Category Archives: More about the book

Real Experience

When we wrote On the Quad, we had many students in mind including first generation students  (students who are first in their families to go to college).  We did this for many reasons, but chief among them was that Heidi and I had many experiences advising real students from all kinds of backgrounds; we noticed that some students “understood the system” due to family lore, sibling’s tales, or other legacy ways.  Consequently, our book starts at the beginning, thinking about what kinds of institutions of higher education exist and then discussing how to consider which one might be a good fit for you (the reader).

It is hard for any one of us to know the experiences of others.  But, sometimes we do get to hear their stories.  In this story here from NPR’s “Been There:  Lessons from a Shared Experience,” we hear two first generation college students — one who has recently graduated from his university and the other who has just transferred from a community college to a 4-year university — talk about negotiating college life.

They don’t necessarily discuss the ins-and-outs of what college is, how to fill out a FAFSA, or how to study.  What they do talk about include how to fit in with other students who are different from them — often the differences manifest in economic ways (What if you can’t afford to go hang out with friends at a club because the cover charge is just too high?).

It’s a great chance for anyone — first generation or not — to gain a peek into what the person next to you in your math class might be struggling with.  Take a minute and listen.

How to Research College

High School students, it is the start of a new year and you have many exciting activities you are participating in and looking forward too! We know your schedule is as busy as it has ever been, however, we want to remind you to plan college visits throughout the year as well. Sophomores – it is not to early to start college research; juniors – it is important to make the visits and tours a priority; seniors – even after submitting applications, if you applied to a location you have not visited, do your best to get there!

Starting your research and visits early gives you time to process numerous things:

  • What majors am I interested in?
  • What are the newest majors on this campus, and why? (These often say something about the job market – but that does not mean you must be interested in it!)
  • What type of campus setting is most attractive to me?
  • Which of my current activities do I want to continue during college, and what opportunities do I have to continue them here?
  • What types of living environments does the college offer? Do they meet my expectations?
  • For which grants and/or scholarships might I qualify?
  • What is the sticker price of this institution, and what does that really mean?

If you are thinking, “well, I plan to go to community college first and then transfer – this research is not important to me right now.” I politely ask you to reconsider. Although spending 2-3 years at community college before transferring to a Bachelor’s granting institution is an effective way to save money on tuition, it is just as important to research your community college options as well. Some have transfer admission guarantees with regional or state universities, but do they offer the prerequisite courses you need for the major you plan to pursue? Additionally, do not forget to learn all you can about the financial aid process as aid eligibility begins when you start college, even if you do not use it that year, and it has an expiration date.

We know you are busy and we know this sounds like a lot of work, thus, use the first four chapters of ‘On the Quad’ to help walk you through this process (the book is only $.99, totally worth it!). Do not delay, do your research; deciding where you will spend your college years is a big decision!

Welcome Back!

Students! Welcome to the start of the new academic year!

How are you feeling? Excited? Nervous? Stressed? Concerned? Relaxed? Comfortable? You may have a reason to feel all those things, they are common for new and returning college students.

For me, the start of a new year is exciting and a bit stressful. Exciting because there are new students to work with, there are returning students to reconnect with, and new programs to implement. But, things are stressful too – sometimes there are a lot of people seeking my time and attention, and although it is great to be wanted, I must figure out how to best balance my responsibilities.

As you are kicking off your new academic year, take some time to think about how you are going to balance your schedule. You have classes, you need time to study (reading your textbooks, doing practice problems, essay writing, exam prep, etc.) – follow that Carnegie Rule(!), you might have work/intern/lab/research hours, you must make time for health and wellness (i.e. eating, exercise and sleep!), and of course – your social life!

Now, instead of just thinking about these things, grab a pencil and paper, and diagram your week. Putting all your activities on paper will give you the big picture view of where your time is going to be spent. Seeing it all on paper may cause a little anxiety, sometimes the reality is there are not enough hours in the day to do all the things you want to do, but, it also allows you the opportunity to prioritize and figure out how to create balance.

This activity is not something you should do just once each academic term, it could – dare I say should – be done at the start of each week. Each week of your academic term has different tasks: papers, exams, group projects and activities, as such, assessing your scheduled weekly can be a great tool to help you manage your time. Give it a try and let us know how it goes!

