You come to this work from many backgrounds and walks of life – in school, faith-based, and afterschool settings – and are
essential to its success. You have the opportunity to change many lives by engaging students in the lessons offered in the
powerful American Graduate All the Difference documentary. This Facilitators Guide suggests ways to present the issues
raised in the film and its accompanying short videos, but you are the one who can inspire and encourage young people in their
quest to enter and graduate from college.
At the end of the Introduction, you’ll find 14 Conversation Starters about All the Difference as well as some tips to
engage your students. High school students may especially benefit from Chapters One and Three (expectations, finances, and networking)
of this guide, while beginning college students will need more information on majors and careers, networking, recovering from mistakes,
and time management. Chapter Six, Getting to the End Game, prepares students for that all-important first job after college or
postgraduate school. It’s up to you what your time frame is – a 2.5-hour seminar or several one- or two-hour sessions. The full film
is 90-minutes in length.
Statistics and life stories tell us that many students find it difficult to succeed in college, especially young men of color.
The purpose of this film and the tools in this guide are to help young people prepare for the challenges of college as well as
explore solutions that will make all the difference in their success. An important goal for them is to build networks of people
that create communities of support – in college and throughout their lives.
The American Graduate film All the Difference by Tod Lending is a realistic and compelling view of two determined young African-American men, Krishaun Branch and Robert Henderson, as they journey from high school through college and begin their first post-college jobs.
From the South Side of Chicago, they are on a mission first to earn their high school diplomas and then their college degrees. In a world in which barely half the black males in high school graduate and far fewer go to college, they are in a minority from the beginning. Young men coming from the often crime-ridden streets of south Chicago have better odds of being shot or imprisoned than they have of becoming college graduates.
According to Ivory A. Toldson, "Although 45 percent of black men 25 and older have attempted college, only 16 percent have a four-year degree – half the percentage of white males who have a four-year degree, as Lorenzo Esters and I report in The Quest for Excellence. Black males are incarcerated at a rate that is seven times the rate for white males and are more likely than any other race group to be victims of a violent crime, including homicide.” (Ivory A. Toldson, Ph.D., Journal of Negro Education, posted to The Root.com: July 19 2012 12:56 AM)
This is not a ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ story. Rather, thanks to a supportive high school (Urban Prep Academies), family members, teachers, advisers, and mentors, as well as their own will, these two young men are beating the odds. What we know about these young men, based on experience, is that they are not unique. They come from backgrounds we know all too well, and they manifest behaviors seen in schools and colleges everywhere. Breaking the isolation and cultural norms these young men think is their destiny and helping them find people who can guide or motivate them to achieve their full potential can make all the difference. This is a key message in both the film and this guide. The various mentors they develop along the way make all the difference in their capacity to triumph in an environment in which too few from their backgrounds do so. It is our hope that this guide will help many more young people to succeed.
Our goal in this guide is to highlight the obstacles Robert and Krishaun encountered along their paths to college and how they effectively connected with a range of people and resources to help them achieve the dream of a college degree. Other students can learn from and identify with the things they did right as well as their missteps. But ultimately, they made it. What made all the difference for them can serve as a roadmap for first-generation college students, particularly young men who may be deterred by issues of poverty and race that can make a difficult journey even harder.
This Facilitators Guide provides information and activities adults can use in association with the All the Difference film to help students who come from challenging circumstances. The content is especially valuable for use by high school guidance counselors, advisers, teachers, and skilled youth group facilitators in afterschool programs, college preparation programs, black male initiatives, and youth ministries, among others. Parents are also encouraged to use it as a resource to help their children. The students or young people you engage may be in high school or college; others may have dropped out of school and are seeking a path back. Depending on who you are and the setting in which you are using the guide, you’ll want to focus on the chapters and topics important to your students. Return to selected information as needed.
The guide’s conversation topics and activities anticipate the issues and barriers students will face as they complete high school and move through each year of college. Students will gain confidence through the information, strategies, examples, and resources, and be empowered to set their own goals to secure a college education. We want others to learn from Robert’s and Krishaun’s stories how a college education is both achievable and a gateway to a fruitful life. We also want those who are supporting students to have the tools and information needed to make a difference in youth outcomes.
All the Difference reveals critical issues confronting young African-American men by interweaving the stories of two young men who graduate from high school and go on to college. According to the Schott Foundation, the average high school graduation rate for black males in Chicago is 39 percent; half of those graduating go on to college. Urban Prep Academies, the all-male high school attended by Robert and Krishaun, remarkably graduated and sent to college 100 percent of their senior class (2010). Both young men graduated from their respective colleges in four years (2014). This New York Times editorial, Forcing Black Men Out of Society, provides the context for Krishaun’s and Robert’s stories, which makes them even more powerful.
Dr. Carl Bell, a professor of public health and community psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, describes their Englewood neighborhood as a “toxic environment.” He says people living in a “poor black ghetto community,” are “kind of like fish in a barrel and so the police hunt you.” Bad outcomes are not always the result of such an environment – because these communities also have “protective factors” such as mothers, fathers, grandmothers, friends, places of worship, sports teams, afterschool programs, and teachers.
As you watch All the Difference, you can look for and refer to the different types of protective factors and people that lift up Robert and Krishaun to create and achieve their dreams.
All the Difference is part of American Graduate: Let's Make it Happen, which was launched by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 2011 with 25 public media stations in high need communities to spotlight the high school dropout crisis and focus on middle and high school student interventions. Today, more than 80 public radio and television stations in over 30 states have partnered with more than 1,000 community organizations and schools, as well as Alma and Colin Powell's America's Promise Alliance, Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University School of Education, Alliance for Excellent Education, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Newman’s Own Foundation, to help the nation achieve a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020. With primetime and children’s programming that educates, informs, and inspires public radio and television stations – locally owned and operated – are important resources in helping to address critical issues facing today’s communities. According to a report from the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University School of Education, American Graduate stations have told the story about the dropout crisis in a way that empowered citizens to become involved, and helped community organizations work more effectively together.
As the adult facilitator, first read and then share with your student audience the brief histories of Robert and Krishaun along with a short explanation of the filming process. The filmmaker spent five years following Krishaun and Robert as they advanced toward their college graduations. He continued to follow them for several additional months in order to see what new hurdles and issues they would encounter and what strategies, resources, and networking opportunities they used to secure employment and settle into new lives.
Robert Henderson was 17-months-old when his father killed his mother. His grandmother, Ona, who is now in her eighties, reared Robert and his six siblings. She is a powerful support in Robert’s life with a compelling story of her own. A former Mississippi sharecropper, she escaped to Chicago after suffering years of beatings by her husband. After finding work, she brought her nine children to Chicago, had eight more children, and reared all of them on her own. When Robert arrived at Urban Prep, he was failing math and was at least a grade behind in his other classes. He was vulnerable to joining gangs in his neighborhood and getting into trouble with the law. He graduated high school with honors and attended Lake Forest College (Illinois) on a partial scholarship, starting with majors in history and pre-med. Robert graduated with a double major in history and American studies and a minor in Asian studies. He then joined City Year, an education organization fueled by national service. He is working to pay off his college loans. After City Year he is still interested in a service-oriented career, maybe as a firefighter and/or an emergency medical technician.
Krishaun Branch was a gang member, as were his mother, father, and uncle. He was reared by his mother and had little contact with his father. Having been shot and almost dying years ago was a wake-up call for his mother to leave her gang. She changed her life for her own sake and that of her son. When he began his studies at Urban Prep, he was at least a grade behind in math and reading and was still dealing drugs to make money. Impetuous and quick to anger, Krishaun was expelled from Urban Prep during his sophomore year for getting into a fight. He begged to come back after briefly attending a regular public school. Urban Prep saw his potential and readmitted him with strict conditions. Following his graduation, he attended Fisk University (Tennessee) with partial scholarships and grants. While he had planned to work in law enforcement, Krishaun instead returned to Urban Prep after his college graduation to work as an adviser to students. He has become a father, which is bringing new responsibilities and challenges.
During high school the young men were filmed in their classes, at home, and with friends in casual settings. Most of the filming was at school because that was where they spent the majority of their time. Urban Prep wanted them to be at school as much as possible because, for most, school was the safest place they could be. The documentary captures many aspects of their school experiences, making sure to show the context from which they came. In order to understand their achievements and failures in college, it is important to know how they were prepared, or unprepared, before going to college. This is one of the key factors for determining whether or not they would succeed in obtaining their degrees.
Those viewing the film will often be able to identify with or understand the circumstances of their lives. Through using this guide, you as facilitators will enhance the viewing experience of students/youth and engage them in an interactive learning process. As a result, young people will discover lessons they can apply to their own lives as well as take away constructive strategies they can continue to learn from and use. You may want to assign your students to use the online companion Students Handbook to review or work on when you are not there to help. This interactive process will make all the difference.
You will also meet the families of the young men, the women in their lives at various points, and the array of people, particularly in college, who supported them. Dr. Sheila Peters is a professor for Krishaun at Fisk as well as his mentor and adviser. Dr. Lori Del Negro plays the same role for Robert at Lake Forest. Financial aid and career services staffs, deans, teachers, tutors, and others also make all the difference.
Show the Introductory Video to introduce your students to the two young men and the film, All the Difference. This video reveals a chaotic and deadly scene in the South Side of Chicago, the community in which Robert and Krishaun grew up and where their families still live. Robert and Krishaun talk about the challenges they confront. Robert says he “tries to stay positive,” and “wants to make a positive impact on the society” in which he lives. Krishaun is determined to “make it through college.” He asks, “Can I make the right grades?”
These two young men are also part of the one third – or 5.5 percent – of black males who attend college and actually graduate, according to the Maynard Center for Structural Inequality. As the film begins, Robert and Krishaun have the chance to rewrite the future, not just for themselves, but for their families. Will the supports that make all the difference be enough? Just as for them, the choices made by your students or youth can make all the difference in where they land in those statistics.
The Introductory Video is hosted by Wes Moore, a youth advocate, Army combat veteran, and author. His New York Times best-selling book, The Other Wes Moore, is the inspiration for the All the Difference documentary. His introduction explains the importance of the film and the resources available to support it: this guide, an online College Bound Students Handbook, Family Tip Sheets, All the Difference website, community engagement campaign, and social media. His statement at the end of the video is a call-to-action to engage youth and all of those who actively support them. Wes is a co-executive producer and co-writer for the film.
Share the following "Message to Parents" and "Open Letter to Families" with family members of your students/youth.
Each chapter in the guide covers a different key topic that adult facilitators and parents can use to engage youth in making decisions about themselves and their journeys to college. The chapters do not follow the flow of the film but lift topics that the film brings to life and that allow for meaningful discussion. For this reason, as a facilitator, you will want to review the film first so that you can move easily back and forth from the topics here to what is seen on the screen.
Chapter One: Expectations About College – This chapter explores the sources of expectations students have for themselves and to what extent these create pressure or motivation. It asks why college is important and why self-awareness can make all the difference in finding the right place to be as well as HOW to be. Financial considerations also influence whether and where to attend college.
Chapter Two: Career Paths and Academic Majors – This chapter explores the relationship between college majors and careers. It also stresses the importance of finding the right fit so that academic and professional goals can be met. It explains how students should use their college experiences to prepare for the rest of their lives.
Chapter Three: Networks, Relationships, and Resources – College is a place to build key networks for support, and to tap resources that will make all the difference in achieving life goals. The guide suggests how to develop these key networks. Young men, in particular, seem to embrace a culture of going it alone. That attitude and fear can impede some students’ use of these resources, so this chapter addresses how to face and manage those fears realistically. It also addresses the importance of creating supportive relationships that feed positive goals and behaviors.
Chapter Four: Slips, Stumbles, and Getting up Again – We all make mistakes, and college is a relatively safe place to make them. What are the kinds of mistakes students can expect to make and what are the strategies for managing them and succeeding? Learning how to ask for help is key and can truly make all the difference.
Chapter Five: Managing Time and Studying Smart – In college, students transition from having their time regulated by school and family to self-regulating their own time. Learning how to make good choices, manage time, and study effectively are skills that can make or break college success. Specific strategies are offered for managing time and studying effectively.
Chapter Six: Getting to the End Game – This chapter focuses on the post-college job search, graduate school, or other opportunities. A set of strategies can be applied throughout college that will make all the difference in leading to a successful outcome.
Index – A Video Clip Tagline Index by Chapter with the respective “all the difference” taglines will help facilitators to select scenes/clips to augment discussions with students.
The format of each chapter generally includes the following sections and opportunities for engagement. Some chapters have more than one Information/Discussion topic.
An Information/Discussion section offers key information about the topic at hand. For example, it might describe why students resist getting help and the kinds of support systems found in colleges and the rationale for accessing them. This section offers adults the background information they need to launch discussions and follow-up activities.
Story Sharing is a chance for the facilitator to share from personal experience about the issue at hand and then invite groups or individuals to share as well. This keeps things real and launches the discussion about the topic/issue as it is manifested in the film and as it relates to your own students/youth. Bringing in college seniors who have stories about their own struggles and paths has been shown to be effective. If you are doing this on a campus with underclassmen, ask upperclassmen to share their stories so they can provide institutional context.
Hands-On Problem-Solving Activities engage youth in identifying personal issues, using support structures or tools, and building potential support teams while discussing the theme or issue. Generally activities can be used for individuals as well as groups.
Homework is presented in the form of journals, research, and written reports. A goal is for students to practice the skills they need for college work and beyond.
Grey Text Boxes in most chapters provide key information that will help discussion leaders and other readers/users including parents and students to understand an issue in more depth. Many can be used as handouts for students.
Interaction Suggestions for facilitators, parents, and others help them to ask useful questions or engage in strategies most likely to keep a young person on the road to college. The tone of these conversations can make all the difference in how a student thinks about and experiences college.
Personal Lifelong Learning emphasizes to students the importance of continuous growth, self-exploration, creating networks, and having a personal “board of directors” to help them gain information and expand their knowledge. The suggested activities here may include journals, blogs, and social media. For example, they can become active members of LinkedIn groups for their high schools and colleges and share useful information.
What should students take away from this chapter? Final comments summarize the highlights that students should learn from their work on chapter activities.
Resources at the end of each chapter suggest books, blogs, websites, and organizations that may be useful and relevant.
Vocabulary is highlighted on occasion in the online All the DifferenceCollege Bound Students Handbook to remind students that building a robust vocabulary is essential to excellence on the SAT/ACT as well as in essays and college level work. Please refer to that resource if you wish to make vocabulary part of your facilitated sessions with students/youth. You may want to impress students with this information:
It is important to encourage writing during the various activities as a form of self expression. It is not only good practice, but as this New York Times article, Writing Your Way to Happiness reveals, it can impact students’ success through increasing their self-assurance.
This guide can be used either while viewing the documentary or afterwards. For greater interactivity throughout the guide are links to 31 video clips as well as references to the film’s characters as they relate to the topic at hand. The videos expand on important themes that cannot be fully presented within the 90-minute All the Difference documentary. The clips can be used for analysis and introspection as well as for conversation starters.
Some video clips are drawn from scenes in the film and indicated with the label: (FILM). Others are specially created using footage of Robert and Krishaun not included in the film; these clips are exclusive to this guide and the online College Bound Students Handbook, and indicated with the label: (NEW). A third type of clip is a combination of scenes from the film and new footage, indicated with the label: (MIX). Look for these labels to tell you the source of the content in each video. Both the College Bound Students Handbook and Facilitators Guide open with the Introductory Video hosted by Wes Moore.
All video clips end with an on-screen sentence (tagline) to reinforce their core messages. Since the content is meant to engage and educate students, taglines are directed to them. For example, “Support from family and friends can make all the difference.” Or, “Hearing optimistic expectations can make all the difference.” Transitional text helps facilitators to guide students in discussing and learning from the situations viewed in the clips.
As you plan your use of this material with students, because of time limits, you may want to be selective in your use of the 31 clips. At the end of the guide is a Video Clip Tagline Index by Chapter, organized by taglines and chapters, so you can easily find where a particular video is located in the guide. Whichever you choose, you’ll find them to be effective “jumping off” points to engage your students in discussions. Sample discussion questions are provided for each video.
Self-scoring: This resource is also exclusive to the Students Handbook. Many of us have taken “quizzes” or self-diagnostic “tests” in magazines or online for fun. The Students Handbook offers students the chance to do something similar by completing tasks that enable them to accumulate points. The more points they gain, the better prepared we believe they will be for successful college careers and lives. The tasks for which they can acquire points are noted by this pencil: . Each activity is worth 10 points, for a top score of 1240. A scoring sheet tells them how serious they are about taking the actions that can make all the difference in their futures. If you are also using the Students Handbook, use this incentive to encourage students to take action and complete the tasks.
Right after showing the All the Difference film, facilitators may want to use topics like the following to jump-start conversation. Please choose two or three questions you think will be most helpful to your students or youth in encouraging them to progress to and through college. More topic-specific questions are located throughout this guide in relation to the accompanying video clips. We encourage you to develop questions of your own, based on your experience in viewing the film, and on knowledge of your students. All questions are directed to students.
During the film, you learned a lot about Robert Henderson and Krishaun Branch. From the beginning, you heard their commitments to changing their lives for themselves and their families. Did you think Krishaun and Robert would graduate from college – and why? Which youth (if either) seems more like you? In what way? If this were your story, what would you want viewers to know about you and some of the life changes you have decided to make?
Name all of the family, school, and community supports that helped Robert and Krishaun to succeed. What kinds of help did they provide, and how have they made all the difference in their lives?
Who are the significant people in your life? Do you have a network of people who offer different kinds of support and make it possible for you to be successful in school and in life? Who are they and how do they help you? What are you doing to stay connected to that group of people?
At Krishaun’s trunk party following his high school graduation, two of his elementary school teachers tell us the “life expectancy of a young man in the Englewood community is age 18.” Dr. Sheila Peters at Fisk University says, “So many African-American males that enter college know as many, if not more, from their community that ended up in juvenile, never had an opportunity, are dead, all kinds of things.” Now in college, Krishaun and Robert are “beating the odds.” How do you think they have been able to do that?
When we talk about “odds,” we are suggesting betting on winners and losers. In sports betting, percentages are assigned to these odds. How confident are you of your own success? Thinking about your chances of succeeding in college, what odds would you give yourself – 25 percent, 50 percent, or 90 percent? Based on ideas you saw in the film, what are you willing to do to raise those odds to 100 percent for yourself (meaning you will graduate from college)?
Both Robert and Krishaun encounter difficulties with their studies in college. What are some character traits you admire in them that may have made it possible for them to succeed? Which of these same traits do you have now? Which traits do you think you may need to develop within yourself? Why?
You heard the word “resilience” several times in the film. What does it mean? Dr. Sheila Peters believes, “To make it out of the community means that you are resilient….By teaching [students] to take it to the next level with their resilience, they can take it to the world.” What do you think she means by that?
When we watch a film or read a book, we often feel empathy for the protagonists (good, leading characters) and find ourselves cheering for them. At what point in the story were you worried that Krishaun or Robert had lost some ground – that maybe they were not going to finish college? What happened – or what do you think happened – to turn around that situation for them?
Provide one example of a positive decision each young man made in the film that you thought made a difference for them. This could be a decision that made them a better student, a better family member, or a better man. What poor or bad decisions did each young man make in the film that made you think, “Oh, I would never have done that”; or, “I’m glad they made that decision. I’m going to avoid that when I go to college.” What lesson did you learn from it?
Both Robert (Dr. Lori Del Negro) and Krishaun (Dr. Sheila Peters) had excellent advisers in college, and Krishaun had a mentor (MarQo). What lessons did you learn about how to work with an adviser and mentor or about how they can help you succeed in college? Please share your comments about each adviser and student. What ideas did you get from these situations that you will try out with your own adviser in (high school or college)?
At one point in the film Robert said, “Put your pride to the side and seek out help. If you don’t know it, you need to ask. If you don’t ask, you’re never going to know it.” At Fisk, we heard Krishaun telling his adviser, Dr. Sheila Peters, “I tried to do things myself instead of bringing other people into it.” He said he wanted to feel like he had accomplished something on his own. Whose advice, Robert’s or Krishaun’s, would offer greater help if you were in trouble academically in college? Why? How comfortable are you asking for help? What might hold you back from seeking help?
Both Krishaun and Robert were the first in their families to go to college. What scenes in the film showed how important this was to their families? During the high school graduation scenes, Tim King, founder and president of Urban Prep, says, “It really only takes one generation to right the course for any family.” In other words, one person graduating from college changes the possibilities for an entire family. Do you agree or disagree with that statement? Why? How might baby Krishaun’s future be better thanks to his dad’s college degree?
At the end of the film, Robert is looking forward to his future after City Year. He’s considering becoming a fire fighter and cross training as an emergency medical technician. He feels this will give him a chance “to save lives and help others.” Krishaun and his girlfriend Taylor welcome their new baby. He says, “Nothing is impossible now.” After watching their stories unfold from their senior years in high school, how do you feel about where Robert and Krishaun are now? How hopeful are you for their futures?
After seeing what college was like for Robert and Krishaun, in what ways do you feel better prepared for your own college experience? Thinking back on the film, from your perspective as a high school (or college) student, what is your primary take-away? Of the many lessons you may have learned, which one stands out for you as something you must do, beginning right now, in order to get into or complete college?
The All the Difference College Bound Facilitators Guide is meant to help you bring this powerful film to life for the young people who view it and to assure them that its tools and practical learning can make all the difference in their pursuit of a successful college education. An important objective for them is to build networks of people that create sustainable communities of support.
Tell your own story. Use your experiences or those of friends and colleagues to personalize and reinforce the messages in the film and this guide. Opportunities to share your story are noted throughout the guide.
Review the film more than once to see how the stories can enrich your discussions. Get to know Robert and Krishaun. Outline a plan for discussion points and elements you want to cover using this guide.
Use a helper, maybe a student, to scroll through the uploaded guide on your computer. That way, you can stay focused on the discussion.
Be open to students’ ideas. Actively engage students in conversation so this experience becomes personally meaningful and motivating to them.
Access materials suggested here or other materials you may know to add depth to what you contribute.
Resist the temptation to cover too much and let the discussion flow. Either plan for more time later, or refer students to the online Students Handbook and other resources.
Bring in colleagues, older students, and content experts who can help make the information come to life and be credible.
Use humor and act with humility.
Marcia Young Cantarella, Ph.D., has used her years of working with students to create the All the Difference College Bound Facilitators Guide. Following a long corporate career, Dr. Cantarella moved into higher education as a senior administrator, dean, and vice president at New York University, Princeton (where she came to know Wes Moore’s sister), Metropolitan College of New York, and Hunter College. She co-directs the CUNY Black Male Initiative at Hunter College, chairs the advisory board for the all-male Eagle Academy Schools, and serves on the Board of Directors of The READ Alliance. She has combined her experience in the corporate world with her academic focus to attain a practical view of the relationship between education and work. Having worked for nearly 25 years with a vast array of students who are first-generation, low-income, and/or students of color she has written I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide. The Guide is a highly rated practical tool to help students like these navigate to successful college completion. She is a frequent Huffington Post blogger on the college experience. Perhaps most important, she has reared a young black man, now an adult and father, as well as two stepchildren, and is a proud indulgent grandmother of five.
