All Posts Tagged With: "advice"
Now more than ever, university recruiters have a responsibility to be honest with prospective students
The shine has come off the new academic year, and that means it’s time for universities to start visiting high schools across the country. For yours truly, it meant an 8-hour drive to Toronto from Lennoxville, ending at the downtown apartment I’ll call home until the end of October. From here, I’ll be canvassing the Greater Toronto Area, before heading west to Regina, Winnipeg and Vancouver.
While I’ve written previously about the high-tech ways in which universities pursue students, individual school visits remain incredibly important. A recent article in Ad Age talked about the multi-billion dollar ad campaigns schools like UCLA have undertaken to bring in more students. I finished the article convinced that marketing and advertising were of paramount importance in higher education. That is, until I read the comments section, in which “university people” talked about the fact that personal relationships remain the most important way they can help students choose a university. After all, students aren’t buying an iPod, or picking out a pair of shoes; they’re making a serious decision that will cost upwards of $40,000 and have a lasting impact on their career, lifestyle, and friendships.
With these weighty things in mind, I rocketed out of the parking garage early Friday morning, bound for Upper Canada College. I should mention that if you are lucky enough to come across Bishop’s Dodge Caliber – affectionately nicknamed the “Gaitermobile” – feel free to wave. I arrived at UCC, set up my banner and promo materials, and proceeded to have a great discussion with UCC’s Head of Guidance, David Matthews. The guidance counsellors I met with at UCC, North Toronto, and Branksome Hall reminded me of the pressure GC’s are under on a daily basis. As senior students shift their attention toward choosing a university, counsellors are inundated with requests for assistance. They are responsible for helping students recognize the school that would best serve their long-term goals, even if those goals may shift over the four years the student is away. It’s a daunting task, to say the least. Thankfully, I think the students at the three schools I visited are in good hands, with people like David Matthews and Susan Bates aiding them in this important decision.
So what did I learn in my first week? I think, more than ever, university recruiters have a responsibility to be honest with prospective students. In today’s economy, universities are going to fight to bring students in. With the demographic dip looming for university-age Canadians, the battle will continue to be fierce.
Don’t get me wrong: If I think you’re the kind of person who should attend BU, I’ll do everything I can to make sure you end up there. But if you’re looking for a program or experience unavailable in Lennoxville, I’m not going to waste your time or tuition dollars convincing you of something you’ll likely reject in the end. As a student heading off to university, ask your guidance counsellors for help finding the right fit, so that you can build a short list of schools right away. Once you build that list, have a frank discussion with the recruiters from that university about your goals, priorities, and the life you want to live both during and after university. From there, you can start to get some idea of which school would best fit your needs.
That’s all for this morning. See you out there!
Watch for the turning point, and for opportunities outside your area of study
I’m getting together later this week with the guy who designed my website. We were both undergrads at the time and he was, I think, studying something in social science. Now he manages a team of web developers. The other day I spoke on the phone with another friend who graduated several years ago. He was in drama, and did odd jobs cutting grass and removing snow as his part-time job. Now he runs a successful landscaping business with nine trucks on the road. A good friend who started her first year in woman’s studies and subsequently rewrote the constitution and by-laws of our campus woman’s centre just joined me in law school. The list goes on and on.
It’s a long accepted truism of university education that most students don’t stay in the areas of study they declare as their minors, majors, and specialties. That isn’t news, right? Surely you don’t imagine that the thousands of students enrolled in psychology each year are all going to become psychologists in any sense. Or that the large number of English students will all become teachers, or English professors, or professional writers. For every student who ends up in a career that is logically connected to her field of study, there are probably two or three who end up doing something radically different. And that’s just fine.
One thing I’ve noticed, however, is that many students are far behind the curve on dealing with this fact. Right around when students are graduating, after their four (or more) years in university, they suddenly poke their heads up and say “hey, what am I going to do with this degree anyway?” And the career office hastens to reassure them that they can work in a variety of fields, and often cites the sorts of examples I led off with, and wishes them well. But the truth is that none of these stories, or the others I could mention, are the results of 11th hour panic. The students who moved smoothly into careers outside their areas of study are those who realized some time ago that their hobbies were turning into careers, and began to approach them as such.
As a new school year starts – whether your first or otherwise – I’d encourage all students to stay alert for the possibility that something you may think of as a distraction from your “real” work and career may in fact be turning into your work and your career. It may creep up on your accidentally but like any career it’s going to require some nurturing as well. You’ll want to start working on contacts who might employ you doing the thing you enjoy doing anyway, or explore necessary certifications, or fill in gaps in your training and experience. If you find yourself at the end of your degree and then start thinking about these things it’s already too late. (For those who are there already – better late than never – but it isn’t the way I’d recommend doing things all the same).
In terms of specific steps you might take to find a career where you hadn’t previously considered one, the possible scenarios are so varied I couldn’t possibly cover them all. But don’t dismiss your university resources as one source of advice and help, just because you’re doing something other than what you’ve studied. Universities may seem a little divorced from reality sometimes but not so much so that they haven’t realized their graduates are going into a diverse array of fields. You may find far more of relevance there than you’d ever have expected, and maybe even a contact or two to help you along.
Questions are welcome at email@example.com. Even the ones I don’t post will still receive answers, and where I do use them here I’ll remove identifying information.
Facebook friending is the new handshake
1. If you move away from home, you’ll miss your parents for the first five minutes. Maybe.
2. Your first-year grades are meaningless but maybe you want to crack a book open once in a while?
3. Male bravado may be tacky but hey, that never stopped anyone.
4. Frosh Week can be obnoxious and humiliating with overzealous enthusiasm but it’s an excellent way to make friends, so go on and build that human pyramid!
5. Nobody cares about anything you ever did in high school. No one is impressed that you wrote the school’s winter production or that this one time, you made a killer joke and the most popular boy in your class laughed. (I’ve tried this, I HAVE TRIED THIS.)
