Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The #1 thing you should be doing between spring & summer semester

From the Ask Isa inbox:

Dear Isa, 

What are some tips or advice for success in taking a course over the summer?


Summer is Coming*

*This person didn't make up an 'advice' alias, but I love them so much so I made one up for them. If you know which TV show I'm parodying with this name, consider us best friends. ;)

Dear Summer is Coming,

The exact answer to your question depends on how your summer classes are structured. If the class is spread out over the entire summer semester, you would want to invest the same amount of time and commitment you would any other semester. 

It can, however, be hard to keep up the stamina year round; but consider it good practice: most jobs don't break for the summer. 

One of my favorite books about getting good grades in college by working smarter is How to Become a Straight-A Student by Cal Newport. 

Spring semester just ended for most colleges, so my best advice would be to take a really good break in between spring and summer semester (even if it's only a week or so). 

As much as possible, limit how much you work and, aside from getting your books, don't think about school at all. 

Hang out with your friends, go on a mini vacation, do something fun....RELAX. 

Exam week can be stressful and you don't want to jump right back into school. You need to be fresh and ready once you hit the first week of summer classes, so make sure you do everything you can to make relaxing a priority before summer semester starts. 

Also, I know some summer classes can be accelerated and put into A and B terms. I've never taken an accelerated class, but my advice would be to find someone who has taken one and gotten an A and ask their advice on how they did it and how much time they dedicated to the class and homework each day. It will probably be more than you think.

And as always, my best advice for doing well in your classes is to get to know your professors the very first week (a third of my book is dedicated to how to do this). Ask their advice about doing well in their class. Visit often. And sit in the front row.

Best of luck this summer. I hope you have a great one!!



Monday, April 29, 2013

How to figure out your career direction

How do you figure out your career direction when you have no idea what you want to do or what jobs are really out there? This video from the Pearson Students Blog will help you take the first step:

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How to deal when you start comparing yourself to other people

Have you ever met someone who made you feel inferior

Not because they were mean or were trying to make you feel this way, but because you saw how awesome they were, and then that little voice inside your head said "You're not as awesome as that....what are you doing with your life? You basically suck."

I'm an avid believer in multiple intelligences, that we all have our own beautiful talents and abilities to contribute, and that comparing ourselves to others only hinders that talent from being developed. 

Usually when I meet awesome people their greatness inspires me to keep going. They make me feel like it's possible. They make me excited that people like them exist, and I feel grateful to be in their presence. 

But once in a while, I get that inferior feeling. Once in a while, I feel like I don't know what I'm doing. Once in a while, I wonder if my dreams are stupid. 

So what gets me out of this sludgy awful feeling

Lots of ice cream.

Just kidding.... ;)

I watched a video from Dove recently when I was feeling like this and it touched me (video below). 

The video shows that we often see ourselves differently than others see us, and while they're referring to outer beauty, I think it provides a good metaphor for your inner beauty.

You'd be surprised: while your inner dialogue is telling you you're inferior, the person you're talking to is probably feeling the same way after meeting you.

There's no one else like you. 

Whenever you're feeling down, remember this: there's a bat-signal the shape of your face beaming in the sky. A call only you can answer - no one else. So go for it (capes are optional, but highly recommended).

And if no one has told you yet today, let me be the first: You are awesome. You are going to be able to accomplish more than you can imagine if you keep working this hard. And...you are going to rock your exams this week and next!

Monday, April 22, 2013

The 1-question "Will you be successful?" quiz

I developed a quick 1-question quiz to predict whether or not you will be successful at whatever it is you are doing right now.

Are you ready?

Okay, let's go.

Agree or Disagree: "How good you are in the beginning is no indicator of how good you can become." - Astronaut Mark Kelly

Got your answer? 

Answer Key:

If you said Agree: you are going to be successful!! Woo hoo. Do a little dance.
If you said Disagree:....well....uh....gosh...this is awkward.... ;) 

I have to give all the credit to Mark Kelly who I heard say this yesterday at the American Association of Community College's annual conference. 