Moore, Wes, The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2010.
Moore, Wes, The Work. New York: Random House, 2015.
Toldson, Ivory A., Ph.D. and Esters, Lorenzo L., Ed.D., The Quest for Excellence: Supporting the Academic Success of Minority Males in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Disciplines. Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, 2012.
Generous support for this All the Difference College Bound Facilitators Guide is made possible by the National Black Programming Consortium, American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen sponsored by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Wyncote Foundation, POV, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Nomadic Pictures, Outreach Extensions, JWS Media Consulting, and Omari Productions.
In the beginning of All the Difference we see the South Side of Chicago with its street shootings and arrests of predominantly black youth. Watch the following video clip to view the challenging urban environment in which Robert and Krishaun grew up and to hear their determination to beat the odds. Krishaun asks himself whether he is scared. “Yeah. I know that the future can be disturbed or can be messed up by one wrong decision that I make.”
In the next clip, watch Krishaun and Robert reciting the Urban Prep creed with schoolmates in their all-male high school. They affirm, “We are the young men of Urban Prep.” The creed tells us the school’s expectations for behavior, attitudes, and success.
Graduation from high school is the fulfillment of one set of expectations, but Tim King, principal and founder of Urban Prep, sets a higher expectation for the graduating class: to send him invitations to their college graduations. At the Urban Prep graduation ceremony, Robert and Krishaun’s family members comment on what it means to them and how they feel about the moment.
Share your own stories of high expectations and the feelings they engender. Explain how you hope your role as facilitator will support the expectations and dreams of your students.
Hands-On Problem-Solving Activity: All of the young men in Robert’s and Krishaun’s high school graduation class went on to college. Ask your students why college might be right for them, and how college might help to fulfill their dreams. Assign the following task?
List personal dreams college could help them achieve.
List obstacles to those dreams including financial barriers to attending college (and how you might overcome them).
List the tools and supports that would help you succeed.
Choose a buddy who will help you to stay on track in your pursuit of a college education.
Ask students to share their thoughts and ideas. Emphasize that it’s important to believe in yourself and to make a personal commitment to go to college and complete their degrees. Explain how they, too, can achieve the dream of a college education. As the facilitator, what can you do to help your students identify and articulate their dreams?
All of us have expectations for ourselves. Robert has set expectations for himself to succeed in college and go on to medical school. We follow him as he arrives at Lake Forest College, which has given him “a lot of money: an in-state scholarship, a leadership scholarship, and an academic scholarship.” He asserts, “There’s no stopping me.” He plans to make his family proud. Watch the video and listen to what Robert wants to achieve in college.
Discuss: In addition to what we want for ourselves, we are also affected by the expectations of people surrounding us. Ask your students what they feel is expected of them from family, friends, places of worship, and school. How do they feel about those expectations? For example, do expectations ever feel like unwanted pressure – and make things harder? Do they feel they have the tools to fulfill the expectations of others and themselves? As the facilitator, what might you suggest from your own experiences? This can be a very rich conversation.
Interaction Suggestions: It is important to note that high school graduation has significance for the graduates’ families, too, as it fulfills some of their expectations. At the Urban Prep graduation ceremony for Robert and Krishaun, family members comment on what graduation means to them and how they feel about the moment. Krishaun’s family celebrates at his graduation trunk party.
For example, here is a life lesson that Robert says he learned from his high school wrestling coach, Mr. Price:
Explore with students how they feel about their own upcoming high school graduations or other moments of success. What do those times represent for them and their family members? How have their families made a difference? How do their families view college? What concerns might they have?
One aspect about planning for and going to college is that families need to let go. We have to be careful that our expectations do not become burdens but are really about encouragement. If youth are going to find their way with our support we have to hear what they say they do or do not want. They will put up barriers if we are not open to their ideas.
Advise your students that their good behavior starting now – in high school – will show their families that they can be trusted to take care of themselves as more independent people in college. Here are some strategies you can suggest to students to reassure their families:
Start with open communications with family members – so they know where you are and what you are doing.
Share questions and concerns and involve them in your decision making. This builds parents’ confidence and helps avoid conflicts.
Show parents a new list of responsibilities you’re committed to doing, beginning right now. This will help convince them that you can be trusted to take on the independence of college life.
The Power of Examples
Krishaun talks about people in his life who have inspired him. He talks about his uncle who “taught him to be a man” and lets him know “what he’s going to school for.” About his tutor and mentor at Fisk University, MarQo Patton, Krishaun says, “I really look up to him. He’s been through some of the same things I’ve been through.” Krishaun describes MarQo as “having a bright future” and says he wants “to get to where he is.”
Invite students to find stories of others who have succeeded despite challenging circumstances or who have defied low expectations. Some may be in their families or communities such as a relative, faith leader, or coach. Some may be public figures who have met their own challenges along the way. A starting place for success stories is the wonderful documentary Black List: Volume 1 that was directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and Elvis Mitchell. You can learn more about the film here: http://www.hbo.com/documentaries/the-black-list-volume-one#/documentaries/the-black-list-volume-one/synopsis.html.
This 92-minute documentary, which premiered on HBO in 2008, uses the personal stories of accomplished African Americans in fields as varied as business, entertainment, literature, sports, and media to comment on the social, political, and economic progress black Americans have made in the past 50 years. It won the 2009 NAACP Spirit Award for Best Documentary.
Ask students to shout out and then bookmark a list of films or stories to view or read when they need inspiration.
Story Sharing: As the facilitator share personal stories about expectations you have experienced and how you managed them. Be sure to include the challenges of planning for your own college degree and the choices you made. Discuss who helped you make good choices. Share stories of others who have succeeded in getting college degrees despite challenging odds or who have even defied low expectations. For example, you may know someone with a full-time job and a family who goes to school part time. Try to think of people with whom your students can easily identify.
Here are two studies to which you can refer:
Past research from the Economic Mobility Project at The Pew Charitable Trusts has shown the power of a college education to both promote upward mobility and prevent downward movement. A January 2013 report, “How Much Protection Does a College Degree Afford,” reveals that a four-year college degree helped shield recent graduates from a range of poor outcomes including unemployment, low-skill jobs, and lesser wages. The study examined U.S. Census Bureau data for 21- to 24-year-olds for roughly two-and-a-half years before, during, and after the 2007-2009 recession. It found that the rate of employment for those with only a high school diploma fell eight percentage points, from 55 percent to 47 percent. Employment for people in that age group with an associate’s degree fell seven percentage points, from 64 percent to 57 percent. For the same age group, people with a bachelor’s degree started off with the highest employment rate at 69 percent and fell the least -- four percentage points -- to 65 percent. The data for wages produced similar results. High school graduates saw their wages decline by 10 percent during the period studied, while those with an associate’s degree saw wages decline by 12 percent. However, people with a bachelor’s degree saw a decline of only five percent. Visit: www.pewstates.org/research/reports/how-much-protection-does-a-college-degree-afford-85899440520.
Throughout their lives, college graduates have greater insights into the world and feel empowered to seek more from life than those without a college degree. A 2005 report by the College Board, “Education Pays: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society,” found that college graduates are more engaged citizens and make healthier decisions than those who don't earn a degree. The study found that those with a college degree vote more often, volunteer more, have more intellectual curiosity, understand the needs of their fellow citizens, are less likely to smoke, and generally enjoy better health than their non-college counterparts. Visit: http://www.collegeboard.com/prod_downloads/press/cost05/education_pays_05.pdf.
Here is what you can tell your students about the benefits of college:
You are more secure economically. Those with college degrees in the last recession were more likely to be employed, stay employed when others were getting laid off, and had higher wages.
On average, a college graduate makes about $300,000 more in a lifetime of working, compared to someone with only a high school diploma.
You are likely to be happier. Those who are economically stable (not wealthy necessarily, just comfortable) are living with less stress and have more time for better relationships.
You are likely to be healthier. The life span for those with college degrees is longer than for those without.
Using your own experience discuss why the benefits just described might be true. You can help students think about the kind of life they could have after finishing college. Right after graduating from college, both Robert and Krishaun are manifesting more optimism about their futures. Even with college debt they are both more stable than their parents had been.
What college offers is a set of key skills and relationships that go well beyond what students gain in high school. In many high schools students are learning by rote, may have little homework compared to what will be expected in college, and are not often expected to take what they learn into broader contexts.
In college they will be asked to manage assignments on their own time, interpret information, engage in research, write extensively expressing their own views supported by evidence and logic, work with professors and collaborate with other students to complete assignments, and become self-determined. These are also valuable workplace skills. A theme in this guide is that college can be the dress rehearsal for all that comes after. This is one of many examples. Employers look for solid communications skills, the ability to think logically, draw conclusions based on evidence, participate well with others, and work independently. College will offer opportunities to build these skills through class work, public speaking programs, campus organizations or initiatives, and other resources.
Hands-On Problem-Solving Activity: Ask students whether they feel well prepared by their high schools for the challenges of college based on what they have just heard. Why or why not? What skills do they think they may be lacking? What tools and resources could help them to become better prepared?
Which College Is Right?
Students need to know enough about themselves to make good choices about which schools to attend. In high school, Robert and Krishaun and their families had to make the choice to apply to Urban Prep and decide why it was right for them. Similarly young people need to be thoughtful about choosing colleges based on their strengths, interests, aptitudes, and learning styles. Other factors to keep in mind include geography, income, and the availability of financial assistance.
A college fair in your community is one of many tools, including The Fiske Guides, Princeton Review, books, and college websites, which can help students explore the many types of schools that may interest them. Watch this video showing the event held by Urban Prep as an opportunity for the school’s “best and brightest students” to meet deans and admissions officers from colleges and universities around the country. This was the students’ opportunity to talk to representatives, find out what they looked for in applicants, ask questions, and gain a sense of which college might be a good fit for them. Later we see Krishaun at Fisk. Watch this video to see what happened at the event as well as how Krishaun thought about his choice of Fisk.
A key to college success and managing expectations is self-knowledge and the assurance that students are in schools that fit their learning styles and interests. Self-awareness can make time spent doing research on potential schools, attending college fairs, and visiting schools more effective and productive. Ask students to find themselves in the scenarios below, and then discuss their findings. Does the next step suggested for them in each learning style, including type of college, seem like the right solution?
Find yourself in these types of students and consider the various options following high school. How else might you describe your goals and learning style?
Loves Learning.You love learning and being part of a community in which others do too. This is the first clue that you are college material. You may not have admitted your love to others for fear of being considered nerdy, but if you reveled in the ideas exchanged in your classes, then college could feel as if you’re in a big candy store. You will be among many others who feel the way you do, and you’ll have access to faculty who can feed your desire to learn and engage in new ideas. Either a small liberal arts college or a university setting could be right for you.
Under Challenged.You were bored and not achieving at the level all knew you could. Did teachers and others tell you all the time how smart you were even when they said you weren't fulfilling your potential? Were you among those who found school easy? Maybe you did not like school because it was not challenging enough. You may want to look into a school that is not top-tier, but that has an honors program you can join as you show what you can do.
Don’t Need College (Now). Your path may lead to being an artist or creative person who has to follow a passion unbound by pedagogy. You don't want to wait to do what you love and don’t see that college is going to help you. You are a dancer, an artist, a filmmaker, a carpenter, and a fashion designer. You just want to start work. Perhaps you think you’ll take some courses along the way, but don't need college full time, at least not now. But you may be a good fit for a school that specializes in your area of interest, for example, New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. Even people with creative interests need income and college degrees to get jobs; fortunately they can find jobs and schools that nourish their creativity.
Hands-On Learner.You learn best by doing and are practical in your interests. Did you prefer the courses demanding the most practical approaches or allowing you to work with your hands? Did action take precedence over reading or researching in the library? You may be a student for whom a traditional college is not the right choice. Instead you may want to consider technical schools or community colleges. Vocational schools, sometimes known as technical colleges, teach hands-on skills that can be used right away in defined workplaces. If you are looking at a for-profit school be sure it is accredited; do an Internet search to find out its reputation and identify any red flags before committing to the school.
Adrift.You are not yet sure whether college is right for you, or more important, if you are ready for college. Do you feel pushed to go to school, but not quite focused enough to settle down to a course of study? Do you feel like you don’t have a sense of purpose? Are you looking for a purpose? While everyone else seems so assured about college goals, you want to enjoy other experiences before you take the plunge. You may have been derailed by a traumatic event. Your grades may not be great, and you wonder if you are worthy of the investment. You just feel wobbly about your situation. Again, a community college will allow you to remediate needed skills as well as give you a chance to get your footing in a college setting and take the process step by step.
Less-than-Dazzling Record.Are your grades not what they should be? Maybe you had a rough patch along the way. Perhaps your friends did not value education and you let yourself be pulled along with them, which hurt your grades. Maybe your grades are uneven: you are great in English, but terrible at math, and it shows in your grade point average (GPA) and college test scores such as the SAT or ACT. But you know you want to go to college. An excellent option for you may also be a community college or a school that is not top-tier. Once you are on more solid ground with a good track record you can think about transferring to a school more suited to your goals.
Clear Career Path.You have always known what you want to be when you grow up. Have you always known you want to be a doctor, lawyer, executive, nurse, scientist, or teacher? All of these professions require a college degree and even an advanced degree. If you are clearly focused on and passionate about such a life path, then not only do you need college, but most likely you need one that will support that particular goal. Look for colleges or universities with strong support programs (not majors) for pre-law or pre-med, for example, or research opportunities in the sciences or accelerated teaching certificates.
No Resources.You feel you cannot afford to go to college. You want to go, but you and your family have no money for school. No one in your family has attended college, so it seems too difficult and out of reach for you. You may have family obligations already and cannot see how this can work for you. Financial aid and scholarships can help, but you must do the work to find what is available.
Returning Student.You may be older than the traditional student and have family and home responsibilities to manage. Perhaps, at an earlier time, you felt that you were not ready for or did not need college. Maybe now you are dead-ended in a career and need to develop new skills. You may be a veteran. You are part of a large and growing group for whom increasing resources are available. More than likely you are in the category of adult learner. You’re over 25. Your time is precious. At some point you realize that to progress in your work or to move to a more lucrative field, you need a college degree or specialized training. You may need to start with a GED® or its equivalent that will allow you to apply to college without a traditional high school diploma. Community colleges are a good resource for you and cater to your needs both in flexibility and in course offerings that are job specific. They offer either an Associate’s Degree or certificate programs for specific job skills. Some offer GED® programs to help you make that transition and many schools have special programs for veterans.
After reviewing the Hands-On Problem-Solving Activity above, facilitators may engage students in the following questions and activities.
Discuss which of the learning styles/college profiles students think they fit and why. Students could fit into more than one category, or they may want to describe themselves in different ways.
What colleges, if any, have they started to consider? Try to encourage them to think broadly.
Discuss which categories Krishaun and Robert most likely fit into and why. (Clues: Did Robert and Krishaun have clear career goals? How were their grades and what did they say about their study habits?)
Now take a look at the section below on College Degrees to find out more about the kinds of college degrees that are available – Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and beyond.
Types of degrees or programs students may consider as they look ahead to schooling after high school graduation.
A certificate program does not grant a degree nor have the rigorous expectations of a degree-granting program, but certifies that the student has taken course work leading to a level of proficiency in a stated area.
An Associate’s degree (AA) requires two years of work for a degree in general studies or one specialized in a profession, such as Business Information Systems or Health Care Management.
A Bachelor’s degree commonly requires four years of study or the equivalent in credits. It may be a BA (Bachelor of Arts) or a BS (Bachelor of Science), depending on the concentration and offerings of the college.
A Master’s degree is a graduate degree earned after a BA/BS and may be a year or two, or the equivalent in credits, depending on the program. It is a specialization or concentration in a particular subject or field. For example, an MBA is a Master in Business Administration, an MFA is a Master of Fine Arts, an MSW is a Master in Social Work, and an MPA is a Master of Public Administration. One can earn an MA in history or biology or math. A Master’s degree is usually required before or as part of earning the doctorate, with variations from school to school.
A Doctorate is considered a “terminal degree,” meaning it is the highest degree you can earn in the field of your choosing. A doctoral degree can be general such as a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.); or specific such as a JD, Juris Doctor (law degree); an MD, Doctor of Medicine; or an Ed.D., Doctor of Education.
Discuss the range of options available to students including local community colleges and public and private colleges and universities. Remember to include historically black colleges and universities since Krishaun went to Fisk. Keep in mind, however, that private colleges may not offer enough financial aid for some students to be able to attend – as Lake Forest and Fisk did initially for Robert and Krishaun. On the other hand if a school really wants a student they can make the cost of attending VERY attractive. This is even true for colleges with high “sticker prices.”
Online schools and courses are also available. It is important to know how to learn in an online environment; it can be a way to start school or to study when someone is working full time. However, students have to be very careful in choosing online schools or courses as not all are of equal quality. Students will also miss the opportunity to engage with classmates and faculty in ways that mimic the kinds of relationships and behaviors needed for the workplace. The appeal can be that you don’t even have to change out of your pajamas. While this sounds great, it does not prepare students to dress for success! They should look for accreditation as one clue of quality.
Many students, especially first-generation and low-income students, are attracted by for-profit colleges that advertise heavily and focus on very specific career options or jobs. Note that in this guide we focus on breadth of learning as preparation for career longevity. Many of these schools promise jobs after graduation. They tend to be high in price and rely on federal aid as payment. However, they are under federal scrutiny to deliver on their promises. In doing research on colleges, students should check for information about graduation rates and employment after graduation. Some schools serve low-income students and those of color better than others. The for-profits may not be among them. The National Association for College Admissions Counseling offers information and perspective at: http://www.nacacnet.org/issues-action/LegislativeNews/Pages/For-Profit-Colleges.aspx.
Watch this video filmed in Krishaun’s last year of high school at Urban Prep. Evan Lewis, Krishaun’s adviser, talks to him about writing the essay for his college application. He says the essay has to “communicate who you are now, who you were then, and who you want to be in the future – and what is the evolution of Krishaun.” They discuss Krishaun’s past when he believed fighting was his lifestyle. Lewis advises Krishaun to be committed to his dream of success.
Interaction Suggestions: Students need to work on how they will position themselves as candidates for the schools that interest them. As students prepare to write their all-important college essays to the schools they’ve chosen, ask them how they see themselves. What are their goals? What have they achieved academically, socially, in sports, and in serving their communities? What obstacles have they overcome? In writing their essays (which they have to do, not an adult helper), students can be very revealing. What they write can provide a basis for discussion. You will have learned things already about these students that you can remind them to include.
Let students know that the college essay is vitally important to admission to their colleges of choice. It needs to be personal and compelling. They should expect to write several drafts and have them reviewed by people who know them as well as by those who are excellent writers. This idea alone can be daunting and you may have to work to assure them it will be worth it. It has to be the student’s own voice and work. No one can or should write it for them. It is their story after all. Some researchers believe that by writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better all around health. So in addition to skill building, this work is empowering. It was the premise of the film Freedom Writers in which a dedicated teacher unlocks her students’ capacities through their own narratives. Learn more about her strategies here: http://www.freedomwritersfoundation.org/fw-outreach-EG.
Advice on doing the all-important college essay
By Zaragoza Guerra, college admissions consultant on College Coach, offers “Five Tips for Showcasing Your Identity on the Common App Essay.”
It’s mid-July, and I’m sure most soon-to-be seniors are enjoying a much needed respite from school work, term papers, and standardized testing. But the halcyon days of summer, unfortunately, will eventually come to an end. It’s not a bad idea to get started on the main Common Application essay – get it out of the way before it has to compete for your attention against tests, papers, extracurricular activities, and any supplemental application essay questions, most of which get published August 1st.
Where does one even begin when tackling the Common App essay? Is there anything in particular colleges want to see? Let’s start with the first essay prompt:
Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
Holy background-or-story-so-central-to-their-identity Batman! Do you have to have lived Bruce Wayne’s life, with its dramatic highs and lows, to answer this question? Absolutely not! Here’s your guide for breaking down this prompt:
Know your audience. Remember, this essay is going to be read by an academic community’s gatekeeper, someone wanting to know how well you’d fit in at his school. When narrowing down your topic or choosing your story, think about how it relates to you as a scholar, a leader, someone who overcomes obstacles, a person with a particular talent, or a person who interacts with the community.
Highlight key words. Don’t let the words “background” or “story” distract you. The key word here is “identity” – yours, to be exact. This prompt is all about letting your reader know about you, how you see yourself, what informs your actions. The background and story here are important, yes, but only insomuch as they are a jumping off point from which to get to the heart of your essay: you.
Illustrate your story. You can tell someone until you are blue in the face that you’re funny, but until s/he laughs at one of your jokes, s/he’ll have a hard time believing you. Don’t just tell your reader you are such and such. Show her! Has your identity manifested itself in some way, through actions or drive? If so, show your reader.
State your goals. Imagine you are Superman. Well, Superman is Superman because he has a purpose; otherwise, he’d be just another strong man with a cape. While his story is unique – how many other kids from Kansas can say they fell to earth in a meteor shower? – it is the story’s impact on Superman’s outlook and mission that is so compelling. Let your reader know how you see things and what contributions you’re hoping to make.
Avoid wrestling with inner demons. Your personal statement is not a diary entry or reality show. And a college admissions committee is not your therapist. Don’t cloud an admission officer’s mind with doubts about your ability to handle the pressures of college or its social environs. Focus on your strengths!
Zeroing in on a story that screams “you” from among a lifetime of stories might seem daunting, but don’t let the challenge scare you away from choosing this essay prompt. If you remember your target audience and their interest in hearing your story, you’ll be better able to hone your topic into a successful personal statement – one that focuses on how your identity will help you make strong academic or social contributions to your prospective college. If your story is a bumpy one, you need to demonstrate that you have overcome hardships, learned lessons, and matured.
Students should prepare a personal budget that allows some savings for college (and requires some difficult choices – college fund or new sneakers/hairdo). Assign them to keep a notebook on spending for two weeks. At the end of two weeks, with a partner, or in a group, students should discuss how well they are able to fit their spending to their budgets. What strategies can they use to manage their spending? Ask what was hardest to do. As always, share your own challenges with spending. We all have them.
Financing college is a family affair. Even families like those of Krishaun and Robert, who could not offer much money, need to be aware of the issues and help their college-going children make good decisions. Confusion is rampant as noted in a New York Times article.
Which school they attend and the support offered by that school make all the difference. Students need to shop for the schools that offer the best value for the money. It’s also important for them to research the various ways college costs can be reduced and to apply to diverse sources for funds. They need to find out about financial aid and talk to financial aid advisers at schools they are considering. Financing college is often a key obstacle to students’ achieving a college degree. If students are dedicated and really want to go, the funds can generally be found, but they must be understood and managed early on.
Both Krishaun and Robert received financial aid to help them attend college, and both sought help from financial advisers. In this clip, we sit in on Robert’s meeting with a financial aid adviser at Lake Forest College. Before he can graduate, Robert must pay a balance of $9,603. The adviser says that Robert already has $40,000 in student loan debt; he is hoping Robert can find other resources to cover the balance. Robert says he has “lots of regrets” about his freshman and sophomore years. He wished he’d better understood his loan debt so it could be lower. He may also have been referring to his early struggles with his grades that may have had consequences in terms of his scholarships.
