Background: Film and Major Characters Robert's and Krishaun's Stories Meet Robert and Krishaun Format and Content of this Handbook
College bound students handbook
Achieve your college and career goals using resources and strategies that work!

31 video clips challenge you with real-life college situations featuring Robert and Krishaun from the American Graduate film All the Difference.

Written by Marcia Cantarella, Ph.D., Author, I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide Edited by Anne Llewellyn, Outreach Extensions Community Engagement Resources Produced by Judy Ravitz, Outreach Extensions, and Executive Produced by Joy Thomas Moore, JWS Media Consulting

Introduction and Purpose

Introduction and Purpose

The American Graduate film All the Difference by Tod Lending is a real and compelling view of two determined African-American young men, Krishaun Branch and Robert Henderson, as they journey from high school through college. It could be your story, or the story of someone you know.

From the South Side of Chicago, they are on a mission to earn first 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 chances of being shot or imprisoned than they have of becoming college graduates.

In some ways the film is a bit of a cliffhanger. We root for their success from the beginning, but are uncertain how it will end. Thanks to a supportive high school (Urban Prep Academies), family members, teachers and mentors, as well as their own will, these two students are beating the odds. The various mentors they develop along the way make "all the difference" in their capacities to be resilient and to triumph academically and in life, when few from their backgrounds are able to do so. What we want is for you to be among those young men who make it.

Our goals in this College Bound Students Handbook are to highlight the obstacles that Robert and Krishaun encountered along their journeys to reach and complete college as well as the strategies they used to overcome them. In particular, it illustrates how the two young men effectively used a range of people and resources to help them achieve their dreams of a college degree. What made all the difference for them can serve as a roadmap for you.

The handbook can be used either while viewing the documentary or afterwards — throughout your own quest to attend college, graduate, and then find your way to a job. It is a tool to help you succeed, which you can use at your own pace.

  • To help you understand the issues better, you'll find video clips throughout the handbook. Highlighting the same kinds of issues you are likely to face, the clips feature conversations between Krishaun or Robert and the people who help them — so you can see and hear their struggles and their search for solutions. Some video clips are directly from the documentary, while others have been specially created to accompany this handbook. They expand on important themes that cannot be fully presented within the limits of the 90-minute show.
  • You will find questions to answer and situations for you to think about what you would do compared to how Robert or Krishaun handled them. When in college, more than in high school, you will be expected to answer questions based on things you see or read. Our questions help you to practice that skill. Other interactive elements feature links to blogs and other resources.
  • Self Scoring gives you an incentive to complete different types of tasks throughout this handbook. The tasks for which you can gain points are noted by this pencil: . Each activity is worth 10 points. At the end of the handbook you will be given a link to see what your score says about you and what you will need to do to achieve your dreams. The more activities you complete, the better prepared you will be for college. You'll also have a higher score!

We encourage you to use every part of this handbook to find tools and options to make the right choices for you: college, course of study, and life path. It will make you work — and think. For fun along the way, you can give yourself points as you complete each task. Most important this guide will give you useful information and a new perspective gained from the experiences of students much like you.

Background: Film and Major Characters

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 its senior class. Both young men graduate from their respective colleges in four years.

In a later chapter, Dr. Carl Bell, a professor of public health and community psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, states that youth growing up in a challenging neighborhood like Englewood may also benefit from "protective factors" such as mothers, fathers, grandparents, friends, places of worship, sports teams, afterschool programs, and teachers. As you watch All the Difference, and view the video clips that accompany this handbook, look for the different types of protective factors and people that lift up Robert and Krishaun to help them create and achieve their dreams. Throughout this handbook, we encourage you to identify and build a network of people whom you can count on to support your 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 over 1000 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.

Robert's and Krishaun's Stories

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 neighborhood gangs 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 student 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. Being 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 sons. When Krishaun 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 advisor to students. He has become a father, which is bringing new challenges and responsibilities.

During high school these young men were filmed in their classes, at home, and with friends in casual settings. Most of the filming was completed at school because that was where they spent the majority of their time. The filmmaker spent the next four years following Robert and Krishaun 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 encountered and what strategies, resources, and networking opportunities (how they were able to connect to people who could help them) they used to secure employment and settle into new lives.

Meet Robert and Krishaun

The Introductory Video opens on 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?" They will be among the 52 percent of black males who complete high school nationally according to data from the Schott Foundation. They will also be 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, Krishaun and Robert 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, your choices can make all the difference in where you land in these statistics.

The video is introduced 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. Wes is a pretty awesome guy in his own right. Check him out on Facebook or you can follow him on Twitter.

Format and Content of this Handbook

Each chapter in the handbook covers a different key topic that you can use to make decisions about yourself and your own journey to and through college. Compare your experiences to those you see happening to Robert and Krishaun in the video clips and film.

  • Chapter One: Expectations About College — This chapter explores the sources of expectations you have for yourself, and to what extent these create pressure or provide 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. What you do in high school can also make all the difference in your college quest and experience. Researching schools, making the right choices, practicing writing essays, and preparing for the SAT/ACT are all part of your journey in high school. Financial considerations also influence whether and where to attend college and the choices you make afterwards.
  • Chapter Two: Career Paths and Academic Majors — This chapter explores the relationship between college majors, careers, and the importance of finding the right fit so that ultimately your academic and professional goals are met. It explains how to use college to prepare you for the rest of your life.
  • Chapter Three: Networks, Relationships, and Resources — College is a place in which you will build key networks (people who can help you) for support, and tap resources that will make all the difference in achieving your goals. This handbook suggests how to develop these networks. Some of this should begin in high school. Young men, in particular, seem to embrace a culture of going it alone. That attitude and fear can get in the way of your using resources, so this chapter addresses how to face and manage those fears realistically. It explains why and how creating supportive relationships will feed the positive goals and actions that will lead to your success.
  • 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 you 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 — Learning how to make choices and manage time as well as learning how to study effectively are skills that can make or break your college success. College provides more freedom and independence in contrast to how controlled your time was by your high school and family. Be prepared for how different college is from high school — you will need to manage your own time and study effectively so you can succeed.
  • Chapter Six: Getting to the End Game — This chapter focuses on the post-college job search, graduate school, or other opportunities. Consistently apply the strategies suggested throughout college to make all the difference in achieving your dreams. Some practices are the same you used to get into college. Now you can use them to secure a job or entry into graduate school — and for many years after college.

The format of each chapter generally includes the following sections. Some chapters have more than one Information/discussion topic.

  • An Information section helps you to understand more about key topics. For example, one topic may describe why you might resist getting help, while another could explain the kinds of support systems available in colleges and why you should use them. Questions encourage you to think about the issues and situations you are seeing (in the film and video clips) or reading in this handbook. Many of the questions are the kind that you would be expected to answer in a college class, so this is good practice even if you are now in high school.
  • Story Sharing is a chance for you to think about your own life experiences and how they compare to what you are seeing on the screen. You may want to talk to a friend, mentor, or family member to hear their life stories, too. Stories about others and your own self-reflection help you to see more possibilities. 
  • Hands-On Problem-Solving Activities help you to identify personal issues and think about solutions, using support structures or tools. What kind of support would help you to achieve a better result?
  • Homework means journaling, research, and written reports so that you can practice the skills you will need for college and beyond.
  • Sidebars in most chapters provide key information that will help you to understand an issue in more depth.
  • Personal Lifelong Learning: emphasizes the importance of continuous growth and self-exploration, creating networks, and having a personal "board of directors" to help you gain information and expand your knowledge base. The suggested activities here may include journals, blogs, and social media. For example, you can become part of LinkedIn groups for your high schools and colleges. You can post information about yourself that will help you to connect to others with similar interests and goals.
  • What should you take away from this chapter? Final comments summarize what you should learn and practice from each chapter. 
  • Resources at the end of each chapter suggest books, blogs, websites, and organizations that may be useful and relevant. These may be in the form of links to online tools.

Vocabulary building is supported by yellow highlighted words. Students do better on tests such as the SAT/ACT and essay writing when they have a rich vocabulary. Indeed people who are articulate, well read, and have a commanding vocabulary advance further in life. Studies show that the strength of a person's business vocabulary is the single measure that is found to predict income — every time. In other words, a strong vocabulary leads to greater income and, according to scientist Johnson O'Connor, a higher rank on the career ladder. So, start building your vocabulary! We encourage you to look up these highlighted words and begin to use them yourself. You can expand your vocabulary by reading. Even playing word games like Scrabble and Whirly Words can help you to improve your word skills while having some fun.

Handbook Author

Marcia Young Cantarella, Ph.D., has used her years of working with students to create the All the Difference College Bound Students Handbook. Following a long corporate career, Dr. Cantarella moved into higher education as a senior administrator, dean, and vice president at schools ranging from New York University to 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. Print.

  • Moore, Wes. The Work. New York: Random House, 2015. Print.

Generous support for this All the Difference College-Bound Students Handbook is made possible by The Wyncote Foundation, American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen sponsored by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Black Programming Consortium, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and Marguerite Casey Foundation.

Expectations About College

In the beginning of All the Difference we see South Side Chicago with its street shootings and arrests of predominantly young black youth. Watch the following video clip to view the challenging urban environment in which Robert and Krishaun live 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."

How you deal with where you live can make all the difference.
What or who keeps you from feeling that failure is inevitable? Is any of this familiar to you? How is your life the same, or how is it different? What are the threats from your environment that could keep you from getting a high school diploma and then a college degree? What fears do you have that your life could be "messed up"?

  • We are the young men of Urban Prep.
  • We are college bound.
  • We are exceptional, not because of what we say, but because we work at it.
  • We will not falter in the face of any obstacles placed before us.
  • We are dedicated, committed and focused.
  • We never succumb to mediocrity, uncertainty or fear.
  • We never fail because we never give up.
  • We make no excuses.
  • We choose to live honestly, nonviolently and honorably.
  • We respect ourselves and, in doing so, respect all people.
  • We have a future for which we are accountable.
  • We have a responsibility to our families, community and world.
  • We are our brothers' keepers.
  • We believe in ourselves.
  • We believe in each other.
  • We believe in Urban Prep.
  • We believe.

In the next clip, we see Robert and Krishaun in their charter high school, affirming, "We are the young men of Urban Prep." Watch Robert and Krishaun reciting the Urban Prep creed with their schoolmates. The creed tells us the school's expectations for behavior, attitudes, and success.

Pledging positive commitments can make all the difference.
What in the creed sounds like something you believe in? Do the expectations set forth in the Urban Prep Creed seem possible? Why? Would you want to adopt such a creed for yourself? Write a personal creed that may be more relevant and motivational for you. Many academics and business professionals say that writing down a goal makes it more powerful.

Graduation from high school is a major achievement, 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 graduation ceremony, Robert's and Krishaun's family members comment on what it means to them and how they feel about the moment.

Hearing optimistic expectations can make all the difference.
Does Tim King sound like anyone you know? Maybe your principal or a teacher? Who has high expectations for you — especially to graduate from college? Why is what they say important to you? Are you prepared to push yourself to meet those expectations — for them, but mostly for yourself? If so, you're ready to start planning for college.


Why is college important to you? Think about it on your own. Talk to a friend, parent, adviser, or mentor about your thoughts and plans. Make a commitment to yourself.

  • List personal dreams and how college might help you to fulfill them.
  • List obstacles to those dreams including financial barriers to attending college (and how you might overcome them).
  • Choose a buddy who will help you to stay on track in your pursuit of a college education...and then keep it real. Talk regularly to your buddy, ideally someone in college or someone also hoping to go to college. Make a pledge that you'll both succeed.

Now that you have a commitment to go to college, focus on three decisions you need to make to gain admission to a college: decide on which college to attend, how to get there (including financially), and how to prepare to manage your expectations once you are in college. These can make all the difference in the college experience.


Thinking about expectations

When you were a young child, people started asking what you wanted to be when you grew up: a fireman, athlete, teacher, or doctor. Parents expect certain behaviors and are pleased or disappointed depending upon how you act — maybe making you a little crazy. Speaking as a parent myself, we want others to see our children as special and unique. Think of the prideful bumper stickers saying, "My child is an honor student at..." We want to boast. Sometimes parents think that their children's successes or failures are reflections of themselves. This puts added pressure on their children.

What have you done that your family members boast about? What are some of the things they expect from you? Do you agree with their goals for you? You may have higher or lower expectations for yourself. The main thing is for you to be comfortable with whatever the expectations are that you are planning to act upon. Talk to your parents, a teacher, or a mentor about what you expect from yourself and feel others expect from you. If your expectations match theirs, or if you understand and agree with their expectations, you will find less conflict along the way.

Robert has set himself expectations 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." Robert is assiduous and tenacious. 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.

Developing a mindset of success can make all the difference.
What impresses you the most about Robert? In what way would you like to be like him? What does "mindset of success" mean to you? How can your expectations for yourself help you to develop a winning mindset of success of your own?


High school graduation has significance for families, fulfills their expectations, and leads to new expectations. It is a huge achievement and a stepping stone to more. Krishaun's family celebrates at his graduation trunk party. His Aunt Victoria comments that the majority of young men coming from Krishaun's background don't "escape." She talks about Krishaun's wise choices and excellent school. His mother expresses her pride about how far her son has come. His cousin believes that Krishaun will succeed and "give back to his community."

Supportive families and communities can make all the difference.
What makes you think that Krishaun will succeed? How do you feel about your own upcoming high school graduation or other moments of success? What do those times represent for you and your family members? How have they made a difference to what you have done or how good you feel?

In the previous clip, Krishaun's three elementary school teachers express concern that "we are constantly losing our young black men." Do you believe it is tougher to achieve your goals than it might be for women or students of other races or ethnicities? What are the family and community supports Robert and Krishaun have, e.g., family, school, place of worship, mentors, and advisers? How have these supports proven helpful so far, and how have they made all the difference in their lives? Think about your own support system. Do you feel you have the tools to fulfill your own expectations and those of others about you? Who are the people you can count on to support your goal to attend and finish college?

Ask your parents, mentors, or advisers what tools they have used to achieve their own goals. Will these tools and supports also help you to succeed? What have people said to you that made an impression? For example, here is what Robert says he learned from his first wrestling coach, Mr. Price:

Wrestling is life. When you wrestle, you struggle. You have to tie up with your opponent, grapple with him, just as you need to grapple with life. You're going to have obstacles in life and responsibilities: you have to do your homework, pass a test, wash the dishes, or baby-sit. In wrestling, you have to pin down your opponent and beat him by points. Don't let your back touch the mat. Be on your toes. And think.
How has Robert understood his coach's advice? How would you apply his coach's advice to your life?

One aspect about planning for and going to college is that families need to let go. You need to help prepare them through your actions and words. Your good behavior starting now — in high school — will show them you can be trusted to take care of yourself as a more independent person in college. What are some actions you can take that will assure your family that you are college ready?

  • Start with open communications with family members — so they know where you are and what you are doing.
  • Share your questions and concerns and involve them in your decision making. This builds their confidence and helps you avoid conflicts.
  • Show them a new list of responsibilities you're committed to doing, beginning right now. This will help to convince them you can be trusted to take on the independence of college life.

Story Sharing: Ask someone you are close to and/or admire to share a personal story about how they managed the expectations (positive or negative) of others. Perhaps they have a story about the challenges of planning for higher education or an unexpected career and the choices they made. Discuss who has made all the difference in helping them make good choices that led to their success.