When he shared this statement I immediately thought of you. I thought of the students who struggled in high school; I thought of the students in remedial math and reading; I thought of those who e-mail me feeling defeated after failing a test; I thought of those who get a bad SAT score or a bad grade and think they just aren't smart, that they should give up now to protect their ego.

But the truth is, most great people were not naturally amazing at what they are doing now. They worked hard and strategically at it. And most importantly - they overcame obstacles because they believed they could get better. 

Astronaut Mark Kelly said this when talking about landing his first airplane on a boat; he didn't do a great job and afterwards the commander said to him, "are you sure this is the right career for you?" Mark didn't let that deter him, and he became one of the few who fly into space.

Do you really believe you have the power and potential to get really good at what you are working on right now? Do you believe you can do this, get better, and reach greatness?

I'm not into cheesy pop psychology stuff; this stuff is for real. I was just reading a great book from Harvard Educational Press called Ready, Willing, & Able that also cited (using studies done on motivational theory) that students' belief about how much they can control their growth, improvement, and potential is a MUCH greater indicator of future success than anything else.

Do you think you can do this? Do you think you have the power to improve and get great at what you want to do with your life? If you do, then watch out world, because here you come! :)

If you don't, find a mentor at your college right away and talk about this. Read biographies of great people you admire and notice what they did to change their future and develop the skill that made them famous. Go the extra mile in whatever it is you're working on right now and watch how the results change.

Okay, now it's time for the pop quiz surprise success test: 

I've determined - with my scientific prowess and a super complicated/advanced method - that reading all the way to the end of this article means you WILL be super crazy successful. Seriously, you can't argue with science. ;)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ask Isa: What do you do when you're an A student...& then suddenly you're not

From the Ask Isa inbox:

Dear Isa,

What do you do when you used to be an A student and is now struggling to keep an A in any class? You study hard and are still unable to pass the way you want. Is it time to drop a class?


Disappointed student who wants to do better

Dear Disappointed, 

First of all I applaud you for caring and seeking help. That is the most important step!

I know it must be really frustrating to find your grades tumbling. There are many factors, so it's important to figure out what's causing the sudden drop.

First, I recommend talking to your professors immediately. You might also want to share the whole story with The Chatty Professor, as she also answers student questions on her blog and can give you exactly what to say to your professors to ensure the best outcome. 

Then, ask yourself: have I really been doing everything I can to pass this course? Have I been to tutoring? Have I been meeting with my professors at least once a week? Have I been studying/doing homework at least 8 hours/week? Am I reading books and articles on how to succeed in college and study better?  

Answer honestly and think about what habits you may need to change to improve your grades. 

If you really are giving it your all, take a look at the subject and have a serious conversation with your professor. Is this class required for your major? If so, you might want to talk to a career counselor and advisor to consider other major tracks if you find you aren't liking nor succeeding in core courses.

Or perhaps there are some other factors going on in your life that are affecting your grades? Check with your advising office to see if they offer counseling services or mentorship programs.

I've never dropped a class so I'm not the expert on those policies or how it affects your transcript. I highly recommend you ask that question of your advisor and professor.

The key is to be proactive

And finally, remember that doing poorly in a class does NOT mean you aren't smart. I got all A's in college, and my SAT score was nothing to brag about. The key to good grades is thinking strategically (e.g. choose a major that you find interesting), studying smarter, and asking for help ALL the time. 

I also recommend checking out the book How to Become a Straight-A Student by Cal Newport.

And if you e-mail me at isa@communitycollegesuccess.com I'd be happy to send you the free resource on getting good grades that I share in my book

Thanks again for reaching out. That alone tells me you ARE a straight-A student, even if the A's aren't showing up right now. They WILL be back if you continue to be proactive. 

Let me know if you need any extra help, and good luck! :)

You can do this. 



