Grad School: Should You Go?

students-reading-in-libraryMaybe you’ve been thinking about it since you started college. Maybe you’ll need an advanced degree to enter your field. Maybe you’re a senior, and you’re wondering what comes next.

At some point during your time at Castleton, you’ve probably considered graduate school.

A graduate degree can help you advance in a particular career or even enter a new field. In a master’s or doctoral program, you will learn from experts in your field and conduct research in your area of interest. Armed with your new credential, you will enter the job market ready to command a higher salary.

So graduate school is a great idea. Except when it isn’t.

There are two good reasons to pursue graduate school:

1.) You have a passionate desire to conduct research in a very specific area of your discipline: for example, you may want to explore a particular author’s work or the lifecycle of a species of grasshopper.

2.) You are committed to entering a profession or advancing in it.

However, students often pursue graduate school for the wrong reasons. Here are some:

1.) “I don’t know what to do next.”

2.) “My dad wants me to become a doctor, lawyer, physical therapist, or MBA.”

3.) “I’ve always done well in school, I love learning, and I really don’t know what to do next.”

4.) “The economy isn’t good. If I’m in school, I won’t have to get a job for a couple more years.”

Yes, job-hunting is scary. Yes, parental pressure can be overwhelming. Yes, having the opportunity to learn is among the greatest privileges we enjoy. But graduate school demands even more focus and commitment than an undergraduate program. It’s not enough to love history: you must have intense interest in a certain period, enough to write 20,000 or even 100,000 words about that topic.
And do you really want to spend two, four, or six years of your life and maybe go into debt to pursue something that doesn’t excite you?

If you’ve decided graduate school is right for you, support is available on campus. Your professors can offer insight about programs in your field. All of us at Academic Support and Career Services are also happy to help you with the application process. We’ll even explain how you can further your education without accumulating more debt.

If you’re worried about what comes next, schedule an appointment with Career Services. Renée Beaupre-White, Director of Career Services, will be happy to discuss your options and help you fine-tune your resume. And your choices aren’t limited to work or further education: you can explore internships or volunteer opportunities. These experiences can increase your chances of obtaining a paid position. They also provide something even more valuable: clarity about what you do want to do with your life. Who knows? After a year or two or ten, you may be ready to apply to graduate school.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Feeling Stressed About the Future? It’s Okay!

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The future is inevitable. No matter how much we stress about it, it’s going to happen anyway. So what can we do to make the stress more manageable? There are many options to help ease anxiety, and it’s all about finding out what works best for you!

One of my favorite actors, Sebastian Stan, shared some wise words when it comes to anxiety. He said, “If you’re going to be anxious, just be anxious full on for five minutes. Set a timer if you have to.” People often try to dismiss their anxiety and stress, but ignoring it does not make it go away. Accept that something is making you anxious and allow yourself to experience it. Just don’t let it control you. Give yourself time to be honest with your emotions, but then move on to how you can help yourself move past them.

Whether you are a senior set to graduate in a few months or a freshman just starting your college journey, anxiety is something that we all experience. Luckily, there are some things we can do to lessen that stress.

  • Stay Organized. Invest in a planner. Make a schedule for each day or week and stick to that schedule. Keep your room tidy. Organization can seem like a difficult task for some people, but putting a bit of effort into it can really make a positive impact in your life. Creating a to-do list or a schedule can help keep your assignments in order and give you some structure. Don’t forget to schedule yourself some free time as well!
  • Take a Break. While professors won’t give you a break from assignments and coaches won’t give you a break from games, there are still ways to find time for yourself in your busy days. Get your assignments done early so nothing is left to the last minute. If you play sports, know when practices and games are so you can find time in between. It doesn’t have to be a long time: maybe grabbing a smoothie at the Coffee Cottage or catching up with a friend for a bit. Make sure you have a moment to breathe.
  • Ask for Help. There is absolutely no shame in asking for help, and there are many different resources for you on campus. The counselors at the Wellness Center are there to offer a judgement free space for you to express your feelings. Your professors and advisors can offer guidance on the steps you need to take next. The Academic Support Center offers different services to help you excel in your courses and prepare for your future. And a personal favorite, there are therapy dogs in the library every Thursday from 12:45 to 1:45 to help you relax and take your mind off things for a while.