Watch this video of Krishaun talking 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, MarQo Patton, at Fisk University, Krishaun says, "I really look up to him. He's been through some of the same things I've been through." He describes him as "having a bright future" and says he [Krishaun] wants "to get to where he [MarQo] is."

Knowing the stories of role models, who have succeeded despite the odds, can make all the difference.
What advice given by MarQo is something you would like to try? What are the advantages to having different kinds of role models — older family members or young black men who may be only a year or two ahead of you in school? What other kinds of role models have you found to be useful? What new ideas do you have to find people who can help you to achieve your dreams?

Find stories of others who have succeeded despite challenging odds or who have defied low expectations. Some may be in your family or community 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 stories is the wonderful documentary Black List: Volume 1 that was directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and Elvis Mitchell. 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 the 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.

Make or bookmark a list of films or stories that you can view or read when you need inspiration. (Hint: see the homework assignment below.)

  • Often the people who most inspire us are not famous. Think about family, school, or community members who have been successful in some way large or small. This could be a local barber, high school teacher, faith leader, or business owner. It can be an uncle or a mentor. Whom would you like to interview to hear their stories? You can build a valuable skill, hear amazing stories, and have some fun by videotaping interviews with people you admire and want to emulate. Create a video that can be an inspirational piece for yourself, or that you can send as part of your college application to show your thoughts and talents.

  • In addition to local heroes in your community and life, as a young person you may be unfamiliar with your culture's history and heroes. Use the following list and find out about them — not only what they have achieved but also what they may have had to overcome to become who they are. Ask a few friends to research names/people, too, and then share what you find out. Here are some ideas: Vernon Jordan, Whitney Young, Martin Luther King, Jr., Barack Obama, Kenneth Chenault, Frederick Douglass, Henry Louis Gates, Lewis Latimer, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Geoffrey Canada, Benjamin Mays, Wes Moore, Denzel Washington, Richard Parsons, Toure Roberts, and Daniel "Chappie" James. Did they go to college or not? What common threads did you find in their stories? Would you want to be like one of them...or even all of them? Whom did you most admire?

  • Make a list of what success looks like to you. Is it different from what a hero looks like and why? What have you learned about the famous and the not so famous? How are lives changed by fame?

Note how successful people usually acknowledge others who have made all the difference in their lives. Always say, "thank you."


Why college, which college, and how to get there

College graduation sets up an expectation for a better life. College today represents both the culmination of a successful path and the beginning of a successful life. Those with college degrees are more affluent and less likely to suffer from the negative consequences that are attributed to poverty.

Here is what we know 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 being 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 more 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.

Why might the benefits just described be true? Do they help you to think about the kind of life you might have after finishing college?

Dr. Sheila Peters at Fisk University describes other benefits of attending college. For example, she says that college provides the intangibles of being able to engage in small talk in an intellectual way. You know how to dress for an interview and you have a good resume. In addition, while you are waiting for that job interview, you can talk with the administrative assistant about more than the weather. You might even know something about the paintings hanging on the wall. You are more comfortable because, as a college graduate, you are used to that kind of conversation, and that's powerful.

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 you are mainly learning by rote, may have little homework compared to what you will be expected to do in college, and rarely are expected to take what you learn into broader contexts.

In college you will be asked to manage assignments on your own time, interpret information, engage in research, write extensively expressing your own views supported by evidence and logic, work with professors, collaborate with other students to complete assignments, and become self-determined. These are also valuable workplace skills. 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, or classes, and other resources. It is more demanding and likely to be completely different from what you might imagine as a high school student.


That is why it is so important to know enough about yourself to be able to make good choices about which schools to attend. Similarly you need to be thoughtful about choosing colleges based on YOUR strengths, interests, aptitudes, and learning styles, as well as geography, income, and the availability of financial assistance.What factors are you thinking about in making college choices — geography, cost, academic major, reputation, size, and friends? Make a list of what is important and put it in your priority order.

A college event or fair at your high school is one of many tools, including The Fiske Guides, Princeton Review, books, and college websites that can help you explore the many types of schools that may interest you. Urban Prep's college event was described 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 what school 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 what Krishaun thought about his choice of Fisk.

Aligning student strengths and interests with the right school can make all the difference.
What did Krishaun say was his career goal at the event? . Why did Krishaun make the choice to attend Fisk University? . What are some of the elements he considered important? . How does this help you to think about your own choices, e.g., course of study, school size, and level of support that might be available?


A key to college success and managing expectations is self-knowledge and the assurance that students are in the right 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.

Read the scenarios below. Find yourself in these types of students and consider the various options following high school. What sounds like the best fit for you? How else might you describe your goals and learning style? What led you to make the choice(s) you made?

Loves Learning. You love learning and being part of a community in which others do too. That is the first clue that you are college material. You may not have admitted your love to others for fear of being considered geeky, but if in your mind 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 or mid-sized liberal arts college or a large university setting could be right for you.

Under Challenged. You were bored and not achieving at the level everyone else thought 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 like New York's Fashion Institute of Technology, for example. 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 that allowed you to work with your hands? Was taking action more important than reading or doing research in the library? You may be a student for whom a traditional college is not the right choice. Colleges that are clearly vocational in their focus and teach hands-on skills that can be used right away in defined workplaces are sometimes classified as technical colleges. Look at technical schools or community colleges. If 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.

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? Are you feeling that 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, to the detriment of 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 goal in particular. 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 is available, 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, long ago, you felt that you were not ready for or did not need college, or now you're 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® that will allow you to apply to college even 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.

You could fit into more than one category, or you may want to describe yourself in different ways. Which categories do Robert and Krishaun most likely fit into and why? . (Clues: Did Robert and Krishaun have clear career goals?)

Which college is right for you? Take a look at the Sidebar on College Degrees to find out more about the kinds of college degrees that are available — Associate's, Bachelor's, Master's, and beyond. What degree matches your job seeking and career goals — and what can you afford? Put this information together with what you have already learned about yourself from figuring out what student learning style best describes you. Now you're ready to start thinking about what colleges might work best for you. Think broadly. Make an initial list of colleges to look into.

Give yourself enough time while you are in high school to find the schools that interest you and that seem to fit your learning style and goals. Here is a list of key activities you can also do in high school to help you get into the college of your choice:

  • Be sure you have great grades. This will be especially true your last two years, but it all counts in the end. Ask for extra help from teachers if you need it. (Do this in college too; it is what teachers are paid to do!)

  • READ. Read volumes of books, magazines, news articles — whatever interests you. Doing so will build your vocabulary skills for the SAT/ACT tests. You will also become a better writer and be more prepared for interviews.

  • Engage in the right activities — not to the detriment of your schoolwork or health but enough to show that you are a leader, innovator, and caring person through projects you do for your high school or in your place of worship or community. Find clubs or opportunities to learn more about your planned career. All of these help you to gain experiences that you can use in personal statements and interviews.

  • Have a part-time job. This shows how responsible you are and helps you save money for college.

  • Build relationships with adults in high school and in your jobs and activities so they will be happy to write those glowing letters of recommendation you will need.

  • Find a program through your school or public library that will prepare you for the SAT/ACT tests. You'll discover "tricks of the trade" to help you do well on standardized tests.

These are very similar to the skills and activities you will use in college to search for a job and be launched on your career. Get into the habit now.


Types of degrees or programs to consider as you look ahead to schooling after high school graduation.

  • 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 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.
  • 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 (MA) 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 also earn an MA in history or biology or math. An MA 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.

Writing the essay for your college application

The steps to being admitted to the college of your choice include completing a college application and writing an essay that will convince them you are the right student for their college.

As you prepare to write the all-important college essays to the schools you've chosen, think about how you see yourself. What are your goals? What have you achieved academically, socially, in sports, and in serving the community? This is one of the places where all those things you have been doing while in high school become important. What obstacles have you overcome? Write these down. Make it comprehensive and then you can select the ideas that work for individual colleges.

Your essay needs to be personal and compelling. Expect to write several drafts that should be reviewed by people who know you as well as those who are excellent writers. It has to be your own voice and work. What are the anecdotes in your life that best describe who you are and how you came to be that way? No one can or should write it for you. It is YOUR story after all — about what has made all the difference in YOUR life.

Evan Lewis, Krishaun's Urban Prep 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 that every day he is fighting a battle that will determine whether or not he is able to live the life he envisions for himself. He advises Krishaun to be committed to his dream of success.

Identifying your goals and dreams can make all the difference.
What does Evan Lewis mean by saying Krishaun needs to "fight a battle" every day to live his dream? . Think about your past, present, and future. How will you describe yourself on your college essay — and tell what you plan for your future? . How strongly are you committed to your dream of college and success? . What can you say to convince the college of your commitment?

Advice on doing the all-important college essay. By Zaragoza Guerra, college admissions consultant on College Coach.

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 that 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 it through your anecdotes! Has your identity manifested itself in some way, through actions or drive? If so, show your reader.
  4. 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, what contributions you've already made in the world, and what you're hoping to do in the future. Be careful not to sound haughty or pretentious.
  5. 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 how you have overcome adversity, learned lessons, and matured. (From 5 Tips for Showcasing Your Identity on the Common App Essay.)

Now that you're thinking about your own essay, you may want to see some examples of successful essays that helped students to enter top-notch schools like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, University of California at Berkeley, the University of Pennsylvania and others. You can also find examples of essays for the Common Application. Visit College Admissions Essays.


Financing college


Money is often the scariest aspect of planning for college. You should prepare a personal budget now while you are in high school that allows some savings for college. Notice that a budget forces you to make difficult choices — college fund or new sneakers or a special hairdo. Keep a notebook on spending for two weeks. At the end of two weeks see how prudent you have been and how well you are able to fit your spending to your budget. What strategies can you use to manage your spending? Choose a budget buddy. Both of you should set a savings goal for something you want and for your college fund. See who does the best and encourage or remind one another of your goals.

The money question applies to pretty much everybody. Money is an area people hesitate to talk about and yet has huge implications. Studies indicate, for example, that black students tend to leave college with the most student loan debt — more than $25,000. This was certainly true for both Robert and Krishaun. You need money to go to the college of your choice and remain in school to complete your degree. Learning about financial resources can save you lots of money — and perhaps save your education. Learning about and managing money becomes essential to achieving your education. Done right, it becomes an essential part of that education.

How to pay for college is important for all students. Money will be a key factor in whether you feel you can go to college as well as make it through to graduation. Research and planning are essential. Another factor to consider as you begin to search for the right school — which ones offer the best value for your money. As we've mentioned before, you also need to begin saving money for college yourself.

Students who will be the first in their family to attend college, or whose families do not have a lot of money, may have the least information about the college application process and available resources. If this is you, you may need more time to find the right school and learn what it takes to get in.

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. Both Robert and Krishaun 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 had better advice so his loan debt would be lower.

Securing financial support and understanding your financial aid package early can make all the difference.
What lessons did you learn from this meeting? . What might Robert have done so that his loan debt would be lower as he was preparing to graduate? . Thinking ahead to your time in college, what financial resources are you planning to use? . What are some ways that you can earn money?

You need to find out about financial aid and talk to financial advisers at schools you are considering. A resource list is provided at the end of this chapter. For U.S. citizens, federal funds are available, usually in the form of Pell grants, student loans, work-study programs, deferred tuition programs (such as AmeriCorps), or outright scholarships tied to specific subjects or geography. The most important thing you 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 that gaining access to that money is complicated by the difficulties in filling out the FAFSA. But, you just have to do it! (Be aware that you are not eligible for federal government support if you are not a U.S. citizen. Some states, but not all, will allow non-U.S. citizens to enroll in public colleges at resident rates.)

To be eligible for federal Pell grants, loans, or even campus-based aid, you must have filled out the FAFSA. In fact, it is a good idea to do so even if you are lucky enough not to need financial aid. Your family's federal tax return for the previous year is required as part of financial aid applications and even for some government sponsored scholarships based on proven financial need. It is a problem for you if your family has not filed income tax returns. Some public colleges will enroll you and even find private funding sources for you, but in most cases you have to be able and willing to submit the FAFSA form. If a crisis such as illness in the family or loss of a job occurs, you must be in the system to appeal for support, even if right now you could pay the whole bill. It is best to work with the financial aid office; the advisers are trained to guide and counsel you on how to obtain aid.

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. It matches up 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 others. 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 Line and Leadership Enterprise for Diverse America (LEDA) 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.

Taking out credit union loans can be 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. State and city public college systems are economical for local students and often truly stellar. What is important is to research the various ways that college costs can be reduced and apply to diverse sources.


Many students and families have misconceptions about college costs. Their first thought is that the price they see is what they will pay. The reality is that just like a new car, 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 you with this process. Called "Get Schooled," it is brought to you by MTV: Find Money For College. Check it out. You will need to sign in; after you do, you can use it all the time. You'll be able to compare what you would pay to attend various colleges based on your family's income. That is really important information. Some schools will be cheaper than you might expect when financial aid is factored in, while others will be more expensive. The site has other tools, too. Write down what you learn

At the same time, families do not often plan for costs that begin to accrue even in the application process while you 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 you may need:

  • New clothes depending on the climate in which the school is located
  • Bedding and other household items for a dorm room
  • Health insurance if the student is not on the parent's plan
  • Student fees
  • Meal plans
  • Books and school supplies
  • Required deposit 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)
  • Cell phone

Try to add up the items here and see what you could need over and above tuition for college expenses.

For each item, think about a source of funding for it. Robert mentions, for example, that bus fare to college was the one contribution that his grandmother was able to make for him. This may be why a summer and/or a part-time campus work-study job could be essential. (They also build your resume.)

Understanding various costs, planning wisely, and spending modestly are critical as both Robert and Krishaun discovered. Both young men have money anxieties throughout their college years. Struggles with their grades may even have resulted in the loss of some of their scholarship funds, so be sure and keep your grades strong.

At the end of college, both Robert and Krishaun owed significant amounts of money in student loans. Their financial aid officers, with whom they had good relationships, helped them as much as they could. Without a doubt, the young men could have planned better and been more frugal; Krishaun, for example, could have found more part-time jobs. Working for an AmeriCorps service organization after he graduated from college will help Robert to reduce his loans as well as meet his personal goals.

What stumbling blocks and costs may be particularly difficult for you and your family? Money is one of the hardest things families have to discuss but it is hugely important. Talk with your parents, adviser, a credit counselor, or even a friend who is good with money. Be realistic.

For many, the best option may be a community college. Typically they are publicly funded, meaning subsidized, 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.

Explore local community colleges, and public and private colleges and universities; include historically black colleges and universities. 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. Look at the resource list at the end of this chapter to find ideas.

Online schools and courses are 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 you are working full time. However, you have to be very careful in choosing online schools or courses as not all are of equal quality. You will also miss the opportunity to engage with classmates and faculty in ways that will mimic the kinds of relationships and behaviors you will need for the workplace. You don't even have to get out of your pajamas. And while that sounds great, it does not prepare you to dress for success! Look for accreditation as one clue of quality.


