As you navigate through your career you will soon learn how to make professional connections. Those connections will allow you to collaborate with colleagues, mentor and be mentored, and assist as you navigate through your career.  As a rule of thumb, you never want to burn bridges.  You will learn that your industry, especially within your city and state can be a very close-knit community and you never know if you will cross paths with someone later down the line.   

As you progress as a professional, you will need to apply for internships, scholarships, membership into organizations, applying for graduate school, and seeking professional positions.  One of the things that you may need is a letter of recommendation.  Letters of recommendations will help you distinguish you from other applicants.  The letter will allow readers to paint a picture of who you are and what you have done or accomplished. 

One of the very first professional connections you will establish will be the person(s) you seek for a letter of recommendation.  If you have already identified a mentor, you may already have someone that you are comfortable with and can easily approach to assist you. If you do not have mentor and are unsure who to approach you may have to put more thought into your request.

If you are nervous or unsure who to approach, here are a few things to consider. 

1.       Update or create your resume.  Highlight your accomplishments, what you have done, and you are at a glance. Provide your resume when making the request so the person can refer to your accomplishments in the recommendation. 

2.       Identify a potential list of people to ask.  You may need 3 or more letters of recommendation and they may be required for different reasons.  One to speak on your work experience, one referencing your community service, and one that can speak to your educational aptitude. Consider coaches, professors, counselors and advisors, colleagues, classmates, and former supervisors.

3.       Ensure your recommender can speak to your skills and will have positive things to say.  You do not want to enlist the help of someone that has negative things to say about you, your work ethic, and your ability to succeed in the new capacity you are applying for.  

4.       Provide enough time for the recommendation to be completed. Provide ample time for the recommendation to be completed. 

5.       Know the requirements for the letter.  Make sure you know the required length, if there are specific questions or information that should be included. 

6.       Know the deadline and how recommendation should be submitted.  Some applications will require online submission while others will need to be physically mailed.   

7.       Be prepared to write your own letter.  Some people may need your guidance and for you to jumpstart the letter and they will adjust and add to suite their needs.

8.       Be prepared to hear “no”.  You may select someone that does not feel comfortable completing the recommendation.  The person may not have time or be able to meet your deadline.  The person may not know you well enough.

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Did the fall semester get past you? Were there things that you wanted to do, but did not have the opportunity to complete?  Did you learn about opportunities or organizations when it was too far into the semester?  Spring semester provides another chance to get involved and take advantage of the opportunities you missed in the fall semester.  Each semester offers new opportunities to engage and try new things. If there are things you were unable to accomplish, participate in, or finish, use the new semester as a fresh start. 

Each semester also offers a new opportunity for change.  There will be students who change universities, graduate from school, or rearrange responsibilities due to schedule demands.  These changes will provide possible new opportunities for jobs, involvement, and exposure.  So, do not be afraid to ask about a vacancy, seek membership, or dive deeper into new found passions.

Here are a few ways you can get involved:

1.       Attend Rush and learn more about Greek Life on campus.

2.       Visit the Work-Study office for possible jobs

3.       Go to an organization fair and see what options are available on campus.

4.       Talk to a professor or your advisor about opportunities to get involved in the department.

5.       Reach out to a classmate that is already involved and learn about any upcoming opportunities.

6.       Consider local government and run for a position in your classes election.  Help with someone else’s campaign or serve as an election judge.

7.       Apply to be an RA for the fall semester. Applications are due early spring semester and may require a 2 or 3 step interview process.

8.       Read posters and flyers on campus for possible information about events and opportunities.

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Have you ever heard the saying “It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know?” Well that motto directly relates to networking. If you are not familiar with networking, this is something that you should start now as a student and take with you into the work force.  Networking is the exchange of information between people that could develop as your community of colleagues and may become your friends.

