Blueprint for Success in College and Career

Blueprint for Success in College and Career

v 1.4

Dave Dillon

Linda Bruce Hill, Alise Lamoreaux, Phyllis Nissila, Thomas Priester

Rebus Community




In memory of Carole Ann Molyneaux Dillon.  Thank you for everything Mom.



Dave Dillon

©2021 Dave Dillon

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License, except where otherwise noted.

You are free to:

The licensor cannot revoke these freedoms as long as you follow the license terms.

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About the Authors

Dave Dillon, Linda (Bruce) Hill, Alise Lamoreaux, Phyllis Nissila, Thomas Priester

Dave Dillon, Curator, Co-Author, and Editor of Blueprint for Success in College and Career

Dave Dillon earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of California at Santa Cruz and a master’s degree in counseling from the University of San Diego. His first career and passion was coaching basketball which he did for seven years at the University of California at San Diego. Following a year of substitute teaching (K-12), four years working in the entertainment department for the San Diego Padres major league baseball organization, and a year as a product analyst in the video game industry, Dave continued to pursue his passion of counseling and teaching at the community college level.

As a tenured professor and counseling faculty at Grossmont College, Dave enjoys connecting with students. He does his best to keep up with the next generation and their use of technology in and out of the classroom. His passion has not ceased from his UCSC commencement speech to presenting at local and national conferences. Dave resides in Carlsbad, California, with his wife, two daughters, and yellow labrador, Lucy.

This OER (Open Educational Resources) project has taken full advantage of the “5 R’s” or permissions of OER, the ability to Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix, and Redistribute content for educational purposes. It is with great gratitude that I introduce the authors of the OER texts whose content was retained, reused, revised, and/or remixed in some way and contributed to this final product. In a few instances, I have also included the rationale for their OER text. Links to each of the original OER texts, their licenses, and peer reviews can be found in Appendix A.

Linda (Bruce) Hill, contributing author to College Success

Linda (Bruce) Hill is the director of distance learning at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, where she works with graduate students and faculty to help them thrive in a global learning environment. Her career in education spans decades of technology growth and change, but is centered on a love of teaching and learning and on the rewards of continuing education. A lifelong learner herself, Linda earned a bachelor’s degree in radio, television and film at the University of Maryland College Park, and a master’s in education and human development at the George Washington University in a distance learning program that set standards for higher education offerings. Outside of her full-time work at Goucher, Linda freelances as a writer and instructional designer —pursuits that aligned her with Lumen Learning on the production of their College Success course, built heartily with open education resources and original writing. A favorite quote exemplifying her professional philosophy is from Arthur C. Clarke: “Before you become too entranced with gorgeous gadgets and mesmerizing video displays, let me remind you that information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other, and we need them all.”

Alise Lamoreaux, author of A Different Road To College: A Guide for Transitioning Non-traditional Students

Alise Lamoreaux has a long history of teaching non-traditional students who are preparing for the GED and transitioning to college. She teaches a class called, “Everything You Want to Know About College, Before You Start” along with Hybrid GED courses at Lane Community College, in Eugene, Oregon. Alise is known for her willingness to learn and use new technologies in the classroom, such as digital storytelling, learning management systems, and other online resources. She is an advocate of student success. Throughout the years, she has demonstrated her willingness to teach other professionals how they might also implement innovative technologies in the classroom. This year, she took on the challenge of writing an open source textbook, through a grant she received from, titled, A Different Road To College: A Guide for Transitioning Non-traditional Students. This free resource is designed to engage students in seeing themselves as college students and understanding the complexity of what that means to their lives, as well as helping to unlock the contextual complexities of the culture of college.

Phyllis Nissila, author of How to Learn Like a Pro!

Phyllis Nissila has taught Effective Learning and Study Skills classes in high schools and community colleges for over twenty years. She also teaches writing and college preparatory classes at Lane. Nissila has been a freelance and contracted writer for over thirty years, with credits including newspaper reportage, feature articles, and human interest/inspirational magazine articles and devotionals. She is an award-winning former humor (newspaper) columnist. She is the author of Sentence CPR, Breathing Life Into Sentences That Might As Well Be Pushing Up Daisies! (Prufrock Press/Cottonwood Press, grades 7-adult) and sells humor-based language arts lessons and worksheets through

Thomas C. Priester, editor of Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom

A hope-inspired educator dedicated to helping others interact with the future, Thomas C. Priester holds a Doctor of Education degree in Executive Leadership from St. John Fisher College, a Master of Science degree in Student Personnel Administration from SUNY Buffalo State, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Secondary English Education from Fredonia (where he is also a member of the Alumni Board of Directors). Having worked previously in the areas of academic success, student life, student leadership development, orientation, academic advising, and residence life, Dr. Priester currently serves as the Director of Transitional Studies/Assistant Professor at SUNY Genesee Community College in Batavia, NY where he is also an advisor to the campus chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, the chairperson of both the Academic Assessment and the Transitional Studies Committees, and a member of both the Institutional Effectiveness and the Academic Senate Curriculum Committees. Additionally, Dr. Priester is a faculty member in the Higher Education Student Affairs Administration graduate program at SUNY Buffalo State in Buffalo, NY, has taught conversational English at Fatec Americana in Americana, São Paulo, Brazil, and Academic Success at the Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, NY. Dr. Priester has served as a contributing chapter author for the books: Assessing Student Learning in the Community and Two-Year College (Stylus, 2013) and Examining the Impact of Community Colleges on the Global Workforce (IGI Global, 2015) and has most recently published the open access textbook: Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom (Open SUNY Textbooks, 2015).



Amy Hofer, James Glapa-Grossklag, and T Ford

The book you are reading is an open educational resource (OER). With the Creative Commons by attribution license, the textbook is free to read online, can be downloaded for reading offline, printed without violating copyright, or students can purchase a print version for only the cost of printing. Students have access to OER from the first day of classes and can download or print a copy to keep forever with no expiration date or restricted access. Other college success instructors can make use of the open license on this book to customize, modify, adapt, or remix it.  They can then use and redistribute it in their own classes, so that their students can also use no-cost or low-cost materials.

I travel all over Oregon giving workshops about textbook affordability and I meet a lot of people who teach college success classes. They are often guidance counselors, like Dave, but they also sometimes teach in another discipline or within a First-Year Experience program. Their courses might focus on study skills, “college knowledge,” or the science of learning. Their students might have graduated from high school or they might be returning to college after a gap of many years.

College success courses are taught in many different ways, but one commonality that I hear again and again is that students do NOT need an expensive textbook getting in the way of their success in this class, of all classes.

That’s why it’s so important that Dave has published this book with an open license. Not only that, but he made use of other openly licensed books in order to pull together the best of the best. He has collected his own work here along with student voices, two Open Oregon Educational Resources grantees from Lane Community College, and other materials from the open education community, which is possible to do when the work is openly licensed. He has done this with great care and consideration, consulting with colleagues and drawing on his depth of experience. I hope it really will be a blueprint for your success in college.

— Amy Hofer

Coordinator, Oregon Statewide Open Education Library Services


To think creatively about the future is to risk ridicule. To create the future by acting decisively is to guarantee opposition. The author of this book, Dave Dillon, and your instructor who has assigned this book, have encountered both ridicule and opposition, in order for you to freely access this book.

The book that you are reading is not only about college and career success. Rather, this book demonstrates that the author and your instructor care enough about academic freedom and your success that they have taken decisive action to break away from conventional and traditional ways of packaging and providing textbooks to students. In other words, this book was not produced by a traditional publisher that would have created a product that costs more than you care to think about. Nor was it produced by a traditional publisher far away from your classroom, your concerns, and your way of learning. Instead, this book was created by Dave Dillon, writing and editing and collecting his own words and those of other dedicated teachers. It is presented to you as an Open Educational Resource—a creative work that is licensed so that it can be used, shared, and re-mixed freely and legally.

All of this means that you can focus on learning, not on student debt; you are learning with materials carefully selected by teachers who care about your success; and you can keep the book, share it, and even re-mix it (with proper attribution). Perhaps, after all, this book is about making good choices in one’s college and career experiences.

James Glapa-Grossklag
Dean, Educational Technology, Learning Resources and Distance Learning
Co-Coordinator, Technical Assistance, CCC Zero Textbook Cost Degree program
Treasurer and Past President of the Board, Open Education Consortium
College of the Canyons


To repeat a quote from this Open Educational Resource textbook, the pursuit of higher education is a “journey not a destination”—a daunting endeavor for any new student. The good news, the author, Dave Dillon, has captured some of the essential ideas, concepts and foundations for students who have chosen to start their path towards higher learning.

It has been my pleasure to have Dave as a colleague. Our combined years of teaching various personal growth and development courses spans approximately 50 years. Generally, these types of courses are not deemed “required” at many colleges and universities. However, our experience informs us that these courses are often filled to capacity because the student pursuing their new educational journey knows that it takes more than “wishing and hoping” to be successful. It takes a plan.

Dave asks you, the student, to consider your passions. Inside you will find quotes, objectives, goals and also a relevant story or two from Dave’s personal life. He shares some of his life as an open invitation for you to not be afraid to question, to make mistakes, to trust, to learn, and ultimately continue your journey towards becoming a better student.

He challenges students to meet, know, and expect obstacles. The journey is not a straight path. But one must persist and “Press On.”

Enjoy your journey.

T. Ford
Professor Emeritus
Grossmont College



Alise Lamoreaux, Thomas Priester, Dave Dillon

Why I Wrote This Book [A Different Road to College: A Guide for Transitioning Non-traditional Students] – Alise Lamoreaux

Most textbooks available on the topic of college transition/success today focus on the traditional 18-year old student, and the needs of someone living away from home for the first time. The desire to create this textbook comes from years of experience helping GED and other non-traditional students transition to community college and beyond. For over a decade, I have taught a class designed to specifically help non-traditional students build the contextual knowledge of college systems to help them be able to advocate for themselves and navigate the world of college. I have witnessed the struggle and confusion on the part of students trying to understand the contextual aspects of college and develop the confidence needed to take the transitional step. The content of this textbook will not focus on the needs young adults living away from home for the first time. There will be no shopping list for dorm supplies.

The goal of the book is to help students understand how to select the right college for them and then become acquainted with the inner workings and language of college. The content will be infused with stories about students who have successfully made the transition to college and their advice.

Today’s classrooms are increasingly becoming more diverse by age, race, ethnicity, and life experience. While their preparation and pathway to college may have been non-traditional, they are all “students” once they have enrolled in college.

Preface to Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom – Thomas C. Priester

“Success doesn’t come to you…you go to it.” This quote by Dr. Marva Collins sets the stage for the journey you are about to take. Your success, however you choose to define it, is waiting for you, and Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom (FAS: WoW) is your guide to your success. Some may believe that success looks like a straight and narrow line that connects the dots between where you are and where you are going, but the truth is that success looks more like a hot mess of twists and turns, curves and bumps, and hurdles and alternate pathways.

Putting this textbook together was challenging because there is so much to tell you as you embark on your college journey. I have worked with college students on academic success at a number of college campuses, and have hunted for the most effective and most affordable college student academic success textbook but could never find everything I wanted to teach in one book. So, I figured the answer was to write my own textbook!

Like any good research project, the outcome was not exactly what I expected. In addition to a host of true-to-life stories written by real people who have successfully navigated the journey through college, the first draft of the textbook included everything (and more) that the other similarly themed textbooks about college student academic success do.

Once the first draft was finished, I decided to test-drive my new textbook with the students in my First Year Experience class to see what they thought. I figured, who better to give me feedback on the textbook than actual students who would use the textbook in class, right? I gave the first draft of the textbook (facts and figures and all) to my students to read, review, and reflect upon. It turned out that the pieces that my students learned the most from were the true-to-life stories. They either didn’t read or barely glanced over the facts and figures, but provided very positive feedback (and even remembered) the words of wisdom from real people who have successfully navigated the journey through college.

I guess it makes sense; students love when real-life stories are infused into the activities and lessons. Plus, as a number of students told me, the facts and figures on topics such as note-taking and how many hours to study per week can be found by searching online and can vary by person. What really mattered to students were the real-life words of wisdom that you can’t find online. Thus, Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom (FAS: WoW as I lovingly call it) emerged.

I share this story because my intended outcome (to be the author of the world’s best open access college student academic success textbook) was not exactly what I expected it to be. The same is true of your journey through college, and you’ll read more about that in the stories right here in FAS: WoW. You’ll find that this is not your typical college textbook full of concrete facts and figures, nor does it tell you how to succeed. No textbook can truly do that —success is defined differently for everyone. The stories in FAS: WoW are relevant, relational, and reflective. The authors welcome you into their lives and offer ideas that ignite helpful discussions that will help you succeed.

FAS: WoW introduces you to the various aspects of student and academic life on campus and prepares you to thrive as a successful college student (since there is a difference between a college student and a successful college student). Each section of FAS: WoW is framed by self-authored, true-to-life short stories from actual State University of New York (SUNY) students, employees, and alumni. You may even know some of the authors! The advice they share includes a variety of techniques to help you cope with the demands of college. The lessons learned are meant to enlarge your awareness of self with respect to your academic and personal goals and assist you to gain the necessary skills to succeed in college.

In the text, the authors tell stories about their own academic, personal, and life-career successes. When reading FAS: WoW, consider the following guiding questions:

After you read each story, take the time to reflect on the lessons learned from your reading and answer the guiding questions as they will help you to connect the dots between being a college student and being a successful college student. Note your areas of strength and your areas of weakness, and develop a plan to turn your weaknesses into strengths.

I could go on and on (and on) about college student academic success, but what fun is the journey if I tell you everything now? You need to learn some stuff on your own, right? So, I will leave you to read and enjoy FAS: WoW with a list of tips that I share with college students as they embark on their journey to academic success:

Enjoy the ride! Cheers,


Dr. Thomas C. Priester,

Dave Dillon, Curator, co-author, and editor of Blueprint for Success in College and Career

As an adjunct counselor and instructor between 2004 and 2007, I began teaching counseling and personal development courses at multiple community colleges. Some campuses assigned textbooks for some courses and others gave the freedom to choose from a variety of texts. As my materials grew, the actual textbooks, an assortment of copies of assignments, handouts, class activities and exams for many different courses became challenging to transport and keep organized for preparation and teaching. I distinctly remember frantically sifting through a rolling suitcase bag (which my colleagues teased me about) trying to find the handout I wanted to use for the third campus I was at on that particular day. I told myself that when and if I became a full-time counselor, I would write my own textbook so that all of the material would be in one place.