Use the Internet to research colleges (5-10) that interest you. Why these schools? Here are some ways to think about your choices:

  • Think back to the type of learner you are.
  • What degree you are seeking and how large or small a school you want to attend.
  • Now factor in costs.
  • You can use the list of accredited colleges for ideas and then look on the colleges' individual websites.
  • Schools can be in state or out of state. (Some out-of-state schools adjust finances according to student need, but students also have to plan for travel costs.)
  • Do you know schools based on friends, family, or reputation?
  • Your research should include what kinds of reputations the schools have and whether they are accredited. Search the Internet to find articles that may send up red flags or affirm the choice you are thinking about.
  • Note whether they are for-profit or nonprofit. You may want to be especially wary of for-profit schools/colleges, and to know their reputations before paying.


Federal financial aid is given only to schools that meet accreditation standards and students would be wise to focus on these schools. Regional organizations review colleges and universities on a variety of measures, including governance, financial stability, and most important, academic outcomes. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the goal of accreditation is to "assure that institutions of higher education meet acceptable standards of quality." A list of accredited colleges meeting federal standards can be found at the accreditation database.

Now make a new list of schools to consider, given all this new information.

Personal Lifelong Learning: This is a good time to start a personal journal. Journaling can actually be a stress reliever while you are in high school, as well as help you to know yourself better. Choose an online journal or a written journal. You can begin by listing what you have learned so far about readiness for college. What are your personal expectations for yourself? What do you feel others expect from you, and are the two aligned — that is, do your personal goals match the goals your family has for you? Whom do you admire and why? What do you see that you may have to work on, whether a value or a subject matter, or a personal attribute (like patience or time management)? What would be a game plan to do that work? All these things and more can go into your "college preparation journal." Note that successful people report that keeping a journal of some kind is useful as a lifetime skill.

What should you take away from this chapter?

  • You have to begin to understand who you are and create your own expectations.
  • You should talk to your family about what you want and be sure you are all on the same page together. Build a support team to help you get from high school to college.
  • You should have some role models and inspiration to keep you going; a buddy who also wants to go to college can encourage your efforts.
  • You should appreciate why college is worth the effort.
  • You have to research schools and figure out which ones will support your dreams and goals.
  • You have to be prepared to complete the necessary applications — for admission to a college including your personal essay, and the FAFSA form for financial assistance.
  • Having a plan to pay for college is critical and you need to do the work to uncover financial aid. You also need to understand your own responsibilities including possibly having a job and saving money; budgeting can help you make smart choices.


  • Cantarella, Marcia Y., Ph.D. I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide. Naperville, Il: Sourcebooks, 2012. Chapter 1-2. Print.

  • The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). U.S. Department of Education., 2015. Web.

    Opens the portal for applying for federal financial aid and begins that process.
  • Edvisors. Edvisors Network, Inc., 2015. Web.

    Resources especially for online colleges.
  • Tisdale, Stacey. The True Cost of Happiness. New York: Wiley., 2009. Print.

    Tisdale helps you to plan based on an understanding of your personal money style.
  • Davis, Samson, George Jenkins, and Romeck Hunt. The Pact. New York: Riverhead Books, 2003. Print.

    The importance of camaraderie and shared goals is illustrated in this New York Times bestseller.
  • Collegeboard. The College Board., 2015. Web.

    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 Countdown. College Countdown., 2014. Web.

    Books and resources on finding, paying for, and surviving college including Fiske Guides and test prep materials.
  • Peterson's. Peterson's, a Nelnet Company., 2015. Web.

    Guides to taking tests and choosing colleges.
  • StudyNotes. Study Notes, LLC., 2014. Web.

    StudyNotes 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.
  • GED Programs., 2015. Web.

    Find out about GED programs, practice tests, and study guides.
  • American Academy of Achievement. American Academy of Achievement., 2015. Web.

  • The HistoryMakers. The HistoryMakers., 2015. Web.

    Biographies of black men and women of achievement.
  • Vohwinkle, Jeremy. "Money and the College Student". About Money. About., 2015. Web.

    An article on debt and college students. Contains links to help manage money and stay out of debt.
  • College, Education, Financial Aid info. U.S. Department of Education., 2015. Web.

    College preparation resources and tools.
  • NPEA — National Partnership for Educational Access. The Steppingstone Foundation., 2015. Web.

  • Shaevitz, Marjorie. adMission Possible. Naperville, Il: Sourcebooks., 2012. Print.

  • QuestBridge. QuestBridge., 2015. Web.

    A nonprofit organization, connects the brightest low-income students to America's best universities and opportunities.
  • BridgeEdU based in Baltimore, Maryland and founded by CEO Wes Moore, provides an onramp to higher education.

  • The Posse Foundation sends groups, or Posses, of diverse, highly motivated students to top institutions across the country.

  • Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates Millennium Scholarship the Gates Millennium Scholars ( was a highly competitive program for high school students. It offered 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.

  • Various organizations that prepare students for college, SATs, and other aspects of the process: Minds Matter, Let's Get Ready, Bottom Line, Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America, and I'm First!.

Career Paths and Academic Majors

After money, the next thing you and your family will try to figure out when considering college is your academic major. A very common question for students graduating from high school is, "What will you major in at college?" The way college works may not be at all what you expect. 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 you gain from majors as they relate to careers and the world of work. Getting a job is the reason most of you give for why you want to go to college.

Indeed, a college degree has a definite economic impact. According to a College Board report:

  • Median annual 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.

Building skills and gaining knowledge through the right set of courses can make all the difference in your experience of college and launching a career.


Career paths and expectations


  1. Things you love to do
  2. Things you are good at
  3. Things you are not good at and find hard to do
  4. Things you hate doing

For each category, you should consider activities in areas such as school, friends, family, athletics, faith, hobbies, interests, talents, and part-time jobs.

Now look for correlations: What are the things you love to do and are good at? What are the ones you are good at but hate to do? (These can be traps because people will ask you to do what you are good at even though you hate the work.) What about the things you both hate and are not good at — would this be a good career choice? The winning list is what you love to do AND are good at. Keep this list in mind as you think about careers and even courses or college majors. It can save lots of pain later on.

This will be you — count on it. When students start college, and even while they are in high school, they generally have a ready response to a question about what they want to study in college and what they plan to do with their degrees. They may say they are pre-med or pre-law, or interested in accounting or business. Then life happens. The pre-med student discovers an aversion to blood, the pre-law student decides that law firms are boring, and the accounting student hates math. And then over a lifetime of work bigger changes occur. Recessions happen. Relationships come and go. Industries rise and fall. Hurricanes devastate neighborhoods. Technologies are created and then replaced by newer technologies. Your major will not determine the rest of your life. What you think you will do as you exit high school may not be the job you choose as you exit college. Just as you have changed in high school you will continue to grow and change in college as your world view expands.


Robert began college with very specific views on what he wanted to study and why. He entered Lake Forest College intending to be a biology major. One reason he chose Lake Forest was that a high percentage of students ended up going to medical school; he wanted to become a doctor. What are you currently thinking that you might study in college?

Robert had a partial scholarship to Lake Forest and needed to maintain a strong grade point average (GPA). Early on, however, he discovers that both biology and chemistry, subjects in which he needed to do really well, are a challenge for him. He may not have the academic background to understand the material, or the courses may not fit his current learning style, or they may just not be as interesting or appealing as he first thought they would be.

Doing poorly in one or more subjects would trip up his advancement through college and could cost him his scholarships. He needed to make a change. Talking to an adviser early on was key to restructuring his academic plan. In Robert's case his adviser and chemistry professor, Dr. Lori Del Negro, made all the difference to his progress and potential success in college.

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."

Developing greater awareness, remaining flexible about future goals, and building skills can make all the difference.
What do both Robert and Dr. Del Negro say about Robert's change to his new double major (history and American studies)? What were Dr. Del Negro's ultimate college goals for Robert — which she thought would "open him up to a high-paying job"? .For himself, what did Robert say was his ultimate goal? . What do you think about the end-of-college goals both of them stated? . Did they surprise you? What might be the right goals for you?

Think about when you had a goal and someone helped you find a way to achieve it. What happened? It is important to use advisers and professors for guidance. List teachers, advisers, coaches, family members, or others that you could ask for guidance in Robert's situation.

Story Sharing: Whom do you know who has had different types of jobs or careers in his or her lifetime? Talk to them. Ask what skills they have used consistently along the way. What did they wish they had known or studied in college?

Go back to the previous chapter and revisit the bios of famous people who have progressed through many phases. President Barack Obama, for example, has been a community organizer, college professor, senator, and president. Think about pop icons who have gone to college and now have more than one business enterprise, e.g., Sean John (P. Diddy) Combs, Magic Johnson, and J. Lo. What new skills did they have to develop along their paths to success?

During the course of their college years, both Robert and Krishaun changed their ideas about their career paths and their majors. What changes have you made regarding your own career goals from the time you were a little kid up to now? It is important to know that being open-minded about your course of study will keep you connected to your interests, skills, and talents — and what you can achieve with them. You are more likely to succeed if you are using your strengths and real interests. The push toward a specific career path is often premature, usually made in the mistaken belief that you need to learn specific skill sets to grab the jobs available right now such as in technology, engineering, and other science related fields.

But then we forget four key things.

First is that not everyone is equipped with or interested in those particular skill sets. You 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 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 gained 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 claim as many as 15 jobs, with the lion's share in the first few years of work life when you 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 12 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. Course content has changed with the times.

List new fields that you may have heard of that have emerged in the past few years such as online marketing, biogenetics, and data mining.

But remember that jobs have stayed the same in terms of the need to communicate with others, solve problems, and promote ideas. Make a list of both the general and career-specific skills you might need in these three careers: advertising copywriter, financial analyst, and math teacher. Some skills will be the same for all three. And some will be specific to the career. (Note that you may have to talk to people in these or similar jobs to find out what exactly they do, or you can use the library or online resources.)

Suggestion: Describe what you know about the careers you are considering. Do you know people who are employed in those fields? Talk to them about their work. How did they learn about the existence of their fields? What ideas can they share about the course of study that helped them to work in that field?


Academic majors and career goals


How will you respond to the question, "What will you do with your major in (English, history, or another)?" You can consider a beginning job as well as think big about your potential for success. Here are 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 highs. Just be aware that you have plenty of time to find your own career; do not feel pressured to make premature decisions.

It is important to understand that your college major and later career are not necessarily bound together. Playing to your strengths can be a good approach to find work that will yield good results.

A good beginning in college is often a liberal arts education. The advantage of liberal arts is that you develop a range of skills that will serve you well for the rest of your life. Some courses focus on reading and writing while others expose you to different methods of doing research to prove points; each subject area requires different analytical and critical thinking skills. Such an education when coupled with work and life experiences helps to shape a person who is capable of becoming a leader, who can meet the demands of employers, and who creatively approaches any challenges in the workplace.


Students often seek admission to a school that offers a liberal arts course of study. It covers several significant fields including the arts and humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. Read what each of these is and think about how each relates to many, many career choices.

  • The social sciences generally relate to the study of human experience, society, and social behavior, including majors like psychology, sociology, criminology, anthropology, history, political science, and economics. They are useful in any career that requires interaction with or understanding of others.
  • 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. These are also a window into human behavior, but also good for fields requiring communication skills and creativity ranging from law to advertising.
  • 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. For those with a scientific mind these are useful for everything from creating new medicines to marketing.
  • 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. Interdisciplinary describes how most of us work every day. Most jobs require several kinds of knowledge, which is why colleges make students take courses in all the disciplines.

Make a list of college academic departments or subjects that you think sound interesting.

Look at a college catalog for descriptions of the courses in those departments. Make a note of those that interest you.

Think 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 said 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. It's like how is this conversation unfolding, what are the factors at play, can we analyze what's influencing how something is translating over time."

Robert's two majors play to his strengths in the sense that 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," as Dr. Del Negro describes it.

The idea is that 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. You can imagine tracking cultural influences and how companies are perceived in popular media.

Are you likely to be taking any courses that may not seem directly relevant to your hoped for career, but may be useful, for example, in learning how to do research, analyze information, or communicate better? Be sure you take some courses that build your skills in public speaking, computing, and data assessment; these can be very diverse and include sociology, for example.


Here are some realistic goals in preparing for and beginning college and ultimately finding a job to start your career path:

  • Study hard and do really well in your area of interest to maintain a strong grade point average (GPA).

  • Check out the work world through internships, work-study, 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, computer or technical literacy, human interaction, and time management.

To gain some perspective on the connection between what you study in college and achieving success after college, read my blog: "What Will You Do With That Major?"

Work, internships, and volunteer opportunities are all ways that you can test your interests and skills in a situation that you are considering as a major or career. Volunteerism is also a way to give back to the community. In this video Krishaun is at Thresh House of Fisk University helping students in local neighborhood schools with their homework. Krishaun compares the experience to his own elementary school education. He says that he never had a person in college tutor him or tell him about college. He hopes to pass on the idea that the kids should "take advantage of opportunities and find better ways of doing things instead of always the rough or tough way." Watch the video to find out what Krishaun's mentorship work means to him.

Gaining experience through volunteering, internships, and work opportunities, ideally in what you want to do, can make all the difference.
What are some ways you are taking advantage of opportunities that could help you to enter and graduate from college? . How do you think Krishaun's volunteer work will benefit him? How does it fit his ideas about a job at Urban Prep following his graduation from Fisk? Research programs at your school or in your town that may offer volunteer or internship opportunities.



Visit the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Handbook website to find out how many different jobs are related to your fields of interest. It is amazing how few people have a sense of the range of options open to them. We tend to think of a few basic categories like medicine, teaching, business, or law. The site is Occupational Outlook Handbook. Clicking on any category will give job titles, descriptions, education needed (usually college), and base salary information.

Using the library, research your particular field(s) of interest. If you are in college you can find information in your college career services office; otherwise use your school or public library. What are the skills needed for the field? What are the pay scales? Use this website: Salary Wizard. What kinds of organizations are involved: for profit or not-for-profit, multinational, or entrepreneurial, or large or small?

What do people do in this work? Who are the well-known names in the field? Look for publications that focus on a particular field of interest such as Ad Age for people in the advertising industry. Look for success stories in publications like Black Enterprise. Whom might you know locally?

Choose any large company like American Express (financial institution) or Merck (pharmaceuticals). Look them up on the Internet to find out what jobs people have and the types of jobs the companies are recruiting for.

Look at the biographies of notable people like CEOs Kenneth Chenault, American Express; Roger Ferguson, TIAA-CREF; Ursula Burns, Xerox; Carlos A. Rodriguez, ADP; or Kenneth Frasier at Merck. What can you learn about their career paths and professional activities?

Write an essay on your field of interest. Why is it a good fit for you? You may find your ideas useful in later cover letters for job applications.

Personal Lifelong Learning: Every semester review courses to find out what skills and information you are gaining that may be useful to your fields of interest in particular or the workplace in general. Look for skills like research, working in teams, solving problems, meeting deadlines, being creative, or organizing material. Any course will offer some of these skills or additional ones. You should be able to discuss them...perhaps in an interview with a potential employer.

Make an appointment to see an adviser at least twice a semester and assess how you are doing. Then decide if you need to make any changes to your plans or are eligible for enrichment programs or other opportunities. A good mentor on campus or an adviser can make all the difference to success in college.

Keep a list of phone numbers and email addresses for key support people and stay in contact with them. These may include a coach, adviser, employer, pastor, dean, or professor(s).

What should you take away from this chapter?