Time may seem like it is flying by, but that just means it is more important than ever to take a step back and focus. Life is stressful, but that stress doesn’t have to be debilitating. Accept your stress and use it as motivation to overcome whatever you are facing in your life. Reach out for help because it is there for you and it can make dealing with stress so much easier. And if all else fails, go pet some puppies!

-Heather McManus

Heather McManus is a senior English major set to graduate in December of 2019. Organization and taking time for herself are important parts of balancing school, work, and everything else adulthood throws at her.

Budget like a Boss: Tips to Get You Through the Semester

Having a good time, going out with friends, and splurging on something you really want are all good and well, but they can make staying within your budget difficult.

A budget is one of the most helpful tools students can use over the course of their college career. Unfortunately, successful budgeting can be difficult. Here are some of the best tips to stay on budget and help you save money!

 

  • Know Yourself: You’ll have to know yourself to set workable goals for managing and saving money. That is, maybe you want to save $100.00 each month, but you know that by the end of the month you will spend at least $15.00 of that money on a meal with your friends. Plan to save $85.00 each month and work $15.00 into your budget to spend with friends or on something fun.
  • Wants vs. Needs: Learning to differentiate between wants and needs can be incredibly useful when you’re trying to create a successful budget. For example, a candy bar might be a want, but a new notebook for class could be a need. By writing a list of your daily, weekly, or monthly wants and needs, you will be better able to factor them into a realistic budget. Creating a wants and needs list can also help you cut back on impulse buying, which will help you save money!
  • Organize and Prioritize: Watch where your money is going and what you’re spending it on. Prioritizing your expenses can be as simple as listing them out and organizing them based on how much they cost, how important they are to your daily life, and if they need to be paid in a certain amount of time. For example, the list below shows how a student might prioritize expenses and then allocate their income accordingly:1.) Rent
    2.) Groceries
    3.) College/loan payment
    4.) Car/gas
    5.) Phone
    6.) Wifi
    7.)
    Fun/extra
  • The Right Tools: It is important to use the budgeting tools that work for you. If paper and pen will help you create a budget and stick to it, use paper and pen. If you need to use an Excel spreadsheet to organize your finances, that’s easy to do. If you’re like me and forget to write things down or keep track of them, a budgeting app, such as MINT, is a great way to go!  

 

Having a monthly budget will help you reduce your spending and track where your money is going. Best of all, you’ll be less likely to scramble for money in unexpected situations. So even though budgeting isn’t always glamorous or fun, it’s something everyone should try to incorporate into their lives.

Challenge yourself to create a budget and stick to it – even if it’s just for a month.

-Christin Martin

Christin Martin graduated from Castleton in 2018. During her time at Castleton, she served as a Senior Community Advisor and a TRIO Mentor. She has co-coordinated the Game of Life, a financial literacy game for undergraduate students.  Currently, she is an admissions counselor at Norwich University.

 

FAFSA: Don’t Delay, Do It Today!

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Have you completed your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)? It’s easy put off tasks that are complex, boring, and time-consuming – and many students consider the FAFSA all three. (That’s why so many professionals don’t do their income taxes until the last minute!)

But just as you shouldn’t procrastinate about your homework, you shouldn’t delay your annual financial aid application. This year, you can fill out the 2020-2021 FAFSA as early as October 1, 2019. Here’s why you should complete the FAFSA before the end of the Fall 2019 semester:

1.) States Don’t Wait. Remember: you use the FAFSA to apply for aid from the federal government, your state, and your school for the coming academic year. Many states have deadlines – usually in February or March – for state-specific aid, including grants. (Vermont has a first-come, first-served policy, which means you should apply as soon as possible after October 1, 2019.) Find out your state’s deadline, and make sure you submit the FAFSA well before that date. You don’t want to miss out on any aid, including grants and scholarships, which you won’t have to repay! (Please note that if you are a Vermont resident and want to apply for a VSAC grant, you should apply online after you complete the FAFSA.)

