Category Archives: More about the book

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!)

Advice: get advised!

A few weeks ago, I started working at a different university. I am very excited to be on this campus, and for the opportunity to work with a specialized student population! In the short time I have been here, I have interacted with numerous students engaging in research and analysis both locally and abroad, students working with external clients through their coursework, and student leaders who have been, and are, delivering support services (scheduling assistance) and appreciation events (graduation celebration) for their peers.

This week, our institution hosted an advising conference for the more than 200 advisors across the campus. The campus leadership recognizes the importance of advising and support services, so greatly, advising initiatives were addressed in three of four recommendations for campus growth and change, in a internal report conducted three years ago.

The keynote speaker at this conference was Charlie Nutt Ed.D., the Executive Director of the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA). I had the opportunity to engage with Charlie during a small group question and answer session, and hear his keynote address! During both, he both spoke about the importance of advisor-advisee relationships for all students. He referenced the research done by Richard Light, of Harvard (2001), which came to the same conclusion: students need positive, directive, supportive advising throughout their college career in order to persist and feel personal worth. (Dr. Light’s research and NACADA resources were both utilized in ‘On the Quad.’)

Students and parents in the high school stage, please know, college relationships with academic advisors/counselors, is much different than the high school model. Meeting with them should be done frequently, and never viewed as an inconvenience or a punishment.

Students and parents in the college stage, please know, no matter what year you are (your student is) in, find at least one advisor, staff or faculty, who has the time to get to know you, who provides you a listening ear and reflective, helpful guidance, who motivates you, keeps you accountable, and helps you grow and succeed!

Advising Advice

On our campus it is the season of registration.  In early May, registration begins — people with priority registration go first.  The folks who get this great date include veterans and athletes among some other select groups (for example, our Honors Program students get priority registration).  Currently — in the second week of May — many sophomores are having the chance to register.  Students learn their registration date in early to mid April — almost a month in advance; and, the knowledge of when registration will begin is posted in various places, so it does not sneak up on anyone (who is paying attention).

But, this week, I’ve had 7 desperate emails from students who need advising RIGHT NOW.  They send me emails that say things like “Hi, my registration date is in three hours and I was hoping to come by your office hours and get some ideas about what classes I should take.”  Or:  “Hi, do you have time tomorrow at 8:30 AM to advise me about which classes to take in Fall?  My registration date is tomorrow at 9:30 AM.”

This is too late.  This is way too late.  Moreover, this is not a strategy for success.  You can not expect your professor (or advisor) to be available on demand (like Netflix!).  Professors and advisors have schedules, meetings, and lives.  All of these things get in the way of doing “advising on demand.”  This means that you, dear student, must plan.  You must put into your calendar (on your phone or the paper one) the day that registration begins.  Then, 2 weeks prior to that you make an appointment with your advisor.  This is plenty of time to be able to reasonably get advice for the following semester.  And, the advising session won’t be rushed or hectic.  It will be a student support and success advising session; not a student in a panic advising session.

Make plans.  Implement them.  Do well.

Stay in the Present

College students – you’re nearing the end of the academic year. You have 3-6 weeks (approximately) until your term ends and things are busy. It’s Spring, the weather is nice, and you’re probably getting a little stir crazy sitting in a lecture hall, writing research papers, or spending time behind a microscope in a lab. I am here to remind you to stay in the present and focus! Instead of letting distractions get the best of you, stay on task and commit to giving these next few weeks your best. Now is the time to prove to yourself you have will-power and follow-through, do not procrastinate! Set your intention on academic achievement and stay focused!

High School seniors – it’s time to inform the college/university you plan to attend of your intent to enroll. (Remember, you can tell more than one college you plan to attend and still take a little more time to make your final decision – but do not miss the intent to enroll deadline!) As you’re narrowing your choices, it is very important to do detailed research on each institution you’re considering. Make sure to investigate your majors of interest, know if you are ‘in’ the major, will be a ‘pre-‘ major, or will be applying for a space in an ‘impacted’ major. If you’re receiving financial aid, in any form: grants, scholarships, or loans, make sure to get all your questions answered by a financial aid counselor. The financial aid resources in our book can be a great resource for those conversations. Doing intensive research now should be a great help in making your final decision!