  • Think about your strengths and interests so you can identify college majors in which you can succeed.
  • Research the wide range of fields open to you and understand what kinds of course work or degrees you may need to enter those fields.

It will help to understand that most people's lives are not a straight line and that what will be important will be big skills like writing and thinking that will carry you through many jobs and careers over a lifetime.


  • Cantarella, Marcia Y., Ph.D. I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide. Naperville, Il: Sourcebooks, 2012. Chapter 4. Print.

  • Department of Labor Occupational Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics., 2015. Web.

  • Salary information. Salary Wizard, International Business Machines Corporation., 2015. Web.

  • American Academy of Achievement. American Academy of Achievement., 2015. Web.

    Sources for short biographies of accomplished people to use for inspiration.
  • The HistoryMakers. The HistoryMakers., 2015. Web.

  • How to offers articles, resource guides, and guidance for students and teachers.

  • Futures and Options and NYC Ladders for Leaders are organizations to help students find internships before college.

  • Futures and Options. Futures and Options., 2015. Web.

  • NYC Ladders for Leaders. The City of New York., 2015. Web.

Networks, Relationships, and Resources

It has been said that those with the greatest net worth have the greatest networks! Look at 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. College is a place to build key support networks and to use resources that will make all the difference in achieving your goals. Your network is a group of people you can count on to provide support and good advice. It should include people from different areas of your life such as family, school, faith, sports, and work.

In this handbook, you will learn the importance of creating supportive relationships with people that can help you to practice effective behaviors and achieve positive goals. Relationships, as the All the Difference film shows again and again, can make all the difference. Building and maintaining a support team or network starts in high school and goes on for your lifetime.

School is naturally a place that encourages and values questioning. Inquiry is the basis on which a faculty's work is built, so they welcome questions and the students who ask them. When you ask or answer questions in class you are speaking their language — and connecting with them in a positive way.

Learn how to approach and listen to the people who can help you, beginning with your teachers. In one of their meetings, Dr. Sheila Peters (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. This is also a good strategy to use on the job with your boss.

This is a life lesson in building relationships or networking. And it can make all the difference.



One of the key aspects of networking is knowing how to get started. You can start a conversation with something as simple as a comment on the weather and then introduce yourself. Depending on the person you are talking to, and the situation, you may then want to launch into what is called an "elevator speech" — what you could say about yourself between the first and 25th floor of an elevator ride. You always want to be prepared, whether you meet someone at an event at your school or on the check-out line at a grocery store, to tell your story to someone who might be helpful. Maybe they can help you get into college, obtain a job interview, or help you learn more about a career that interests you. However always remember to ask the other person about themselves. That will impress them the most!

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 like you: Developing Your "Elevator Speech."

Visit the site and write down what you learned.

Make a list of why you think it is important to build networks to teaching staff members or faculty even in high school.

Hands-On Problem-Solving Activity:

Write a one- or two-minute elevator speech or pitch (about 90 words) — key information you can use to sell yourself in the time it takes to ride an elevator. What can you say about yourself and your interests that could intrigue people you might meet? Describe who you are, your key strengths, what you are interested in doing, and how you can be a resource to others. Make it short, interesting, and humble — not an easy task.

Now practice with a partner. Find two partners to try out your elevator pitches together — and then go beyond the pitch to see if you can find common interests or complementary skills that could create value in forming a networking relationship. You will continue to refine your elevator pitch as your skills and interests change and you modify it to fit specific people and situations.

Building a strong network

Networking simply means the ability to create, build, and maintain relationships with others. You should strive to build a strong network of people that can help you in different situations whether in personal problem solving and development, college admission and advancement, job search and careers, and/or financial advice. Knowing whom to ask for help will build your confidence to connect with them; such connections will create opportunities and make you feel less isolated. It is how the world works. It will get you through high school, into and through college, and into a job.

People in your network come from all areas of your life — family members, teachers, faith leaders, and even your barber. In this video, Krishaun is really 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's significant is that he is heading back home to Chicago and returning to Urban Prep, his high school. He has promised them that he'll give them a year after graduation to be a mentor to students, to offer guidance similar to what he gained from in high school. Urban Prep is offering him a place to stay and a monthly stipend.

Building your networks, including finding people in your life who will listen to you, guide and support you, can make all the difference.
Questions: What does Krishaun say was his purpose in going to college? Why do you think it's important to him to return to Urban Prep? Do you think it will "open doors for him"? What do you think will happen next for him? Why was the barber a good sounding board for Krishaun at this time of his life?

Think back to Chapter Two on career paths and academic majors and remember our question 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. But the same is true for getting into college. It helps to talk to people who are in college and maybe at schools that interest you. You can learn what they did in high school to be where they are today.

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 now and expanding that effort throughout college and beyond will help to position you for success.

Notice the reference to "before needing to use it." The same is true in high school and college. Build relationships with your teachers or coaches or advisers so they know you. Then, when you need a reference from them — to get into college or graduate school, or to secure a job or internship — they will know exactly what to write about you so you can achieve the school or position you want. Krishaun hears this same message from his adviser, Dr. Peters in the next video.

Both at Urban Prep and in college Krishaun and Robert built relationships with teachers and administrators who could be their guides and mentors for years to come. Watch the video of Krishaun talking to his academic adviser, Dr. Sheila Peters who is an associate professor of psychology at Fisk. She seems to know Krishaun well. Dr. Peters asks Krishaun how he is doing in his classes. She finds out that he has not been meeting with his professors and advises him to do that. She tells him, "I want to make sure you continue to build those relationships...."

Identifying and developing mentors, including faculty, can make all the difference.
Questions: In what ways is his academic adviser an effective mentor to Krishaun? How does Krishaun respond to her advice? When is the best time for students to connect with their teachers? How is the opportunity for seeking help different depending upon whether you are doing well or in trouble academically?

Building relationships with a range of current and potential supporters and using those 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, internal networks can keep you in the loop and help advance your career. And ultimately your personal networks can keep you mentally and physically healthy.

Ask others about their networks

Story Sharing: Interview a mentor, teacher, or other person you admire and ask how they connect to people and build helpful networks. Here are some things to ask:

  • What networking strategies were useful?
  • Did they have to overcome shyness to feel comfortable in approaching strangers who could be helpful?
  • Did they have a conversation starter that worked (some ask about the weather, for example, or comment on the situation they are in)?
  • In what ways have their networks been most helpful?
  • Did they need a special connection to secure a job that hadn't been advertised?

With practice even those of you who prefer ideas and privacy over interaction with others can be successful at networking. You'll need to work harder to structure opportunities such as making specific appointments to meet with people or attending scheduled events. Discussing what's happening at the event you are attending will eventually bring the conversation around to who you are and what you are interested in (the elevator speech).

You can use written communications as another strategy to build and maintain networks. These may range from writing a thank you note to sending articles about a person or job area of mutual interest. Give people your business card (perhaps with a note of interest) and collect the business cards of people you meet such as a speaker you've heard. Follow up with a "thank you" email. People love to be remembered and recognized.

Another way to build your network along with very practical workplace skills and knowledge is by using online learning communities. Where study groups used to be limited to your school campus (and these are still valuable), you can go beyond those gates to learn with a larger online community or team to achieve shared learning objectives. This is how work in a global marketplace is increasingly being done, so it is important to learn how to work this way. Data and reports can be shared. The group can work using tools like Adobe Connect, which allows group members to see each other while working together. But more basic tools are also used like Google groups or message boards.

Discovering the range of assistance available can guide you in building a support team of diverse resource people from everywhere.

Hands-On Problem-Solving Activity:

Make a list of people in your life who could be effective mentors to you. (See category examples below.) Next to each name, identify how they could be helpful to you: college admission, job search, career field information, personal problem solving, financial advice, leadership development, or study strategies. Try for a really long list!

What strategies can you use to approach them? Whom have you chosen and what have you done already to build ties to potential mentors?

Category examples could include: family member, friends, employer, teacher, teaching assistant, professor, dean, school counselor, academic adviser, faith leader, member of the congregation, 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.


Fear of asking for help

Fears can keep you from building needed relationships, so here we address how to face and manage your fears realistically. A key reason for students failing to meet expectations is the fear around seeking help or asking questions. The expectations themselves become a barrier. If a person believes himself or herself to be "just fine," then why would they need to get help or guidance from someone else? Those of you who have always done well in high school are often surprised to find things in college to be more challenging than you had anticipated. When you receive that first grade below an A or B, you may be too embarrassed to talk to someone and reluctant to ask for help. That might seem, in your mind, to mean that you are not ready for college, when in fact you are ready. Men especially need to make finding support a value.

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 he would feel as though he accomplished something. Instead, Krishaun has one class that he is passing, two classes that he is failing, and one that he dropped. Dr. Peters advised Krishaun to talk to his professors to see what he could do to pull up his grades. This meeting took place in Krishaun's junior year. How 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. Do not try to tough it out alone!

Watch (or read) the Urban Prep Creed again and pay attention to its language about how supporting one another is a strength. (Jump to Creed) How can you use the creed to help yourself? Earlier we suggested that you create one that fits who you are and what your goals are. What would it say to motivate you every day to stay on course through high school and into college? Note, in particular, its emphasis on the community and mutual support. This creed helped Robert and Krishaun finish high school and college — and can provide guidance for their lives beyond school.

Students like Robert and Krishaun know that they need a college degree and are determined to finish high school and then college. However, if you are like them, the odds are that you don't know what the rules in college are, whom to trust or turn to, or what the processes are to correct your mistakes. A good rule is to meet regularly with your instructors so they know you before you get in trouble academically. Knowing how to ask questions and ask for help are skills that good students and good leaders use effectively.

Write down situations in which you have been successful in finding the help you needed. Think about who can help you right now.

Story Sharing: Can you think of stories (film, theater, or television) that showed fear getting in the way of what a character wanted to do? One good example is the hit Broadway play In the Heights, which is centered on the story of Nina, a child of the barrio and the first in her family to go to college (Stanford). Her financial problems lead to difficulties with her studying, and her academic standing falls. 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. Her fear of disappointing them is made more painful when she drops out of school. Think about her silence, too. Try and recall a favorite TV show or movie in which a character's silence created a problem or made one worse. What problem was created and what were the consequences? From whom could the character have sought help?


High school and college personnel expect questions and requests for help from students

Hands-On Problem-Solving Activity:

Identify and list areas in which you are fearful of asking questions related to progress in high school or college. Create scenarios to imagine what the worst case outcome might be (nothing life or death). For example, if you are afraid to speak up in class, what is the worst thing that can happen if you do speak up? Are your fears realistic? How much do your 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)?

A situation that doesn't seem to make sense is that while students go to college to learn, they feel as though they should act like they know everything already. Either they don't want to look dumb by asking questions, or think they look cool by staying silent, or they actually think they do know everything — until they find out that they don't.

For students of color, appearance and reality are important to consider. As people of color or those coming from difficult circumstances, we have been so battered that our egos are more fragile. We are more fearful of failure or appearing stupid, or any of the behaviors that trigger what Dr. Claude Steele has identified as "stereotype threat." Dr. Steele identified this very powerful force in which students, based on gender or ethnicity, underperform when they think that their actions may affirm a negative stereotype. It shows up on standardized tests like the SAT, in women taking math tests, or with students just not asking questions in class.

Ask yourself: In what situations have you been afraid of not looking smart or not looking as though you belonged? What was the situation and how did you overcome your fear?

Getting help is a life skill

You want to be cool and fit in. This extends to using resources like tutoring centers or faculty office hours or advisers. Being seen with a tutor could suggest a failure as opposed to a desire to improve yourself. The cool factor creates a fear of doing anything that might look geeky, or "white," or stupid. Some cultures are self-sufficient and do not trust help from outsiders or fear the airing of dirty laundry if the sharing involves family or financial matters. But these barriers, ideas, or biases have been preventing students like you from finishing high school and college. Getting help is a life skill — and one practiced by successful people.

Colleges expect you to come in knowing not very much and to leave knowing a great deal. That won't happen unless you realize that faculty and other college personnel are the keys to learning what you don't know. Watch the video of Dr. Sheila Peters to find out how faculty questioning in classes and guidance offered 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 could 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 that can benefit kids in that they can have more relaxed conversations with faculty and staff — in the cafeteria or walking in the campus yard.

Taking full advantage of all opportunities and resources to gain knowledge can make all the difference.

Like Robert's adviser Professor Del Negro, your high school or college counselor or adviser may not look like you or come from the same background. However, that does not mean that you cannot get the support you need from them. 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.

"Many of my students report back that professors, advisers, counselors, and other campus staff generally have good intentions, but often have difficulty connecting with the experiences of students of color, or of low-income or first-generation college students. In these circumstances, interactions that are designed to be supportive may instead feel isolating, misleading, or invalidating. As my students are preparing for their transitions to college, I urge them to find adults on campus who can connect with them. The adults my students find to be the most supportive are sometimes not the ones who've officially been designated by the college to play this role, but they are there, even in communities with little racial or economic diversity."

Questions: How would you answer Dr. Sheila Peters' questions? How would you deal with any negative expectations others may have for you? How can small talk with a professor build a personal relationship so s/he wants to invest in your future? Can you see how you may have to change in order to do well in college? How might this change be useful in the long term?

Get to know faculty and ask questions

In that clip, you can also see how well Dr. Peters understands her students and is willing to help them. 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. See my blog: "The Virtue of the Noisy College Student."

One way to 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 you are curious and interested. Prepare for your meeting. You can ask about something discussed in class or if you have questions about an assignment. Perhaps you want to talk about your ideas for a paper that is due or ask for suggestions on more background reading.

Make a list of what you might want to ask or discuss with individual teachers or faculty. Then, go and do it!

Teachers, advisers (who are called advisers because their job is to advise students), deans, teaching assistants, and tutoring centers are all available to answer questions. They want you to obtain the information you need to succeed in college and beyond. YOU pay their salaries with tuition dollars and 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.

People — your connections — are vital to reaching college and then employment goals. You will:

  • Need recommendations from faculty and deans,
  • Seek information about opportunities from the career office and alumni, and
  • Create networks through your internships and work situations.

A biography by civil rights and corporate leader Vernon Jordon, Make it Plain, shows how this worked repeatedly in his life, which has been extraordinarily successful. Throughout the book, he 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

If careers are built on networks and relationships, then creating a reputation as someone who is great to be around, reliable, polite, has integrity, and is hard-working are attributes you want to cultivate while young. Note that the reverse is also true: a reputation can be harmed through negative behavior whether in person or online. Employers and colleges are now looking at your social media to see what kind of person you are. Make sure your Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, or Instagrams offer a positive look at your ideas and behavior. Review your email address, Facebook pages, Tweets, and other social media messages from the point of view of a potential employer or college admissions committee. The Internet is forever. Don't put up anything that may haunt you in the future.

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 their undergraduate days have followed them. It is no accident that classmates of heralded figures are interviewed by the media when someone like Eric Holder becomes U.S. Attorney General.

Various people will see you differently depending on their roles in your life, and so you need to know which people to call upon for references. Some understand you well and can easily identify special qualities and talents you may have. Robert and Krishaun both encounter people on campus who see their strengths and promise, and who see past the stereotypes.

