Finals, Summer, Then What?

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In a few days, Spring 2016 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

 

 

No Time for Worries: Why You Shouldn’t Waste Time Building Confidence

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What would you do if you had more confidence? Change your major? Apply for that internship at the company where you’ve always wanted to work? Let yourself pursue the dream you won’t admit even to yourself?

Now you’re shaking your head. For one thing, you just don’t have what it takes – the aptitude, background, or money – to reach that mythical place. Second, you lack the confidence to take that leap. You’d have to work on building your confidence before you could go beyond googling “wildlife conservation volunteer in Patagonia” or “internship at Disney studios” – if you ventured that far. After all, there’s no point in hoping for what’s out of reach.

There’s no question about it: building confidence is hard: far more challenging than increasing your muscle mass or improving your calculus grade. That’s why I want you to stop worrying about your confidence levels. Forget about them. Yes, surround yourself with inspiring quotes and murmur heartening mantras if they make you feel good. But don’t try to fix your insecurities. Don’t indulge them: just ignore them.

Instead, I want you to do what you would do if you had more confidence.

That means applying for that internship at the magazine in New York. That means pursuing medical school if you dream of a career in medicine. That means approaching someone at a graduate school or company for an informational interview. That means contacting the art gallery about showing your work.

What it doesn’t mean is ignoring your shortcomings. You may need to take more classes, gain more experience, or improve your craft before you start law school, land that coveted position in advertising, or publish your work. Effective people aren’t delusional about their background or talents. What differentiates them from less successful people is their approach to their goals. They assess their abilities honestly, consider how they could increase their chance of success, and then act accordingly.

For example, an old friend earned a bachelor’s degree in photography. For several years, she supported herself as a newspaper and freelance photographer. Later, she became interested in health care. At that point, she wasn’t qualified to get a job in the field. Nor was she ready to apply to graduate programs in health care. However, she researched graduate programs, took prerequisite courses, earned excellent grades, and volunteered at her local hospital. She is now halfway through a physician’s assistant program and doing splendidly. My friend recognized switching careers would be tough, but she identified what she had to do and took steps toward her dream.

And these lessons don’t just pertain to the classroom and career. Try applying them to your personal life as well. Would you hang around with your current group of friends if you had more confidence? If you were happier with yourself, would you stay with your significant other? Plenty of people remain in relationships they find stifling, dissatisfying, or even abusive because they’re convinced they couldn’t do better for themselves. Don’t wait until you’re more secure to make new friends or break up with that person: take care of yourself now.

At first, faking confidence will be difficult. Any hint of rejection may set you back. But ignore those discouraging voices in your head and keep going with your job hunt, graduate school search, or other efforts. Soon, you’ll find yourself more oblivious to your insecurities: at times, they may even disappear completely. From time to time, they’ll resurface, and that’s okay. Doubt is part of the human condition. But this time you’ll know how to handle your doubts – and you’ll be able to live your best life in spite of them.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

Future Selves: A New Approach to Time Management

sun-riseWhen you hear the words “time management,” what leaps to mind? The most productive person you know? Everything you have to accomplish in a given day or week? Your weekly planner?

You already know time management is necessary for academic and professional success; you may even use a planner or planning app to keep track of your commitments and deadlines. But for a few minutes, I want you to stop thinking of what you want to do, what you have to do, and how you can fit all of them into a 168-hour week. Yes, you should download – and complete – a weekly schedule. However, instead of reviewing your current responsibilities, take some time to ponder the future. So take a deep breath, relax, and let your imagination wander.

First, ask yourself who you’d like to be a week from now. I know: it’s not very far in the future. But maybe you’d like to be a more confident, active, or upbeat version of yourself. Imagine that person going about his or her life. Then consider what that student’s schedule might look like.

Second, imagine yourself five years from now. Where are you living? Are you in your first post-college job? In graduate school? What do you do in your free time? Flesh out this character you’ve created: give yourself the social life, relationships, and hobbies you long to have. Don’t edit your dreams; let them evolve without judgement.

Next, envision the person you want to be in ten years. Where are you? What are you doing for a living? What do you like to do in your spare time, and with whom do you spend it?

