Monthly Archives: June 2015

Summer Research – Visits and Tours!

Summer, summer, summer time! Summer is an exciting time for soon to be high school juniors and seniors, and their parents, to engage in research. Research you say? Yes, get with university lingo, and call your visits to college campuses research! This research should be fun. One element of this research is conducted by listening to admissions presentations and going on campus tours – a real living-learning laboratory!

Since I recently started working at a new university, I attended an admissions presentation and campus tour a few days ago. During the presentation, and while on the campus tour, the majority of the questions were asked by the parents. This did not surprise me, but I encourage you, student, to ask questions when you visit/tour. Only two students, out of about 40, asked questions during the one and half hour we were together.

In addition to reading Chapter Four of ‘On the Quad’ and using our free visit and tours worksheet available on this website, I challenge you to come up with a list of 3-5 questions you would ask if you already knew you were accepted to the institution. While enjoying the admissions presentation, put yourself in the mind frame of ‘I have been accepted here! They want me! Now, this is what I want to know about them, in order for me to say “yes” to spending the next 4-5 years of my life here!’

Colleges fill their admissions websites with the answers to the questions they get asked most frequently, so review the website before the visit, and focus on asking questions that are not found there. University students, staff and faculty are quick to share their personal experiences, so do not hesitate to ask questions that sound similar to this: “Based on your experiences at (name of institution), what would you recommend …?” You can even follow that question up with, “How would your best friend (or favorite professor) answer the same question?” If you are a bit shy, or nervous about asking questions, focus on the fact that 1) you will more than likely never see the people you are on the tour with ever again, and 2) no question is a dumb question – college is a new experience for you!

Enjoy your summer research! And, remember, ‘On the Quad’ has a whole chapter dedicated to this; don’t forget to take a few copies of the visit/tours worksheet with you!

Thank you notes

Last week, I discussed how to ask for a letter of recommendation.  Assuming your request for a letter has been affirmed, then you need to write a thank you note.  Thank you notes are also necessary after you have had a job interview.  They are also a good idea to a scholarship committee or granting foundation, especially if you received funding.  In short, just like your mother may have told you (and even she didn’t, let us be the ones to tell you):  thank you notes are low investment on your part but they pay high dividends to you.  In contemporary speak, thank you notes have a high ROI (return on investment).

Thank you notes for letters of recommendation:

Tucker Cummings writes here about the important components of a thank you letter to a professor.  There are examples of general thank you notes as well as specific ones for letters of recommendation.  Notice that the advice includes hints like “make sure to spell the professor’s name correctly” which may seem obvious, but aren’t always followed.  (Students spell my name wrong ALL the time; a simple google search will turn up the correct spelling and take all of 2 seconds.)  Also, notice that the advice says to “be specific.”  Name something specific that the professor did for you (e.g., write a letter of recommendation for X occasion).

Thank you notes for job interviews:

Liz Ryan writes here about the important components of a thank you letter after a job interview.  Any job interview!  (On campus job interview, summer job interview, career job interview, etc).  The author includes two examples of thank you notes — and gives the extra guidance of how to differentiate your email thank you note from your handwritten one.  Take note, people!  Thank you notes matter.  They remind the person of who you are — as a potential colleague and co-worker.  They also show the person that you are thoughtful and conscientious about your relationships.  This is key for so many jobs and situations.  Note that Liz Ryan also states that being specific in the thank you note is key.  So, take good notes at the interview so you can do the follow up in a positive and successful way.

Even if you don’t want the job or aren’t offered it, you should still send thank you notes.  The world is actually much smaller than we think.  A thank you note to one professor or company/business could put you into a good relationship with another opportunity due to connections.  So, take  5 minutes to write that letter, today!

Asking for a letter of reference

It is that time of year when many students are asking for letters of reference.  To be honest, the ‘season’ of requesting letters of recommendation seems to be nonstop.  This post is about how to request such letters from your teachers, instructors, or work superiors.

First, let me start by saying this:  you may be thinking right now “I’m not going to need a letter of reference, so this doesn’t apply to me.”  Stop right there.  You must change your outlook.  So many things you may want to do in the near (or distant) future are going to require a letter of reference.  Just what is a letter of reference?  Well, it is formal letter, written by someone (usually a superior of some sort, but sometimes a peer) who knows you well; can vouch for you as an outstanding person; and, someone with a level of authority that their ‘word’ (= letter) means something to the audience (job, scholarship board, graduate school, etc.).  Thus, it is important that in every role of your life (high school, college, job) you learn to develop relationships with people who will be in a position to write for you in the future.  You need to connect with at least one person in your school or your job (or club, team, etc) who will eventually be a good candidate to write a letter of recommendation for you.  This is crucial for future opportunities.