From what you have seen in the film and videos so far, who are the significant people in Robert's and Krishaun's networks? Note how all of their relationships to various people as well as their jobs and extracurricular activities, beginning in high school, are making all the difference in building their networks. Compare their networks to the list of people in your support network. Add or make changes to your list, focusing on which people can be most helpful to you.

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. Employees who want to succeed seek advice from those who are smarter than they are. The kind of inquiries you practice in college is part of the dress rehearsal for the rest of your life.

Write down a story in which you have come to the rescue or been the anchor for a friend. How have you been crucial to the support network for another person? How did that make you feel? Again this may show up as useful in a personal statement or even an interview.


Getting help from the right people in your school

Hands-On Problem-Solving Activities:

  • List the free resources available for support in your high school or college. (Examples include teachers, career services, tutoring centers, writing centers, academic advisers, financial aid, registrar, health services, counseling, library, alumni affairs, student affairs, dean of students, coaches, chaplains — and more.)
  • Find these offices and know where they are. Take literature from each so you will remember it when you need it. Write down the name of a person in that office for future reference, or better yet, introduce yourself.
  • Practice with a good friend, or at least in front of the mirror, how you will begin a "request for help" conversation to make it less scary.

Colleges are like any other big organization: they have their own hierarchy (and perhaps bureaucracy). It is important to know who people are so as to engage with them appropriately.

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.

Knowing how to navigate college and faculty resources can make all the difference.
Questions: What are some of the skills that the writing tutor suggested to Robert? How is Robert taking responsibility for writing a good paper? What kinds of help do you need in writing papers? Will you use tutoring services like this in your school? If no, why not?

Dr. Sheila Peters at Fisk also talks about teaching a seminar for students in their senior year. In it 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.

Think about why it might be a bad idea to "blow-off" such a class or seminar.


Write an essay (one to two pages) about jobs, volunteer activities, or leadership roles you have held beginning in 10th grade, and the range of people and experiences you've come across. How were they helpful and what did you learn? What would people from those situations say about you in a reference?

Write a letter of reference for yourself. Talk about your strengths as others may have viewed them based on what they know about you.

Write about a situation in which you wished you had acted differently, or what you learned from a mistake. We will discuss strategies for dealing with tough situations later in this guide. You should know that this is a common interview question for a job, internship, or enrollment in a program.

Personal Lifelong Learning: Join LinkedIn, a business or professional social networking service, and create a profile page. Keep track of people in your networks. LinkedIn offers ways to recognize the skills of others and that is an easy way to keep on someone's radar. What other ways can you keep your contacts active? Get to know people in your particular field of interest. The college alumni office can help here. Visit this blog: "What You Get for Your College Degree: The Value of Being an Alumnus." Check in with people in your networks periodically to let them know how you are doing and/or ask how they are doing. Share interesting articles or videos. Buy business cards; you'll find inexpensive ones at many online sites. They are well worth the money.

What should you take away from this chapter?

  • Networking and building networks is a lifetime asset. One of the most important skills you'll need is the ability to develop diverse types of relationships with people ranging from professors or teachers, advisers, and mentors to friends and alumni who can be helpful not only through college but for a lifetime.
  • You will need to know whom to ask for recommendations and character references for jobs, graduate schools, the bar association, law enforcement, and other fields.
  • You 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.


  • Cantarella, Marcia Y., Ph.D. I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide. Naperville, Il: Sourcebooks, 2012. Chapter 6, Your People. Print.

  • Join LinkedIn. LinkedIn., 2015. Web.

  • Grossman, Leslie, Link Out. New York: John Wiley and Sons. 2013. Print.

  • Steele, Claude, Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (Issues of Our Time). New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2011. Print.

  • Quintessential Careers website. QuintCareers., 2015. Web.

    Find more information on networking. The site also has special content for students.
  • Gale, Porter, Your Network is Your Net Worth: Unlock the Hidden Power of Connections for Wealth, Success, and Happiness in the Digital Age. New York: Atria Books, 2013. Print.

  • 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.

Slips, Stumbles, and Getting Up Again

We have all had those times when we wish we could roll back history. The question, however, becomes: how did you correct your slip or stumble and get up again? It is important to learn how to manage the crisis in the moment, and then to reflect on what was learned. You also need to learn how not to create the same scenario in the future. What is important to know is that mistakes are survivable!

Both Robert and Krishaun found themselves facing consequences of decisions that may not have been well thought out or the best choices. Some have had financial or academic implications like Robert's sticking with courses he was struggling with for far too long. Krishaun struggles all the way through school and may have made it to graduation with a less than stellar record. While he has begun his first post-college job at Urban Prep, a low GPA may come to haunt him later as he seeks new employment and needs to compete with graduates with higher GPAs. Had he sought help and support from his advisers and teachers (and others), he could have produced better results.

It has been true throughout history that young people, especially young men, who are struggling for independence and fearful of revealing weaknesses, want to tough it out and take care of things for themselves. The film shows many moments in which Robert and Krishaun play down their concerns, for example, about money, and often talk about toughing it out or figuring things out on their own. That is what we have represented in popular media as the manly way.

Everything about success, however, involves engagement with, support from, and support of other people. It makes all the difference. Think of all those people award winners thank! There is no question that Wes Moore is a manly man, and as evidenced throughout his life story, he has had support from many quarters.

Mistakes have consequences. With advice and support from others, you can learn how to manage mistakes, and even avoid them.


Making mistakes

A frequent college or job interview question is, "What mistakes have you made and what did you do to recover?" The assumption is that making mistakes is normal. It is. The test of character is how people manage them and what they learn from them.

Can you remember maybe an end-of-year scenario 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. Which scenarios describe what you left undone: classes you did not attend, homework you did not do, forgetting to take a course prerequisite, waiting too late to study for final exams, or rushing to complete a paper or project? Did these situations make you fearful you could undo your high school graduation or college career? Even worse, as the mistake grows larger in your mind, it may seem to threaten your entire life! Some crises are real and dire and some are more manageable. As suggested earlier, when you think through the consequences in realistic terms, things can seem easier to handle than our wild and crazy imaginations might suggest to us.

Our purpose here is to highlight times that feel like a crisis or produce stress, then identify the actions you can use to correct mistakes and, maybe most important, figure out how you can 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 at college is a good example of the appropriate way to use university resources in a crisis and also how to keep one's cool. Krishaun's friend Kahari, a fellow Urban Prep graduate and Fisk student was beaten up 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 and, instead, took it to Fisk's security team. Unhappy with their response, he continued up the chain of command, ultimately calling Jason Meriwether, the vice president of student engagement in the middle of the night. Meriwether praised Krishaun's actions, saying it led the school to a quick response.

Making the right decision at a crossroads in your life can make all the difference.
Questions: What did Dr. Meriwether mean when he said that Krishaun "took such a major leap"? What might have happened had Krishaun taken action on this own? In what situation have you been that made you seek help from someone in administration at your high school or college? How did it work out?

We have all been in situations in which we have lost our cool. Over time, I hope you 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 your being punished or worse. However, sometimes acting calmly but persistently can earn rewards or at least respect. Look at the civil rights era sit-in demonstrations to see perfect models of self-restraint, which ultimately won huge rewards for all of us.

List your own strategies for holding on to your temper. Do you have a strategy to remind yourself to remain calm when needed?

How were the people you know able to turn around their lives when confronted with real challenges like losing a job, having an illness, or violence? Do you know about resources — mental health therapy, 12-step programs, faith, and places of worship in your community — that can help turn your life around? List all the resources and people you can turn to in a crisis.

Everyone makes mistakes and baseball is often used 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 you have to 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. If you are in a strange town, you don't wander around for hours looking for your hotel because you don't know where it is. You stop and ask someone. Makes sense, right?

School is like that. As the new dude in town it is okay to ask for directions. School can actually be a relatively safe space to make mistakes. You go to school to learn and develop. Remember, to make that happen, teachers are there to teach you, and advisers to advise you.

Robert and Krishaun have had challenging moments both before they entered college and after. They had courses in which they were struggling and needed to drop to protect their GPAs. Robert had to change his major. Both he and Krishaun had many meetings with their professors as a result of not doing all they could have done to be successful. What challenges and choices do you have right now? Go back and look at your resource lists of people you think can help you. Do you need to create an alternate plan? A change of plan is not a failure; instead, it can offer you another way to move forward.

Understanding consequences and focusing on academic success

Both Robert and Krishaun have talked about the need to keep going in very tough situations — whether on the streets of Chicago or struggling through college classes. In college, they were able to seek and find help, and they did so with success. You should not be afraid to ask questions or seek help. Watch this video to hear a conversation between Krishaun and his adviser, Dr. Sheila Peters. He is fortunate that she persists in "tracking him down" and pushing him to take action. She tells him that he "can't hide out just because you aren't doing what you need to do."

Understanding consequences and focusing on what will make for academic success can make all the difference.
Questions: What are the consequences of Krishaun failing his classes? Does he feel any responsibility to the people who care about him and are counting on his success? What changes should Krishaun make to his life at Fisk in order to get better grades?

Story Sharing: We have all had our moments of less than glory and downright panic. Ask someone you respect to share one or more of their moments of panic when they made a mistake and what they did, its impact on them, what they learned, and how they found the help or tools they needed to get through the situation.

Revisit some of the stories of heroes and leaders (Chapter One) and find moments when they made mistakes or faced daunting challenges.

Revisit the challenging situation faced by Krishaun and his handling of the beating of his friend Kahari. He came out OK because he did NOT jump in and try to handle the situation alone, and that made all the difference.


Managing crises

No student is ever fully prepared for college life — and this can be a root cause of all types of crises. Krishaun acknowledges that he is not sure he can even get up in the morning without his mother waking him. Sometimes the fear of college even stands in the way of finishing high school. Our fears can stop our dreams.

List some of the comforts of home or differences between high school and college life that you think could be tough for you to handle — for example, not having scheduled assignments every day, making new friends, or having to be a self-starter.

Now, list some resources available at college that can offset these challenges, e.g., orientations, roommates, time management workshops, and clubs.

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. Actually these are the main types of challenges you 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. Robert and Krishaun have to solve problems involving each of these three issues at some point in their college careers.

Let's begin with the question of fitting in and social life at college as this can affect so many other things including academics and health.


Events and relationships in your personal life 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.

Race and Class

For all students going away from home to college, finding their way in a new environment can be challenging. Students from low-income communities are often very 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 fear of being seen as somehow less than others. Robert was tested 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 my blog: "And We Wonder Why Black Males Struggle."

Dr. Carl Bell, a professor of public health and community psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, compares the situation of poor white people in Chicago with that of poor black people. He would describe Robert's and Krishaun's Englewood neighborhood as a "toxic environment." He says that 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, grandparents, friends, places of worship, sports teams, afterschool programs, and teachers.

Overcoming or leaving toxic environments can make all the difference.
Questions: What support structures or protective factors did you see in this clip that helped Robert to achieve — to graduate from high school and enter college? How well prepared do you think he is to begin college at Lake Forest? Think about being in his situation: what are the kinds of things that you would find the most difficult to adjust to or fit in?

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, in particular, finds it challenging to attend the predominantly white, affluent school he has chosen. He feels that he is not as trusted or viewed as trustworthy because of his background and ethnicity, and has to decide how he will adapt or cope. When SIM cards and a device to read the cards were missing from the public safety office in which he was working, Robert felt that 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 the African American studies program 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 affects on his ability to get out and be comfortable and function where he is."

Not allowing stereotypes to define or derail you can make all the difference.
Questions: Dr. Dozier remembers one student who said she "felt like a black stain on a white t-shirt." What do you think that means? Have you been in a situation in which you felt like that? Have you been in situations in which you have faced discrimination or negative assumptions based on a stereotype? Do you have ways that you usually respond? How has that worked out for you? Have you discussed with others the best ways to deal with both other's false beliefs and your own feelings?

The reality is that students of color all face some form of discrimination. Indeed all of us have faced some time in life in which we were a minority in some respect. High school itself can be a tough environment with its cliques. It is good to discuss with a friend or mentor what those situations feel like and how you have dealt with both the situations and the feelings. The reality is that handling these situations badly can have unplanned for consequences. Admitting your feelings can help you deal with them. Building a strong support network will help you stay on track.

Knowing how to embrace diversity

By attending Lake Forest, 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. It is important to have a supportive community in which you feel at home and less isolated; a support network of people also enables you to talk openly about your feelings.

In this video, Robert admits that "It's been hard being a black man at Lake Forest College." He believes he's doing something most African-American men aren't doing — attending a predominantly white college. He says he can "feel the vibe" when he walks into the classroom.

Knowing how to embrace diversity can make all the difference.
Questions: Does Robert feel that he made the right choice in going to Lake Forest? What actions did you see — or comments did you hear — in the video that tell you that Robert is comfortable being there? What have you done to become comfortable with new people or people who are different from you, maybe on a job for example? Is your current supportive community a reason not to leave home — or do they motivate you to try new experiences?

Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor 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 did. She was unsure of how to dress and knew that she 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 my blog: "Just Do What Justice Sotomayor Did."

Mentors can help with academic coursework as well as offer guidance through the ways of college, as Krishaun found in his mentor MarQo at Fisk. MarQo tells him, "[As your mentor] there 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.... I try my hardest not to, you know, impose my feelings or my views on you. I just try to give you examples...of things that happened to me and to make you think about stuff."

Social Life and Supports

Your social life, as it is for all teens, is a key focus. How you deal with it can make or break your future. Social life on campus is a challenge under any circumstances. Both Robert and Krishaun have different girlfriends over the years. They work at finding friends they can trust and with whom they can be comfortable. You know that some friends — romantic or not — will stand up for you and others will not. It is important to have a comfort level with people to whom you are close. Relationships from home may no longer seem to fit as you 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) you feel comfortable can make all the difference.

Think about times when you have felt different from everyone else. What helped you? Has fear of being uncomfortable restricted your life, keeping you in a small neighborhood, for example?

Look for schools and programs that offer academic and social supports. That can even be a factor in your selection of a college. High schools like Urban Prep (attended by Robert and Krishaun) or the Eagle Academy schools and special programs like the Boys and Girls Clubs, Prep for Prep, or fraternities 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 have evidence supporting the greater success rates of students from comparable backgrounds who take part in their programs.

You 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 for the New York Times, " First-Generation Students Unite" by Laura Pappano, and a short video called Ivy League Trailblazers by Natalia Osipova, present first-generation college youth talking about their experiences.

Ask what is available at the school you are attending. This also has the benefit of building your self-esteem and helps you develop the skills and reputation for being a problem solver. To find out more, read my blog called "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. Do you expect that you will stay close to people from high school? List the important qualities you look for in friends.

Abstinence or practicing safe sex

Social life is a hugely important part of the college experience. Being social is also a major distraction, but that is true in or out of college. Much of what has been said about healthy friendships applies to dating as well. A good relationship is based on respect and friendship first. What are examples of healthy relationships? Think about what you have seen as good and bad relationships in your own families or in the media and then think about the qualities or behaviors that would be important to you in a friend or partner.

On the other hand, the reality is that hooking up or casual sex is as likely to occur as anything more meaningful. In that case, be responsible.

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 a decision not to have sex. Krishaun finds that his girlfriend Taylor is pregnant with his child. Abstinence is not the only strategy to prevent pregnancy. You 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.

