Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thank you!!

As tomorrow marks Thanksgiving it also marks almost three years since I started this blog.

I'll never forget writing my first post, dreaming that it could one day turn into a book. That dream would have never come to fruition without you.

I want to thank you for reading this blog, for following me on this journey, and for being the kind of person who wants to fight for your own success in college and beyond. 

College is tough for everyone, but it's especially hard if you come from a low-income or underprivileged background. You guys are breaking those barriers every day, and you're the reason why this work is still exciting. 

I get so many e-mails from those of you who are fervently trying to succeed and care more about your education than many probably give you credit for. I just wanted to take this Thanksgiving week to remind you how awesome you really are.

Thank you for being the kind of person who wakes up every day and works hard. Thank you for trying. Thank you for not giving up. 

Keep going, and enjoy your Turkey Day tomorrow. :)



Monday, November 25, 2013

College To-Do List Week 3

Success is all about taking small steps, each day, over a long period of time. Good habits can take you far. 

So for the rest of the 2013-2014 school year, each Monday I'll release a short video with one small thing for you to do that week that will lead you to success. Try it, and you'll be amazed by what can happen.

Monday, November 18, 2013

College To-Do List - Week 2

Success is all about taking small steps, each day, over a long period of time. Good habits can take you far. 

So for the rest of the 2013-2014 school year, each Monday I'll release a short video with one small thing for you to do that week that will lead you to success. Try it, and you'll be amazed by what can happen.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ask Isa: "What do I do when my 4.0 is in danger?"

From the Ask Isa inbox:

Dear Isa,

I'm having such a hard time in two of my classes this semester. I'm a full time, straight-A student but I can't seem to get higher than a 88 on my exams in both courses. They happen to be with the same professor also. 

This is my second to last semester and losing my 4.0 is not an option for me. I'm not doing anything different from previous semesters. I work hard, study hard, and attend class regularly. I have mentioned my concerns to my professor and she said, "tests were not meant to be easy." 

I don't know how to correct this problem and turn things around to improve my grade. Can you please offer me some advice?


Heartbroken, Devastated, and Worried

Dear Heartbroken,

Congratulations on getting such stellar grades so far and for being so concerned with doing well. That desire alone will take you far, but it's important not to let it overwhelm your desire to learn and grow. 

I too an am overachiever and worked hard to keep my 4.0 throughout high school, college, and graduate school. And I'll never forget my first B's.

In high school it was pottery and geometry.

In college it was qualitative analysis.

And I agonized much in the same way you are. I looked at my habits and asked myself if any of these grades were because I wasn't working hard enough. I came to the same conclusion you did - I was doing everything I could. 

It's vital to recognize our academic strengths and weaknesses, and remember that your effort, not your grades, is what will take you the farthest in your life.

Your grades do not define you, and while I think it is a good thing to work as hard as you can to get a 4.0, getting anything less does not mean you are a failure.

Use any B's (or any grade less than an A for that matter) as a chance to learn. Ask yourself the following questions:

1) Did I do everything I could to do well on this?
2) Was there more time I should have spent studying or seeking a tutor?
3) Did I seek the professor's feedback multiple times throughout the process of studying or doing the project to be sure I was on the right track?
4) Is this class similar to something I'm majoring in?
5) Do I want to continue to take classes like this in my future?

When I got B's I asked myself these questions, and usually came to the conclusion that those subjects were not in my strength areas, and thus allowed myself to actually be proud of my B's, versus letting them get me down.

I really am horrible at pottery. My spatial intelligence is pathetic (never ask me to read a map for you). And qualitative analysis was just a really tough class.

I used this information, however, to my advantage when making choices in my future. For example, I decided to focus on algebra and statistics when I had math choices, I focused on drawing electives instead of pottery, and when it came time for me to do my undergraduate research, I chose rhetorical analysis instead of qualitative. 

Use the knowledge about yourself that you're gaining to your advantage and be strategic. 

And finally, when talking to your professor, do not lament over your grades (do that with close friends or mentors), but instead use your time with your professor to ask for honest feedback

Go over the questions you missed on the exams and identify the problems. While it's helpful to focus on your strengths, you can also improve by focusing hard on those weaknesses to help improve your grades in those classes. 

Also ask your professor for advice on what you can do to improve. Your professor will be much more apt to help you improve then to comfort you when you're sad about your grades. Use that advice to your advantage.

Best of luck, and remember that your grades do not define you. A 4.0 is a wonderful goal, and aiming high will take you far. But do not let it limit your confidence or your potential to learn from every grade and appreciate your efforts.

You are doing a great job, and don't let any letter ever make you feel less than what you are - a successful and dedicated student.

Keep up the good work!



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ask Isa: When is the best semester to begin college?

From the Ask Isa Inbox:

Hi Isa,

Are there any disadvantages to incoming Freshman starting early (Spring Session/Summer Session) instead of starting when everyone else their age starts (Fall Semester)? I'm scared that it might affect making friends, opportunities, joining clubs, etc.



Dear Confused/Scared,

While I can't speak from direct experience since I did start college during the Fall Semester, I do know that every college can vary in the programs it offers each semester, so I highly encourage you to ask this question of an admissions counselor at your college right away. 

While it can be great to start in a traditional route as most colleges build their schedules and activities with that schedule in mind, most community colleges have programs year-round, and other colleges also recognize students start at different semesters. It's all about your priorities.

For many students starting college in the summer or spring offers great advantages because of their own preferences or other things going on in their lives (e.g. I also had a student e-mail me asking the same question as you - they wanted to start college early so as not to have too long a gap between high school and college).