 

Networking is a very valuable tool as it allows you to connect and build relationships with others who may or may not be in your industry. Networking will allow you the opportunity to reach out to others and utilize them brainstorm ideas, determine benchmarks, develop mentor relationships, and of course for possible career opportunities.

 

You should see every interaction with people as an opportunity to network. Your very first exposure of networking may be in the form of family.  Career choices can be influenced by a family member or friend of the family.  These people will know you best and speak of your character.  They will be able to provide insight and advice on their career journey and it may have a positive impact on your journey.  When you need an internship, job shadowing experience, and professional interviews these will be your go to people.  Your relationship and performance may land you a career opportunity.

 

Your classmates will serve as the second source of networking opportunities. You will spend an immense amount of time with your classmates throughout your college career.  Be mindful of how you interact with others, how you make others feel, your work ethic, and overall relationship with them.  There may come a day when you may work with, work for, or rely on their opinion as it could impact your career.

 

The next group of people that serve as valuable networking tools, are your professors. Believe it or not, your professors are incredibly connected in the field.  They were in the field for years (and may still be in the field), they have friends in the field, and they may have access to a variety of professional opportunities.  Your professors will also be able to speak of your professional and academic skills.  You want to make sure you have a positive review from your professors by attending class and submitting assignments on time, working well with others, positively participating in the classroom, getting involved in your major’s professional organization, writing articles, attending conferences, participating in research opportunities, and volunteering whenever you can.  These things will shine a positive light on you and your professors will not hesitate to present professional opportunities to you.

 

The last source of networking that is available to you is the career development office on campus. If you have no idea where to start, not sure what events to attend, or how to approach potential networking opportunities the career center is the place to start.  This will allow you the opportunity to practice, get feedback, and obtain information about upcoming opportunities to network.  Stop by and see what services are available to you.  The services are free and you should utilize the career center every chance you get.

 

The most important part of networking is to connect with others, so you will want to have business cards or have your resume handy. If you don’t have either, add the person to your contacts in your phone and be sure to follow-up, so they also know how to contact you.

 

When it comes to networking, put your best foot forward, be yourself, and showcase your knowledge and skills.

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The campus visit is a really big deal, because it is most likely going to be the most influential part your college selection process.  The way the campus visit makes you feel, the people that you meet, and the more you can visualize yourself on campus will all play a role in the connection you develop with the university. Below we will explore the things you should do to prepare for the visit and things to consider while on your college tour.

 

When planning your college visits keep these 5 things in mind:

  1. Seriously consider the school
    1. College visits can be fun, but you don’t want to take visits to schools that you are not seriously considering. It is okay to visit a school that you are open to, but you should narrow your list to 3-5 universities.
  2. Know where the school is located.
    1. It is not just about knowing the school’s city/state, but do you know how far the school is from transportation (local bus, the highway, the bus station, or the airport). Does the school make the city? When school is not in session, the town does not have a lot of life. Do you have liberal ideals, but the school is in a very conservative community?  Are you a city person in the middle of a rural community?
  3. Special characteristics.
    1. What attracted you to the community?  Is there a major that is only offered at the school?  Do they offer intramural sports?  Do they provide support to students in the form of a resource center, student organizations, or staffing?
  4. Consider the season
    1. Keep in mind the time of year you are visiting.  The campus will look different during the summer versus during the school year. The weather can have a major effect on the campus visit.  If it is raining or snowing you will not see much student activity on the quad.
  5. Number of people in attendance
    1. Take family and friends that will remain objective and provide additional insight. Taking your 5-year-old sister may not be able to assist you in the process.  You may also not want to take an entourage of 10 people.  Ask 1-2 people that will add value to the experience and allow them to be your sounding board. Â

 

What to expect while on your visit:

  1. Walking
    1. Expect to do lots of walking. Your tour will consist of a lot of walking, as your tour guide will take you to see the very best of the campus.  You will see the admissions office, residence halls, dining halls, and of course a classroom. There may be other stops along the way like the fitness center, the student union, and the building where many of your classes will be held.
  2. Meeting with someone from your major.
    1. Your tour will most likely involve speaking with someone from the department where you will complete many of your classes. Use this time to learn about the history of the department, opportunities for your professional development, and other information about the program, instructions. And course load.
  3. Interactions with other students.
    1. On your tour, get face-to-face with as many students as possible.  Ask them what they like about the school, what they don’t like about the institution, what they would change, and how their lives have been impacted since attending the school.
  4. A lot of information.
    1. The visit will provide a wealth of information and it will probably be a lot to take in.  Take notes and attempt to get as much information as possible.  Take notes, snap pictures, and gather handouts.  You can use all the information you gathered to later review and help in making your decision.
  5. The best sides of the university.
    1. You will only be exposed to the best aspects of the campus.  It is up to you uncover the bad and the ugly of the university. Do your research, ask questions, and gather as much information as you can.

The college visit is an exciting and scary time. Use this time to get to know the college, its people, and what it has to offer.  See if you are a good fit for the university, see if you can envision yourself on the quad, and interacting with the other students. Be sure to prepare a list of questions, address your concerns, and gather as much information as possible. Take the information from each visit and compare finding the right fit for you.

Selecting a college is much like making a large purchase. When you think about it, college could be a $50,000 a year investment.  Like all major purchases and big decisions, you will want to weigh all options to make the right choice.  There are a few questions you will ask yourself and a few things to consider when selecting the school that is right for you.  Below are areas to consider as you are navigating through the college selection process.

 

Consider Location

Location can often be the determining factor when selecting a school. Ask yourself if being closer or further away from home is important to you.  Are you okay with staying at home with your parents, would you be okay being a plane ride away from home or would you like to have the flexibility to drive home frequently?  Do your parents need you close to home, do you have younger siblings that look up to you, or are you free from other obligations? These are all questions that you should factor into your decision-making process when it comes to selecting the best location.  Staying close to home offers benefits like frequent trips home throughout the year for birthdays, holidays, and should there be any family emergencies. Going away could help expand your independence, sense of adventure, but may create a strong case of homesickness.

Do you have a dream school? Have you considered your parents alma mater?  Are others providing you with their suggestions to consider?  What makes these options so special? What stands out about each choice? What does each option offer that the others do not?

 

Factor in Costs 

How much will each option cost you out of pocket? When you look at college, you should consider it an investment?  What will the return be on your investment?  Will your choice carry weight in your industry after graduation? Will you be connected to other professionals in your field?  Will your degree require additional education, certifications, or licensures?

Student loans can be follow you for up to 10, 15, or 20 years. Selecting a school that will require the least amount of debt, will have a major impact later in life when you are considering a home purchase, starting a family, or enjoying a new hobby.

Look at scholarship opportunities that can help assist with costs.  Scholarships are available for a variety of reasons and will provide you with some financial relief.  Scholarships are available for athletes, and not just football and basketball players.  There are scholarships for golf, gymnastics, swimming, wrestling, and more. Be sure to research programs and showcase your talents to a recruiter or coach.  There are also a host of other scholarships for women, men, left-handed people, first generation college students, and much more. Scholarships can also be found at the university, in the community, at your parent’ job, at your job, or even your high school.

 

Look at Admission Requirement

Do you know your SAT score? Do you know what score is required to gain admission to the university of your choice?  Do you need to write an essay?  Can you get creative with your admission application?  Do you need letters of recommendation? Will you need to complete an interview? Be sure to review the requirement for admission and ensure your application is submitted with all required information.

Be mindful of deadlines for application submissions.  Set aside enough time to complete, review, and mail the application. You do not want to exert a lot of energy into an application that will not be considered, because it is incomplete or missed the deadline.