Throughout the film both Robert and Krishaun have a sense of unreality about money. This may be another time to share what you learned along the way about college finances. You want to be sure that your students hit this issue head on and with their eyes open.
The most important thing students need to do is to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). According to the media, the good news is that more federal funds are being made available to finance higher education. The bad news is gaining access to that money because of the complexities of filling out the FAFSA. Encourage your students to just do it! Be aware that students are not eligible for federal government support if they are not U.S. citizens. Some states are now offering local tuition rates for “dreamers” or undocumented students who may have come to this country with their families and no documents. New programs allied with the Dream Act may offer scholarships.
For U.S. citizens, federal funds are usually available in the form of Pell grants, student loans, work-study programs, deferred tuition programs (such as AmeriCorps or, as Robert finds, programs like City Year), or outright scholarships, some of which may be tied to specific areas. Taking out credit union loans, which may have a lower cost, is a good strategy. Private donors, clubs, and fraternal organizations also offer funds, and some may be available to those without green cards or who are not yet naturalized citizens. Some employers offer tuition support if the schooling relates to a particular job. Starbucks, for example, now pays for online courses. State and city public college systems are economical for local students and often truly stellar.
An organization called QuestBridge believes it is important for students from low-income families to receive four-year scholarships to give them assurance they can complete their degrees. This is important because, in some programs, students may receive a grant only for their first year, creating undue pressure and making planning difficult. QuestBridge matches students with a high level of academic achievement in high school with top-tier colleges and universities.
Like all national scholarships, QuestBridge is highly competitive. Look for local scholarship programs that may be available from faith-based organizations, community centers, rotary clubs, and other organizations. Local programs are not always well-advertised, so it is important to ask questions and do some digging to find these financial resources for students.
Local programs like BridgeEdu that provide an onramp to higher education may be affiliated with local colleges. This pilot program in Baltimore, MD was founded by Wes Moore, who is its CEO. It is a unique first-year college program that combines core academic courses, real-world internships, service experiences, and coaching to help students succeed in academics and life. BridgeEdU Scholars have the opportunity to earn 20+ transferrable college credits.
Other local programs like Minds Matter, Rainier Scholars, Bottom and Leadership Enterprise for Diverse America help students get into college and succeed once there. And the CUNY system in New York City has begun a much touted program called ASAP to assure student success from community college on.
Sticker Price and Actual Costs
Many students and families also have misconceptions about college costs. Their first thought is that the price they see is what they will pay. Just like a new car, the reality is that this is the sticker price. The final cost may ultimately be far less once financial aid is factored in.
A wonderful new tool will help with this process. “Get Schooled” is brought to you by MTV: Find Money for College. Check it out and share with students. You may even want to demonstrate the price comparison tool, which is eye-opening. Pick a competitive private college, a local public college, a state school, an HBCU, and a less competitive private college. (Note that you will have to log in.)
At the same time, families do not often plan for costs that begin to accrue even in the application process while students are still in high school. These can include application fees, a visit to the campus, and doctor visits for a physical exam or any needed shots (measles vaccine is required). Once accepted by a college, students may need:
New clothes depending on the climate in which the school is located
Health insurance if the student is not on the parent’s plan
Books and school supplies
Required deposit for a dorm room
Bedding and other household items for a dorm room
Funds for transportation to college
Laptop computer (to track assignments/time commitments, take notes, conduct research, link to course resources, and prepare class assignments)
Ask students to add these up. For each item, they should think about a source of funding for it. This may be why a summer and/or a part-time campus job could be essential. Some of these can also be addressed via a federal tax credit which allows you to deduct some college tuition and expenses. You may want to share the following link with families: American Opportunity Tax Credit: Questions and Answers.
Unexpected stumbling blocks for low-income families include lack of health insurance and insufficient funds for transportation to college. For Robert, his bus fare to college was the one contribution that his grandmother was able to make.
Discuss what students should consider in a financial aid package. How much will be a grant, how much a loan (and what kind of loan), and how much work-study. College financial aid staff are sometimes willing to speak to school and community programs and groups. You may want to invite someone to talk about how the process works – in addition to utilizing your own expertise. The best financial aid packages have more grant money, which doesn’t need to be paid back. The least attractive packages have significant loans, which do need to be repaid. Students with strong academics are usually offered more grant money. This can be an incentive to achieve better grades in high school.
Once funding is obtained, keeping it is essential. As we heard from Krishaun, he felt pressured to keep his grades up so he could maintain his financial aid. Students can risk losing funding if their GPAs or credit hours drop below certain thresholds, which can vary depending on the funding source. This is another reason to stay in touch with the financial aid office and advisers.
Community colleges offer strong potential for many students especially when a four-year college may seem like too big a challenge. Sometimes in life it is better to take on big challenges in small chunks, one piece at a time. If no one in the family has been to college it can seem very intimidating. A good performing student but not a great one in high school may feel uncertain about doing well. Finances for a four-year degree are usually more daunting. Far too often, students don’t go to college at all. In reality students can consider a community college as a way to pursue higher education in phases so they can calm some of their fears.
Community College Option
For many students the best option – for financial and other reasons – may be a community college. Typically they are publicly funded so expenses are reasonable. They accept students from local high schools and communities and know intimately the strengths and weaknesses of local school systems. They offer remedial courses, often in math and language skills, and offer more support to help students adjust to college culture.
Here are some of the benefits:
Cost: Two-year colleges are typically part of the public higher education system and are government subsidized to keep tuition substantially lower than at four-year schools. A smart strategy is to save money in the first two years, gain experience with college life, and then transfer to a more costly four-year institution.
A chance to catch up: High schools across the country do not prepare students equally for college. For example, some high schools do not have adequate lab facilities for science courses. A community college can provide a space to strengthen key knowledge in English language and writing skills, math, and science. This will provide needed background preparation for higher level classes at a four-year school.
More vocational focus: We know that over a lifetime broad skills derived from any discipline will be needed to remain active in the workplace. Yet, some students are more interested in building skills with immediate and direct application to their chosen work. A community college is likely to offer more courses of study that are vocationally focused, and the two-year degree they offer may effectively serve a student’s purpose in choosing postsecondary education. This may also be true for adult learners seeking a change in career direction or enhanced skills. Faculty may be part-time, working in fields directly related to a student’s job or career goals, and able to offer job-specific advice. An advertising executive, for example, could be teaching a marketing course.
Small classes: Community colleges are less likely to have the kinds of huge lecture classes that are found in large four-year institutions. That creates more possibilities to connect with faculty – a very important asset. Some very highly qualified faculty who enjoy ongoing student engagement prefer to teach in a community college.
Comfort zone: Some students may find four-year schools intimidating because their classmates come from more privileged families or have greater familiarity with what college offers. It may be easier to learn the culture of college in a less intimidating space. Students are able to find out who they are and in what they excel in a more manageable environment. This is also an opportunity to build their academic records. They then find it easier to transfer to a more challenging school now that they are more confident about their intellectual and social capacities.
Life style and accommodation: Community colleges may have more classes and resources available during evenings and weekends, especially for those students who have to work full time and/or have family obligations. Adult students who are career changers or need to retool for a new field may also find the flexibility and courses they need in a community college.
Evidence suggests that students who enter community college with a plan to go to a four-year institution are likely to do better – and to complete their degrees.
Community college students who are planning to move on to a four-year school need to take particular care to choose courses and a course of study that make it easy for their credits to transfer. It may be wiser to take more of a liberal arts curriculum than one aligned with a very specific vocational goal like medical coding. A four-year college will generally have broader and more traditional majors. It also makes sense to find out to which schools the alumni of a particular community college have matriculated. An “articulation agreement” may exist between schools so that one school agrees to accept the credits for certain subjects from another comparable school. The advising office at the community college should have a list of those schools and courses.
A community college can be a great launching pad – maybe literally. Astronaut Eileen Collins got her start at one as did Star Wars creator George Lucas who went on to the film school at the University of Southern California. Baseball legend Jackie Robinson, actor Tom Hanks, and writer/youth advocate Wes Moore are among other noteworthy community college alumni.
What should students take away from this chapter? The bottom line for students is they have to begin to understand themselves and create their own expectations. They have to research schools and figure out which ones will support their dreams, learning styles, capacities, and goals. Having a plan to pay for college is critical and they need to do the work to uncover financial aid. They also need to understand their own responsibilities including possibly having a part-time job and saving money. Budgeting can help them to make tough choices.
I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide by Marcia Y. Cantarella, Ph.D. (See Chapters 1 and 2).
BridgeEdu (http://www.bridgeedu.com), based in Baltimore, MD., provides an onramp to higher education. Founded by CEO Wes Moore, it is a unique first-year college program that combines core academic courses, real-world internships, and service experiences, with the coaching to help students succeed in academics and life.
College Board (www.collegeboard.com) provides information about colleges and the tests needed for admission. An excellent site to learn more about individual colleges, how to pay for it (scholarships, grants, loans) and other college prepping tools.
College Coach, http://www.getintocollege.com offers expert guidance from college admissions consultants on college admissions and the finance process.
College Countdown (www.collegecountdown.com). Books and resources on finding, paying for, and surviving college including Fiske Guides and test prep materials.
Davis, Samson, Jenkins, George, and Hunt, Romeck, The Pact. New York: Riverhead Books, 2003. The importance of camaraderie and shared goals is illustrated in this New York Times bestseller.
Federal Student Aid, U.S. Office of Education (www.fafsa.ed.gov) opens the portal for applying for federal financial aid and begins that process.
The Gates Millennium Scholars (https://www.gmsp.org), funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is a highly competitive program for high school students. Each year it offers four-year scholarships to 1,000 high-performing, low-income students to pursue a degree in any undergraduate major and selected graduate programs at accredited colleges or universities.
GED Programs. Find out about GED® programs, practice tests, and study guides.
Peterson’s, a Nelnet Company, (www.petersons.com) provides guides to taking tests and choosing colleges.
The Posse Foundation https://www.possefoundation.org sends groups, or Posses, of diverse, highly motivated students to top institutions across the country.
QuestBridge, www.questbridge.org a nonprofit organization, connects the brightest low-income students to America’s best universities and opportunities.
Shaevitz, Marjorie Hansen. adMission Possible. http://admissionpossible.com. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2012. Everything you need to know about finding, applying, and getting into the best college for you.
Study Notes (www.apstudynotes.org/essays/) provides learning tools to empower students to learn more effectively, including notes for high school AP courses. StudyNotes is a StartX Company, the nonprofit student start-up accelerator program at Stanford University. The site provides sample college application essays for top-notch colleges and the Common Application.
Tisdale, Stacey. The True Cost of Happiness. New York: Wiley, 2009. Tisdale helps students to plan based on an understanding of their personal money style.
After money, the next thing students and families obsess about when considering college is the academic major. This chapter offers thoughts about career paths, choosing a college major, and good grades. It explains what a liberal arts curriculum is and how academic disciplines work. It also covers what students gain from majors as they relate to careers and the world of work.
Getting a job is the reason most students give for why they want to go to college. Indeed, a college degree has a great economic impact. According to the College Board report, “Education Pays 2013: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society,” median earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients with no advanced degree working full time in 2011 were $56,500, $21,100 more than median earnings of high school graduates. Individuals with some college but no degree earned 14 percent more than high school graduates working full time. Their median after-tax earnings were 13 percent higher. Building skills and gaining knowledge through the right set of courses can make all the difference in a student’s experience of college.
Hands-On Problem-Solving Activity:
Ask students to make four lists:
Things you love to do
Things you are good at
Things you are not good at and find hard to do
Things you hate doing
For each category, they should consider activities in areas such as school, friends, family, athletics, faith, hobbies, interests, talents, and part-time jobs.
Once they are finished, ask them to look for correlations: what are the things they love to do and are good at? What are the ones they are good at but hate to do? (These can be traps because people will ask them to do what they are good at even though they hate the work.) Sound familiar? What about the ones they both hate and are not good at – would this be a good career choice? Should someone who hates reading or is a bad writer be a news journalist, for example? Ask them to share their results. How do their results relate to their expectations about a possible career path?
While we worry that 10 percent of our population may be unemployed (more in communities of color), we also have to focus on the number who are employed. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2011, “the unemployment rate for white workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher was only 3.9 percent, but for black or African-American and Hispanic workers, the rate was…7.1 percent and 5.7 percent, respectively.” (Corporation for Enterprise Development: Assets and Opportunity Scorecard). Of the 90 percent who are still working, many have been working for decades. But they are rarely working in the same areas in which they started or in which they majored during college.
Ask students how successful people might have adjusted to different types of changes and stayed in the career game. Share your own experiences.
Changing Majors and Career Expectations
Robert began college with very specific views on what he wanted to study and why. His plan was to go to medical school and become a doctor. To make that happen, he planned to major in the sciences in college. He entered Lake Forest College with a partial scholarship intending to be a biology major.
Early on, however, Robert discovers that both biology and chemistry, subjects in which he needed to excel, are a challenge for him. He may not have the background to understand the material, the courses may not fit his current learning style, or they may just not be as interesting or appealing as he had anticipated.
Robert took an important step in seeking help from his adviser, Dr. Lori Del Negro, an associate professor of chemistry. Watch the video to find out how Robert’s major and career direction changed – and how he felt about it. In the video, Dr. Del Negro says that Robert has hit the point at which it would be “difficult for him to receive a passing grade” in chemistry. He also needs to drop biology, meaning that he can no longer pursue a pre-med course at Lake Forest. Despite the course failures, Dr. Del Negro praises Robert for being “really responsible about getting in to see people, finding help available, and finding the resources available.”
Invite your students to think about a time they had a goal and someone helped them find a way to achieve it. What happened? Ask them to share their stories.
Assure students that changing plans and majors is very, very common in the first years of college. That is why schools give students until the end of the second year in a four-year college to decide on a major. They have a chance to try different courses, including required courses, so they can see what engages them. Like Robert, whole plans can be changed and different options opened up. The potential for excellent work is enhanced by taking the time to find the right major.
Story Sharing: As the facilitator, if your career path has been less than linear (like most people), share the path you have taken and your reasons for making changes. Begin, if relevant, with changes you made mid-stream in college. Did you change majors in college? Did you have to go back to school along the way? If so, why? Discuss how you have applied skills (like communications, research, people management, and technology) across many fields of endeavor. Discuss other people the students may know who have had many types of jobs or careers. Think about bios of famous people who have progressed through many phases (Barack Obama has been a community organizer, college professor, senator, and president of the United States.) Include pop icons (those who have gone to college) who may now have more than one enterprise, e.g., Sean John (P. Diddy) Combs, Magic Johnson, Jennifer Lopez (J. Lo), and how they have had to develop new skills.
During the course of their college years, both Robert and Krishaun changed their ideas about their career paths and their majors. It is important for students to know that being open-minded about their course of study will develop their awareness about their interests, skills, and talents – and what they can achieve with them. The push toward a specific career path is often premature, usually made in the mistaken belief that students need to learn specific skill sets that enable them to grab the jobs available right now such as in technology, engineering, and other science related fields. In some ways all students will need these kinds of skills to do any work. But they will also need to build skills from literature courses, history, and others as Robert is learning.
When we make the case to drive students to particular fields of endeavor we forget four key things.
First, not everyone is equipped with or interested in those particular skill sets. Pushing students to become round pegs in square holes does not serve them well or lead to their success. Students have different learning styles, changing interests, and varied aptitudes. A system that drives everyone in a particular direction will leave out some who have gifts of their own to offer.
Second, if you look at any industry, even an accounting firm, you will find people with many different jobs: those who manage human resources and training, those who are support teams for executives, and those who do sales and marketing. There may be a legal team and an operations function. Companies utilize a wide range of talents and skills that have nothing to do with their primary business, but are essential to their success. Our economy needs a wide range of skill sets across and within industries including communications, research, and sales. Those skills can be derived from an English or history major, but skills are also honed on the job itself. Experience becomes the teacher, building on skills learned in the classroom and adapted to the way the firm itself does business. Employers seek smart students with top grades who demonstrate they will learn fast on the job.
Third, people change. What seems like a passion at one stage of life may not fit another stage as interests grow, bodies age, and new horizons are discovered. Most people will have at least four jobs/careers over a lifetime. Some say as many as 15, with the lion’s share in the first few years of work life when young people are still in self-discovery mode. The 40s mid-life moment seems to be another time when people seek change; and then late in life we may want to pursue a passion that has been lurking in our minds for decades. A good education allows for those shifts without going back to school every time unless the field requires it.
Finally, we cannot read the tea leaves. Someone with a marketing major 14 years ago would not have known that social media would totally change advertising and marketing. Who knows what discoveries are going on in someone’s garage that will be the next game changer? Yet over time the colleges that graduated – or inspired – or provided resources to the game changers and leaders of today have taught basically the same subject areas for more than 150 years. The bandwidth has widened to include more subjects, and more areas are overlapping or integrating, but the model has worked in large part to deliver talent that can leverage the skills that have brought us here.
Discuss new fields that have emerged in the past few years such as online marketing, biogenetics, and data mining. But also state that jobs have stayed the same in terms of the need to communicate with others, solve problems, and promote ideas. Ask students to consider both the general and career-specific skills they might need in these three emerging fields.
Hands-On Problem-Solving Activity:
Ask students to brainstorm in pairs or groups how they would respond to the question about “What will you do with that major in (English, history, or another)?” They can consider a beginning job as well as think big about their potential for success. Give them two examples of corporate executives: American Express’ (a financial institution) CEO Kenneth Chenault has a degree in history while Merck’s (a pharmaceutical company) CEO Kenneth Frazier has a degree in political science. Where they began in college is very different from their current career high. What skills might they be using that they learned in their college majors? Students should be aware they have plenty of time to find their own paths and they shouldn’t feel pressured to make premature decisions. Finding where they can excel will be important.
Liberal Arts Course of Study
Beginning college students often seek admission to a department that offers a liberal arts course of study. It could be called the Department of Literature, Science, and the Arts, for example. It covers several significant fields including the arts and humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences.
The social sciences generally relate to the study of human experience, society, and social behavior, including psychology, sociology, criminology, anthropology, history, political science, and economics.
The humanities are generally the subjects that relate to humans as intellectual and creative beings. These typically include literature, languages (English as well as all others), philosophy, and the arts such as fine arts, music and dance, as well as the histories of these subjects.
The sciences comprise a course of study of the physical or material world, explored through a rigorous and systematic process. Subjects include biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, and computer science.
Some courses or majors cross over several of these categories and are called interdisciplinary; they might include social psychology, for example, which crosses sociological issues with those of psychology.
Talk about Robert’s and Krishaun’s career goals, how they approached them in college, and the majors they selected. Robert majored in history and American studies, while Krishaun majored in psychology. Robert learned about other cultures and Krishaun studied human behavior. Both majors will be useful in the work they envision doing when they finish college and long term. Here is what Robert’s adviser, Dr. Lori Del Negro has to say about how skills in any major can be useful in a variety of ways:
“So what it [history/American studies major] opens up is the ability to think critically about texts and I think in today’s world that means a lot because a lot of what’s happening in social media is text-based. How is this conversation unfolding, what are the factors at play, can we analyze what’s influencing how something is translating over time?”
Dr. Del Negro explains that Robert’s two majors play to his strengths. She says he’s great at networking and connecting people, “just sort of putting lots of resources together and making connections that might not otherwise get made.”
Robert will have broad skills in interpreting various factors that affect culture and how that information is passed to others. He could be involved in market analysis or business strategic planning. He could also track cultural influences and how companies are perceived in popular media. Or, envisioning work in emergency services, he may be interacting with people of different cultures and be better prepared to communicate effectively.
Story Sharing: Share your experiences with your students about how knowledge learned in school actually plays out in your work. Maybe you have taken courses that did not seem directly relevant, but turned out to have long-term benefits. They may have been useful, for example, in helping you learn how to do research, analyze information, or communicate better. Did you take some courses that built your skills in computing and data assessment, which could include sociology, for example?
Here are some realistic goals to offer students in preparing for and beginning college and beyond:
Study hard and do really well in your area of interest to maintain a strong grade point average (GPA).
Check out the work world in internships, community service, experiential programs, actual jobs, contact with others in the workplace, and reading about trends in industries.
Build and be able to discuss and show wide-ranging skills, including communications, creative problem solving, research, human interaction, and time management.
Work, internships, and volunteer opportunities are all ways for students to test their interests and skills in situations they are considering as a major or career. Volunteerism is also a way to give back to the community. In this video, while at Fisk University, Krishaun is helping students in local neighborhood schools with their homework. Krishaun compares the experience to his own elementary school education when he never had a college student tutor him or tell him about college. He hopes to pass on the idea that the kids he’s helping should “take advantage of opportunities and find better ways of doing things instead of always the rough or tough way.” Use the video to show what Krishaun’s mentorship work means to him.
Now ask your students about some ways they are taking advantage of opportunities that could help them to enter and graduate from college. Suggest programs at your school or in your community that may offer volunteer or internship opportunities for your students.
Researching Companies and Jobs
What should students take away from this chapter? Students should think about their own strengths and interests so they can consider college majors in which they can succeed. They should research the wide range of fields open to them and learn what credentials they may need to enter those fields. It will help them to understand that most people’s lives are not a straight line. What will be important are big skills like writing and thinking that will carry them through many jobs and careers over a lifetime.
I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide by Marcia Y. Cantarella, Ph.D. (See Chapter 4, Which Courses).
Academy of Achievement, www.achievement.org, provides short biographies of accomplished people to use for inspiration.
The words network and networking have become familiar terms in our business and personal lives. Help students understand that their connections to others are linked together like spider webs. We all have these webs. Enlarging them by adding more people builds a network. This is networking. You may want to ask students to do something visual like drawing their own web of connections – in their families, schools, places of worship, communities, and at work. Begin with your own. We are sometimes amazed by how often we find people who know people we know. Share those stories, too.
It has been said that those with the greatest net worth have the biggest networks! This is the premise of books like Leslie Grossman’s Link Out and Porter Gale’s Your Network is Your Net Worth: Unlock the Hidden Power of Connections for Wealth, Success, and Happiness in the Digital Age. This section of the guide addresses the importance of creating supportive relationships that advance positive goals and behaviors. Relationships, as the film shows again and again, can make all the difference.
College is a place to build key support networks and to tap resources that will make all the difference in achieving life goals. This is where we teach students how to approach and listen to the people who can help them, beginning with their teachers. In one of their meetings, Dr. Sheila Peters (teacher and academic adviser) explains to Krishaun why knowing and talking to his professors will improve his college and life success. She suggests that he stop by once a month to see each of his instructors – to tell them he likes a particular activity or to ask for help. She tells him that it makes all the difference to let them know you are interested and that you care. You may even want to share that this is also a good strategy to use on the job with your boss!
College, in particular, is a safe place that encourages and values questioning. Inquiry is the basis on which a faculty’s work is built, so they relate to people who ask questions. Students need to hear this affirmed over and over again. Fulfilling expectations means going the distance in reaching out to and listening to people who can help them achieve their goals. Building or having a support team is key. This chapter focuses on these issues.