Tuesday, April 16, 2013

How to start a conversation in class

Ever wonder how to make friends in class? At this point you may have already done so, but it can't hurt to brush up on your skills. Use the tips in the video below to get a study group together for your upcoming exams, or use them to prepare for your first days of summer classes. :)

Monday, April 15, 2013

How you can do what Josh did to become the 1st student in Iowa to win JKC Scholarship

A few nights ago I got an e-mail (shared with sender's permission below) that I will never forget from a student I met in Iowa when I spoke to all six campuses of Des Moines Area Community College last September: 

Dear Isa,

I was hoping to get your number so that I could call you personally and thank you over the phone but this will have to do. I thanked Coach K today for bringing you to our school as I believe it was a major reason I won the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship. Thank you. You gave me the key to winning not only the JKC scholarship but the All Iowa and Coca Cola Silver Scholars awards as well. 

I hope you don't mind but I gave you full credit and I passed your advice on to others. I hope this leads to you doing more seminars and leading more people to fulfilling their life changing dreams. So on behalf of myself and my family, thank you, you helped changed our lives. 



I was stunned by this e-mail. 

I speak to colleges around the country and have given many students advice. I rarely hear from them again. 

When people ask me my favorite part about what I do I tell them it's the hour after I speak when students ask me for follow-up advice and share their stories; I could do that all day. People like Josh inspire ME, and I couldn't believe he was giving me any credit for his winning the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship ($30,000/year for undergrad and $50,000 for grad) and becoming (according to his advisors who also emailed me) the first student in Iowa to win the prestigious award. 

In that moment I realized something about Josh that will help you win big scholarships too.

Josh asked for advice. He took the advice. And then he said thank you. 

That is the formula to succeed (a formula I also share in my book). Learn from the people who have done what you want to do.

I want to share with you the formula that led to Josh winning the JKC scholarship and changing his life (below). Think about how you can adapt this strategy to your life this week: 

1. Show up
Josh first made a decision to show up to my speech. It was a voluntary event. He has a family, work, and college. He could have been doing many other things. But decided to show up to something other than class that he believed could help him succeed in college. 

What club, event, or opportunity have you been avoiding? What experiences on your campus are you missing? Show up. 

2. Stand out
After one of the speeches the (amazing) founder of the honors program at DMACC arranged for me to have lunch with some of the honors students. 

Soon after this guy came up to me, introduced himself as Josh, and asked if he could sit down and ask me for advice. He was bold and confident and eager and I loved it. 

We talked for a while and I was impressed with his drive. He realized he had a college expert in front of him and wanted to take full advantage of it. 

After our conversation he asked if he could follow up with me. I said yes of course. And when he did, I remembered him easily and continued to answer his questions via e-mail. 

When you're around someone you can learn from, introduce yourself. This is not a time to be shy or wait for them to start the conversation. Be bold and friendly and make them feel valued. If you do, they will never forget you. 

3. Ask for advice
Josh didn't introduce himself to me and just start going on and on about himself. Instead, he gave me his background story (which I always LOVE to hear) and then started asking me questions to help him reach his college and career goals. 

I was honored and happy to help. 

Sometimes students don't know what to say to me beyond saying how much they loved my speech. But others take full advantage of the moment. They realize they have a college expert in front of them and ask for advice to help them grow.

You have many college experts on your campus every day. They're called professors, advisors, student life coordinators, honors directors, and career counselors. Have you asked them for advice this week? 

4. Take the advice
I never know if students are going to take the advice I give. Josh did. Giving the advice is easy and fun. Taking the advice is the hard part, and Josh did all of that by himself. 

What is one thing you know you need to do to work harder towards something you really want? What advice have you been given lately that you haven't acted on but know you should? 

5. Say thank you
I still cannot believe Josh's graciousness in sending that e-mail. I will treasure it forever. And you can bet that when Josh e-mails me next he will go to the top of my priority list.

So what are you still doing reading this blog? You've got places to be and people to meet ;) 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ask Isa: How do you know which degree to get in community college?

Question from the Ask Isa Inbox:

Hi Isa, I just discovered your page and videos and at the perfect time! I was going to start dental assisting classes at Palm Beach State College in August but the E.D. where I work suggested going for my associate of arts......

Will that open more doors for me? I can always do dental assisting after but I am 40 years old now, I need advice in a bad way and you seem to be the only one who I trust with this matter right now, please help! Sincerely, Which Degree? 