6. Not everyone drinks. Some people read. Sometimes they study. Some smoke. Variety is the spice of life.
7. Engineering students all have a creepy symbiotic and almost inappropriate relationship with each other. They paint their bodies, duct tape each other to lamp posts in busy city squares and march down crowded sidewalks playing horns. Avoid.
8. Half-Baked is really an exceptional film under the right circumstances.
9. The person next to you is probably just as nervous as you are.
10. “Friendcest” will become the dirtiest word in your lexicon.
11. You’re right, I bet you and your high school boyfriend are, like, so in love and you’re totes going to make this long distance thing work and you’re going to get married one day and walk down the aisle to Metric wearing your favorite gold lycra tube top from American Apparel. No, no, I’m the idiot.
12. “Hey, do you want to go play some beer pong?” doesn’t mean it’s a date.
13. You might change your major or you might change your school or you might change your friends, and none of it is such a huge deal.
14. My brother taught me this and for some people more than others, it’s vital to pay attention to: Try to suspend whatever disdain you may have for certain groups of people for the sake of making a friend or two. You can’t roll your eyes at all of the people all of the time and expect to get away with it. (That said, you can’t be friends with everyone, so pick your battles.)
15. Don’t take any advice.
– Photo by Matthew Braga –
Experts tell us what causes sleep deprivation, and what you can do about it
Bedtime rituals at home for 19-year-old Maddy Crawford include cookies and milk and propping the bedroom door open before she climbs into the double bed in a room she has to herself.
Crawford likes her sleep and goes to bed at a reasonable hour. But all that is set to change this fall when she moves into a shared dorm room at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
“It will be weird living with someone and not having everything just – there,” says Crawford, who plans to take earplugs when she leaves her Peterborough, Ont., home for school.
Adapting to life at university – and particularly to residence, with a roommate in close proximity and noisy neighbours – could put her regular sleep pattern out of whack. And experts say that can lead to students racking up a sleep deficit that keeps them from functioning well, both physically and mentally.
With little sleep and lots of stress, students are vulnerable to irritability and depression, says Colin Shapiro, director of the Youthdale Child and Adolescent Sleep Centre in Toronto. Existing conditions such as diabetes, chronic fatigue and asthma can also worsen with sleep deprivation.
For a list of dorm-room sleeping tips, click here.
He says a lot of memory consolidation occurs during sleep, and having too little can impair cognitive performance at the very time students are being stretched academically.
“Most people have the odd notion that just because they’re a human being, they are born to be capable of sleeping well,” says Shapiro, but that’s not always the case.
The good news is that in itself, the move to a dorm usually creates only temporary sleep difficulties. Most people find it hard to sleep in a new environment – whether a hotel room or an army barrack – but the problem usually doesn’t persist more than a few days, he says.
Only those students who are particularly sensitive to noise and other distractions will have long-term trouble sharing a dorm room.
For serious academic issues or advice, go somewhere reliable
I’ve seen students in a wide variety of bad situations. In a very large proportion of them, some way or other, their friends seem to factor into the equation. A student buys an essay online or otherwise blatantly plagiarizes and the first words out of his mouth are about how his friend did it once and was never caught. Or a student misses the deadline to drop a course or defer an exam and again she seems to think her friends’ ideas on the subject are relevant. Or it’s something as simple as a really bad or failing grade in a course – for a student who is often in academic trouble to begin with – and he’s all upset because his friend said it would be easy. I’ve heard almost every variation on the theme and one thing remains constant. The friend is always wrong.
There are so many misconceptions out there, and academic urban legends to debunk, that it’s pretty much pointless to even try. My favorite is the claim that if your housemate dies while you are in school you get an automatic A in every course. I’ve heard that one from multiple people at multiple institutions. Do I even need to clarify it isn’t true? But usually it’s something more insidious than that. Academic rules and policies are pretty complex and they vary from place to place. Most students really don’t know much about them, other than the rumors traded in the hallways and among friends. I don’t mean to fault anyone for this. In a complex institution it’s natural to be fuzzy on a lot of the details and to fill in what you don’t know based on rumor and guesswork. Everyone does it.
Sooner or later, however, those rules do matter. I don’t wish serious problems on anyone but four years is a long time and the odds are strong that you’ll need some real advice at some stage. So please, if that day should come, don’t rely on what your friends tell you or on the rumors and “common knowledge” facts circulated among your classmates. Read the academic calendar for yourself. Read your school’s website. Go to your Academic Advising center and ask someone. Go to your Registrar’s office. E-mail your program supervisor. If something important is going on, it’s worth a little time and effort to be sure of your situation.
Sometimes even the people who are supposed to know how things work can be wrong. Believe me, I know that, which is one of the reasons students sometimes think it makes just as much sense to listen to their friends. But if a university figure steers you wrong (and you’re actually listening to the person you’re supposed to be listening to) then you may have some recourse. I’ve won several academic appeals on that basis. So if the advice seems shaky or questionable get it in writing. And you can always get a second opinion too. There’s nothing to stop you from seeking advice from multiple sources.
You’d think these things would be obvious, but, judging from students’ behaviour, they’re not
If you’re so excited to be going to university that you’re reading Macleans OnCampus to get advice in August, you probably don’t need it. But just in case, here are a few more tips:
1. Ditch your childhood email address. It will be (or should be) embarrassing if you email your professor from “firstname.lastname@example.org.” If you keep that address, get another one along the lines of “email@example.com” and use that with your profs.
2. Speaking of emails, while you may think of them as a kind of instant messaging, most professors over 35 (which is most professors) see them as a kind of letter. Begin with “Dear Professor Smart,” spell words correctly and in full, and sign off respectfully. Never say (or imply) that you expect or need an answer right away. If it really is time-sensitive, say you know she’s busy and you would appreciate a reply as soon as possible. Notice that the above applies only to schools small enough where the professors actually answer emails.
3 a.I once asked the best student I ever had what one piece of advice she would give to students. She said, “going to class should not be optional.” Exactly. Go to class. Getting the notes from the guy who sits next to you is not the same as actually having been there.