Hired as a full-time counselor and instructor at Grossmont College in 2007, I decided to start writing my own textbook for a Study Skills and Time Management course instead of continuing to carry around so many different materials. I began writing in 2009 and some of the ideas from that first effort helped shaped this project.

This book was also written because there is a need for it. Many students do not learn how to study effectively and efficiently or how to manage their time. Others aren’t certain what to choose for their major or their career. And some are lost trying to navigate through the maze and culture of college, often balancing their school workload while working and taking care of family responsibilities. Students are sometimes unsuccessful when they begin college—not for lack of motivation or hard work, but because they did not acquire the skills or information necessary to allow them to succeed.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “the overall 6-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time undergraduate students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree at 4-year degree-granting institutions in fall 2012 was 62 percent. That is, by 2018, 62 percent of first-time, full-time students who had began seeking a bachelor’s degree at 4-year institution in fall 2012 completed the degree at that institution within 6 years.”

There are multiple reasons for these statistics, but there is clearly great opportunity for improvement, and I believe learning and utilizing better study skills and time management skills will yield higher graduation and retention rates for students. Research has proven students who complete a study skills course remain in higher education longer with higher grade point averages and more success than students who did not complete the course.

Despite my interest in keeping the cost of the original textbook low, I found that the cost was still prohibitive for many students and as I began to research textbook affordability solutions, I found OER (Open Educational Resources). I made a decision to publish this book as an OER, as well as the second edition of Blueprint for Success: Indispensable Study Skills and Time Management Strategies, and the first edition of Blueprint for Success: Career Decision Making. As one of my colleagues said, “You have gone all in with OER.” There are many reasons for why this book is an Open Educational Resource, including but not limited to textbook affordability, access, empathy, openness, inclusion, diversity, and equity. I want students to be able to have access to the textbook on day one and after the course ends, not have to choose between buying food and purchasing the text, and not have to worry about a lost, stolen, or expired digital access code.

Often the story is equality but that leaves the system unbalanced when equity can bring things closer together. For this community event, I painted the fist and main text. The rest of the painting is filled in with words from people in the community stating what things we should fight for and why
Student Tramaine Wilkes painting illustrating fight for equity

This Santa Ana College student panel from the Open Education Conference 2017 exemplifies why this text is an OER:

Video: Santa Ana College OER Student Panel OpenEd 2017

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I also found a wonderful community of supporters of Open Education and Open Educational Resources along with existing high quality, peer reviewed College Success OER. I researched and identified content from multiple sources, chose what information best fit my project, and then “reused, revised, remixed, and redistributed” with a Creative Commons by attribution license so that future users can freely retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute.

It has been my desire to deliver an easy-to-read, simple-to-understand instruction manual for study skills, time management, and career exploration, full of real-life examples.

This textbook is not designed to preach to you what you should or shouldn’t do with your life, your time, or your study skills. It is not meant to judge you. It is, however, designed to allow you the opportunity to examine and explore how you do certain things, and offer suggestions along the way that have helped other students.

My general philosophy is that if you are doing something that works well for you, then continue doing it. But if your results are less than optimal, or if you want to try something new, this book gives you suggestions. Experiment. Try some of them out. Keep what works best. Toss out what doesn’t work. See what fits best for you. We are all works in progress.

This is a book that I wish I had when I was a college student. Through trial and error, I found some strategies that suited me, and many that did not. I improved my time management, but it was a long process marked by learning from failure rather than following a recipe for success. The same could be said for selecting my major.

The first edition of the Blueprint for Success: Indispensable Study Skills and Time Management Strategies text elicited this response from one of my students: “The book really helped me. It was supportive of the assignments and was extremely easy to understand and follow. It truly served as a blueprint. It was almost like a map or instruction manual for being successful in your course. The best part was it can be used and applied to any college level class.” Since that publication, I have further developed theories and strategies specifically designed to help college students be successful, and I am excited about sharing them, and combining them with the expertise and content from other open licensed works.

It is my sincere hope that this book will help guide you to success in college and beyond.

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Original:

Fight for Equity by Tramaine Wilkes. License: CC BY: Attribution.

CC licensed content, Previously shared:

A Different Road To College: A Guide For Transitioning To College For Non-traditional Students. Authored by: Alise Lamoreaux. Located at: License: CC BY: Attribution.

Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom. Edited by Thomas Priester. Located at: License: CC BY: Attribution.

Original content authored by Dave Dillon. License: CC BY: Attribution.

Content previously copyrighted, published in Blueprint for Success in College: Indispensable Study Skills and Time Management Strategies (by Dave Dillon). Located at: Now licensed as CC BY: Attribution.

Video: Santa Ana College OER Student Panel OpenEd 2017. Located at: License: CC BY: Attribution.

Version History: Updated statistics and minor cultural responsive edits: July, 2021.
Trent Petrie and Chris Buntrock, A Longitudinal Investigation of a Semester Long Study Skills Course, paper presented at the annual conference of the American Psychological Association, Toronto, Canada, 1996.


What to Expect for the Student

Dave Dillon

This textbook is a “remix” of five previous open sourced textbooks. Effort was placed into maintaining consistency throughout while striving to strike a balance with preserving original content. You will see multiple authors use “I.” See the licensing and attribution information at the end of each chapter if you are interested in identifying the chapter author.

The Foundations of Success: Words of Wisdom essays are all included in their original form and have been distributed throughout the text with the title of each chapter beginning with “Words of Wisdom.” The authors of these essays are identified at the top of each chapter.

Although Alise Lamoreaux, Phyllis Nissila, the Lumen Learning authors, the Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom authors, and I (Dave Dillon) have different voices, I believe in this case that as Aristotle said, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” The “Author’s Stories” found throughout the text are personal stories from Dave Dillon.

Videos are embedded within the text. Students with internet access and a device capable of playing videos will be able to watch the videos as they are reading. Students reading offline, with a .pdf  download, or on a a device that does not play video will see a link to the video in the text. All of the videos and multimedia are also listed in the Appendix for future viewing and reference.

You will find learning objectives at the beginning of each unit.

Licenses and Attributions:

Original content authored by Dave Dillon.  License: CC BY: Attribution.



Thomas Priester, Phyllis Nissila, Dave Dillon

Acknowledgments from Foundations of Success: Words of Wisdom and bios from the authors of the essays (written by Thomas Priester).

First, I’d like to acknowledge the students enrolled in my First-Year Experience 100 course at SUNY Genesee Community College during the 2014-2015 academic school year. Your feedback truly helped to revolutionize academic success for generations of college students to come.

Much appreciation to both Kate Pitcher and Allison Brown at Geneseo for their patience and support as I worked through the Open SUNY Textbooks publication process.

Thank you to Lindsey Dotson (SUNY Buffalo State, 2016) and Jeffrey Parfitt (SUNY Genesee Community College, 2015) for their assistance in making FAS: WoW a reality.

Props to Nicki Lerczak for giving the final draft the “hairy librarian eyeball.” Her words, not mine!

Finally, many thanks goes to the following State University of New York (SUNY) students, employees, and alumni for sharing their words of wisdom that frames the text:

Dr. Andrew Robert Baker
Director of Community Standards
Finger Lakes Community College
Graduate of University at Buffalo, University at Albany, and SUNY Oneonta

Amie Bernstein
Graduate of Suffolk County Community College

Vicki L. Brown
Director of Student Activities
Herkimer College
Graduate of SUNY Potsdam

Dr. Kristine Duffy
SUNY Adirondack
Graduate of the College at Brockport

Jamie Edwards
Career Services Specialist
SUNY Genesee Community College
Graduate of University at Buffalo

Paulo Fernandes
Student at Stony Brook University

Christopher L. Hockey
Assistant Director of Student Mobility
SUNY System Administration
Graduate of SUNY Oswego

Fatima Rodriguez Johnson
Assistant Dean of Students, Multicultural Programs & Services
SUNY Geneseo
Graduate of SUNY Fredonia

Kristen Mruk
Assistant Director of Student Activities
SUNY Genesee Community College
Graduate of University at Buffalo

Dr. Patricia Munsch
Suffolk County Community College
Graduate of SUNY Geneseo

Yuki Sasao
Student at SUNY Oswego
Graduate of SUNY Genesee Community College

Jacqueline Tiermini
Finger Lakes Community College
Graduate of SUNY Buffalo State

Sara Vacin
Human Services Adjunct Faculty
SUNY Niagara County Community College
Jackie Vetrano
Graduate of SUNY Geneseo

Nathan Wallace
Assistant Project Coordinator, Assessment and Special Projects
Erie Community College

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:

Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom. Edited by Thomas Priester. Located at:

Acknowledgements from How to Learn Like a Pro! by Phyllis Nissila

My thanks to Amy Hofer, Coordinator of Oregon’s Statewide Open Education Library Services, for keeping me on track on this OER learning curve. Thanks also to my Effective Learning and Study Skills students, past and present, who have helped me shape relevant and helpful classes. In particular, I wish to thank Raya, Lynette, Pam, and Angie, who beta tested the lessons with me in Summer term 2016 and provided valuable insights and responses. Lastly, several lessons feature the work of Dan Hodges, a Lane colleague whose series of Study Tips articles continue to be a gold mine of information for Effective Learning instructors at Lane. He has generously given permission to cite his work, here, as an Open Education Resource.

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, previously shared:

How to Learn Like a Pro! Authored by Phyllis Nissila. Located at:

Acknowledgements from Dave Dillon, curator, co-author, and editor of Blueprint for Success in College and Career

This project could not have been completed alone and I am grateful for the assistance of some amazing people around me who helped it reach fruition.

Thank you to Zoe Wake Hyde for always having my back, for your patience, time, expertise, and responsiveness.

Thanks to Apurva Ashok for all of your assistance and support.

Thanks to Hugh McGuire for creating the platform and community around it to make this possible.

Thanks to Linda (Bruce) Hill, the team at Lumen Learning, Alise Lamoreaux, Phyllis Nissila, Thomas Priester for creating high quality college success content and openly licensing it.

Special thanks to the Peer Reviewers:

Andrea Devitt, Cuesta College
Alicia Frangos, College of San Mateo
Denica Kelly, DeAnza College
Will Pines, Grossmont College
Rita Soultanian, Saddleback College
Belen Torres-Gil, Rio Hondo College
Shemya Vaughn, College of the Redwoods
Constance Walsh, Fullerton College
Suzanne Wakim, Butte College

Thanks to Jeanne Hoover (Scholarly Communication Librarian at East Carolina University) for providing the Glossary.

Thanks to Sally Ades (English faculty at Grossmont College) for providing consistency with proper footnotes (Chicago, 17th edition) when the original sources had used different footnote styles.

Thanks to Deavon Cleamon (student at Clover Park Technical College) for assistance with identification and graphic design of images, image accessibility compliance, artwork, and design of the printed version back cover.

Thank you to my wife, Lindsay, and my daughters, Brooklyn and Molly, for their support, and especially for allowing me to work on the project during times when it was not most convenient to do so. And thanks for putting up with multiple piles of this project in various rooms of our house for many months.

Thank you to my parents, Carole and Joe Dillon, for inspiring me in education, teaching the value of hard work, and for nurturing my enthusiasm, patience, and persistence to be able to finish the project.

Thanks to the small group I affectionately call my “think tank”, Una Daly, Nicole Finkbeiner, James Glapa-Grossklag, and Amy Hofer. Your continued support and answers to my questions have been invaluable.

Thanks to Alexis Clifton for support and assistance with licensing.

Thanks to T Ford for unconditional support, encouragement, wisdom, and advice.

Thank you to the Academic Senate for the California Community Colleges’ OER Task Force for your enthusiasm, creativity, and ideas.

Thanks to Laura Close. Your editorial talent, patience, willingness to assist, and professionalism are all appreciated more than I can express.

Thank you to Kim Mazyck and her team at Montezuma Publishing. You helped bring this from an idea to a reality and I am indebted for your assistance.

Thank you to the Textbook and Academic Author Association. Your resources and expertise have contributed to the quality of this textbook in may ways.

Thank you to the Global Studies Division and (EPIC) Education Partnership for Internationalizing Curriculum Program at Stanford University.

A big thank you to Colleen Lewcock, Nils Michals, and Sarah Moore who assisted with editing.

Thanks to Ellen Lockwood for all of your time, support, and assistance with behind the scenes organization, record keeping, and attention to detail.

Thanks to Jennifer Bennett who spearheaded a student centered art project resulting in 23 pieces of openly licensed student artwork integrated in July, 2021.  And thanks to her students at Grossmont College for their willingness and interest in having their artwork included.

Licenses and Attributions:

Original content: CC BY Attribution.



Alise Lamoreaux, Dave Dillon

Announcement from the Curator posted August 15, 2021 regarding change, pandemic, and college success.

Video: Curator Announcement, Dave Dillon 2021

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Announcement from the Curator posted August 23, 2020 regarding the pandemic and racism.

Video: Curator Announcement, Dave Dillon 2020

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Please note that the curator values and is committed to diversity.  It has been since the beginning of this textbook project, and continues to be, a goal to include female and persons of color as authors.  I am proud of the diversity that is represented and strive for greater diversity.  If you have reflections or recommendations you would like to make regarding this, I encourage you to reach out to the curator at

As the world turned upside down in 2020 due to the global covid-19 pandemic, large aspects of education (and other areas of life) shifted online.  This presentation called Online Learning: Secrets and Strategies for Success may provide support and value for you on your journey through higher education and online learning.

Video: Online Learning: Secrets and Strategies for Success, Dave Dillon 2020


College: the romantic transition period from high school to work. Right? Every fall, as summer comes to an end, the media is flooded with images of 18-year-olds and their parents flocking to college campuses, loaded with personal belongings, ready to move into the dorms. The word “college” tends to make people think of young adults, recently graduated from high school, who will be living in residences on campus, studying with friends, and socializing together on the weekends. Individuals who have found and been accepted to the school that is the perfect fit for them. Let the magic begin.