2.) Early Birds Get the Institutional Worm. Technically, you have unti April 1, 2020 to apply for financial aid for the 2020-2021 year at Castleton. But the sooner you submit your FAFSA, the greater your chances of receiving aid from Castleton – or any college, for that matter. Castleton plans to start awarding financial aid to returning students in mid-February 2020, so be sure to complete your FAFSA by the start of the New Year.

Of course, there are legitimate reasons why students put the FAFSA on the backburner. Fortunately, you can apply early even if the following apply to you:

1.) You – or Your Parents – Haven’t Done Your Taxes Yet. No worries. You will fill out the 2020-2021 FAFSA using your 2018 tax information. You can use the FAFSA’s data retrieval service to make the process even easier.

2.) Your Financial Circumstances Have Changed. Maybe you or your parents have lost a job. Maybe you’re working fewer hours than you did last year. If that’s the case, you may be reluctant to report last year’s income on the FAFSA because you’ll probably receive less aid than you need. Here’s what you need to do: report last year’s income on the FAFSA. Then, contact the Financial Aid Office. Explain that your income has changed and ask the staff to complete a special circumstance review. This will give you an opportunity to report your estimated income for the coming year. Bear in mind that you may have to provide proof of your income change, such as a layoff notice or information about unemployment benefits or severance pay.

Whatever your circumstances or concerns, you should never postpone the FAFSA. If you have questions about the application process, please call Academic Support at 802-468-1347 or stop by to schedule an appointment with a counselor. You can also contact the Financial Aid office at 802-468-6070.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

Group Work: The Agonies – and the Possibilities

You’ve started dreading Biology. Your lab partner is nice enough, but she doesn’t do much. You have to ask her to help with the task itself, and she texts her boyfriend while you prepare the lab report. You try to get her to contribute, but she always says, “I don’t know” and copies whatever you write.

Then there’s Business Management. In groups of four, you’re working on your final project: a plan for a new business. The assignment constitutes 30% of your grade, so you want to do a good job. You’re also excited about applying the concepts you’ve been studying in class. But one guy has already appointed himself CEO of your fledgling corporation. He’s not interested in your ideas; in fact, he doesn’t let anyone do very much. This is just fine with one member of your group who is delighted to be off the hook. But two of you are getting frustrated: it’s your education, too!

If you’re a student, you know the perils of group work. Since kindergarten, you’ve also heard teachers rave about the importance of working with others.

Like it or not, collaboration is part of the academic and professional world. After graduation, you will have to contend with other people – even if you work from home, run your own business, or pursue a freelance career. Often, your colleagues will be warm, supportive, and inspiring. Sometimes, you will find yourself with a lazy, stubborn, or overbearing co-worker. You’ll have to contend with these situations without clenching your teeth, compromising your health, or leaving your position.

Here are some tips to make group projects less stressful:

1.) Set Boundaries: Before you get started, delegate tasks. Determine who is responsible for each part of a project and set deadlines. This can be casual: “I’ll answer questions one and three if you do two and four.” With larger projects, you may want to establish more formal requirements: “Rick will write the Procedures section, Liana the Analysis, and Chelsea the Recommendations. We’ll meet to discuss our drafts a week before the paper is due.” Get these arrangements in writing – or save e-mail correspondence about them – so that there is no confusion about responsibilities.

2.) Be the Teammate You Want. Don’t be lazy, don’t be disparaging, and don’t take over. It’s normal to be frustrated when the material is difficult or when your partners’ standards are different than yours. If you’re struggling with the project, get help – from your professor, classmates, or the Academic Support Center. If you find yourself with well-intentioned, but less skilled group members, help them succeed. For example, if your partner is not a strong writer, you might proofread his work and tactfully make suggestions. You might also refer him to the Writing Clinic. When he does something well, tell him so.

3.) Document Everything. Keep track of who attends meetings and contributes to the project. If a teammate isn’t pulling his or her own weight, you will be able to bring specific grievances to the professor. Use this option as a last resort: only approach your instructor after you have talked with your group member. If you must complain about a classmate, be professional. Don’t tattle or rant. Instead, express your concerns in a well-written e-mail, and attach any documentation you have.

