Don’t Like Your Class or Your Teacher? Here’s How to Succeed Anyway

Chemistry’s boring. I don’t like my instructor’s teaching style. I hate English. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. That class has nothing to do with my major or what I want to do with my life.

At Academic Support, we hear it all the time.

I won’t use this post to tell you why you should embrace Chemistry or English. I won’t defend your instructor. I won’t explain why a particular class will help you become a well-rounded person or succeed in your career. However, I will make a concession: your complaints may be legitimate.

But you’re not off the hook. First, if you’re old enough to be in college, you’re an adult – and thus responsible for your own learning. Second, when future employers and grad schools look at your transcript, there won’t be a column that explains your grades:

Ancient History C- (But her instructor was boring.)
English Composition D+ (But he never liked writing.)

There are no “buts” on transcripts. Your grade is your grade.

That said, you can keep yourself motivated even when you find yourself with a class or professor you don’t enjoy:

1.) Get Help When You Need It. Many people dislike math, writing, or other subjects they find challenging. If you’re struggling with a particular class, meet with your professor, form a study group, or visit the Academic Support Center for tutoring and other support. And don’t be afraid to ask questions: if your instructor’s assignments or notes confuse you, ask for clarification.

2.) Remember the Real World. In your future career, you will encounter difficult people, stressful times, and challenging situations. Even your dream job will have dull or unpleasant elements. Right now, college is your full-time position, so accept that you won’t love every class or instructor.

3.) Find Your Interest. Get excited about something in every course. Try applying something you learn in science to the world around you; consider history in light of current events. Maybe a character or text in a literature class reminds you of a person, event, or theme in your life. If nothing else, regard each class as a challenge. Tell yourself, “Yes, this isn’t my thing, but I want to prove that I can earn a good grade.”

4.) Keep Your Eyes on the Prize. Yes, it’s a cliché, but sometimes it’s the only mantra that works. If you’re in college, your goals are a degree and a career. Recognize that difficult class or professor as a small, but vital step on your journey to the life you want.

So as the British say, just get on with it. One day, your effort will be worth it.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Procrastination: Don’t Put Off Reading this Blog Post!

According to 19th century psychologist William James, “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.” A lot of things have changed in the past hundred years, but we are still plagued by procrastination. It’s part of the human condition. One of the most important – and most challenging – skills to learn is how to manage those inevitable bouts with procrastination

In order to beat procrastination, you need to face it. Acknowledge that that is what’s happening. Don’t kid yourself that because you always seem busy, you must be getting the important things done. The master procrastinators I know are always busy doing legitimate tasks. Busy-ness is the best way to mask the fact that you’re avoiding something else.

Once you’ve acknowledged your procrastination, you have to make a firm commitment to overcome it. This takes great courage and perseverance for several reasons:

1.) Like any change, it’s hard.

2.) You have to deal with your personal fears – of failure, of less than perfection, of commitment, of success. (The idea of being productive and efficient is very scary if you generally aren’t!)

3.) It won’t gain you popularity, and it might not be fun.

It’s easy to see why so many people put off dealing with procrastination. Avoiding procrastination requires a combination of attitude and technique.

Let’s start with attitude. You have to convince yourself that you can manage your behavior with regards to time. Yes, you can.

Let go of perfectionism. Conditions are rarely perfect for working, and people are rarely capable of achieving perfection in their work. Strive for personal excellence and satisfaction instead.

Appreciate deadlines: don’t fear them. The adrenaline rush caused by an approaching deadline may be exactly what you need to get those creative juices flowing!

Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. You are responsible for turning that light bulb over your head. It’s not magic, and it only happens after you’ve invested some time and energy.

Once you believe you can manage yourself through time, work on your technique:

1.) Become a list-maker and a prioritizer. Before you go to bed at night, make a list of tasks you need to accomplish the next day. Note which things are most important in terms of time or significance. Write them down so you can’t conveniently forget them or rationalize them away.

2.) Make sure your goals are realistic. Break huge, overwhelming jobs into smaller, doable chunks.

3. ) Tell the people around you what are you are planning to do. The added pressure will help you stick to your plans.

4.) Get started with something! Keep your planning and prioritizing simple, but don’t waste time debating where to start. When it’s time to work, pick something on your list and plunge in. It all needs to get done.

5.) Have patience with yourself. Once you start, give yourself time to focus on the task at hand. If it’s hard to get focused, try a different perspective or approach.

6.) Reward yourself when you’ve achieved a goal. Take breaks when you need to – but make yourself get back to work and finish things. Whenever you finish a task, cross it off your list.

7.) Pay attention to the things on your lists that never seem to get done. If they’re not worth doing, drop them from your list and forget them. If they are worth doing, acknowledge that those are the things you’re really avoiding and get help dealing with them.

If you need help dealing with your procrastination, don’t delay getting help another day! The longer you wait, the more overwhelming the looming tasks become, and the less likely you are to be able to salvage the semester – and your well-being.