Finally, make a list of things that are important to you: your highest ambitions, the most crucial relationships, your most deeply held beliefs. Don’t judge or rank them – just jot them down.

Now, come back to the present.

Think about the future selves you’ve imagined. Then consider your current schedule. Is your current time management plan likely to help you become that person? What might you do now to make that dream become reality? In some cases, this means actively doing something. For example, if you are interested in public relations, you should be applying for internships in that field. In others, you may need to reevaluate the time you spend in certain activities. There’s nothing wrong, for instance, with playing videos games to unwind or have fun with friends. But if you’re spending whole days enthrall to a game instead of immersing yourself in classes, clubs, or internships, you might have a harder time landing that position in management.

While you’re at it, look at your list of priorities. Then assess whether your current schedule reflects those values. If you’re like most people, you’ll say family is important to you. But how often do you take the time to get in touch with your grandma? Maybe you want to make a difference in your community, country, or world. What are you doing about that desire?

When you do this exercise, you may find a gap between your future selves and your current schedule, between your ideals and your daily grind. That’s normal for people of all ages. Don’t be discouraged. Instead, make small changes to ensure you’re spending your time on the aspirations, people, and principles that mean the most to you. Effective time management isn’t just doing a lot with your time; it’s making sure you’re living your most fulfilling life.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Saving Money this Summer: Yes, It’s Possible!

 For many college students, summer means making money. They work long hours during their vacation to earn money for the academic year. However, summer brings temptations of its own, including the urge to spend! Fortunately, with a little planning, you can enjoy the summer without losing all your savings.

1.) Fun = Free or Almost Free. You don’t need to plan extravagant outings to create memories with your friends and family. Many towns offer free outdoor concerts, festivals, and theater performances during the summer; check out your local newspaper for information about upcoming events. In addition, you can hike or swim at local or state parks for little or nothing.

2.) There’s always a cheaper option. Lunch and breakfast are less pricey than dinner; picnics and potlucks are less expensive than eating out. Matinees are cheaper than evening movies, DVD rentals and Netflix are even less expensive, and your local library will allow you to borrow DVDs for free. There’s nothing wrong with the odd splurge, but make sure your “treats” are occasional and special – otherwise, they’re not splurges, but reckless spending.

3.) Think daytrips, not vacations. Check out destinations – amusement parks, nature trails, museums, and events – within a four-hour drive of your home. If you don’t have to stay overnight, you’ll save money on meals and hotel fare.

4.) Keep it separated. Most adults have a checking account, which they use to pay their bills, and a savings account, which constitutes their savings. If you haven’t opened a savings account, now is the time. Allocate a certain amount of money to your savings account every pay period. You’ll be less likely to spend the money if it’s separate from the rest of your income.

5.) Do your financial aid homework. Even if you’re working a lot, you probably have extra time on your hands during the summer. Use some of it to research scholarship options for the next academic year. Check out Fastweb, College Board, and org to research scholarships. You may have to spend hours filling out applications and writing essays. Regard this the way you would any other job: something you have to do to earn money.

6.) Stay focused. Remind yourself of why you’re in college and what you hope to be one day. Saving money in the present will be much easier if you remember the future you want. While you’re at it, start taking steps toward your goal. You’ve probably heard about how crucial internships are for recent graduates. If you don’t have an internship lined up for this summer, use your downtime to research internship opportunities for the academic year or following summer. You might also request informational interviews with people who are working in your field.

Summer doesn’t have to mean having to choose between work and pleasure. With some mindfulness, you can a fun and frugal, relaxing and inspiring season that prepares you for the next academic year and the career you want.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

 

You in 750 Words: Crafting a Compelling Personal Statement

student_writingYou’ve earned good grades in your classes. You’ve taken all the required standardized tests. You know you want to go to graduate school and where you want to study. Yes, you’ve got to write a personal statement, but that shouldn’t be a problem. After all, you’ve spent the last four years writing papers, including some in-depth research projects. How hard could one two-page essay be?