One of the key aspects of networking is knowing how to get started. Demonstrate how you can start a conversation at an event, or with a group of people you don’t know well, with something as simple as a comment on the weather, sports, or where you live, and then introduce yourself. Then it is okay to talk a bit about yourself. But, most important, let students know that they should show their interest in the other person. That is what people will remember about them.
Hands-On Problem-Solving Activity:
Assign students to write a one- or two-minute elevator speech or pitch (about 90 words) – key information they can use to sell themselves in the time it takes to ride an elevator. This can open a conversation as well as forge a connection.
Here is a link to a website at the career office of West Virginia University that gives some excellent pointers and “elevator speech” examples for students: Developing Your "Elevator Speech."
What can they say about themselves and their interests that excites or intrigues people they meet? Describe who they are, their key strengths, what they are interested in doing, and how they can be a resource to others. Ask students to practice with a partner. They should then find two other partners to try out their elevator pitches – and then go beyond the pitch to see if they can find common interests or complementary skills that will create value in forming a networking association. Students should continue to refine their elevator pitches as their skills and interests change as well as be able to modify them to fit specific people and situations.
Building a Strong Network
Remember the question in Chapter Two on careers and majors about how successful people were able to stay in the career game? One of the key answers is having a strong network of people who can provide needed connections and assistance. According to the Alumni Career Services website of UCLA Anderson School of Management, “Networking is the single most powerful means of successful career management and is, by far, the most successful job strategy. …The ‘career resilient’ executive understands the need to have a developed network before needing to use it for career purposes.” Beginning in high school and expanding that effort throughout college and beyond will help to position students for success.
Using networks effectively leads to collaborating with others – another strategy that is successful both in school and in job and career situations. In their book, Teaming Up: The Small Guide to Collaborating with Others to Boost Your Earnings and Expand Your Horizons, Drs. Paul and Sarah Edwards discuss the financial and career benefits of working collaboratively. According to the authors, “[R]esearch shows that collaborating offers many psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits as well. In fact, according to noted cardiologist and author Dr. Dean Ornish, recent studies reveal that people who are lonely or feel isolated have a great risk of dying prematurely.”
As a facilitator you may already be aware that men, particularly men of color, are known for an attitude of “toughing it out” alone. We also know that our men of color die younger and have more health issues. This is the pattern we are trying to break in this work. It is why the film focuses on the people and relationships that make all the difference for these young men who share the inclination to go it alone. Robert and Krishaun ultimately engage with others who help to keep them on track. Share your own ideas about this.
Both at Urban Prep and in college Krishaun and Robert build relationships with teachers and administrators who could be guides and mentors for years to come. Students need to begin early to build a strong network of people who can provide needed connections and assistance. Explain to students that it helps to talk to people who are in college and especially at schools that may interest them. They can learn what those people did in high school that helped them land a place in their chosen colleges. They can also gain information that will help them to figure out whether a particular college is the right fit for them.
Established relationships with teachers, coaches, or advisers can lead to ready references who can help students get into college or graduate school, or secure a job or internship. They will know exactly what to write.
Using networks effectively leads to collaborating with others – another life strategy that is successful in school and in job and career situations. Even on the job, discuss how internal networks can keep you in the loop and help advance your career. Share your own experience, and that of others, on how personal networks can keep you mentally and physically healthy.
Watch this video of Krishaun talking to his Spanish teacher as well as to his academic adviser, Dr. Sheila Peters. Both seem to know Krishaun well. His Spanish teacher warns him about being undisciplined when it comes to his studies and says she’ll be watching him. Dr. Peters tells him to be mindful of his goals and to be careful about who is part of his inner circle.
People in our networks come from all areas of our lives – family members, teachers, faith leaders, and even your barber. Watch this video to find out how Krishaun is using his barber as a sounding board – hearing himself explain the decisions he’s made and thinking about what’s next. It’s his fourth year at Fisk and he’s getting ready to graduate. What is significant is that he is heading back home to Chicago and returning to Urban Prep, his former high school. He has promised to give them a year after graduation to be a mentor to students – to offer guidance similar to what he gained in high school. Urban Prep is offering him a place to stay and a monthly stipend.
Ask Others about Their Networks
Story Sharing: As the facilitator, talk about your own process in developing a network. What networking strategies were useful to you? Sometimes networks just evolve as we meet more people in different contexts. Share those experiences too. Did you have to overcome shyness to feel comfortable in approaching people you didn’t know who could be helpful to you? Do you have a conversation starter that works well for you (some ask about the weather, for example)? In what ways has your network been most helpful to you? Did you need a special connection to secure a job that hadn’t been advertised? Remind students that even those who prefer ideas and privacy over interaction with others can be successful at networking. They’ll need to work harder to structure opportunities such as making specific appointments to meet with people or attending scheduled events. Talking about what’s happening at the event the student is attending will eventually bring the conversation around to who they are and what they are interested in (their elevator speech). Discuss how students can use written communications as another strategy to build and maintain their networks. These may include writing a thank you note, sending articles about a person or job area of mutual interest, or connecting with people on social media like LinkedIn.
Note: This may be a good time to share what a networking site like LinkedIn means in a professional context. It is where people go, not to socialize like Facebook or Instagram, but to connect on a work or professional level. So how students create a LinkedIn profile is important. This is not about “friending,” but connecting. It is all about building and maintaining professional contacts. Discovering the range of assistance available can guide young people in building a support team of diverse resource people.
Hands-On Problem-Solving Activity:
Ask students, individually or in a group, to make a list of all the people (or categories of people) with whom they can engage in networking. (See examples below.) Next to each, students should identify how they could be helpful, e.g., college admission, job search, information on a career field, personal problem solving, financial advice, leadership development, or study tactics. What strategies can they use to approach them? What have they already done to build strong ties? Let students know they need to build a broad and diverse network that can support them in various ways. How long and broad are their lists?
Examples could include: family member, friends, employer, teacher, teaching assistant, professor, dean, school counselor, academic adviser, black male initiative leader, faith leader, coach, school band or orchestra leader, mental health counselor, financial aid officer, social or academic club member, residence adviser, fraternity brother, tutor, librarian, office of diversity adviser, doctor, barber, school or college alumni, and others.
During a meeting with his adviser, Dr. Sheila Peters, Krishaun explained that he “tried to do things myself instead of bringing other people into it.” He said figuring things out on his own would make him feel like he had accomplished something. Instead, Krishaun has one class he is passing, two classes he is failing, and one he has dropped. Dr. Peters advised Krishaun to talk to his professors to see what he could do to pull up his grades. Refer to video clip below. This meeting took place in Krishaun’s junior year. It would have been much better if he had asked for help earlier – and made a practice of connecting with his professors and asking for help beginning in his freshman year. Learn from Krishaun’s mistake. Do not try to tough it out alone!
Krishaun’s adviser suggested that he have appropriate people in his network. She also indicated that it’s better to meet regularly with instructors – so they know you – before you get in trouble. Knowing how to ask questions and ask for help are skills that good students and good leaders use effectively. These ties have been shown to pay off over and over again.
Read the Urban Prep Creed again. Ask students to pay attention to its language about how supporting each other is a strength. Note, in particular, the Creed’s emphasis on community and mutual support. Remind students about the value of asking questions and seeking support from a variety of sources. This is what successful people do and is, in fact, manly. You may also want to talk about how team sports affirm mutual support. This is part of their success.
Interaction Suggestions: Students like Robert and Krishaun know they need a college degree and are determined to finish. However, they often don’t know what the rules are, whom to trust or turn to, or what the processes are for rectifying mistakes. They are also the kind of students who are least likely to ask for help, in part, because fear holds them back. Ask students whether they have had similar fears and in what situations.
Story Sharing: As the facilitator, talk about times when you have been afraid or hesitant to ask for help or to use available resources. How did you overcome that fear or insecurity? From whom did you seek help – what people in your network made all the difference? What were the outcomes, both positive and negative?
Ask students to suggest stories (film, theater, or television) in which they have seen examples of fear getting in the way of reaching important goals. One good example is the hit Broadway play In the Heights, which centers on the story of Nina, a child of the barrio and the first in her family to go to college (Stanford). She grapples with financial woes, which then impact her academic standing and compound the problem. She tells no one and fails to ask for help until the deans tell her it is too late. She goes home in shame and only with great difficulty tells her family that she has left school. The family and community had seen her as heroic in escaping the poverty of their lives, and so her fear of disappointing them is truly painful. Share a story of your own in which you had to deal with the consequences affecting a young person who had not asked for help when needed, and then come to you too late. What lessons can your students learn from these stories?
Hands-On Problem-Solving Activity:
Working individually, with a partner, or in small groups, students should identify areas in which they are fearful of asking questions related to their progress in school/college. They should then create scenarios to imagine what the worst case outcome might be (nothing life or death). For example, for a student who is afraid to speak up in class, what is the worst thing that can happen if s/he does speak up? Are their fears realistic? How much of their avoidance fears have to do with self-image (fear of looking dumb or silly or affirming a negative stereotype based on gender, race, or other differences)? Remember the power of peer pressure on adolescents!
Ironically, in one study nearly 59 percent of students who took advantage of tutoring services on campus had grades in the B to A range. Smart students are using these tools: SOAC Tutoring.
A cultural or gender factor may also be at work. Asking questions implies a need for help. Women are thought to be more willing than men are to ask questions or seek help, and, interestingly, women are succeeding in college at a greater rate than men. Not only do women enter college at higher rates than men, but they are less likely to drop out once they get there. Female graduates now account for about 60 percent of U.S. bachelor’s degree holders. (“Boys vs. girls: What’s behind the college grad gender gap?” Fortune Magazine, Anne Fisher, March 27, 2013.)
Getting Help Is a Life Skill
Age and maturity are also factors. Young people want to be cool and fit in. This extends to accessing resources like tutoring centers or faculty office hours or advisers. In the minds of these students, being seen in the writing center would suggest a deficit in writing as opposed to a desire to improve oneself. The cool factor creates a fear of doing anything that might look geeky, or “white,” or stupid. Some cultures like to be self-sufficient and do not trust help from outsiders or fear the airing of dirty laundry if the sharing involves family or financial matters.
We know that first-generation students do not fare as well as those who have parents or family members who have completed college and are more knowledgeable about how colleges function. According to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, “First-generation students, in particular, have the most difficulty earning a degree. Only 27.4 percent of these students earn a degree after four years, compared with 42.1 percent of students whose parents have college experience, a gap of 14.7 percentage points.” (Completing College: Assessing Graduation Rates at Four-Year Institutions.)
What students misunderstand about college is that it is structured to help them deal with their lack of knowledge. Colleges expect them to come in knowing not very much and to leave knowing a great deal. That won’t happen unless students discover that faculty and other college personnel are the keys to learning what they don’t know.
Discuss how faculty members are one of the keys to learning. Remind students, too, that the work of faculty begins with inquiry. That is the language and process they understand. So those who are interested and curious benefit from their positive attention. Again, as the facilitator, sharing stories from your own experience will add credibility. See my blog: “The Virtue of the Noisy College Student.”
One way students can get to know college faculty is to use their office hours, which are listed on the syllabus or announced in class. Faculty often sit alone during those hours because students don’t come. But the reality is that faculty are more likely to be impressed by students who ask questions. They think they are curious and interested. Students who attend office hours should come prepared. They may ask about something discussed in class or questions about an assignment. Perhaps they want to talk about ideas for a paper that is due or ask for suggestions on more background reading.
Reassure students that no one will think they are dumb if they ask for help. Teachers, advisers (who are called advisers because their job is to advise students), deans, upperclassmen, and tutoring centers are all there to answer questions. They want students to obtain the information they need to succeed in college and beyond. Students pay their salaries with tuition dollars, so it would be dumb not to use what you are paying for. It would be like buying a hamburger and leaving the meat behind.
Watch the video of Dr. Sheila Peters to find out how faculty asking questions in classes and offering guidance through one-on-one conversations are part of that process. Dr. Peters asks students in her class, “How many of you have had someone tell you that you can’t be anything?” What would you say to a child who doesn’t think “they can make it”? She explains that one of our challenges in colleges and schools is to help people become more active learners. One of the advantages of Fisk is that it’s a small environment. She feels this can benefit students because it allows more relaxed conversations with faculty and staff – in the cafeteria or walking in the campus yard.
As the facilitator, you may want to draw upon earlier conversations with your students on networking and fear.
Your students have just seen how effectively Dr. Peters works with her students. They are also familiar with seeing how Robert’s adviser, Dr. Del Negro, has guided and supported him. An issue your students may be facing is that their high school or college faculty, counselors, and advisers may come from different backgrounds and ethnicities. It’s very true that greater numbers of people of color in these key roles are needed on both the high school and college levels. Assure your students, however, that these differences do not mean they cannot obtain the support they need.
Joshua Steckel, author of Hold Fast to Dreams, has, as a white, middle-class male, been able to serve and encourage hundreds of low-income students of color in their quest for college degrees. Here is what he has to say that you may find useful – and want to share with your students.
Students also need to learn that relationships are vital to reaching employment goals. They will need to obtain recommendations from various faculty and deans, seek information about opportunities from the career office and alumni, and establish linkages created by internships and work situations. Krishaun and Robert both encounter people – teachers, administrators, advisers, and employers – on campus who see their strengths and promise. Students should know that various people see them differently, and they need to know which people to call upon for references. Some are highly perceptive and can especially identify special qualities and talents that a student may have.
Civil rights leader, attorney and corporate board member Vernon Jordan’s autobiography, Make It Plain, talks about how his path has crossed with colleagues, friends, and employers who ultimately, often at critical points, made all the difference in his professional advancement.
Create a Positive Impression
Advise students that careers are built on networks and relationships. Encourage them to develop their reputations in college as people who are great to be around, reliable, polite, and hard-working. Courts recently upheld decisions by medical schools to sanction students for unprofessional behavior. Let them know that a reputation can be harmed through inappropriate behavior whether in person or online. Remind students they need to make sure their Facebook pages offer a positive representation of their ideas and behavior. Discuss any relevant news stories or media examples on this topic.
Some movies show the class clown or nerd triumphing over the captain of the football team when a reunion rolls around. But in real life those who are leaders on campus are often leaders later in life. Drew Faust, president of Harvard, was both president of her class and the student body when she was an undergraduate at Bryn Mawr. Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis (D-GA) was a college student when he was a leader of the 1963 March on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. President Obama was also a student leader. Their reputations from those undergraduate days have followed them. It is no accident that classmates of heralded figures are interviewed by the media such as when Eric Holder became U.S. attorney general.
The truth is that employers prefer employees who ask for help, learn from their mistakes, and have humility enough to recognize what they don’t know. Resourceful employees seek advice from those who are smarter than they are. As the facilitator, this may be an opportunity to share a story of your own. The kind of inquiry pursued in college is another part of the dress rehearsal for the rest of your life. That is how students should approach it.
Hands-On Problem-Solving Activities:
List and discuss the use of (free) resources available for support in college. Examples are: career services, tutoring centers, writing centers, academic advisers, financial aid office, bursar’s office, registrar’s office, health services, counseling services, library, alumni affairs office, student affairs office, dean of students, and chaplain’s office. If on a college campus, turn this into a scavenger hunt to find these offices and know where they are.
Colleges often offer first year “how to” classes or programs that help students to find and use campus tools and resources. Watch the following video to find out what Robert learned from his first year studies class at Lake Forest and how he uses the school’s writing center. “First year studies is a freshman year course. They teach you how to write, to read, and also to think out of the box and get outside your comfort zone. They push you.” The writing center, at which he can schedule a one-hour appointment, teaches him how to outline his paper, get his ideas together, and write topic sentences; they even proofread the paper.
Dr. Peters at Fisk also talks about teaching a seminar for students in their senior year. In that class she tells students not to wait until they leave school to build a relationship with somebody. They will need help from school personnel to reach their next steps: graduate school, a job, or another opportunity. Ask students, why would it be a bad idea to “blow-off” such a seminar or class?
Discuss why they might NOT have talked to someone like an adviser, faith leader, teacher, or parent when facing difficulties.
Practice in pairs launching a “request for help” conversation or set up a role play for the entire group.
College Administrative Hierarchy
A sample college hierarchy is presented here. Students need to know they should work from the bottom up the line when they have a problem.
Colleges are governed at the very top by a President who reports to a Board of Trustees (prominent figures who may include alumni, other educators, business leaders, individuals with ties to the government, and those with financial resources). The board has an obligation to see that the institution is fiscally viable and well managed.
Below and reporting to the president will be an Office of the Provost, who is typically the chief academic officer, overseeing the faculty and curricular issues. (This may vary from campus to campus.)
Other officers may include a Dean of Faculty, a Dean or Vice President for Student Affairs (or Student Engagement), and a Chief Financial or Chief Administrative Officer. The latter keeps the money flowing and the lights on. The vice president for student affairs has a large portfolio, which can include enrollment services (admissions, financial aid, bursar, and registrar); athletics; physical and mental health services; residential life; religious affairs; student activities and clubs; and more.
Deans are usually heads of each academic unit or college such as the Dean for Arts and Sciences, Dean for Engineering or Dean of the Graduate School of Medicine, Graduate School of Law, or Graduate School of Business, and so forth. These deans may report to the provost or the president, but are responsible for the academic guidance of their individual schools.
Advisement, which is essential, may be based in the portfolio of either an academic dean or the dean/vice president of student affairs. Roles like these can touch every aspect of a student’s life.
Ask students what titles they have heard of or know about in colleges. Do they know what those people do? Review the titles above – or others they will commonly encounter. Ask them to identify who these people are at their college – or hoped-for college. They can even look up the words to find out exactly what the person does.
Ask students about a situation in which they wished they had acted differently, or what they learned from a mistake. Do they see any commonalities in the ideas of various students? (We will discuss strategies for dealing with tough situations later in this guide, but also note that it is a common interview question for a job, internship, or enrollment in a program.)
Personal Lifelong Learning: Assign students to do the following: Review their Facebook or Instagram pages and see how they present themselves – knowing that employers and colleges will see these pages, too. Join LinkedIn and create a profile page. Keep a list of people in their networks. Are there ways to keep those contacts alive? Have them get to know people in their particular field of interest. (The college alumni office can help here.) Remind them to check in with people in their networks periodically to let them know how they are doing and/or ask how the contact is doing. Suggest that they print/purchase their own business cards.
What should students take away from this chapter? Networking and building networks is a lifetime asset. One of the most important skills they need is the ability to develop diverse types of relationships with people ranging from professors, advisers, and mentors to friends and alumni who can be helpful, not only through college, but for a lifetime. They will need to know whom to ask for recommendations and character references for jobs, graduate schools, the bar association, law enforcement, and other fields. Young people need to understand the importance of making nice, having a ready smile, and being that reliable and steady person who delivers quality work whom everyone remembers positively. Asking questions or for help is a strength and not a weakness. It’s also a personal development opportunity.
I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide by Marcia Y. Cantarella, Ph.D. (See Chapter 6, Your People).
Gale, Porter, Your Network is Your Net Worth: Unlock the Hidden Power of Connections for Wealth, Success, and Happiness in the Digital Age. Atria Books, 2013.
Grossman, Leslie, Link Out. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2013.
Jordan, Vernon, Make It Plain: Standing Up and Speaking Out. Perseus Books, 2008.
LinkedIn. Join at https://www.linkedin.com/.
Quintessential Careers website: http://www.quintcareers.com. Find more information on networking. The site also has special content for students.
Steele, Claude, Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (Issues of Our Time). W.W. Norton and Co., 2011.
Zasloff, Beth and Steckel, Joshua, Hold Fast to Dreams: A College Guidance Counselor, His Students, and the Vision of a Life Beyond Poverty. New York: The New Press: 2014.
We have all had moments when we wish we could turn back time. The question, however, becomes: how did you correct your slip or stumble and get up again? No doubt you have had that interview question: “What mistakes have you made, and what have you learned from them?” We all know that some of our toughest lessons come from making mistakes. It is important for students to learn how to manage the crisis in the moment, and then to reflect on what was learned. They also need to learn how not to create the same scenario in the future.
It is important for your students to know that mistakes are survivable!
We have to remember two things about students: They are fearless – irrationally so – as science supports. Studies indicate that risk-taking behavior peaks in adolescence and is a choice. The pull is essentially the “high” from taking the risk. Students also resist the idea that what happens to others could happen to them. Second, young people, (especially young men of color) who are struggling for independence and fearful of revealing weaknesses, want to tough it out and take care of things themselves. Images in the media – from John Wayne to Denzel Washington – represent this as the “manly” way. Following their lead, the All the Difference film shows many moments in which Robert or Krishaun play down their concerns, for example, about money.
Both Krishaun and Robert found themselves facing the consequences of decisions that may not have been well thought out or the best choices. Some had financial or academic implications like Robert’s sticking too long with courses in which he was struggling. Krishaun finds himself to be a father, which was not part of his plan at this stage of his life.
Everything about success, however, involves engagement with, support from, and support of other people. It makes all the difference. Think of all those televised award shows and the number of people award winners thank! There is no question that Wes Moore is a manly man and, as evidenced throughout his life story (The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates), he has had support from many quarters.
Mistakes have consequences. With advice and support from others, students can learn how to manage mistakes, and even avoid them. This is our job as guiding and supportive adults. We need to share evidence of mistakes made and viable outcomes.
Think about your own story and any lessons it offers to your students. Can you share an end-of-year experience when you felt pressure to get everything done – classes, exams, papers, and even partying? It was easy for some things to become lost in the shuffle. Mistakes were made, or mistakes made earlier began to show their consequences.
Our purpose here is to highlight times that feel like a crisis or produce stress, put them in the proper context, then identify appropriate actions that can correct mistakes and, maybe most important, figure out how to avoid the whole situation in the first place.
Making the right decision at a crossroads in your life
Krishaun’s actions to obtain help for a friend in college is a good example of the appropriate way to use university resources in a crisis and also how to keep one’s cool. Watch the following video telling how Krishaun’s friend Kahari, a fellow Urban Prep graduate and Fisk student, was beaten by other Fisk students. The beating was recorded and posted on Facebook. Another student later told Krishaun about it. Krishaun said he was “enraged and ready to fight,” but held himself back from seeking vengeance on his own. Instead, he contacted Fisk's security team. Unhappy with their response, he continued up the chain of command, ultimately calling the vice president of student engagement (Jason Meriwether) in the middle of the night. Meriwether praised Krishaun’s actions, saying it led the school to a quick response.
We have all been in situations in which we have lost our cool. Over time, as adults, we have already discovered that it is not effective and can actually do harm. For young people in particular, “losing your cool” can end up with their being punished or much, much worse. However, sometimes acting calmly but persistently can earn rewards or, at least, respect. Remember the civil rights era sit-in demonstrations with their models of self-restraint. These ultimately won huge rewards for all of us: Civil rights era sit-in demonstrations.
The film Selma (2014) also illustrates the power of restraint. Share your own strategies to remain calm and in control. Ask students if they have a way of cooling themselves down.
Discuss: Using yourself or someone you know as an example, how have you/ they been able to turn around your/their life when confronted with major challenges like losing a job, having an illness, or encountering violence. Ask students to list resources and tools – mental health therapy, 12-step programs, community programs, exercise programs, and places of worship in their community – that can turn lives around.
