Thursday, February 28, 2013

Video: An interview on how to do informational interviews!

I recently had the privilege of getting interviewed via Skype for the Unlost blog and wanted to share it with you. 

In the interview I share many of the tips in my book regarding how to figure out what you want to do with your life, how to build your network from scratch, and how exactly to do an informational interview.

You can check out the video here

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Video: What does it take to be a successful student?

The lastest episode of The SKiNNY on College Success is here! In this episode you'll learn how to discover your learning style, what value personality tests can have in college, and learn what your peers have to say about what it takes to be a successful student today: 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ask Isa: How do you stand out in a scholarship application?

I recently received the following question from Ask Isa:

Dear Isa,

I am applying for a big opportunity at my university and I just found out it's very competitive. I know you won the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship and I wanted to know, how do you stand out in a competitive scholarship application when it comes to essays?


Want to Stand Out

My answer:

Dear Want to Stand Out,

I applaud you for asking this question, because scholarships and big opportunities in college are competitive, and essays are a great way to stand out above the rest. 

In addition to winning the JKC scholarship, I also  used to tutor students in scholarship and college admission essays; below are the top three things that will help you stand out above the rest, because they are things most students don't bother with (aka the students who don't win):

1) Read the prompt carefully: Before you even start writing read the prompt a few times and get a feel for exactly what they are asking. Put yourself in the scholarship committees shoes; ask yourself what they really want to know about you from this essay. Then, talk the prompt over with a mentor or professor and start brainstorming what you will write about. After you share your ideas of what you can write about, ask your mentor to be honest and tell you what is most compelling. 

2) Be you: Almost every first draft of an essay I used to get from a student would be generic and boring. I don't say this to be harsh, but it seems to be the default setting. We write what we think someone wants to hear, and end up losing ourselves all together. Your essay should be written in a way that could absolutely not be written by anyone else. It should have your unique voice, style, and (when relevant) life experiences that have made you who you are today. Believe it or not, you are interesting! Be yourself and you will stand out. 

3) Use lots of eyes: Every author has an editor, even the best of the best. Actors have directors. Athletes have coaches. Anyone who stands out for their craft understands that their first attempts are never enough; they understand that they'll only be at their best when they solicit feedback from outsiders. 

Getting feedback is always uncomfortable, but it is a prerequisite for greatness. It is also a prerequisite for standing out in a scholarship essay. Start your first draft as soon as you hear about the opportunity, and leave plenty of time to have at least three people read and edit it for you. Ask professors, mentors, or people who might be familiar with the opportunity (e.g. past winners). 

The truth is, there is no easy way to win a scholarship or prestigious opportunity. Hard work will pay off, and you have to work harder than the hundreds or thousands of others doing the same thing. 

I'll never forget the advice a mentor (and past JKC scholarship winner) gave me when I was writing my first scholarship essays and wondering how I was going to have time to do all of the things I've just listed above: "just think," she said, "if you win this award every sentence you write will be worth a thousand dollars." 

Invest your time in every scholarship application, and you will see results.

Have a question you'd like to see answered on the blog? Submit it anonymously in the Ask Isa inbox! :) 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Is grad school right for you?

It can be hard to know if graduate school is the right choice for you. If you are like me and are the first in your family to pursue a Bachelor's degree, anything beyond that can sometimes seem out of your reach. I want you to know that it's not. You can go to grad school, and there are many ways to pay for it!

However, before you make the decision you want to be sure it will benefit your particular career goals. Check out this latest quick video on Pearson's Blog to see if grad school is right for you :)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Community college student brings Harvard experience to her CC campus

I recently met an amazing community college student (now a student at the University of Miami) who created a program to help students on her college campus. I recently featured her program in an article on Fox News Latino and wanted to share her story with you.

It serves as a poignant reminder that real change starts with a small group of students seeing a problem and taking the initiative to solve that problem for their peers. You might not realize this, but there are things on your campus only you can do; there are people only you can impact. 

Jessica's story of taking such initiative is a great reminder: 

"Six Latino college students who attended a leadership program at Harvard College returned to Miami with an idea.

"They decided to found a group, 305 Rise, devoted to help minority students become better prepared for college...." Read the rest of the story here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A career and MBA prep program for minorities you should know about

I recently wrote an article on NBC Latino about an amazing community college graduate, Oscar Rodriguez, who went to a top business school and now works for Google. He credits his success to an amazing program called Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT). 

I've met students who've been involved in MLT's MBA prep program and their career program (something you do while in college) and the networking benefits are unbelievable! MLT has partners from the top companies in the country and you get to meet many of them through the program. 