 

Determine other factors that are important to you

Is there anything else on your college wish list? Do you want intramural sports, arts, or perhaps extracurricular activities?  Do you want Greek life, cultural experiences, service learning, or leadership opportunities?  How is the food on campus? What are the class sizes?  Do you have flexibility with designing your major, adding a minor, or double majoring? Are you required to live on campus, can you get open communication from the various offices on campus, do you feel welcome on campus?

Selecting a college is quite the task and should not be taken lightly.  You should take your time to identify the school(s) of your choice. Research requirements and how each school compares to your ideal college. College admissions can be extremely selective and with so many people applying you want to submit a thoroughly completed application on time.  In addition, you should select 3-5 schools and submit applications.  When your acceptance letters start to arrive, you will have the opportunity to select the school that is best for you.

 

Good luck during the process as you move one huge step closer to your college career.

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Whew!

You made it to the end of the semester.  By this time, you probably do not want to think about another reading assignment, a group project, or balancing the various things you had on your plate just a few short weeks ago.  Right now, sitting in a corner playing Candy Crush, double tapping on Instagram, reading articles/books for fun, or taking the latest BuzzFeed quiz is the only thing on your agenda.  As enticing as those past times sound and as easily as you may be lured in, you want to be sure that you really utilize the summer to productively decompress from the semester. 

The summer could be used to reconnect with old friends, strengthen your bond with family, or explore some of your new-found interest. Below are some ways to not get sucked into the time spiraling daze of your smart phone.  

Ways to avoid losing your summer to your smart phone:

1.       Go to a concert.  Take it up a notch and attend a concert in another city, state, or even country.

2.       Go on a trip.  Pick a place you’ve never been.  Try travelling by train, bus, or drive.

3.       Make a new friend.  Put yourself out there and introduce yourself to someone you do not know.

4.       Try a new work-out routine.  Pilates, Cross-Fit, or training for a race will help keep you active.

5.       Go for a walk around the neighborhood with your parents.

6.       Take your younger sibling to the local arcade.

7.       Volunteer to assist at a local organization for charity or to gain experience in your field.

8.       Jumpstart your required reading for next semester.

9.       Pick up ice cream and visit your grandparents.

10.   Host a slumber party. You can invite new and old friends. 

11.   Help your siblings navigate through their summer reading list.

12.   Assist your parents with a project around the house.

13.   Stay connected to classmates.  Invite them to spend time with you and accept their offers when presented.

14.   Join a challenge to help count the days and keep you engaged.  Think cooking, weight loss, or financial savings challenge.

15.   Take a class at the local community college. Taking a special interest class such as Pottery, Event Planning, or Computer Coding may spark new passions within you. 

16.   Clean and organize things around the house.  Talk to your parents about projects they have put off and would like to finish.  

17.   Work. Find a part time job to assist with saving for the next semester.

18.   Get involved on campus.  Orientation leaders and volunteers are needed to help assist with incoming freshmen.

19.    Write an article in your field.  Once written attempt to get it published within your professional organization.

20.   Try something new.  No matter how big or small, keep a positive outlook and try something you have never experienced.   

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There are approximately 15 weeks in a semester and right now you are in the final stretch of the year.  Now is the time to continue to push forward and finish strong. You will have a whirlwind last few weeks, filled with study groups, testing, papers, and presentations.  The final weeks of the semester require a lot of time, energy, and brain power.  You can successfully conquer the end of the semester if you follow these simple steps:

1.       Get some rest.  It may seem unachievable, but it is necessary for your brain and body to get a full 8 hours of sleep.  Getting enough rest will help to rejuvenate the mind and allow you to stay sharp.

2.       Eat.  Providing food to your body provides nourishment to the brain.  When studying, have snacks available to help your brain stay sharp and focused on the task.

3.       Align yourself with others.  Reach out to others in the class to study, ask questions, and gauge yourself against their knowledge and progress.  It is helpful to utilize others in the class to stay on track and to see if their understanding aligns with your understanding.  You may have notes or information that they need and you may need something as well.