Very. The personal statement, or statement of purpose, is one of the most challenging documents you will ever compose. After all, you have to explore your intellectual or professional interests, describe your qualifications, and explain your interest in a particular program. That’s a lot to convey in 600-800 words! In addition, the essay should showcase your best writing: succinct, clear prose with no grammatical, spelling, or punctuation errors. Finally, you will have to adapt your statement to particular schools and programs; in some cases, you may have to revise it completely.

This may sound daunting, but don’t be discouraged – even if writing is not your forte. If you’re a good student with a strong interest in your field, you have a compelling story to tell. Follow this plan to construct an effective personal statement.

1.) Start Early. By early, I mean months before your application materials are due. This will give you ample opportunity to revise your essay and proofread it multiple times before the deadline. (Bear in mind that the due date is the last possible moment you can submit your application. By procrastinating, you leave yourself open to all sorts of last-minute emergencies, including illness, computer glitches, and busy recommenders. Be smart and make sure all components of your application – recommendations, test scores, personal statement, writing samples – are in at least a couple weeks ahead of the deadline.)

2.) Address the Entire Prompt. Most graduate programs ask applicants to discuss their scholarly interests, their relevant academic, personal, and professional experience, and their reasons for choosing that particular department. Read the entire prompt carefully and respond to every part of it. Some departments may not specify what they want you to explore; they may merely require a biographical sketch or statement of purpose. In that instance, compose an essay that describes all of the above.

3.) Be Specific. People who study literature love to read. Biology majors like science. Aspiring social workers want to help others. None of this is surprising – and that’s why you shouldn’t include it in a personal statement. The admissions committee already assumes you have a general interest in the field. Your job, as an applicant, is to persuade them of the depth of your commitment. Discuss the scholarly research you want to pursue in graduate school or the contributions you hope to make in your career. For example, an MA candidate in history might explore the effect of the Civil War on the New England fishing industry while a graduate student in physical therapy might have a particular interest in working with stroke patients.

Once you’ve described your academic and professional goals, connect them to the program in question. Discuss how its faculty, courses, and research opportunities relate to your interests. By addressing how your interests align with the department’s strengths, you establish yourself as a serious candidate who has carefully researched the program.

What you don’t want to do is bring up personal reasons for selecting that institution. For example, you should not say, “I am interested in the Master’s program in Geology at the University of Wyoming because my boyfriend goes there” or “I am applying to the University of California at Santa-Barbara because I have always wanted to live in California.” This may be true, but strive to find other factors – specific faculty, courses, or research institutes – that attract you to that program. Only mention personal motives if they are relevant to your goals. For example, you might write that you are applying to the University of Vermont Medical School because you have a strong interest in providing primary care to Vermont communities.

4.) Be Professional. Think of a personal statement as an interview on paper. (Some programs also require in-person or phone interviews.) You want to present yourself as a serious student who can work with others, assumes responsibility, and generally acts like an adult. Thus, your essay should discuss relevant experiences – research projects, jobs, internships, and volunteer work – that demonstrates these qualities and the depth of your interest in the field.

In some cases, your essay may have to address a weakness – either because the prompt requires it or because your transcript contains some poor grades. This can be tricky: you don’t want to put yourself down, but neither do you want to appear whiny or childish. (“Yes, I earned a C- in Organic Chemistry, but that’s because science is hard for me/I do not like science/ my teacher was disorganized/ I had a lot going on that semester.”) Here’s what to do: admit a weakness (“I struggled with writing or math/I had a bad semester.”). Then briefly describe the steps you took to rectify that problem. (“I sought tutoring/I became a more focused student/ I learned how to manage time.”) Your goal is to acknowledge the problem, show how you resolved it, and then move on. This allows you to present your weakness as a strength, an example of your resilience and determination.

5.) Get Help. You’re not in this alone. Castleton boasts many resources to help you prepare for graduate school. Make appointments to have faculty members review your essay; you should also meet with Career Services Director Renée Beaupre-White, Writing Specialist Bill Wiles, and/or a Writing Clinic tutor. Meet with them well in advance of your deadline to allow yourself time to revise your essay. Also, bear in mind that staff and faculty have busy schedules; you may have to wait a week or two for a meeting.

6.) Proofread. And proofread. And proofread. Read your essay forward and backward. Walk away from it for a couple days and then look at it again. Finally, have at least two other people – preferably faculty or staff – review it for you. Many graduate programs are highly selective, and you don’t want a careless error to stand between you and admission.