Second, let me move onto proposing some language that you could use to ask for a letter of reference.  I was inspired to write this post because I had a student send me an email asking if I would be “interested in writing a letter of recommendation” on her behalf.  This is a very weird way of asking for a letter.  I am interested in many things (reading, cooking, chances to travel) but writing letters of recommendation aren’t really something I am interested in doing.  Nevertheless, I recognize that it is part of my position and my role as a faculty member.  As such, I often write letters for students and am typically happy to do it for them.

So, how should someone ask for a letter of recommendation?  Ideally, you do the asking in person.  But, if you must send an email, then you might consider putting it quite frankly but politely:  Dear Ms/Mr./Dr/Professor LetterWriter, I am writing to ask if you would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for me?  I am applying to be a Curator at the local nocturnal reptile museum and they have asked for two letters of reference.  The deadline for the letter to be submitted is December 5, 2015.  They have asked that you address the letter to the Director of the Nocturnal Reptile Museum, Mr. Alley Gator; they have also asked that you write the letter on letterhead and sign the envelope across the back after you seal it.  I have an envelope that is already addressed and stamped for your convenience.  If you are willing to write for me, please let me know.  I can drop off the envelope at your earliest convenience.  Thank you very much, sincerely, Student in NeedofLetter

In the above request, you can note some details:  what is the letter for?  When is the letter needed?  Where should it be sent to?  To whom should it be addressed? If you know that particular information is required in the letter, give that information to the person you are requesting the letter from.  The more they know about what information is desired, the better able they are to write a strong letter on your behalf.

Finally, if the person declines to write, accept that.  You do NOT want someone writing a letter on your behalf if they do not really want to do it; the letter will be tepid and weak.  What you want is a strong letter of recommendation.

Remember:  make a connection to a potential letter writer wherever you are!  It will be crucial for the next steps to come in your life — no matter what stage of life you currently find yourself!



Highs and Lows

The end of the academic year has arrived, or will soon arrive for those of you still in session. It is a great time for reflection, especially after your grades are posted! If you are a student who is looking at her/his grades and wondering “what the …?!” Are you attempting to provide justification for the grade letter behind the course name? Today, I offer up this article from Entrepreneur magazine: The Incredible Power of Believing in Yourself.

Author, Matt Mayberry, begins, “To live a life of high achievement, you must fully believe in yourself.” He then lists names of some well-known high achievers, but adds this, “However, it’s not their levels of success that I want to talk about. It’s their willingness to get up again and again when they failed or experienced a setback while in pursuit of creating the life of their dreams.” Those words aren’t only good advice for entrepreneurs, but for everyone!

As you are looking at your earned grades, do you find yourself casting blame on someone other than yourself for poor letter grades? Did you receive that grade because ‘the professor is a tough grader,’ or ‘the course content went so quickly there was no way anyone could keep up,’ or ‘the members of the group project didn’t try hard enough,’ or any other reason that does not include “I …”? Often it is much easier to blame someone else for a negative situation that affects oneself, but in doing so you don’t take accountability, and then, what is learned? (My answer to that: “nothing.”)

How can a person learn to take accountability if no one ever challenges the person to reflect on outcomes? I suggest, you, student, take out a piece of paper and write the name of the course, on which you received your lowest grade, at the top of the page. Draw a vertical line down the center of the page, and on the left side of the vertical line write ‘Advice,’ and on the right side write ‘Successes.’ Under the ‘Advice’ header, make a list of ways you could have done better in the course. Under the ‘Successes’ header, make a list of things learned in the course. Not a list of learned theory/course content, but a list that reflects things that make you a better student and person. Then, reflect on both lists. You now have given yourself feedback, which hopefully becomes motivation, while also acknowledging what went well. This is an act of taking accountability (for the grade), and also, like the title of the included article, an act of believing in yourself!

Mayberry’s article is written for an audience of business professionals, but it is very applicable to a student; right now, you are a student/college entrepreneur, running your own company, and your company’s mission is designing the path toward your degree and career! The author labels his acts of taking accountability under two themes, “Count Your Wins” and “Talk to yourself like a Champion.” Both activities have good recommendations.

Take some time to reflect on this academic year. Do the accountability activity of Advice and Successes for all your recent courses – even the ones with great grades, it will make you better prepared for your next academic term!

(If you like this blog, check-out the blog I wrote a few weeks ago titled ‘Failure Stories’ it has similar themes. You’ll find it a little farther down this page!)