Monday, September 30, 2013

How to choose your college major

Choosing a major is one of the most important choices you'll make in college. Some say it doesn't matter, but I think it does.

But I don't think it's about choosing the major that has the potential to make you the most money. I think you should choose a major based on something else. 

Check out the video below from the Pearson Students Blog to find out what you should think about when choosing the right major for you:

Monday, September 23, 2013

How to know if you’re too involved in college clubs

In my book and speeches I'm often encouraging students to get involved in order to avoid “drive-thru” education. Why? Because getting involved in your college experience outside the classroom via clubs leads to scholarships, vital friendships, and resume-building experience.

However, there are some students who get too involved. Over the years I’ve met a few overachievers who try to do too much at the expense of their grades.

Here is a quick test to know if you’re too involved:

If you are involved in clubs...
1) Are you getting straight A’s?
2) Day to day do you feel generally stress-free?

If you answered “no” to either of the questions above then you might be too involved.

Getting involved should never get in the way of your grades. In many ways I think getting involved can improve your grades by increasing your engagement and interest in your overall college experience. 

However, the second you notice you’re not investing the necessary time towards your classes it’s time to step down from your involvement and get your grades back on top before you get involved again.

You are capable of getting straight-A’s. It’s all about investing the time necessary and choosing classes that interest you. Over-involvement is never a good excuse for not giving your classes your 100%.

The good news is you don't have to be involved in a lot of clubs for extra-curricular involvement to pay off. It’s actually much more lucrative to be the president of one club then be a member in a few.

For example, when I was in community college I was the president of our Phi Theta Kappa chapter.

And that’s it.

Being involved in that one organization led to my winning the $110,000 Jack Kent Cooke scholarship.

At my transfer university I became an orientation leader for transfer students.

And that’s it.

Being involved in that one organization and working hard in class led to my being the commencement speaker and wining the $3,000 top award given to one senior at graduation.

In short, focus on quality over quantity. 

And I’m not telling you this so you think I’m awesome (though, hey, that would be a cool side effect), but to let you know that this is possible for you too.

You have the capacity to be a leader and get amazing grades.

But if ever the grades are sliding because of the involvement, it’s time to resign and focus on your coursework until you’re back on top of it.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed right now, find a mentor in your student life office or seek out a professor during office hours to ask for advice on how you can better manage your time.

And don't be afraid to limit your involvement for a time if needed in order to improve your grades. Grades come first. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

How to break out of your comfort zone in college

Breaking out of your comfort zone is one of the most important things you can do to have a successful college experience. There are so many opportunities at your fingertips, but all of them require you to get a little uncomfortable at first. 

Check out this video I did for the Pearson Students blog that shares a few tips on how to find the courage to break outside of your comfort zone.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Dressing for Success: The SKiNNY Episode 6!

When I started college I didn't have any professional clothes. I remember feeling so lost looking for that first blazer when I had to dress professionally for a presentation my first semester of freshman year. 

This recently released episode of the local TV show I host, The SKiNNY on College Success, shares some great tips on how to dress professionally without losing your personality. Hope it helps! :)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

5 things to improve your grades

One of my most popular YouTube videos is the one that shares what to do after you fail a test. I love the questions I receive in the comments section of the video because most come from students who are so eager to do well in college. 

I've met enough students who had GPA's of 1.0 their first try in college and who came back later - when they were motivated - and got 4.0's to know that grades are more about strategy and focus than any kind of inherent intelligence. 

Sometimes students struggle in classes simply because they don't have the right strategies.

And unless you're already easily getting a 4.0, there's probably more you can do to get better grades and limit stress (e.g. I never pulled an all-nighter).

So below are the top 5 strategies I used in college that helped me and so many others get straight-A's: 

1) Schedule daily library time
When I built my schedule each semester I purposefully left time in between classes to force myself to work in the library. As a commuter, it's hard to resist the temptation to just go to class and go home. Spacing classes out is a great way to make the most of your campus experience.

Create a block of time each day you're on campus to spend in the library. I was usually in the library for a few hours Monday-Thursday and it worked great. 

I never had to do homework at home, at night, or on the weekends. I never had to turn down friends to hang out because I had to study. I was always ahead, and it felt great.

Even if the library isn't your favorite place, dedicate yourself to spend time on campus in a place that motivates you to do your homework. Schedule it in and go without fail.

2) Use your professors' office hours
In addition to meeting with every professor as a potential mentor, I always talked to professors about big assignments and exams. 

For example, when assigned an essay I'd do my initial research and then come to the professor with any questions that came up and to run my thesis by him or her for feedback. 

I also brought my exams back. For example, when you get math or science exams back, check over the answers you got wrong; if you can't figure out why you got any one wrong, bring the exam to your professor and ask for help.

When you're diligent with this, professors are more than happy to help because they'll see your motivation. 

3) Choose classes (and a major) you really like
I'm sure it would have been possible, but I'm not as confident I would have gotten straight-A's if I'd taken calculus or organic chemistry. 

I chose a major I loved (communications), and when it came to science and math-based general education requirements, I chose only what I needed for my major (which I knew by checking the catalog of the transfer university I planned on attending).

When it came to requirements like history, I chose courses that truly fascinated me. 

Don't choose classes based on convenience. Choose them based on what you find interesting, and do your research. When you like a class it's so much easier to do well. 