-Becky Eno

Becky Eno is the Academic Counselor at Castleton University. She also teaches in the English department.

 

 

Get Ready, Get Set, Get Organized!

stress_000The last week has been a blur. You’re adapting to a new schedule – and maybe changing that schedule as you add or drop classes. Professors are inundating you with syllabi and assignments, you’re planning to meet up with friends, and you’re trying to fit homework around your job or extracurricular activities. The semester’s hardly begun, but you’re already overwhelmed.

There’s no question about it: the start of the semester can be chaotic. (Even faculty and staff may find new routines stressful.) However, choosing an organizational system – and sticking to it – can relieve tension throughout the semester and help you be a more successful student. Here are some tips to keep your academic and personal life in order all year long:

1.) Use one binder per class. You need a dedicated three-ring binder – or at least a notebook and folder – for each class you take. Even if your professor puts your notes and assignments on Moodle, you should still have a physical location where you can store handouts, drafts, and other documents. Keeping track of deadlines will be much easier if you keep all the materials for a specific class in one place. Take notes on a laptop or other device? Make sure you set up an electronic folder for each course on your schedule.

2.) Plan ahead. Buy a planner. There’s nothing like being able to see all your commitments and deadlines in one place. You can buy a planner at the Castleton Store; if you prefer an app, check out myHomework. Whether you choose a traditional planner or an electronic one, invest in one that will show you a week at a time. This will give you a sense of how you should structure your free time for the next few days.

3.) List it. Planners and planning apps show you the week at a glance. A “To Do” list lets you list your priorities for the day. For example, your “To Do” list for a given Saturday might look like this:

To Do

            -Write draft of history essay.

            -Start research for psychology paper.

            -Go to the gym.

            -Get a haircut.

            -Call Grandma and wish her a happy birthday.

“To Do” lists can be paper or electronic; choose the format that works for you. Note: you can also create “To Do” lists for specific projects. This can help you break down large assignments into smaller, more manageable tasks.

4.) Pause. When you’re juggling multiple commitments, life can get confusing. Being a full-time student is full-time work – and most students also have outside jobs, extracurricular activities, or family obligations. Occasionally, even the most organized and conscientious among us lose track of our priorities. When you find yourself stressed, overwhelmed, or unable to focus, stop whatever you’re doing and take a deep breath. Take a few more breaths, and then write down everything you have to do. Look over your list. Which items do you need to do? Which do you need to do now? Which tasks could you put off for a few more days? Are there any you could reschedule or even skip? We’re not advocating shirking responsibilities or blowing off assignments, mind you. But if you have to study for a biology test, finish a history paper, and attend a club meeting, make sure the test and paper come before the extracurricular activity. Sports, clubs, and socializing are all important, but academics should always be your first priority.

Some stress is an inevitable part of college and life in general; however, with a little planning, you can avoid the sensation of moving from one crisis to the next. Sometimes, a little structure can mean the difference between dreading your responsibilities and enjoying them.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

4 Reasons Why This Could Be Your Best Semester Ever

A portrait of a mixed race college student at campus

Even if you think the college – and the whole world – has overdosed on positive thinking, there are good reasons to be optimistic about Fall 2017. Here’s why you should look forward to this semester:

1.) It’s new. Whether this is your first semester at Castleton or your final semester as an undergraduate, the start of term is a chance to start over. You will be taking new classes and probably meeting different professors. No matter what high school or past semesters were like, this is an opportunity to discard bad habits and replace them with positive ones. Cluttered folders? This semester, you’ll keep them tidy. History of procrastinating? This time, you’ll make sure you start projects early.

2.) You’ve done it before. Even if this is your first semester at college, you know what works for you. After all, you were a student for twelve years before you arrived at Castleton. You know you need to start studying long before exams. You know you need to have another pair of eyes look over your essay before you turn it in. You may be making a transition – from high school to college or from mediocre study habits to strong ones – but some of the territory will be familiar.

3.) Help is available. Lots of factors can affect your ability to succeed at college. That’s why Castleton provides different types of support. Need help with math, writing, or a particular class? The Academic Support Center (ASC) offers tutoring. ASC counselors can also answer your questions about paying for college, managing your time, and studying effectively. If you find yourself worried, anxious, or depressed, you can schedule an appointment with the Wellness Center.

4.) Surprises are just around the corner. You don’t know what this semester holds. You might find you’re better at math or public speaking than you thought you were. You might discover a passion for Latin American literature, ceramics, or molecular biology. That Soundings event you dreaded might be fascinating after all. And you might make a new friend in that general education class you have to take. The discoveries you didn’t plan are what make college – and life – exciting.

So take a deep breath, and start studying! This semester will be a busy one, but you’re going to embrace the challenges. After all, you don’t know where they’ll lead you.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

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

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 senior majoring in English and Education at Castleton University. He is also a writing tutor at Castleton’s Academic Support Center.

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