Abstinence or practicing safe sex can make all the difference.
Questions: What reasons do Robert and Chrystal give for not having sex? What does Robert say that tells you he is focused on the future — and not just living in the present? Both Robert and Chrystal use the word "respect" in relation to one another. Why is respect important in relationships?

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 as a black male). How does this apply to you in your relationships?

Academic Crises

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 language, math, and biology, builds directly on what has gone before, the longer students wait to acknowledge a problem, the deeper in trouble they are. 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 that students can take to stay on track with their school work as well as deal with an academic crisis, including a formal appeals procedure. Here are some steps you can take when you think you may be close to failing a class.

  • Talk to your teachers or professors immediately. They are happy to help. They prefer it if they know there is a problem, rather than puzzling later when the student does not do well. All faculty have office hours, and students 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.

  • 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 (sometimes called seminar or recitation sections) that 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 groups is to make sure that everyone understands and can engage in the information presented. They are usually conducted by a graduate assistant who can also become very helpful as a mentor or additional source of information; the smaller setting may help you to know him or her better.

  • 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.

  • You can take a placement test to be 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.

  • In college you may be able to drop the course, take an incomplete, or take the class pass/fail. Keep track of deadlines for making these decisions.

Take advantage of these excellent strategies and tools. It goes back to overcoming fear and asking for help. In making good on your mistakes, humility can make all the difference.

Learning how to be resilient

Watch this video to see how their different support networks — family, school, and community — help Robert and Krishaun to stay on track academically. Both of them have struggled with grades and to stay in college — but they keep going. Robert talks about the "amount of people who helped me get here" such as his grandmother and people in his neighborhood and community. He says, "I can't let anyone down." Krishaun says that his community at Fisk has added to the number of people who motivate him to do better. They make him "strive to be so much more than what my mind even thought I could do." Both Robert and Krishaun mention Urban Prep as part of their networks. Robert describes himself as "pushing myself past my limits to get the job done." He points to his arm saying he has an "R" tattoo for "resilience" and says he guarantees he will put everything he has into finals. "I will be resilient and come out on top."

Learning to be resilient, meeting challenges head-on, and surrounding yourself with supportive community can make all the difference.
Questions: What difference has having support networks — family, school, and community — made to Robert and Krishaun? Which one, Robert or Krishaun, seems to have a stronger self-motivation to achieve? What makes you think that's true? Think of yourself — do you have both a support network of family and community AND self-motivation to "come out on top" and achieve academically?

Whom do you go to now when you are having academic difficulties? Do you tend to seek help early or late in the game? Early is best.

Health and Wellness

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 the evidence is in that you will do better with more sleep. Some high schools are even starting their day later to help students get the sleep they need. In college you will have to self-regulate. Remember Krishaun's concern that he may not be able to get going without his mother's help? Robert has to begin his day without the biscuits his grandmother made 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 work that should have been done earlier can reduce physical resistance to illness and result in a trip to health services or a doctor ... and maybe missing the deadline after all.

Coping with stress

How we handle personal stresses 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."

In coping with stress, talking with advisers, constructive activity, work and faith can make all the difference.
Questions: Who seems to have more stress in his life, Robert or Krishaun? Why do you think that is? What effect has stress had on Krishaun's school work and what does he do about it? Robert's piano teacher praises him for making an adjustment in his playing. What adjustments or changes can you make in different areas of your life to help you to have less stress?

Think about Krishaun's situation. What advice can you give him that will help him to do better in school? Think about the importance of getting the right help and balancing work, study, and play.

Some people rely upon their faith to help them manage distress and fear. In the videos on Robert and Krishaun we find out how their faith helps them to believe that 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. But it is beneficial now to ask what you believe. How do you explain the unexplainable? What gives you a sense of hope? It may be that it is useful to combine a spiritual practice with some other activity. For example, some find spirituality in yoga or in 12-step programs when appropriate.

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 to support students with disabilities of various kinds including learning disabilities. Again, you pay for these things through tuition, so use them.

Make a list of what you do now that helps to reduce your 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: Revisit or imagine a situation in which you or one of your friends made a crucial mistake, had a personal crisis, or were facing the consequences of high-risk behaviors like a drug overdose. List the available resources that could help in a crisis — at home, school, work, or in a faith environment. What would you do to resolve the situation? Where might you begin, and what steps should you take, for example, if you were to use the college hierarchy (see information in Chapter Three on hierarchy)? Read my blog: "Making a mistake is NOT the end of your college career or your life."

High-Risk Behaviors

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 mood 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 the website. 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 may feel nothing can go wrong, that you are not at risk, but the statistics show that belief is not correct. Check out the following website on myths that you may have about drug or alcohol abuse: Myths & Facts: Addiction Help. 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, but the risks are long-term and not worth it. Check out some before and after pictures of Meth users as one indicator: Meth's devastating effects — Before and after. Substance abuse is a sign that some form of help or intervention may be needed...and soon.

Sex and dating and drugs and alcohol are also 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. You are likely to get training on it at your school.

Many campuses offer talks about safe behavior, but there are also resources to help with the outcomes of high-risk behavior. In each case, you should find resources on campus to address the specific high-risk behaviors that require resolution. First, you must break through the tendency toward silence and "self-sufficiency" that we talked about earlier. Then, seek the help you need.

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. You 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.

These are absolutely times to seek help. It may be that you need a leave of absence to go home to be with your family, and your dean or adviser can arrange that. These situations are clearly not of your making nor subject to your control. You won't be penalized for seeking special treatment (e.g., extensions on papers, course incompletions) at these times. People understand. Counseling services as well as chaplains on campus can talk you through your confusion and pain; they are highly skilled in offering support in these very tough situations. As a dean it was no accident that I had a box of tissues on my desk and a door I could close.

(A caution, there have been students who have fabricated personal crises when they just have not completed their work. So colleges may ask for evidence of the crisis to be sure it is real.)

What is important is to stay the course. The beloved family members would want the best for you and for you to achieve the goals you are striving to reach. Use campus supports to help you get through family crises, death and losses, and still salvage your own future.


Write an essay on fear as a factor in correcting mistakes or managing a crisis. What does it feel like? What do you do when confronting it? What would you advise your best friend to do when s/he is avoiding taking action because of fear (like asking for help)? What would you suggest to a friend going down a self-destructive path? What do you know about substance abuse resources in your area or on your campus? Do you know anyone in a 12-step program who would be willing to share their experiences with you? The more you know the more you can be helpful to others.

Personal Lifelong Learning: 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? 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 you need them (e.g., read the college catalog or cultivate ties to an adviser). Identify some books or videos that inspire you and can be turned to in a time of distress.

What should you take away from this chapter?

  • What may feel overwhelming rarely is.
  • It is important to use all the tools and resources available on campus, in the community, at place of worship, at home, and even on the job to manage, in a timely way, the many things that can come up to derail a college career whether it is an academic, personal, family, health, or other crisis.

Keeping an eye on lessons learned, finding positive role models, and relying upon your faith can be essential. Asking for help is a good beginning and can make all the difference.


  • Cantarella, Marcia Y., Ph.D. I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide. Naperville, Il: Sourcebooks, 2012. Chapter 9, Crises. Print.

  • Bring Your A Game. Dir. Mario Van Peebles. Snagfilms. 2009. Film.

    A documentary on resilience.
  • Cantarella, Marcia Y., Ph.D. "The Really Important Book College Students Rarely Read." Huffington Post College. The Huffington Post, 26 Oct. 2012. Web.

  • Williams, Terrie. "Books by Terrie Williams." 2013. Web.

    Williams' books include Black Pain.

Managing Time and Studying Smart

High school and college are very different. College is a transitional and transformational point between childhood dependency and adult self-responsibility. Learning how to manage time and develop skills to keep on learning are lifelong skills used by responsible adults. No one in a college setting is going to tell you to spend a certain amount of time in the library, then a certain amount of time at a desk, and when to turn off the lights for bed. No one does that for an adult in the workplace either. It is important that you acquire these skills if you are going to achieve your expectations and dreams. If you are very smart, you will start in high school.

In college, you will immediately be faced with a lot of freedom and a lot of work. Procrastination — oh, I can let that go until tomorrow or next week — is a common issue. Roadblocks include not knowing how to study effectively to get good grades and not understanding how to sort out the work required such as breaking down a complex task like writing a paper. Learning how to get organized, study, and prepare for various classes can make all the difference. In this chapter, you will learn skills and tools to manage your time so you can take advantage of all that college offers, meet the demands of your various classes, and set your path to achieve your goals now and into the future.


Managing time

Hands-On Problem-Solving Activity: How do you think college is or will be different from high school? Make a list. Your information can come from friends, family, or media. Think about studying, coursework, extracurricular activities, and social activities. Write a few goals or planned actions and assign a priority to each item on your list. When you write down a goal, you are more likely to remember it and achieve it.

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?" Which suggestions make the most sense to you? Are you using the writing center and talking to professors?

Write a paragraph about when you have set your sights on a goal and what you have had to do or even sacrifice to achieve it. This could become part of an application for school, a scholarship, or even a job.

One of the first shocks to students starting college is managing time — how quickly it gets away from them. This is one of the most significant areas that trip up students; both Robert and Krishaun talk about it. In college, time is much more your own. Being able to choose among jobs, extracurricular activities, and friends, it is easy to let schoolwork slide. Robert and Krishaun had to learn, sometimes the hard way, how to make the right choices.

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 to you?

College Is Different from High School

How do you spend your time and manage your study schedule? College will be very different from high school in that you will not have daily classes or assignments. But you will be held accountable for getting the work done. How will you find the big chunks of time you need to write a ten-page paper? Remember you also need time for reading and research. Below are some strategies.

In college you will have to learn how to manage time very differently. Begin with what you do now. Let's take a guess. Based on conversations with many high school students, the picture could look like this if you are in high school. You are likely in school from maybe 7 AM to 3 PM. You may spend a few hours at an after school activity or a part-time job. You will have dinner at home and likely watch some TV or play a video game. You will do a bit of homework before you go to bed at midnight. That's not a lot of study time.

College students are advised to study two hours for every credit hour they take. So if you are taking 16 credits, that's 32 hours of study a week. You may be working 20 hours a week and commuting three hours a day; added together, that's 41 hours a week. And you do need to sleep at least six hours (42 per week) or you're a mess. That's 131 hours a week out of a total of 168 hours.The big difference is the time needed for homework — the 32 hours.

Not enough hours in a day — we all say that, sometimes frequently. But actually, depending on how we choose to use it, there is enough time. Less time on activities such as Facebook, YouTube, beer drinking, playing Frisbee or guitar, commenting on The Voice, or hanging out at the local coffee shop could give you more time for more productive activities. Think about it! It's up to you how you spend the remaining 37 hours per week: fooling around or doing laundry, attending a club meeting, dating, seeing a movie, or whatever else you want or need to do. What about time to meet with a professor, your adviser, or study group, or going to the library or writing center? Keep notes on how you spend your time for two weeks. Be very specific minute to minute. See how you could be more effective in using your time.

Setting Priorities

Setting priorities will enable you to achieve your goals. 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:

"I want you to see that you can't get more hours out of a day. 24 hours and that day is done. You can't say I'm going to study more if you're keeping your popular kid game on lock. So unless you take down your recreational activities, maybe even take down some of your leadership activities, you won't have more study time. Young people get caught up on things and miss out on what we came for: to achieve academically and to grasp the knowledge of the field that we're looking to go into. That should really be our main focus. Second, I think, should be leadership. Third should be sleep. Fourth should be recreational activities. That's how I would rank them. Your recreational activities help you to rejuvenate, help you to keep releasing your stress, and also keep you fresh and motivated to do what you have to do. Don't think for one moment that you're going to achieve high on the smart guy game, on the 4.0, and on the studying, if you keep your recreational activities at the level they currently are. Something has to go down so something else can come up."

What is the key to MarQo's message? He seems to be talking about balance and priorities. He's also saying you have to be aware of how you ae spending your time, that your focus has to be on learning. You may need to spend less time on other activities so you can spend more time studying.

A constant self-question is: 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. Class work, your health, the job or internship that allows you to stay in school or furthers your career plans, and your relationships are the priorities, in about that order. The balance can shift periodically, but you have to keep those four in your sights at all times.


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. (Ask for one as a gift.) It can make all the difference. Use whatever works best for you — with an emphasis on use. It is important to keep a daily list of the main tasks you want to accomplish. You are less likely to forget them that way. Keep in mind what your priorities are to attain success in college. Go back to that list of goals and priorities you just made. Be sure and plan for self-time to maintain health and mental balance.

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 time of an hour or more should be planned for each stage of the process. For example, reading and looking for research materials for the paper take time. To keep from procrastinating, set a goal for a first draft and put that date on the calendar, as well as make an appointment (another date on the calendar) to show the draft to your professor. Other assignments, such as reading a novel for an English class, may be done in small time chunks. But each piece or action has to have its place on the calendar.

You should not beat yourself up if everything does not get done. Situations can interfere such as illness or a new priority at work. A good plan incorporates some wiggle room. It allows extra time for travel, since you never know when traffic is ugly. Walking to and from classes or meetings, you may encounter delays — talking to friends or taking a slow elevator. This is realistic planning. It is important to learn to arrive early, as opposed to always being a little late. Lateness is rude to others and stressful for yourself. Think how you feel when you're rushed and apologetic for your lateness, and share that feeling. 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; so you need to stop and figure out what's going wrong.

One of the biggest factors interfering with a plan is fear — again! — because it directly affects your success. You may be afraid you can't write a good paper, and so 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.

This kind of fear can also translate into an inability to say "no." 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. You can effectively say "no" by saying you are sorry, but have other plans, or you are just swamped. You don't have to explain more than that. Just 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. You may look even more cool!

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.

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."

Opal Hope Bennett, New York University '98, Attorney

"My best practices for time management while in school involved having the right plan and the right tools."

    The Plan
  • 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.
    The Tools
  • 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.
  • A day planner is essential.

Deciding upon and sticking to your own strategies can make all the difference.

Story Sharing: Talk to a person you know who seems to have a zillion things going on that they get done. 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?


Reading and studying

Hands-On Problem-Solving Activity: Ask an older college student for a sample class syllabus and then deconstruct it together, if possible. What kinds of tasks do you need to complete and how much study time should you allocate to each task? Study time should include any necessary reading, research, and writing — as well as preparing for exams. Allow for proofreading, visits to writing or tutoring centers, and meetings with professors or study groups in planning time needed to complete the work. How should you prioritize study tasks based on how grades are weighted, e.g., what percentage is for class participation, homework assignments, research paper, and midterm and final exams? Again be sure to use a planner of some kind to record due dates and study activities. How can you designate different levels of priorities and devise ways to nudge yourself (e.g., reminders or alarms in a smart phone)? Get ideas from some of the student tips above.

High school students are rarely prepared for how different learning and coursework are in college. When asked about a typical day in their lives, they usually describe a pretty redundant schedule of meals, school, maybe an outside activity, homework, TV or texting, and then bed. Compared to college the homework may demand little in the form of research, initiative, or critical thinking, and it will require less time and effort. College, however, can overwhelm students with massive homework assignments for their different classes. It will be assigned at the beginning of the term in the course syllabus and then left to you to figure out how to manage getting it all done.

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 time Robert has been doing, he has to "double the amount of reading and preparing."