As Oscar mentioned to me, he would never have been able to get jobs at certain companies without MLT. 

Check out the listing of all of their programs and, if you qualify, apply! (The career prep program application deadlines for 2014 are coming up.) These are the kinds of programs that transform lives. Why not yours? 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A quick and fun way to expand your vocabulary

My favorite word I learned in college was "elucidate." Yes, I had a favorite word.

I love learning new words, and when it came time to apply for graduate school and study for the GRE, vocabulary became very important. 

Learning new words will improve your writing, reading comprehension, your ability to perform well on verbal portions of standardized tests, and can be a lot of fun. Really. It can be. I swear! ;) 

I actually use's app which provides a word of the day that I study every morning (in English and Spanish!).

I'm also excited to announce that I'll be sharing a fun way to learn more words on a new lifestyle website for gentleman called Dromo. Every Monday they will post a short word of the week video from me for their "Gentleman & a Scholar" section :)

If you don't know what "supercilious" means watch (and enjoy) below! :)

Monday, February 18, 2013

New video series!

Hi Guys,

I am so excited to announce this new 20-video student success series filmed for the P.S. Blog! The videos will release every week for the rest of the Spring semester and then pick up again in the Fall. They all feature quick tips to help you Break Through to success in your college life. There are also a few surprises in each video to keep things fun. 

I hope you enjoy and I hope they help! You can keep up with them on the P.S. Blog, and I'll also be sharing each one here :)

This week's video features tips to help you start networking for success in college. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

CC student and former drug addict brings prevention education to teens

I contribute to Pearson Students' P.S. Blog, and the latest feature I did truly touched my heart. I interviewed Danny Brannon, a student who began community college at the age of 46; and after years in and out of rehab and jail, he has not only restarted his life, but is using his story to inspire teens. 

Here is a preview:

Danny grew up in South Baltimore, in a family deeply affected by alcoholism: “As a child, I had very little self-worth. I felt so inadequate,” he began as he painted a picture of his dark childhood. “I think I really turned everything inside, and my hurt began to turn to anger.” To escape from the pain, at the incredibly young age of ten, Danny began using drugs.

“I spent my whole life in institutions since I was ten years old. I went to rehab maybe 30 times, was arrested often, spent time in schools for troubled boys, and spent many nights sleeping on the streets,” he explains of his unconventional childhood.

Danny did not continue formal school past the 9th grade, and went on to complete his GED by the age of 16... Read Danny's entire story on the P.S...Blog.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ask Isa: Does prestige matter when choosing a college?

Below is a question from the anonymous Ask Isa inbox. Feel free to share your advice with this student in the comments section, and as always you can submit your own question to the Ask Isa column


Hi Isa,

I'm thinking about pursuing a career in business, and this is my second semester at my community college. I'm taking my General Education requirements now, and a few core businesses classes such as math and economics. 

So far these classes meet the requirements for my reach schools, UC Berkley and the University of Southern California (USC), and my back up school: California Polytechnic San Luis Obispo (SLO).

I have read that it is less likely to get into graduate school with a degree from a California State University (i.e.SLO) rather from a UC.

Financially, I'd prefer to go to SLO because the cost is WAY less than the cost of a UC, however I don't want this to hurt my chances of getting a job in the future. 

It just seems that UC's and private schools have more prestige over California State Universities. I still have a couple of semesters left to complete my requirements, I just want to have a clear path of what I am going to do so that I'll be motivated to accomplish my goal. 

Any advice?


Overwhelmed CC freshman

My answer:

Dear Overwhelmed CC freshman, 

Huge kudos to you for thinking about your path now, as a freshman. That will pay off big time - because you are right, having a path will keep you motivated. The more research you do about your direction in college the better.

I live in Florida and am not an expert on the California college system, so my first piece of advice is to ask this question of someone who is. Meet with an advisor at your community college, admissions officers at all of the colleges you are considering, and any professors who went to the colleges you are considering. 

Share your dilemma with them honestly and ask for their advice. Take as much advice as you can and then think about what sounds like the best path for you. 

When it comes to figuring out the best college to help you get a job, I recommend seeking out someone in your local area who has a job that interests you in business, and ideally who has also gone to a graduate school that interests you. Ask him or her for advice and listen closely. 

The best way to choose a path with the end result in mind is to talk to people who have gotten to the place you want to be and find out what they did. They will be more than happy to help you if you just reach out. 

What I've learned from going to community college and meeting many successful people is that where you go to college matters much less than how much work you put into it - and how much networking you do. 

You're on the right track! :)



Monday, February 11, 2013

What are people in your classes really going through?