Everyone makes mistakes. Use baseball as an analogy in thinking about winning and losing. The number of at bats is significantly higher than the number of home runs. Does this mean that each at bat without a home run is a failure, while the home run is the win? Does it make a difference that players must have one in order to have the other?
Too many students give up before the game is over. To continue the baseball analogy, assume that teachers, advisers, and tutors represent the coaches who are there to improve outcomes. A visitor in a strange town doesn’t wander around for hours looking for their hotel because they don’t know where it is. They stop and ask someone for directions. Makes sense, right? The challenge is to assure young people that it is okay to ask for help even though they may feel reluctant to do so.
Share with students that school is a relatively safe place to make mistakes. They go to school to learn and develop; to make that happen, teachers are there to teach and advisers to advise.
Hands-On Problem-Solving Activity:
The film shows Robert and Krishaun facing some challenging academic moments. In college both are taking courses in which they are struggling and may need to drop to protect their GPAs. We saw Robert changing his major. Both he and Krishaun have had meetings with their professors as a result of not doing all they could have to be successful.
Ask students to describe some of their own challenges and choices.
Now ask them to look at their resource lists of people and the ways in which they could be helpful. (See Chapter Three) Who might be the best person to help with the particular challenge they are facing?
What alternate plan of action might help them find a solution?
Remind them that a change of plan (or alternate plan) is not a failure, but just a strategy that can lead to a better solution. Alternatively, can you suggest some scenarios that you think would be particularly helpful for your students?
Understanding consequences and focusing on academic success
Krishaun and Robert have both talked about the need to keep going in very tough situations. Watch the following video to see Krishaun’s adviser, Dr. Sheila Peters, push him to take action to address his failing grades and academic problems. She tells him, “[You] can’t hide out just because you aren’t doing what you need to do.” Krishaun seems to understand that the school can take away his scholarship if his grades do not improve.
Use this video to show the value of seeking help – and the support faculty is able to provide. The bottom line is that they should not be afraid to ask questions or seek help. Use your own stories to back this up.
Story Sharing: We have all had our moments of less than glory and downright panic. Share one or more of your own moments of panic when you made a mistake and what you did, its impact on you, what you learned, and how you found the help or tools you needed to get through the situation. You may also want to use other stories about local people or media figures.
Revisit some of the stories of heroes and leaders (Chapter One) and find moments when they made mistakes or faced daunting challenges.
Like all students during their years in college, Krishaun and Robert are challenged by high stress situations. College usually offers three kinds of crises: personal/emotional, academic, and health and wellness. Within these are issues around social life, personal crises, race and class. All are covered here. Actually these are the main types of challenges students find in both high school and college. They often overlap as, for example, when a problem with a class or a friendship leads to not eating or sleeping properly and ultimately leads to an illness. As shown in the film, Robert and Krishaun have to solve problems involving each of these issues.
Let’s begin with the issues of fitting in and social life at college as this can affect so many other things, including academics and health.
Events and relationships in our personal lives can result in emotional distress. These are sometimes difficult to manage because they can make you feel out of place, left out, or incapable of coping. Keeping silent and avoiding people and situations is not a solution. When we deny the emotional pain we’re feeling, it can pop up in new forms. Author Terrie Williams has written a powerful book called Black Pain, which discusses how hard this situation of silence and denial hits black communities. She shares stories from many celebrities including Judy Holliday and Joseph Simmons of Run DMC who have experienced this. Other examples describe young men in gangs who found their way out when they dealt with the issues that led them to high-risk behaviors. You may find it useful to tell a couple of stories from Williams’ book as well as speak from your own experience.
Race and Class
Students from low-income communities are often uncomfortable on campuses in which they see so many students whose families obviously have much more money and resources. This can be tough. It can be about not having things others have, or an irrational fear of being seen as somehow lesser than others. Robert was challenged by being in the minority of students of color on Lake Forest’s predominantly white campus, a feeling made more intense by differences in family wealth. It may be “stop and frisk” or what is now called “shopping while black,” or other forms of slight. This can be especially tough for black males. Read and discuss my blog: “And We Wonder Why Black Males Struggle."
Has this happened to your students, or do you have a personal story you can share? Why might this be an issue for students?
Not allowing stereotypes to define or derail you
The issue of race can itself be a stressor. A college campus is as subject to bias as any other institution. Robert, for example, finds it challenging to attend the predominantly white, affluent school he has chosen. He feels he is not as trusted or viewed as trustworthy because of his background and ethnicity, and must decide how he will adapt or cope. Watch the following video demonstrating Robert’s character. When SIM cards and a device to read the cards were missing from the public safety office in which he was working, Robert felt he was the first person at whom they pointed a finger. He also felt that race played a big part in it. As a result, he cut back on his working hours. He described himself as someone “who likes to keep a low profile and just keep it moving. I do what I’ve gotta do and that’s it.” He didn’t want to be in a position to be falsely accused. Later in the clip, Dr. Judy Dozier, associate professor of English and chair of African American Studies at Lake Forest College, talks about Robert’s character, integrity, and sense of himself. As challenging as his background has been, she believes it “has had some really positive effects on his ability to get out and be comfortable and function where he is.”
As the facilitator, can you share ways that you usually respond and how they are constructive and strategic? This may be a time to discuss responses to authority figures like police or campus security. You may want to be the one to have what has come to be known as “the talk” about how to interact with the police if stopped. This would include very specific advice on exactly what to say and do or not to say and do. A very good guide is found here: What to do if the police stop you.
This may offer a chance to engage students in role plays to be sure they demonstrate the right words and behaviors.
Knowing how to embrace diversity
By attending Lake Forest College, Robert is in a situation in which he has to be more self-aware as a black man. He essentially discounts the attitudes of those who may stigmatize him. This is a challenge faced by minorities that can become self-defeating through self-destructive or depressive behaviors. Learning how to cope in positive ways becomes a critical lesson, but one that takes its own toll, as people of color have learned over generations. Explain how it is important to have a supportive community in which you feel at home and less isolated – a support network of people with whom you can talk openly about your feelings. This may mean participating in clubs or organizations on campus that have an ethnic focus or a shared purpose that attracts diverse students.
Watch the following video in which Robert admits, “It’s been hard being a black man” at Lake Forest. He believes he’s doing something most African-American men aren’t doing – attending a predominantly white college.
The reality is that students of color all face some form of discrimination. All of us have faced a time in which we were a minority in some respect. High school itself can be a tough environment with its cliques. Let students know it is good to discuss with a friend or mentor what those situations feel like and how they have dealt with both the situations and their feelings. Again, the reality is that handling these situations badly can have unplanned, negative consequences. Students need to learn that admitting their feelings can help them deal with them. Building a strong support network will help them stay on track and maybe create a comfort zone. You may be part of that network.
Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor also talks about this issue in very practical and real terms in her autobiography, My Beloved World. Justice Sotomayor found out early that she did not have the exposure to art and culture that her classmates at Princeton did. She was uncertain how to dress and did not have the kind of wardrobe her roommates did. What was important was that she found a community of other students and upperclassmen who came from environments like her own who could help her find her way and become more comfortable with who she was. Read and discuss my blog: “Just Do What Justice Sotomayor Did.”
Discuss: What exactly did Justice Sotomayor do? Why do these things make sense?
Peer mentors can help with academic coursework as well as offer guidance through the ways of college, as Krishaun found in his tutor and mentor MarQo at Fisk. MarQo tells him, “[T]here will always be something that I can offer to you. Likewise there always will be something that you can offer to somebody else. I’m not going to get off your back…. I just want you to stay encouraged man. I really enjoyed this conversation. I’m hoping that you got something from it and I’m really helping…. I try my hardest not to, you know, impose my feelings or my views on you. I just try to give you examples and let you see examples of things that happened to me and to make you think about stuff.” Share conversations you have had with mentors that may have been game changers for you. Ask if the students have had mentoring experiences already. What have those experiences been like for them?
Social Life and Supports
Social life, as it is for all teens, is a key focus in school. How they deal with it can make or break their futures. Social life is a hugely important part of the college experience, but being social is also a major distraction. Of course, that is true in or out of college. Students work at finding friends they can trust and with whom they feel comfortable. They learn that some friends – romantic or not – will stand up for them and others will not. It is important to have a comfort level with people with whom you are close. Relationships from home may no longer seem to fit as students have new experiences and move ahead in becoming an adult. Change from what has been familiar can add to the stresses of college life, especially when families are no longer close by. Learning where and with whom (individuals and groups) students can feel comfortable can make all the difference.
Interaction Suggestion: As the facilitator, when talking to students especially about some of the tough or sensitive issues explored here, ask leading questions such as “Have you thought of talking to….?” Or say, “Have you considered doing [provide an example] in this situation?” It is important to be nonjudgmental in helping a young person get through a crisis. They still need to have a sense of empowerment. In fact, the lack of a sense of control is part of why situations can feel so devastating. So it helps to have ideas and be supportive, but not to dictate or be judgmental. Offering a safe space can make all the difference.
Discuss: Talk about times when you have felt different from everyone else. What helped you? Can you provide an example of someone whose fear of being uncomfortable restricted his or her life, keeping them in a small neighborhood or the same job? Elicit similar examples or experiences from your students.
Encourage students to look for schools and programs that offer academic and social supports, and mention that such supports may even influence their selection of a college. High schools like Urban Prep (attended by Robert and Krishaun) or the Eagle Academy schools and special programs like Boys and Girls Clubs or Scouts, Prep for Prep, or fraternities/sororities can provide comfort zones for social life and can yield greater success for both high school and college students. The Posse Program, the Academic Achievement Program at New York University, and the Black Male Initiative at City University of New York, among others, all report greater success rates among students from comparable backgrounds who take part in their programs.
Students can also seek to be part of greater solution-based inclusion efforts, taking part in campus organizations or initiatives that are welcoming to all students and build a learning community. Recently, first-generation and low-income students have begun to organize their own support programs on campuses, including Ivy League schools. An article in the New York Times, “First-Generation Students Unite,” by Laura Pappiano, and a short video called Ivy League Trailblazers by Natalia Osipova, present first-generation college youth talking about their experiences: First Generation Students Unite.
Suggest that your students find out what is available at the schools they are attending. This also has the benefit of building students’ self-esteem and helps them develop the skills and reputation for being a problem solver. To find out more, read my blog: “How Your ‘Peeps’ Can Get You Through College.”
Students have challenges in dealing with new people, including the choice of friends or mates. Robert talks about the limitations in his social life because he feels different as a black man at Lake Forest. By contrast, Krishaun feels he will have an easier social situation because Fisk, as a historically black university, has greater potential to feel like a family. But it does not turn out that way in the end for Krishaun as some of his friends graduate or leave. He is also devastated when he does not join a fraternity.
Think about how friendships develop and how they may change. Did you stay close to people from high school or college? What helped you stay close to them?
Much of what has been said about healthy friendships applies to dating as well. Both Robert and Krishaun have different girlfriends over the years. For a time Robert stays with his girlfriend Chrystal from high school and then he finds a new girlfriend, Angelica, in college. Krishaun seems to date different girls over the years, too. A good relationship is based on respect and friendship first. Ask students to provide examples of healthy relationships – in their own families, at school, or in the media. What about examples of bad relationships? Ask students to suggest the qualities or behaviors that would be important to them in a friend or partner.
Abstinence or practicing safe sex
On the other hand, hooking up or casual sex is as likely to occur as anything more meaningful. In that case, you’ll want to stress the importance of being responsible. Talk about why both men and women should carry protection, be aware of their surroundings, and know what they are drinking.
Robert and his high school girlfriend Chrystal made the decision not to have sex. Toward the end of the film, Krishaun finds out that his girlfriend Taylor is pregnant with their child. What is your students’ reaction to that news?
Abstinence is not the only strategy to prevent pregnancy. Students should be knowledgeable about how to have safe sex and find resources on campus that support that. Health services, for example, may offer free condoms and information.
Watch the video showing Robert with his grandmother and, later, with his girlfriend. His grandmother says, “Don’t have a girlfriend here and get her pregnant. Her mama will be cursing me out.” Robert and Chrystal talk about why they are not having sex.
Revisit the question of how much our avoidance fears have to do with self-image (fear of looking dumb or silly or affirming a negative stereotype). Discuss how this may apply in relationships? Share your own experiences, the stories of others, or examples from the media.
An academic crisis may look like this scenario: A student has been going along for several weeks, not really understanding the course lectures nor the assigned readings. Since the knowledge in many fields, including languages, math, and biology, builds directly on what has gone before, the longer students wait to acknowledge a problem, the deeper in trouble they become. And they know it. But they assume that everyone else is doing just fine, and so keep quiet in class. They don’t want to show up at the tutoring center because it feels stigmatizing. They study for hours, reading the material over and over, still failing to understand it. Then the student fails the midterm. Other distractions occur and things become more complicated. Sound familiar?
Steps to Manage an Academic Crisis
I CAN Finish College (Chapter 9 on crises) lists 18 actions students can take to stay on track with their school work as well as deal with an academic crisis, including a formal appeals procedure. (Excerpt)
Talk to your teachers or professors immediately. They are happy to help. They prefer to know there is a problem, rather than puzzling later when the student does not do well. All faculty have office hours, and you should use them, or you can see them after class. You should explain honestly what you do not understand. That conversation may itself turn the situation around. In college you may be able to drop the course or take an incomplete or take the class pass/fail.
Form study groups. Forming or joining a group of students with different ideas, subject knowledge, and diverse ways of thinking and approaching problems can help all of you work together to crack the code of whatever issues are in front of you. Each offers different strengths.
Make use of small group settings. Small group sessions, sometimes called seminar or recitation sections, may be offered or even required along with large lecture classes. Unlike large lectures, they lend themselves to discussion and asking questions. The goal of these smaller sessions is to make sure that everyone understands and can engage in the information presented.
Go to the tutoring center, writing center, or learning center, often staffed by graduate students or upperclassmen, guided by professionals, who are good at the skill or subject at hand.
Use workshops. Most campuses also have workshops on how to study and time management. If you are really shy you can find out who’s running the workshop and plan to meet with them individually.
Take a placement test to make sure you are in the correct class level. You may have scored high enough on the SAT or ACT, but the class in which you have been placed may be taught at a level above your skills. You can ask to be tested to see if your skills match the school’s standards for its courses. If not, you may be allowed to take a more appropriate level class to build your skills and confidence.
Encourage students to take advantage of these excellent strategies and tools. Again share when you may have had to deal with this kind of situation and how you handled it. Are there other strategies not listed here that might also be useful? Invite students to select some solutions and strategies they would find useful, including the pros and cons of each. Ask if students ever study in groups or take advantage of tutoring centers or workshops. How were they helpful? Talk more about the importance and acceptability of getting the right help, planning, time management, and study skills.
Learning how to be resilient
It goes back to overcoming fear and asking for help. In resolving mistakes, humility can make all the difference. Watch this video to see Robert getting help from his professors.
College advisers often report that students – especially males – come when it is almost too late to fix a situation. As the facilitator, share your experiences about when you have talked to teachers or professors. What have been the outcomes? What happened when a student turned to you for help?
Health and Wellness Crises
An expression, deriving from the Latin mens sana in corpore sano, praises “a sound mind in a sound body.” You cannot do well in college (or in life) without taking care of your physical and mental well-being.
Teens are notorious for late hours and not enough sleep. But evidence shows that we all do better with more sleep. Some high schools are even starting their days later to help students get the sleep they need. College requires students to self-regulate. Krishaun was concerned that he might not be able to get going in the morning without his mother’s help. Robert has to begin his day without the biscuits his grandmother made for him in high school.
Stress can lead to physical ailments. Staying up for 36 hours and living on caffeine (or worse) in order to catch up on school work that should have been done earlier can reduce physical resistance to illness and result in a trip to health services or a doctor. It might also result in missing the deadline after all. Tell tales on yourself about bad college or youthful sleeping habits or other consequences of too little sleep. Time Magazine (December 7, 2009) reports that cramming and lack of rest actually can lead to poor performance and not the outcome hoped for as a study by the University of Pittsburgh affirms.
This is a good time, too, to talk about some of the risks of over-the-counter or prescription drugs that are often used on campuses to deal with lack of or too much sleep as well as for pure recreation: College Drug Abuse.
Coping with stress
How we handle personal stress can have an impact on other behaviors for good or for ill. Sadness over the breakup of a relationship can pop up as overeating. Stress about a family matter may lead to drinking too much. Concern about appearance can show up as exercising to excess or binge eating. Anger over issues of racial bias can show up in depressive or violent behaviors. A neurobehavioral issue could show up as attention deficit disorder (ADD), for example, or predispose someone to addictive behavior or depression.
Watch the following video to find out what Krishaun and Robert do to lower their stress and pursue special interests. Krishaun says, “If I give up, my whole life will be flat and I’m not going to be able to do what I want to do in my life.”
Some people use faith to help them manage distress and fear. In the videos on Robert and Krishaun we see how faith helps them believe things will be okay. Sometimes young people question the relevance of faith and places of worship, thinking they are a place of comfort for an older generation. Later in life, they may return to some faith practices. It may be appropriate to suggest that students ask themselves questions about what they believe at this stage of their lives, but not to proselytize. Students can ask themselves questions like: How do you explain the unexplainable? What gives you a sense of hope? It may be useful for them to combine a spiritual practice with some other activity. For example, some find spirituality in yoga or in 12-step programs when appropriate. Only share what is comfortable to you, for example, that you find yoga or meditation to be helpful practices.
A discussion could be around the question: Is there a risk that faith may be used to avoid taking necessary actions? Faith may involve taking actions and then letting the outcomes sort themselves out. Millions of people say the Serenity Prayer to themselves to help them sort through change and acceptance: “…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Both stress and illness can be dealt with using college resources. Among the advantages of college life are free health facilities for students (covered by tuition and fees) as well as free gym facilities and counseling services. Major medical care may be covered by parents or family, insurance from an employer, or by low-cost policies that students are required to purchase when they enter college, if they have no other coverage. Colleges are also required to have services that support students with disabilities of various kinds including learning disabilities. Again, remind students that they pay for these services through tuition so they should use them.
Make a game of asking students to list what they do to help reduce their stress. Highlight things that are perhaps more healthy (for mind and body) and might even have multiple benefits versus those that do not. This could include playing a sport versus watching reality TV. Using a Wii is better than sitting on the couch!
Hands-On Problem-Solving Activity:
Describe a situation to your students in which a fictional friend of theirs made a crucial mistake, had a personal crisis, or was facing the consequences of high-risk behaviors like a drug overdose. Have students list the available resources that could help that friend in a crisis – at home, school, work, or in a faith environment. If that situation happened to them, what would they do to help resolve the situation? Where might they begin, and what steps would they take, for example, if they were to use the college hierarchy (see information in Chapter Three on hierarchy)? A moment may come when they will be glad to have thought through crisis planning.
Let students know that it is important to be aware of and become informed about the devastating effects of high-risk behaviors. These include using or abusing drugs (including prescription drugs) and alcohol as well as dangers related to sexual behaviors such as STDs and unplanned pregnancies.
Drugs and alcohol can make stressful situations and potential crises worse. Seeking help is better than self-medicating. One of the biggest problems on campuses these days is the use and abuse of prescription drugs to manage moods and productivity. The risk is high for addiction and permanent damage to both physical and mental health. To find out the facts about each drug, visit: www.drugabuse.gov/students.html. While headlines report student deaths, they seldom report the cases of long-term damage from drug use in which abusers permanently harm themselves and, in many cases, harm others. You can ask students to track news stories for a week and see how many have drugs or alcohol mentioned as factors.
Students may feel nothing can go wrong, that they are not at risk, but statistics show this belief is not correct. Check out the following website on myths about drug or alcohol abuse: http://www.mental-health-recovery.org/myths-facts. Discuss how many of these myths your students have believed (or still believe) and why. Most teens who are arrested test positive for drugs or alcohol, which damages their reputations and ultimate employability. Sale and abuse of drugs can show up on a college record and also lead to expulsion or suspension from school. The “benefits” perceived in the moment are fleeting, while the risks are long term and not worth it. Show these before and after pictures of Meth users as one indicator: http://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/meths-devastating-effects-before-and-after/23/. Students should respond to the “gross” factor and concerns about appearance. Substance abuse is a sign that some form of help or intervention may be needed, and soon. Sadly, substance abuse is endemic in low-income communities both as a source of relief and income. Knowing the community resources that address this issue can be useful information whether at home or on campus.
Sex, dating, drugs, and alcohol are a frequently connected mix on campus and can be a dangerous one. Because of many more incidents of sexual assault being reported, new and stricter federal guidelines regulate how colleges need to respond. Students are likely to get training on it at school. New aspects include the idea that silence does not mean yes, inebriation means no, and that others have the obligation to intervene when there is trouble afoot.
Many campuses offer talks about safe behavior, but there are also resources to help with the outcomes of high-risk behavior. In each case, students should find resources on campus to address the specific high-risk behaviors that require resolution. First, you must help them break through the tendencies toward silence and “going it alone” we talked about earlier.
Another frequent form of stress during college, and one that can lead to dropping out or failure, is a family crisis. Robert has a father in prison and his grandmother is frail. Krishaun’s mother loses her job. Divorce is a frequent stressor. A parent has cancer. A student may become seriously ill and need to go home. Coming out as gay can become a stressful event in a family. Students face the death of grandparents or friends or, in Krishaun’s case, after he graduates from Fisk, he loses his younger brother Devonte to gang violence. This is another story-telling moment. No one has made it through college without one of these, or something similar, occurring. This is why class extensions and incompletes were created. Feel free to share what may have been a near breaking point for you (or someone you know) and what you did wisely or wish you had done to cope.
These are absolutely times to seek help. It may be that a student needs a leave of absence to go home to be with family, and the dean or adviser can arrange that. These situations are clearly not of the student’s making nor subject to their control. They won’t be penalized for seeking special treatment (e.g., extensions on papers, course incompletes) at these times. People understand. Counseling services as well as chaplains on campus can talk through the confusion and pain; they are highly skilled in offering support in these very tough situations. As a college dean it was no accident that I had a box of tissues on my desk and a door I could close. (When students are considering a leave of absence, colleges may ask for evidence of the crisis to be sure it is real.)
Encourage students to stay the course. The beloved family members would want their students to achieve the goals they are striving to reach. They need to use campus supports to help get through family crises, death and losses, and still salvage their own futures. Robert and Krishaun dealt with many issues and managed to complete school. Too many do not and that is what we are trying to reverse.
Personal Lifelong Learning: Have students keep a daily diary noting situations in the day that went right rather than wrong. What is there to be grateful for in the day? They can identify fears that turned out not to be real. Preventive measures: keep a planner, do daily exercise, have a few good friends, and know the rules and how to find the right resources when needed (e.g., read the college catalog and/or cultivate ties to an adviser). Identify some books or videos that inspire and can be turned to in a time of distress. Encourage them to have a “go-to” stress reduction strategy that does not involve alcohol or doing anything to excess.
What should students take away from this chapter?
What may feel overwhelming rarely is.
Use all the tools and resources available on campus, in the community, at religious centers, at home, and even on the job to manage, in a timely way, the many things that could derail a college career, whether it is a personal/emotional, academic, or health and wellness crisis.
Keeping an eye on lessons learned, finding positive role models, and using faith can be essential. Asking for help is a good beginning and can make all the difference.
