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by Agnes Jasinski

Whether you’re a recent graduate or a college student looking for an internship or job while still in school, there are some universal things you should know about to remain competitive while you search, especially when it comes to the moments leading up to, during, and after an interview.

If you’ve landed an interview, we’re assuming you did a good job writing a persuasive cover letter and impressive resume. That first meeting with a potential employer, though, may require some preparation, and don’t think your work is done even after you feel like you nailed the interview. Below, we walk you through the before, during, and after of a typical job interview. Pay attention, and you could be the standout in that employer’s pool of applicants. And believe us, there’s always a pretty big pool competing for one position.

Before

Before you arrive to your interview it’s important to do your research not only about the company or organization you’re interviewing with, but on questions you could ask that would show you’ve done your homework. Don’t plan to ask things that are easily found in a Google search. Put together copies of everything you’ve already sent over to the employer, and bring additional materials that may be relevant to the job. If you haven’t already, Google yourself, and make sure any public profiles on social networking sites don’t include any inappropriate information or photos from the last frat party. Make sure you're using an appropriate email address. Conduct a mock interview or two if you’re able. Thanks to your research, you should have a good idea of the kinds of things the employer will ask and expect of a potential new hire.

During

Arrive on time, obviously, or even a few minutes early. Do not show-up too early, though. Being 15 or 20 minutes early is almost as bad as being more than a couple minutes late. Your interviewer may have a busy schedule and arriving too early might take away from their preparation time, as they are probably going over your resume prior to your arrival. Be professional, and no matter the job and how casual you think the environment will be, dress in business casual at the very least. (The motto “dress for the job you want, not for the job you have” has a point.) Once the interview begins, don’t let nerves get the best of you and badmouth your former boss/job, make inappropriate jokes/comments, or over-share with any irrelevant details about your personal life. Be confident, but don’t be cocky. Make sure to get in those questions you worked so hard to come up with in the days leading up to the interview, and leave the employer with a sense that you really want this position.

After

It doesn’t matter whether you think you aced or bombed the interview. You’ll need to follow-up with an email at the very least. If you haven’t heard from the employer for a while (make sure you ask when you should hear back from them), it is fine to check in. Likewise if you have any lingering questions that came up since the interview. But don’t be a bother. The employer will be in touch with you if you’re the one they want.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A college freshman goes through a wide range of emotions when it's time to leave home. Many are a little nervous, but mostly excited, with a laundry list of things to do before they're able to relax about their first round of courses. It's probably for the best then for parents to get back on the road and leave new freshmen to their orientations and campus exploring, right? For some parents, seeing their first son or daughter go to away to college has been harder than most.

A recent article in The New York Times took a look programs at colleges across the country that aim to make the transition easier for both incoming freshmen and their parents. According to the article, a formal “Parting Ceremony” at Morehouse College involves literally shutting the gate to the campus as the newly enrolled are left on one side, their parents on the other. At Colgate and Princeton universities, school officials are quick to remind parents that student-only activities start the afternoon or early evening of move-in day. At Grinnell College, a formal welcoming from the school’s president keeps parents on one side of the college gym, students on the other.

The article is one of several lately on “helicopter parents,” or moms and dads who can’t help but involve themselves in every aspect of their children’s lives. While moving day may be an important milestone for college students to share with their parents, especially if they’re the only child, it’s also important for parents to realize that this is their freshman’s first taste of independence. And they won’t learn how to be self-sufficient if mom and dad are hovering.

A recent article in The Chicago Tribune looked at how technology has made helicopter parenting even easier, leading with the story of a 19-year-old college sophomore who has a frequent texting relationship with her mother back home. Administrators say constant communication becomes a problem when parents start taking the lead on their children’s schedules and social lives. According to the Tribune article, some call to remind their sons and daughters about upcoming exams or other deadlines, and are the first point of contact when laundry issues or conflicts with other students and professors arise.

Having a close relationship with your parents is great, but it’s also important to use college as a period of self-discovery. Set up boundaries (do you really need to be Facebook friends with mom and dad?) and make sure that you’re taking advantage of your first stab at independence. And worse comes to worse, you can always study abroad.


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by Agnes Jasinski

While you’re unpacking a semester’s worth of your belongings in your shared dorm room, there are other recent high school graduates packing up for different adventures—volunteer experiences abroad, internships across the country, or backpacking trips through Europe. These students are taking a “gap year,” or time off from the traditional college experience.

The gap year is a popular option in Europe, where students opt out of university-level coursework in favor of experiences they feel will make them wiser and more independent. But the idea has also grown in popularity in the United States. USA Today announced a new blog this week from Mira Fishman, who will be leaving her home in Ann Arbor in three weeks not to go to college, but to volunteer abroad. She’ll spend six months in Buenos Aires at a nonprofit, then another six months in a “grittier city.” She hopes to improve upon her Spanish and boost her resume, and as her plans were worked out independently rather than through the dozens of organized gap year programs out there, she hopes to keep to a strict budget.

