Testing: One, Two, Three, Breathe

Ever 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 start teaching, you have to pass PRAXIS I and II, 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 might 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

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

 

Majors and Minds: Should You Change Yours?

Maybe you always wanted to be a teacher. You enjoyed your time in elementary school, and you love babysitting, right? But then you got to college, took your first education course, and discovered the field is not for you. You still want to work with children, but you’ve decided to pursue social work instead.

Or maybe you came to college because of the nursing program. Your parents encouraged you to become a nurse: that way, you’d always have a job. But you’re really enjoying your psychology course: you actually look forward to doing homework. You’re thinking of becoming a counselor and switching majors – if your parents don’t explode, that is. Then there’s your friend who started off as an exercise science major, but wants to enter the nursing program.

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. Studies suggest between 60 and 80% of undergraduates change their major at least once. Sometimes, this results in a happier, more successful student: if you love what you’re doing, you’ll be motivated to work hard and reach your goals. But a switch can also add years – and debt – to your college career.

Here are some questions to ask yourself before you change your major:

  • How much time and money would a change cost? Figure out exactly what classes you would have to take to complete a degree in your new field. On the VSC Portal, under Web Services, select Student Academic Planning and then Program Evaluation. This tool allows you see what classes you would need to take to meet that major’s requirements. Your current adviser, a professor in your new field, or any of us at Academic Support can help you figure out how much time your new program would take. Adding semesters or even years to your education isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but seeing exactly what is required can help you decide if the change is worth it to you.
  • How closely are your major and career goals aligned? Without a nursing degree, you can’t become a nurse. However, many liberal arts graduates find themselves in fields unrelated to their college major. For example, English majors work in finance and law enforcement, art history majors in human services, philosophy majors in broadcast journalism, and theatre majors in business management. Employers are often more interested in transferable skills –ability to work independently and with others, time management, writing, and verbal communication – than they are in your precise degree. If you have a career goals that doesn’t coincide with your present major, you may not have to change your academic program. However, you should definitely pursue internships and work experience in your chosen field.
  • Would a minor work just as well? Perhaps you’ve discovered a passion for art, biology, or Spanish. That’s wonderful; finding new interests is an important part of college life. You may want to change your major, add a second major, or select a minor. Think carefully before you make this decision: do you love this new discipline enough to fulfill the major requirements? Would taking several courses to complete a minor be enough to satisfy your curiosity?
  • Does the new major make you more excited about your education? If the answer is an emphatic “Yes,” then switching majors – or adding a new one – is a good idea. College, unlike high school, is not compulsory. You are not here because you have to be. You are here to study a discipline that fascinates you or prepare for an exciting career. Higher education is a privilege, and it should be enjoyable.

 Only you can answer these questions. But just make sure you weigh your options carefully – and start every new path with a whole heart.

– Dorothy A. Dahm

The Art of Knowing When

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Over my thirty years in higher education, I’ve met with hundreds of students. All these conversations have taught me something, and many hold a special place in my memory.

I met Vivian soon after she started her freshman year. I always begin meetings by trying to build a rapport with students, so I asked Vivian the usual questions. “Where did you go to high school, Vivian?” I asked.

“I didn’t,” she replied. “When I was in third grade, I walked out of the classroom, called my mother, and told her that school wasn’t for me.” From that day onward, Vivian was homeschooled.

I was stunned. Of course, I had never heard this reply before. Also, her confidence and self-knowledge astonished me: at the tender age of eight, she knew regular school would not work for her. She realized she needed a Plan B.

Vivian’s Plan B clearly worked for her. As a Make a Difference Scholar, she received a full four-year college scholarship for her academic promise and contribution to the community.

Vivian’s story never left me. Today, as a career counselor, I share it with clients who are unhappy in their current positions. I want to remind them that a Plan B always exists – if we have the motivation and courage to find ours.

May we all pay attention and know when.

-Renee Beaupre-White is Director of Career Services at Castleton University.

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 gained admission to physician’s assistant program. She graduated and is 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

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

 

Student Loans 101: Getting Educated

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In just a few weeks, it will all be over. You’ll turn in your last exam and sigh with relief. Then you’ll don your cap and gown, accept your diploma, and pose for photos. Finally, you’ll be off to the real world – to start your job search or, if you’re lucky, your first post-college position.

But one aspect of your education is just beginning: your student loan repayment. This may sound intimidating, especially if the financial vocabulary is new to you. However, with a little research, you’ll find your debt far less daunting. Here are some key points to remember as you prepare to tackle your loans,

1.) Know your loan servicer. Although you’ve borrowed money from the federal government, you’ll your federal loans through a loan servicer, which the federal government will assign you. Common loan servicers include Navient, VSAC, Nelnet, and Granite State. If you took out a private loan, from a bank, for example, you will repay the money you borrowed, plus interest, to that lender.