Many young adults will have spent the summer preparing for the transition to college by cleaning bedrooms, sorting and downsizing belongings, revisiting memories and reading college student success guides. Transition guides include topics like: 10 things to do to be ready for college; dorm living; tips for classroom success; shopping for the things you will need in college; college and drinking; staying connected; and dealing with setbacks. All things the young adults need to know before striking out on their own for the first time. The 18 year old, recent high school senior is seen as the “typical” college student.

However, the student profile for many colleges today is shifting. Young adults with few responsibilities other than college courses are becoming a shrinking demographic on many college campuses. Today’s college classrooms are increasingly becoming infused with non-traditional students, those over the age of 24 with responsibilities beyond the classroom walls. These are not students who transition directly from high school to post-secondary education. Many are first-generation college students whose parents have not attended college and are not providing the students with first-hand information about the inner workings of college. Besides the basic foundational information surrounding college, non-traditional students need help understanding the information regarding the contextual aspects of college systems.

What Makes A Student Non-Traditional?

Non-traditional students have an ever-growing presence on college campuses, especially community colleges. Non-traditional students can be broadly defined as having one or more of the following characteristics:

Non-traditional students face critical issues surrounding participation in college and ultimately, college success. These critical issues include, but are not limited to, the following:

Does A Non-Traditional Student Select The Same College Environment As Traditional Student?

“College Attendance Demographics” by National Center for Education Statistics is in the Public Domain

Only a fraction of the nation's 18 million undergraduates are traditional students. 7.5 million 2-year students; 2.4 million part-time students at four-year schools; .9 million for-profit students; 2.2 million over age 21; 5.2 million traditional students.

Data from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) supports the information highlighted in their 2003 report titled Work First Study Second. During the 1999-2000 academic year, 43% of undergraduates enrolled in postsecondary education were age 24 or older. This age is significant because it is used for determining financial independence for Federal Financial Aid programs ( Financial independence combined with the growing cost of attending college is leading to a growing number of part-time students enrolled in college classrooms. A more recent article in the Wall Street Journal indicates that the number of non-traditional students passed the 50% mark in 2011 (Number of the Week: ‘Non-Traditional’ Students Are Majority on College Campuses).

Research provided in 2012 by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) revealed that 51% of college students qualified as low income and would have to work to cover direct and indirect college expenses. The data shows that almost a third of college students need to work 35 hours/week or more while balancing their course loads, homework, and meeting family responsibilities. A little more than a quarter of non-traditional students are parents and 15% are likely to be single parents. The face of the college student is changing, as the data shows: Yesterday’s Non-Traditional Student is Today’s Traditional Student.

Financial independence influences attendance patterns and suggests a trend in college selection by non-traditional students. In the Work First Study Second report, 82% percent of the students were employed while attending college and thought of themselves as “employees-who-study” rather than “students who work.” A significant difference between employees-who-study and students who work is how they blend work and college attendance. Not surprisingly, employees-who-study work full-time and attend college part-time; students who work attend college full-time and work part-time.

Analyzing the data from NCES around college attendance patterns in the fall of 2013, 4-year colleges, both public and private had over 85% of their full-time student enrollment composed of young adults (under the age of 25). This trend was not true for private for-profit colleges, where young adults represented about 30% of the student population. Students over 24 years old tend to select 4-year private for-profit colleges. At 2-year colleges, the same trend could be seen. Approximately 70% of students attending 2-year colleges, both public and private, were young adults and 30% were over the age of 24. Once again, private for-profit colleges were composed of more non-traditional students. Students over 24 years old made up 53% of their student population.

“Full-time undergraduate enrollment patterns, Fall 2013” by National Center for Education Statistics is in the Public Domain

4-year public: 52% under 25, 48% over 25. 4-year private nonprofit: 34% under 25, 66% over 25. 4-year private for-profit: 22% under 25, 78% over 25. 2-year public: 55% under 25, 45% over 25. 2-year private nonprofit: 42% under 25, 48% over 25. 2-year private for-profit: 35% under 25, 65% over 25.

According to NCES data, during the same time period, students over the age of 24 accounted for nearly 50% of the part-time students at public 4-year institutions; nearly 66% of part-time enrollment at private non-profit institutions; and over 75% of part-time students enrolled at 4-year for profit institutions. At 2-year colleges, 45% at public colleges were over 24 years of age. At two-year private colleges, 48% were over 24 years old. At private for-profit 2-year colleges, 65% of part-time students were over the age of 24.

Yesterday’s non-traditional students are becoming today’s students and bringing with them a different set of experiences and expectations. Employees-who-study report being interested in gaining skills to enhance their positions or improve future work opportunities as reasons for attending post-secondary education. In the Work First Study Second report, 80% of the employees who work reported enrolling in post-secondary education to gain a degree or credential.

Based on the research, non-traditional students are more likely to display the following preferences/behaviors than traditional students:

Why Do The Demographics Matter?

If you talk to people who have gone to college 10, 15, 20, or even 40 years ago, you will hear similar stories about what their college experiences were like. College systems and structural foundations have not changed much from the past.  The change that is happening is in the student demographics and their needs/expectations. It is important for students to realize every college has its own culture.  Finding a comfortable match between student expectations and college expectations is essential for student success. Looking at demographics can help students think about what type of student needs would impact college selection and how that relates to their individual needs.  For example, working students may need more course offerings that are online or have a shorter class session. Working students may have skills from their jobs and feel that they don’t need certain types of classes as a result.  In addition, looking at college selection demographics can help prospective students understand there are many roads to college.  Ultimately, college is a dynamic equation.  Recognizing expectations from the student’s needs and the college’s ability to provide for those needs is a major factor in the student’s college success.

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CC licensed content, Original:

Curator Announcement. Authored by: Dave Dillon.  Located at:
License: CC BY: Attribution.

Online Learning: Secrets and Strategies for Success.  Authored by: Dave Dillon.  Located at:  License: CC BY: Attribution.

(included in above video): Chem 60 Welcome Video Featuring a Special Guest.  Authored by Dr. Benny Ng.  Located at:  License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.

A Different Road To College: A Guide For Transitioning To College For Non-traditional Students. Authored by: Alise Lamoreaux.  Located at: License: CC BY: Attribution.

Adaptions: Reformatted, image removed, “Why I Wrote This Book” relocated to Preface.


Unit 1: Launch

Learning Objectives

After you have completed this unit you should be able to:

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Content previously copyrighted, published in Blueprint for Success in College: Indispensable Study Skills and Time Management Strategies (by Dave Dillon). Now licensed as CC BY: Attribution.


Chapter 1: Passion

Dave Dillon

“Ganas. That’s all you need. The desire to learn.”

– Jaime Escalante

Think about what you are passionate about. It might be family, friends, a significant other, a pet, an upcoming vacation, or what you might have for dinner. Different people are passionate about different things. Ask yourself: Why are you passionate about those things? What makes you passionate about them? Now ask yourself if you are passionate about school.

Author’s Story

I can think of many things I would rather do than sit in a classroom listening to a lecture. I’d rather be relaxing at the beach, traveling to a new place, or playing Mario Kart with my family and friends. But when I was in college, my education was extremely important to me. I had a tremendous amount of passion, which allowed me to succeed. I had the attitude that nothing was going to stand in the way of getting my degree. In my first year in college I took an Introduction to Sociology class that genuinely interested me. It was easy to be passionate about it because I really liked the subject matter, my professor, and the textbook. I also took Microeconomics. And while I understood its value and importance, I was not as interested in attending and completing the assignments. However, I always knew I needed to find passion in the course if I wanted to be successful and accomplish my goals. One strategy that worked for me was to find situations where I could apply concepts in those less interesting classes to my personal life. For instance, if the lecture and textbook were explaining a Microeconomics concept like total and marginal utility, I would try to apply this to something I could easily relate to. If utility is the satisfaction of the consumption of a product for a consumer, I would think of an example involving Arby’s roast beef sandwiches, and blue raspberry slurpees. Making the material meaningful to me allowed me to be passionate about learning something I otherwise would not have been.

“Brick walls are there for a reason: they let us prove how badly we want things.”

– Randy Pausch

There were other activities I enjoyed more than class, but I knew it was important to find a passion for my classes because it was the key to succeeding in them.

It is common to have other things you would like to do more than sitting in class, doing homework and preparing for exams. But you still must have passion for the learning and for the class in order to be successful.

My favorite definition of success is from John Wooden: “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”

Why Are You Here?

Please note: It is OK to not know what your goal is when you start college. In fact, it is extremely common for students not to know what their goal is or what their major is when they begin college, but there is value in identifying your goal(s) as soon as possible.

More questions to ask yourself: Why are you in college, and why are you taking the courses you’re taking? If you can answer these questions with solid logic and understand their purpose and how they fit in to being important to your life, you are off to a great start. However, if you are taking classes at someone else’s suggestion and you are not genuinely interested in them, you may want to reconsider. I do not wish it to be misconstrued that I recommend you drop out of college, rather I want you to have a plan and passion to be able to achieve your goals. For many people, higher education is a necessary part of their goals.

I see many students in my counseling office who want to be independent, work a full time job, and/or party (rather than go to college). I also see many students who come back a few years later with a renewed passion and value for their education.

For college success, you must attend when the time is right for you. How do you know if it’s the right time? Ask yourself if it’s the right time for the following students to go to college:

  • Monica’s goal is to go to a university. She was accepted but couldn’t afford it. She enrolls at a community college. She is passionate about attending community college and then transferring to earn a bachelor’s degree.
  • Christina is a high school graduate. She would like to take a year off of school to work and travel. Her parents gave her an ultimatum, saying that if she wanted to continue to live at home, she had to go to college full-time.
  • Javier completed one year of college then got married in his early 20s. He and his spouse raised four children and he has been working for 20 years in an uninteresting, low-paying job. He always wanted to finish college and now finally has the time to go back to school.
  • Andy is interested in partying and little else. He knows his college education is important but it is a low priority at this point.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Passion

Sometimes we are motivated by a specific desired outcome of performing a task. Some people play a game because they want to win. In education, some students work hard because they want to receive a good grade or transfer to a prestigious university. Parents of younger children may give a monetary reward for each “A” their student earns. This is extrinsic motivation.

Interest, desire to learn, and enjoyment of a subject are characteristics of intrinsic motivation, or what we call passion. Passion for your education must come from within. If your educational goals (passing a college course, acquiring new skills or attaining a degree) are important enough to you, your motivation can become intrinsic, allowing you to find passion, which will help you reach your goals. Without passion, you may find yourself struggling, withdrawing from courses, earning poor grades, or dropping out. External rewards of ascending to a certain academic level or acquiring wealth, lose some of their appeal if students do not find the work to get there personally rewarding. These students, who truly embrace their work, are intrinsically motivated – passionate while those who are focused mainly on rewards for high achievement and punishment for poor performance are extrinsically motivated. Trophies, medals, money, new clothes or a new car are examples of extrinsic motivators. One could argue, “the end justifies the means”—that it doesn’t matter if a students’ passion comes internally or externally, as long as they accomplish their goals. However, when the reward is learning itself, the student is on road to long-term success!

“Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.”

– Denis Diderot

The Choice Is Yours

I believe one of the best decisions you can make is to attend college if you are passionate about it and it is the right time for you. On the other hand it is better to postpone attending college if you are not passionate about it or feel the time is not right. Please do not misunderstand – I am not discouraging anyone from going to college nor am I encouraging anyone to drop out of college. And I do not expect you to be passionate about every aspect of college. There were some classes and some requirements that I disliked during my own college experience. My concern, however, is students who start college and are not passionate about it. After a few years and a poor transcript, they meet with a counselor saying they weren’t in college for the right reasons, weren’t serious about their education, didn’t know what they were doing, or… “my parents made me go.” There are some suggestions in this book that can assist a passionate student to succeed. But all of the suggestions in the world will not help a student lacking passion. In the end, I want you to be successful and I want you to enjoy college, but I believe these are nearly impossible without passion.

“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.”

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

There is a scene from the movie Serendipity where Dean’s character says, “You know the Greeks didn’t write obituaries. They only asked one question after a man died: ‘Did he have passion?’” I will leave it up to you to decide if this is true or if it is Hollywood taking a liberty, but either way that quote has stayed with me. You can be successful in college. This textbook is a journey in figuring out how you are going to get there.

Licenses and Attributions:

Content previously copyrighted, published in Blueprint for Success in College: Indispensable Study Skills and Time Management Strategies (by Dave Dillon).  Now licensed as CC BY: Attribution.


Chapter 2: What’s College For?

Alise Lamoreaux, Dave Dillon

“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.”

Chinese Proverb

What’s college for? That’s a little question with a big answer! A college education comes in many shapes and sizes. In 2020, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 3,982 degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the United States

Associate degrees may be obtained at a community colleges or technical schools and usually require approximately 60 credits. Bachelor’s degrees are most often offered by four-year colleges or universities, although some community colleges may offer bachelor’s degrees. Most bachelor’s degrees will require the completion of approximately 120 credits. Some students may begin at a community college and transfer to a four-year college or university to pursue a bachelor’s degree while others may start and finish at a four-year college or university. Both associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees usually require general education courses and courses focusing on a specific major. A master’s degree is an advanced graduate degree that shows a high level of mastery concentrated in a specific subject area. Many master’s degree programs require completion of 30 and 60 credits. One distinction between colleges and universities is that colleges do not offer graduate degree programs while universities offer both undergraduate (associate and bachelor’s) and graduate degree (master’s and doctorate) programs. A doctorate degree is the highest degree available to earn in many fields. Also called a “terminal degree,” this signals achieving the highest level of academic mastery in some disciplines.

Colleges and universities may be public, private, religious, small, large, for-profit, community colleges, junior colleges, regional universities, research universities, or international universities. In addition to a degree and an “education,” students often pursue college for options, opportunities, knowledge, curiosity, and guidance.

How do you view college?
What will define college success for you?

People go to college for a variety of reasons. The type of college you select will help set parameters and expectations for your experiences. Before jumping into the details of going to college, it’s important to stop and think about the purpose college has in your life. Traditionally, college was a place young adults went after high school to explore courses and majors before settling into a job path. According to a 2015 University of California at Los Angeles survey, most people currently go to college for one or more of 7 main reasons:Kevin Eagan et al., The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2015 (Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA, 2015).