Getting help from faculty and developing strong study skills can make all the difference.
Questions: Robert meets with both of his professors. How confident are they about Robert's ability to learn? What help is he getting from each one of them? What is Dr. Del Negro trying to do with Robert? What study skills does Dr. Iman mention to him? What additional study skills might work for you? List what new information you heard from these professors.

Here is how Robert finds time to study: "So 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." Would Robert's approach to finding time to study work or not work for you? List other ideas you might have.

Learning will change from memorization to processing information and learning how to access knowledge. These are also workplace skills. An employer will expect you to find information online using a variety of tools. If you don't know what LexisNexis is, for example, find out. How might this tool be useful at school or at work? The school librarian can help you build your research skills as you write papers for your classes.

Reading Is an Essential Skill

One thing you may not realize is that you need to learn how to read for college. Yes, you might make it to college, but that does not mean you know how to read. Reading is an essential life and work skill. In college, first you have to obtain the books or articles needed, and then you have to learn how to read in different disciplines to be most effective. In college and the world of work, reading is about comprehension and interpretation. Some sciences, like biology, may require a lot of memorization, but you also have to understand what you are memorizing. So reading with access to a glossary or dictionary is wise.

If reading in the humanities (e.g., history, philosophy, and art) or social sciences (e.g., psychology, sociology, and economics), look for themes or key concepts and evidence to support them. How does the author make his/her case? Look at the table of contents and even the index of a book, or at the introduction of an essay as the roadmap to where the author wants to lead you. 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 you 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, so note where you disagree with the author's premises and why. Use whatever tools work for you to highlight key points. Underline, use a highlighter, take notes, or mark a page with a post-it note.

With a heavy reading load — more than in high school — you learn that different kinds of reading work for different classes. 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 you love to read, since you'll do so much of it. Close reading shows how the writer uses language, and conceptual reading reveals the themes.

Science writing conveys facts and process, and is usually more concise. You will have to know (often memorize) and understand the material and especially how things work, and be able to explain it clearly and cogently. Sometimes 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. 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. You MUST get the books or materials. One of the mistakes Robert makes early in his college career is not buying his books and dropping far behind. It certainly would have contributed to his early struggles with his grades and risk to his scholarships. In college, the syllabus will explain what you should expect to read. Some readings may be in books you 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 the course. These can usually be bought at the campus or local bookstore or at a copy center near or affiliated with your campus. 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 that students don't have to pay for the entire book. The instructor will specify the edition of a particular book; pay attention to this so you 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.

Here is the key point about reading and studying: you need to find the big or most important ideas in whatever you are working on. It may be a concept, formula, or a series of facts. Then ask the professor what the most important concepts are and what they are expected to master. You may also ask what material will be covered on a test.

Study Groups

Some subjects, often quantitative, lend themselves to the use of study groups or even online communities, 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 come from groups of students you know and are comfortable with and may be taking some of the same or similar classes. Group members should help one another to understand the material as well as the processes to obtain solutions to problems. By teaching someone else we reinforce our own learning. In the workplace, tasks are often done in teams, so this is also good practice. Teamwork can make all the difference. You can practice these techniques even in high school and get better grades — as long as you study together and don't just socialize.

Some professors record student absences especially in courses in which knowledge is based on sequential learning (languages, math, and biology may be examples). 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 Robert and Krishaun learned the hard way that the freedom of college not to go to class did not mean they should skip a class. Indeed, if credit is given for class participation, you need to go and speak up.

Story Sharing: Ask a mentor or friend to share some of the strategies they have used to learn things or find information needed for work or other situations. This might be a time to talk about how they use technology such as a computer search engine on their jobs.

It is important to know that colleges find some research sites acceptable, while they frown on others like Wikipedia. Colleges want you 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. Whereas an academic journal that has been vetted by other scholars is considered a viable resource. The best bet is to visit the college or public library where you can learn how to find appropriate source material and cite it properly. Searching online sites can be effective once you have the knowledge of what kinds of resource materials are acceptable in various contexts. The reference librarian needs to be your new best friend.

In general, time management and study skills are essential to your life — in college and for a lifetime. It is important to recognize that these are 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?


Draw (or take) a picture of the place in which you study best; why does it work for you? Take a selfie of yourself in your favorite study space. Smile!

Ask various people, e.g., an upperclassman, high performing classmate, or a really smart person, what their strategies are for studying. What ideas can you include in your own study habits as Krishaun might do with MarQo's ideas?

Personal Lifelong Learning: Set up a buddy system. It can help to arrange to meet someone at the library, gym, or dining hall in order to keep on track. Review your to-do list the night before you go to bed. Add any last minute items. Attach to the list any key information like addresses and phone numbers you will need during the day or reminders of the goals of a meeting. At the end of the day, cross off completed items or delete/toss the list. It will feel gratifying. Move items left undone to the next day or reschedule them.

Devise your own study tools to remember material. You can make and carry around flash cards to help memorize formulas or vocabulary. Writing notes in the margins of class notes can emphasize key information. If you keep notes on your laptop, print them out for further study and review. Use an online diary for each class; record key concepts as you go as well as try to link concepts together. Develop a one-page summary of that week's material. If you are a visual learner, make diagrams or pictures to help remember material. It's another way of summarizing. If you can't summarize, you have not learned or understood the material.

Form study groups. Strong evidence shows they really work — especially when you have a mix of students with different strengths. It is also good practice for team projects both in school and at work later.

What should you take away from this chapter?

  • Planning is essential to achieve balance, self-discipline, and good grades.
  • You need to develop effective study skills as well as use time management tools and strategies that work for you.
  • Don't act in isolation. Study groups, tutors, upperclassmen, and faculty are there to help and can make all the difference.


  •, 2014. Web.

    Provides online tutoring, often using tutors from a student's own campus for participating schools. For more information about online tutoring, which may not be free, see Tutor Whiz
  • Cantarella, Marcia Y., Ph.D. I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide. Naperville, Il: Sourcebooks, 2012. Chapter 8 on Time Management and Study Skills. Print.

  • Cantarella, Marcia Y., Ph.D. "Learn How To Read In College As A Key Tool For Success." How To Learn. The Center For New Discoveries In Learning, Inc., 12 Dec. 2012. Web.

  • Cantarella, Marcia Y., Ph.D. "How to Get Good Grades in College." How To Learn. The Center For New Discoveries In Learning, Inc., 12 Dec. 2012. Web.

Getting to the Endgame

People in America think of college as a vehicle to successful careers, and from careers to a better life. Actually college is enriching in far more ways, including building cultural capital (awareness of the larger world and exposure to diverse cultural experiences), creating lifelong relationships, and developing broad skills to navigate a constantly changing universe of experiences. Although students like you go to college to develop a career, they do not always do everything they need to do and can do to achieve that outcome. We want to make sure you do. And much of what you do to find a job after college is the same as what you do to get into college.

Among the skills you can learn in college is how to find a job. It is a skill you 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, letting you know what you need to do from the beginning to increase the odds that you will be successful in your career (or college) quests. The detail here can make all the difference in finding a job. Some of the high points that we have covered in earlier chapters are in my blog, "Top 4 Things College Students Can Do to Fit into the Workplace."

You have seen both the triumphs and mistakes of Robert and Krishaun as they completed high school and college. At several critical junctures, the two young men discover important information and/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" must be addressed throughout your college life, beginning in your freshman year. An example is visiting the career center in your first year of college, and not waiting until your last year as too many students do. You must learn the rules up front (in your freshman year) and master skills and strategies as you go. Your reward is a relevant course of study, a support network, and that first important job.


Managing change and being flexible


It is important to remember that what you are seeking 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:

  • 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.)

Note what lessons you've learned from these scenarios. Being flexible and open is going to be essential in thinking about careers and going after that first job. List other situations in which you may need to change your game plan. Ideas include the business moves to a new location out of the area or a need to change work hours.

Plan ahead to consider what you can achieve on that first post-college job. You will need to work hard to build your credentials as a worker so it can lead to the next job, presumably a better one. You also need to 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. The key to finding the right job is to be open to and prepared for many options.


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. After 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.

During 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.

Maximizing your networks can make all the difference.
Robert says he wants to be a firefighter/emergency medical technician (EMT) in Chicago. How does his new job interest relate to his early dream of being a doctor? . How will his experience with City Year help him to become a fire fighter/EMT? . He talks about one of City Year's core values (as well as his own), social justice for all, as an inspiration for the work he will choose. What are some other jobs in which Robert can pursue social justice? . What are some of your own personal values? . What skills would you like to gain from a job? . With whom can you connect to learn more about a career that interests you?

Your values, skills, and interests are factors that will lead you to your first post-college job and finding the right fit for you. Do you have more than one idea about what you might like to do? Consider what your interests and strengths are. These skills and interests may cover more than one field. Go back to the exercise in Chapter Two in which you looked at what you liked and what you were good at. Use that list now. For instance, many students who say they want to help people could consider health care, social work, or teaching, among other careers. You need to keep your options open. If the job is not the right fit, then seek another path. You will find the way!

The goal is finding work that will not only pay the bills, but will also make you feel proud of what you 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. Both of their careers involve service 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.

Being a man who gives to others can make all the difference.
What makes you proud to do the work you are doing — in school, in the community, and in your family? . What services are you providing to others? . Is "giving back" something you want to make part of your life — if not now, then in the future? . What can you do to explore ways to be helpful to others in your community?

Preparing for and applying for a job


Make a list of every job, internship, sport, or volunteer activity you have had since 9th grade. Add any awards or special recognition including academics and leadership.

Next to each activity write down one thing you learned from each experience and/or an important result of what you did.

From this exercise you can begin to write a resume. (You may think you don't have anything to say about yourself, but you do!) What did you learn in each job? What skills did you develop that would help you do another job well? What did you accomplish at each job? This information will go into resumes, cover letters, or interviews.

You should also 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 who has worked closely with you such as a professor, academic adviser, former boss, manager, or supervisor. This person should be able to talk about your work ethic, abilities, and what you have accomplished at work. Before listing someone as a reference, you should ask their permission ahead of time, being specific about the position for which you are applying. Let them know what is expected of them — whether the company or organization will call them, or whether they need to write a letter or answer questions online. You should also talk to them about any skills or accomplishments that you hope they will highlight for your potential employers. For some jobs, a reference may be required upfront; for others, it may not be requested until the end of the interview 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 — regardless of the outcome.


You can take steps throughout college that will lead to that first job. It is amazing how few students just like you actually take advantage of everything that is available. Like all too many students, Robert and Krishaun wait until senior year to begin the actual job search process. However, it should really begin much earlier, to increase the possibility of success and to avoid stress. Krishaun explains to a counselor at Fisk's career center that his first job post-college will be with his high school, Urban Prep. His goal, however, is to be a U.S. Marshall. Both struggle to come up with ideas that might have been easier to pursue had Krishaun not waited so long.

Connecting to the career center sooner, rather than later, can make all the difference.
What are some reasons to visit the career center early in your college life? . How good a resume do you have — and have you asked someone in the career center to review it? . What are some ideas you have to "get your foot in the door" of a job that interests you? . How can the career center help you?

The key elements to preparing for a job when you graduate from college involve using your entire college experience. Do the following:

  • 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.
  • Visit the career center early in your college career, e.g., freshman year, to explore jobs and internships. Draft a resume and take it to the career center. You'll need a strong resume so it's available when opportunities arise. Robert's adviser, Professor Lori Del Negro, encouraged him to visit Lake Forest's Career Advancement Center. She described a range of helpful services such as reviewing his resume, helping him do a practice interview so he could handle unexpected questions, providing networking strategies, and hooking him up to the alumni database. She said the career center would "have a different take" on things he's done as well as provide a different audience and different 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 "more people who might be able to find the right spot for you."
  • Do research on careers as suggested in Chapter Two. Again, use the Occupational Handbook as a resource.
  • Apply for jobs and/or internships all along the way. This is how you build relationships with faculty, advisers, deans, and employers as early as high school as part of your professional networks. Throughout his college experience Robert built relationships among faculty and college administrators and both he and Krishaun kept their ties to their high school. When starting your job search, having ties throughout the college community can make all the difference. At one point Robert says, "What I found out in the business world is that it's not what you know, it's whom you know." This is a good time to review networking strategies in Chapter Three.
  • Figure out who can serve as effective references for you.

  • Engage in community service and/or other leadership building activities starting while you are in high school. You want to show that you have skills in leading and engaging with others and are a caring person. It adds depth to your resume and helps your potential employer know more about you. While at Fisk, Krishaun became a mentor to incoming students, especially those coming from Urban Prep. This leadership role relates directly to the job he began at Urban Prep following his college graduation. Even in high school you should 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 a well-rounded student with interests outside of required school work. List some clubs and activities you can be part of both in high school and in college. Are any of these activities related to career ideas? For example, tutoring youth is relevant if your plan is to teach or engage in youth services as Krishaun chose to do.
  • Discover your work interests and skills. Both Robert and Krishaun had jobs while in college, which helped them learn more about themselves and their career interests. Sometimes it is part of the financial aid package to have work-study jobs on campus. What you learn while working in college can make all the difference. List what you learned about yourself and your work interests in whatever part-time jobs you have had — whether at a fast food restaurant or babysitting. Think about skills as well as your likes and dislikes. How important was customer service? Did you observe how different bosses manage people?
  • Create a plan of action to guide your search for that first job. This process will help you develop skills that you will use repeatedly throughout your lifetime. Remember, the free resources at 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. You are entitled to use it to the maximum, and many schools let you continue to do so as an alumnus for the rest of your life. You can also use public programs or resources like the library.

The Career Office

The following tips suggest resources and strategies to help you learn about careers and get ready for a job search.

  • Visit the career office in college 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 library is also a great resource.
  • Take tests on career interests and aptitudes 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). One source of information is: Free Career Tests
  • Use available books and materials on various career paths and to learn what is expected. 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. These publications can reveal business trends, who the players are, which firms are strong, and which are faltering. They can help target a search and prepare you to be more knowledgeable in interviews. Online resources and blogs are available for particular industries. For example, if you read that a firm is laying people off, then you don't want to apply there. But a firm that is expanding or has new clients or even new management may be a good prospect for jobs and new opportunities. Read either a trade publication or the business section of a major newspaper. 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 one-on-one conversations provide an opportunity to learn more about working in a particular industry or job category. Alumni at your college are a great resource for this. You 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 your 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 college graduates) whose experience at the entry level would more closely mirror what the experience of a new graduate will be.
  • 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 as well as provide opportunities to network. Really smart students ask for business cards and then follow up to obtain informational interviews!
  • Participate in internships to test the waters in a field of interest, build a resume, and expand networks. 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.
  • Ask someone at the career center to look over your resume to be sure that it is polished, 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 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 and recruit for jobs. 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 that 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

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.

Understanding the job offer including work requirements, salary, and benefits can make all the difference.
Do you think Robert did a good job meeting with potential employers? . What would you do that is the same as what he did? What would you do differently? . Why is City Year a good job opportunity? . What are the things you should look for that will enable you to support yourself? . (Look at potential expenses at the end of this chapter.) Get tips from the career center or a mentor on how to negotiate a salary and benefits package. Some (not all) employers negotiate these things, including more vacation time if they can't provide a higher salary.

The Job Search Process

These tips and strategies will help in your job search process.