Dear Which Degree,

The best thing you can do when trying to figure out what degree to get is to ask advice from people who are doing your dream job; find out what degrees they got. Don't settle for anything less.

And don't you worry about your age! I've met so many amazing adult students - some in their 60's - who go back to college to get their Associate's degree, Bachelor's degree, and even go onto graduate school.

Anything is possible for you if you want it. I'm not sure what you mean by E.D. but taking advice from people at work can be very helpful if they do jobs you want to do.

As soon as possible, talk to a career counselor and academic advisor at Palm Beach State and dig deeper to find out what you want to do with your life and which educational pathway will help you get there.

Certificates and shorter-pathway degrees are great when you know for sure what you want to do and you've met other people with those degrees who are having success in a job that interests you.

Some people even get a certificate first so they can get a job that will help them pay for their Associate's and Bachelor's. There are many options - the key is knowing what you want and surrounding yourself with people who can help you get there.

As far as your question about the Associate of Arts degree and its options: I love the A.A. because it can lead to a Bachelor's degree, which I think is a wonderful thing to have in this rapidly changing economy. Bachelor's degrees do open more doors (e.g. there are so many jobs you can't even apply for without one), and you can always add a certificate to it.

Keep asking advice from anyone who works at the college and from people whose lives and jobs you'd like to emulate. A shorter pathway can work too, you just want to first make sure it is exactly what you want and get advice from people at the college and the industry that interests you.

Good luck, and go for it!! :)



Have a question you'd like answered on the blog? Submit it anonymously to the Ask Isa inbox. You'd be surprised how many people your question will help. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

5 Reasons to Join Phi Theta Kappa

I just returned from San Jose, CA after attending the International Phi Theta Kappa* convention; it was epic. 

It also inspired me to share with you why PTK is so awesome, especially if you have never heard of it or have gotten your letter and are still trying to figure out if you should join. 

*PTK is the premier honor society for community college students. Students are invited via letter when they reach the eligibility requirements, which include a GPA standard.

I speak to colleges around the country and many students come up to me after my speech (in which I mention my amazing PTK experience) and tell me they'd been invited into the honor society but hadn't accepted because they weren't exactly sure what it was (e.g. you do have to pay a small one-time fee so it can be scary when you've never heard of it before).

I also recently wrote an article to help you better tell which honor societies are scams and which ones are well worth the investment. 

The good news is, they tell me after hearing my speech that they are definitely going to join. 

I really do think joining PTK is a tremendous opportunity for you and I wanted to share why for my readers who haven't heard me speak yet. 

I also hope that if you are a current PTK member you can send potential members to this blog post for more information. I'd also love for you to add the reasons why PTK has been beneficial to you in the comments section!

Here are five reasons why I think you should join Phi Theta Kappa the second you get your letter :)

1. "Money money money monnney"
When you join PTK you are able to apply for over 37 million dollars in scholarships that are only available to members. On top of that, they announced at the convention that the majority of Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship winners are Phi Theta Kappans (i.e. $30,000/year for your undergrad and $50,000 for graduate school). We could pretty much stop here because this alone makes membership worth it. (Note: I was a JKC scholarship winner and owe a lot of that to being a part of PTK).

2. Transfer universities will notice (and want you)

Yale recently signed up with CollegeFish.org (PTK's Gates Foundation granted program to connect community college transfer students with the right university and scholarship opportunities) to recruit PTK students. All PTK members have access to CollegeFish.org. 

Being in PTK will make you stand out, and will up your chances for scholarships. Some universities even offer full tuition scholarships to PTK students. 

3. Rockstar conventions
Being a part of Phi Theta Kappa gives you and your chapter a chance to attend the annual international convention (next year it will be in my home state of Florida!!!). The annual convention is unlike anything you've probably ever seen before. The best description I've ever heard is "a mix between a rock concert and a political rally." It's energizing and amazing and, well, you just have to see for yourself. 