3b. Do the assigned readings before they come up in class. You’ll be surprised how many classes are actually interesting if you know what people are talking about.
4. Never ask your professors for copies of their notes.
5. Read your syllabi (sometimes called course outlines) carefully. Try not to ask a professor a question that is clearly answered in the syllabus.
6. Never ask a professor to recommend an “easy” course.
7. If you complain about a grade, do it respectfully. Never demand a higher grade based on how well you are doing in other professors’ classes.
8. There’s no such thing as an exam you can’t study for.
9. If your class is the sort where questions and comments seem to be welcome, try to ask at least one question or make one comment per class. Try not to ask more than three. If the professor doesn’t rush out of the room when classes are over, take the time to make additional comments then.
For more tips on starting school from The Hour Hand, click here.
Three o-week veterans give us their advice on how to survive frosh
I’ll admit it; I didn’t really participate in the university-sponsored orientation activities when I was in first year. Granted, I stopped by for the cheap food and free pens, but when the circle-sitting and name games started, I knew I had to leave.
Last year, however, I applied to be a Frosh leader (called a “ROC” at Ryerson) and by some administrative error (I kid, of course) I was accepted. I conceded to the idea that this shiny new line on my resume would cost me four days of nausea-inducing icebreakers and embarrassing Ryerson cheers. I was pleasantly surprised, however, and in the end I had an amazing time.
I think my good fortune had a lot to do with the fact that my co-ROC, Chen, and I were given a fantastic group of first-years. We seemed to bond almost instantly, taking in all the O-Week activities and discovering a few of our own (including an impromptu visit to Toronto’s Stag Shop and exploring Chinatown’s underground eats.).
For incoming students, O-Week can be an invaluable experience. Katie Blodgett and Jason Grossman, two of Ryerson’s O-Team members, certainly think so. I posed some questions to these orientation-enthusiasts to find out a little more about what’s planned for this year. Though Katie and Jason refer specifically to Ryerson’s O-Week, you’ll find that many of their responses hold true for Frosh Week festivities at universities all across Canada. I’ll be popping in my own responses at well—just to provide the perspective of someone not actually employed by the university.
Katie Blodgett is the Human Resources Assistant for Ryerson’s Orientation Team and a Radio and Television Arts student.
Jason Grossman is the Events Assistant for Ryerson’s Orientation Team and a Politics & Governance student.
(Robyn Urback is a lowly Frosh leader)
Q: Anyone who’s seen a bad 80s college flick assumes that the nighttime dorm scene is where the real Orientation action happens. Why should first years bother coming to the organized daytime events?
Katie: The daytime events are great because we hold events that will help first-years get to know Ryerson better. Also, night-time parties are all going to be the same with the same types of people. The daytime events provide the opportunity to meet all sorts of different people.
Jason: Yeah, those movies are pretty cheese and lame.
Robyn: This way, you’ll have stories you can actually tell your parents about.
Q: Will there be beer?
Katie: Nope, all of our events are dry events. The pub night is the one exception, but there is a wristband policy in effect.
Jason: Nope. Having beer involved in activities just creates more risks. Plus, almost all first-years are underage, and we don’t roll like that at Ryerson.
Robyn: Before you ask: no, I’m not going to buy you beer. C’mon, we were all 18 once. You’ve got to be a little more creative than that.
Q: Be honest, is Orientation Week just for keeners?
Katie: Kind of the opposite, I’ve found that the majority of students who come out to O-Week are shy and looking to meet new friends.
Jason: Absolutely not. Orientation is a great opportunity for first-years to get to know campus so they can they hit the ground running when school starts.
Robyn: I think “keeners” would be appalled by some of the things we get up to.
Q: OK then, are the Orientation leaders big keeners?
Katie: Again, not really. It’s mostly just regular students looking to meet new people!
Jason: If by “keeners” you mean “student leaders who love to have fun, help people and volunteer their time,” then yes, I guess they are keeners. But, they are keeners in every positive sense of the word.
Robyn: I am not a keener.
Q: The biggest myth about O-Week is…
You knew it had to happen, right?
I don’t want to spoil the last month of anyone’s summer (I’m certainly still enjoying mine) but it’s pretty much that time. The stationary supplies are in all the stores, laptop manufacturers are hawking their wares, and it’s officially time for back to school. It’s time for the extended version anyway – like how Christmas starts in mid-November.
A lot of students head into each new school year hoping for better results. Unfortunately, however, many students pin those hopes only on renewed determination and vague resolutions to “try harder.” While determination and resolve are certainly useful they aren’t enough on their own. If you want a different result you’ve got to change the way you go about doing things. So if you’re serious about improving your grades and performance in school, next year, this is the time to actually sit down and figure out in concrete terms what’s going to be different this time.
I can’t tell you what needs to change in order to sort out your particular problems. It might be your sleep cycle and your social life. It might mean reexamining program choices. Maybe you need to lighten up on the work hours, create a more structured study schedule, or form a study group. Even if you realize you don’t know what to change that can be a good place to start. Book an appointment to visit your academic advising office and they may be able to help. If you can visit campus during the summer that’s a great opportunity to really sit down with sometime. They tend to have more time.
No matter what else you do, if you intend to make a change you need to figure out the steps that are needed to make that change and then follow through with them. Changing your results in school is not different from any other part of your life. Whether it’s exercise or diet or even saving money you can’t get anywhere just because you wish you were better at it. You start with the desire to see some change and then you settle on concrete steps. Write them down if that’s what it takes to keep yourself honest. Treat them like back to school resolutions.
One thing I really like to do before I head back to school is read some material for a class or two on my own schedule and with no rush. Of course that works especially well for English studies but it can work for any subject as long as you’re genuinely interested – and you are interested in what you’re learning, right? You don’t need to make a special effort to start a whole class early or to read what comes first. Just pick anything from your courses and read for the heck of it. If you aren’t sure what you’ll be reading try e-mailing the instructor. Most will have the reading list already sorted.