2.) Understand grace periods. Most federal loans, except for PLUS loans, have a six-month grace period. That means you do not have to start paying your loans until six months after graduation. Use this time to educate yourself about your loan repayment options if you haven’t done so already. And don’t get too complacent: you’ll have to start making payments shortly, so you don’t want to get used to spending a lot of your income.

3.) Know your options. There are lots of ways to repay your student loans. You can pay the same amount every month for up to ten years (Standard Loan Repayment), or you can make payments that increase over time (Graduated Repayment). Some plans take into account your income (Income-Based, Income-Contingent, or Income-Sensitive Repayment.) Other options exist as well. Although you will pay the least interest – and thus the least amount of money – under the Standard Repayment plan, other schemes may be better suited to your financial situation. This is particularly true if you find yourself working less hours or earning less money than you anticipated. Visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/understand/plans for an overview of your repayment options.

4.) Beg forgiveness – or at least a reprieve. If you return to school, are active-duty military, find yourself unemployed, or experience economic hardship, including Peace Corps service, you may be able to defer your loans. That means you won’t have to make payments for a period of time. Depending on what type of loan you have, the government may even pay your interest during your deferment. If you find yourself unable to make payments, ask your loan servicer for information about your options. In addition, the federal government offers loan forgiveness programs for some teachers and public servants. If you qualify, you may not have to pay back some of your loans. Visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation for more information.

5.) Do the math. Know how much you borrowed and how much you can expect to pay, over time, under the various repayment plans. Fortunately, the federal government offers a website that will do the calculations for you. You’ll need your FSA id to log in.

It’s natural to be apprehensive about your student loans. After all, you borrowed a lot of money to get where you are today, and you may already be anxious about starting your career. However, by educating yourself about student loans and your debt, you can prevent most problems and ensure a much brighter financial future.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Game of Life: Come Learn, Come Play!

wheelAs college students, we’re caught up with our social and academic lives. With so many thoughts zooming in and out of our heads, where do we find time to think about life after college? Although we’re in college to prepare for our careers, we rarely ponder life after graduation.

It’s time to narrow that gap. On Wednesday March 23, 2016 from 5:00-6:30 PM in the 1787 Room, the Heritage Family Credit Union, Academic Support Center, and Student Life will host a Game of Life Financial Reality Fair to heighten students’ awareness of financial literacy and personal finances after graduation. You can start at 5, 5:30, or 6 pm, and it takes about a half an hour to play. After you play, stick around for free pizza and a chat about the game.

It works a lot like the board game Life. You’ll choose a career and create a monthly budget based on a starting salary for that position. Then you’ll visit various stations to explore housing, transportation, food, night life, pets, furniture, and cell phone options. See how far your money goes! In the end, you’ll meet with a financial advisor to discuss your budget and assess how well you made out. But don’t worry: in the Game of Life, you get a second chance to make your budget work!

This will be the second annual Game of Life held at Castleton. Last year, 100 students attended. We’re hoping this year will be even bigger – and we can’t wait to see you there.

-Katie Haseltine

Katie Haseltine is a junior Management and Marketing major who tutors math and writing and serves as a Student Ambassador in Admissions at Castleton University. She is also actively involved in planning events through the Campus Activities Board.

Spring 2016: Here’s What’s Going On at Academic Support

photo-for-student-access-and-opp-guide-march-2008From paying for college to thriving after graduation, we’ve got you covered!  

Thursday, January 28th. Resume and Cover Letter Workshop. It’s never too early to start preparing for your job search. Renée Beaupre-White, Director of Career Services, will help you market your best asset: you! Academic Support.2-3 pm.

Wednesday, February 10th. FAFSA Renewal Drop-In. Bring your questions about completing the FAFSA and applying for financial aid. Academic Support. 2-4 pm.

Thursday, February 11th. Interviewing Strategies. Don’t sweat the big interview! Renée Beaupre-White tells you how to impress. Academic Support. 2-3 pm.

Wednesday, February 24th. Scholarship Help Drop-In. Come with questions about scholarship applications and essays. Academic Support. 2-4 pm.

Thursday, February 25th. LinkedIn Profile. Learn how social media can help you boost your career. Academic Support. 2-3 pm.

Thursday, March, 10th. Job and Internship Strategies. Ready, set, go! Renée Beaupre-White helps you translate your dreams into reality. Academic Support. 2-3 pm.

Wednesday, March 23rd. Game of Life. The most fun you’ll ever have learning about saving money and planning for the future. Location TBA. 5-7 pm.

Thursday, April 7th. Resume and Cover Letter Workshop. Renée Beaupre-White will help you market your best asset: you! Academic Support. 2-3 pm.

Wednesday, April 13th. Senior Loan Event. Dinner – and straight talk about repaying your loans. Academic Support. 4 pm.

Saturday, April 30th. TRIO Community Service Day. Join students from all over the state and give back to your community. Location TBD. 9 am.

For more information, call 468-1347, visit www.castleton.edu/academicsupport, like us on Facebook (Castleton Academic Support), or follow us on Twitter (@CastletonTrio).