The great thing about starting college early is that you can get a head start and have extra time to get comfortable with the new environment. It certainly won't negatively affect you when it comes to making friends, because you'll be able to make friends with the other students going to school at that time. 

In the working world it's vital to be able to make friends who aren't your age, and interact with a diversity of people, so even if you find starting early mixes you in with students who aren't your age, that can actually be a good thing.

So in short, I do not think you will put yourself at a disadvantage if you start college in a semester other than the fall. Just be sure to talk about it with your admissions counselor so that if there are any particular programs or opportunities at your college that would only be available to you if you started in the fall you can then weigh your options. 

Congrats to you for going to college - that alone will put you at a huge advantage no matter when you start. It's quite an adventure and I can tell you are going to be great at it! Best of luck!



Monday, November 11, 2013

College To-Do List - Week 1

Success is all about taking small steps, each day, over a long period of time. Good habits can take you far. 

So for the rest of the 2013-2014 school year, each Monday I'll release a short video with one small thing for you to do that week that will lead you to success. Try it, and you'll be amazed by what can happen.

Monday, November 4, 2013

How to study for the GRE

You may have noticed I've been a bit MIA on the blog recently and I wanted to tell you why:

I recently retook the GRE. And I want to share with you some tips for doing well and raising your score. 

I first took the GRE a few years ago before I was admitted to my Master's program. When I finished my M.Ed I felt like I was so DONE with school. A doctorate? Five years? No, not for me. 

And then, about a year later, I started missing school desperately. And I found an incredible doctoral program at an ivy league that only required three years and covered full tuition. 

I decided to apply for next Fall 2014.

However, aside from my writing score, my GRE scores were not close to the average of the previous incoming class that the university's graduate website reported. I was going to be applying to one of the most selective schools in the world, and thus I knew I was going to have to prepare for a standardized test like I'd never prepared in my life.

I learned a ton throughout the process these past two months (and was able to raise my scores to the ivy league level for the first time in my life!), and I wanted to pass on that knowledge to you as I get so many e-mails from many of you who're interested in going to graduate school. 

So below are the things I did that helped me raise my scores and (hopefully) qualify to get into the doctorate of my dreams. I hope some of these things can help you do the same. 

1) Research GRE requirements: Every graduate program has different requirements; some don't even require the GRE! Do your research first and identify your target score. The best way to find out for sure is to talk to an admissions counselor for the program you're interested in.

2) Register for the test: Ask the admissions counselor when the GRE scores are due for your application and then register to take your test at least a month or two before that date. If you are ahead of the game, try to take it as early as possible to give yourself room to retake it if needed (keep in mind you have to wait a few weeks between retakes). Also leave yourself at least a month or two to study. 

3) Buy study materials with practice tests: This is the time to invest and I think it's absolutely worth it. The ETS website offers some great free resources, but I also recommend getting other resources or perhaps signing up for a class if that's right for you. I purchased and loved the Kaplan GRE book, the ETS GRE book, and the Kaplan vocabulary flash cards

4) Schedule A LOT of time for studying: Studying for a standardized test requires a lot of time because you have to study a lot of things that may not be on the test. Since you don't know exactly what is going to be on the test, you have to study everything. That takes time, and the time spent will pay off. Dedicate time into your schedule; it will require making some short-term sacrifices in your schedule to find the time. (I probably studied about 75 hours.)

5) Divide your studying into manageable chunks: I dedicated the entire month of October to studying for the GRE (I scheduled my test for October 31, for an application due December 13). With about 30 days to study, I divided the 5 practice tests I received with my books throughout the week and scheduled them in my calendar. I also took the 500 words, divided them by 30 days, and memorized just those words each day. 

6) Tell people: I was nervous to tell people at first, for fear I would fail. But I knew I had to take the advice I give students, so I started telling people, and while it was scary, I knew I had to be accountable; it encouraged me to stick with my study plan. 

7) Take practice tests: I learned the most by taking practice tests and then going over the answers I missed. Take as many as possible and dedicate the time to go over the answers. 

8) Identify your strongest area: After you take your first practice test identify your strongest area and focus on studying to improve your weakest areas. My strongest area is writing, so all I did to prepare for the essay portion was read the sample perfect-score essays to get an idea of tone. I focused 65% of my time on math and the other 35% on vocabulary.

9) Meet with a tutor/friend for help: Ask for help in your weakest areas. I'm lucky to be married to a math whiz so I was able to get free tutoring. Find someone who can help you figure out the problems that the book alone can't explain well. If writing isn't your strongest area, have people read your essays to get help. 

10) Be strategic: Think about what your graduate program requires; for example, I know the one I'm applying for isn't focused at all on math, which was good for me because my math scores were still struggling. I knew that while I could get my math scores to the bare minimum, they weren't going to be impressive. That is why, though I was very good at the Verbal section, I still focused heavily on studying for it. I decided if I could get almost perfect scores in Verbal and Writing it would overshadow my average math score. This paid off big time as I was able to take my verbal score from a percentile rank in the 70's to the 90's.

11) Get creative: Have fun with your studying as much as possible and find ways to work with the material; staring at a book alone will not work. I entered the vocab words I kept struggling with into Quizlet, as well as found GRE flash cards others had made. I loved playing Scatter with them and doing the practice tests. 

12) Relax: Do not study the night before the test or the day of. Plan to have a nice dinner, a healthy breakfast, and then relax. Listen to your favorite music on the drive to the test. Wear a comfortable but nice outfit that gives you confidence. Breathe. Know that all of your studying will pay off. And that, in the end, it's just a test. It doesn't define you. 

Please share any of your tips on the Facebook page, and best of luck in your graduate plans! It's quite an adventure.