around you? Would people cheer loudly and genuinely for you if you won an award? Do people root for you, wish for your success, invite you to things, recommend you to other people?

I started thinking a lot about this quality after a big awards ceremony at my work where many employees won a variety of awards. There was a lot of obligatory applause, but when one janitor won an award for his many years of service the place electrified with people’s hoots and hollers and genuine excitement for this employee.

He was the only one who got a standing ovation. My eyes watered a bit as I stood there and clapped voraciously as I thought about our interaction just the day before – an interaction that I realized he must have had with all 800 pairs of clapping hands.

 It was a Monday and my week hadn’t gotten off to a good start. I was tired, feeling sick, stressed about some budget stuff, and was feeling a wave of negativity threaten to set the tone for my entire week.

And then this janitor popped his head into my office with the enthusiasm of a 10-year-old in the middle of recess and the sincerity of a mother and said “hi how are you doing today?” And he actually wanted to know how I was doing. His smile and genuine inquiry was literally a ray of light that burst through the dark clouds over my head and I instantly felt better. He made my day.

He was the most popular person at that awards banquet because he had at some point made everyone’s day in that room.

Do you make other people’s days? Are you that likeable? If not – you can be.

Being likeable builds confidence, helps you build relationships, and build a large social network that can support you. I heard in a recent training that people with genuine friends and positive social groups live longer.

Below are the top 5 things you can start doing today to be a more popular/likeable person wherever you are.

1. Smile
No one likes to be around someone who is grumpy all the time. Think about how you feel when a baby smiles at you. And what do you typically have to do to get a baby to smile at you? Smile.

People are naturally attracted to a smile. And bonus: when you smile – even if inside you’re not having such a great day – the act of smiling will help you feel better too.
So wherever you go, take time to look people in the eye and smile – even strangers. You will brighten their day, exude positive energy, and they will naturally want to be around you.  

(note: this can be very difficult to accomplish with the intense pull of the cell phone. How many times are you looking at your phone when walking down the hall. How many opportunities for smiling do you miss? How many times have you had a conversation with a friend while texting someone else at the same time? (guilty). Just because we can multi-task like this doesn’t mean it is healthy. As technology gets even more intense, it is the people who have the self-control to know when to put it away and create genuine connection with others who will be the most popular and successful).

2. Ask questions
How often do we ask people questions like “how are you doing?” but never really care about the response? Ask people questions about who they are, what’s going on in their life, and what interests they have. People love a great storyteller, but no one likes to be around people who constantly talking about themselves.  People will love you if you’re the kind of person who is always curious about who they are – the kind of person who asks a question and truly wants to know the answer. 

3. Listen
When people talk, too often we’re just thinking about what we’re going to say next. Instead, really listen to what others are saying and take mental notes  (or even real notes sometimes) about what you learn about them. If you bring up some of those details next time you talk you will blow them away with your ability to remember what is important to them.  People will love you for this.

4. Be positive
Life of course isn’t always wonderful, but you know those constant glass-half-empty people who always seem to have something to complain about? They can be exhausting to be around and people usually try to get away from them as often as possible. No need to be a Pollyanna, but people like people who are encouraging and positive. Take a look at your past 10 Facebook updates. How are you doing when it comes to projecting positivity and genuine connections with others?  How many “likes” do you get on something positive versus something really negative?

5. Compliment people
The best way you can make someone’s day is to give a compliment. Genuinely notice the people around you – and not just what they’re wearing but also who they are. Compliment people on their character, the way they handled a situation, or something you appreciate/admire about their personality. 

Think about compliments people have given you recently. How did they make you feel? How do you in turn feel about that person? You probably like them a lot. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

4 Best Tips to Be a Stand-Out Award-Winning Student

Weekend 4Cast
4 things I’m dying to share with you that can’t wait until Monday

Okay – so there are actually 75 tips (but I'm only sharing 4) – and they all come from the best-selling and most amazing college success book by Cal Newport (who wrote the book not too long after he graduated college).

Cal writes the blog Study Hacks and his book How to Win at College is a best-seller. I have been wanting to check it out for a while now and after a student asked me to review and share the best college success books I knew I had to start with this one.
And in short – it will be the best $6.77 you ever spend (YES it’s only $6.77 right now on!)
It’s a short read which many of you will love (I read it in one day) and it is jam-packed with the best college success tips from real students who have managed to build outstanding college resumes, win the best scholarships/awards, maintain incredible grades, and have a great and relatively stress-free college experience.

The secrets to your best and most rewarding college experience are in this book.

There are some books you read where with every page turn your brain goes wow. Wow. WOW. WOW!!! And if you put those "wow moments" into action your life changes dramatically. This will happen to you with this book. 

And then there are some books that explain things you always thought or did but weren’t sure if they were also applicable to others. Since I was a successful college student who wasn’t a high IQ-genius and always wondered why other students were stressing so much when I turned the pages of this book my brain went yes. Yes. YES. YES!!!