There’s no time like the present – stay in it!

Post Mid Term Blues

Spring Break is long gone.  The midterm exams (first or second ones) might be coming back to you.  The grades may be lower than you had anticipated.  What should you do?

Here is what 3 of my own students did in the past 10 days:  They each, independently, visited my office.  They hung their heads a bit — disheartened by their performance on the exam.  They were anxious — worried about their ability going forward to pass the class.  But, they were brave and reaching out — which made me proud of them individually and I let them know.

If you perform poorly on an exam, it is OK to feel disheartened and let down.

If you perform poorly on an exam, it is OK (in fact normal) to feel anxious.

If you perform poorly on an exam, it is NOT OK to retreat into your room and not reach out to your instructor and/or classmates/support network.  In fact, while it may be difficult, you need to go to your professor’s office hours and talk about the exam.  The instructor is about the only person who can provide context and clues to understanding exactly what your poor grade on the exam means for your overall grade in the class.  Only the instructor can explain to you which parts of the exam were done poorly and which parts were done well.  Your friends can’t give you these kinds of answers or feedback; but, it is precisely this feedback you need.  Therefore, you must go and ask.  You can say:  “I am worried about my grade in the class given my poor performance on my exam.  Can you help me understand my current standing in the class ?”  It is only this information that will help alleviate (some of) your anxiety and direct you toward a more successful path.

I want students to come and talk to me about their exam performances.  I want to help encourage, nudge, and guide students toward success.  Professors DO want students to succeed . . .  we often feel, then, like we, too, have succeeded.  Everybody wins!  Just remember:  success may NOT be a specific grade.  Success may be mastery of particular content or a meaningful connection with a mentor (the professor).



High School seniors – congratulations on your acceptance letters (emails)! We know waiting to hear from all the institutions to which you applied caused anxiety and stress, but you made it! Now you’re faced with the task of deciding which school, or schools, to say “yes, I plan to attend” and sign-up for orientation. Yes, you read correctly, it is okay to tell more than one college you plan to enroll in the Fall. For institutions that have orientation during the summer (June/July), this option provides you a final look at the school and truly get a feel for what it will be like to be a student there. There is a lot involved with orientation, and we’ll blog more about it as the time gets closer. For now, pay attention to the date you must inform the school of your decision and continue doing your happy dance – you’re going to college!

A special shout-out to Sophie, one of our readers, who was accepted to five, or was it six, colleges! She received scholarship offers at multiple institutions and made a wonderful decision to attend University of California, Irvine, where she was accepted into the nursing program!

College seniors – your “congratulations” is just a few weeks away! Keep giving 100% to your projects, papers and exams, they are your final preparation for life after college, i.e. WORK. Hopefully you are in the midst of interviews; the career center on our campus is currently hosting on-campus interviews with a variety of employers/industries. What is better than having the employer come to you (your campus) for a first interview? Visit your career center to polish your resume and start interviewing ASAP!

A second special shout-out to Rita, one of our readers, who is graduating with a business degree in just a few weeks and was recently offered a full-time job related to her major! Congratulations!

A final congratulations, to Wilson, who I mentioned in last week’s blog (below) – he was accepted into the study abroad program in Canada!

What is it about Study Abroad…

… that I am blogging about it again in March? Just one year (plus one week) ago, I wrote about Study Abroad, and here I am again! It must be something about the Spring semester, or the month of March, that gets students talking to me about academic travel adventures! Maybe it has something to do with Spring Break!? Come to think of it, my third year of college, I went abroad for Spring Break! It was quite an adventure.

