You're a college graduate! Now what?

Tips for new grads

This month, students at colleges and universities across the country will walk across the stage, shake their school president’s hand, and suddenly become a college graduate. The Class of 2012 is growing every day, as schools celebrate commencement exercises and grant degrees that students have been dreaming of for four years—or more. With that degree in hand, the Class of 2012 might be wondering what’s next. Here are some tips for the newest college graduates:

  • Don’t panic. If you don’t have a job lined up yet, it’s OK. Establish a plan to find a job. Don’t rely on job search engines alone. Target specific companies in your industry or city. Write cover letters specifically to these appealing employers, showing your enthusiasm as a new graduate. Looking for a job can be a full-time job in itself, so make a focused effort every day.
  • Be open to alternative plans. You might need a paying gig to cover the rent, but an internship can be the first step toward a full-time position in your field. A part-time job combined with a 20-hour-a-week internship can help you pay the bills while building your experience, which can lead to full-time employment in the not-too-distant future.
  • Maximize your summer. If you’re continuing your studies in the fall, don’t waste your summer. An internship can be valuable down the road when you’re looking for a job. Enjoy your time off from school, of course, but find a quality way to use your time as well.

Job outlook for 2012 graduates

Job market looks promising

The spring semester is coming to a close, meaning a new batch of freshly degreed graduates are about to enter the workforce—hopefully. It’s no secret that the job market has been difficult for several years now, and graduates with little experience often are left in the dark due in such challenging economic climates.

Good news surfaced this week for soon-to-be college grads. Their job outlook is improving after years of dismal reports for the newest members of the workforce. Unemployment rates have decreased, and job prospects have become more numerous in recent months. Graduates might see more available jobs this summer, which can lead to full-time employment.

Although recent graduates might lack experience, they also appeal to employers for a few reasons. First, they’re relatively cheap labor compared to their more experienced counterparts. Young adults bring energy and excitement to the workplace, which can revitalize a lackluster office. Creative, technologically driven new graduates can add a lot to a workplace, and many employers are starting to take notice.

So, impending graduates should be encouraged by reports of a strengthening job market. Start preparing for a job search now—don’t wait until you’ve graduated. Develop a resume that highlights your academic background and experience, whether that was gained through a summer internship or on-campus job. Talk to professors about serving as references. Scour job listings. Target potential organizations that you would like to work for.

It’s never too early to launch your job search, and since graduation is just weeks away, get a jump start on your transition into the real world.

 

Remembering Virginia Tech

Campus marks five years since 32 were killed

Monday marked the fifth anniversary of the shootings at Virginia Tech, where 32 students and professors were killed by a student. While there have been tragedies and even killings on campuses since, including the recent murder of seven nursing students at Oakland’s Oikos University, Virginia Tech remains the deadliest shooting spree on a college campus in history. The tragedy at Virginia Tech captured the world’s attention and brought reform to college campuses nationwide.

Since the 2007 killings, universities nationwide have developed improved emergency alert measures to keep the campus community safe in the face of danger—or even potential danger. These alerts notify students , faculty and staff with just the click of the button and have the potential to even lock down a campus should a gunman or other danger be present. Emergency alert systems are also useful in the event of severe weather. When a devastating tornado hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama in April 2011, the school was able to send severe weather updates to students through its system.

The Virginia Tech killings rocked the Hokie community—and the nation—and brought colleges and universities together to create improved safety measures for students. A college campus should be a place for learning and creativity. Students should feel safe in that community. If any lesson was learned following the Virginia Tech massacre, it was that schools must remain hyper-vigilant to keep its students and faculty safe. The improvements in emergency alerts are a step in that direction, but colleges and universities must continue to refine these systems to maximize safety.

Today, though, we remember and honor those who were killed on April 16, 2007.

Pay more to land the classes you want

Santa Monica College offers tiered tuition

Every college student has been there. You have your eye on a certain class, whether it piques your interest or fulfills an important requirement for your degree. Registration opens and the class is full. You’re left scrambling to find another class or begging the professor to let you in.

One school, Santa Monica College, has a novel idea for combatting this problem: a tiered tuition system. Starting this summer, as reported by The New York Times, some classes will be offered at two tuition rates. Students anxious to register for the class can pay the higher rate.

Budget cuts at state university systems nationwide have impacted schools’ course availability. Students might be struggling to enroll in the courses they need to graduate, as schools don’t have the money to hire more faculty to teach more courses. Santa Monica College’s plan can combat both problems. Increased tuition prices bring more money into the school, and the tiered tuition system allows students to get in the courses they need—for a price.