1) To be able to get a better job
2) To gain a general education and appreciation of ideas
3) To become a more cultured person
4) To be able to make more money
5) To learn more about things that interest me
6) To get training for a specific career
7) To prepare for graduate or professional school

Video: Don’t Just Follow Your Passion: A Talk for Generation Y, Eunice Hii at TEDxTerryTalks 2012

Thumbnail for the embedded element "Don't Just Follow Your Passion: A Talk for Generation Y: Eunice Hii at TEDxTerryTalks 2012"

A YouTube element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

What impression does this TED Talk leave you with? Which generation are you?

A Forbes article from 2019 says that the most commonly cited reason for why Americans value higher education is to get a good job. In the past, learning about things that interested them was listed as the top reason to attend college. When did the change in priority occur? Dan Berrett says the change in priority can be linked to Ronald Reagan, when he was Governor of California.

Economic times were tough in 1967 for California. Everyone needed to “tighten their belts.” At that time, California was known for its excellent higher educational system. In a speech Reagan gave on Feb. 28, 1967, a month into his term as Governor, Reagan assured people that he wouldn’t do anything to harm the quality of their public education system. “But,” he added, “We do believe that there are certain intellectual luxuries that perhaps we could do without.” Taxpayers should not be “subsidizing intellectual curiosity,” he said. By the time Reagan won the presidency, in 1980, practical degrees had become the popular choice. In the 1930s, around the time Reagan went to college, about 8% of students majored in “business and commerce.” When he was elected Governor, that share was 12%. By the time he moved into the White House, more students majored in business than anything else. Business, as a major, has held that top spot ever since.

What frames your value of education?
What kind of return on your investment do you expect from college?

Deciding to go to college has an “opportunity cost.” An opportunity cost is based on the economic principle that there are limited resources available and choices must be made. Examples of resources would be things like time and money. If you are spending time doing something, you must give up doing something else you want to do. That is the opportunity cost of your choice. Going to college will have an opportunity cost in your life. An important question to ask in the beginning of your college venture is: what are you willing to trade off for going to college?

Opportunity costs are tied to the idea of return on investment. Once you make an investment of your time and money in college, what investment are you hoping to get in return? How you define success in relationship to your college experience impacts how you see the concept of return on investment. Some ways to gauge return on investment include: job opportunities after college, immediate financial benefit to earned wages, social network/connections made while attending college, development of communication and other “soft skills,” personal enrichment and/or happiness, and the ability to improve socio-economic circumstances for students’ family and community.

Short-term rewards compared to long-term rewards are another way to look at return on investment. For example, it takes much longer to become a CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of a company than it does to get a well-paid job at the same company. Different skills would be required from the CEO and it may require more investment to acquire those skills. Frances Bronet, the Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Oregon, conducted a survey of former engineering graduates when she taught at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She asked former graduates what they felt they had missed in their education. The results were very different depending on how recent their graduation was. Students who had graduated 1 year ago felt that they needed more technical skills. People who had graduated 5 years ago felt that they needed more management skills, and people who had graduated 10-20 years ago felt that they needed more cultural literacy because their work now involved more working with other cultures.

Deciding to go to college is a big decision and choosing a course of study can seem overwhelming to many students. Considering the changing world we live in, knowing what direction to go is not easy.

In the most watched TED talk of all time, educationalist Sir Ken Robinson claimed that “schools kill creativity”, arguing that we grow out of creativity rather than growing into it. Robinson also argues that “creativity is as important as literacy and we should afford it the same status.”

Video: Do Schools Kill Creativity? Ken Robinson at TED 2006

Thumbnail for the embedded element "Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?"

A TED element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

What do you think the purpose of college is? Do you think schools “kill” creativity?

Asking yourself the questions below may help you add more depth to your foundation for the purpose for you for college. It is OK if you don’t have answers for some of the questions. You may want to discuss some the questions, your answers, and your goals with a counselor or advisor.

Personal Inventory Questions:

  1. Why are you here?
  2. Why college, why now?
  3. How do you define college?
  4. What do you imagine college life to be like?
  5. How do you know when you are ready for college?
  6. What have you done to prepare for college?
  7. What do you think college expects from students?
  8. What does going to college mean for your future?
  9. Using the list of 7 reasons students attend college provided in this chapter, rank your reasons for going to college.
  10. In your opinion, is it a good idea for academic counselors to steer high school kids towards either a 4-year degree or vocational training?
  11. Should students be steered towards careers that would be a good “fit” for them?
  12. Opportunity Cost Analysis: Create a pie chart identifying how you currently spend your time (daily/weekly).


Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:

Lamoreaux, Alise. A Different Road To College: A Guide For Transitioning To College For Non-traditional Students. Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2018. License: CC BY: Attribution.

Adaptions: Reformatted. Added learning objectives. Modified reasons for going to college. Updated sources.

Robinson, Ken. “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” TED, TED Conferences LLC, Feb. 2006.

License: CC BY – NC – ND 4.0 International.

All rights reserved content:

Hii, Eunice. “Don’t Just Follow Your Passion: A Talk for Generation Y.” TEDxTerryTalks. University of British Columbia, November 3rd, 2012, Vancouver, BC, Canada. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.

Version History: Minor edits and updates for more currency, cohesiveness, inclusiveness, alignment, and cultural responsiveness, July, 2021.


Chapter 3: Words of Wisdom: The Student Experience

Kristen Mruk

Kristen Mruk

When thinking about college, what comes to mind? Perhaps stereotypical images or misconceptions of college life, a friend or sibling’s story, or scenes from popular movies?

Six photos: the first depicts young people drinking and dancing and is captioned "What society thinks I do." The second shows a tired student resting on a pile of books and is captioned "What my friends think I do." The third shows an A plus written on a paper with the caption "What my parents think I do." The fourth shows a group of students working together on a poster and is captioned "What my professors hope I do" The fifth shows the silhouette of a graduate in cap and gown and is captioned "What I'd like to do." The last photo is a question mark and is captioned "What I actually do."
“The Student Experience” by Kristen Mruk

In popular culture, some movies depict college life as a party atmosphere in which students binge drink and waste their parents’ money to have a good time without consequence. Films including National Lampoon’s Animal House and Van Wilder as well as Accepted, to name a few, portray the student experience as a blatant disregard for education coupled with excessive drunken buffoonery. However, my party experience illustrates a side to college that is not generally in the limelight.

During my first weeks in college, I felt disconnected from the campus and feared that I would not make friends or find my niche. I was commuting from my family’s home and wanted to do more on campus than just go to and from class. I was enrolled in a First-Year Experience (FYE) course that was intended to provide a framework for a successful undergraduate career and beyond. In the class, we learned about student support services on campus (tutoring, personal wellness, academic advisement, etc.) as well as personal success skills (time and financial management, values exploration, etc.).

Being a new student, and a commuter, I was overwhelmed by the amount of new information, new territory, campus culture, and unfamiliar processes. I asked my FYE instructor after class one day if there was something I could do to feel more connected to campus. She opened my eyes to a side of college that I was missing—this was my invitation to the party.

My FYE instructor promptly led me to her office, introduced me to the staff, and explained the variety of involvement opportunities available through her office. I was amazed that there was so much to do on campus! Because of that meeting, I decided to apply for a job in the Student Union working at the information desk. This position was a catalyst for all of the additional parties I would be invited to throughout my time as an undergraduate student. With so many possibilities, I had to be diligent in prioritizing my time and energy.

What My Friends Think I Do

Friends knew me to be much like the girl in the meme above. I was juggling extracurricular activities and two jobs all while maintaining a full course load. I had to be proactive and diligent to coordinate activities and assignments and make sure I had the time to do it all. Finding a system was a trial and error process, but ultimately I found a method that worked for me. I was an undergraduate student when apps didn’t exist and Facebook was just becoming popular, so my organizational system included a planner, a pen, and a lot of highlighters. Whatever that organizational system looks like for you does not matter as long as you use it.

There are a variety of organizational methods and tools you can use to stay on track with all aspects of your life as a student.

What My Parents Think I Do

It may be difficult to discuss your studies and educational experience with a parent or someone that has a significant interest in your academic achievement. This was the case for me; I was the first kid in my house to enroll in college, and my parents were under the impression that grades would be sent home like they were in high school. During the New Student Orientation program, my Mom learned about FERPA (Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and what that meant for my grades. “FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children’s education records. These rights transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level.” In essence, parents cannot access grades or other restricted academic information unless you provide it to them

I was fortunate enough to have my parents’ financial support toward tuition, so they felt entitled to reviewing my grades at the end of each term. I did not want to give them direct access to my grade report by filing a FERPA waiver, so after much deliberation, I agreed to share my grades once released at the end of the term. If their standards were not met, there would have to be a conversation about repercussions.

In the fall of my sophomore year I took my first online course—Introduction to Computers and Statistics. All of the lectures and assignments were available online at anytime and exams were administered in a computer lab on campus. I thought having the ability to view lectures on my own time would be more conducive to my schedule as I was becoming more involved on campus. For the first few weeks of classes I watched the lectures regularly and did the assignments on time. Slowly but surely I found myself prioritizing my time differently, ultimately putting my online class on the back burner, because (I told myself) the work could be done anytime! By the end of the term I realized that I was going to fail the class. No amount of extra credit, crying, or pleading could save my grade; I had earned an F.

Seeing a failing grade on my transcript taught me two valuable lessons. First, I discovered that I needed the routine and accountability of an in-person class to ensure my participation in the material. Second, I was responsible for the grades I received. I probably could have come up with a million excuses for why I didn’t watch the lectures or do the assignments, but the reality was I just didn’t do it. I did not seek my professor’s help during their office hours when I started to fall behind, I did not go to the tutoring center on campus to get extra help, and I did not reach out to my classmates to form study groups.

Although the F that I received will never disappear from my transcript, it is an important reminder of the gruesome conversation I had with my parents and the feeling of failure in the pit of my stomach. Needless to say, that was the only online course I took during my collegiate career, but it was absolutely worth the lessons learned.

What My Professors Hope I Do

Professors do care about how you are doing in their class; they genuinely want you to succeed, but they will give you the grade you earn. There are people and resources on campus for you to utilize so you can earn the grade you want.

Your professors are one of those resources, and are perhaps the most important. Go see them during office hours, ask them questions about the material and get extra help if you need it. The caveat here is that you cannot wait until the last week of the term to visit your professors to get help. Tears and pleading will not help you at the eleventh hour.

Another resource to utilize can be found in the campus learning center. I frequented my campus’ writing center for assistance with papers and research projects. Initially, I was scared to be critiqued, thinking my work would be perceived as inadequate. The first time I took a paper there, I recall standing outside the door for about ten minutes thinking of an excuse not to go in. Thankfully I saw a classmate walk in and I followed suit. The experience was less dramatic than I imagined it to be; no one ripped my paper to shreds and told me that I would never graduate. Instead I sat with an upper-class student who coached me through some pointers and suggestions for improvement. Thanks to that first visit, I received an A- on the paper!

What I Would Like to Do

I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I started college, but that changed three times by the time I graduated. Initially I started as an International Business major but ended up receiving a degree in Communication and continued on to graduate school. My greatest advice to you is to embrace feelings of uncertainty (if you have them) with regard to your academic, career, or life goals. Stop into the Career Services office on your campus to identify what it is that you really want to do when you graduate or to confirm your affinity to a career path. Make an appointment to see a counselor if you need to vent or get a new perspective. Do an internship in your field; this can give you a first-hand impression of what your life might look like in that role.

When I chose International Business, I did not do so as an informed student. I enjoyed and excelled in my business courses in high school and I had hopes of traveling the world, so International Business seemed to fit the bill. Little did I know, the major required a lot of accounting and economics which, as it turned out, were not my forte. Thinking this is what I wanted, I wasted time pursuing a major I didn’t enjoy and academic courses I struggled through.

So I took a different approach. I began speaking to the professionals around me that had jobs that appealed to me: Student Unions/Activities, Leadership, Orientation, Alumni, etc. I found out I could have a similar career, and I would enjoy the required studies along the way. Making that discovery provided direction and purpose in my major and extracurricular activities. I felt like everything was falling into place.

What I Actually Do

I would like to pause for a moment and ask you to consider why you are in college? Why did you choose your institution? Have you declared a major yet? Why or why not? What are your plans post-graduation? By frequently reflecting in this way, you can assess whether or not your behaviors, affiliations, and activities align with your goals.

What you actually do with your student experience is up to you. Remind yourself of the reasons why you are in college and make sure your time is spent on achieving your goals. There are resources and people on your campus available to help you. You have the control—use it wisely.

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:

Mruk, Kristen. “The Student Experience.” In Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom, edited by Thomas Priestler. Open SUNY Textbooks, 2015. Located at:  License: CC BY: Attribution.

Version History: Minor edits and updates for currency, and improved accessibility, July, 2021.


Chapter 4: Choosing A College To Attend

Alise Lamoreaux

“Between saying and doing many a pair of shoes is worn out.”

– Italian Proverb 

Before you enroll in college, it is important to understand your educational goal. Knowing your goal will help you decide the type of college you will need to select to reach that goal.

Video: How to find work you love, Scott Dinsmore at TEDx Golden Gate Park 2012

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A TED element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

Before getting too far into the topic of choosing to attend college, stop for a moment and think about the following questions:

1) What is your educational goal?

2) What are the top 5 criteria you would use in selecting a college?

3) What kind of degree or certificate will you need to achieve your educational goal?

4) Do you want to be full-time or part-time student?

5) Will you need to work while you are going to college? How much?

6) What are your priorities from a college?

7) What do you expect from your teachers?

8) What kind of support services do you need from a college?

9) What class size would make you feel comfortable?

10) Do you need support in improving your basic skills in Reading, Writing, Math or Speaking English?

11) What are you willing to pay for your college education?

12) How do you plan to finance your college education?