The personal statement is your chance to distinguish yourself from other applicants. That’s why it’s essential you take it seriously. Give yourself the time you need and the essay the attention it deserves, and you will be on your way to crafting a compelling and impressive piece of writing.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

From Refugee Camp to Citizen Scholar: TRIO Star Adan Osman

Some students’ paths to college are a little rockier than others. Adan Osman’s journey to Castleton began in Kakuma, a town turned refugee camp in Northern Kenya. His parents had fled there to escape civil war in their native Somalia.

At four, Adan started his education. But his first day of school was also his last. Violence greeted him and the other students on their way to the camp’s school. “I didn’t want to go to school to get beaten,” he recalls. “Some kids would go to school and never come back. So I stayed home and helped my mother.”

When Adan was nine, his family immigrated to Utica, New York. But being in the United States didn’t mean his battles were over. At his new school, Adan’s teachers placed him in a TV room where he watched movies during the day. “I saw The Lion King,” he chuckles. “It was my first American movie. I loved it. But it didn’t help me learn English.”

Two years later, Adan’s family moved to Burlington, Vermont. There, Adan finally received the intensive English language instruction he craved. Adan worked hard, and after graduating from Burlington High School, he was accepted at Castleton.

Starting college meant confronting a new set of challenges. “It was a whole new world; there was nothing familiar,” says Adan. He worried his English wouldn’t be good enough. And small, rural Castleton seemed isolated after vibrant, diverse Burlington. And it was far from his family.

One of Adan’s high school teachers urged him to sign up for Castleton’s TRIO program, saying it would provide him with the support he needed to finish his degree. Adan was skeptical, but he enrolled anyway.

Today, Adan has nothing but praise for Castleton’s TRIO program and the Academic Support Center’s staff. “They understand people from different cultures, and that’s the most beautiful thing,” he says. “Without them, I wouldn’t be here ready to graduate.” He is particularly grateful to Academic Counselor Becky Eno. “She has helped me a lot with my writing,” he says. “She sat down and showed me exactly what I needed to do. My papers have gone from C+ to A+.”

Adan’s writing skills have helped him succeed outside of the classroom. As a part-time employee at the Park Street Program, a residential treatment program for juvenile offenders, Adan must prepare reports about his work with clients. “I’m proud of my writing as a social worker,” he says.

Perhaps because of his bumpy beginning, Adan has a strong desire to help others thrive. In addition to his job at Park Street, he and some friends from Burlington are founding Building Blocks to Success, a multicultural mentoring program for young men. He is working with education professor Emily Gleason to plan a course for educators who will be working with Syrian refugees. And between classes and work, Adan spends lots of time at the gym, where he informally mentors those new to exercise. He thinks of starting a fitness bootcamp to help others get in shape. He sees clear parallels between himself and the young people he helps. “When you grow up on your own, not having someone there for you, you do things on your own,” he says quietly. “No one is there to build and help you up. I want to give back and help others who haven’t had the same opportunities I’ve had.”

In May, Adan will graduate with a Bachelor’s in Social Work degree. After graduation, he and a friend hope to open a Somali restaurant in downtown Burlington. He is excited about introducing Vermonters to Somali food, which fuses Middle Eastern, East African, West African, and Egyptian influences. “I’ll be using my degree in a different way to make a difference in my community,” he muses. “Food brings people together, and it’s an opportunity to teach people about the culture.”

Becky Eno has high praise for Adan. “He is a TRIO Star because he turns his adversity into strength,” she says. “He has transformed himself from a freshman (and sophomore) who doubted that he should even be in college into a successful senior. He encourages other students to realize their own best potential.”

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

 

           

   

Testing: One, Two, Three, Breathe

stressed studentEver since you can remember, you knew you wanted to be a teacher. You simply can’t envision yourself in any other career. But before you can even start student teaching, you have to pass PRAXIS I, and you hate standardized tests. Although you were a strong student in high school, your SAT scores were on the lower end of mediocre. You just don’t test well: you freeze and forget everything you know about grammar and geometry. People keep telling you not to worry, but so much depends on this test: your career, your livelihood, and your happiness.