It was so exciting to realize that I am right when I tell my students to never pull all-nighters, to relax before a test, and to dress nicely. Of the 75 tips in How to Win at College I did all 75 throughout my community college and university experience. And those tips directly led to all of my successes without the stresses. I don't share this to brag but to let you know that this works and that YOU can be a stand-out student no matter where you are in your life right now. 

There are many of the tips you may be doing already too. But if you’re not earning all A’s, if you often feel stressed, if college seems so hard, if you’re not getting invited to the top honors societies/programs, and/or if you aren’t winning scholarships and awards then this book can change your life and will show you how to easily do all of these things.

And it’s not about being a super-genuis. And it’s not about being a book nerd locked up in the library. It’s easier and more amazing than you think.

So as I was reading I tried to pick my top 4 favorite tips for the Weekend 4Cast and ended up with 16.  So hard to choose!  But alas I did choose because you need to get the book yourself to find out about all of these life-changing tips.

1 – Tip #9 Be the president of a club 
Cal says it best: “losing students don’t think they have enough time to be involved with extracurricular organizations. Average students join extracurricular organizations. And winning students run extracurricular organizations” (p. 25).

I never thought I could run an organization, but after trying a smaller position first and coaxing from the amazing friends I made I decided to run. Being the President of Phi Theta Kappa was the most incredible experience and let to my first airplane ride and winning the $110,000 Jack Kent Cooke scholarship. You can run a club. It’s not as hard as you think. And you’ll find it can actually be quite fun.

2 – Tip  #12 Avoiding daily to-do lists –
What?! I know – right? This seems crazy at first but it makes total sense. Cal suggests instead of to-do lists that often make you feel like you can never get it all done in a day that you schedule your day using time blocks. I won’t give his secret away here but I will recommend my favorite tool for blocking out time for specific tasks/projects: Google Calendar. Free, easy, and amazing! You can also set SMS reminders so your phone will remind you when you have to do something or when projects are due.

3 – Tip #54 Take your ambition to the next level –
In this tip Cal encourages you to think about “defying the norm” and how to evaluate if what you are doing right now will lead to earning the best awards, scholarships, and jobs (p.135).   This tip resonated with me because my mission statement is to help students to not get comfortable with average, to realize they are so much more than average, and to motivate them to rise above average.

That voice in our head saying we can’t do something is powerful. Just as powerful, however, is the voice that tells you that you can. Often we need others to remind us of that voice. To remind us that we are worthy, that we have potential to do more than we think. But we can’t always rely on others. Crush that negative voice in your head with YOUR voice.

4   Tip #57 Never skip class –
Whenever I hear a student saying “I’m gonna skip class” I plug my ears and go lalalalala as a joke and then tell them to GO TO CLASS. It shocks me how often students skip class and how they don’t think it is a big deal. Class is where you learn what material is important to the professor, have the ability to ask questions to make sure you understand the material, and where you take the most important notes that will help you on exams. Attending every class will make your life easier and grades higher. 

So in conclusion, buy this book. But of course you must do more than shell out $6.77. You must read it. And then - you must do it. 

I will never recommend something that I don’t 100% believe will positively impact your life. I care about you too much to ever encourage you to spend your money on anything that wouldn’t give you 10 times the investment in return.  This is worth the investment. Read this book and let me know what tips you used and how they impacted your college life at

And be sure to check out Cal's other amazing books (I'll sure will be!).

Newport, C. (2005). How to win at college: simple rules for success from star students. New York: Broadway Books.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Is your "college-self" different from your "high-school self"?

Check out this week's vlog where I answer one student's question about feeling stuck in her high school identity and what wacky thing I did to alter my identity my first year of college. Also find out why this one was shot outside :)

To work or not to work through actually do have a choice.

*Samsonite backpack winner announced @ the end of this post! =)

With the economy in the state that it is in and many community college students having to support sometimes not only themselves but also their families, work is a growing part of the college experience for almost all students.

And while working can provide great experience and help pay the bills, too often it stands in the way of students’ goals.

In one of my first college classes I sat next to this really smart girl who worked 30+ hours per week at a restaurant. She always looked tired, was often late, and it was obvious work was her first priority. One morning she got an essay back with a big fat D written on it.  She asked the professor about it after class and as I was walking out I heard him say to her: “you have to choose – work or school. You can’t have both.”

At the time I thought he was pretty harsh, but then I realized that he was absolutely right. It’s not that you can’t work and go to college – most people have no choice. But you can’t make both the top priority. And yet sadly what often happens is so many invest their time and energy into work and then have nothing left to give to college.

That smart girl in my class dropped out of college. I’m not sure if she ever went back; I think she still works in that restaurant.

The key is to remember is that if you truly invest your time and energy into your college experience you will make more money in your lifetime than you will make in those four years working at a restaurant (or wherever you work in college). Working in college gives short-term payback. But college is a lifetime investment that will pay off more than you can imagine if….and this is a big if….you truly invest your 100%.