Despite the high cost of organized gap year programs—some run up to $20,000 for the year—they’re also growing in popularity, especially among those who want a bit more structure to their gap year. Such programs promise a support network for gap year students, and experiences that are crafted to the interests of the student. Students like Fishman, however, may prefer a gap year that requires more independence and responsibility. An article several years ago in USA Today described “gappers” who completed internships at software start-ups, explored careers to clarify what they’d like to do in college before enrolling, and learned life skills at manual labor jobs. (One student interviewed worked as a deckhand on a “floating classroom” in Baltimore.)

Taking time off may also be an option for those who weren’t able to get in to the school of their choice, although that time off may be spent becoming a more attractive candidate to that chosen college. The gap year then becomes more of a “bridge year,” where the college-bound look to enhance their applications by taking—and acing—courses at the local community college, volunteering, or pursuing internships in their intended fields of study. Bridge years also exist for those already admitted to college; at Princeton University, officials have introduced a bridge year program for admitted students where they pursue service work abroad before coming to campus the following year.

Are you taking a gap year? What are the pros and cons of taking time off before committing to college? Are traditional study abroad programs through your college the right way to go if you're looking to go overseas? Tell us your stories!


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by Agnes Jasinski

There hasn’t been much to laugh about at many schools across the country, what with budget cuts and creative cost-saving measures affecting course offerings and faculty positions. At one North Carolina community college, however, a new course is teaching students how to chuckle, giggle and guffaw, no matter how they feel about the state of affairs outside of the classroom.

While the class is targeted at retirees—the noncredit eight-week “Laughter in the Sandhills” is put on by Sandhills Community College’s Center for Creative Retirement—it’s a good example of the kinds of offerings you may not know existed as you focus your attentions instead on the general education requirements in your course catalog. This class is taught by a “certified laughter coach,” according to an article about it in The Fayetteville Observer, and focuses on the positive health benefits behind a good laugh and the right and wrong way to let out a chortle. The class isn’t about perfecting your stand-up comedy routine, but about learning to induce laughter; students spend about 15 minutes of the start of each class greeting each other with silly handshakes, for example, or high-fiving to the sounds of “Alo-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.”

If you’re more interested in virtual LOLs rather than learning appropriate laughter techniques, and have the time (and funding) to explore unique courses at your college, do so. You may not use your new underwater basket weaving skills (courses in the craft are offered at the University of California-San Diego), but you may meet some interested characters along the way. Or you may find a hidden talent for analyzing pop culture (the University of California-Berkeley has a class on the philosophy behind the Simpsons). Or, that quirky course may even add to your skill set. Courses on social networking, especially Twitter, for example, may be more useful than you think. (DePaul University has a course in how Twitter has changed the way reporters do their jobs.)

It’s important to choose college courses wisely so that you’re able to graduate in a timely fashion and meet the requirements of both your school and chosen field of study. But it’s also important that you keep going to your classes, and a fun course here and there may help keep you motivated. We’ve all taken that intro to bowling/ice skating/curling course, and some colleges may be more lenient about how you fulfill certain general education requirements. Just remember to talk to your counselor or adviser about how much leeway you have when it comes to coming up with your schedule of courses.


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Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest

Deadline Approaching for Scholarship of the Week

August 23, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

With most fall semesters just beginning or yet to begin, now may be the perfect time to spend some time applying for scholarships that may require a bit more effort on your part. If you’re a stellar writer, spending some of your extra time on an essay scholarship may lead to a decent prize to help cover some of those college costs. This week’s Scholarship of the Week asks applicants to reflect on topics based on the Ayn Rand novel Atlas Shrugged. If you’ve already read the book, the Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest may be a no-brainer for you. If you haven’t read it yet but have impressive speed-reading skills, you may still have enough time to submit an essay before the deadline.

This isn’t an award you can just recycle a previous essay for, unless you have the good luck of having studied the novel in your high school literature class. There are essay and writing scholarships out there though that have more general topics for you to reflect and compose narratives on. Make sure to keep copies of every essay you write, whether it’s for a scholarship or college application. Those personal statements and reflective essays may come in handy when you’re applying for internships, grants, fellowships, or future scholarships.

Prize:

  • 1 First Prize of $10,000
  • 2 Second Prizes of $2,000
  • 5 Third Prizes of $1,000
  • 20 Finalist Prizes of $100
  • 20 Semifinalist Prizes of $50

Eligibility:

Applicants must be high school seniors, college undergraduates, or graduate students.