The conventions also bring superstar speakers to the stage. I'll never forget what it was like to be in the same room with Malcolm Gladwell.

4. Leadership opportunities
Accepting PTK membership is one thing, but to really get the full benefits, you should get involved. And wow are there some amazing ways to do that.

In addition to being an officer in your chapter (check your student life office or your college's website to find out when the next chapter meeting is and how you can attend), you can also apply to be a regional officer, and even an international officer (in my opinion one of the most prestigious things you can do in community college).

I can only imagine how many full ride scholarships international officers can get by being in such a prestigious position. This is where you want to be, and trust me, you can do it. (I was president of my PTK chapter but graduated before I would have had time to try to be an international officer - get involved as early as you can!)

5. Good friends
When I got involved in Phi Theta Kappa it was the first time I had worked with a solid group of positive people who wanted to make a difference and do something exciting and meaningful with their lives. 

Surrounding yourself with good people is vital if you want to be successful, and PTK offers you a way to connect with others who want to get good grades and succeed in college. It will rub off on you.

And by getting involved, you will rub off on them too. You'll also be amazed at what you can all accomplish together, how you can positively impact your campus, and how you can change the lives of the students around you. 

Never underestimate the power of surrounding yourself with good people. 

Learn more about joining PTK on their website.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

How to be successful at a young age

Have you ever wondered what it takes to be successful at a young age?

The Zuckerburgs the Biebers the Swifts….how do they do it?

Many of us millennials feel desperate for success right after college – and then feel deeply depressed when we feel like we’ve failed after only a few years and wonder why we aren’t wunderkinds yet.

The truth is, success takes a lot of time and a strategic plan. But the good news is, you may not have to wait as long as you think.

I recently read a great book I wanted to share with you that can help: Secrets of the Young & Successful by Jennifer Kushell & Scott M. Kaufman.

I recognized many of the strategies in the book that I’ve implemented and continue to implement in my own life, and I really enjoyed the straight-forward and fun way Jennifer writes (I love when she writes in the hard-to-do second person).

I also think you'll love the activities in the beginning of the book that help you get to know yourself and better figure out what the heck you’d like to do when you grow upEven though I've figured out a lot in the past few years, I still opened up a word document and did some of the activities; they helped me clarify a lot of things and rev up a lot of excitement for where they can go. 

So what is one of the biggest secrets to being successful when you’re young?

Start young. Or rather…start NOW (for all you young at heart ;))

Malcolm Gladwell (in his fantastic book Outliers) explains that it takes about 10,000 hours (approx. 10 years) to be great at something.

I often use this theory to play the “10,000 hours game” I made up. When I see a big celebrity, athlete, or professional winning the top awards and hitting their stride in their industry I do a quick Google search and count backwards to see when they started working on their craft. It’s shockingly accurate that most of began about 10 years prior.

You can be very successful at a young age, but will require 10,000 hours, focus, dedication, and the diligence to learn everything you can about what it is you want to do….right now.

Are you up for the challenge?

This book is a great start.

As a reminder, I only recommend books I've read and think are truly wonderful. This is not an advertisement but a genuine resource I think can help you in your journey towards success in college and beyond :)

Monday, April 8, 2013

How to find the best scholarships without the internet

Scholarships are awesome, but often hard to find. 

Some great opportunities can be found on the internet (like the $1,000 Pearson Prize, application deadline April 19), but endlessly searching the internet is not enough. 

There is a better way, and I share it in this short video from the Pearson Break Through to Student Success video series! :) 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

CC student succeeds after being pronounced brain dead

I recently had the privilege of interviewing an amazing community college student named Dexter for the Pearson Students Blog and was so inspired by him. I hope you are too:

Dexter Givens II was just enjoying another day of his junior year of high school in Virginia Beach, VA. He was a leader in an honors society and student government. He got good grades and was planning to attend James Madison University after he graduated high school. He had friends. Life was good.

Until it almost ended.... Read the rest of the story here

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

CC grad & Roadtrip Director for Roadtrip Nation shares his journey

As I share in my book, the best way to figure out your path in life is to learn from those who have done what you want to do. 