Letter of Recommendation

Students, when it comes to asking someone to write you a letter of recommendation, there are some key things to think about. Cindi has previously written about this topic (in one of these blogs), today I am sharing thoughts on this subject.
Current first year college students are now applying to get into the all-campus honors program at our university and one of the requirements is to have a letter of recommendation from a professor, not from a lecturer, graduate student or a teaching assistant, but from an Assistant, Associate or full Professor (those are professor rankings/titles). I realize this can be an intimidating request, so here are a few suggestions that might help if you are in a similar situation and possibly feeling uncomfortable.
1. TAKE INITIATIVE: Go to the professor’s office hours to ask for the letter of recommendation face-to-face. However, email the professor before showing up, letting her/him know of your intentions. By emailing in advance, s/he may have a moment to recall who you are. In the email, state which course you took/are taking with her/him, reference an assignment you have done or a point you verbalized in class, or a specific topic you have written about, so s/he can recall you more quickly. You can also inform the professor of the organization you are applying to/scholarship you are applying for, and the reason you have been invited to apply. Conclude with a reminder that you will be coming to office hours on … date and time.
2. TAKE ACTION: Show-up at the office hours you stated you were attending to talk about the recommendation. Share with the professor why you are applying for the program/internship/scholarship. Share specific ways you connect to the mission and goals, and what being part of the organization would mean to you. This way, even if the professor does not know you very well, s/he now has a few details s/he can include in the recommendation. By sharing about yourself and the reason for the recommendation request first, the next parts may be easier and seem more genuine.
3. CREATE AN ALLY: Even if, before this moment, you did not have a personal relationship with the faculty member, establish some common ground by talking about a highlight from her/his course. Share something from class that was challenging for you and what you learned from that experience. Ask the professor about her/his experience teaching your class, or an appropriate question that gives her/him an opportunity to participate in this interaction – just make sure you do so naturally! (You can ask about artwork or diagrams hanging on the walls, a picture on the desk, or award/recognition showcased, if talking about the class is not simple.)
4. CONCLUDE: Tell the professor why you are seeking her/his letter of support. It is okay to be honest: “I realize we do not have a very close relationship, but this application requests a professor’s letter of recommendation, not a lecturer or graduate student, and you are my favorite professor.” Or: the professor I learned the most from, or: the professor who has challenged my thinking, or: the professor who has most inspired me – whichever phrase you choose, be honest! Provide the professor with a few things you would like her/him to consider saying about you, such as: attended every course, participated in discussion, did extra credit, came to office hours, etc., or how you meet, or exceed, the qualities and character traits desired of the applicants. If you are really on top of your game, provide her/him a copy of the application and a draft of your responses to the application questions (if applicable).
This entire interaction will probably take no more than 10 minutes, unless the two of your really get to chatting! This is a great task for confidence building. You can do it – and most of all, please do it without arrogance!

Motivation & Organization

Happy New Year students! There are many things going on for you all! Here is a quick run-down of important tasks for the start of the new year – which of them apply to you?

*  All college students for the 2016-2017 academic year: it’s FAFSA time! Do not delay, do it today (or as soon as you have received your and your parent’s 2015 tax information)! Get it done before March 1!

* Returning college students: reflect on successes and challenges of last term and make a plan for success this term. See your advisor(s) immediately for time sensitive questions.

* College seniors who are working on a thesis or capstone project: outline the steps to complete this task. Set deadlines, document the activities you need to do to meet the deadlines. Plan meetings with your faculty sponsor/advisor and make sure they happen – do not let them cancel on you more than once, these final weeks will fly by. Your thesis/capstone is a great opportunity to let your light shine – this is your independent study, your passion – thrive!

* High school seniors: finish up your campus tours of places to which you applied but had not yet visited. Utilize our On the Quad campus tour worksheet to maximize the information you receive on those visits.

* High school juniors: if you haven’t already, begin making your list of colleges you are interested in researching. Utilize our On the Quad self-assessment worksheet to reflect on why you want to go to college and what expectations you have for yourself the school you attend.

* All students: begin your search for a summer internship! Now is the time to research options, polish your resume and write a good cover letter. Bring your second or third drafts to your career center for fine tuning. In this process you will discover there are interesting opportunities you have already missed – plan on them for next year!

Maximize your new year motivation and make it a great term!

Repeating a Course

College students: the end of the term is upon you! Maybe you are already enjoying winter break, the students at the university I work at vacated campus last weekend, or maybe your only motivation through finals right now is your excitement for the upcoming Star Wars premier. If you are in the midst of finals, stay focused, committed, and give your best to these exams, projects and papers.

As you are anticipating and checking your grades, some of you may find yourself in an unhappy place. There are students who are satisfied with the ‘C-‘ they earned in a difficult course, but another student may be in agony over a ‘B-‘ in a course they really enjoyed and thought they were doing well. Another student might be solely focused on her/his GPA as they are planning on professional school, and have a desire to repeat a class in which they received an ‘A-.’ Should you find yourself in a situation where you want to repeat a course, you need to look up your campus’ course repeat policy.