At UNI, I was a member of the Women’s Rugby team; I spent sophomore to senior year bruised from neck to toe. In high school I was a cheerleader, so it was a bit of a transition becoming a rugby player. My second year on the team (third year of college) we participated in the Women’s World Cup Rugby Tournament in Europe. We were the only U.S. team, so although we were NOT Team USA, it kind of felt like it! The tournament was actually the week after Spring Break, so every member of the team needed to get signed permission from their professors stating they understood the request to be out of class the week after Spring Break; their signatures were our approval. It was exciting sharing this opportunity with each of my professors, but I recall fearing one of them wouldn’t sign the official letter and put me in a bind on what to do. Blessedly, they all signed!

I vividly remember, being at my teammate Wendy’s house, with her and two other players who were sisters, discussing our destination travel cities prior to arriving at the tournament. During that giddy chat, Wendy said something to the effect of “my mom is really worried about me traveling in Europe, but I told her, Heidi’s been abroad, so I can rely on her.” To which I replied “Wendy, I’ve been to Japan, not to Europe!” And she said, “Well, don’t tell my mom that!” Ah – a trip down memory lane, sorry; back to focusing on the original purpose of this blog!

What actually lead to me to think about study abroad this week, was this College U.S. Today article, Flying Solo: Five Reasons You Should Travel Alone While Studying Abroad. This quick read got me reflecting on two things. One, the conversations I’ve had with two students I mentor, Wilson and Selena, in the past three weeks, about the study abroad trips they are hoping to do this year. Selena is planning to be in London this summer, and Wilson is planning to be in Quebec in next Fall, or potentially all of next year. Two, the emphasis put on being independent! Study Abroad, on its own, allows for a level of independence, and traveling alone, while abroad, takes it to a deeper level. I have done these things; they are exhilarating and, at times, nerve wracking. But, here’s the key, you don’t have to go abroad to travel solo!

Reflect for a moment, when is the last time you did something completely independent and solely for yourself? Let me reemphasize the COMPLETELY INDEPENDENT part… and now reiterate the SOLELY FOR YOURSELF part…? Being a busy college (or high school) student, it is probably hard to pin-point when that was.

I suggest you look at your calendar/schedule/planner, and find time to be an independent adventurer, close to home, soon! It could be a road-trip to a nearby city, to the coast, on a hike, or anywhere. However, it must be someplace where you push your comfort zone, just for a little while. Wherever that may be, please, please, make sure it’s safe, and you’re safe! Imagine this outing as your preparation for a study abroad adventure. Have your phone/mobile device with you, but silence it, and only use it in a true emergency. Rely on your instincts, on science, on social science, on critical thinking, and definitely observation, to get you by. I’m quite confident your adventure will be a great success!

Oh, and one more thing, about my rugby trip; backpacking around Europe for 10 days, before playing in a tournament against all EU teams, wasn’t the smartest idea, but our team was proud to return to campus with a Dutch clog as a trophy for last place!

School is your job

School is your job.

Let that sink in.

School is your job.  Oh, I know; you may have a job — one that pays you by the hour; or, even a salary.  You might even think of it as a “real job” while you are going to school.  But, please consider reversing this order of priorities.  (And, realize, we actually encourage students to have part time jobs — up to 20 hours a week even; studies show that working part time while going to school can be a successful pairing — time management increases, boredom stays away, etc.)

But, I want you to consider making school your job.  This means you prioritize school (classes and studying) the same way you would your job.  You set aside 2 hours for every unit you are enrolled in to study.  If you are enrolled in 12 units, then you study 24 hours outside of class per week for those courses.    Set up a designated study space.  Be in that space for the required times to study for whatever is on your agenda.  Set up a “schedule” that has you ‘working’ on X class for Z amount of time every day or other day.

If you reach out to your professor with a question or a request, you need to check back with him/her in order to follow up appropriately.  Just like with a job:  if you reach out to your boss to change your schedule, don’t you constantly check/recheck your phone or email to find out his/her reply?  This should be true of a question or request to an instructor:  if you ask for an extension of  a deadline or to turn in homework late, you should be checking and rechecking the phone/email to find out the reply.  Prioritize school.

If your main goal is to work and draw a pay check.  Then do that.  Think carefully about school.  But, if your main goal is to earn a Bachelor’s Degree, then do that.  And do it with vigor and dedication.