Critics argue that letting students buy their way into courses benefits those students who have the financial resources to get in—and leaves other students in the dark. Ultimately, it’s about equity, and critics believe that this tiered tuition system is anything but equitable.

Paying higher tuition rates simply to get in a class isn’t ideal. However, waiting additional semesters to graduate because you can’t get in the course you want presents even more problems. This tiered tuition system can help students graduate on time, allowing them to secure the courses they need. In the end, paying a higher tuition rate for one class is cheaper than going to school for an extra semester simply because you haven’t fulfilled your graduation requirements.

March Madness Puts Unknown Schools on the National Stage

Sports Help Boost School's Profile

It’s that time of year. The country is filling out brackets and watching hours upon hours of NCAA Tournament action every weekend. After last weekend’s whirlwind of games, the field of 68 is down to just 16 schools. Most are traditional basketball powerhouses—and large state universities—like Kentucky, North Carolina, Syracuse, and Florida. Other teams that made noise during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, including a few that advanced to the Sweet 16, aren’t notable names outside of their home state.

The biggest surprise of the first weekend was Lehigh University’s shocking upset of perennial powerhouse and No. 2 seed Duke. Lehigh, a private school in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, has an undergraduate population of less than 5,000 students, far fewer than the tens of thousands of students that many NCAA Tourney schools boast. Norfolk State University, the other 15 seed to knock off a No. 2 seed (Missouri), qualifies as a Historically Black University and has an enrollment of about 7,000 students.

Success in the much-hyped, much-watched NCAA Tournament can help schools gain recognition nationally. Other unknowns that have made a major impact on college basketball in recent years include Butler University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and George Mason University. During March Madness, students at these schools can enjoy the recognition—and being the talk of the nation.

Being on a national stage during the NCAA Tournament surely brings many benefits to colleges and universities. Enrollment can increase, and athletic teams can attract top recruits thanks to their postseason success. In this case, academics and athletics go hand in hand in improving a school’s profile, increasing applicants, and bringing in more money. In the end, both academics and athletics win with on-the-court success in March.

Considering Summer School?

Evaluate the Pros and Cons

With spring semester already halfway over, students are looking ahead to the summer. Some are heading home and working part-time jobs, while others might have earned a prestigious internship in their field. Still others might opt to stay on campus and take a few credits. If you’re evaluating summer school, here are some advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages

  • Catch up. If you’re not on track to graduate in four years, taking a few summer classes can help put you back on schedule.
  • Lighten your load. Enrolling in summer classes means you can take fewer credits during the spring and fall, making those semesters slightly less stressful. For example, a three-credit course in the summer can reduce your fall load from 15 credits to 12.
  • Enjoy a quieter campus. Soak in the less hectic vibe of your campus during the summer. You can still enjoy all of the school’s amenities, like the recreation center, without crowds.

Disadvantages

  • Risk burnout. Twelve months of classes can burn out even the best student. If you feel like you need a break from classes this summer, take it.
  • Enjoy fewer class choices. Colleges offer fewer classes in the summer, so make sure the classes you want are available before you commit to staying on campus. Often, higher level courses aren’t as readily available.
  • Miss out on work experience. A summer internship can go a long way in landing you a job after graduation. A summer spent on campus means you’ll miss any professional opportunities out there this summer.

Alternative Spring Breaks Encourage Giving Back

Students Volunteer, Not Party

March is here, which means that college spring break is not far behind. In fact, some students are enjoying their spring break this week, while other students will be fleeing campus for somewhere warmer in the weeks to come. College spring break is synonymous with beaches and booze. Students head to beaches, hop aboard a cruise to hit the high seas, or even travel internationally (perhaps in an effort to find a spot with a lower drinking age). However, spring break isn’t party time for all college students. Some students opt to give back during their time away from campus instead.

Alternative spring breaks let students travel and enjoy a break from classes, but they don’t involve heavy partying, sunburns, or serious hangovers. Students travel in groups to communities that need help, and they team up with reputable volunteer organizations like the United Way to give back. Right now, students participating in United Way’s alternative spring break are teaming up at sites across the country to build houses. Similar programs across the country exist, and many colleges and universities sponsor alternative spring break trips for its students. For example, the University of Florida’s Hillel group is sending students to Jamaica, El Salvador, and even as far as Israel for volunteer missions during the school’s 2012 spring break.

Not every spring break is about partying, tanning, and having a little too much fun. Alternative spring breaks are a rewarding way to spend your week away from campus. Plus, your efforts will be an impressive addition to that graduate school application or resume.