4.       Start Early.  There is never too much studying and preparation: the more you do, the more you connect and retain the information. Cramming can work for short-term retention of information. You are not working to remember the information long-term, you are simply working to regurgitate the information in a short amount of time.

5.       Prepare for mistakes.  When something goes wrong, it will most definitely go wrong at the most inopportune time. For example, the Wi-Fi will go out, the printer will not work, someone in the group will get sick, you will have to work late, another paper or project will take more time to complete than what you projected.  Take time to plan in case of an interruption or emergency.  You will be grateful when things do not go according to plan and you have time to resolve, restructure, and execute another plan of action.

6.       Ask your professor.  Waiting until finals to talk to your professor is not the most ideal thing to do. Getting face-to-face with your professor as early as possible in the semester will help send a message to the professor that you are serious about your field and that you are an engaged student.  Waiting until the very end of the semester may send the message that you are a slacker.

7.       Check your syllabus.  Please sure to thoroughly review the syllabus.  This is extremely important, because the syllabus lists all requirements, due dates, and possible extra credit opportunities.  The syllabus is a good starting point for your assignment or to see possible topics on the exam.  You should become very familiar with the syllabus and what is being required of you each week.

8.       No cheating.  If you are thinking about cheating, do not it. Cheating can get you suspended from school and ruin your academic career.  Do not participate with friends who may plan to cheat. Do not utilize a previously written paper.  Do not plagiarize a paper. Take the time to truly research the information and present your own knowledge and ideas.  There are so many ways you can get caught cheating and most universities take a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to cheating.

9.       Get another set of eyes.  Reach out to friends, classmates, professors, or teaching assistants and ask them to provide feedback on your paper or presentation.  Having another set of eyes will help determine if you missed something, if you are clear in your thoughts, and if you need to tweak anything.  This will require a little planning as you will need to factor in time for you to write the paper or create the presentation, have someone review your materials, and revise it before submitting.  

10.   Relax.  Finals are a stressful time, but take time to relax and unwind throughout the process.  Find a healthy way to release stress;,like exercising, meditating, or listening to music.  Stress can lead to unhealthy anxiety and cause you to perform worse than you should.  Take time to encourage yourself and know that you’ve got things under control.  You went to class all semester, you took notes, you dedicated time to study and you know your stuff.  Tell yourself you got this and be confident in your abilities and knowledge.   

The Spring semester is drawing near and now is the time when final assignments, take home exams, and the dreaded group projects are now due.  Working alone can be great, because you can do things on your own at your own pace and on your own time.  There is no one to discuss thoughts and preferences on the way things should be completed. You are not putting your grade in the hands of someone else.  Working alone is possibly the best case scenario. Or is it?

Working in groups is designed to help you grow in a variety of ways. Group assignments force you to interact with others.  The selection process can be great when you are given the opportunity to select your own group.  Friends, the kid next to you that aced every quiz, or even the crush you have had your eye on all semester.  However, the selection process can also be daunting if you are randomly selected or placed in pre-assigned groups. Instead of dreading this experience, think of it as an opportunity to grow and learn.  Group assignments allow the best parts of each person to shine.  Someone will naturally migrate into the role of leader.  Someone will be creative and find ways to add their gift to the project.  Someone will be organized and create a timeline and ensure the group stays on track.  Inevitably there will be someone who waits for a role in the group, and if no role is given they will float along throughout the project. The issues arise when expectations are not set, a non-leader takes on the leadership role, or when personalities clash.  Working together can be an enjoyable experience, but you have to tackle concerns from the beginning and do not wait until the last minute to achieve the goals of the group.

Below are 10 things to keep in mind when working in a group.