Yesterday the following Facebook status showed up on my newsfeed, from a friend and college student named Pedro. With his permission, this is what it said (slightly shortened): 

Yesterday, my accounting professor asked one of my classmates to read a paragraph out loud from the book. She, the classmate, read a few words and then started to cry. 

As I was leaving class I asked her if she was okay, to which she replied, in tears, that her father had just passed away on January 31st, and that, as she read that paragraph, she saw the number 31 and associated it with him, so she cried... 

She then told me how her mom is only able to work part time and that she also has two little sisters to feed; she is the breadwinner, working to keep the family breathing - and she also goes to school full-time. 

Before that incident I was feeling exhausted - as if my problems were too big. I was feeling tired for having to do so much at once.

But that story shifted my perspective...I realized that even when I think I'm having a bad day, there is always someone out there with a problem that is bigger than mine. And they are still standing.

As I was scrolling through Facebook, this status really touched me and I wanted to share it with you. I give Pedro all the credit for this - so well said. 

I love community colleges precisely because it is a place where women like the one in this story have a chance to remake their lives. But it doesn't mean it's easy. I admire community college students because it's so hard. Many have to overcome so much just to get to a place that many take for granted.

And it's easy to take stuff for granted. So the next time you are struggling in school, wondering how you will manage, remember that you are not alone, and that you can succeed despite any setback. 

And like Pedro did by asking that girl if she was okay, reach out to the people around you in class. You never know what people are going through or how your kindness could help keep them in school. 

Because, to me, the best part of community college, is the community

Friday, February 8, 2013

Pie me in the face and honor your One Professor

I am the Student Success Celebrity Ambassador for Pearson's One Professor campaign....and the students have decided that being an ambassador is going to have to involve the face. Learn more @ 

If One Professor reaches 500 videos by April 6, 2013, a live pie-in-the-face extravaganza will take place (and be filmed) at the 2013 International Phi Theta Kappa Convention (April 3-6 in San Jose, CA). 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How to do To-Do Lists

Not all to-do lists are created equal. And not all lead to productivity.

Have you ever had a to-do list that was so long, every time you looked at it, all it made you want to do was look away

Or are you the kind of person who writes to do items on your hand, or says "it's all up here," and doesn't write anything down at all? (lol)

I recently adopted a to-do list method that has absolutely changed the way I get things done and made a huge difference in both my productivity and ability to enjoy free time, and I wanted to share it with you.

I've always had a to-do list (I actually had a Palm Pilot in high school and college - I know, I know, Nerd Alert!), and for the longest time I'd just keep this growing list of everything I had to do.

My Palm Pilot broke on my last day of college (symbolic, right?) and I began keeping my to-do list in a word document on my work computer. Again, a growing, monstrous list, where things would be deleted as they were completed. It worked okay enough.

But last year I started working from home. Suddenly, my to-do list became my everything. For the first time I really was the only one in charge of my days, and every moment counted. 

For a while, my same to-do routine reigned. But I found myself feeling anxious as my list seemed to never end, and it was hard to pinpoint where all my time was going.

So a few months ago I started something different. I had read about a similar method somewhere (sorry I can't remember exactly where - I read too much) where you just write the top three to-do items for the day and complete those before you do anything else. 

Here is what I do:

1) I use the notebook layout on Microsoft Word.

2) I have a tab marked Urgent and a tab marked Not Urgent.

3) On the Urgent page, I have the title, in bold, "3 Most Important Things." Every night I decide what the three most important things I need to accomplish that next day, the ones that would bring the most results, and things that I could realistically accomplish in one day. 

Then after a few spaces, the rest of my running to-do list awaits, but I can't touch it until my top three are completed. Also a rule: "check email" is never allowed in the top 3. 

4) I try to keep no more than eight to ten to-do items on my Urgent tab, and put the rest on my Not Urgent tab. When you see too many to-do items you tend to feel overwhelmed. Focus on what's important and urgent first and then move on to other non-urgent but still important things.

5) When I complete something I use the strikethrough format to cross it out. At the bottom of my Urgent page I have a title that says "Completed Tasks for the Week" where I copy/paste each accomplished item at the end of the day. Then, by Friday, I can look at everything crossed out that I did that week and realize where my time went. It feels a lot better than having the proof just disappear.  

I have been amazed at how this method has changed my level of productivity and feeling of accomplishment each day. 

There are many ways to manage the things you have to get done every day, and the key is to experiment and find a way that works best for you. Feel free to share your favorite method or to-do list app or website on the Facebook page!

You'll know your method is working when you are accomplishing important and valuable tasks each day, and feeling accomplished by the time the moon comes out.

