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

 

 

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

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

New Year, New Semester, New Beginning

leapforwardWell, 2017 is a couple weeks old, but the semester is brand new. It’s the perfect time to shed bad study habits and develop some good ones. Regardless of what high school or last semester or last year was like, you can always start afresh.

As Spring 2017 begins, here are some resolutions to consider. Pick two or three to work on this semester:

_ I will keep using – or resume – the tactics that have helped me succeed in the past.

_ I will try to kick my procrastination habit. I will not put off assignments or test preparation until the last minute; I will break down projects into manageable chunks and work on them a little at a time.

_ I will limit distractions while I study. I will find a quiet spot where I can focus on my work and turn off my phone, internet browser, and TV during study sessions.

_ If I need help, I will get it. That might mean visiting the Academic Support Center, meeting with my professor, or joining a study group.

_ I will put academics first – even if that means putting my social life and extracurricular activities on the back burner.

_I will complete a Weekly Schedule and set aside time to study.

_I will prioritize my financial health. If I have questions about my bill or need help creating a budget, I will schedule an appointment with Academic Support. I’ll get serious about saving money on food, clothing, housing, transportation, and entertainment.

_I will take care of myself physically and mentally. I’ll eat fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly, and stick to a sleep schedule. If I get overwhelmed, I’ll talk with a close friend or family member or meet with a counselor at the Wellness Center. I’ll take time to relax and do the things I enjoy.

_I will [insert your own resolution here].

Need help getting started or have questions about how we can assist you? Please call us at 802-468-1347, e-mail us, or stop by our office on the first floor of Babcock. We look forward to seeing you.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Exams, Holidays, Then What?

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In a few days, it will all 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 break. 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 semester gives you a clean slate. No matter what happened this fall – 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 overcame what you thought was incurable shyness or conquered your fear of public speaking. Perhaps you discovered a love for ceramics, sociology, or chemistry. In any case, you learned something about your strengths and interests.

Second, you need to 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 procrastinated about my math homework, so it became more difficult that it should have been” or “I let breaking up with my boyfriend 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 accounting is not the right major or 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.

Happy Holidays and Happy Break! We’re already looking forward to seeing you next year.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

Finals Week: Survive, Thrive, and Celebrate!

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It hardly seems possible, but in a couple weeks, the semester will be over. Chances are, you’re excited about vacation and the holidays – 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

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 financial aid application. This year, you can fill out the FAFSA as early as October 1, 2016. Here’s why you should complete the FAFSA before the end of the Fall 2016 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, 2016.) 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 until March 31, 2018 to apply for financial aid for the 2017-2018 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 2017, 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. This year, you can use your 2015 income information.

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 professional judgement 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 468-1347 or stop by to schedule an appointment with a counselor. You can also contact the Financial Aid office at 468-6070.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

Group Work: The Agonies – and the Possibilities

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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

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

fvi-studentprofessorChemistry’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 ASC 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