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How and Why High Schoolers Should Find Summer Jobs, Internships and Volunteer Programs

March 8, 2012

How and Why High Schoolers Should Find Summer Jobs, Internships and Volunteer Programs

by Liz Coffin-Karlin

Baby, it may still be cold outside but summer is on its way – three glorious months to fill with projects, internships and mildly soul-numbing jobs. Hey, high schoolers, I'm talking to you: Colleges care what you do with that time, even if you'd rather just hang out and play water polo...or whatever kids do these days.

For most high schoolers, there are two kinds of summer experiences: you pay them (hang gliding in Costa Rica, French language lessons in France with French people) or they pay you (yeah, I worked at a bagel shop). They both have their places and their benefits so if you can get to some faraway place and have adventures, go for it; however, most people aren't in that financial bracket in high school. The good news is that a first job can be just as interesting an experience, whether it's at a fast food joint or selling t-shirts at the Jersey Shore. Check out your local museums and colleges to see if they have special internship programs for teens over the summer. The application process may be brutal but a competitive internship program looks great on your resume and the money in your pocket will be worth it. Working with those programs will also give you a chance to meet teens from other high schools or outside your normal social circle; remember, college is all about learning to get along with people totally different than you – now's a good time to start.

But don't forget secret option number three: No one pays you but you get to practice something you think you'd like to study or work in. It's like volunteering (except you go every day instead of when you feel like it) but you should think of it as a job, minus the monetary compensation. The summer before my senior year of high school, I called around and became a journalism intern at a small local paper. I pitched and wrote my own articles and even used the amazingly complex 9-megapixel digital SLR camera (hey, it was 2005). While I wasn't exactly producing Pulitzers, I got great articles for my portfolio and the experience of working as an adult. In this economy, everybody wants free labor and by finding a place to volunteer regularly, you may just find a career. Start your search early, though: These opportunities fill up fast!

Liz Coffin-Karlin grew up in Sarasota, Florida where the sun is always shining and it’s unbearably hot outside. She went to college at Northwestern University and after studying Spanish and history, she decided to study abroad in Buenos Aires. In college, she worked on the student newspaper (The Daily Northwestern), met people from all over the world at the Global Engagement Summit and, by her senior year, earned the title of 120-hour dancer at NU’s annual Dance Marathon. She currently works in Buenos Aires on freedom of speech issues but is thinking about returning to the U.S. for a job in urban education.

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The Perks of Volunteerism

March 26, 2012

The Perks of Volunteerism

by Liz Coffin-Karlin

I think about volunteering the same way most of us think about fruits and vegetables – important to your health, good for your future and, every once in a while, the last thing you want added to your day. No one talks about it but I've seen it as both a volunteer supervisor and as a volunteer myself. However great the cause, however much you care, some days you just want to stay in bed. After all, they're not paying you so what does it matter if you miss a day or two?

What professional volunteer coordinators know is that volunteering isn't just good for showing the world you're a good person who cares about others: Choosing to volunteer builds skills you might otherwise not have the opportunity to develop, making you immensely more attractive to future employers and colleges. If you volunteer with young students at a religious school or daycare, for example, you will be better at working with young students than someone with no experience but that commitment also adds to your organizational ability, proves to potential employers that you are responsible and able to do self-directed work and shows your commitment to causes outside your normal purview.

In addition, peer mentoring or tutoring (paid or unpaid) adds to your employability. First, it shows that you are good at working with other people – a requirement for many jobs – and second, many employment opportunities (from consulting to banking to physical therapy) require that employees can clearly and concisely explain their point of view to others. Teaching someone how to do a math problem may be as applicable to your career in management consulting as any classes you took in college: It's a transferable skill that you will use again and again.

Finally, if you are interested in working in the industry that you're volunteering in, there's a good chance that you'll be considered an internal candidate for any job opportunities that come up. That usually means that your application will be read before outside candidates (even if they have more direct experience) and often increases your chances of getting an interview. Besides, if you've done good work, you've effectively gained an extra (positive) reference so think about your time volunteering as an extended job interview.

On that note, go forth and volunteer! As a former volunteer supervisor, I know we welcome the help but you're probably getting as much from it as we are.