  • The majority of jobs are filled through personal recommendations and one-on-one relationships. Nevertheless, be persistent in your search. Keep your eyes open. Look at all kinds of websites, want ads, and job boards for opportunities. Use the online and actual job boards or listings your school offers. Check sites such as,,,, and other targeted sites. These sites can be searched by geographic area, job title, or other criteria. Be flexible about location. 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 you 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 (The 2014 Inc. 5000) highlight growing entrepreneurial firms. It is often noted that small businesses are the engines of job growth. 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 and then search the Internet for them to see which might interest you.
  • Take every opportunity to engage in networking throughout college — as we have stressed throughout this guide. Remember that 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 can make all the difference in the kind of future you have. Here are some tips to help.
    • Have specific goals in mind.
    • Talk to someone about your career interests whenever you can. 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, you can 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.
    • Put a networking event on your calendar and go!
  • 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.
  • Target jobs and employers of interest. Plan to send out many cover letters and resumes. A cover letter shows that you have researched the company and industry and are interested in a job with that company. Use what you learned through informational interviews, trade publications, and blogs to enhance your cover letter. You should also point out the match between your background and the firm or industry you are trying to enter. Show your enthusiasm. But remember to keep your letters short — no more than one page. These materials also act as writing samples, so it is important to 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 it; just be careful not to overdo it.
  • 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, for certain jobs there may be questions or checks on any 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. 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 questionable in your background along with lessons you have learned as a result of that experience. By law, employers and interviewers are not allowed to ask questions about your marital status, whether you have (or plan to have) children, your age, ethnicity, or religion.
  • Monitor your digital footprint. In other words, 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 on 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, posting a professional looking headshot photo, keeping your education and employment 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
  • Practice interviewing skills. The career office may offer practice interviews, or you can ask 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 ask, 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 ask about a mistake you have made and what you have learned from it, but be careful about the example you use. Research strategies for responding to questions as part of preparing for an interview. Interviewers will also ask whether candidates have any questions, so prepare at least two questions that reflect the research you have done 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. Never ask about benefits or salary until there is a 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.
  • 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 on 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 conducts his interview with City Year on Skype. Robert effectively handles 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."

    Being prepared for online interviews can make all the difference.
What do you do to practice for an interview? . Why would it be a good idea to prepare for a range of different questions? . How would you have answered the question about what would keep you motivated while working in a stressful environment? . Why is it important to tell a prospective employer how their job fits your skills and interests ... and that you want the job?
  • 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 likeable. Have an "interview suit" that is dark gray, black, or navy; it must be clean and conservative. The exceptions to this preference may be the fashion, film, or advertising industries, which favor a bit more creative, though professional, flair. See what businesspersons 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 to spend, so check resources like the Men's Wearhouse or, for women, programs like Bottomless Closet that offer good values. Sometimes charity thrift shops or consignment clothing stores offer gently worn outfits for bargain prices. No jeans, sneakers, flip-flops, or baggy pants. Those first impressions can make all the difference in getting a job. Set aside a suit or outfit that you want to keep fresh for those special career related occasions.
  • Send a thank you note immediately after your visit to the company to each person who formally interviewed you. You can send a handwritten note, an email, or a typed letter to say "thank you" and restate your interest in the job. Your choice of which to send (email, note, or letter) depends on the type of industry and job, how well you know the person(s) who interviewed you, and how formal or informal the job application process has been. Whichever you send, your message should be short — a few paragraphs, but no more than a page. Be specific as to how the job is a good fit and what skills and abilities you offer the company. If you left something important out of your interview, you could add it here. 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 phone call. However, make sure the employer would have had time to receive your thank you letter before calling.
  • Purchase business cards. They are very inexpensive (under $20). Create a "stationery" template on the computer for resumes, cover letters, and thank you letters.

Story Sharing: Talk to a friend or mentor about their job searches.What did they learn — or what tips do they have for you? If they are in a position to hire people, what do they look for? If you have already looked for work, what have you learned or observed? What kinds of people do you like to work with, or what qualities would you look for, if you were hiring someone? Apply that to yourself. Would you hire you? Why or why not?

Hands-On Problem-Solving Activities:

Here are some ideas to try:

  • Do mock interviews. Try out your resume and interview skills.
  • Do a dress-for-success fashion show as part of a club or organization you have joined. Invite guests from the professional world to be judges. Check out the Huffington Post blog article by Stacia Pierce: "What Does it Mean to Dress for Success?"

Job or graduate/professional school

As part of your college experience you will make the decision whether to seek employment immediately following your undergraduate degree or to continue your education. Finances, scholarly ability, interest, and the skill/degree requirement of your career field of interest will help you make that choice. Having a mentor in your chosen field may boost your chances for acceptance in a graduate program. Senior year may place pressure on you when you feel you need to search for a job in addition to applying to a graduate program.

For certain professions such as law and medicine, applying to graduate or professional schools may be necessary. Other degrees to consider will be Masters of Business Administration (MBA), Masters of Fine Arts, Masters of Public Health, Masters of Public Administration, or Masters of Social Work. A doctorate degree may follow the master's degree.

Applying to graduate or professional school is a job in itself. You will usually research and apply for an appropriate degree program while fully engaged in the work of your senior year of college: finishing a thesis or research project and completing the final requirements. It is also okay to wait a year or two and work in your field of interest before applying to graduate school. This assures you that this is the field you really want to be in before you spend the time and money on graduate programs. It also provides practical experience and "war stories" to apply to the theoretical study content you'll find in graduate school.

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 close to you. Sharing meals may be a good time to connect and get the advice and support you need. Supportive family and friends can make all the difference. Try to have family members or close friends that you can talk to about your goals and plans. They should be the people who celebrate with you when you achieve your goals or who can make you feel better when things are not going as well as you would hope. Maybe your first response is a "no," or you aren't accepted by your first choice school. You will want to share that with someone who will be supportive until the "yes" finally arrives.

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, and 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. Then, if you need to retake it, you'll have time to prepare over the coming summer and still meet the schools' application deadlines. These tests are very expensive, so you want to be prepared to do your best the first time around.
Junior Year
  • Meet with the adviser who guides students for graduate 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. In addition, alumni of certain programs such as AmeriCorps may be eligible for certain fee waivers.
End of Junior Year
  • Research schools of interest. Talk to and learn about faculty in the field at other schools. Read articles by them or study their research. Line up all the professors you would like to write your recommendations. (This will relate to jobs and graduate school or fellowships.)
  • Ask professors, advisers, 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/graduate program to which you are applying as well as any skills, accomplishments, or knowledge base you want them to highlight. Graduate schools usually require references to complete an online recommendation form in addition to a letter of recommendation as part of the application process. Remember to thank the individuals who provide references for you — 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 work on them during the summer when you don't have to worry about classes or homework.
  • 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. For example, 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.
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.

Affording Your New Life

No matter how much you are going to earn, you should have a plan. It can lead you to your goals and keep you out of financial trouble.

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.

You may, like Krishaun, have unexpected expenses. While he did not plan on being a father after graduation, Krishaun is prepared to take financial responsibility for his child. Some of you may already have this responsibility. Whatever his beginning job at Urban Prep pays, Krishaun will have to be very careful about spending. He also has to make payments toward his college debt.

Learning how to be a responsible father

Watch the following clip 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 that he is financially stable and is able to support himself, his child, 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.

Learning how to be a responsible father can make all the difference.
Neither Krishaun nor Robert had responsible and engaged fathers in their lives. How have they learned what being a father and a good man looks like? . What role does mentorship play? . Krishaun says that one of his goals was to bring his child "into a better situation." How is baby Krishaun, Jr.'s situation better than his dad's had been? . What does fatherhood and responsibility look like to you?


Go back to Chapter One on financial aid and look again at the discussion about budgeting. Do a detailed budget and see how it fits with your job prospects. Consider job benefits as well as salary. Some employers cover a portion or all of your health care, for example, and others have a retirement savings plan. It may be that some jobs do not suit your needs, or you may (more likely) have to adjust your lifestyle and expenses to fit your starting salary. Many people have to work at two or more jobs. Spending less money on iTunes or meals out may be a solution, or you may need a roommate or two or three. Hard as it may be, try to avoid credit card debt with its high interest rates. As a college graduate, your new beginning should include setting your financial house in order.

Most of you will have expenses related to the following areas — from housing to health care to transportation. We've highlighted some factors that will determine how well you can afford your new life. Include savings as part of your budget and financial planning.

Housing is going to be the big factor. You may or may not be able to stay in the same living arrangement you've had all through school, or you may want a change. Even if you're living with your family, they may expect more of you now in terms of a contribution to the household budget. If you've been lucky enough to live in campus housing, you will have to find a new place to live.

Health Care will be another budget item. Fortunately, the new Affordable Care Act allows your parents, if they are now carrying you on their policy, to continue to do so for several more years (up to age 26) while you establish yourself or complete graduate school. Your new employer may also cover all or part of your health care costs. State programs offer health care for low-income families with state funds and Medicaid dollars. If you have to buy your own insurance, look into affordable health care through state or federal exchanges. Health insurance is costly when you are picking up the tab on your own, but even worse is not having it when you need it. You may be perfectly healthy now, but a biking accident or fall on the basketball court can have serious consequences. That broken leg can set you back by tens of thousands of dollars. Not only is insurance worth it in the long run, it is now legally required.

Food and transportation are the next big costs you cannot escape. You may need to learn to cook! You 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? Think about parking, fuel, and insurance, as well as car payments and maintenance. Shop around for car insurance firms and rates. lists gas prices in local areas.

Clothing: You will need new clothing for work. Your college wardrobe will not do for the work world. Regardless of what you may see on TV, "sexy" for women is not appropriate for work. Very short skirts or revealing tops do not enhance the perception of your work performance or your judgment. Some settings require suits for men and dresses or suits for women. 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 your budget, too. Consider the saying, "You should dress for the job you want, not the job you have." Look at what your supervisor, mentor, or other successful persons are wearing, and use that as a standard. Even in a casual setting or on "dress-down days," be more formal. For example, men could choose khakis and polo shirts, while women might wear slacks and blouses or sweaters. While the workplace may be more casual than in the past, sloppy or too revealing clothing is just not professional.

Business Expenses: If your job requires a computer, do they pay for it? Do they cover other expenses such as meals or offer reimbursement for work travel? If a friend, family member, or classmate is a tax accountant, learn which expenses may be tax deductions. If you're in media, for example, your cable bill could count as a business expense. Regarding deductions, the advice of professionals is best. You do not want to find out that you've underpaid your taxes. Moreover, be aware of deductions for children and dependents, which Krishaun may be able to claim.

What is the difference between your salary and take-home pay? Many students are shocked when that first paycheck looks way smaller than expected because of deductions for benefits or state or federal taxes. This site may help.

Student Loans: If you have student loans (most students do), your loan repayment begins once you've left school and are a wage earner. Lenders notify you and provide payment schedules. These also become part of your budget. If you go directly to graduate school, you can defer your undergraduate loans until you 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. This could be an opportunity you could also seek out. While you're in school, talk to the financial aid office about how this may apply to you once you graduate. Treat the aid office as part of your financial planning team.

Budget and Financial Planning: Find creative ways to stretch your budget. 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 need. Given tight financial times, many websites offer finance tips, ranging from Suze Orman to Good Morning, America's Mellody Hobson. You can get coupons at and other sites.

As we all know now, jobs don't last forever. Having some savings is wise, as you may face unexpected events or find yourself looking for a job again. In some ways, you have probably been living on a tight budget throughout your school years. Stick with that same attitude when you become a full-time wage earner. In this way, too, college is a good rehearsal for the rest of your life.

Ask your friends and family for their favorite ideas or websites for saving and spending wisely.

Using Learned Skills and Developing New Skills

You watched Robert effectively handle his online interview with City Year. Next, watch the following clip that shows him in Columbia, South Carolina, employed by City Year to work at 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. 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." (These are lessons you've also been learning in the pages of this handbook.) 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 students as a way to build a relationship with them and to motivate them. Principal Sarah Smith says that building relationships is very powerful. Once students are able to "build their self-confidence, they can move to the next level."

Using the skills and experiences you've gained in college to build success in your first job can make all the difference.
What does Robert mean by saying a "safe place" has to be established in the classroom? . How has Robert created a safe place for himself through his choices about his college, new life, and job? . Why is City Year a good choice as a first post-college job for Robert? . What skills from his own background is he using in his role with City Year? . How does this impact his relationships with the students he is helping? What are some of the new things Robert is experiencing in Columbia that are different from his time at Lake Forest?

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.

Personal Lifelong Learning: Once in the workplace, never stop learning. Ask questions and seek guidance from supervisors, mentors, and accomplished co-workers. Continue to read books or blogs in your field or industry of interest. Join professional associations that increase visibility and networks. Take leadership roles in these organizations. Take courses or workshops offered by employers, professional associations, or schools to advance your skills, keep them current, and learn new ones. Sometimes employers pay for workshops, professional association memberships, and continuing higher education.

What should you take away from this chapter?

  • Know that 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 your first year.
  • Build 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 at the end. And then plan for life afterwards and all the rewards that it may bring.


  • Cantarella, Marcia Y., Ph.D. I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide. Naperville, Il: Sourcebooks, 2012. Chapter 10. Print.

  • INC 5000. Mansueto Ventures., 2015. Web.

  • INC 500, Idealist, Monster and LinkedIn are websites for finding jobs.
  • Idealist. Action Without Borders., 2015. Web.

  • Monster. Monster., 2015. Web.

  • LinkedIn. LinkedIn., 2015. Web.

  • Interview Questions and Answers. About Careers., 2015. Web.

  • Wetfeet. Wetfeet, LLC., 2013. Web.

  • How to promote yourself and build your professional networks. Leslie Grossman Leadership., 2013. Web.

  • Black Enterprise. Black Enterprise Magazine., 2015. Web.

  • Asher, Donald. Graduate Admissions Essays. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2004. Print.

  • The Fatherhood Project. Department of Psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital., 2015. Web.

    Resources for men to become better fathers.

College Bound Students Handbook

How did you score?

Self-Assessment Guide (Points = )

Throughout this 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.

Author's Afterword

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 you need to pay for it, can create, for some, 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. We do not want that to be you! This handbook and the experiences of Robert and Krishaun show an alternative to this scenario — a path to success that you can achieve starting in high school.

Asking questions, being determined and purposeful, and finding the right network of people to support you can assure your success from high school through college and throughout your life. Building relationships in and out of school can make all the difference. College is a special place in which you learn how to do this — and overcome your fears so you can go after what you want. May YOU graduate, thrive, and live with the pride of achievement!



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 has been 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 handbook.

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 places of worship, NAACP, National Conference of State Legislatures, National Fatherhood Initiative, Teaching Tolerance/Southern Poverty Law Center, and Urban League. Community engagement staff at public television stations offered vital assistance.

We wish to acknowledge the vital partnership of City Year in reviewing this handbook, 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 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 handbook to forge their futures.

Generous support for this All the Difference College-Bound Students Handbook is made possible by The Wyncote Foundation, American Graduate: Let's Make It Happen sponsored by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Black Programming Consortium, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and Marguerite Casey Foundation.

All the Difference is part of American Graduate: Let's Make It Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help local communities keep more students on the path to graduation.

All the Difference will broadcast on POV, the award-winning documentary series on PBS. For more information, visit

Video Clip Tagline Index by Chapter