It is important for potential students to realize that every college has its own culture. Finding a comfortable match between student expectations and college expectations is essential for student success. Ultimately, college is a dynamic experience and the student is half the equation. The culture of a college plays a key role in finding a good match. It is important to take the time you need to make the decision about the college that is right for you. Rushing the process can lead to an unsuccessful match-up. Following a friend or family member to the same college they selected may also lead to a mismatched situation.

If possible, try to visit the college in person to get a feel for the campus and the setting. Are you looking for an urban, suburban, or online setting? The distance you travel to attend college will impact many aspects of your college participation. Location is an important aspect of the overall college selection process. The process of finding the right college for you will depend on your educational goal and your expectation for services from a college.

10 Factors to Consider in Finding the Right College Match for You

  1. Cost: How important is the tuition cost to your decision? Tuition example: The average yearly tuition at Lane Community College in Oregon is $4,275.00 as of this writing (find the most up-to-date info on the Lane College Tuition, Fees and Payments page). The average yearly tuition at the University of Oregon is $8,190.00 as of this writing (find up-to-date info on the University of Oregon Cost of Attendance page).
  2. Flexible Pacing For Completing A Program: How convenient and flexible are the class times and locations? Are there evening and weekend offerings? Online or Hybrid courses?
  3. Your Work Schedule: How will your employment affect your ability to attend classes?
  4. Open Access: What are the enrollment requirements of the college?
  5. Teaching Quality: Who will teach the classes you take and is the college accredited?
  6. College Size: How big a campus are you comfortable with and what size classes do you expect?
  7. Support Services: Will you want child care, computer labs, health services, parking, tutoring, financial aid, scholarships, or other services?
  8. Academic Reputation: What do you know about the academic quality of the college?
  9. Variety of Certificate/Degree Options: Are you interested in career pathway options or transferring credits to another school? Are you planning to use the college you select to attend as a stepping-stone to another college or program?
  10. Opportunity to play sports or participate in club activities: How important is it to you to have activities to participate in outside of your course work?

Where can a student find out information about the factors to consider when evaluating a specific college? Many students would suggest Google or another online search engine, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, which may be helpful, but the place to learn the specific details of college is in their college catalog.

The Most Important Book on Campus: The College Catalog

A college catalog is the place a college puts all the information regarding the specific details and rules of the school. The purpose is to have all that information in one easy place for prospective students and current students. A school’s catalog contains all the information you need to know about living and learning at the school of your choice, so it can help streamline your college or degree research process. College catalogs are a long-standing tradition that pre-dates the Internet and websites. Many colleges are trying to find a way to make the information more available to students on websites and other social media.

The information in college catalogs changes as degree programs, school rules, and student expectations change. These changes make the catalog just as useful to current students as it is to new students. Catalogs are usually published every year, so make sure you’re using the most current version. Specific topics covered include:

Finding College Catalogs

Most colleges give students access to the catalog on the school website. In addition, you may be able to pick up a printed copy on campus. Some colleges do a better job of making the transition to online information delivery and accessibility better than others. Finding easy-to-use online college catalogs may be frustrating to new college students. For this reason, some students prefer printed catalogs as they get acquainted with the framework of college systems.

What is the Difference Between a Certificate, Associate Degree, and a Bachelor’s Degree?

The main differences between certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor’s degrees boil down to these 5 factors:

  1. Time: How long does it take to earn the credential?
  2. Tuition: How many courses/units/credits will it take to obtain the credential and how much will that cost? This factor may vary from school to school.
  3. Admissions Requirements: What the college expects your skill level to be prior to starting coursework.
  4. Level of Study/Amount of Coursework: Will you study something very specific or something more general?
  5. Career Opportunities: A certificate usually means you have completed a specialized form of training. It may demonstrate technical knowledge in a field and generally it is faster to complete than a degree. Sometimes a certificate can be a benchmark that applies toward a degree.

Associate degrees are commonly referred to as “2-year” degrees. If you can fix something or fix people, an associate degree may be what you are looking for. For example, health professionals, Information Technology, many high tech jobs, and culinary arts are examples of careers that do well with associate degrees. Associate degrees may be used as a stepping stone and units from an associate degree can often be transferred to meet some required classes for bachelor’s degrees.

Bachelor’s degrees are commonly referred to as “4-year” degrees. A bachelor’s degree extends learning and usually requires around 120 credits (about 40 courses) or more to complete, which is approximately twice as long as an associate degree takes to earn. These numbers vary based on whether the college operates on a semester or quarter schedule. If you want to pursue a career in teaching, engineering, architecture, business, or finance, a bachelor’s degree may be required.

Where Can You Find Out What Educational Level is Needed for a Career?

The table below lists several types of careers. Evaluate each career and determine what kind of educational background a person would need for the jobs listed. Some careers may be suited to multiple levels of education and you may select more than one choice if applicable.

Try using a college catalog, Occupational Outlook Handbook (released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics) or O*NET (Occupational Information Network) to find the information needed to fill in the table below. Some answers will vary based on state regulations for the career.

Vocational Certificate Associate Degree Bachelor’s Degree No Specific Educational Requirement
Truck Driver
Massage Therapist
Energy Management Technician
Environmental Engineering
Early Childhood Education
Fitness Specialist
Dance Teacher
Computer Information Specialist
Computer Game Designer
Dental Assisting
Food Service Management

You may have noticed that the answers to the educational requirements for the careers listed in Table 1 may vary and some careers have multiple layers to their skill requirements and degree requirements. Early Childhood Education, for example, has a career pathway option. Students can earn a certificate and then go on to earn an associate degree and even transfer to earn a bachelor’s degree depending on the job aspiration of the student.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of each of these educational outcomes? Fill in the table below based on your opinion.

Advantages Disadvantages
Vocational Training









Associate Degree (2-yrs)





Bachelor’s Degree (4-yrs)







Based on what you know so far about certificates and degrees, what will you be seeking as your educational credential?

Now that you have thought about what kind of certificate or degree you might need, where could you go to get that credential? Colleges can come in several forms. Some things to consider about the design of the college:

Where Are You Most Likely to Attend College? Let’s Look at the Statistics!

Statistics show demographic differences in student populations between public and private; and for-profit and non-profit colleges. The culture of the colleges may vary greatly based on these qualities.

Examine the following two charts. Based on your age and whether you plan to attend college on a full-time or part-time basis, what kind of college are you most likely to attend? Do you agree or disagree with the statistical prediction about the college you will attend?

“Full-time undergraduate enrollment patterns, Fall 2013” by National Center for Education Statistics is in the Public Domain

Suggested Activity

Using College Navigator, find out how many colleges are located in your area. You may be surprised by the results. You may also want to take a look at U.S. News and World Report’s content and rankings on colleges.

Making the Choice

Ultimately, as a student, you will have to select a college that feels “right” to you. Complete the table below based on what is important to you as a college student.

Want Don’t Want


Flexible Pacing


Interaction with Teachers


Support Services


Academic Reputation


Certificate/Degree Options


Access to Technology

Setting/Commute Time

Community/Social Interaction
Student Clubs/Sports


Video: My philosophy for a happy life, Sam Berns at TEDx Mid Atlantic 2013

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How does the philosophy of Sam Berns relate to your decision to go to college?

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:

Lamoreaux, Alise. A Different Road To College: A Guide For Transitioning To College For Non-traditional Students. Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2018. Located at:  License: CC BY: Attribution.

Adaptions: Reformatted. Added Learning Objectives. Removed some information specific to Lane Community College.

Dinsmore, Scott. “How to Find Work You Love.” TED, TED Conferences LLC, Oct. 2012. Located at:

License: CC BY – NC – ND 4.0 International.

All rights reserved content:

Berns, Sam. “My Philosophy for a Happy Life.” TED, Chris Anderson, 2013.
Located at:

License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.

Version History: Minor edits and updates for currency, and improved accessibility, July, 2021.


Chapter 5: Words of Wisdom: Practice, Practice, Practice

Dr. Kristine Duffy

Dr. Kristine Duffy

Life in college will be like no other time in your life—I can guarantee you that! This is your time to explore who you are, who you want to become, and how you wish to play a part in this world. Don’t squander this unique time in your life. I hope to share some thoughts that might help you avoid regrets when reflecting on your college years.

I want to be clear—there are many paths through college and we know that no one path is right for all. You may be starting at a community college, taking courses part-time, starting college again after an unsuccessful start, or returning to education after many years away, but no matter who you are or what path you’ve chosen, make the most of it.

I took the fairly traditional path. I graduated from high school and went directly to college (which was three hours away from home). Because I wasn’t really sure what else I should do, I chose to be a business major by default. My parents thought it was a good route to take and would lead me to a good job (mainly to ensure I made some money and didn’t live with them forever).

There are three things I learned quickly in college:

  1. I had lived a very nice life, but in a very homogeneous environment.
  2. There were people different from me.
  3. Although I was a decent student, I had a ways to go to be a good student!

Learning to appreciate what you have is just as important as earning As on exams and papers. I share this because part of college is preparing for life, not just a job. Ask yourself some questions:

  • What’s important to me and why?
  • What do I know about other people’s lives, beliefs, and passions?
  • Am I confident in my abilities to study, listen and learn, take notes, and be a learner?

What’s Important to Me and Why?

Is it only to make money to buy things? If so, do you truly believe that money makes everything better? Don’t be fooled by that. Yes, money certainly makes life more comfortable, but it absolutely doesn’t buy happiness. I had friends in college that came from a significant amount of money and they would have traded it all to have a family they can depend upon and love in their homes. Consider this very carefully as you dream of the life ahead of you.

What Do You Know about Other People’s Lives, Beliefs, and Passions?

You are not the center of the world. You should be confident and proud of who you are, but be humble and be open to others’ experiences and worldviews. Take classes that stretch you, maybe even make you uncomfortable. In the end, these types of classes will test your assumptions, beliefs, and make you a more well-rounded and interesting person. The roommate or classmate who is different from you can teach you about yourself. Be open to this.

Are You Confident in Your Abilities to Study, Listen and Learn, Take Notes, and Be a Learner?

Remember, if college were easy, everyone would do it! You have full control and responsibility for your learning. Yes, your professors have the responsibility of teaching well and helping you learn, but they cannot and should not do the work for you. Part of college is learning to learn: learning to study, listen better, take notes, and most importantly asking for help when you need it.

In my own research I have learned that students are confronted with a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, students in high school are warned that college will be hard—the professors won’t care if you do the work or not, and you need to do it on your own. However in reality, college professors and support professionals do care and will tell you to come and see them if you need help.

So what is a student to do? You may feel bad in class if you just aren’t getting it and are embarrassed to ask for help. Stop that thought in its tracks! Colleges offer many opportunities for help and in almost all cases, for free! Professors hold office hours specifically to address students’ questions and tutoring is available to help you do better, not to punish you for not getting it. Remember you are paying a substantial amount of money for your tuition; find out what resources you have and take advantage of them. Be a mature learner, take advantage of everything your college offers, and hold your head high for doing so. There is no shame in asking for help. I always compare it to a job. When you start out on any job there is usually some type of training to teach you how to do that job. College is no different. We are teaching you how to be a student—you’ve been practicing since Kindergarten, and doesn’t end when you get to college.

Finally, here are some words of advice based on some of my regrets when I reflect on my college experience:

  1. I didn’t study abroad during my four years of college.
  2. I didn’t do any type of internship.
  3. I didn’t get involved with many clubs or organizations.
  4. I didn’t get involved with any type of research opportunities until graduate school.

Study Abroad

Whether it is a short-term experience (some are as short as three weeks) or a semester to a year—do it! This goes back to my point about understanding people different than you. The United States is a great nation, but we are not the only nation and our world is filled with amazing stories to share. One of my favorite quotes by Neale Walsch is: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” You will not miss much being gone from your college for a short period of time, and you will return from your adventure a changed person. How do I know this if I didn’t study abroad myself? I know many who have and the end result is the same for all—no regrets, life changing moments, and better appreciation for the world we live in.


Going to college in the 1980’s was different from today. The job market was relatively strong and the push for an internship or co-op was not as strong. But if I had gotten some hands on experience and discovered my likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses, I would have had more direction for my career when I graduated. In addition, there is nothing more frustrating for a college graduate than to go on job interviews only to be told that you can’t be hired because you have no real experience. So talk to your professors, academic advisors, counselors, and mentors about getting some internship experience while in school or during the summer. There are many companies that welcome interns, and you may find the direction you are seeking.

Clubs and Organizations

For years, employers have been surveyed by colleges to ask them what type of skills they are seeking in college graduates. Although having discipline specific skills is important (in other words, the courses you take in your major), employers are very consistent in seeking out employees with what they call “soft skills,” such as writing well, public speaking, getting along with others, and having leadership abilities. You’ll develop these skills in your courses, but you can really hone and apply them by joining a club or organization on campus, where you will have opportunities to work with others, lead efforts, and have something to show for it—a campaign you ran, funds you raised, or an event you organized. Colleges offer many types of clubs to attract students in areas of interest. For example, if you are a business major, you could join the business club. More than likely the activities the club offers will allow you to meet business leaders, go on field trips to learn more about the business world, and meet people who have similar interests as yourself. I was a college athlete so my time was limited, and while I support athletics in college as an opportunity to continue your passion and to grow and learn, try to make time to join a special interest group. Take a leadership role in a group, and later, when you go on that job interview, talk about your leadership experience. The employer will be impressed and it may help you get the job.


Finally, develop your research skills. You may think that research is most important in the sciences and medicine. But research occurs in all fields of study, and much of what you do in college is research in some form. If you are a music major you may need to research how other musicians developed their talent, the history of genres, or new ways music is applied in our world. Problem solving through effective research and knowing how to test your ideas and hypotheses will make you a valuable employee and citizen of your community. If your professor offers a chance to work on a special research project—sign up.

Question everything, and don’t take the answers at face value. Question how people come to their conclusions, develop your own set of research questions, and be willing to dig to find the answers. This is not only important as a student but also as an employee. Strive to be an engaged citizen in our world and don’t believe what everyone tells you. An adult needs to make informed decisions to buy products, pay taxes, and vote for government leaders. Don’t be complacent and put your life in the hands of others without fully researching the pros and cons—draw your own conclusions.

In conclusion, come to the classroom with an open mind and a willingness to exercise your right to take full advantage of all a college offers. Done correctly, college will be challenging and frustrating, and will test every part of you. Life will be the same way so use this time to practice, practice, practice.