Liz Coffin-Karlin grew up in Sarasota, Florida where the sun is always shining and it’s unbearably hot outside. She went to college at Northwestern University and after studying Spanish and history, she decided to study abroad in Buenos Aires. In college, she worked on the student newspaper (The Daily Northwestern), met people from all over the world at the Global Engagement Summit and, by her senior year, earned the title of 120-hour dancer at NU’s annual Dance Marathon. She currently works in Buenos Aires on freedom of speech issues but is thinking about returning to the U.S. for a job in urban education.

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The Importance of Experience

April 18, 2012

The Importance of Experience

by Liz Coffin-Karlin

I don’t think most students will disagree with me when I say college messes with your head. It’s not a bad thing to become wrapped up in the culture and “crazy” things start to seem “normal” – midnight pancake breakfasts, grown men dressed up as professional wrestlers breaking chairs on each other in the quad, and just dorm food in general all become regular life – yet one of the most confusing parts of college is that the classes that consume so much of your time and energy really only count for so much.

I remember being consumed by my senior honors thesis my last year and vaguely thinking “Huh, I should probably be applying for jobs...” but with the exception of a few research fellowships, I couldn’t imagine taking the time. Objectively, that job hunt was way more important than whether I got a B or an A- on that last Spanish major requirement because one class out of 40 just doesn’t affect your GPA that much. How much time you spend on outside activities and jobs versus academics, however, does affect your employment choices.

Like I’ve said before, employers want to see experience. Life experience, not classroom experience (this statement should obviously be modified for those planning on Ph.D. programs or going straight into non-professional graduate programs), is vital and whether you’re applying for medical school, a paralegal job or want to be in the business world, internships and volunteer work matter. They prove you have practical skills and good professional recommendations show you are easy to work with, which is more important than you think. Many employers calculate your attitude and demeanor into the hiring decision: They can retrain you on skills you’re lacking but it’s hard to reprogram someone who’s annoying the heck out of everyone in the office.

Obviously, your GPA is important (for example, Google won’t hire anyone with under a 3.5) but most employers care about your concrete skills more than they do about your successful memorization of Don Quijote’s final stanzas. So as hard as it may be, I actually counsel putting down those books sometimes and putting extra effort into that job or internship search, even if it may feel counterintuitive. That means completing informational interviews, exploring both externship and (sigh) unpaid internships and really utilizing your alumni network. But those are topics for another week.

Liz Coffin-Karlin grew up in Sarasota, Florida, where the sun is always shining and it’s unbearably hot outside. She went to college at Northwestern University and after studying Spanish and history, she decided to study abroad in Buenos Aires. In college, she worked on the student newspaper (The Daily Northwestern), met people from all over the world at the Global Engagement Summit and, by her senior year, earned the title of 120-hour dancer at NU’s annual Dance Marathon. She just moved to San Francisco and is currently working on a political campaign on ocean pollution but will be teaching middle school or high school Spanish this upcoming fall and working on her teaching certificate.

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Easy Ways to Get the Job You Want

May 15, 2012

Easy Ways to Get the Job You Want

by Liz Coffin-Karlin

Students around the country are finishing up finals, breathing the sweet scent of fresh summer air...and figuring out ways to pay for food and “Avengers” tickets this summer. Whether it’s a high-powered investment banking internship or making coffee at your favorite hipster hangout, finding a summer job is incredibly competitive but here are a few simple (though easy to overlook) tips that make you a stronger candidate.

First, do your research before making contact with a potential employer. Know what the company does, what your potential job entails and the names of most major staff members (including everyone you would potentially be working with/under). Now don’t be creepy – just because you recognize someone doesn’t mean you should shout out their high school GPA and prom date’s name (you’d be horrified what people can find on Google) – but use the info to tailor in-person and written responses to be relevant to what they’re interested in adding to the company. I recommend Glassdoor.com for good insider information on popular companies.

Second, take what you learned about Google and search yourself! I guarantee you that many potential employers are doing just that, as well as looking at your Facebook, Twitter and Google+ accounts. (You can probably leave your unupdated-since-2005 MySpace alone – even employers don’t care about that anymore.) I know I sound like a parent but I cannot stress enough that you should improve your privacy settings on everything. Worst case scenario, your employer doesn’t use search engines and you’ve frustrated that dude from freshman year algebra who still looks at your pictures. Best case scenario, potential employers won’t see that “awesome” happy hour/prank/streaking incident.