Many institutions, especially ones with a large number of students, have very clear guidelines on repeating courses. Often, if a student received a ‘C’ or ‘C-‘ the course cannot be retaken. Generally the reason for this is: seats in the course need to be available for students taking it for the first time, sometimes it is so students stay on track for a four year graduation plan. At other institutions, a student may be able to repeat a course s/he received a passing grade, but the second grade will not be calculate into the student’s GPA. (The course and grade are on the official transcript, but not in the overall GPA calculation.)

Whatever the reason for considering a course repeat, know the repeat policy. So, for those of you heading into a final – you now have some extra motivation to put the time and energy into your studies! Give 100%, you will not be disappointed with yourself!

Are you getting involved?

As I noted a couple of blogs back, I’m a faculty freshman! I’ve been a faculty before but I am brand new to my current institution and situation. Sorta like many students out there — you’ve been students before, but maybe your institution and situation is new. The newness might be wearing off a bit — you have settled into a routine (of sorts) and the slumpy-ness might be creeping in; I am feeling it, too! One remedy for the slumps is: ENGAGEMENT and INVOLVEMENT.

Here is what happens to me: I get email invites to attend a conference, or a workshop, or a roundtable, or even a picnic! I might get invited to have a cup of coffee or lunch with a colleague. When these events come to me, I think “Oh! I’m so busy. I have a paper to write, a book or article to read, and I need to run to the supermarket for groceries. I just don’t have time!” But, after I think those thoughts, I remind myself: I’m new here; I still (S.T.I.L.L!) don’t recognize many of my co-workers faces or know their names. I NEED to get involved, get connected, make friends, and stay in the loop. YOU need to do this, too.

Getting connected is a key predictor of future student success. The way to become connected is to begin to get involved with your campus and your new institution. Your involvements do not have to be academic; they could be sport-related, club-activity related (how many clubs does your campus have?!), or organization related. It is important for your sense of belonging and attachment to your new place. It is important to stretch your mind beyond the classroom and interact with people in various environments. Campus activities of all sorts are a great place to become meet new people, make connections, and learn new things.

You do not have to join every club or organization — I do NOT say “yes” to every event or invitation. We all need to think about our priorities — school work should be one of your top priorities; but getting involved and connected needs to be up at the top, too. You will see, over time, that they can complement one another. And, you will probably have fun, too!

See you at the next workshop or foozball tournament!

PS: If you already feel you are connected and involved and still feel slumpy, go check out your campus counseling services. They are a great resource and typically included in student fees (thus you have pre-paid and they are just waiting to help.)

Summer Homework: College Lingo

New first year college students – are you ready for the term to begin?! I know a few of you…
• have already started your first year (Summer over, school year is here – crazy!)
• are doing special Summer preparation/transition courses – great idea!
• enrolled in the college’s non-preparatory summer session courses – you are the over achievers!
Some of you are anxiously waiting for the year to begin, and others of you are loving freedom from academics so much, you wish summer would never end!

No matter where you are, in the above sequence, I am checking-in to find out if you have completed a little summer homework. If you attended your college’s orientation, hopefully you know the answers to the following questions:
1. What are the difference between the following types of courses (please define): lecture, discussion, lab and seminar.
2. Which term does your college use, unit or credit, to describe time in class?
3. Which term does your college use, semester or quarter, to describe your academic year?
4. How many units/credits, do you need to pass each semester/quarter, to graduate in four years?

If any of the above sound like a strange language – open your ‘On The Quad’ and refresh yourself on how to ‘Arrive, Survive and Thrive at College!’

Are you applying to scholarships?!

How is summer treating you?  Are you gearing up for going to college in the fall?  Have you been doing a part time job?  Saving some money for books, a computer, parking pass, or coffee during fall semester?  Do not forget to apply for scholarships!  Every year, thousands of dollars go unawarded/unused because not enough people apply for monies that are ‘out there’ waiting to be awarded.


1.  Check your local county scholarship opportunities.  Often, your local county or city will have scholarships that are awarded for various reasons, not just grades or merit.  Your local library can be a great resource in helping you find these scholarships.  Also check local Rotary and/or Lions clubs, as they often fund education.

2.  Know your scholarship deadlines.  Check out these two different sources for scholarship information:  the first one gives examples of scholarship deadlines coming up in August.  The second one gives great hints about what to keep in mind when applying for scholarships; it also lists some ones to apply to.

3.  Finally, check out these scholarships with fast approaching deadlines.  Be sure to look at the one titled “Wholesale Halloween Costumes” – you could be the next recipient!

Be sure to read the rules of the scholarships carefully; abide by the rules (that is half of the battle, trust me); use your best essay skills (have a friend read what you write); and apply, apply, apply.  Good luck!

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!