What I’ve discovered, from doing this, is that I have far better memory and retention for things I read just because I want to. I’m sure we’re all like that. Do you remember your course work from a year ago? I’d bet not. But the novel you read that you really enjoyed? That’s a whole different question. If you can trick yourself into reading course material for fun you get the best of both worlds. And it’s not as hard as you think. Once you remove the deadlines and the pressure, and you read just because it’s the book you happen to have with you, the material is often quite interesting. And you will retain and remember it, I promise. Even if you don’t get to the text for months you’ll know it better than your classmates who sped through it all the night before.
Finally, I really recommend to everyone you try to do at least something near the end of the summer that’s productive and intellectually stimulating. If you’re doing that already that’s fine, but if summer has been just one long vacation or if you’ve got a boring and repetitive summer job you want to break out of that pattern before the first week of September rolls around. Sometimes it takes a couple of weeks to shake the dust off. When you fall behind early you might find you’re playing catch up all year long. Some people are so used to that pattern it feels natural and inevitable. But when you break the cycle and stay ahead of the game everything just feels completely different – and a whole lot less stressful.
It may be a bit sad to contemplate the end of summer but just a little time and thought about the pending school year could make a world of difference. So invest a little now to reap the rewards later. And then get back to enjoying the rest of the season.
Questions are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Even the ones I don’t post will still receive answers, and where I do use them here I’ll remove identifying information.
Many students don’t really know what’s going on around them… until it’s too late.
With the recent flurry of new bloggers and introductory posts, it occurs to me that folks may not know where I’m coming from. I give a lot of advice around here. That’s kind of my thing. And I have very strongly held views on the subject of university. Those views, however, are not based solely around my own experiences and opinions. I’m not a typical student. The advice I give has far more to do with the students I’ve worked with over the years.
I wrote and published a book about What’s Wrong With University: And How to Make It Work For You Anyway (shameless plug). I guess that’s my major claim to credibility. But I didn’t wake up one day and decide to write a book about university. I just cared about the quality of my education and as a result I got interested in academic advocacy. I got myself elected to the board of my students’ union. For one year I was a department rep and for two further years I was Vice-President Academics – a full time executive position.
Something unexpected happened midway through my “career” in student politics. I thought academic advocacy would be about abstract issues – study space, rules and policies, the course calendar, and so on. That was part of it. But a lot of the time it was just students with problems. Sometimes individual students would come to me with their crises. Sometimes groups of students would approach me with shared concerns. Even policy debates are just about students and their problems. If we’re going to change the rules on probation and suspension, for example, what we’re really talking about is all the students who are in academic trouble, how they got there, and what we could do differently to help them dig their way out.
For the better part of my university career this is what I spent a lot of my time doing. I talked with a lot of students who were having a very bad time of things and I did what I could to help. Some ran afoul of academic misconduct policies – in other words they were accused of cheating. Some were failing courses, getting hoofed out of programs, or risked expulsion. In the case of international students that might even mean deportation. Some were merely struggling and were frustrated with their grades and performance. Often all students wanted was a quick fix that would stave off their most immediate problems. But even though a quick fix might be part of the solution there are still the underlying issues.
Every problem, every consequence, has its roots in some earlier cause. The students who are cheating either don’t understand why the rules matter or think the whole thing is a scam or else they’re in such deep trouble in school they believe they have no choice. The students who are failing often hate their programs but feel, for various reasons, like they have no other options. I listened to students who were convinced, against all logic, that what they really needed to do was defer all of their exams for the third time in a row and somehow four months later it would be okay. Time and again I talked with students who couldn’t even be honest with their families about their struggles in school, so instead of finding support at home they only found more stress. I met a lot of students feeling frustrated, even angry, about their situations. Maybe they couldn’t put it into words, exactly, but they felt like something had gone wrong and they’d been misled. And I think that’s often true.
Jeff Rybak takes aim at the “extremely negative trend” of unpaid internships
Like just about anyone with a social circle of twenty-something friends, I know a lot of people who are un(der)employed. Most of them have completed post-secondary degrees and diplomas – in some cases more than one. More and more I’m hearing about offers they receive concerning unpaid internships, volunteer opportunities and the like. At times they are forced to even consider these offers. I’d refuse to describe these things as “offers” and “opportunities” if not for the fact that I can “offer” someone the “opportunity” to get punched in the face several times. Grammatically it is correct. But not in any other sense.
Moral outrage aside, there are four distinct reasons why this is an extremely negative trend. Two of them are public policy reasons. The free labour takes the place of paid jobs, and to the extent that these positions lead to real opportunities the fact that they aren’t paid lends gross advantages to the already privileged. Two other reasons are purely personal. Working for free will low-ball the value of your labour, and exactly because these positions aren’t paid the legitimacy of the experience you gain will always be in doubt.
The problem of free labour has been well explored in connection with workfare. I tried to find a relatively non-partisan explanation of the workfare experience in Ontario and this is the best I could come up with. Most organizations are much more scathing on the topic, but comparisons to slavery are probably counter-productive. There’s no need to so rhetorical about it anyway. The problems are right there on the face on things.
Just as in workfare, unpaid positions in the workforce (whether billed as volunteer positions, internships, whatever) do not become full-time jobs. Unpaid interns are replaced with new unpaid interns. In an ideal situation one might hope that the last unpaid intern moves on to a paid position somewhere else (see below) or even in the same organization, but regardless the work stays in that unpaid position. So whatever the value of the experience the work performed in any position such as this is work that has been permanently removed from the paid workforce. Any argument that this work would not exist otherwise is idiotic and self-defeating. If it’s completely made-up work then it can’t have much value as experience. And if it’s meaningful work then someone would be getting paid to do it, if not for the unending stream of people willing to make victims of themselves in the hope of it leading to something better.
I say “willing,” by the way, because I’m back on the topic of volunteer positions and internships. In the case of the workforce it’s anything but voluntary. But my intention isn’t to focus on that topic. I just want to illustrate a basic point of logic. For everyone who does a job for free in the hope of scoring a coveted position in some field of work, there’s actually one less paid job in that field. And everyone loses.