Finally, remember the benefits of networking. I know I’ve always felt embarrassed about using a friend or acquaintance to find a position – it feels like my achievement is less real – but a job is what you put into it, not how you get it. Talk to as many people as possible about your goals, set up informational interviews and even shadow someone for a day. Take friends or family members up on every opportunity – it feels like nepotism but they might be seeing something in you that would be an asset to their company. Don’t turn anything down just because you didn’t apply on Monster.

What’s that? You followed these tips and got the job? Great! Just don’t forget to take a minute to enjoy that feeling of success and achievement before you actually start working.

Liz Coffin-Karlin grew up in Sarasota, Florida, where the sun is always shining and it’s unbearably hot outside. She went to college at Northwestern University and after studying Spanish and history, she decided to study abroad in Buenos Aires. In college, she worked on the student newspaper (The Daily Northwestern), met people from all over the world at the Global Engagement Summit and, by her senior year, earned the title of 120-hour dancer at NU’s annual Dance Marathon. She just moved to San Francisco and is currently working on a political campaign on ocean pollution but will be teaching middle school or high school Spanish this upcoming fall and working on her teaching certificate.

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Meet Scholarships.com’s Virtual Interns: Liz Coffin-Karlin

January 25, 2012

Meet Scholarships.com’s Virtual Interns: Liz Coffin-Karlin

by Liz Coffin-Karlin

Hi all! I’m Liz, the newest virtual intern here at Scholarships.com. I’m from Sarasota, Florida originally, and then moved way up to Chicago to attend college. I picked Northwestern University for a lot of reasons – it was in a whole new part of the country, it had great academics and it had a lot of student involvement – and I wound up with double majors in Spanish and history and a minor in Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

While academics were important to me, I always felt I expressed myself best through student activities. I worked on our newspaper, The Daily Northwestern, for four years, was an executive board member on the Global Engagement Summit and participated in NU’s huge Dance Marathon. Along the way, I also volunteered at a Chicago soup kitchen, worked as a lifeguard for our sports center and once even sold hot dogs at a football game to raise money for a student group. (It is COLD in those stands!) I also studied abroad in Buenos Aires, where I fell in love with empanadas, tango music and backpacking in the Andes.

I loved my time at NU but most of all, I loved the connections I made and the friends I met. I took a public service fellowship in Chicago right after graduating from college in 2010 and ran a teen internship program last summer at the Adler Planetarium. When that ended, I felt it was time to use my Spanish skills and after studying abroad in Buenos Aires and then getting a research grant to come back before my senior year, I had the language skills and the connections to get an internship at the Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information.

Now, I’m excited to be with Scholarships.com, where I'll be sharing travel tips, college tips (make sure you set the microwave timer for two minutes not 20 minutes...unless you want to burn your dorm down) and professional tips for getting that internship or job you wanted. Nice to meet you guys – can’t wait to start writing!

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Bilingual Benefits at Home and Abroad

February 7, 2012

Bilingual Benefits at Home and Abroad

by Liz Coffin-Karlin

I live in Buenos Aires full time, I was a Spanish major in college and I’m about as obsessive about Latin pop music as any actual Latina I know so naturally, people laugh when I tell them I almost didn’t take AP Spanish my senior year of high school. Once upon a time, I thought foreign language classes were good for silly skits and fluffing up your college resume but looking back, I can honestly say that even if I had no idea at the time, my high school Spanish classes were probably the most important classes I took in those four years.

Most colleges require language classes to graduate and have varying levels of language requirements for different study abroad programs. The thing about really trying to learn that tricky foreign language is that it lets you become part of whatever culture you’re visiting, whether you flew to another continent or just visited a part of your own college city that you’d never been. Instead of being just a tourist, you can become an observer – an anthropologist of that new and exciting land – but if you don’t know the language (or your basic cultural history), that task becomes impossible and you’re just a tourist with a resident visa. Think about practicing your French in a New York Haitian neighborhood, your Cantonese in San Francisco Chinatown or your Arabic in Dearborn, Michigan. You don’t have to fly a thousand miles away to get out of your comfort zone or expand your horizons.

Now I’m not advocating walking into Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood and expecting your six words of Spanish to make you a whole bunch of new friends. Just like when you’re a visitor in someone’s home, be polite and know that your presence can easily become a burden rather than a novelty. If you work at understanding the people around you, finding out about their lives and listening to their opinions and goals, your limited language skills might rapidly expand.