4.) Put Your Project in Perspective. Sometimes, this means writing the lab report yourself if you want a good grade in the course. At other times, you’ll have to shrug off your lackluster discussion group. Weigh each assignment to determine how much time you want to spend nurturing group dynamics.

Regard difficult group work as you would any other obstacle: a chance to prove to yourself and your professors that you have the maturity and determination to overcome a challenge. Take a deep breath, and tell yourself that you’re developing skills you’ll use the rest of your life.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

How to Be a Study Smartypants

You just got done with your 9am, don’t have class again for another hour, and all that is on your mind is food. Huden here you come for breakfast. By the time you’re done eating, you only have another 20 minutes until class, which is all the way in Leavenworth, so you think, eh, I will just hang here until class.

Well, now it is 11:50, and your next class is at 2pm.  You need a nap, your bed, and maybe some Netflix. They all sound real good right now.  So, of course, that is what you do for the next few hours.

After your 2:00-3:50 class, you’ll go straight to the library.

It is now 4, and you have 100 texts from your roommate asking you to go to Rutland with her real quick. In your head, you’re like OMG yes, then wait, library. Then you decide okay, I will to go to the library right when I get back.

After Rutland, you need some dinner, so meal exchange at Fireside sounds good for the night. But it is now 7pm.

Your night ends with you going back to your room because it is so late, and getting just a little work done in bed. Then, of course, Netflix and social media will take over once again.

Sound all too familiar? Here are some tips to get things done.

1.) Make a Schedule: At the beginning of each day, make a schedule of your whole day, hour by hour. This will give you a plan to follow so you won’t need to make a last-minute decision you’ll regret later.

2.) Bring Everything: Bringing everything you need to work on or study allows you to be productive during those 20 extra minutes you hang out in Huden. Tell yourself what you are realistically going to get done in the time you have, even if it is something small.

 3.) Eat and Study: Go grab breakfast, lunch, or dinner in Fireside or the Coffee Cottage and bring it to the library. Work and eat at the same time. After your 9am, you’ll have almost an hour to get work done or study.

 4.) Say NO: It is okay to say no to your roommate and Rutland. You had a plan and you ignored it. And definitely regretted it.

Once you make your plan, follow it. You always have the right intentions; just make sure your actions reflect them.

-Alyson Tully

Alyson Tully graduated from Castleton University in May 2018 with a degree in multidisciplinary studies. 

T.I.M.E: Some Tips for Starting Your College Career

 

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You will learn by the end of your college career that your time spent at school is more than just your classes and homework. The skills you learn in college, inside and outside of the classroom, will carry over into your professional and personal lives after graduation. An acronym all college students should know is T.I.M.E.

1.) Time management can be very difficult for many students. There are 168 hours in week, 2688 of them in a sixteen-week semester of college. About a week, maybe two, of breaks. 12 to 18 hours per week will be spent in the classroom, then two to three times that should be spent studying for those classes, then, if you’re lucky, 56 hours for sleep, a few hours for eating… you get the idea. You’re left with only a few hours during the week to do what you please. One of my high school teachers gave me advice I still cherish. As we waited for the bell of our final high school class, she said, “When you go to college, you can do three things: you can study, you can party, and you can sleep, but you can only do two of the three things.”

2.) Involvement. Do it. Get involved. Turn off Netflix and Facebook, go outside, and throw a Frisbee. Go outside and lay in the grass or by the pool. Talk with students who live in other dorms. Close friendships that are made in dorms are important and worth holding onto, but remember life exists outside of your hallway or your suite. Join your student government, or your major’s club, or a volunteer club, or do all three. If you commute, stay for a weekend here and there. Make friends other than your parents and siblings, as well as whatever dogs, chickens, goats, or hedgehogs you might have— all of which I had when I commuted to community college.

Volunteer, tutor, join a team, join a club, join another club. Fill your week, but remember to save time for yourself and time to socialize. If you have a hard time making friends, go to your school’s cafeteria, sit down with some people you haven’t met before, and ask them five questions: What’s your major? What year are you in school? Where are you from? Do you have any pets? Do you have a job? Do you play any sports?