I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide by Marcia Y. Cantarella, Ph.D. (See Chapter 9, Crises).
College is very different from high school, as we have noted before. College is a transitional and transformational point between childhood dependency and adult self-responsibility. Knowing how to manage time and keep on learning are lifelong skills used by reliable and responsible adults. In college, no one tells students how much time to spend at the library, at their desk, or when to go to sleep at night. No one does that in the workplace either. It is important for students to acquire these skills if they are going to achieve their expectations and dreams. Ideally, they will start in high school.
In college, students will immediately be faced with a lot of freedom and a lot of work. Procrastination is a common issue. Students may say, “Oh, I can let that go until tomorrow or next week.” Roadblocks include not knowing how to study effectively to get good grades and not understanding how to sort out the work required. Breaking down a complex task like writing a paper can be very difficult. Learning how to become organized, study, and prepare for various classes can make all the difference. This chapter will help students learn skills and acquire tools to manage their time so they can take advantage of all that college offers, meet the demands of various classes, and set a path to achieve their goals now and into the future.
Share with students a time when you set your sights on a goal, and what you had to do or sacrifice to achieve it. Then assign your students to write about a similar situation that happened to them, even as children. This story could later become part of an application for school, a scholarship, or even a job. Right now, the story could motivate students to take positive action, or change what they’ve been doing, to achieve the goal of graduation and all it brings.
College Is Different from High School
Hands-On Problem-Solving Activity: Ask students to make a list: Based on the film and what you have seen or read, how do you think college is or will be different from high school? Information may also come from friends and family. Be sure they think about studying, taking classes, meeting with faculty, extracurricular activities, sports, family, and social activities. How many hours do they spend on each of these activities? In terms of academics, did they figure out that one of the biggest differences between high school and college is the time needed for homework? What can they do to prepare for the hours required?
Writing papers requires focused time, for example, and can’t be done on the fly. Some advice from Robert’s chemistry professor and adviser, Dr. Del Negro, was, “Obviously you can’t think deeply if you’re constantly interrupted. You’ve got to carve out the time so that you can actually think about the papers as you’re writing them and think about the reading that you’re doing and keep it all together. Otherwise you’re just starting over every time you get interrupted and that’s not useful time for you.” Research indicates that when interrupted – or when we interrupt ourselves, for example, by checking cell phones – we can lose our train of thought and focus. Does that sound familiar?
As an adult you have had to find ways to get things done – taking the kids to school, preparing meals, completing work tasks, serving the community, and spending time with family and friends. For students college will be very different in that they will not have daily classes or assignments, but will be held accountable for getting the work done. This is an example of how college is transitional to adult life and expectations. How will they find the big chunks of time needed to write a ten-page paper plus the time for reading, research, and proofreading? Below are some strategies to offer in addition to those that you have found helpful in your life, which you should share.
Hands-On Problem-Solving Activity: How much time must be spent on studying in college to secure top grades? College students are advised to study two hours for every credit hour they take. So if students are taking 16 credits, that’s 32 hours of study a week (plus the 16 hours of class time). A student may be working 20 hours a week and commuting three hours a day; added together, that’s 41 hours a week. Sleeping at least six hours a night (42 per week) will help them to function better. That’s 131 hours a week out of a total of 168 hours. Ask students: (1) how will they schedule their study time, and (2) how will they use the 37 hours they have left – wisely or not?
We all say we don’t have enough hours in a day. But actually, depending on how we choose to use it, enough time should be available. Ask students what kinds of activities might warrant less time. Examples could include Facebook or YouTube, beer drinking, playing Frisbee or guitar, commenting on The Voice, or hanging out at the local coffee shop. Less time on any of those could provide more time for more productive activities. It’s up to the individual how s/he spends the remaining 37 hours per week: fooling around or doing laundry, attending a club meeting, dating, seeing a movie, or whatever else they want or need to do. Remind students that they also have to factor in time to meet with a professor, adviser, or study group, or go to the library or writing center. Suggest that they keep notes on how they spend their time for two weeks, being very specific minute to minute. Ask how they could be more effective in how they use their time.
Time is as important as we make it. If something is important to us we find the time to do it. Ask students to write a goal and a list of activities to reach that goal. They should then assign a priority ranking to each item on their list of activities. Life coaches say that when you write down a goal, it becomes real and increases the chances you will achieve it. This task should help students understand how their activities lead them to attain what they want in school and in life. You can suggest that they put this list where they can see it. It is like putting the “before” picture on the refrigerator when dieting. It may get them through high school and then through college.
As their college lives progress, Robert and Krishaun become better at setting and working on priorities. Krishaun’s mentor MarQo gives him a formula for leading a balanced life that emphasizes high academic goals. MarQo explains,
Ask students what MarQo’s key message is. He seems to be talking about balance and priorities. He’s also saying you have to be aware of how you are spending your time, and that your focus has to be on academics. Share from your own experience (positive or negative) how students may need to spend less time on other activities so they can spend more time studying.
Remind students always to ask themselves: Why are you in college? The answer is: You are there to gain the skills and credentials that will help your dreams come true. You are not there to drink the most beer, be president of the fraternity, direct every play on campus, or win the final four in basketball.
School work is the priority. We often see Krishaun shooting hoops or in some other extracurricular activity instead of studying. Krishaun struggles all the way through Fisk. His less than stellar record may come back to haunt him as he seeks new employment, especially if he is competing with other job seekers who have high GPAs. Krishaun did not consistently seek out help and support from those who were there for him like his teachers, and he also does not seem to manage his time productively.
As a facilitator you may want to talk for a moment about how important the GPA can be and how important the impression students make on faculty can be for their future. Remind them about their grades and references (for jobs, special programs, or graduate school). It is fair to suspect that Krishaun did not maximize his future with his lack of academic focus.
Class work, health, a job or internship that allows students to stay in school or furthers their career plans, and their relationships are their priorities, in about that order. The balance can shift periodically, but to be successful, students should keep those four in their sights at all times.
As you well know, the best strategy is to plan, beginning with basic tools such as a planner, cell phone, or calendar. Using a planner (paper or online) is essential, as it can make all the difference in staying on top of school work and other obligations. Students can ask for one as a graduation gift. They should use whatever works best for them – with an emphasis on use. Discuss what you use and the pros and cons of various systems. The bottom line for them is to know how essential it is to keep a daily list of the main tasks to be accomplished. Tasks are less likely to be forgotten that way. And remind students to include planning self-time to maintain health and mental balance.
Share how you balance your time. How do you schedule exercise, family time, or time to read a book? You are an example: by taking the time to work with students now, you must be pretty well organized.
Show students how planning is not simply recording the day and time of specific events. This may work for keeping track of a dinner date. Complex tasks such as a paper involve looking ahead and also back. Recording only the due date for a paper is not sufficient. Writing requires long stretches of time, so blocks of an hour or more should be planned for each stage of the process. Reading and looking for research materials for the paper also take time. To keep them from procrastinating, suggest techniques like setting a goal for a first draft and then putting that date on the calendar. Make an appointment (another date on the calendar) to show the draft to your professor. Students will need to learn that other assignments such as reading a novel for an English class may be done in small chunks of time. But each action must have its place on the calendar.
Maybe more than others, students tend to beat themselves up if everything does not get done. They can go into panic mode. Adults have learned that situations such as illness or a new priority at work can interfere with getting things done. A good plan incorporates some wiggle room. It allows extra time for travel, since we never know when traffic is ugly. Walking to and from classes or meetings, students may encounter delays – talking to friends or taking a slow elevator. Robert uses a bicycle to get around his campus, which may offer him shorter travel time. This is realistic planning. It is important for students to learn to arrive early, as opposed to always being a little late. Lateness is rude to others and stressful for oneself. Ask students to discuss how they feel when they are rushed and have to apologize for being late. Planning allows one to slow down; it is healthier. It is okay to move an item to the next day. But, having to keep moving items is an indication of a problem. When that happens, tell students that it is important to stop and figure out what’s going wrong.
One of the biggest factors interfering with a student’s plan is fear, because it directly affects success. They may be afraid they can’t write a good paper, so they put it off. It’s always better to talk to someone about things that make us anxious rather than to be paralyzed by the fear of them. Has procrastination – especially from fear – ever been part of your experience? How did things turn out? Let students know that you are vulnerable, too, but have been able to keep moving ahead.
This kind of fear can also translate into an inability to say “no.” Here’s one scenario you can offer students: Out of fear of being unpopular, you agree to go to a party you know you have no time for, chair a committee you have no time for, or hang out when you know you should be studying or working. Ask students what they could have done to stick to their original plan and not be sidetracked. What could they say? We have all been there. The question of being popular is crucial for young people. But let them know that they can effectively say “no” by saying they are sorry, but have other plans, or they are just swamped. They don’t have to explain more than that. The strategy is just to look at your calendar, shake your head, and say, “Sorry, too busy.” Besides, if someone is that busy, they must be popular or worth spending time with. Do you have other ways you have found to say “no” to protect your time?
Story Sharing: We assume that you are one of those people who gets a zillion things done. Share how you do that. Then assign students to talk to other busy people and ask how they organize to get things done. What planning and time management tools and strategies do they use? Have they had to change habits or strategies over the years? What tricks have they used to be more effective or to get back on track? What useful websites, apps, or books can you suggest to students?
Strategies to Manage Time
Here are stories of time management from two students who graduated from Hunter College and NYU about what they did in college. Both had very high grades, jobs, and several extracurricular activities.
1. Endri Horanilli, Hunter College ’08, Clinical Counselor, Veterans Administration
“My mom was the main reason I was somewhat organized when I was in college. She showed me time and time again that it is easier to do things as they came up, rather than putting them off. When I had papers to do, she would push me to do them earlier, so I would have more time for other activities, which was great advice. I found out while I was going to school, working, and being a teaching assistant all at the same time (the busiest I was during my college years) that the more things I had to do, the better it was for me to stay on top of everything. The fewer things I had to do, the more bored I became – perhaps intellectually. I have yet to figure this out. In a way, it makes sense to me, because I would have been prone to procrastination if I had few things to do and distant deadlines. Having many responsibilities forced me to categorize tasks in order of importance and to tackle them one by one until they were all finished.”
2. Opal Hope Bennett, New York University ’98, Attorney; Programmer, Montclair Film Festival
“My best practices for time management while in school involved having the right plan and the right tools.
Always record your obligations in a space where you can see them all at one time (e.g., syllabus assignments, committee meetings, and birthdays).
Take the time to plan out a to-do list that covers a week, a month, and a semester at a time.
Only use a plan to the extent that it helps; don’t obsess over it.
Don’t overload yourself by taking on too many obligations. Always keep your principal endeavor first. Always make time for play.
I used a desk blotter calendar that I mounted on my wall, and I had four different color markers for four categories of activities: Personal, Class, Extracurricular, and Assignments/Deadlines.
Students need to understand how deciding upon and sticking to strategies for time management can make all the difference to their success.
Hands-On, Problem-Solving Activity
If possible, ask an older college student, professor, or colleague for a sample class syllabus, and then deconstruct it together with your students. Involve them in identifying the kinds of tasks that are required and to estimate how much time they might need to complete each task. How much study time is needed? Study time should include any necessary reading, research, and writing, as well as preparing for exams. They have to allow for proofreading, visits to writing or tutoring centers, and meetings with professors or study groups in planning their time. An important skill students may not know is how to prioritize study tasks based on how grades are weighted. For example, what percentage of their grade is based on class participation, homework assignments, research papers, and midterm/final exams? If the syllabus doesn’t provide this, add that information on your own as an example.
Discuss with students: How can you master course requirements and your study time so you receive a top grade? What strategies will you use?
Discuss when this has happened to you and what your strategies were.
Getting help from faculty
Watch a video featuring two of Robert’s professors at Lake Forest, Dr. Lori Del Negro and Dr. Fatima Iman, to hear how the work process in college differs from high school. Dr. Del Negro, for instance, says that high school students reproduce or repeat things, whereas in college they have to understand concepts at a deeper, more fundamental level. Memorization isn’t enough. You have to put information “into long-term memory, internalizing it, and having it as a ready toolset that you can apply to the next thing.” Dr. Iman says that whatever Robert has been doing, he has to “double the amount of reading and preparing.”
Here is how Robert finds time to study. “I’m going to be picking morning hours and having the night to myself, especially the weekends for myself. Also with this schedule I won’t have classes on Friday or Monday, so that will give me even more time to do my classwork. And I can wake up at 8 or 9 in the morning and go to the library. That’s what I always do. I wake up at 8 AM on Tuesday and Thursdays. Then I’m in the library doing my homework and reading or I’m going to office hours, getting ready for stuff.” Ask your students whether Robert’s approach would work for them. Why or why not? List other ideas your students might have. As the facilitator, what information or tips would you add?
In college, learning will change from memorization to processing information and learning how to access knowledge. These are also workplace skills. An employer will expect his/her employees to find information online using a variety of tools. Using your own workplace as an example, discuss tools, strategies, and skills that you draw upon (probably without thinking about it) every day. Ask your students to find out what LexisNexis is. How might it be useful at school or at work? Impress upon them that the school library (and library staff) can help them build research skills as they write papers or do other projects for classes. How important is information for your work?
Reading is an Essential Skill
When reading for the humanities (e.g., history, philosophy, or art) or social sciences (e.g., psychology, sociology, or economics), students should look for themes or key concepts and evidence to support them. How does the author make his/her case? They can look at the table of contents, the index of a book, or the introduction as the roadmap to where the author wants to lead them. Unlike reading a mystery novel, it is okay to jump to the end to see what the conclusion is. Then read the middle, looking for the proofs and examples of what the author wants readers to believe or understand. Once you know what you’re looking for, it is easy to skim or read faster. A key skill in learning is to argue with evidence. Professors expect it. So students need to learn to note where they disagree with the author’s premises and why. This could even be fun. They have to use whatever tools work for them to highlight key points. Underline, use a highlighter, take notes, or mark a page with a post-it note.
Some academic disciplines require close reading, some require memorizing key concepts, and still others involve a process of skimming and comprehending. Poetry demands careful reading to understand the author’s meaning, which is likely to be more subtly conveyed. For someone majoring in literature, it is assumed that they love to read, since they will do so much of it. Close reading shows how the writer uses language, and conceptual reading reveals the themes.
Some sciences, like biology, may require a lot of memorization, but students also have to understand what they are memorizing. So reading with access to a glossary or dictionary is wise. Science writing conveys facts and process, and is usually more concise. Students will know they have mastered a reading assignment when they not only understand it, but are also able to explain it clearly to others.
Sometimes, as you know, it helps to explain material to those who are not familiar with it as a way of testing your own understanding. It helps when reading in an unfamiliar or difficult field to ask why it is important and relevant. Understanding genes, for instance, may have relevance to your own health.
Understanding what is being read is vitally important. Plowing through and turning pages without understanding what is being read simply wastes time. Nothing is being learned. This is the time to reinforce the message about asking for help. Students should stop and ask for help from an upperclassman, a brilliant classmate, a teaching assistant, or a teacher rather than risk blowing a test, midterm, or paper.
Assigned course readings come in various forms. Students have to be told loudly and clearly that they MUST get the books or materials. One of the mistakes Robert made early in his college career was not buying his books and falling far behind. This certainly contributed to his early struggles with his grades and put his scholarships at risk. In college, the syllabus will define what the class is expected to read. Some readings may be in books they will have to buy, or they may be “on reserve” in the library. Some will be articles found on the web, on reserve, or in a course pack prepared by the instructor specifically for his/her students. These can usually be bought at a campus or local bookstore, at a copy center near campus, or may be available online. If the professor uses Blackboard or another course networking site, some materials may be posted there. Course packs contain shorter items (such as a book chapter) so students don’t have to buy the entire book. The instructor will specify the edition of a particular book. Tell students to pay attention to this so they are reading the right material. If a new edition is replacing an older one, the assigned pages will not match up; new or updated content may have been added. If the same edition is used every year, however, it is possible to save money in a variety of ways including rentals.
Money on Books and Materials
Many students are surprised by how expensive books are once they get to college. Having books is essential, but need not be a budget breaker. Here are some money-saving ideas. Just decide if you want to keep a book before you rent or buy it. If you plan to resell it, you’ll want to keep it in the best condition you can. This may limit some of the ways you can use your textbooks to remember information – no highlighting or notes, for example.
Some schools offer emergency funds to help pay for books. You can talk to an adviser to find out if this may be an option at your school.
Depending on the course of study, you may be able to borrow books from your school library or a local public library. Books related to the humanities, especially English literature and social science, are easier to find in libraries than math and science books.
Buy the paperback instead of the hardcover (if available).
Compare prices among the campus bookstore and various online book sites. The campus bookstore is often your most expensive option. Visit the website www.dealoz.com. Type in the name of the text and it will show you the best place to get it for the least amount of money.
If you can buy a used copy of the right edition from online booksellers, surprising discounts may be available, sometimes as high as 90 percent off the full price.
Other online resources are available for books. Some websites even customize texts according to faculty needs, such as those offered on www.flatworldknowledge.com; some texts can be downloaded for free.
An e-book reader simulates a book-type format and can hold thousands of volumes. Many versions are available at different prices.
Students can buy used books from the campus store or from students who have already completed the class.
You may also rent books from your campus bookstore. A variety of websites like www.chegg.com rents textbooks, but schools often have their own rental programs.
Students can sell many course books back to the bookstore when they have finished using it. However, they may be able to earn more money by selling the books online or to classmates. Treat them kindly and you’ll receive more money for them.
Here is the key point to impress upon students about reading and studying: they need to find the big or most important ideas in whatever they are working on. It may be a concept, formula, or a series of facts. Then they can ask the professor what the most important concepts are and what they are expected to master. It is also fair game to ask what material will be covered on a test.
Some subjects, often quantitative, lend themselves to the use of study groups or even online communities, which are sometimes created by the professor. Lab work is often done in teams. Successful students form groups to solve problems or test themselves, and they share strengths or different ways of framing the work so it is clearer. The groups may be from the same classes, or may be students they are comfortable with who may be taking the same or similar classes. Very important: group members should help one another to understand the material as well as the processes to obtain solutions to problems. Share how, in the workplace, tasks are often done in teams, so this is good practice. Teamwork can make all the difference. If you are guiding high school students let them know that they, too, can practice these techniques and achieve better grades – as long as they study together and don’t just socialize.
Some professors record student absences, especially in courses in which knowledge is based on sequential learning (e.g., languages, math, and biology). These are usually essential courses that can affect advancement in the student’s field of study – and the rest of a college career. A professor may tolerate only three or four unexcused absences before giving an automatic F. This policy will usually be stated explicitly in the syllabus. Going to class is key! Both Krishaun and Robert learned the hard way that the freedom not to go to class in college did not mean they should skip a class. If credit is given for class participation, it is important to go and speak up.
Finally, administrators and professors remind students to use campus resources to get what they need. In a conversation with Robert, his adviser Professor Del Negro, asks him questions and offers suggestions: “Have you been able to get what you need from the writing center? Have you been able to talk to the professors and make sure that you understand their expectations and things like that?” Tapping into resources that students pay for will make a significant difference in their outcomes.
Story Sharing: Share some of the strategies you have used to learn things or find information needed for work or other situations. This may be a time to talk about how you use technology such as an online search engine for your job.
It is important to know that colleges find some research sites acceptable, while they frown on others like Wikipedia. Colleges want students to learn to find original source material or interpretations by those who are credible sources in their fields. Wikipedia is crowd-sourced, so it is impossible to know how valid the material is beyond the self-policing of the site. An academic journal that has been vetted by other scholars is considered a viable resource. The best bet is to remind the student to visit the college or public library where they can learn how to find appropriate source material and cite it properly. (You may want to raise the question of plagiarism and cheating.) Searching online sites can be effective once one has the knowledge of what kinds of resource materials are acceptable in various contexts. The reference librarian needs to be a student’s new best friend. It appears that students are embracing the library, so it may be a popular venue.
Impress upon students that time management and study skills are essential – in college and for a lifetime. It is important that they recognize these as adult or workplace skills. They are vital to taking personal responsibility. We have to meet deadlines and take care of responsibilities as adults all the time – paying taxes, putting gas in the car, and paying bills on time. What can you add to this list from your own life?
Quizlet.com is a free online tool that allows you to create flashcards and quizzes. You can also share these with classmates or study groups.
People in America think of college as a vehicle to successful careers and from careers to a better life. However, college is enriching in far more ways. Students build cultural capital (awareness of the larger world and exposure to diverse cultural experiences), create lifelong relationships, and develop broad skills to navigate a constantly changing universe of experiences and challenges.
Although many students intend to develop a career while in college, they do not always do everything they need to do and can do to achieve that outcome. Using this guide, you can help your students gain a clearer understanding of how to leverage their college experiences and degrees to enter the world of work. One of the big lessons is: what they do to find a job after college is the same as what they did to getinto college.
Another lesson for young African Americans is that their job search may require greater skill, time, and effort. According to the Chicago Tribune (February 12, 2015), “While unemployment is falling to its lowest level in years, recent college graduates across the country are nonetheless struggling to find work. A new report found that, for young African Americans with a four-year degree, the job search has been especially brutal. They are having a harder time than whites finding a job, are more likely to be in a job that does not require their college degree, and are being paid less than white workers with the same experience.” Visit: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-college-degree-no-job-met-20150211-story.html#page=1.
We know that job discrimination still exists and that students with Afrocentric names, for example, are less likely to be called for interviews. But we also know, and see in the film All the Difference, that students like Krishaun and Robert are not working the system effectively. You can help to change this outcome for your students.
Impress upon students that one of the most important skills they can learn in college is how to find a job. That process begins almost as soon as they hit campus. They think their degree alone will secure that first job; they do not yet understand that searching for a job is a planned course of action and a skill in its own right. Further, it is a skill they may have to use several times over a lifetime of work.
It is about managing change and being flexible in a changing world. This is a very “how-to” chapter, helping students learn what they will need to do from the beginning to increase the odds that they will be successful in their career (or college) quests. Attention to detail here can make all the difference in finding a job. Some of the high points that will relate to items we have covered in earlier chapters are in my blog: “Top 4 Things Students Can Do to Fit into the Workplace.” Use it to refresh those lessons.
Your students have been watching both the triumphs and mistakes of Robert and Krishaun as they completed high school and college. Watching as an experienced adult you may even have felt some frustration with their choices. At several critical junctures, the two young men discover essential information or take action too late. Had they done more research, sought help, and/or taken action earlier, their paths to success would have been easier. How will their stories end? Will they finish college? Krishaun, in particular, seemed to struggle academically all along the way – as revealed in discussions with his faculty adviser. Krishaun graduated with a 2.53 GPA; Robert’s GPA was 3.5.
“Getting to the endgame” begins in freshman year and must be addressed throughout a student’s college life. An important step is visiting the career center in the first year, and not waiting until the last year as too many students do. While Robert has a variety of jobs on campus, Krishaun has not taken advantage of the chance to work both for money and for experience. He is fortunate that Urban Prep wants him to work there, as it would have been much harder to find a job elsewhere without having built a resume. It will be key to impress upon students that they must learn the rules up front (freshman year) and master skills and strategies through an array of experiences as they go. The reward is a relevant course of study, a strong GPA, a resume, a support network, and that all-important first job.