The Already Privileged
Of course some lose more than others. The Globe ran a great article on the issue of prestigious internships getting auctioned for charity – so instead of getting paid you actually pay (potentially big bucks) for the privilege of the experience. And privilege it is. Who can afford such a thing? The already wealthy, of course. And I do hope we can agree there are problems with this. We accept that money can buy elite education, private tutors, that privilege often contributes to networking opportunities, etc. But surely it’s a problem once it becomes even the way to buy your way directly into the workforce. Anywhere else we’d simply call this graft. But the charity angle does complicate things.
These high-profile examples aside, even your garden-variety unpaid internship is out of reach for many people. Folks need to eat and pay the rent and even (God forbid) support children. Only a limited sampling of people can move back home with their parents, or hit them up for living expenses, or fall back on a trust fund. The rest simply can’t afford to live without an income. So let’s believe for a moment that these “opportunities” are opportunities in any sort of true sense. Who’s getting them? Certainly not the most qualified or the most deserving. Just those with money
I’m aware that many people aren’t in a good position to worry about these public policy concerns. When you’ve got problems of your own to worry about it’s easy to say “life isn’t fair” and just do what you need to do. I respect that. So now I’ll get into the reasons why I believe that most of these positions are bad for the individual as well as bad for the community.
Low-balling Your Value
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from business students (and they have an interesting perspective on things) it’s that once you set a value on something you can’t erase that number. The number can go up or it can go down but the value you try to place on that thing will always be judged in relation to the past. I hear that frequently from recent graduates casting around for entry-level positions. They say things like “it’s a good job, with some interesting prospects, but I know if I enter the workforce at $38k/year I’ll be stuck down there for a long time.” And that’s an extremely good point. So what if you enter the workforce at $0/k year?
Actually, I can see the benefit of that in one regard. It’s more like having no income history at all rather than a low one. I’m willing to believe that maybe in the best positions it isn’t a problem that you started out by working for free. But most of these unpaid positions aren’t the fantastic kind that go up on the auction block at charity events. Most of them are the step that comes before the entry-level position and salary. So how exactly do you negotiate your starting salary from any position of strength when the person across the table knows that last time you agreed to work for nothing? Unless you’re one of those independently-wealthy types, who can continue to work for nothing as long as you want until the right offer comes along, there’s got to be a limit. The need to pay the bills will trump any desire to hold out for a good income.
Many people eventually face this soul-crushing choice, and realize that it’s better to volunteer than do nothing at all. I can see the logic to that and I wouldn’t advise against it. But I’d add that it isn’t any way at all to jump to the front of the queue for a real job. You’re far better taking paid work at any level with the intention to move up from there than doing it for free. Either way you’re stuck low-balling your value. But at least in the later instance you can salvage some of your dignity. And more than that, when you apply for better jobs it will be apparent from your CV that the first job you held, no matter the low income, was indeed a real job.
If you’re spending more money on booze than food, you have a problem
I love having some spare money in my wallet.
But more than that, I love spending money on dumb stuff I really don’t need- but just simply want.
Here are some money-saving tips to follow- in or out of college.
- Monitor your accounts. I started doing this soon before starting college and it’s really helped me out a lot. Keep a word document on your desktop marked “BUDGET”. (Even though I’m the only one who uses my laptop, I still have that bad boy password-protected. Just in case.) Record how much you have in your bank account, PayPal, how much is charged to your credit card, how much anybody owes you, reminders of upcoming expenses (phone bill, etc.). Update your budget every week or two. (You’ll thank me later.)
- Before making a big purchase, ask yourself, “(Insert Your Name Here), why do you want this?” And if the only thing you can come up with is “Because it’s cool,” you may want to think about your purchase a little longer.
- Eat out/order in no more than once a week. Think of it this way: that one time you get to eat out or order in is your treat to yourself for not eating out the rest of the week. This is what I tried to do during my first year in college.
- Rent movies in groups. The cost of a movie rental seems a lot less expensive when you’re splitting it 6 ways. Also, rent it for one night for cheaper, rather than keeping it for a week.
- Monitor your Booze Spending To Everything Else Spending Ratio. I had a friend this year who would get $100 bucks every week from his mom so he could buy groceries. He would then spend all of it on booze. (He was/is quite dumb.) Simply and plainly: don’t do this. If you are spending more money on booze than anything else, there is a problem.
Have any money-saving tips? Let me know!
Stigma on e-degrees down, but watch out for false promises
One way to get an edge in this job market is to earn an advanced degree. Just don’t assume doing it online will be easy. Online master’s programs are often cheaper and more convenient than traditional ones, but they also present challenges.
“You’re home alone and have to motivate yourself. It’s not the same as sitting in a classroom where you have a social support group,” said Michael Lambert, executive director of the Distance Education and Training Council, an accrediting agency based in Washington, D.C.
Online education is nevertheless becoming more widespread. In 2007, more than 3.9 million students took at least one online course, a 12 per cent increase from the previous year. That’s according to the Sloan Consortium, an online education advocacy group.
Regardless of how you earn your degree, remember that it’s not a ticket to six-figure paycheque or job security – consider the slew of MBA casualties on Wall Street in recent months.
But if you think it will give your career a kick, here are a few points to keep in mind.
PICKING A SCHOOL
Many traditional universities also offer online courses. At some schools, such as Duke and Columbia universities, select master’s programs are entirely online.
If you’re not set on getting a degree from a traditional institution, online-only schools can be viable options. For instance the University of Phoenix offers master’s programs in business, education health care and psychology. Other career-focused schools, such as DeVry University, also offer master’s programs online.
Beware of any online outfits promising quick and easy degrees. These so-called schools might ask for US$1,000 or more in tuition and have names that echo those of prestigious universities. Mailing addresses are often P.O. boxes.
“It’s tempting when the economy is tanking and the unemployment rate goes up,” said Alison Southwick of the Better Business Bureau.