4) Put syllabus reminders in a calendar
Stay on top of due dates and develop an organizational system that makes staying on top of assignments in multiple classes easy. My life saver was my palm pilot (lol I know, I know - I went to college before the iPhone, okay?) and Google calendar reminders sent to my phone (see #2 in this blog post for how to set this up). 

5) Go to class
I know this seems obvious, but I cannot tell you how many people boasted to me that college was so great because professors don't take attendance so you really don't have to go to class. (Note: all of those people took 5-6 years to get their bachelors degrees and failed a few classes).

Show up every day unless you're really sick. Sit in the front row. Make it a point to contribute at least once every class. 

Getting good grades is less about natural intelligence and much more about being fully engaged. You can do this. 

What other strategies have worked well for you in getting good grades? Please share on the Facebook page!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Calling all community college students: America needs you

I just came back from speaking to a community college in New York City and was excited to have an extra day to walk around Manhattan.

My grandparents moved from Puerto Rico to New York City to find jobs. They didn't speak English, had 4th-grade educations, and lived in the projects in the Bronx. But they found jobs that allowed them to eventually buy a home, raise a family, and make it possible for me to go to college. 

New York City represents so much of the American Dream profoundly realized.

And yet New York City, like many cities, illustrates the income gap that is growing around the country. The closeness of city life makes the juxtaposition of extreme success and extreme poverty so visible.

In the city you can see the literal heights of success - tall buildings, bustling business, million-dollar apartments, high-end fashion. But coexisting on the same streets is the most dire poverty - a homeless veteran, a pregnant woman stranded and trying to get bus fare home. There are so many looking up for help, and yet so many walking by. 

What can be tough about aspiration is that sometimes we're so focused on looking up and moving forward that we can forget the inequality around us.

Success is often viewed as a perpetual climb, and the ethos teaches us to keep wanting more, more, more. 

But the old adage when climbing great heights - "don't look down" - isn't one we should follow when pursuing success. 

We must look down, behind, back, and around. Moving forward alone isn't really moving forward. 

It can be harder for people who become accustomed to extreme wealth to see the inequality. For those who know poverty, who have looked into the eyes of it, maybe even in the mirror, it can be harder to forget.

That is why it's vital to make sure that anyone who has experienced poverty has the opportunity at a great education.

This is my passion.

That passion is why I believe in community college students and why I write this blog. 

Because community colleges are places that allow people from humble beginnings to break the cycles of poverty and create better lives for themselves and their communities.

Community college students are bridge builders. 

And I want you to remember that every time you're struggling in class, every time you're not sure how you're going to make ends meet, every time you worry that you aren't "college material," every time you don't know what to do with your life, and every time you feel like you just can't move forward. 

With every class, with every A, with every degree, you are building an important bridge, for yourself and so many others around you.

Keep building, and along the way, bring others with you to share the view.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

College Firsts: What to do on your first meeting with a professor

Keep up with the College Firsts series by liking the Facebook page!

One of the worst mistakes students make is not meeting with their professors until they get a bad grade.

To make the most of your first semester in college, you should meet with your professors right away. 

Professors know your college campus better than anyone, have great academic advice, and can write you recommendation letters (when they know you well) that can get you into your top-choice transfer universities and win you thousands of dollars in scholarships. 

One of the greatest benefits of going to community college is the direct access you have to your professors. Take advantage of it right away by doing the following:

1) Make a note of the office hours and e-mail addresses for each professor.

2) Pay attention to what your professors say in the first week of class about their preference in how you can best reach them.

3) If they don't specify, ask the professor in person whether he or she prefers you to send an email to set up an appointment or to just walk in during office hours.

4) Using the specifications, meet with each professor as soon as possible.

5) In your request, tell the professor this is your first semester in college and you would like to ask for their advice.

6) Read the professor's syllabus thoroughly and then write down 3-5 questions you want to ask the professor about the class, upcoming projects, and - most important - about college itself. 

Don't be afraid to be vulnerable and share some of your story - remember most professors are in this work because they want to help students succeed.

Some sample questions:
  • This is my first semester in college and I'm feeling a little scared and unsure; could you give me some advice when it comes to stepping outside of my comfort zone?
  • What student organizations do you think are the best to get involved with on campus?
  • What was your first semester of college like and how did you make the most of the experience/ 
  • [For professors who teach a subject you're thinking about majoring in, ask what they liked about the major to find out more if it's a good fit for you.]
  • [If you're unsure about your major, tell the professor your confusion and ask for advice.]
  • [If you're unsure about where to transfer after community college, ask the professor for advice on the best schools.]
  • I really want to do well in your class and am looking forward to [insert an assignment or two that you're excited about that you read in the syllabus]. Do you have any advice on how to do well in your class based on students who have succeeded in the past?

7) Come to the office armed with your questions. All you have to do is listen. It's really not that hard and takes a lot of the pressure off. 

8) Send a follow up e-mail thanking the professor for his or her time.

9) Take some time to consider which professor you clicked with the most and really felt comfortable with. Continue to meet with that professor and ask for advice. 

10) Remember the best way to have a mentor is to take that persons advice and then tell that person how much that advice helped you. People are very generous with their time as long as they know you're really taking the advice seriously.

In short, professors make a difference. The best professors go above and beyond teaching in the classroom to instill what students need most - hope. 

See some amazing stories of how professors are changing lives in the One Professor campaign - and be sure to honor a professor who's impacted your life.  

Keep up with the College Firsts series by liking the Facebook page!