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:

Duffy, Dr. Kristine. Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom, edited by Thomas Priestler. Open SUNY Textbooks, 2015. Located at:  License: CC BY: Attribution.

Adaptions: Reformatted reference for consistency with footnotes.

Neale Donald Walsch, Neale Donald Walsch’s Little Book of Life: A User’s Manual (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads, 2010).


Chapter 6: Evolution To College: Becoming A College Student

Alise Lamoreaux

“The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.”

-Flora Whittemore


This chapter contains questions that are designed for you to think critically about your experience in college. It introduces terminology and concepts that will be helpful for you to understand. The questions are meant to be answered as a process of learning about how to become a successful college student – what that might look like and feel like. It may feel as though you are expected to know policies and procedures in college from the beginning. But you are not alone if you do not know what some concepts mean, where to find what you need, or who to ask for support. In fact, many college students learn about what they need to know AFTER they start college. It is OK if you do not know the answers to these questions.

When you envision yourself as a college student, what do you see?

What will your daily life in college be like?

Video: Gaming Can Make A Better World, Jane McGonigal at TED 2010

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A TED element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

After watching the Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk, think about the following questions:

College is constant change. Not just in terms of studying and learning new material, but also in terms of how it is structured. A student’s classes, teachers, and the hours a student needs to be on campus change each term. Many students and educators felt a lot of change during the pandemic with greater online offerings and less in person presence. Quarters, trimesters, and semesters divide an academic year into thirds or halves and may have short intensive sessions in between the main semesters. Some students will take classes in summer sessions and other students not. People sometimes use the words quarters and semesters as if they are synonyms because both divide up a school year, but they represent different units of time.

Dividing up the academic year provides an opportunity for varied learning and developing specialties, but it also means new faces in classes, unknown expectations from new teachers, and juggling a new schedule. It means you may have new routes to travel on campus as you make your way to a different building if your college has a large campus. If a student is working along with going to college, it may mean negotiating new work hours with a boss and coworkers. All of these changes can feel like chaos that comes in like a tidal wave. Every term can feel like starting over, especially for students who are not in a specific program yet. The beginning of a college experience can seem blurry to a new student trying to navigate the system.

“There’s no blinking light to say, hey, look over here, this changed!”

Amber McCoy, Lane Community College Student

Many students come to college with at least some high school experience and expect college to be similar. After all, many classes have similar names: Biology, Algebra, Writing, Chemistry, and so on. However, the expectations that accompany those titles may be very different. College classes tend to cover course material at a faster pace and expect students to carry more of the burden of learning the material on their own outside of classroom activities.

Compared to college, high school has a straightforward curriculum. High school is segmented and chronological. Students generally go to school at the same time each morning and finish at a similar time in the afternoon. Students are assigned counselors to guide them. High school students usually don’t have to buy textbooks for their classes. There are clear deadlines and the teacher monitors progress and potentially shares progress with parents. The academic benchmarks of quizzes, tests, and projects are concrete indicators of progress. Teachers may monitor students’ use of smart phones in class and help students maintain focus on classroom materials. The high school a student attends is picked for him or her, either by geographic location or their parents choice.

College is about choice. Initially, the choice is where to go to school. The student has to find the right “fit” on his or her own and figure out the process of college admission. There are forms to fill out, submit, and process. Students may have to learn the steps for admission and enrollment for more than one college, and the process can vary from school to school. Students are expected to be able to complete the application process on their own. Students must determine if college placement tests are required and if so, when they must be taken.

The next choice for the student as part of the enrollment process is what to study in terms of declaring a major. The major a student declares may impact financial aid awards. If a student is unsure of what to study and doesn’t choose a major, financial aid may not be given to the student.

A student can choose to attend classes part-time or full-time. College class times try to accommodate a variety of student needs and may occur during the day, evening, online, or a combination of classroom and online (hybrid). Unless the student has someone to be accountable to, probably no one will check to see if attendance happens or if a student cruises the Internet or social media while in class.

Monitoring of time and its use will be student driven. Understanding the workload associated with a college schedule can be a surprise to the new college student. The first year of college can have a steep learning curve of time management and self-responsibility. For the first-time college student, starting college can feel like pushing a big rock up a steep hill all alone.

How much time do you have in your life for school?

What is Considered Half-time or Full-time Status?

The answer to these questions may vary from person to person and from college to college. For example, Lane Community College’s website uses the following definitions:

An average student full-time credit load is between 15-18 credits. This means that a student will be in the classroom 1 hour per credit. Based on the 15-credit schedule, a student would be in the classroom 15 hours/week. Students mistakenly think that is all there is to it. A schedule requiring a student to be in class 15 hours/week sounds much easier than high school where students typically attend 6-7 hours a day or 30-35 hours/week. College has hidden expectations for students in terms of outside of class “homework.” What does that mean? College classes expect 2-3 hours of homework, and sometimes more, per credit. That means for 1 hour in class, a student can expect to spend 2-3 hours on homework or more. A 15-credit load expects a student to put in 30-45 hours outside of class each week on homework. Additionally, many colleges are using hybrid, remote, flipped, or “hy-flex” classes that include online components where a student might be watching pre-recorded lectures on the learning management system, like Canvas, Moodle, or Blackboard. That time is included in this ‘seat-time” calculation.

What does this mean in terms of your life?

Activity Hours Required/Week 168 hours in a week
Full-time attendance 15 in class -15
Homework 30 plus hours -30 (minimum)
Sleeping 6hrs/ day x 7 days -42
Eating 1.5hrs /day x 7 -10.5
Work 20hrs/week -20



117.5 hrs


168-117.5 = 50.5hrs

Fill in the blanks with what else you would need to do each week  

How many hours will each item take to complete?


Add the hours into the spaces below

Total hours 50.5- _______=_______

Many students enter college with uninformed expectations. First-generation college students are at a disadvantage and may not have family members who can help them understand the context of college, what to expect as a college student, and what college life is like. As a result, first-generation college students may be less prepared to handle the challenges they encounter. Students tend to be idealistic in their expectations of college. Pre-college characteristics and experiences play a role in shaping expectations.

Video: Going Back To School As An Adult Student (Non Traditional), Tee Jay

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Things to think about:

How do you know if you are academically ready for college?

If you are accepted into college, does that mean you are ready?

College readiness is not clearly defined. Traditionally, completing high school was viewed as preparation for college, but course completion in high school does not guarantee college readiness. For example, English classes in high school may focus more on literature where as entry-level college courses may stress expository reading and writing skills. An alternative of a U.S. high school diploma is a graduate equivalency degree or general educational diploma (GED) which may be attained by passing four subject tests.

All governmental bodies, many employers, and most institutions of higher education accept the GED. Many entry level jobs and eligibility for college often requires a high school diploma or a GED.

Scoring for the four general education development subject tests in math, literacy, science, and social studies is shown below.

100 – 144 GED Below Passing Score
145 – 164 GED High School Equivalency Score
165 – 174: GED College-Ready Score
175 – 200: GED College-Ready Plus College Credit Score

If you have gone the route of getting your GED, did you work to dig deeper into the subjects and develop your skills, or just try to pass the tests as soon as possible? How did you handle attending classes and actively participating in classroom activities?

Another measure of college readiness has been standardized test scores. However, standardized tests like the SAT and ACT have been proven to be poor indicators of college readiness, while also maintaining classist barriers to college access for diverse student populations. These tests have been scrutinized for being biased against low-income students, students with disabilities, and Black and Latino students. Some colleges and universities have stopped requiring the the SAT and ACT for admission.

One problem with using a standardized test to determine readiness is its inability to measure the soft skills college courses require. A soft skill is a personal skill that is usually interpersonal, non-specialized, and difficult to quantify, such as leadership or responsibility.

Expertise commonly known as transferable skill or sometimes functional skill, (and sometimes mistakenly called soft skill) include qualities like accepting feedback, adaptability, dealing with difficult situations, critical thinking, effective communication, meeting deadlines, patience, persistence, self-direction, and trouble-shooting. Meeting deadlines, for example, is a key to college success. The skills and behaviors needed to thrive in college may be different from those it takes to be admitted. Being accepted into college does not necessarily mean you are ready to face the challenges and frustrations that might lie between you and your goal.

Answering the question about being academically prepared for college is tough. Test scores and grades are indicators of readiness, but don’t guarantee success in college courses. Functional skills are important to college success, but without basic academic skills, functional skills alone won’t be enough. Most colleges use some type of placement test to try to place students into courses that will be appropriate for their skill levels. Usually, colleges have minimum placement test scores in reading, math, and writing, requiring students to demonstrate they are able to handle the minimal expectations of college courses in terms of basic content areas. The degree or certificate associated with the student’s goal also influences the academic readiness required for success. Recognizing the importance of balancing the academic and soft skills, and how that relates to student goals is essential for college success and beyond.

Video: Strengthening Soft Skills, Andy Wible at TEDx

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Lamoreaux, Alise. A Different Road To College: A Guide For Transitioning To College For Non-traditional Students. Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2018. Located at: License: CC BY: Attribution.
Adaptions: Reformatted, some content edited for goal of reaching broader audience.

McGonigal, Jane. Gaming Can Make A Better World. TED. 2010.

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License: CC BY – NC – ND 4.0 International.

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Johnson, Travis. “Going Back To School As An Adult Student (Non Traditional).” YouTube.Com, Travis Johnson, 26 June 2013.
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License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.

Wible, Andy. “Strengthening Soft Skills.” YouTube, uploaded by TEDxMuskegon, 16 Dec. 2015
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License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.

Version History: Minor edits and updates for more currency, cohesiveness, inclusiveness, alignment, and cultural responsiveness, July, 2021.


Chapter 7: Speaking The Language of College

Alise Lamoreaux

“Language is the dress of thought”

– Samuel Johnson

Getting started in college can seem like an uphill battle. One of the first challenges a student can encounter is navigating the college’s website. In the attempt to get as much information as possible into the hands of current and future students, college websites are crammed full of information and language that may be new to the first-time college student. Trying to figure out how to get started can be confusing, even when the website says, “Steps To Enroll.”  Registration, admission, enrollment… are they all the same thing? If you are registered, are you admitted and enrolled? Is enrollment in the college the same thing as enrollment in classes? And that’s just the beginning of the potential for confusion! How can a student know the answers to these questions?

Learning to speak the “language of college” can seem even harder than learning a foreign language because as a new student, you have no idea what words you need to learn. If you travel to a foreign country, there are core vocabulary words you will find most helpful – resources that will allow you to order the food you like and services you need. Basic needs like bread and water can be correlated among different languages. A dog is a dog all over the world and not confused with a cat. The vocabulary of college is not so straightforward.

One of the first decisions a student may need to make is whether to attend college as a credit or non-credit seeking student. Even more confusing, non-credit students can also be referred to as “continuing education” students. For example, a student wants to take a drawing class. One of the first questions that may be asked is whether the student wants to take the class for credit or non-credit? Both types of students can take drawing classes. If a student doesn’t know what a credit is or what one is worth, it’s hard to answer the basic question in order to register for the drawing class, and the registration process is very different depending on the answer to the question of credit or non-credit. How can a student know whether he/she wants to be a “credit student” or not?

Learning to speak the language of the college is part of learning the school’s culture. It is important to remember that not all colleges use the same words in the same way.

Commonly Used Academic Vocabulary

Below is a list of commonly used terminology. Without using the Internet or college catalog, see how many words you know the meaning of. Write the meaning in the space adjacent to the term.

Academic Year








Student Number




Credit Hour/Unit






General Education/Gen Ed








Career pathway


Financial Aid




Stafford Loan






Federal Work Study




Non-Credit/Continuing Education




Grade Options


Course Number


College Level Course


Pre-College Level Course


Lower Division Course


Upper Division Course






Learning Community




As a college student, you will need to come up with a strategy for learning lots of information, like the specific language of your school. Tim Ferris has a TED Talk about mastering skills by deconstructing them. When you deconstruct something, it means to take something large, and break it down into smaller parts. It also means to identify why you might fail before you start and make a plan to stop failure before it happens.

Video: Smash Fear, Learn Anything, Tim Ferriss at TED 2008

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Based on the ideas of simplifying and deconstructing a task in order to learn it, think of how those ideas could be applied to mastering the language of college.

License and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Previously shared:

Lamoreaux, Alise. A Different Road To College: A Guide For Transitioning To College For Non-traditional Students. Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2018. Located at:  License: CC BY: Attribution.

Adaptions: Reformatted, some content removed to fit a broader audience.

Ferriss, Tim. “Smash Fear, Learn Anything.” YouTube, uploaded by TED, 16 Apr. 2009. Located at:

License: CC BY – NC – ND 4.0 International.


Chapter 8: Words of Wisdom: Why So Many Questions?

Fatima Rodriguez Johnson

Fatima Rodriguez Johnson

I chose to attend a small liberal arts college. The campus was predominately white and was nestled in a wealthy suburb among beautiful trees and landscaped lawns. My stepfather and I pulled into the parking lot and followed the path to my residence hall. The looks we received from most of the families made me feel like everyone knew we didn’t belong. However, he and I greeted all we encountered, smiling and saying, “Hello.” Once I was unpacked and settled into my residence hall, he gave me a hug and said, “Good luck.” I wasn’t sure if he meant good luck with classes or good luck with meeting new friends, but I heard a weight in his voice. He was worried. Had he and my mother prepared me for what was ahead?

With excitement, I greeted my roommate who I had already met through the summer Higher Educational Opportunity Program (HEOP). She and I were very happy to see each other. After decorating and organizing our room, we set out to meet new people. We went to every room introducing ourselves. We were pretty sure no one would forget us; it would be hard to miss the only Black and Latina girls whose room was next to the pay phone (yes, in my day each floor shared one pay phone).

Everyone on our floor was nice and we often hung out in each other’s rooms. And like some of you, we answered some of those annoying questions:

  • Why does your perm make your hair straight when ours makes our hair curly?
  • How did your hair grow so long (whenever we had weave braids)?
  • Why don’t you wash your hair every day (the most intriguing question of all)?