You'll also know it's working when you can watch two hours of The Bachelor and not feel guilty because you know you got your most important tasks completed already ;) 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ask Isa: How to overcome senioritis in college

I recently received this question from the Ask Isa inbox:

Dear Isa,

I am feeling unmotivated because this is the last semester of my senior year. I don't actually want to go to my classes. I'd rather do all the work online and just go to my exams. How do I get my previous undergrad excitement back or is it gone forever? 


I'm afraid I have the beginning symptoms of senioritis

Dear Senioritis,

This feeling is completely understandable. And while you have probably changed a lot since your freshman year, that level of enthusiasm is definitely not gone forever. 

Last weekend, I spent some time at my alma mater as part of an alumni leadership program; walking through campus I realized that those years were some of the happiest of my life - especially my senior year (because I was engaged in a really challenging senior research project on a topic I loved). I love my job and my life now - so much - but still nothing compares to the college atmosphere of pure learning and growth. I would go back in a heartbeat. 

It is normal to go through highs and lows of motivation in college and in life. What I hope I can help you remember is that college is a huge privilege - and when it's over, it's over

So below are a few things you can try in order to combat senioritis and enjoy your last year of college:

1) Journal
Take a moment to journal about what you are feeling. Get it all out there, and you might just find writing it out will help you feel better. Then, journal about your college journey so far. Consider the new friends, the new experiences, and the way you've grown. Think about the person you were before college, and what it has done for you so far.

2) Friends
Go to an event or club meeting on campus and reconnect with old friends or make some new ones (it's never too late). Or consider planning a trip with your best buds. After college there are very few opportunities to be around so many people your own age, all working towards the same goal. Enjoy the time before the "real world" competition for jobs kicks in and have fun with the people around you. 

3) Contribute
This is your last year on your campus and your last change to contribute. Look around your campus community and consider how you can make an impact before you graduate. Apply for a new opportunity or project. Consider travel opportunities. Talk to a professor about your dilemma and see if he or she has any solutions to help you take on a new research project or engage with the campus in a new way. The best way to increase your feeling of engagement is to give. 

I hope this helps! You should be so proud of yourself that you have come to your senior year - it is a milestone that sadly too few students are reaching today. Embrace this unique time in your life and enjoy it for all it's worth. You deserve to. 

Feel free to ask your anonymous college or job-related questions on the new Ask Isa anonymous form on the homepage tab! :) 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Why I still get scared to get involved

As you might already know, I wrote a book about networking for college students, and why it's so important to get involved and meet people in college. 

I got involved in my community college and my university and joined everything I could. 

I read at least five books on networking each year and speak to college students around the country about networking and college success. 

I meet people all the time and get involved in new opportunities whenever I can because I believe relationships are the key to success in everything.

But I still get scared out of my mind every time I get involved in something new where I know I'm going to meet new people. 

I recently got an e-mail to attend Leadership Stetson, a leadership program for alumni at my alma mater. I applied, because that's what I do. 

And then I got accepted. Uh-oh, I thought, Now I actually have to do this. And at this moment, all of my defenses kick in: Do I really need to do this? Will it be worth my time? Why do I need to do this? Don't I have other stuff you need to do that weekend? 

But I RSVP that I will attend. 

I continue to resist, all the way up to Friday night when I drive to the college for the opening reception. As I'm driving, I can physically feel everything in my body telling me to turn the car around. I feel slightly short of breath, anxious, wondering, What will I say to people? How will I know who to talk to? I won't know anybody. I'll probably be the youngest person there. No one will want to talk to me. Why am I doing this?!

But I keep driving. 

And of course, by the end of the weekend, I'm hugging new friends good-bye, clutching my iPad filled with new ideas and inspirations from the experience, thinking, I'm so glad I didn't miss this. 

Throughout this entire experience, I also kept thinking of you

I remembered how absolutely terrifying it is to try something new, to go to college for the first time, to transfer schools, to attend a club event when you don't know anyone, to visit a new professor during office hours, and to strike up a conversation with a stranger in class. This stuff is HARD. Scary. 

And this weekend I realized I'm still scared all the time.

Despite the many amazing experiences I've had and the knowledge that every new experience will bring growth and new relationships, my brain still doesn't get it. 

It still washes me over in fear and tries to get me not to do anything but stay in my apartment and work on my computer (kind of like how your brain might tell you to just go to class and go home and not bother with anything extra).

So the next time you feel anxious about trying something new, don't wait for the fear to subside before you make a decision - because it'll probably never go away. 

Instead, just do it (I've come to appreciate Nike's branding genius lately). 

Act in spite of fear. In spite of laziness. In spite of all your doubts.

Your action will turn resistance into persistence, your greatest ally in success.