Like it or not, standardized tests are a fact of American life. To enter graduate school or certain professions, you may have to take one: the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, PRAXIS, or a licensing exam. Many students find these timed exams intimidating. They dislike working under pressure, and they believe their entire future hangs upon their performance on the test.

Fortunately, you can improve your performance on standardized tests – even if you suffer from test anxiety. Follow this formula for success and peace of mind:

1.) Start Early. By early, we mean weeks, even months, in advance. The sooner you begin studying, the more prepared and more confident you’ll be on test day. This might mean scheduling your test months in advance. (Usually, you can do this online.)

2.) Practice, Practice, Practice. No, practice doesn’t always make a perfect score, but it can help you achieve a higher one. Take an up-to-date practice test long before your testing date. (You should be able to find one at Academic Support, Career Services, the library, your academic department, or on the test’s website.) Find a quiet place to work, and give yourself the same amount of time you would have on test day. Afterward, when you score your practice test, you’ll have a better idea of the concepts and skills you’ll need to review before the real exam.

3.) Focus Your Study Sessions. Concentrate on the content that’s most challenging to you. For example, if writing is your strong suit, you may not need to review grammar and vocabulary before you take the GRE or PRAXIS. However, if you’ve forgotten all the algebra you’ve ever learned, you may want to spend some time brushing up on it before the test.

4.) Get Help. Don’t suffer in silence. If you are having trouble preparing for a test, stop by Academic Support in Babcock. Whether you need help with math, want to practice writing timed essays, or simply get some study tips, we can help. Your professors may also be able to give you test-specific advice.

5.) Take Care of Yourself. That means pacing yourself in study sessions, getting enough sleep the night before the exam, and eating balanced meals on test day. If you’re sleep deprived or your blood sugar is low, you won’t do your best work.

6.) Take a Deep Breath. Yes, the test looms large, and yes, you want to do as well as possible. But the worst case scenario isn’t the end of your dreams: if you don’t do as well as you’d like on the test, you can take it again. Graduate schools only pay attention to your highest score.

7.) Reward Yourself. Give yourself something to look forward to after the test: a nice lunch, a favorite movie, an outing with a friend or family member. You’ve worked hard to get where you are, and you deserve a treat. This strategy can also help reduce anxiety about the test as it reminds you that life goes on – even after the dreaded exam!

Although you may not enjoy standardized tests, following these steps can make them much less daunting. The same skills that help you succeed in the classroom – time management, planning, self-care – can also boost your scores. The test looming in your future is just one step on the path to the life you want.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Dealing with Distractions

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You’re ready to write a short paper for your English class. It’s only a two-page response to a novel you’ve been reading, so it shouldn’t take long. You sit down with your laptop. Before you start typing, you decide to check Facebook quickly. You comment on a friend’s post. Then you see that another friend has posted a funny cat video. You click on it, of course. You Tube recommends more cat videos; you watch two more before you start typing your essay.

Three hours, ten texts, three e-mails, and one conversation with your roommate later, you finish the essay and hit save. You don’t have time to proofread: you have history class, dinner, and a pickleball meeting ahead of you. Then, after pickleball, you need to study for that big biology test tomorrow.

You spent three hours doing what you could have done in an hour or less. And you didn’t even do it very well.

Sound familiar? Modern life is filled with distractions — and not just for students. Parents, faculty, and staff find their heads spinning between various screens and obligations. But to be productive, all of us have to put down our devices, prioritize our workload, and focus on the task at hand.

No one is saying you have to give up social media, texting, extracurricular activities, or your social life. We also know that some students have jobs and family responsibilities. However, if you’re a full-time student, college is your full-time position. As with any job, you should arrange your life around your studies, not your studies around your life.

Here are some tips to keep you grounded and focused as you navigate college life.

1.) Find Your Place. You need a space where you can concentrate on your work with a minimum of distractions. This may not be your dorm room or apartment! Consider studying in the library or Academic Support Center. When you really need to focus, check out the study carrels on the library’s second floor. You can get a key to one at the library’s circulation desk.