Liz Coffin-Karlin grew up in Sarasota, Florida where the sun is always shining and it’s unbearably hot outside. She went to college at Northwestern University and after studying Spanish and history, she decided to study abroad in Buenos Aires. In college, she worked on the student newspaper (The Daily Northwestern), met people from all over the world at the Global Engagement Summit and, by her senior year, earned the title of 120-hour dancer at NU’s annual Dance Marathon. She currently works in Buenos Aires on freedom of speech issues but is thinking about returning to the U.S. for a job in urban education.

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Stepping Up and Standing Out

How to Shine Brighter Than the Competition

November 4, 2011

Stepping Up and Standing Out

by Mariah Proctor

It puts me in a bit of an awkward position to explore what it takes to stand out from the pack: If I am unsuccessful, this blog post won’t even stand out enough for you to finish reading it (which is just cruel irony) but I’ll try my best.

By the time you finish high school, you have a pretty good idea of what sets you apart from your classmates. You’ve figured by then that because you get good grades and you excel at this or that, you are set apart and safely defined. Then you begin attending college and find out that you’re surrounded by a bunch of people who also got good grades in high school and also excelled at the exact same this or that as you. Essentially, you meet a lot of other high schools’ versions of yourself.

So how do you set yourself apart? How do you keep from getting overlooked in scholarship applications, interviews and program admissions? Stop trying so hard to find out what they want. Be excellent and work diligently but stop trying so hard to adjust to some imagined expectation of a winner and instead concentrate on figuring out what you truly have to offer. Explore yourself and take note of the winning qualities and the passions that rule your actions. Only in cultivating what you’re actually good for (and we’ve all got something, even when you’re feeling like you don’t) and making those communicable and usable can you stand out from a crowd of anonymity.

In a world where the pool of people clamoring to fill positions is getting bigger, there are already plenty of cookie cutters and checklists, but there isn’t nearly enough heart. So find yours, show it and watch the rest of the pack fade away.

Mariah Proctor is a senior at Brigham Young University studying theatre arts and German studies. She is a habitual globe-trotter and enjoys acoustic guitar, sunshine and elephant whispering. Once the undergraduate era of her life comes to an end, she plans to perhaps seek a graduate degree in film and television production or go straight to pounding the pavement as an actor and getting used to the sound of slammed doors. Writing has and always will be the constant in her whirlwind life story.

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Coming Home and Moving On from a Study Abroad Experience

September 15, 2011

Coming Home and Moving On from a Study Abroad Experience

by Mariah Proctor

I arrived back in the U.S. on a Friday and the following Monday was the first day of a whole new semester of classes. One second, I was walking around Paris and soaking up the romance of the city. The next? I’m back with the same pack of people as always, as though the summer never happened. I love my friends in college and I love the life I’ve created for myself, but studying abroad is a life apart and coming back to a reality that seems unchanged when you feel transformed can be taxing.

What’s worse than feeling ever single one of the 5,000 miles between the place you just fell in love with and the place you’ve come back to is that the general public (even good friends) tend to turn off when you start a sentence with “When I was in Europe...” As memories that now boast an additional silver lining spill from your lips, you will undoubtedly be met with rolled eyes and pantomimed hair flipping. It does sound pretty snooty to talk about your summer in [fill in the exotic blank] but conversation and connection with people is built up on sharing ideas and experiences. Just because your experiences involved gelato and fine art doesn’t mean their jealousy or discouraged expressions should get you down on yourself!

At points through the many months of studying abroad, you feel acutely homesick for all things familiar and for people who love you. But that old adage that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone is true and the second you’re home, you’ll want to be back. My advice? Don’t let yourself live in a constant state of yearning for what you can’t have, don’t resent your friends for not understanding and be so grateful for all the experiences you’ve had and make that new, stronger, more cultured you the driving force for the exciting next step – whatever it may be.

Mariah Proctor is a senior at Brigham Young University studying theatre arts and German studies. She is a habitual globe-trotter and enjoys acoustic guitar, sunshine and elephant whispering. Once the undergraduate era of her life comes to an end, she plans to perhaps seek a graduate degree in film and television production or go straight to pounding the pavement as an actor and getting used to the sound of slammed doors. Writing has and always will be the constant in her whirlwind life story.