This is the hardest part for students to wrap their heads around – especially those like myself who come from lower socio-economic backgrounds. We did not grow up with the concept of investment. Debt is the devil. We see it crush our parents. This is not a bad mentality when it comes to buying frivolous things like luxury cars or houses before we’re ready. But it can cripple us when it comes to our education.

I had to support myself 100% in college. In my first two years at community college – in addition to financial aid – I chose to take out a few small loans that were offered to me even though my tuition was already covered. My instincts told me not to do this because of my background. But my boyfriend at the time (now my husband) told me that investing in myself and my college education was one of the only times loans really made sense.

So I took his advice and nervously accepted a $3,000 subsidized (meaning government will pay interest while you’re in school) loan.

Now I didn’t use that money to go buy fancy electronics or a car. I used it to buy gas, pay my cell phone bill, and attend to other expenses that I would have had to work to pay for. I babysat on the side and invested myself 100% in college. And the credentials and grades and student activities that I was able to engage in led to my winning the $110,000 Jack Kent Cooke scholarship. Talk about a payoff!

Now while everyone may not win a huge scholarship, there are still so many scholarships out there that you could win by investing in your entire college experience. Scholarships that could pay you what you make in a year  of working. Scholarships that you disqualify yourself for when you work too much and study too little. 

So by now you’re probably thinking – well yeah Isa that sounds all nice and great I'd love to not have to work so much but I still can’t afford college if I don’t work!

Of course – I understand. Focusing 100% on college without having to work is a luxury. But it is also an investment and it is one you should work towards as much as you possibly can. There are three options I recommend, and if you’re don’t currently find yourself in one of these 3 options – change your situation as soon as you can. I would never be so definitive if I didn’t believe wholeheartedly that this information will help you achieve your dreams, make your life better, and help you make more money. 

1. Loans
I’m not talking about choosing the fanciest private school and taking out $30,000+ loans. When you’re being smart by going to a community college and then perhaps even a public college and financial aid is covering some of your tuition, don’t discount those subsidized loan offerings when you get your financial aid package. Loans are very serious and you should be strategic about them. If you accept the loans and promise yourself to use that money to replace working so often than it will be a decision that will pay off. Most of my friends who worked tirelessly in college and avoided loans like the plague are still in those jobs making hourly wages.

The key is discipline. You cannot spend that money frivolously or you defeat the entire purpose. It is an investment. An investment in yourself. If you use that money to give you more time to invest in your studies and your college involvement you will get a huge return on your investment.

To me, making the most of your college experience is one of the most guaranteed investments for your life and your future. Especially if you use the extra time that loans can give you wisely.

2. Flexible Job
If loans don’t cover everything the next step is to get a job that is flexible and will work around your college schedule. Babysitting always worked great for me because if I had a big test to study for I could always say no. If you have to work a job that doesn’t have anything to do with your future aspirations flexibility is key. It should never affect your grades or your college opportunities.

3. Job in your Desired Industry
If you do have to work in college the best way to make the time valuable is if you are in a job that adds significant related experience to your resume and/or gets your foot in the door of an industry or company that interests you. For example, one of my students wants to be a Disney event planner, and thus working quick service food at Disney is giving her the opportunity to network with professionals in the company she desires to work for. She’s already gotten to shadow an event planner inside the Cinderella Castle!

After you graduate the hardest and most ego-shattering part of looking for a job is that no one will hire you without related experience, and you can’t get related experience if no one will hire you. If you have to work in college it is smart to start gaining related experience as much as possible. While of course you won’t be able to get the exact job you could get with a college degree, you can get experience on the ground floor and learn a lot of valuable information about the company/industry and network with people who might one day hire you.

I know this isn’t easy but it is probably the most valuable advice I could ever give you. There is nothing that breaks my heart more than watching students fail their classes and eventually drop out because they had to work too much. I admire these students because they are just trying to do their best, to support themselves in a tough economy, and are doing everything they can with what they know.  

So now I hope you know more so you can work smarter and invest in yourself during this time.

You are worth the investment. Think long term. Do not let money (yes even the lack of it) control your life and your future. You can make a better decision. You can make more money than you ever thought possible. But you must invest in yourself now. Do not let the short-term rob you of your long-term success.

You are worth it.
If you need further advice on any of the options above or want to know more about how to really invest in yourself during college feel free to e-mail me at

Congratulations to the Samsonite Backpack winner Brandon Hall from Elk Grove, CA!!!

To read more about Isa's personal story how you can build relationships to: make positive friends, be more successful in academics and work, find the right people to connect with, and access the hidden job market, grab a FREE e-copy of the first chapter of Community College Success: How to Finish with Friends, Scholarships, Internships, and the Career of Your Dreams! Claim your free copy on the Facebook page!