2.) Turn It Off! Turn off your music, phone, TV, and other devices while you study. If you’re working on a computer or tablet, resist the urge to keep multiple windows open. Tell yourself you’ll look at Instagram after you finish the paper. Some students insist they need background noise in order to concentrate. If this sounds like you, try listening to soft music during study sessions. However, don’t try to combine socializing, web surfing, or television with academics. They don’t mix.

3.) Schedule It. Fill out a Weekly Schedule. In addition to your classes, work, practices, and other commitments, make sure you block off time to study. Dedicate a few hours to studying most days of the week. For example, if you know that you’ll be working on assignments from 2-5 every Thursday, you’ll be able to reserve the evening for food, fun, and sleep.

4.) Remember Why You’re Here. You chose to attend college because you had a dream: you wanted to become an expert in something or prepare for a particular career. Everything else is secondary, including extracurricular activities, entertainment, and your social life. Remind yourself of your goals whenever any distraction tempts you.

5.) Focus on Fun. Heard about work-life balance? It’s hard to achieve when your work and study times blend. Imagine if you didn’t have to do your chemistry homework and catch up with friends simultaneously. You’d do a better job on the assignment – and you could relax and enjoy your friends’ company.

Imagine seeing your grades improve and having more time for yourself. Imagine being less stressed about your classes and doing better work than ever. Eliminating distractions and focusing on your studies can help you become more effective in all areas of your life. Here’s the best part of it: you don’t need to buy anything to achieve this balance. You have all the tools you need to become the best student you can be.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

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. Renee 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

Really Free Money: Strategies for Scholarships

teenage student giving thumb up while using laptop

If you’re like most college students, your financial aid package is a mixture of loans, grants, work study, and scholarships. And if you’re like many of your peers, you may be pretty vague about the details of your package. No question about it, college financing is confusing; that’s why colleges and universities employ experienced professionals to staff their financial aid offices.

But even if you avoid financial details, here’s one principle you need to remember: you want to borrow as little money as possible. You’ll have to pay back loans, whereas you won’t have to pay back scholarships and grants. Therefore, you want to apply for as many scholarships and grants you can.

Unfortunately, many students don’t bother applying for scholarships. Often, they assume they won’t qualify; sometimes, they think the application process isn’t worth the award. Above all, they’re simply unaware of the breadth of scholarships available. The fact is, if you’re a college student in decent academic standing, you qualify for scholarships! Here are some tips to maximize your scholarship earnings:

Get Creative – and Confident. Devote time to researching possible scholarships. There are scholarships for academic excellence, of course, but also for students from certain backgrounds or geographic areas, cancer survivors or their family members, and individuals with specific career goals or interests. Start by applying for the Returning Student Scholarship at Castleton (due March 4th). Next, look at resources in your community: businesses and service clubs, such as the Rotary or Lions Club, often offer scholarships. VSAC maintains a database of scholarships for Vermont residents (also due March 4th). Finally, check out Fastweb, College Board, and Finaid.org to search for scholarships. On Fastweb and other sites, you may have to spend some time filling out questionnaires to be matched with scholarships; however, your effort could be worth hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars.

Get Organized. Make checklist of all of the items you’ll need – essays, letters of recommendation, transcripts, etc. – to apply for each scholarship. (You’re applying for than one, naturally.) Include the scholarship’s deadline at the top of the checklist. You may even want to maintain a folder for each application.

Get Deadlines. Remember: the deadline is the absolute latest date you can apply. Play it safe, and make sure your application materials are ready at least a week in advance.

Get Help. If you have any questions about any aspect of your scholarships applications, check in with a faculty member or any of the counselors at Academic Support. We can also assist you with scholarship essays. Whether you need help getting started or want someone to review your draft, you can visit the Writing Clinic or schedule an appointment with Bill Wiles, our Writing Specialist. Call 468-1347 or stop by to schedule an appointment.

Like college itself, applying for scholarships takes time, effort, and organization. Expect to devote several hours to each scholarship application. Although you may prefer to use your free time to relax or socialize, think of your scholarship search as a part-time job: one that will help you on your journey to your ultimate goal. Now, that’s exciting!

Good luck and don’t forget to stop by with questions!

-Dorothy A. Dahm