Hands-On Problem-Solving Activity: It is important to help students (and their families) understand and remember that what they are looking for is just the first job out of college. Most people usually change jobs or companies a few times during the course of their lives. Too many things can happen or change over the fifty or so years that one is typically in the workforce. Think about the following “change” scenarios; as the facilitator, you may want to add others.
You can start a job and find you hate it.
You can love your job but not get along with your bosses.
You can have a reason to move across the country.
You can be good at your job and be hired into a new firm.
You can be good at your job and be given a chance to try something new in the same firm.
Your industry can change and your job might no longer be needed or what it was. (Think of videotapes vs. DVDs vs. streaming video.)
Share what lessons you’ve learned from any of these scenarios – or other situations in which you may have needed to change your game plan. Find out if students have already had some of these experiences even in part-time or summer jobs. Perhaps the business was in a location out of the area or the student needed to change work hours. Explain how being flexible and open is going to be essential in thinking about careers and going after that first job.
Work hard to build your credentials as a worker so it can lead to the next job, presumably a better one.
Grow those all-important networks – building relationships and keeping connected to others – to set the stage for future moves.
Be aware that jobs or internships in college give you an edge in all areas: gaining experience, acquiring skills, and building networks.
Ask students: How has Robert done each of these things? (Answers are scattered throughout the film.)
The key to finding the right job is to be open to and prepared for many options.
Changing majors and career ideas in college is very common. Students who do not know that may feel trapped in whatever choice they have made – maybe even early in life. I know one renowned oncologist who planned to be a history professor and decided he was not smart enough. We all know people like that or have our own checkered career narratives. We have to help students with this idea – that changing majors can lead to a new and better path.
Maximizing your networks
Remember Robert’s goal to be a doctor? He may still choose that path, but he encountered roadblocks in mastering his science courses when he began college. Robert needed to keep his options open as he learned more about himself, his skills, and his interests. Following graduation from Lake Forest College, he joined City Year, an education organization fueled by national service. City Year partners with public schools in high-poverty urban communities to help students graduate from high school ready for college and workforce participation. Teams of diverse AmeriCorps members serve full-time in schools, where they directly support academic achievement and student engagement in and out of the classroom.
Watch the following video showing Robert in a career-planning meeting with City Year. Amanda Panciera (National Manager, Alumni & Career Services) challenged Robert to think about his values and what he would like to get out of a job rather than simply choosing a profession. That way, if things don’t work out in his first choice career, he will be able to fulfill his goals in another role. She also shows Robert how to use the City Year alumni website to find and reach out to alumni who are currently working in his career field of interest, and who can be resources for him.
Ask students if they now have more than one idea about what they might like to do for a career. Encourage them to reconsider what their interests and strengths are. Go back to the exercise in Chapter Two in which students identified what they liked and were good at. How did their results in that exercise relate to their expectations about a possible career path? Ask them to think again about possible careers based on the results. Perhaps their skills and interests could lead to more than one field or career. For instance, students who say they want to help people could consider health care, social work, or teaching, among many other careers. Remind them how looking broadly and keeping their options open make a difference in choosing a college major. This holds true in considering a career – and looking for that first job. If a job is not the right fit, they can seek another path until they find the way to a career that suits them. Share stories about either your own experience or career path – or that of others – especially when the journey has taken time. (I was 40 before I left the corporate world for higher education.)
The goal is finding work that will not only pay the bills, but will also make them feel proud of what they are doing. For Robert and Krishaun, it was important that they give back to their communities. They were grateful for all the help they received and wanted to help others. Krishaun returned to Urban Prep to mentor young men as he had been mentored – and given a boost to succeed. Robert is working at City Year tutoring, mentoring, and supporting students with backgrounds like his own. Both of their jobs involve service to others.
Being a man who gives to others
Watch this video to hear Robert talk about his hoped-for legacy at Lake Forest. He says he hopes to “have a powerful legacy in the sense that people know me for being a service warrior – a person who went out of his way to help others.” It’s important to him to look back on what he did to help and inspire others.
You may want to add to this discussion by referencing Wes Moore’s new book, The Work, in which he spotlights people who have found a way to integrate their career interests and community service commitments with a focus on the world’s greatest needs.
As the facilitator, share what makes you proud to do the work you are doing – in school, in the community, and in your family … even right this minute. What services are you providing to others? Suggest from your experience and local knowledge what students can do to explore ways to be helpful to others in their communities.
Hands-On Problem-Solving Activity:
Assign students to list every job, internship, sport, or volunteer activity they have had since 9th grade. Add any awards or special recognition including academic and leadership. Next to each activity they should write down one thing they learned from each experience and/or an important result of what they did.
From this exercise, later in the chapter, they will begin to write a resume. Students especially may think that because they are young they don’t have anything to say about themselves – but they do. Ask them: What did you learn or accomplish in each job? What skills did you develop that would help you do another job well? For example, did you learn patience while babysitting or good customer service skills on a fast food job? What did you learn about yourself that is helping you to define the job you want or the career that interests you? Let them know that this information will be used in their resumes, cover letters, and interviews.
Connecting to the career center
Reinforce students’ understanding that the key elements to preparing for a job when they graduate from college involve using the entire college experience. Use the points below. As the facilitator, for each point, add information from your own experience or that of others. This will enrich the discussion/ presentation. Advise your students:
Begin with making sure you have chosen the right major for you by sophomore year so you can achieve a strong GPA, which may make all the difference in both graduate school and employment options. (Remember Robert and Krishaun’s concerns about raising their grades.) Many careers do not require specific courses of study; employers are more concerned about future employees who are smart, professional, and resourceful. These are skills you can gain from a variety of majors.
Facilitators: Ask your students if they feel they have chosen the right major for them. If they are having problems with grades or no longer feel committed to their current majors, brainstorm ideas with them about steps they can take to get on the right track.
Visit the career office early in your college career, e.g., freshman year, to explore jobs and internships. Draft a resume and take it to the career office. You need a strong resume so it’s available when opportunities arise. Robert’s adviser Professor Del Negro encouraged him to visit Lake Forest’s Career Advancement Center. She described a range of services that would help him such as review his resume, do a practice interview that anticipates unexpected questions, provide networking strategies, and hook him up to the alumni database. She said the center would have a different “take” on things he’s done as well as provide a different audience and a new set of questions. They could help him figure out how to package himself for an interview. Robert could find out which alumni are doing things similar to what he wants to do and make contact with those who might help him find a job.
Facilitators: Ask students to describe their own visits to the career center – what help they sought and when in their college career. What kind of help were they able to secure? Was this something you did early in your college years and, if so, how did it help? Ask students how good a resume they have – and whether they asked someone in the career center to review it. Share your own experience developing a resume.
Start thinking about references, or people who know you well and can speak on your behalf to potential employers. A reference should not be a friend or family member, but someone with whom you have worked closely, either a professor or a former boss, manager, or supervisor. This person should be able to talk about your work ethic, how well you collaborate with others, and what you have accomplished at work. Before listing someone as a reference, ask their permission ahead of time, being specific about the position you are applying for and what is expected of them. Some companies or organizations will telephone a reference while others prefer for them to write a letter or answer questions online. You should also talk to potential references about any skills or accomplishments you hope they will highlight. For some jobs, a reference may be required upfront; for others, it may not be asked until the end of the process. This is important, as forgetting to provide references can keep you from getting a job! Be sure to thank the individuals you ask to be references afterwards – regardless of the outcome. How you ask someone to be a reference for you can also make a difference in how they respond.
Facilitators: Ask students to write down the names of people who can be references for them, whether to enter college or be accepted to graduate school, or to obtain a job or internship that can help to build their futures.
Build relationships and networks with faculty, advisers, deans, and employers as early as high school. All the Difference shows Robert and Krishaun connecting with a range of advisers and supporters. While in college, both young men kept their ties to their high school. When starting the job search, having ties throughout the college community can make all the difference. You often hear, “It’s not what you know, it’s whom you know.” Be the person the employer knows!
Facilitators: This is a good time to review networking strategies (Chapter Three) with students. Ask for an update on how well they are doing in building their networks.
Engage in community service and/or other leadership building activities to show that you have skills in leading and interacting with others and are a caring person. It adds depth to your resume and helps a potential employer know more about you. As an upperclassman, Krishaun became a mentor to incoming students at Fisk, especially those coming from Urban Prep. This leadership role relates directly to the job he begins at Urban Prep following his college graduation. Even in high school it is good to participate in clubs and activities that will help you get into college. Whether you choose to participate in sports, theater, or academic clubs, colleges want to see that you are well-rounded with interests outside of required school work. List some clubs and activities to be part of both in high school and in college. Are any of these activities related to career ideas? If you have held a job, managed to keep a respectable GPA, and engaged in service or leadership activities, you can show your ability to multitask – and that appeals to employers.
Facilitator: Help students see how these activities may be related to career ideas. Again tap your own experience. For example, tutoring or mentoring youth are relevant if the plan is to teach or engage in youth services as Krishaun chose to do.
Apply for jobs and/or internships all along the way. Both Robert and Krishaun had jobs while in college, which helped them to learn more about themselves and their career interests. Sometimes it is part of the financial aid package to have work-study jobs on campus. List what you learned about yourself and your work interests in whatever part-time jobs you have had. Think about skills as well as your likes and dislikes. How important was customer service? Did you observe how your boss manages people? Can he/she be added to your network as a mentor or to write a recommendation for you?
Facilitator: Discuss what you learned while working in college and how the experience was useful to you. Share what you learned about yourself and your work interests in whatever part-time jobs you had.
The idea here is to impress upon students that the search for that first job needs a plan of action. That process helps to develop skills that will be used repeatedly in their lifetimes. If you have had multiple jobs or careers share the relevance of the search process and the tools needed. Impress upon them that the free resources offered by the college career office cost thousands of dollars later in life. Like the gym, it is a “free” resource that college tuition actually pays for. Alumni may also be able to use some college services, including the career center, public programs, or the library. What services can you use as an alumnus of your college?
Discuss the elements in the following Career Resources section. Some topics have been discussed already, so you may want to move to those that need more attention.
The following tips suggest resources and strategies to help students learn about careers and get ready for a job search.
Visit the career office and learn about the resources available. Ideally, you should start doing this as a freshman or sophomore, but any time up to the middle of senior year is useful. You have time to build a strong resume that way. By the second half of your senior year, it is late to start the process – not hopeless, but your options will be fewer. The local public library is also a great resource.
Take career interest and aptitude tests as well as personality assessments. These help identify your strengths and how they fit with your interests in fields you want to explore. You can even do this in high school if there are resources available. Look online for free self-assessments such as: http://careerplanning.about.com/od/careertests/.
Use available books, blogs, and materials on various career paths and to learn what is expected. Read either a trade publication or the business section of a major newspaper. Trade publications are magazines that cater to particular fields such as Ad Age for the advertising industry and Women’s Wear Daily for fashion and retail trade, for instance. These publications can reveal business trends, who the players are, which firms are strong, and which are faltering. They can help target your job search and prepare you to be more knowledgeable in interviews. For example, if you read that a firm is laying people off, it doesn’t make sense to apply there. But a firm that is expanding, has new clients, or even new management may be a good prospect for jobs and new opportunities. Online resources and blogs are available for all kinds of industries. Here is a list of ten blogs that might help prepare you for a job in technology: http://insidetech.monster.com/benefits/articles/8537-10-best-tech-blogs. Make a list of companies that you might (or might not want) to consider for a job or internship.
Find out if the college you attend or may be considering has an alumni network or mentoring program that facilitates networking and informational interviews. These provide an opportunity to learn more about working in a particular industry or career field. Students can learn from an experienced worker what a particular job is like on a daily basis and what opportunities may be available. For example, while a public relations job may seem exciting, the job is likely to entail long hours, including evenings and weekends, and require lots of travel. It could be viewed as an unsuitable job if your priority is your family, or you may see it as a terrific opportunity to travel. An informational interview is not job-specific, but broadens the information base, so you can make better career choices and be better prepared when you do go for actual job interviews. It is also good to talk to younger employees (fairly recent graduates) whose experience at the entry level would more closely mirror what the experience of a new graduate will be. Alumni who sign up to assist students at their former colleges genuinely want to help young people, so you should feel confident in trying to connect with them.
Look out for special presentations on campus or in the community by alumni or others in particular fields of interest. They can offer valuable information on what it’s like to be in those fields and provide opportunities to network. Wise students ask for business cards and then follow-up shortly afterwards to obtain informational interviews!
Participate in internships to test the waters in a possible career area, build a resume, expand networks, and help you learn more about your skills and actual interests in that field. Internships are formal programs that provide practical work experience for beginners in a profession. The career office can help you find and obtain internships, but people also hear of them through campus or community organizations, their academic departments, student networks, and on the Internet. Some may be paid and some unpaid. For low-income students, special funds may be available on campus to subsidize an unpaid internship.
Prepare a strong resume. Ask someone in the career services office to look over your resume to be sure it is professional and maximizes your experiences. Students have been known to exclude their participation in student government or volunteer work, which are usually better examples of leadership abilities than a stint working at a coffeehouse. The career services office picks up on such items as well as the all-important spelling and grammar mistakes. They will also review cover letters, which are crucially important. Always make sure someone experienced is looking at what you send out before you send it.
Take advantage of recruitment events during which employers come to campus seeking applicants for open positions. Some may be open to the entire community. It is important to “dress for success” for these events and to bring copies of your resume. This is not a gum-chewing, baggy-jeans moment. Recruiters are seriously looking for viable talent. Present yourself at your professional best even when you know the employer’s work environment may be more casual.
Find out what positions are available and the skills and experience they require. This will help you to determine whether the company or organization is a good fit for you. If you do this research early on, you will have time to gain the necessary skills and experience that will make you a more desirable candidate for a job.
Understanding the job offer
Advise students that part of presenting themselves well is being ready to ask questions about available positions. This will help them determine whether a company or organization is a good fit for them. Watch the following video in which Robert attends a job recruitment event at Lake Forest College. Note how smartly he is dressed in a new business suit. City Year, the employer he ends up choosing, outlines its employment opportunity: a year of full-time community service with a living stipend, health insurance, and a $5,645 education award. He would also be able to defer federal student loans during his service and be eligible for scholarships that are available exclusively for City Year alumni.
(The last question may be more relevant when students are given information on potential expenses at the end of this chapter.)
Discuss how job applicants can sometimes negotiate a salary and benefits package with their potential employers once a job offer has been made. Some, but not all, employers will negotiate benefits, including more vacation time if they can’t provide a higher salary. Describe your own experience in negotiating with a potential employer in response to a job offer. What were you able to achieve, what didn’t work, and what did you learn in the process?
Of course we are talking entry-level here. In Robert’s case, in addition to a salary, he receives other benefits from City Year that are important to him and helped him make the choice.
The Job Search Process
Up to 85 percent of jobs come through personal contacts. The more people you know and who know you, the better off you are. Remember that the people with the greatest net worth have the biggest networks. Contacts of all kinds can make all the difference in the kind of future your students will have. This is a great time to tell stories about how your networks have helped you along the way.
In his career planning meeting with Amanda Panciera described earlier in this chapter, Robert learned about City Year’s alumni network – that its alumni are located all over the country and in many fields of work. This can be an essential resource for Robert to request information interviews as well as to pursue jobs directly.
Ask students: Why does it make sense to tap an alumni database? Why might alumni want to help students at their colleges? What might someone offer (other than a job)? Have you ever talked to alumni from your school about their careers? Share if students ever talked to you about your job and how you feel about those situations. As a facilitator have you ever taken part in career days or networking events for your high school or college? Share that experience, too.
Offer these tips and strategies to help your students in the job search process.
Keep your eyes open. The majority of jobs are filled through personal recommendations and one-on-one relationships. Nevertheless, be persistent in your search. Look at all kinds of websites, want ads, and job boards for opportunities. Use the online and actual job boards or listings the college offers. Check sites such as Monster.com, HigherEdJobs.com, Idealist.org, Linkedin.com, and other targeted sites. These sites can be searched by geographic area, job title, or other criteria. Be flexible about location as Robert was in his move to South Carolina for City Year. Some parts of the country have more options available than others and may have more jobs in your fields of interest. Fields such as the film industry or oil industry require people to live in specific geographic areas. It is important to look at small to midsized growth firms in which people may be able to shine sooner, acquire lots of valuable experience, and even grow with the firm. Lists like the INC Magazine 500 highlight growing entrepreneurial firms. It is often noted that small businesses are the engines of job growth. Wetfeet.com is another great resource. You can use it to find interview tips, articles on how to make yourself more appealing to employers, a list of the top 100 employers in the world, and the top companies that are hiring recent college graduates. Make a list of companies from the INC 500 and Wetfeet.com. Then search the Internet for them to see which might be interesting to you.
Facilitator: Ask your students why they made the choices they did.
Take every opportunity to engage in networking and building your networks throughout college – as we have stressed throughout this guide. Here are some tips to help:
Have specific goals in mind.
Whenever you get a chance to talk to someone about a career interest, do it. Certainly talk to instructors or administrators who know you well.
Go to conferences or events related to your fields of interest. A guest speaker can open all kinds of doors for students who are poised, confident, and want to learn more.
Look professional. If you are shy, pick up the speaker’s business card and send a note or email to thank the speaker for coming, ask a question, ask for an informational interview, or just introduce yourself. Whatever is sent should be polished and brief.
Volunteer to help at events starting in high school. Charity events, for example, can link you to helpful individuals or resources, and can add another important experience to a resume. You can also highlight your participation in school clubs, especially if you gained or strengthened transferable skills as a result of your membership.
Practice with a friend or friends how you would introduce yourself. (Look back at Chapter Three on networking.)
Facilitator: Assign students to put a networking event on their calendars, go, and then share what they’ve learned. Encourage students to set up informational interviews or conduct networking activities. Perhaps assign them to do an informational interview that they can report on in your next meeting.
Conduct research. Look into the culture and reputation of a company. Company culture includes the shared values, attitudes, beliefs and standards of the people who work there. Reading trade publications and blogs can help, but also look at the lists of “best companies to work for” that are published annually by Working Woman, Fortune Magazine, Black Enterprise and DiversityInc. These may offer insights into the kinds of companies in which you would fit best. Talk to people who are current or past employees in the firms you are exploring.
Facilitator: Bring samples of trade publications and lists of “best companies” – or ask your students to bring in some samples. What information can they find about company culture? Share your stories about different places you have worked, their cultures, the impact of leadership, what worked for you, and how to find or avoid situations that will or won’t work for you. Ask your students to relate their own stories and insights. Company culture is part of the reason why people make the decision to stay or move on – and certainly do not remain in the same job forever.
Target jobs and employers of interest after researching them. Plan to send out many cover letters and resumes. The cover letter shows that you have researched the company and industry and are interested in a job with that company. You can enhance your cover letter by engaging in informational interviews and reading trade publications and blogs. You can use these letters to show the match between your background and the firm or industry you are trying to enter. Keep it short – no more than one page. The letters should be enthusiastic about your interest in the firm, job, or industry. These materials also act as writing samples, so it is important that you do them well; ask others to look them over for typos or other errors. Again, the career office can help. In doing research, look for the key person at hiring firms, whether the head of the department in which you are interested (or possibly human resources) and address letters specifically to that person. Let the person know that you will follow up in a week or two. Then, do just that, but be careful not to overdo it.
Facilitator: Assign students to write a letter requesting an informational interview with a particular person, explaining what they hope to learn about the person’s job, the education and career path that led to their job, particular challenges and benefits, and insights into what makes them the right fit for their job. Encourage students to send their letters, follow up with the person and score the interview, then share what they learn about the person and the position.
Look for an application form that can be completed online or printed out for mailing. These must be filled out with great care and attention to detail. Some areas may be personally tricky for those who do not have a green card or visa or have been incarcerated. Obviously, certain employers may ask questions about brushes with the justice system. You may have to answer a question about whether you have been convicted of a felony or, less frequently, a misdemeanor. Former offenders should be sure to look for organizations that are geared to helping people reenter the workplace. This may be where knowledge of your community will be important. Find out if a conviction can be expunged. A career counselor should know how to handle these issues. Having a criminal record may not inhibit you from getting a job, but it will limit your choices. In any interview, you should be prepared to explain anything in your background that comes up and lessons learned as a result of any previous offense. By law, employers and interviewers are not allowed to ask questions about marital status, age, ethnicity, religion, or whether you have (or plan to have) children.
Facilitator: If you have experience with or stories to tell about any of these scenarios it would be very helpful to share as appropriate. Depending on your audience, you may want to bring in a career adviser skilled in this area.
Monitor your digital footprint. Make sure that your presence online is clean and professional. While you may think your social media pages are private, they most certainly are not. Employers do background checks and gather information from various sources, including social media, before making job offers. Some of the biggest mistakes people make online are posting inappropriate comments or photos. Make sure none of your photos or posts reveals poor judgment or shows questionable behavior that may deter employers from making a job offer – or graduate schools from accepting you. You should also conduct an online search of yourself to see what comes up and find ways to present more professional information. One way to do this is by creating a LinkedIn profile. Some tips for using LinkedIn include using your full name, including a professional looking headshot photo, keeping your employment or education status current, using the site for professional relationships, and joining groups to engage in conversations. Another important way to represent yourself professionally is to change your voicemail message and email address. Use your full name or initials instead of something like email@example.com. In addition to social media, employers also check credit ratings to see whether candidates are financially responsible. Share any cautionary tales you may have from your own experience. Here is an article that may help. http://www.theaggie.org/2014/02/14/social-media-can-impact-future-employment/.
Facilitator: Find out how many of your students are on LinkedIn. If most are not, you may want to demonstrate your own LinkedIn profile. Tell them how to create their own profiles and ask that they complete one prior to the next class/study session.
Practice interviewing skills. The career office may offer practice interviews, or you can ask savvy friends to practice with you. Sometimes professors or others will help out. Certain standard questions can be expected. Search online for “job interview questions,” and a host of sites offering interviewing advice will appear. You should expect an interviewer to say, for example, “Why do you want this job?” To learn about strengths and weaknesses, employers may ask, “What are you most proud of?” or “What has been your biggest challenge?” They may inquire about a mistake you have made and what you learned from it. Give careful thought to the example you use. Research strategies for responding to questions as part of preparing for an interview. Interviewers will also want to know whether candidates have any questions, so prepare at least two questions that reflect your research on the company and its industry. Sometimes there are group interviews. These can take different forms – with several candidates in the room at once or several interviewers with a single candidate. Being courteous is critical in these situations; you will need your best smile and handshake. An interview starts with the receptionist at the front desk. Often a potential employer will check with the receptionist after the applicant leaves to find out how the person acted – was s/he rude or demanding, talking loudly on a cell phone, or even clipping his/her nails while waiting? Never ask about benefits or salary until there is an actual job offer; this rarely happens in a first interview. You can ask when the interviewer expects to make a decision and what the next steps are. At the end of the interview, be sure and say you are very interested in the job and the company. Again, the career office can help with interviewing skills.
Facilitators: You may want to use class time for practice interviewing sessions with pairs of students. Try to find pairs that have an interest in a similar job or industry. You can also prepare a short job description to be the basis for the questions they ask one another. If you are familiar with any mentoring organizations, recommend them to students.