If you’re not sure about a school’s credentials, the U.S. Department of Education maintains a database of accredited schools on its website, www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation. You can also check the site of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation at www.chea.org.
Traditional universities generally apply the same admissions standards and deadlines for online students as for everyone else. At online-only schools, admissions are typically on a rolling, monthly basis.
Be extra nice to your TAs, ditch the bulky bag and choose neighbours wisely
If I could travel back in time to my pre-university days, way back in August, there are so many secrets I would share with myself. Like, “Physics 111 final exam: don’t bother studying rocket propulsion.” But if I could only tell myself 10 things . . .
(1) University is nothing to be afraid of: My last month of summer vacation was spent worrying. Worrying that university courses would be impossibly difficult, worrying that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the readings, worrying that I’d fail miserably and have to drop out. What I didn’t know is that in university, you’re given every opportunity to succeed. All of my science courses have an online component, constantly updated with recommended readings, practice questions, and sample mid-terms. My religious studies course has a one-minute summary every week, giving students a chance to ask questions or make comments or suggestions.
(2) TAs—the unknown variable: Before my first semester, I didn’t know what a huge impact TAs—teaching assistants—can have. Turns out they aren’t just disposable crew members. In addition to leading tutorials (which in some courses count for a large part of your mark), TAs often mark essays, tests, assignments and exams. So even after you’ve checked out ratemyprofessors.com and gathered all the other intel on a prof, there’s still
a huge unknown: TAs.
(3) Sleep matters: There were 400 students in the class. The lecture hall was warm. The lights were dimmed. My chemistry prof’s British accent was practically a lullaby. Even if I hadn’t been up past three in the morning, I’d probably still have fallen into a coma. Eyes closed, with a puddle of drool forming on your notebook, doesn’t exactly help you get the most out of a lecture.
(4) Get to class early . . . : My biggest class in high school had 30 students. My smallest class in university has 200. Yes, the lecture hall has more than enough seats. But get there after the first five minutes and you lose the luxury of a right-handed fold-out table.
(5) . . . and sit in the front row: I’m usually somewhere in the front rows, where students eagerly record every professorial utterance, colour-coding notes on the spot. But one day I arrived late, and found myself among the inhabitants of the Back of the Lecture Hall. The Tetris players and text messengers aren’t much of a disruption. But being surrounded by half-whispered conversations means you’re trying to follow the professor’s lecture, while simultaneously listening to the guy two seats over who is going on about how he totally, like totally, hasn’t even opened the textbook yet. And someone in the next row is eating a sandwich that smells like armpit.
He never studies or buys textbooks, but aces every test. Don’t let him drive you nuts
Got a great question by mail about a week ago. I’ve been saving it for a proper reply.
I just finished my first semester at [university], and I worked my ass off; I studied hard for the tests and assignments, I got good grades and stayed home on nights I would have dearly loved to have gone out partying. It paid off; I still ended up with an 84% average.
One of my fellow classmates, who I’ve become pretty good friends with, never shows up to school, never studies and never opens his textbooks. He actually didn’t even buy half the textbooks he should have. The days he does come to school, he doesn’t even go to class but instead sits in the caf all day drinking coffee. And yet, he still ended up with a 98% average this semester!
How does someone like myself deal with this sort of person?? He drives me nuts. It’s not fair that he can do that so easily and the rest of us have to work like slaves, and still not do as well as him.
This question brings a lot of things to mind, and none of them are straight-up solutions. I’ll just throw everything I can think of at the issue and hope something helps.
First off, when dealing with someone who seems to have everything come too easy, don’t be too quick to take everything you hear about it on faith. Sometimes students flat out lie about their grades. Why I can’t guess, when there’s no obligation to talk about it in the first place, but some do anyway. Even more commonly students exaggerate and tell stories about their work habits that aren’t really true. Some students seem to be studying all the time when it isn’t genuine and some are just the opposite. Someone who is trying to portray and preserve a slacker image may claim to throw his papers together at the last minute, but are you sure it’s true? Maybe he stays up all night working and simply doesn’t admit to it. It’s hard to be sure.
None of this is to say your information in this case isn’t accurate. It may well be true, and in fact I’ll assume it is for the rest of my answer. But it’s good to remember that you can’t really guess, in the majority of cases, what’s going on with other students. It’s just like the classic story where the family next door seems to be perfect but once you know what’s really going on you realize how good you have it.
This leads me around to a thought or two on the subject of “fair.” Wow, what a terrifying subject. Somewhere in the world right now there are 12-year-old soldiers who simply dream of the chance to even see the inside of a classroom again. I don’t mean to belittle your concerns by pointing this out, but the idea of fair and unfair is something I barely know how to talk about. Which one of us has it better than the next person, anyway?
The kind of math it would take to add it all up, and to balance all of my advantages and challenges against those of another person, is just too much. So I try not to do it at all. I try to be thankful for my blessings and remember those who are clearly less fortunate but I sure don’t stay awake at night worrying about those who have it “better” than I do. I think about all the things I can’t know about them instead. Sometimes it’s tempting to look at just one thing and pretend that’s all that matters, and the concept of “fair” can be focused just on this one point alone, but obviously that’s untrue. Remembering this helps keep me balanced.
Getting academic help isn’t just for the dumb kids anymore
It’s getting harder to think all the way back to high school now, but I’m fairly sure I remember that every kind of structured academic help was pretty much reserved for students who were identified to need it. I’ll skip the part about how mean kids can be and just say that it’s tough to be singled out in school for any reason at all, much less for remedial help. Probably most people who get into university were spared that experience, but we’ve all seen it around us in that environment. It sucks. And so it shouldn’t be surprising that university students are reluctant to seek help.
