It is the time of the year when students are thinking about what they are going to do next. Some are in their last term or last year of school and wondering if grad school is for them. It is important to have some plans. Yes, I said plans. Plan A, B, C, and maybe even a plan D. Some students want to get organized several months before they have to apply. The grad school process is a frightening one, as it makes most students do something that they are completely unfamiliar with–promoting themselves.

I find that it does not matter if the student is a strong one or one with lots of potential most still have a hard time putting together their grad school dossier. I know that I did, but I was extremely lucky to have some wonderful mentors, and was involved with a peer mentoring group. This post is going to make some suggestions that assume that you are an undergraduate thinking about applying to grad school in the Fall.

Here, we are in the Spring (almost). The firs thing that I tell my students is that the grad school application process is like having another course. You need to research the schools and programs. You need to research potential mentors and their areas of expertise. You really should not just pick a program and land there without having done some research about the courses and the faculty.

Where do you want to live? Seriously. This was a concern for me. I knew that I did not want to leave the West Coast when I was looking at Political Science programs.

What do you want to study? Which courses did you find most interesting during your undergrad career? Which courses were the most fulfilling? These might not be the courses that you did the best in, but rather that rocked your world.

Where do you picture yourself in 1 year? Three years? Five years? There is not one answer for each of these questions. There should be multiple answers and that is perfectly fine.

What do you have to do to get there? To answer any of the above questions and this question, lean on your friends and your mentors. Now, you might not think that you have any mentors. It is not like you sign an agreement with your mentor and there is an understood relationship. No, I have had students send me cards after they graduated and found out that they referred to me as their mentor. There are different levels of mentoring and for some students being at the front of the classroom is enough. And, for other students there is more engaged relationship between the student and the faculty member. My point is that you probably do have a mentor or two! Seek them out and ask them for advice.

You’ve picked a program. Now, make sure that there is 2-3 faculty to work with there. Now, this might seem ridiculous at a smaller program, so maybe you might need to look for 1-2 people to work with at the program. One of the best ways to find out if you will be successful is to chat with current grad students. Find out what the lay of the land is. Also, find out what most graduates of the program do once they finish their theses. What do most of the grads end up doing? Policy work? Continue on with PhD programs?

Now, when you find out what you think you want to do, you need to get your application in order. Who are you going to get letters of support from for your dossier? Who will review your statement of intent? As they say, get your ducks in a row. Once you get your dossier together, you will need someone to review it all. This is where your friends and your mentors are important.

This is part one of a few posts. Good luck!

Fri Fun Facts: Check In

Today’s Friday Fun Facts is dedicated to the check in. Periodically I have to take my car in to get its oil change and Canadian Tire will check the air pressure in my tires, as well as a host of other things. I am lucky to have a good dental plan and get my teeth cleaned twice per year. What about the check in at work? Some employers have annual reviews, and my  employer follows this procedure and some additional ones for the regular faculty.

But, I’m not so concerned with that right now. I’m thinking about the periodic check in that students should do with their schedules and classes. What does this include?

1. Going to class or at least having a plan for attending class. Now, you might work well with attending 75% of the lectures. I’d prefer to see students attend 80%, but hey, I’m on the other end of the equation.

2. Planning your time during the hectic post mid-term craziness. From here on out, my students are bombarded with deadline after deadline and then the final exam schedule. Free time is really an oxymoron, as they should have their time scheduled well in advance for paper writing, blog writing, and exam prep. I suggest you take out your phone or device and seriously plan out a realistic schematic of what you can do between now and December 20th.

3. This is basic–eat right, sleep right, and get some exercise in so that you can function. I’ve said it before–get a flu shot or step up the various routines to stay healthy. One of the best defense is hand washing. Yes, I said it and I’ve said this before on my blog.

4. Check in with your Teaching Assistant(s) and Professors! I wish I could say that I get lonely during my office hours, but I don’t. I have a bench out side my office and during my office hours the bench is kept warm. I have to say that I truly appreciate that my office hours are busy. This means that students are checking in with me to chat about assignments, ask for advice, chat about their schedules, help them in other ways, and overall serve as a mentor or coach to them.

5. Related to the above point–check in with the advising team in your department and Academic Advising.

6. This is really basic, but I have to repeat it: read your syllabus. Please read your syllabi! And, if you haven’t read it, please don’t ever say that to your Teaching Assistant or Professor. We really don’t like hearing that.

Enough! Check in–don’t check out!

Another Letter to a First Year Student

Well, we are two months into a new term and it’s worth sharing this again.

I might be posting this one month too early, but it’s on my mind. And, I can always revise and post again, right? Here I offer a second installment. The previous one was really focused more so on academics and having a well-rounded first term or year at university. This installment is based merely on my opinion and experience as both an undergrad advisor and as someone who has taught first year students for my entire career.