Roadtrip Nation has taken that concept to another level by taking college students on a green RV across the country each summer to interview people who have found their own path in life, documenting the entire experience like a reality show.

You can see episodes of the (amazing) show on their YouTube channel (I highly recommend subscribing to it!)

Ray (middle) having a great time on the roadtrip.
I recently met the Roadtrip Director (who is always looking for college students to be on the show) and found out he is a proud community college graduate.

Below he shares his community college story, advice on how to find a job you love, and how you can get involved with Roadtrip Nation:

What led you to community college?
In high school I had a lot of passions and interests, like music and writing – but people were telling me I shouldn’t study those things. I didn’t feel empowered or feel a lot of support. I went to San Jose University just because it seemed like what I was ‘supposed’ to do.

After one semester I realized I didn’t know why I was going to school. I wasn’t feeling connected and I didn’t have a purpose. So I decided to reboot and go to community college where I could take some time to figure out what I wanted to do without feeling the pressure of high tuition.

How did your community college experience change you?
The first two classes I took in community college were comedy improvisation and speech class. I got two A’s and was blown away - I had never been a straight A student and now I had a 4.0! I realized when you like what you are learning it changes everything.

I also started getting involved and saw the power of getting engaged with things that you cared about. I became a part of the student senate and saw the power of being able to have a say on your campus.

At a bigger campus I felt really disconnected, but in community college I felt like I had a say. I found a lot of motivation that I didn’t have in high school, and a lot of empowerment.

I realized when I show initiative, and speak my mind, and push for what I believe, change can happen, I can invoke change on my campus. That was a really big turning point for me.

I also met a lot of ambitious people who really wanted to go places and that influenced me. From there I transferred to UC Irvine and got my Bachelors in 2007.

What led you to working for Roadtrip Nation?
After I graduated college I was convinced that I was going to change the world (typical millennial fire). But around the time economy was struggling; I sent out over 80 resumes and got only three emails back. I didn’t get a single interview.

I was feeling really bummed. I was a college grad, wasn’t making any money, and wondered how am I supposed to make ends meet?

I was living in friend’s garage, and one day he told me “The time you’re most idealistic is when you’re in college, until the real world hits.” So I had to ask myself, do I really believe this, do I just have to buckle down, or am I going to grind and really do what I believe in and do the jobs I need to do to get by until I get into what I really want to do?

I worked a variety of part time jobs for months, always on the lookout for something where I could really make a difference. And then one day looking for a job on craigslist I saw a posting to be a student on this documentary series to do a summer trip traveling on an RV and interviewing people. Angels sung and sun came through the clouds and I thought YES this is exactly what I want and need.

I was lucky enough to be a part of the documentary.

The road trip confirmed everything I believed in; it was eye-opening talking to people who had made it in the fields I was passionate about. They were telling me there’s a place in the world for you and what you care about.

After the trip I had to go home as my dad got terminal cancer - that was a very tough time.

A couple days after my dad passed away Roadtrip reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in being a roadie for them as they traveled to different college campuses. I said yes! I was an intern and worked really hard.

I eventually got a job in outreach and then became the roadtrip director where I get to help pick students for the documentary.

What advice do you have for current community college students to help them succeed?
From my own experience, the most formative thing in community college was finding your own power and strength in the community itself. Heck, “community” is in the name!

You can see the change in a smaller community, and you can make that change. There are so many things you can get involved with. Start with those little seeds, and surround yourself with likeminded people who want to succeed.

And embrace the potential of community college. Out of HS I wouldn’t have been able to get into UC Irvine. But after community college a whole new world opened up to me. The things I learned in community college empowered me to do the work I do today.

Go here to see Ray jam in one of his favorite episodes of Roadtrip Nation, and keep checking this website to see when applications open so you apply to be a part of the next season 

Monday, April 1, 2013

How to find a mentor

Ever wonder how to find a mentor? In this quick-tip video from The SKiNNY I share a quick and easy way to find a mentor who can help you figure out what you want to do with your life, choose the right transfer university for your major, and give you guidance on your future career.