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Taking the Edge Off of Culture Shock

August 9, 2011

Taking the Edge Off of Culture Shock

by Mariah Proctor

When you’re preparing to study abroad, the images that illustrate your anticipation are the ones that you’d find on postcards. You have romantic images of sunsets and famous buildings but you often neglect the mundane – the Dumpsters, the traffic, the bathrooms. You fail to realize that your study abroad will see you taking on a new place in its entirety and those routine, everyday things are not only present but are done differently than back home. That moment of ‘that’s not how you’re supposed to do that’ or ‘the people here are so _____’ is called culture shock; take the edge off by anticipating its inevitable arrival.

There’s an emotional sequence that one experiences sojourning in a foreign land. You arrive, buzzing with the anticipation and gleefully jet lagged. Everything is still new and exciting at this point but after the novelty wears off, a sinking feeling that most don’t expect kicks in. You feel overwhelmed and overstimulated, you start to develop anxiety if you are not filling every moment with something new and valuable and, most of all, those little quirks of daily life that aren’t at all like your home life stop being charming and start being annoying. It’s obnoxious that the shower and the toilet are in two separate rooms and the people here seem determined not to smile or laugh and find it a nuisance when you do. Everyone is so quiet and punctual, not like your loud, late family back home.

Though you’ll try to stave off that sour phase for as long as possible, it will come. You will get homesick and things will not be as you’re used to. Then there will come a day when you suddenly realize that you’ve fallen in love with your new home; you didn’t even feel it getting under your skin but suddenly, you’re hooked. It’s also usually at that same time that you’re scheduled to leave.

Studying abroad is not an adventure every minute and it’s a lot harder than the recruitment people at your school will ever let on...but oh the delight in finding you love a place that at one time you’d only dreamt of visiting.

Mariah Proctor is a senior at Brigham Young University studying theatre arts and German studies. She is a habitual globe-trotter and enjoys acoustic guitar, sunshine and elephant whispering. Once the undergraduate era of her life comes to an end, she plans to perhaps seek a graduate degree in film and television production or go straight to pounding the pavement as an actor and getting used to the sound of slammed doors. Writing has and always will be the constant in her whirlwind life story.

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Study Abroad: Don’t Let Your Schooling Ruin Your Education

August 15, 2011

Study Abroad: Don’t Let Your Schooling Ruin Your Education

by Mariah Proctor

A good study abroad program is designed to seamlessly integrate the graded classes into the active, living experience so that the two aspects don’t find themselves in conflict. That is the hope but, as my roommate will tell you through frustrated tears, that is not always the way it goes down.

You’ve got to feel for the professors – they are often experts on the place you are visiting and they look into the blank, ignorant and often not properly appreciative eyes of their students and want to tell you everything there is to know to make you see what they see. Your average student, however, cannot synthesize all of that new information while simultaneously managing a new climate, new customs and money that, it turns out, is not Monopoly money and actually does deplete your savings as you spend it. All of this while trying to have a completely carefree, time-of-your-life, otherworldly good time? It can’t be done.

My advice is to forget the classes. Don’t misinterpret my meaning: Be the person who goes to class, is present in body and mind, takes in everything they can, inhales knowledge the way they inhale gelato and fancy pasta outside of class. It truly will add depth to the place. If you’re the person who is a perfect GPA, point-pinching, anxiety-ridden, stress cadet that thinks that excelling in the classroom will make you excellent as a person, studying abroad will break you.

Do as well as you can and keep up on your classwork but if you have to choose between an evening in studying or going to the opening event of the world’s largest international dance festival downtown, choose the dancing. If you can either finish some back reading for class or go to a procession celebrating Corpus Christi, don’t let a textbook literally rain on your parade. I know it will be hard but please when you prioritize, remember not to let your schooling get in the way of your education.

Mariah Proctor is a senior at Brigham Young University studying theatre arts and German studies. She is a habitual globe-trotter and enjoys acoustic guitar, sunshine and elephant whispering. Once the undergraduate era of her life comes to an end, she plans to perhaps seek a graduate degree in film and television production or go straight to pounding the pavement as an actor and getting used to the sound of slammed doors. Writing has and always will be the constant in her whirlwind life story.

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