  • If you live in the dorms try to schedule your study time at a time when you’re at your best. Chances are you are juggling a handful of classes, work, relationships, stress, and more. You need to manage your time well and I suggest that you schedule study time. This requires that you keep a schedule! Add all the assignment due dates to the schedule, and take advantage of the UVIC Library’s Assignment Calculator, and those suggested due dates in your calendar.
  • Find out where the gym is on campus. If you haven’t been there, go take a tour, and have a workout there. Get comfortable there because you’re going to need to stay healthy during the term and this includes eating right, sleeping, and exercising.
  • Find out where Health Services/Campus Clinic is on campus, and go by and check when you can get a flu shot. If you don’t believe in flu shots, then make sure you wash your hands lots, and cough/sneeze into your arm. This is so obvious that it pains me to remind people, but seeing so many leave the bathroom without washing their hands–especially during flu season makes me share this.
  • Find out where Campus Counseling office is and find out what services and workshops they offer for student success. It could end up that the Learning Center or Library offers workshops related to time management, skill-building, and more. At the campus where I work the Counseling Services office offers some great workshops and counseling sessions.
  • Before the term begins, walk around campus to get familiarized with the different buildings, and check out your classrooms, so that you don’t get lost during the first week of classes. Check out other parts of campus for good study nooks and crannies!
  • Google your instructors or at the very least look them up on the university website so that you know what they look like. Some of you might not care to do this, but others will want to make sure that they’re in the right class. You will also get familiar with what your instructor teaches and researches. This particular suggestion might be more appropriate for the transfer student, who is looking for a mentor. I’ll add to this one–go see your professor during her/his office hours.
  • Check out the student union and the different clubs on campus. You should seriously look at getting involved on campus. The degree of this involvement will vary among the students, but you really should get involved in a club or two. This will allow you a way to meet other people.
  • Your first year you are really going to take an array of courses and meet the general education requirements for your undergraduate degree. But, you really should refer to the university guidelines or department requirements for the department that you think that you will pursue your major in. Take a course or three in this area, so that you can make sure that you want to pursue this degree.

I will continue these letters to a first year student. The next one will most likely focus with peer mentoring. I truly hope that some of this is helpful! If you’re a student, bookmark this and save it. If you work with college students, please add more. I’m sure I missed something in this second installment.

Today’s Fri Fun Facts is dedicated to thinking about what you do well and life planning. This is really for all of us, but I’m thinking of my college students who are on “break” working or taking Summer courses. It gets so easy to think about what needs to be done or what you haven’t scratched off on the “to do” list.During my office hours, I’ve also noticed a real apprehension with what is next and lots of self-doubt. So, let’s think about what you do well.

1. Get out a piece of paper. Oh, wait, open a new document or text yourself…

2. What do you do well? What are you known for among your friends or family?

3. The last time you were complimented–what was it for?

4. What do you want to known for at work or home? Remember to take care of yourself.

5. Think about your positive traits and what you have to give the world.

Now, think about what is next for you. You do not have to solve everything today, but just think about what is next. And, make this list realistic. Then, go chat with other mentors/coaches in your life and ask them for any guidance they might have as you embark on the next chapter in our life.

Owning Your Education

Today’s Friday Fun Facts is about taking control of your degree program by planning.

1. Verify the program requirements and make sure that you get as many of the prerequisites out of the way.

2. Re-read number one and then start working toward the electives in your degree program.

3. Visit the program or department’s academic advisor at least once per year.

4. Ask your instructors for advice, too. They might offer you an additional important opinion.

5. Speak to other students, but do not rely on them for the regulations or requirements, as they could be ahead of you and the regulations can change and your degree program might have experienced some changes. Always review the current requirements with an academic advisor.

6. Focus on taking classes that will round out your degree program.

7. Try to take some classes that you are genuinely interested in taking.

Enjoy your education. Own your education.

Fri Fun Facts~ Planning: What Works for You

We officially at that point of the term that many of my students will wonder what happened to their Reading Break. They just had a week free from classes and hopefully relaxed and worked. Some did. Most did not get as much done as they wanted to. This is normal. Today’s Fri Fun Facts is related to planning the rest of the term.

1. If you haven’t done so already–get out your syllabi and highlight the due dates for your papers. Then, go to the Assignment Calculator. This will help you gauge your time.

2. Get focused. Now is the time to meet with your Teaching Assistants and Professors. Ask questions about the papers or other assignments. Get a better idea about their expectations. What are they really looking for with the paper/project?

3. Eat, sleep and exercise. It sounds easy enough–but you have to stay healthy.

4. Go to class. You will hear lectures and important information. Your participation today could turn out useful next year, when you ask for a job reference or letter of recommendation. Your Professor might remember you better if you were in class.

Overall, my words of advice–plan.

Organization Matters: Fri Fun Facts

Recently I had a student in my office who had his next two years planned out–typed and ready for my review. I get this. I did this. OK, it was hand written, but I also planned like this. Today’s Friday Fun Facts is dedicated to planning your post-secondary education. And, here I assume that this plan is after the first year, so that the student has at least taken several course as they figure out what they like or don’t.

1. After you’ve met your undergraduate requirements for the degree review the requirements for the degree programs that you’re the most interested in for your major and or minor.

2. Related to the above point, I actually suggest to students that they at the very least have a major and a minor. Preferably, I’d suggest a double major. For some the preference might work best as a major, minor and co-op. The students who are focused on graduate school should look if the department has an Honors Program.

3. You should meet with the Undergraduate Advisor(s). This will vary at campuses. In some the office might be in the department (your major area) or there might be an Advising Center. Either way–these professional staff or faculty are there to help you. They can best help you when you are well informed and when you have questions for them.

4. Talk to other students to find out what they suggest. They will also be useful to find out which departments and professors you should look into for your degree program.

5. Remember that this is your education and you need to own it. You must be your best advocate in and out of the classroom. This means that you need to keep an eye out for deadlines and make meetings with the appropriate people or offices for information.

6. And, if you’re like the student from earlier this month and me, you can map out your courses for your degree program. It’s useful to actually see what you need and what you can take. Do it! It’s not in stone, but it makes you organize what you need to do.

May I suggest that you get a copy of the rules and add post its and highlight all the key information. Nowadays so much of this information is online and somehow you need to get familiar with the information regarding your degree program. Bookmark the appropriate webpages.