3.) Movement. Simply, move. Playing sports takes care of this one. Some of us don’t participate in sports, so go to the gym. It’s not as scary as it sounds. If you’re nervous like most other people, go with a friend, or ask someone to be a “brofessor” and show you what it’s all about. Still not convinced? Go outside like you did to cure your Netflix addiction. Most colleges have somewhere you can walk where you can feel safe and unjudged. You don’t have to walk for miles, but once you feel the enlightenment of the outdoors, you’ll never want to go inside again. Learn to ski or snowboard, ride a bike, swim, do something other than sitting down.

4.) Education is the reason you are going to college, so study skills are important. If you missed out on study techniques in high school, go to the Academic Support Center and ask for some help—immediately. Unless you are one of those students who doesn’t study for anything, yet somehow gets good grades, you need to know how to study. (And even if this worked for you in high school, it won’t serve you well in college.)

Part of navigating – and enjoying – college is learning to communicate with faculty. TALK with your teachers. Talk with them face-to-face, by e-mail, phone, letter, even carrier pigeon. Although you may believe otherwise, they are people; they do not turn off like a robot as soon as class is dismissed. Get to know a few. Attend a social gathering where teachers are invited without some sort of grade stipulation.

If you only take away one thing from this post, let it be this: you only have so much time while you’re in college. Remember to spend it wisely.

– D. Austin Martineau

D. Austin Martineau is a recent graduate of Castleton University with a degree in English and Secondary Education.

Finals, Summer, Then What?

In a few days, Spring 2019 will be over. You’ll finish your finals, turn in any last papers, and go home. We hope you’ve had a good semester and wish you a relaxing summer. You deserve it!

We also hope you reflect a bit on the semester and think about the one ahead. Just as the New Year allows you to make a fresh start, a new academic year gives you a clean slate. No matter what happened this spring – a bad grade, poor decisions, a failed class, a list of failures – you can overcome it. Really!

First, consider this semester’s successes. Maybe you found that you were better at math or writing than you thought you were. Perhaps you discovered a love for film studies, Spanish, or botany. In any case, you learned something about your strengths and interests.

Second, identify what you did wrong. No, you don’t need to beat yourself up. Just acknowledge your mistakes calmly as though you were talking about someone else’s life. For example, say, “I left my papers to the last minute, so they weren’t as strong as they should have been” or “I let my social life distract me from my studies.”

Next, think about what you gained from the experience. Maybe you learned something about time management or study skills. You may have discovered something about yourself and your interests: perhaps teaching is not the career for you. Use this insight to move forward even if you’re not quite sure of your path.

Finally, realize you’re not alone. Many of your peers and professors have had low periods – and recovered from them. All of us have struggled – academically, personally, or professionally. Successful people aren’t the ones who’ve never stumbled; they’re the ones who’ve continued on anyway.

Have a wonderful summer! We’re already looking forward to seeing you in the autumn.  

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

 

Finals Week: Survive, Thrive, and Celebrate!

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It hardly seems possible, but in just over three weeks, the semester will be over. Chances are, you’re excited about break – and can’t wait until finals are behind you. After all, Exam Week means study sessions during which you cram for finals and churn out one capstone essay after another.

Being nervous about the semester’s end is normal. But staying up all night to review notes and finish assignments isn’t healthy or effective. When you’re sleep-deprived, your brain doesn’t work as well, so you don’t absorb as much information as you would if you were rested. You also make careless errors. (All of us at Academic Support teach, and we recognize the work you finish at 4 am. Trust us.)

But if you’re not staying up all night to get through Finals Week, how will you finish your work? Fortunately, you can sail through the end of the semester without losing your sleep or sanity. Here are some tips to keep you focused during exams:

1.) Start Early; Break It Up. Many people begin shopping for the holidays long before December 1st. You should start studying for exams well in advance of Finals Week. Review your notes and previous tests, if applicable, for 10-20 minutes each day. This way, the information will be fresh and firm in your mind. Also, divide writing assignments into manageable chunks. You might create an outline one day, write a rough draft the next day, and revise your essay the day after that.