We were also asked questions that made us angry:

  • Did you grow up with your father?
  • Aren’t you scared to take public transportation?
  • Have you ever seen anyone get shot (because we both lived in the inner city)?

It was those questions that, depending on the day and what kind of mood we were in, made a fellow student either walk away with a better understanding of who we were as Black and Latina women or made a fellow student walk away red and confused. I guess that’s why my stepfather said, “Good luck.” He knew that I was living in a community where I would stand out—where I would have to explain who I was. Some days I was really good at answering those questions and some days I was not. I learned the questions were not the problem; it was not asking that was troubling.

My roommate and I put forth a lot of effort to fit in with the community—we spent time hanging out with our peers, we ate together almost every evening in the dining hall, and we participated in student organizations. We were invited to join the German Club, and were the only students of color there. In doing all these things we made ourselves approachable. Our peers became comfortable around us and trusted us.

Although my peers and I all had similar college stresses (tests, papers, projects, etc.) my roommate and I also had become a student resource for diversity. Not because we wanted to, but because we had to. There were very few students of color on campus, and I think students really wanted to learn about people different from themselves. It was a responsibility that we had accepted. The director of HEOP would often remind us that for many students, college was the first opportunity they had to ask these types of questions. He said we would learn to discern when people were really interested in learning about our differences or insulting us. If someone was interested in insulting us, there was no need to respond at all.

Although I transferred to another college at the end of my sophomore year, during those two years I learned a great deal about having honest conversations. Taking part in honest conversations challenged my notions of the world and how I viewed people from all walks of life (race, class, sexual orientation, ability, etc.). Those late nights studying or walks to the student center were when many of us listened to each other’s stories.

My advice is to take time to examine your attitudes and perceptions of people different from yourself, put yourself in situations that will challenge your assumptions, and lastly, when you make a mistake do not get discouraged. Keep trying. It’s easy to stay where we are comfortable. College is such a wonderful experience. Take it all in, and I am sure you will enjoy it!

License and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:

Rodriguez Johnson, Fatima. “Why So Many Questions?” Milne Publishing: Publishing at Milne Library SUNY Geneseo, Milne Publishing, 20 Aug. 2015. Located at:   License: CC BY: Attribution.


Chapter 9: Planning A College Schedule

Alise Lamoreaux

“The great majority of men are bundles of beginnings.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Planning a class schedule is an opportunity for students to take the lead in their educational experience. For some students it will be the first time planning a college schedule. The amount of freedom to choose classes can be exciting and frightening all at the same time!

Before beginning, there are some key factors to consider:

  1. Have you met with an academic advisor or counselor?
  2. Will you be going to school full-time or part-time?
  3. Have you taken college placement tests?
  4. Are there specific courses you are required to take?
  5. How many days a week do you want to be on campus? Will you be taking online classes?
  6. Do any of the classes you want to take have prerequisites or co-requisites?
  7. Do any of the classes have additional requirements such as labs or other components?
  8. How much time will you have to devote to school-related activities during the term?
  9. Are you a morning person or a night person?
  10. Have you balanced required classes with less intensive electives?
  11. Do you need any special accommodations for the classes you have selected?
  12. Do you have alternative courses in mind in case the classes you want are not available?

Balancing College, Work, and Life

Attending classes, studying, working, and finding time for family, friends, and yourself can be a challenging schedule for college students to balance. How a student organizes their class load can affect their overall success when starting college. Class names may remind students of high school classes and how classes were scheduled in those years. College classes may only meet once a week or as many as 5 times a week. Not all classes are worth the same amount of credit or have the same attendance requirements. Some classes like Biology or Spanish will probably have additional lab requirements, which means a student will need to spend additional time on campus for those labs. Writing classes will require time outside of class preparing, editing, and revising papers. Many teachers require electronic submission of papers/projects. Students may need to build in extra time for meeting submission deadlines.

As a new college student, it is a good idea to take fewer classes in the beginning as you learn what college classes will mean to your daily life. Students who work full-time might want to start with 1 or 2 classes. You may find that you can handle more as you learn to manage your class time and work time. A counselor or advisor can help you with this decision. Be sure to include classes that interest you as well as required classes.

Something to think about: The table below illustrates the recommended number of hours a student should study per week based on the number of units they are taking.

Hourly Recommendations (per week)

Work Units Study Time Total
40 6 12 58
30 9 18 57
20 12 24 56

Where is class information located?

The college catalog will have descriptions of specific classes and the college schedule for each term will be the place to find what modality (in person, hybrid, or online), days, times, and locations for classes. Not all classes are offered every term and some must be taken in sequence.

How to read the course numbering system

Courses are identified by a subject and a number. To search for courses when planning your class schedule, you will generally use the subject and section number to identify the course rather than the course title.

WR 115 Introduction to College Writing
Subject Number Course Title

Many colleges utilize section numbers that identify specific sections of the class being offered. Section numbers are often used by students to register for their classes.

If you have selected a specific program of study, consult the college catalog for directions on the sequence of courses to take and/or look up the courses required for your program of study to see if they have prerequisites or co-requisites.

Know key dates and deadlines!

Organization is an important part of being a successful college student. One important aspect of organization is knowing the important dates for your classes and the college in general. Academic deadlines matter! Deadlines in college may not be flexible. They can have consequences for financial aid and grading that cannot be undone. A student needs to be aware of key dates throughout the term. The responsibility for knowing important dates lies with the student. The course syllabus that you get for each class you take will have important dates for that specific class. The college will put important dates to know on an academic calendar for the school.

Examples of key dates to know for a college:

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Previously shared: Lamoreaux, Alise. A Different Road To College: A Guide For Transitioning To College For Non-traditional Students. Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2018. Located at:  License: CC BY: Attribution.
Adaptions: Reformatted.  Replaced hours per week table.


Chapter 10: Navigating The College Website

Alise Lamoreaux

“A journey of a thousand sites begins with a single click.”

– Author Unknown

A college website can be like a cookbook, full of great information and ideas, and can be completely overwhelming. Where do you start? Looking at the pictures? Scrolling down through the information? Can you taste the food in your mind just by looking at a picture? Can you imagine a food just from the list of ingredients? Is the number of ingredients needed to make the recipe exciting or paralyzing? How experienced a cook you are can impact your reaction to the cookbook.

As you begin navigating new information, remember, world-famous chef and author, Julia Child wasn’t always a great chef!  In fact, when she got married, she could barely cook. Experience isn’t everything. An open mind is paramount. Let the joy of discovering be your guide.

“Take risks and you’ll get pay offs. Learn from your mistakes until you succeed. It’s that simple.”

– Bobby Flay, Master Chef

The role of a college website has changed substantially over the past few years. Student expectations for easy, accessible information drives colleges to get as much information online as possible. It also can lead to a battle for what information makes it onto the home page and how many clicks it will take to find what the student is looking for.

Student services are increasingly utilizing the college website to communicate with students and expecting that students will be proficient in navigating the college website. Students expect to easily locate information; this is helped when the college uses logical organization to the information architecture and design of the website. College websites can be very frustrating to new users, especially if the new user is a first-time college student and is unfamiliar with the underlying structure of the college system. The people creating the college web site may be very familiar with the way their system works and not see the structure as confusing.

Adding to potential confusion can be the lack of ability to view the entire home page of the college depending on the size of monitor or mobile device the student is accessing the website from. Students are increasingly using smart phones and tablets as their primary viewing device for the Internet. Sometimes key information a student needs may be just out of view on the screen. The experienced user knows to make adjustments, but new users may not. Knowing where and how to get started may not be as easy as the “start here” button.

Logical arrangement of information for the college’s needs may not be a logical progression of information for the student’s needs. From the college perspective, students come in different groups/classifications. Here are some examples:

Each of these groups can have variations on what their first steps should be. Students aren’t necessarily used to thinking of themselves in terms of these classifications/groups. It can be difficult for first time students, who may fit into more than one of these groups, to decide which one is the place to start.

Most college websites have a “Getting Started” type button on the home page. After clicking that button, a student begins to make a decision about what category of student he or she is. To an experienced user, this is not an obstacle, but to the first-time college student it may be a barrier. For example, what if a student falls into more than one group or classification? Where does the person fit? The answer may vary from college to college.

In addition, some college websites may not be mobile friendly so that students who are trying to use smartphones or tablets may face additional obstacles. Despite the potential difficulties, today’s college students need to become savvy users of the college website and recognize the role it will play in the communication process.

Website challenge:

Pick 2 different colleges and examine their websites. Try to find the following information on each of the websites. 

  1. What are the steps you would to take to enroll at the college?
  2. How many locations does the college have and where are they?
  3. How long would it take you to travel to the location of that college?
  4. What term are you planning to attend the college for the first time? Is there an application deadline you must meet?
  5. Where can you find important dates and deadlines for the term?
  6. How long does a person need to live in the state you are living in (or the state of the college you want to attend) to be considered a resident of the State in terms of college tuition at the colleges you are interested in?
  7. Does the college have a student conduct code? (A document about student rights and responsibilities)
  8. Does the college have placement tests a student needs to take prior to staring college?
  9. Does the website explain what type of tests are required and is there a cost?
  10. What are the test scores used for?
  11. Is financial aid available for students who attend the college?
  12. Does the website have student success stories and/or student success tips?
  13. Identify a program that you might like to study at the college.
  14. Can you find the Mission Statement/Strategic Plan/Vision of the college?
  15. What does the statement say and why is it important to know a college’s mission/plan/vision?

Website Challenge Reflection

  1. How comfortable were you navigating the college websites?
  2. Did the websites’ organization make sense to you?
  3. What was your strategy for finding the information you were looking for?
  4. What information would you consider most important to you as a student?
  5. What suggestions do you have for making the website easier to use?

The college website will be part of your communication system with the college you attend.

As you watch John Green’s Ted Talk, think about what information applies to college websites.

Video: The Nerd’s Guide to Learning Everything Online, John Green at TEDx 2012

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CC licensed content, Previously shared:

Lamoreaux, Alise. A Different Road To College: A Guide For Transitioning To College For Non-traditional Students. Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2018. Located at:   License: CC BY: Attribution.

Green, John. “The Nerd’s Guide to Learning Everything Online.” TED Talks, uploaded by TEDxIndianapolis, 22 July 2015. Located at:

License: CC BY – NC – ND 4.0 International.


Chapter 11: Words of Wisdom: These Are the Best Years of Your Life

Sara Vacin

Sara Vacin

These are the best years of your life. I hope you’ve been told this a ridiculous amount of times and that you are finding this to be true! College provides an amazing opportunity to expand your mind, meet unique people you can deeply connect with, and discover new aspects of yourself. Being aware of this energy and taking full advantage of these opportunities can be life changing.

You learn a lot about yourself when living on your own for the first time or studying topics that are completely taboo at your home’s kitchen table. When I transferred to a four-year institution, I found the strength to come out. Realizing I was gay led me to question where I belonged in the religion I was raised in and an enlightening journey ensued of exploring Buddhism, Native American beliefs, and even New Age mysticism. This process of questioning what I believed helped me to create a spiritual foundation that makes sense to me. I kept the best of what I was raised in and upgraded the rest!

I also discovered that the college I attended had amazing tools to help me be as healthy as possible. I used the free gym and knew the counseling center was there if anything became too tough. I also chose incredible electives (including Mountaineering and Modern Dance) that stretched my physical capabilities. Additionally, I made deep connections with my professors, many of whom remain friends. These smart, caring people validated my journey and were my safety net as I grew out of my old, comfortable self.

Another incredible lesson learned was the importance of balance. I couldn’t party every night and neglect my schoolwork without consequences. I figured out the hard way that I really did need sleep and I couldn’t nourish my body on coffee and pizza alone. In a moment of brilliance, I also figured out that if I used time with my friends as a reward for finishing my work, I would study and complete assignments more efficiently. Fun can be a great motivator—try this; it works!

In college, the emphasis is often on the mind. Do yourself a favor and remember to also nourish your spirit and take care of your body. Leave college brighter, healthier, and with a new understanding of yourself. Try that yoga or nutrition class. Join that new club or identity association. Trade in that soda for water. Jump into that drum circle or improvisation group. Who knows what you will discover—it just may be greatness!

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:

Vacin, Sara. “These Are the Best Years of
Your Life .” In Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom, edited by Thomas Priester. Located at:  License: CC BY: Attribution.


Chapter 12: Assessment Testing

Alise Lamoreaux

“Great ideas need landing gear as well as wings.”

– C.D. Jackson

Congratulations! You are accepted into college. Now what? Before you can begin signing up for classes, most colleges will require you to take Assessment Tests.

Some Things to Think About:

The Assessment Tests are entrance examinations that are often required as part of the admissions and matriculation process for many community colleges and other schools in the United States. Assessment exams are not scored on the basis of pass or fail. The Assessments test students in reading, writing, and math. The test results help place each student in the most appropriate level of classes. The goal is to place students into classes that are not too difficult or too easy.

Community colleges tend to rely on placement testing because students entering these colleges have a variety of backgrounds and skill levels. The test results may mean a student can skip introductory level classes or that students need to refresh or build skills in a specific area. However, if a student gets a low score on the tests, he or she may need to take extra classes to be able to register for a certain class in a specific program.

Across the college campus, in many different classes, a student will be asked to read and write on a daily basis as part of the class activities. Even a Speech class will require writing! As a result, many classes have a prerequisite requirement for writing.

Many students have not taken a math class recently, or been using more than basic math in their daily lives, and may need to refresh or build their skills to be able to handle the course requirements of college. Also, certain programs emphasize specific math skills in order for students to be successful in those programs of study. Culinary Arts students must be proficient with the math skills needed for menu planning and food cost analysis. Those are different skills than a Nursing student. A Nurse needs to be proficient in math related to dosage and other measurements. The purpose of the placement tests is to help students identify their abilities. It is important for students to take the placement tests seriously since the test scores will influence course selection. Scoring well on placement tests can save a student time and money.

Which Student in the Video Reflects Your Attitude About College Placement Tests?

Video: College Placement Test Video, Golden West College.

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Can a Student Study for College Placement Tests?