  1. Identify the goal of the group. Is it to a PowerPoint, a skit,  a debate, a movie, etc.? Refer back to the actual assignment and make sure everyone understands what the professor wants. Ensure you identify this early on and that everyone knows what the overall objective of the group.  Making sure everyone is on the same page from the beginning will eliminate a lot of frustration, confusion, ad last minute scrambling.
  2. Develop and a game plan and identify roles.  Each person will have their own strengths.  Allow people to identify their areas of strength and competence. However, the assignment is an opportunity to grow, so do not allow everyone to shy away from the “hard” or “difficult portion of the assignment.  Everyone will have to step out of their comfort zone at some point in the project. Someone will emerge as the leader of the group.  This will come naturally to someone or  someone may have to be appointed. Do not allow this position to become a dictatorship, the process from beginning should be a democracy and a collaborative effort to ensure all voices in the group are heard.
  3. Set-up a timeline. Identify the due date and work backwards from that date to identify milestones for the project.  You      should have a minimum of 2 meetings before your final meeting to ensure everyone is on target and playing their role.  Having at least three meetings will allow you to identify weak links, gaps in the presentation, ensure each person is on target with their portion. When you discuss progress you will be able to see early on if someone is not completing their task.
  4. Be open to new ideas.  People will do things and interpret things differently, different does not mean wrong, just means different.  Allow yourself to try new things and be open to a different way of processing the project.  Everyone will see things in a different way.  The only way the project will be successful is if everyone has the opportunity to infuse a piece of  themselves into the final edition. No one should shut down ideas or not consider how an idea could positively impact the final project.
  5. Bring a positive attitude.  From the very beginning, have a positive attitude.  Do not show your disgust for group work.  Do not let previous experiences negatively impact how you approach this new experience.  Do not allow your personally feelings towards individuals affect how you work. Do not allow your distaste for the subject or topic overshadow your      contributions to the group.  When someone else greets you with negativity respond with positivity.
  6. Do your part. Nothing is more frustrating than working with a group and someone does not do their part of the project.  Ensure you are available to meet.  Make sure you are on time when there is      a meeting.  Bring something to discuss when the meeting takes place.  No one wants to hear your excuses about why you cannot meet, why you are late, or how you are struggling to complete your portion.  Come prepared and prove to be a strong link.
  7. Do not take things personal.  Group assignments can bring out the best and worst in others. There may come a time when tensions are high and unkind words may be      spoken.  In these moments, focus on the project and not the person. Focus on the needs of the group and not the person.  Do not feed into the tensions, stay focused on the goal.
  8. Do not involve the professor.  The professor does not want “babysit” your group and how you work together.  As young adults, you and your peers should be able to work together to achieve the goal at hand.  If problems arise you should try everything among the group to resolve your issues without involving the professor. Meeting a minimum of three times will allow you to catch issues early before they can impact the entire project. If you need to involve the professor, it should be related to the goal and expectations not personal conflicts. If there are personal conflicts that cannot be resolved then you should approach the professor with the issues, the strategies you have implemented, and how the group thinks the problem should be resolved.  This will show      the professor that you are not tattle telling and that there was an attempt to resolve the issues.
  9.  Do  a dry run.  At some point before the final presentation, the group should complete a run-through of the presentation from beginning to end.  Each person in the group should have a copy of the presentation and know the role that each plays and should have an understanding of ALL of the information in the presentation.  Focusing on just your area will not give you all of the information about the topic.  Emergencies happen, people oversleep, someone could get stage freight; you should be able to      present on the topic in the event you are the ONLY person available the day of the presentation.  The “show” must go on even if you are the only person there to present.
  10. Take it seriously. From the moment you receive the topic to the moment you begin the presentation, take it seriously.  The entire semester may boil down to this one moment. Your failure to plan and thoroughly think things out could result in a failing grade on the project.  A failing grade on the project could result in a failing grade in the class. Do whatever you can to show your professor that you are taking the assignment seriously and want to achieve. Little things like professional attire, a portfolio cover, or a well scripted presentation could go a long way.  Taking things to a creative level, involving the audience, or tying things into today’s popular culture can also win major bonus points with the professor.