Deadline:

September 17, 2010

Required Material:

Applicants are asked to write an essay of no fewer than 800 and no more than 1,600 words on one of three topics provided on the Ayn Rand Institute’s website. Essays will be judged on both style and content, including a writer’s grasp of the novel Atlas Shrugged, and may be mailed in or submitted online. Mailed essays should include a stapled cover sheet. The winning essay will be posted online, so applicants must be comfortable having their names posted on the Ayn Rand Institute’s site.

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Although average ACT scores were lower this year than the previous year, it wasn’t all bad news on this year’s ACT score report. High school graduates who took the test this year are slightly more prepared for college than their peers in years prior, despite the average lower scores.

According to the report, The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2010, about 71 percent of test-takers met at least one of four college readiness benchmarks in English, math, reading or science. About 47 percent met between one and three benchmarks, and 24 percent met all four benchmarks. Last year, 23 percent met all four benchmarks; in 2006, that figure was around 21 percent.

An article from the Associated Press in USA Today this week explains that test-takers this year were a more diverse group of students. While they did score lower overall, how they did meeting benchmarks is encouraging to the authors of the test. To measure college readiness, the standardized test translates students’ subject area scores into data that shows their chances of receiving passing grades in college coursework. The content on the ACT can relate to courses like biology and general education social science and psychology classes, for example. It’s also important to note that more students in general are taking the test, so slight gains like this in any area may mean more than you think.

Other data pulled from the report included the following:

  • 29 percent of test-takers were of a minority group, up from 23 percent in 2006.
  • Average scores for Hispanic students decreased slightly, from 18.7 last year to 18.6 this year, but the number of students from that student population taking the ACT has nearly doubled in size.
  • Average scores among other race/ethnic groups were 23.4 for Asian students, 22.3 for white students, 19 for American Indian students, and 16.9 for black students.
  • The national average for all student groups was 21, down from 21.1 last year. (The ACT is measured on a scale of 1 to 36.)
  • Those students who took a core curriculum in high school were more likely to meet their college readiness benchmarks; students who took more than three years of math in high school were more than 42 percent more likely to meet their benchmarks in that subject area than those who didn’t.

While more colleges are going “test-optional” when it comes to providing standardized test scores as part of your college application, both the ACT and SAT remain important at most institutions of higher education. At those schools with a high number of applicants, there may even be a cut-off score as part of the admissions process. You’ll probably then still need to take either test, despite growing criticism over the effectiveness of standardized tests. Take a look at our Standardized Testing section for more information on how you can better prepare for not only undergraduate admissions tests, but graduate and professional school tests like the GRE and LSAT as well.


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by Agnes Jasinski

If you’re entering college this fall, Beloit College has you pegged as a group that doesn’t know how to write in cursive, believe email is too slow, and can’t relate to those who don’t know what it’s like to have hundreds of cable channels on their televisions.

The school’s annual Beloit College Mindset List includes 75 items that go beyond the technology gap to describe the incoming class of freshmen (in somewhat of a tongue-in-cheek manner), as a way to remind professors and instructors that there are vast cultural differences between them and the new students. The list is put together each August by a Beloit College professor and a former official at the school, and represents the at times amusing world view of new freshmen, in this case the Class of 2014. The officials putting together the list began to do so in 1998, when they realized how outdated the references many instructors used in their classrooms were.

Included on the list:

  • “Caramel macchiato” and “venti half-caf vanilla latte” have always been street corner lingo.
  • Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry.
  • Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess.
  • They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone.
  • The first home computer they probably touched was an Apple II or Mac II; they are now in a museum.
  • Second-hand smoke has always been an official carcinogen.
  • Russians and Americans have always been living together in space.

The originators of the list feel knowing these tidbits will help professors create more meaningful discussion in the classroom. It may also help instructors avoid blank stares when they use a cultural reference beyond the experiences of those new students. The 46th item on the list, for example, “Nirvana is on the classic oldies station,” may make some instructors feel old, but may also be a wake-up call for others when they’re looking to relate to students.

An article in USA Today this week quotes students that both disagree and agree with the list. While some say they do indeed still know how to write in cursive, one described the only time she’s ever used a telephone with a cord as such: “Yes, I’ve used them but only at my grandparents’ house.” Take a look at the list. Do you have anything to add? Is there something on the list you’d remove? We’d love to hear your ideas!


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by Agnes Jasinski

You’ve already read about the website that allows college students to wager on their grades. A new online tool allows students to calculate not whether they should risk some cash on their academic performance, but whether sleeping in and skipping class is worth their while.