Keeping Students Safe in Storms

What Can Universities Do?

We're just two days into March, or meteorological spring, and severe weather is the talk of the South and Midwest. We're anticipating a highly dangerous storm headed our way in just a few hours, and our area is on edge. Several colleges and universities are in our area, and it's interesting to see how they handle the potential of severe weather. Schools don't want to jump the gun and cancel classes for no reason, but they also don't want to delay students and professors from getting to a safe location.

Colleges and universities have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their students, faculty, and employees. Severe weather can be particularly dangerous on campuses, as students trek from their dorms to classes and the library and back every day. So, universities don't want to risk students' safety when dangerous weather hits. During the spring semester, in particular, universities need to be on alert to changing weather conditions, as tornadoes and severe thunderstorms are a common occurrence in many areas of the country during this time of year.

Universities should have severe-weather plans in place long before the threat of dangerous weather looms. A text-message or email alert system can give students important weather information; it can also provide students with any information about school closings or cancellations. Faculty shouldn't be expected to work during dangerous weather times, either. Simply put, campuses should close when dangerous weather is on the horizon.

Overall, our area colleges and universities seem to be doing a good job of maximizing safety today. Most schools have cancelled afternoon classes so that students can find a safe spot to hunker down and faculty can go home to their families. Here's hoping that college campuses stay safe during this severe weather season thanks to well-thought-out emergency plans.

Succeeding in Online Classes

Tips for Acing Virtual Courses

When I was in college -- which wasn't too long ago -- the business school offered many of its entry-level courses through the campus television station. I'd sit in my dorm room and watch a microeconomics or marketing lecture, dilligently taking notes from the comfort of my bed. Virtual courses have come a long way since then, with many traditional brick-and-mortar schools offering online degrees, allowing students to earn a degree without ever visiting campus. In fact, I earned a graduate degree from one of the largest schools in the nation without ever taking a class on campus. All of my courses were online.

Online courses, whether you are participating in an online program or just signed up for an online course this semester, require a lot of focus. You might push your online class to the back of your to-do list since you don't physically have to go to class every week. But, doing so is a risky move. Online courses require significant out-of-class work to make up for the time saved by not going to class. Here are some tips for success in online courses.

  • Stay on schedule. Just because you don't have to attend class doesn't mean you don't have work related to your online course. Check the syllabus weekly, and stay up to date on your assignments. It's easy to get behind in online classes, and doing so can seriously affect your grade.
  • Participate virtually. Many online courses include class discussion boards, and many professors expect you to participate. This online interaction replaces the discussions you would have in class, so they are essential. Chime in on the class message board to show your professor that you're involved.
  • Get to know your professor. You might not sit in class with your professor weekly, but that doesn't mean he or she has to be a stranger. Email your professor with questions. Attend office hours. Putting a name to your face will improve your relationship with your professor and could help your grade as well.

Choosing the Right College

Tips for Sifting Through Acceptance Letters

January admissions deadlines have come and gone, meaning that students are anxiously running to their mailboxes—or inboxes—for those highly sought after acceptance letters.  Receiving multiple acceptance letters is ideal, as it gives students the opportunity to choose where they begin (or continue) their studies. However, choosing the right school can be a stressful decision. Here are some tips on how to sift through your acceptance letters and find the school that’s right for you.

  • Consider cost. Analyze each acceptance letter to see what scholarship or financial aid package each school offered. Cost should be a major factor in your college choice. Maybe you got into your dream school, but a state school offered you a 75% scholarship. Assess the difference between tuition, and decide if it’s really worth tens of thousands—or even hundreds of thousands—of dollars to attend the dream school. Student loan payments might not concern you now, but you do not want to be paying them off when you’re in your 40s, either.
  • Consider location. Do you want to be close to home, or have you dreamed of living in a different part of the country for college? Do you want warm weather year-round, or do you not mind trudging to class in the cold and snow? Answer these questions when assessing your college choices to find a school in a location that suits you.
  • Assess your major. If you know what you’re going to major in, choose a school that has a good academic program in your field. The highly ranked university might have a better overall profile, but the smaller college or state university might excel in your field. Choosing a school with a strong program in your field can go a long way in landing you a job after college, as employers likely have a good history hiring employees from your program.
  • Evaluate the future. Where you will spend the next four years of your life is important, but what is even more important is what you will do after you graduate. The school you choose plays a major role in shaping your career. For example, if you are choosing a law school, choose one in the state in which you want to take the bar and, ultimately, practice. Think beyond the next four years to make the right choice for your higher education.

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