Academic resources at university are based around a very different set of assumptions. They exist to help all students improve, whether from poor to average, from average to good, or from good to great. And they wait for students to come to them rather than pushing a particular set of students in that direction. Whether it’s academic advising, or a writing centre, or an employment office intended to help with résumés and interview skills, they exist to help any student who walks through the door. And the students who do walk through the door tend to fall into one of two groups. There’s the same selection of students in trouble, who end up there as a last resort. Then there are the very good students determined to take advantage of everything they can. And there’s very little in between. “Average” students, even the ones who’d like to be better than average, just don’t feel comfortable using these services. I guess that’s because their grades aren’t good enough that they can blow off the stigma of seeking help, but also aren’t so bad that they end up in crisis mode. It isn’t this intentional, of course. They just don’t think of themselves as the kind of students who go to a place like that.
Needless to say, this is unfortunate. The very people who work in these offices (generally sincere folks, who want to help) are very frustrated by this too. Of course they are willing and able to help the very good students and also the students in trouble, but what they do is designed explicitly for the typical student who rarely crosses the threshold. Academic support (in a myriad of forms) is a big part of what universities do. They know you can’t possibly get everything you need from your professors (especially not in those classes of several hundred students) and so they design these “extras” to fill in the gaps. They offer help with note taking, and time management, and course selection, and everything else you might turn to a teacher for, in high school, but just can’t always get help with in university. And they want students to come and access that help. But often the students who could benefit the most simply don’t. Because the stigma persists from high school and earlier. “Extra help” is code for failure.
I’ve been looking for years for some magical words to dispel this stigma. I doubt I’m going to find them before I wrap up this blog entry. So I’ll have to settle for simply pointing it out again (as I have to many students) that university operates on a different set of assumptions. That’s all there is to it. That help is there for everyone and is designed for everyone. If you want to avoid thinking of yourself as one of the “dumb” students seeking help, then just think of yourself as one of the brilliant students seeking help, because they are there also. The students most determined to improve their performance take advantage of everything they can find. Now, I admit that can get to be a bit much sometimes, and I don’t expect you to turn into a super-keener overnight, but there are worse habits you could pick up. You don’t have to go all in to follow the lead at least some of the time.
Use the resources that are around you. If you can’t justify it on any other basis then use them just because you’ve paid for it all. Your tuition goes into a lot of things that happen outside the classroom but are designed to help you succeed as a student. Might as well get what you’re paying for.
The annual Maclean’s rankings assess Canadian universities on a range of factors—or performance indicators—in six broad areas
The annual Maclean’s rankings assess Canadian universities on a range of performance indicators in six broad areas
The following describes the indicators used in the Maclean’s ranking tool.
STUDENTS/CLASSES Maclean’s collects data on the success of the student body at winning national academic awards over the previous ﬁve years. The list covers 40 fellowship and prize programs, nearly 19,000 individual awards from 2006 through 2010. The count includes such prestigious awards as the Rhodes Scholarships and the Fulbright awards, as well as scholarships from professional associations and the three federal granting agencies. Each university’s total of student awards is divided by its number of full-time students, yielding a count of awards relative to each institution’s size.
To gauge students’ access to professors, Maclean’s also measures the number of full-time-equivalent students per full-time faculty member. This student/faculty ratio includes all students, graduate as well as undergraduate.
FACULTY In assessing the calibre of faculty, Maclean’s calculates the number who have over the past ﬁve years won major national awards, including the distinguished Killam, Molson and Steacie prizes, the Royal Society of Canada awards, the 3M Teaching Fellowships and nearly 40 other award programs covering a total of 881 individual awards. To scale for institution size, the award count for each university is divided by each school’s number of full-time faculty.
In addition, the magazine measures the success of faculty in securing research grants from SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR. Maclean’s takes into account both the number and the dollar value received in the previous year, and divides the totals by each institution’s full-time faculty count. Research grants are reported by how many are awarded to the primary investigator on a project. Social sciences and humanities grants and medical/science grants are tallied as separate indicators.
RESOURCES This section examines the amount of money available for current expenses per weighted full-time-equivalent student. Students are weighted according to their level of study—bachelor, master’s or doctorate—and their program of study.
To broaden the scope of the research picture, Maclean’s also measures total research dollars. This figure, calculated relative to the size of each institution’s full-time faculty, includes income from sponsored research, such as grants and contracts, federal, provincial and foreign government funding, and funding from non-governmental organizations.
STUDENT SUPPORT To evaluate the assistance available to students, Maclean’s examines the percentage of the budget spent on student services as well as scholarships and bursaries.
LIBRARY This section assesses the breadth and currency of the collection. Universities receive points for the number of volumes and volume equivalents per number of full-time-equivalent students.
As well, Maclean’s measures the percentage of a university’s operating budget allocated to library services and the percentage of the library budget spent on updating the collection. In acknowledging a shift from the traditional library model—books on shelves—to an electronic access model, Maclean’s captures spending on electronic resources in both the library expenses and acquisitions measurements.
REPUTATION This section reﬂects a university’s reputation in the community at large. For the reputational survey, Maclean’s solicits the views of university ofﬁcials at each ranked institution, high school principals and guidance counsellors from every province and territory, the heads of a wide variety of national and regional organizations, and CEOs and recruiters at corporations large and small. Respondents rated the universities in three categories: Highest Quality, Most Innovative, and Leaders of Tomorrow. Best Overall represents the sum of the scores.
How to make sure your term paper doesn’t miss the point
Figuring out just what professors want in a term paper can be tricky, but it needn’t be. Whether it’s your first paper in university, and you’re still navigating your way around the library, or you’re a seasoned pro, there are a few things you need to know.
And while much of what I have to say may seem obvious, redundant and self-congratulatory, it is really quite astonishing how many people go through their entire university careers without ever figuring out just quite how to write the paper professors are looking for.
For starters, if the assignment involves answering a question your professor has prepared beforehand, read it. I mean actually read it. And closely. If there is more than one part to the question, consider each part individually. How might they be related? Should each part be answered separately? Or should they be considered together within an overarching argument? Understanding the question is the first step to answering it.
You’d be surprised how many people do poorly on a paper because they failed to answer the question. They sort of go willy nilly through the whole process, and end up writing something completely foreign to what was actually asked of them.