The “Should I Skip Class Today?” calculator asks users 10 questions that glean information about how many times that user has that class in question, when the next major test/quiz will be held, and whether that class has an attendance policy, among other criteria. Once they hit submit, users are told whether they’d be safe or sorry if they stayed in bed and skipped class. For example, I was told it was OK to skip class but that I wasn’t completely safe when I gave the calculator a whirl. I used a hypothetical class that met twice a week, included regular handouts in class, and had an attendance policy where my instructor did not take attendance, but where participation mattered in my final grade. The results also told me that I had already skipped 7 percent of my classes this semester (I had informed the web tool that this would be my third absence), and when my next test or quiz was (I offered that information up as well).

The calculator is the brainchild of Jim Filbert, who thought of the idea “one cold morning” in February of this year. Filbert, a telecommunications management student at the time, didn’t want to go to class that day, and found himself wondering what the risks were to stay in his warm bed. Following a quick search online, he was unable to find a similar tool, so he took it upon himself to create an online risk calculator himself. He did end up skipping class that day, according to his bio on the site, but he spent his free time working on the calculator, instead.

While you should probably go to class as often as you can, barring an unfortunate illness, flat tire, or other incident that would stop you from doing so, it’d be interesting to see how “accurate” this calculator is in a real situation. How you’d measure its accuracy, though, I’m not exactly sure. Have you tried out this new online tool? How do you go about determining how risky it is to skip class? What’s an appropriate excuse? If you’re feeling swamped, check out our College Classes and Study Smart sections before deciding whether you’re really too overwhelmed to go to class; we have tips on everything from preparing for exams to choosing which courses you should sign up for.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Community colleges have gotten quite a bit of attention lately as legislators and even President Obama himself have billed the schools as an important bridge in improving higher education across the country. The traditionally two-year schools have also seen an influx of students as both a result of those efforts and the economy, with more adult students returning to college to pick up new skills and make themselves more competitive on the job market.

But it isn’t just associate’s degrees being awarded at community colleges anymore. As some of the schools have begun offering accelerated options, others are going the other way, expanding their four-year offerings with baccalaureate degrees in disciplines that had been typically found only at four-year universities.

A recent article in Inside Higher Ed took a look at Florida, where the trend is most obvious. The state’s community colleges now offer more than 100 four-year degrees, and are on track to offer more. In 2008, 10 out of 28 community colleges offered 70 four-year degrees; today, 18 of the schools offer 111 of the degrees, according to the article. While many of the degrees cover nursing and education, the two disciplines even neighboring four-year colleges said they needed help with due to high demand, community colleges are also expanding into other fields of study, such as international business and interior design.

Some four-year colleges have been concerned that the trend will affect their own programs and enrollment at their campuses, as it is typically much less expensive to attend a community college over a traditional four-year school. But supporters say the two student populations remain very different. Those attending the community colleges are typically older, with many from those student groups who may be wary about doing well academically at a four-year campus. The demand is there, then, as it is at traditional four-year colleges, and the community colleges must receive state approval before adding any new baccalaureate programs as a further safeguard.

No matter where you go, make sure you choose your college based on what you feel would be the best fit for you across all areas—socially, financially, and academically, to start. Community colleges offer cost-savings and flexible schedules, but you may feel like you need more of a campus life at a larger state university. Or your chosen field of study may be better known at a local private college. Consider all of your options during the college search so that you're confident in your choice.


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by Agnes Jasinski

What better way to kick off the school year than an additional $10,000 to help cover your college costs? This week’s Scholarship of the Week will do just that, and all you need to do is enter a drawing. The ScholarshipPoints.com $10,000 Scholarship offers registered users the opportunity to collect points by completing simple activities on the site; each point a registered user receives equals one entry into any of the site’s scholarship contests. This also isn’t the only time ScholarshipPoints will be awarding this particular scholarship, either. The site hopes to give away $100,000 in 2010.

There are a number of awards out there that don’t require you to write an essay or fill out a lengthy application in order to qualify. While competition for these scholarship contests and sweepstakes will be fierce because there are fewer requirements determining eligibility, someone has to win, right? Why shouldn’t it be you? For more information on similar awards and scholarships based on other criteria, make sure to conduct a free scholarship search and keep your profile updated regularly, as new scholarship contests crop up often.

Prize:

$10,000

Eligibility:

You have to be a registered user of ScholarshipPoints.com to be eligible for this award. Registered users must be enrolled, will be enrolled within the next 12 months, or are planning to enroll in a college or university of the United States and be legal residents of the United States. Residents of Canada and Puerto Rico are not eligible. Winners may have their testimonials and photos displayed on the site, so applicants must agree to those terms.

Deadline:

Midnight on September 14, 2010

Required Material:

Once you’ve registered with ScholarshipPoints.com, all you’ll need to do is log in and enter the scholarship drawing. To earn “scholarship points,” you’ll need to complete simple activities on the site. This can consist of playing games, surfing the web, taking surveys, or reading a blog, among other options. Each activity you complete means one point for you, and one entry into this scholarship contest and others offered by the site.

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.


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