2.) Prioritize. Yes, being a college student means juggling a lot of commitments: classes, activities, part-time work, a social life, and family. And the end of the semester, combined with the holidays, can amplify these obligations. That’s why now, more than ever, you need to remind yourself of why you’re here. Promise yourself you’ll enjoy an outing with friends – after you finish your sociology take-home exam.

3.) Take Care. Telling yourself you’ll be able to relax after Finals can propel you through a tough week. However, don’t save all of your treats for the holidays. Schedule short breaks during Exam Week to exercise, connect with friends or family, or simply curl up with a book or movie. Making room for fun keeps you healthy and motivated; it’s also a valuable time management skill.

4.) Be Grateful. Let’s face it: if you’re in a position to fret about finals, you’re a pretty lucky person. Lots of people, in the US and overseas, cannot access higher education. When the assignments multiply and stress piles up, take a deep breath. Remind yourself of how privileged you are to be able to study something you love and pursue the life you want.

Finals Week doesn’t have to mean sleepless nights, too much caffeine, and harried students. As the year draws to a close, use this time to reflect on how much you’ve learned and celebrate how far you’ve come.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Teaching and Trailblazing: Meet TRIO Star Sarah Dunbar

When Sarah Dunbar first enrolled at Castleton University, the campus seemed a long way from Craftsbury Common, her hometown in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. She missed her family and friends, and as she didn’t have a car, she was dependent on other people for rides off campus. And although she’d participated in Upward Bound, a college-readiness program, in high school, the first-generation student occasionally doubted her ability to succeed in college.

At Castleton, Sarah found a home away from home in the Academic Support Center (ASC). Through the Summer Transition Program, Sarah met Director of Academic Services Kelley Beckwith and other academic counselors. They helped her select classes, manage her time, and navigate financial aid options. She sought tutoring from the ASC’s Math and Writing Clinics. She even found part-time employment as a Learning Center Assistant, scheduling appointments and assisting staff with administrative projects. And even when she didn’t have a particular reason to visit the ASC, it proved an ideal place to study. “It’s the right environment to focus,” she remarks.

Outside of the ASC, Sarah found success in the classroom, earning all As her first semester at Castleton. Slowly, she started branching out, joining various clubs on campus.

ASC staff noticed a change in her. “When Sarah first came to Castleton, she was on the shy side and a bit underconfident,” says Kelley Beckwith. “That quickly changed as her success in the classroom emerged. She then began challenging herself in other ways.”

Today, it’s hard to remember Sarah ever doubted her ability to thrive in college. The senior multidisciplinary studies major has a 3.83 GPA. During her time at Castleton, she’s visited St. John and Iceland through travel-study courses. In addition to serving as the Vice President of Academics in the Student Government Association, she is involved with the Student Education Association and the Rotaract Club. She has also served as a Community Advisor, mentoring students in the residence halls.

Sarah freely admits that juggling her various pursuits can be challenging. “I made sure the things I wanted to do really counted,” she says. “Yes, they look good on a résumé, but they served a purpose personally and professionally.”

Despite her many commitments, Sarah has found time to give back to TRIO and the ASC. In addition to working as a Learning Center Assistant, she has served as a Writing Clinic tutor and a TRIO Program Assistant. In these roles, she has mentored and sometimes counseled other first-generation students. “I like knowing I’m helping a student who is in the same position I was when I first started,” she says.

But don’t count on Sarah to start dispensing advice. She takes a far more laidback approach to mentoring. “When I’m the mentee, I want to feel free to make mistakes,” she explains. “Our conversations should be a two-way street. I have as much to learn from my students as they do from me.”

After graduation, Sarah hopes to teach elementary school in Vermont. Eventually, she intends to earn a master’s degree in education. “I’m fortunate to have found something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life,” she says. “Castleton made me fall in love with teaching.”

Sarah hopes other students will embrace adventure in their college journeys. “Be a trailblazer,” she urges. “Trying new things will be scary at first, but you’ll never know if you like them until you give them a go. And you’ll never know what you’re capable of until you try.”

-Dorothy A. Dahm