Visiting your professor is quite possibly the most integral part of figuring out what they want. Some professors, especially in upper years when class sizes are smaller, will require you to meet with them. There is a reason for this. Of course there are intellectual freaks that can ace a paper without ever discussing it, but those who don’t bother will generally tend to do less well.
Professors will help you unpack the assignment, which is good because some essay questions are just plain ridiculous, like: “is world peace possible? Discuss.” If you come in with an idea that is overly ambitious, or otherwise unsuitable, they will rein you in. The good ones will anyway. Others will stroke their chins and mutter “interesting,” thus encouraging you in your folly. But if you’re lucky they will say something like, “walk before you run. You’re not writing a bloody history of the world now are you?”
Don’t show up unprepared and say something like “uh, so, what am I suppose to do?” Don’t be overly chatty either. Most professors don’t care what students in their intro to politics course think of the new Naomi Klein book. They just don’t. Sorry. This doesn’t mean they aren’t happy to help, or that they don’t mind discussing current events, but I’ve always found it stunningly obvious when I should just shut up.
While many professors have a verbosity affliction of their own, it helps to listen. They will often outline the entire essay for you. And if a professor recommends a book or an article, be sure to consult it and cite it in your paper. They might look for it.
If your essay is being marked by a teaching assistant, they will marvel at the notion that someone actually cares what they think! So bother them.
Find a paper or a book your professor has published, and see if there is any way you can at least explore his/her area of interest, if not actually incorporating their work into yours. At the very least you’ll know that your professor accepts the ideas presented. Flattery shouldn’t affect how they grade a paper, but who are we kidding!
Joey Coleman takes his textbook list on a hunt for the cheapest prices
You can tell it’s almost September because of the back-to-school sale signs that are beginning to pop-up. And while the sales may mean cheap pencils to some people, for university students, they mean getting gouged with high textbook prices.
Joey Coleman takes his textbook list on a hunt for the cheapest prices
You can tell it’s almost September because of the back-to-school sale signs that are beginning to pop-up. And while the sales may mean cheap pencils to some people, for university students, they mean getting gouged with high textbook prices.
Textbooks can easily add a thousand dollars or more each year to the price of getting an education. But now with the internet, students have all sorts of ways to hunt down cheaper prices than are offered by the university bookstore. And so, I went online with my textbook list to see if I could find myself a bargain.
The first step is finding the ISBN numbers for each book. This can be done easily by putting the title into Google and going to the first major bookstore page that shows up in the results. Usually, the ISBN is listed in the details section. Once you had the ISBN, you can search for your books. The best place to look for used textbooks is the book search engine bookfinder4u.com that searches over 130 different sites.
After searching for a few books, I quickly realized that there were five main sites that were worth looking at.
Abebooks.com was my favourite choice for used books because it lists both used books and international editions. The site offered the best deal for used in the case of five of my textbooks, before shipping and handling. Shipping costs vary using this site as many of the books listed are not held by Abebooks.com but are listings similar to eBay. And also like eBay, buy beware: some sellers increase their returns by charging a handling cost.
Next, I checked Chapters, mostly because of its reputation. For one of my books, Chapters offered a lower price for a new version than what I could find for a used one. However, Chapters’ prices were also at the other extreme: a book that my university sells new for $90.95 was sold by Chapters for $118.95. In the case of another book, Chapters offered a used price of $77.40 compared to the lowest price I could find online of $63.15. Considering that I would have to put my faith in the US-based seller to get the book to me in a timely fashion, I decided that I would rather pay a little extra to Chapters and put my mind at ease.
Next up, Amazon.ca, the Canadian website of one of the world’s largest online booksellers. Although Amazon.ca did not offer competitive prices on used books, they did offer the lowest price by far for new versions of six of my textbooks. The best deal was a book that my university sells for $63.95 that Amazon charged $39.03 with free shipping. Two textbooks that my university sells for $56.95 were offered by Amazon for $35.88 with free shipping.
Barnes and Noble, a giant American bookstore, offered used textbooks at an alright price. In the case of my history textbooks, they offered the lowest new prices, and in one case, the cost of membership was less than the savings that membership would offer. Their used listing was pretty good as well. Of course, I have learned using eBay to be weary of ordering over the border and the savings in these cases were not enough to entice me.
Alibris offered good prices on the used textbooks they offered; the problem was that their selection was limited. Now, I am taking a lot of advanced courses this year so you may have more luck with this site. All quotes on the site are in Canadian dollars.
The university bookstore was the easiest to find my books since they listed that all for me, and of course, have them in stock. In only one case did the university offer the lowest price on a new textbook. Even then, it was only $7 less than the next lowest competitor. They consistently were the highest or near the highest for costs of used textbooks. In short, they did not provide the value they claim to provide. Considering that they are ordering in bulk, one would think they would be able to offer a better price. They were unable to tell me if they had used books in stock, so my only option for online ordering was to cross my fingers and hope for a break.
Overall, I decided to pay a little extra and ordered about half of my textbooks new from Amazon and Chapters, taking advantage of free shipping due to the size of my orders. I picked up a few used textbooks and overall saved myself about $750 dollars. It remains to be seen how happy I am with the shipping time involved or the quality of the used textbooks I ordered. I have ordered early enough that I should have all my books in time for the start of classes. Of course, I did not factor in the cost of getting something for the mailman since he is going to have to lug all my textbooks to my door.
I could have saved even more money if I went completely with used textbooks, but the price difference in many cases was not enough to convince me to do so. I like to have my own books, with my own notes and writing (okay, and my own doodling) instead of someone else’s. Considering that Amazon and Chapters offered free shipping, in many cases this meant they were offering a lower overall price that a used book dealer. My advice, spend the time to make a chart so you can clearly see the price difference and then make your own decision based on your personal preferences. Keep an open mind, I started my shopping by planning to go with all used textbooks, I was surprised to find some many deals at Amazon and ended up buying most of my textbooks early. Most importantly, order now! There are only five weeks left till classes start again and you do not want it to be October before your books arrive in the mail.