Prepare for phone and/or online interviews. These are real job interviews! Search consultant Marilyn Machlowitz suggests that people dress as though meeting in person and also (for a phone interview) to have the website of the firm up. Have both your resume and cover letter at hand, too. She advises people to smile while on the phone – it shows in your voice. Be sure to end the conversation with a verbal handshake, such as “I enjoyed speaking with you.” Add that you want the job, and that it fits your interests and career goals. Dressing for an interview and being aware of facial expressions and movements is particularly important for online (e.g., Skype, FaceTime, or video) interviews. Watch the following video to find out how Robert handles an interview with City Year on Skype. Robert effectively answers a question about what will keep him motivated while working in a stressful environment. He compares the experiences of City Year students to his own background, and says he would “refuse to give up on these kids.”
Facilitator: Share what you do to practice for an interview – do you have any strategies that have worked for you? This is an excellent opportunity for a role play exercise that could engage your students in groups of two (applicant and interviewer) or three (applicant, interviewer, and observer).
Be aware that first impressions are a make-or-break moment. It is important to think like the employer, who is trying to imagine how you will fit in with other employees as well as how effective you would be with customers. Have a firm handshake, good eye contact, and a friendly smile. The goal is to look as though you can fit in and are likable. Have an “interview suit” that is dark gray, black, or navy. It must be clean and conservative in cut or style. (The exceptions to this preference may be the fashion, film, or advertising industries, which favor a bit more creative, though professional, flair.) See what business people are wearing in publications such as Fortune, Crain’s, Inc., Business Week, or Black Enterprise, which include photos. Accessories – ties, pocket squares, scarves, jewelry – can add color and personality in an interesting, but not crazy, way. Hair needs to be well cut and groomed. You may not have much money to spend, so check resources like the Men’s Wearhouse or programs for women like Bottomless Closet that offer good values. Sometimes charity thrift shops or consignment clothing stores offer gently worn outfits for bargain prices. No jeans or sneakers, flip-flops, or baggy pants. Those first impressions can make all the difference in getting a job. Set aside a suit or outfit to keep fresh for those special career related occasions.
Send a thank you note immediately after the interview to each person with whom you discussed the job at the company. Determine what kind of note based on the industry and the relationships involved. It is okay to send a handwritten note, but a typed note on stationery (like the cover letter) or a formal email allows you to restate your interest in the job. The note should be specific as to how the job is a good fit and what skills and abilities you offer the company. This should be a short letter (no more than a page), but may include information that you didn’t mention in the interview. Again, keep it short. Based on the process and timeline for when a hiring decision is expected to be made (learned at the end of the interview), you may want to make a follow-up telephone call. However, make sure the employer would have had time to receive the thank you letter/note before making a follow-up call. Thank you notes should also be sent following an information interview – perhaps highlighting an important point you learned. Like all important communications, review carefully or have someone else take a look. It would be unfortunate to get this far and have a simple error be the barrier to your dream job.
Facilitator: You may want to ask students to identify what type of thank you – whether a handwritten note, short letter, or email would work best in relation to different job types, circumstances, and companies. Discuss your own strategies for following up on job interviews and what has worked best for you.
Purchase business cards. They are very inexpensive (under $20). Create a “stationery” template on the computer for resumes, cover letters, and thank you letters.
Facilitator: Let them have fun with this creative process. Again, however, stress professionalism and a leaning toward the more conservative. If your organization offers help with student business cards, let them know how to obtain them.
Story Sharing: Share information about your job searches. What did you learn – or what tips can you offer? If you are in a position to hire people, what do you look for? If students have already looked for work, what have they learned or observed? Ask your students what kinds of people they like to work with, or what qualities they would look for, if they were hiring someone. Ask: Would you hire you? Why or why not?
Hands-On Problem-Solving Activities: Here is an idea to try:
Engage students in doing a dress-for-success fashion show as part of a campus club or community organization. Invite guests from the professional world to be judges. It is fun and amazing how much students can learn about what is appropriate and professional attire. Check out the Huffington Post blog article by Stacia Pierce, “What Does It Mean to Dress for Success?”
As part of the college experience students may make the decision whether to seek employment immediately following the undergraduate degree or to pursue an advanced degree. Finances, scholarly ability, interest, and the skill/degree requirement of the career field may help to make that choice. Having a mentor in the chosen field may boost their chances for acceptance in a graduate program. Senior year may place pressure on them when they feel they need to search for a job in addition to applying to a graduate program. Your experience may be very valuable here. Do you have more than an undergraduate degree? If so, what was your path to it?
Applying to graduate or professional schools will be necessary for certain professions like law and medicine. Other degrees students may want to consider are Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Fine Arts, Master of Public Health, Master of Public Administration, or Master of Social Work. A doctorate degree may follow the master’s degree.
Students will usually research and apply for an appropriate degree program while fully engaged in the work of their senior year of college: finishing a thesis or research project and completing the final requirements. Let them know that some higher education degree programs such as business prefer for them to wait a year or two and work in their field of interest before applying to graduate school. This assures that this is the field they really want to be in before spending the time and money on graduate programs. It also provides practical experience and “war stories” to apply to the theoretical study content found in graduate school. Let them know how this may have been true for you or others you know.
(Caveat to facilitators: You can judge your audience to decide if you want to go more deeply into this topic with your students or if you just want to hit the key items in the paragraphs above and move on to life after college since, at this point, neither Robert nor Krishaun is discussing postgraduate education.)
Checklist for Applying to Graduate or Professional School
Here are some key milestones for the graduate school application process. (It is similar to what you would do for the college application process.)
Early Junior Year
Begin test preparations for GRE, GMAT, MCAT, or LSAT. Buy the books, take the prep classes offered on or off campus, do self-tests. If you cannot afford to take a prep class, try to organize a study group. Plan to take the test at the end of junior year, so if there is a need to retake it, there is time to prepare over the coming summer and meet the schools’ application deadlines. These tests are very expensive, so you want to be prepared to do your best the first time around.
Meet with the adviser who guides students for graduate program or professional school admissions.
Begin to budget for applications and set aside money. Fees can add up to several hundreds of dollars. You may qualify for fee waivers if you meet certain income guidelines. Alumni of certain programs (e.g., AmeriCorps) may also be eligible for certain fee waivers.
End of Junior Year
Research schools of interest. Talk to faculty to learn about faculty in the field at other schools. Read articles by them or study their research. Line up all the professors needed to write recommendations. (This will relate to jobs as well as to graduate school or fellowships.)
Take relevant tests: GRE, GMAT, MCAT, or LSAT.
Ask professors, mentors, or former employers to serve as references. As with applying for a job, be sure to ask them well in advance and be specific about the school you are applying to as well as any skills or accomplishments you hope they will highlight. Graduate schools usually require an online recommendation form in addition to a letter of recommendation for references to fill out as part of the application process. Don’t forget to thank the individuals you ask for references afterwards – regardless of the outcome.
Summer before Senior Year
Work on personal statements. Share drafts with advisers or faculty. Expect to do several drafts. It is much easier to do them during the summer.
Request applications for all the schools you are considering, or download them from the Internet. Review their requirements and deadlines to determine what documents and information will be needed. Transcripts will be needed from the registrar and sometimes this can take time.
Early Fall of Senior Year
Do a timeline based on the due dates of the various applications.
Retake any tests, if necessary: GRE, GMAT, MCAT, or LSAT.
Fall of Senior Year
Meet again with advisers and faculty to refine plans. By now any relevant tests have been taken at least once and you will know your academic standing and GPA from junior year. The final application list should include a stretch school or two, a safe school, and a few in between.
Pay Attention! Proofread, proofread, proofread to be sure there are no errors or confused addresses of schools. Nothing could be worse than a letter praising the University of Michigan ending up in the envelope to Georgia Tech. It is really easy to make and miss errors in an online application, so students should print out the elements and read them, and ask others to do so, too, before hitting the “send” button. Build in time for this review.
Breathe deeply and let it go. The worst aspect of applying to graduate or professional schools is the waiting. It may be months. An invitation for an interview is a good sign.
During this high stress time keep close to those who are your biggest supporters. Supportive family and friends can make all the difference. Talk to family members or close friends about your goals and plans. They will be the people who celebrate when you achieve your goals or who can make you feel better when things are not going as well as you would have hoped. Maybe the first response is a “no,” or you are not accepted by your first choice school. Share that with someone who will be supportive until the “yes” finally arrives.
No matter how much students are going to earn, they should have a plan that will help them to manage their income and expenses. It can lead them to their goals and keep them out of financial trouble. Use your own story if it fits.
While employed with City Year in Columbia, South Carolina, Robert is learning how to afford his new life. He is paying bills, buying groceries, and has found roommates who help share the rent.
Learning how to be a responsible father
Like Krishaun, students may have unexpected expenses. He did not plan on being a father after graduation, but now has to plan to support his child and baby Krishaun, Jr.’s mother even though they may not be marrying. He also has to make payments toward his college debt. Whatever his beginning job at Urban Prep pays, he’ll have to be very careful about spending. If not starting a family, some new college graduates may have to help support other family members such as siblings or ailing parents. They may also have more college debt than they were expecting.
Watch the following video showing Krishaun and his girlfriend Taylor preparing for parenthood. She comments that she saw herself in school at this point in her life, but her plans have changed; she is preparing to be a mother. Krishaun’s first job out of college is mentoring students at his former high school. He says, “It’s a great start for my journey through fatherhood.” Krishaun feels he is financially stable and is able to support himself, his son, and Taylor. He believes his son is starting ahead of where he started in life since his own mother and father had not even graduated from high school.
As the facilitator, share from your own experience the importance of a father – or powerful male figures in your life. Also share how you have managed the responsibility of parenthood, if relevant.
New college graduates should prioritize keeping their financial houses in order, especially living within their means. Most will have expenses related to the following areas: housing, health care, food, transportation, and clothing. They will also have to pay back their student loans. Encourage them to include savings as part of a monthly budget and financial plan.
Many will have to work at two or more jobs. Spending less money on iTunes or meals out may be a solution, or new graduates may need a roommate or two or three. Advise them to avoid credit card debt with its high interest rates especially if they are not able to pay the bill in full in each billing cycle. Credit card bills often state how much a person will end up paying (with interest charges accumulating) based on the amount they are able to pay monthly.
Housing is probably going to be the biggest part of postgraduate expenses. The odds are that students will not be able to stay in the same living arrangement they had in college, or may want a change. Even if living with their families, they may need to pay more to help with the family’s living expenses. If students have been lucky enough to live in campus housing, they have to find a new place to live. Robert was able to save in his first year after college by sharing an apartment with one of his co-workers in City Year.
Health Care will be another budget item. Fortunately, the new Affordable Care Act allows parents to continue to carry their children on their policy for several more years (up to age 26) following college graduation while they establish themselves or complete graduate school. A new employer may also cover all or part of health care costs. State programs offer health care for low-income families with state funds and Medicaid dollars. If graduates have to buy their own insurance, they should look into affordable health care through state or federal exchanges. Help them understand that health insurance is costly when they are picking up the tab on their own. Even worse is not having it when they need it. A new graduate may be perfectly healthy now, but a biking accident or a fall on the basketball court could have serious consequences. That broken leg can set you back by tens of thousands of dollars. Insurance is worth it in the long run and now is legally required. Individuals have to document their health care coverage on their income tax returns.
Food and Transportation are the next big costs you cannot escape. New graduates may need to learn to cook! They will have to make decisions about cell phones vs. land lines, cable TV, and Internet connections. Is public transportation or a car the most cost-effective and convenient way to commute to work or to other responsibilities? What are the pros and cons of a car? They will have to think about parking, fuel, and insurance, as well as car payments and maintenance. Show them how to shop around for car insurance firms and rates. Gasbuddy.com lists gas prices in local areas.
Clothing. We have noted that students need new clothes for interviews but they will also need them for work. A college wardrobe will not do for the work world. Regardless of what we may see on TV, “sexy” for women is not appropriate for work. Very short skirts or revealing tops do not enhance the perception of a person’s work performance or judgment. Some settings require suits for men and dresses or suits for women. Explain how to buy a few quality pieces that mix and match for maximum mileage. Designer outlet stores are a fine bet. Laundry and dry cleaning bills should be part of the budget, too. Purchasing washable clothing saves money. Consider the saying, “You should dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” They should observe what their supervisor, mentor, or other successful people are wearing, and use that as a standard. Even in a casual setting or on “dress-down days,” new graduates will need to learn to be more formal: khakis and polo shirts for men, slacks and blouses or sweaters for women. While the workplace may be more casual than in the past, sloppy or too revealing clothing is just not professional. As a facilitator, your own appearance during these discussions will set an example.
Business Expenses: Suggest that new graduates find out if their jobs require them to purchase their own computers – or if it is provided as part of the job. What other work expenses does the employer cover such as meals or reimbursement for out-of-town work travel? If a friend, family member, or classmate is a tax accountant, new graduates can learn from them which expenses may be tax deductions. (You may want to have a guest speaker on this topic.) If an employee’s job is in media, for example, his/her cable bill could count as a business expense. Regarding tax deductions, the advice of professionals is best. Paying income taxes on time and in the right amount is an important adult responsibility.
Student Loans: New college graduates will have student loans. Ideally they have done all they could when applying to and while in college to keep the debt as low as possible. Loan repayment begins once they’ve left school and are a wage earner. Lenders notify graduates and provide repayment schedules. These also become part of their monthly budgets. If they go directly to graduate school, they can defer undergraduate loans until they complete graduate work. As Robert learns with his job at City Year, an AmeriCorps program, he can defer his eligible loans during his year of service. Another AmeriCorps program, Teach for America, also allows loan deferments. These could be opportunities your students may also want to pursue. While in school, students should talk to the financial aid office about repayment of their debt and possible loan forgiveness through qualifying jobs. Suggest that students treat the aid office as part of their financial planning team. Find more information on federal student loan deferments from the Department of Education: https://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans/deferment-forbearance.
Budget and Financial Planning: Discuss how to find creative ways to stretch a budget. Some ideas to offer:
Before you leave school, be sure to sell back any books you don’t want, as well as other items a new student might find useful. You get the cash and don’t have to carry stuff you won’t need home.
If friends and family ask about graduation gifts, request gift certificates to places that sell the clothes or household goods you will need.
Given tight financial times, many websites offer finance tips, ranging from Suze Orman to Good Morning, America’s Mellody Hobson.
You can get retail coupons at coupons.com and other sites.
Keep good financial records that will help you at tax time, including being aware of deductions that may be available to you. Krishaun should be able to claim deductions for his child and Krishaun, Jr.’s mother. The Earned Income Tax Credit offers tax savings to qualifying individuals and families
Bring in your own savings tips and financial strategies.
Jobs don’t last forever. Having some savings is wise, in case of unexpected events such as an accident or losing a job and needing to find a new one. In some ways, as Robert notes, students have probably been living on a tight budget throughout their school years. They need to stick with that same attitude when they become a full-time wage earner. In this way, too, college is a good rehearsal for the rest of their lives.
Share your favorite ideas or websites for saving and spending wisely.
Using Learned Skills and Developing New Skills
We watched Robert effectively handle his online interview with City Year. Next we see him in Columbia, South Carolina, employed by City Year to work in Heyward Gibbes Middle School. This is a year of service for Robert, an opportunity to give back to the community. He will provide individualized support to at-risk students, while also establishing an overall positive learning environment in the school. His dedication and hard work will help students reach their full potential, while also having a positive effect on the community as a whole. Robert is developing his leadership and collaboration (teamwork) skills. Personally, Robert is learning how to afford his new life. He is utilizing what he’s already learned through academic and life experiences as well learning new skills as he adjusts to his new job.
In a classroom at Gibbes, Robert says that he tells the children: “It’s okay not to get math, it’s okay to make mistakes, and okay to ask for help.” The skills that make him a successful City Year AmeriCorps member are things he learned in college: to build a support network, find solutions, and keep going. He shares his own story with the children as a way to build a relationship with them and to motivate them. Principal Sarah Smith says that building a relationship is very powerful. Once students are able to “build their self-confidence, they can move to the next level.”
Even as Robert moves along in different jobs, he will find himself applying the basic skills he mastered throughout his journey through college. Even better, he will pass on his knowledge to others – helping them to succeed in their own way. Use your own story or that of friends or colleagues to show how you/they applied what was learned in college to early job experiences.
Personal Lifelong Learning: Once in the workplace, we never stop learning. Encourage students and new college graduates to ask questions and seek guidance from supervisors, mentors, and accomplished co-workers. Tell them why it is important to continue to read books or blogs in their fields or industries of interest. Share if you have joined professional associations to increase visibility and networks, and if you have taken leadership roles in these organizations. Their own leadership roles in campus life can be the model. Suggest they take courses or workshops offered by employers, professional associations, or schools to advance skills, keep them current, and learn new ones. (Sometimes employers pay for workshops, professional association memberships, and continuing education.) Explain how this may have worked for you or others you know.
What should students take away from this chapter?
Finding the right job is a job in itself that takes place throughout college in the same way that high school is a continuous preparation for college.
Use all the resources the career office has to offer beginning in the first year.
Start building your resume using jobs and extracurricular activities on and off campus all the way through school.
Become skilled in tapping your networks to help find the kinds of work that interest you.
Using every resource a college has to offer can make all the difference in finding a job and planning for life afterwards – getting to the end game.
I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide by Marcia Y. Cantarella, Ph.D. (See Chapter 10, Preparing for Life After College).
Use the following point system to help students completely their self-assessment
Self-Assessment Guide (Points = )
Throughout the Student Guide you have seen crop up following a direction or suggestion for an activity that will help you to move toward your goals. Each is worth 10 points, for a potential 1240 points total. Below you can see what your score says about you. Note that each activity takes time and effort, so your score will reflect how serious you are about taking the actions that can make all the difference in your future.
0-250 Points: You need to believe in yourself. You don't seem willing to take the steps that can change your life. Do more for yourself and see if it helps you to feel better about your future. Remember the skills you practice here are skills that you will use for a lifetime.
260-510 Points: You need to invest in yourself more. You are taking some tentative steps but are not ready to dive into the actions that you sense can help you. Think about what actions seemed most challenging to do. Seek help if you need support. We talked often about how important a support system or network is. Use it to help you work on your plans for the future.
520-820 Points: You are off to an excellent start in learning things about yourself and others that can launch you into a new future. College will be part of that future given your commitment so far. Find more actions in the guide that can build your support networks and skills. Keep up the good work.
830-1070 Points: Good job. You are mature, you realize what you need to change, and you are off to a great start. You are willing to make the effort and will apply your skills to gaining your degree and launching your career when the time comes.
1080-1240 Points: You are totally on a roll!! Bravo to you! You are ready to be a winner and do whatever it takes to reach your goals. You will be an excellent student, applying what you have done here to become a college graduate.
Marcia Y. Cantarella, Ph.D.
As the world of work has become more complex, and demand for higher skill levels has emerged as essential to advancement, college has replaced high school as the education level most necessary in order to succeed. The pressure to attend college has become enormous and the competition fierce. In college, the mix of academics, social life, and work, and the stress to secure the funds needed to pay for it, can create so much anxiety that many students stumble and are not able to regain their footing.
The result is that increasing numbers of students decide that college is not for them and drop out – thus closing off the many opportunities that higher education provides. This guide and the experiences of Robert and Krishaun show an alternative to this scenario – a path to success that you are helping students achieve starting in high school.
You have shared how asking questions, being determined and purposeful, and finding the right network of supportive people can assure success from high school through college and throughout life. Your own stories have shown how building relationships in and out of school can make all the difference. For most of you, college was a special place in which you learned how to do this. You also learned how to overcome your fears so you could go after what you wanted. THANK YOU for sharing your time, wisdom, and perceptions so that students and youth can learn from you, grow, and thrive.You have made all the difference!
I give credit to all the students and colleagues I have had the pleasure of working with over the years. For this project I must thank Outreach Extensions – Judy Ravitz for her unending patience, wisdom, and experience; and Anne Llewellyn for being a masterful editor.– Marcia Y. Cantarella, Ph.D.
Outreach Extensions gives special thanks to the filmmaker and producers: Tod Lending, Nomadic Pictures; Joy Thomas Moore, JWS Media Consulting; and Wes Moore, Omari Productions; with whom we have traveled a long road in developing this project. Special thanks also goes to Jacquie Jones at NBPC who provided financial support so we could begin to develop the community engagement materials. Melissa Stern edited the film clips that provide lessons-learned throughout this guide.
The film All the Difference and the remarkable stories of Robert Henderson and Krishaun Branch will animate the dreams of all young African-American men to graduate from high school and college and to lead successful lives. We thank Krishaun and Robert for sharing their vulnerabilities and accomplishments so others can learn from them. Their families, too, played a vital role. We thank the three schools attended by these young men: Urban Prep Academies (Chicago), Lake Forest College (Illinois), and Fisk University (Tennessee); and the teachers, advisers, and administrators who made all the difference to them.
To begin this project, Outreach Extensions conducted an ascertainment with youth-serving organizations to obtain their advice and counsel on resources that could help youth prepare for and succeed in college. These organizations included College Summit; Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color; Minority Student Achievement Network; United Negro College Fund; College Board’s National Office for School Counselor Advocacy; The National Association of Elementary School Principals; American School Counselor Association; Whole Child Program, ASCD; Black Alliance for Educational Options, Inc.; Achievement Gap Initiative (Harvard University); The HistoryMakers; Barbershops/Against the Grain Magazine; and Marcia Cantarella. Additional guidance was provided by Los Angeles Unified School District, CBS Diversity Project, Association of African American Museums, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Conference of National Black Churches, NAACP, National Conference of State Legislatures, National Fatherhood Initiative, Teaching Tolerance/Southern Poverty Law Center, Urban League, and The Posse Foundation. Community engagement staff at public television stations offered vital assistance.
We wish to acknowledge the vital partnership of City Year in reviewing this guide, and most important, contributing valuable content throughout Chapter Six. We especially thank Gillian Smith. Epiphany Acevedo, and Elizabeth McDonough for their inspired contributions.
We also want to acknowledge the students at Eagle Academy, New York; Hunter College, The City University of New York; and those in the African American Male Initiative at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, who participated in group review sessions, trying out the All the DifferenceCollege Bound Students Handbook activities and videos and giving us valuable feedback.
We thank POV for collaborating on the project: Simon Kilmurry, Eliza Licht, Mary T. An, Emma Dessau, Sunil Patel, and Yvonne Kouadjo. Public television stations, especially American Graduate stations, are central to project implementation. We wish them great success in reaching out to organizations and youth in their communities to learn from and use this guide to forge their futures.
Generous support for this All the Difference College Bound Facilitators Guide is made possible by the National Black Programming Consortium, American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen sponsored by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Wyncote Foundation, POV, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Nomadic Pictures, Outreach Extensions, JWS Media Consulting, and Omari Productions.
Thirty-one video clips expand on important themes in the All the Difference documentary. Some are drawn from scenes in the film (FILM), while others are specially created using footage of Robert and Krishaun not included in the film (NEW). The third type of clip is a combination of scenes from the film and new footage (MIX).
Introduction and Purpose
“Overcoming or leaving unhealthy environments can make all the difference.” (NEW)