Students often wonder if they should study for assessment tests. Studying and becoming familiar with the type of test you will be taking is a good idea. Many College Assessment websites include sample questions. If a student is unhappy with their assessment score, retesting options usually exist, but vary from college to college. Check the policy of the college you are choosing to attend. Poor performance on an assessment may end up costing the student extra time and money. If the student has to take extra classes to build the skills needed for college that may change the timeline for the student’s goal and target completion.

Community colleges often have free or low-cost options for improving a student’s skill level for college courses. Check to see what options exist at the college you have selected in terms of improving assessment scores. Many first-generation college students find attending Adult Basic Education classes to be very helpful for getting ready for the rigors of college expectations. Along with improving academic skills, a student can also become familiar with the culture of the college before becoming a full-time student.

The assessment test is a general term and not the name of a specific test. Colleges may use different standardized tests as their assessment. Two of the most common tests are Accuplacer and Compass. As of June 18, 2015, ACT, the company who makes Compass, said in the article “Finding a New Compass,” (authored by Paul Fain, published by Inside Higher Ed: Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, 18 June 2015, that it will discontinue making the test and phase out its use. If the college you have selected has been using Compass as its assessment, changes may be happening for that college. ALEKS is an assessment system that is gaining momentum with the departure of Compass. ALEKS stands for Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces.

Sometimes it can be challenging to figure out which standardized test is being given by the college. If you have difficulty finding the name of the test the college is using, try the search engine on the college website for the keywords “college placement test.”

It is possible to study for these tests and to become familiar with the format of the tests. Some college websites may have study resources listed to help students prepare for the assessment test. Check with the college you select to see if resources are suggested.

Assessment tests using Accuplacer utlize an “adaptive” test model. It gives students one question at a time. You must answer every question it presents. When you get a question correct, the computer adapts by giving a harder question worth more points for the next question. A wrong answer gives you an easier question worth fewer points for the next question.

Many colleges also use “multiple measures” to determine a students’ placement level. Sometimes high school grades for English and math are used along with other indicators a college has approved.

Licenses and attributions:

CC licensed content, Previously shared:

Lamoreaux, Alise. A Different Road To College: A Guide For Transitioning To College For Non-traditional Students. Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2018.  Located at:  License: CC BY: Attribution.

Adaptions: Reformatted, chapter title changed from Placement Testing, changed references from College Testing Placement to Assessment Test, some content edited for broader audience, Kelly McGonigal: How to Make Stress Your Friend TED Talk relocated to Health unit.

All rights reserved content:

“College Placement Test Video.” YouTube, uploaded by ImageworksVideo, 27 Jan. 2015. Located at:  License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.


Chapter 13: Words of Wisdom: With a Little Help from My Friends

Paulo Fernandes

Paulo Fernandes

We often hear about the importance of relationships: a necessary aspect of integration in society. Unfortunately, we rarely follow that advice. Perhaps we live an excessively busy life or we already have a close group of friends and do not feel compelled to meet new people. I have come to learn through my time in college that neglecting to cultivate new relationships is detrimental to living a happy and successful life. I would like to offer this piece of advice: no matter how difficult it seems at first, always try to make new friends. College is not always easy. However, having friends makes it much easier. Friends are a vital part of your life that can expose you to new subjects, cultures, and experiences while giving you the opportunity to do the same for them.

At my college, there was a small space that the students called “the bat cave.” It was by no means a first-class lounge, but it was a place where friends could help others better understand their course material. We gave it this peculiar nickname because it was our place to get together and conquer villains one after another. These were not your everyday super villains, however. Sometimes they were complicated homework assignments and other times they were difficult exams. No matter the challenge, someone was always willing to help. I went to the bat cave several times and every visit I learned something new. Professors and teaching assistants could not relate to us like our friends could. That made a difference, because nothing was better than being taught by a friend.

Friends are not only an essential support for your time in school, but also can be integral in helping realize post-college aspirations. During a visit to New York City, I visited the offices of the company Spotify. After touring their facilities I had the opportunity to talk to some of the employees. One man I talked with was a senior employee who worked at Microsoft prior to joining Spotify’s team. Our conversation stuck in my head because he gave a very striking piece of advice: make friends. It never truly occurred to me that the friends you make in college could impact your future in the workforce. They could be partners in potential business ventures or help you land your dream job. In any case, having strong connections with friends can undoubtedly make a major difference in your career.

The best part of making new friends, however, is trading life experiences, skills, and interests with them. For a year and a half before my final semester of college, I studied abroad in the United States. My family was concerned because typically, students search for first jobs prior to graduation. I, on the other hand, had no trepidation about going because I knew that I would have countless, exciting learning experiences. I can say today, without a doubt, that my trip was a great decision. I met incredible people, and through knowing them, I grew and changed. I also know that I was a positive feature in the lives of my new friends. The greatest thing that I learned was that meeting different people with different backgrounds, histories, perspectives, or even different musical tastes, inevitably changes you and lets you see the world in an entirely different way. You no longer see the world as simply a big, blue sphere with freezing winters or sizzling summers (although that certainly seems to be the case up North!), but as a place in which people like you live, learn, and love.

Going to college may seem hard, but it does not need to be. I have learned that the way I perceive my life as a student completely relies upon my relationships with my friends. They are not only the people that I like to spend time with, but also are essential in my growth and development as a human being. The pages in this book include insights from others just like you and me. They want to help you get through the common struggles of college with confidence and perseverance. Consider them your most recent new friends. I truly hope that this inspires you in your quest for a great future.

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:

Fernandes, Paulo. “With a Little Help from My
Friends.” In Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom, edited by Thomas Priester. Located at:  License: CC BY: Attribution.


Unit 2: Time, Tools, and Study Environment

Learning Objectives

After you have completed this unit you should be able to:

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, previously shared:

Nissila, Phyllis. How to Learn Like a Pro!. Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2016. Located at:  Licensed as: CC BY: Attribution.

Adaptions: Edits from an instructional design perspective.

Content previously copyrighted, published in Blueprint for Success in College: Indispensable Study Skills and Time Management Strategies (by Dave Dillon), now licensed as CC BY: Attribution.


Chapter 14: Time Management Theory

Dave Dillon

“You can have it all. Just not all at once.”

– Oprah Winfrey

My favorite aspect of time is its equality. Regardless of our race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or age, all of us have the same amount of time in a day, week, month and year. Wealthy people cannot buy more time and poor people do not receive less time. A minute for a tall person is the same amount of time for a short person. An hour for a woman is the same amount of time for a man. Regardless of how many languages someone speaks, their sexual orientation, ethnicity, educational background, income or experience, we all have 365 days in a year. Some people will live longer than others, but when comparatively measuring how much time humans have with each other, we all have the same amount.

Time is a popular philosophical concept. You may have heard some of the following sayings:

  • Time flies when you are having fun
  • That is a waste of time
  • Time is money
  • We have all the time in the world
  • That was an untimely death
  • The time is right
  • I’m having the time of my life
  • Time heals all wounds
  • We have some time to kill

What do the sayings mean to you?

Time is also how we keep track of when we’re supposed to be and where we’re supposed to be (work, home, class, meeting friends and family, etc.). Think about how many measures of time you have in your home (clocks, watches, cell phones, TVs, DVRs, computers, microwaves, ovens, thermostats, etc.). It is obvious time is important to us.

Time: A Limited and Precious Commodity

We cannot go back in time. If I used my time poorly last Wednesday, I can do nothing to get it back. Other commodities may allow for accumulating more or starting over, but time does not. We cannot “save” time nor earn more time.

“If you had a bank that credited your account each morning with $86,400, but carried no balance from day to day and allowed you to keep no cash in your account, and every evening cancelled whatever part of the amount you had failed to use during the day, what would you do? Draw out every cent, of course! Well, you have such a bank, and its name is time. Every morning it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it writes off as lost whatever of these you have failed to invest to good purpose. It carries no balance; it allows no overdrafts. Each day it opens a new account with you. Each night it burns the record of the day. If you fail to use the day’s deposit, the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against the morrow. You must live in the present – on today’s deposit. Invest it so as to get the utmost in health and happiness and success.”

– Anonymous

Technically, time cannot be managed, but we label it time management when we talk about how people use their time. We often bring up efficiency and effectiveness when discussing how people spend their time, but we cannot literally manage time because time cannot be managed. What we can do though, is find better ways to spend our time, allowing us to accomplish our most important tasks and spend time with the people most important to us.

Human babies do not come with instruction manuals. There is nothing to follow to know how we are supposed to spend our time. Most of us spend our time doing a combination of what interests us, what is important to us and what we feel we “have” to do.

What is your relationship with time? Are you usually early, right on time or late? Do you find yourself often saying, “I wish I had more time?” Are you satisfied with your relationship with time or would you like to change it? What are your cultural and family values related to time?

A student bunny is frantically working on schoowork as books high overhead on each side of them. A clock looms overhead in the center.
Hop to It!

The Value of Time

It is also important to determine how much your time is worth to you. If someone were to negotiate for an hour of your time, how much would that be worth to you? We often equate time with money. Many of us work in positions where we are paid by the hour; this gives us some gauge of what we are worth to our employers. Some items we purchase because we think they are of good value for their price. Others we pass on. Are some hours of your day more important or more valuable than others? Why? Are you more productive in the morning or in the evening? Once people realize how valuable time is, they often go to great lengths to protect it because they understand its importance. How much would you pay for an additional hour in a day? What would you do with that time? Why?

What is the value of your time? How much is an hour of your time worth? If someone were to pay you $10 to do a job, how much time would that be worth? $20? $50?

How Do I Allocate My Time?

“Lack of direction, not lack of time is the problem. We all have 24 hour days.”

– Zig Ziglar

Most of us know there are 24 hours in a day, but when I ask students how many hours are in a week, many do not know the answer. There are 168 hours in a week (24 hours multiplied by seven days). I don’t believe that it is imperative that students know how many hours are in a week, but it helps when we start to look at how much time we have in a week, how we want to spend our time and how we actually spend our time.

One challenge for many students is the transition from the structure of high school to the structure of college. In high school, students spend a large portion of their time in class (approximately 30 hours in class per week), while full-time college students may spend only one-third of that time in class (approximately 12 hours in class per week). Further, college students are assigned much more homework than high school students. Think about how many times one of your high school teachers gave you something to read during class. In college, students are given more material to read with the expectation that it is done outside of class.

This can create challenges for students who are unable to set aside proper study time for each of their courses. Keep in mind for full-time students: your college educational day should not be shorter than your high school day.

Hourly Recommendations (per Week)

Work Units Study Time Total
40 6 12 58
30 9 18 57
20 12 24 56

I use this table frequently in counseling appointments, classes and orientations. It’s a guide for students that provides an idea of how much time students spend with work and school, and what experts recommend for a specific amount of work hours that correlates with a specific number of units. I like to ask students how they spend their week. Students always know their work hours and their class times. These are easy to place in a schedule or on a calendar because they are predetermined. But study time is the one area that consistently is left out of a student’s schedule. It takes initiative to include it in a student’s busy week and self-discipline to stick to it. Here’s a tip: Write your study time into your schedule or calendar. It’s important to do this because it’s easy to skip a study session or say to yourself, “I’ll do it later.” While there would likely be an immediate consequence if you do not show up for work, there is not one if you fail to study on Tuesday from 3pm-4pm. That consequence may take place later, if the studying is not made up.

It is widely suggested that students need to study approximately two hours for every hour that they spend in class in order to be successful. Thus, if I am taking a class that meets on Mondays and Wednesdays from 4pm-5:30pm (three hours per week), I would want to study outside of class six hours per week. This is designed as a guide and is not an exact science. You might need to spend more time than what is recommended if you are taking a subject you find challenging, have fallen behind in or if you are taking short-term classes. This would certainly be true if I were to take a physics class. Since I find learning physics difficult, I might have to spend three or four hours of study time for each hour of class instruction. You also might need to study more than what is recommended if you are looking to achieve better grades. Conversely, you might need to spend less time if the subject comes easy to you (such as sociology does for me) or if there is not a lot of assigned homework.

Keep in mind that 20 hours of work per week is the maximum recommended for full-time students taking 12 semester units in a term. For students working full-time (40 hours a week), no more than six units is recommended. The total is also a very important category. Students often start to see difficulty when their total number of hours between work and school exceeds 60 per week. The amount of sleep decreases, stress increases, grades suffer, job performance decreases and students are often unhappy.

How do you spend your 168 hours in a week?

  • Child Care
  • Class
  • Community Service / Volunteer
  • Commuting / Transportation
  • Eating / Food Preparation
  • Exercise
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Household / Child Care Duties
  • Internet / Social Media / Phone / Texting
  • Party
  • Recreation / Leisure
  • Relationship
  • Sleeping
  • Spirituality / Prayer / Meditation
  • Study
  • Video Games
  • Watching TV or Movies, Netflix, Youtube
  • Work / Career

There is also the time it takes for college students to adjust to college culture, college terminology, and college policies. Students may need to learn or relearn how to learn and some students may need to learn what they need to know. What a student in their first college semester needs to know may be different than what a student in their last college semester needs to know. First semester students may be learning where classrooms are, building hours and locations for college resources, and expectations of college students. Students in their last semester may be learning about applying for their degree, how to confirm they have all of their requirements completed for their goal, and commencement information. Whatever it is students may need to learn, it takes time.

Fixed Time vs. Free Time

Sometimes it helps to take a look at your time and divide it into two areas: fixed time and free time. Fixed time is time that you have committed to a certain area. It might be school, work, religion, recreation or family. There is no right or wrong to fixed time and everyone’s is different. Some people will naturally have more fixed time than others. Free time is just that—it is free. It can be used however you want to use it; it’s time you have available for activities you enjoy. Someone might work 9am-2pm, then have class 3pm-4:30pm, then have dinner with family 5pm-6pm, study 6pm-7pm and then have free time from 7pm-9pm. Take a look at a typical week for yourself. How much fixed time do you have? How much free time? How much fixed and free time would you like to have?

Identifying, Organizing and Prioritizing Goals

The universal challenge of time is that there are more things that we want to do and not enough time to do them.

I talk to students frequently who have aspirations, dreams, goals and things they want to accomplish. Similarly, I ask students to list their interests at the beginning of each of my classes and there is never a shortage of items. But I often talk to students who are discouraged by the length of time it is taking them to complete a goal (completing their education, reaching their career goal, buying a home, getting married, etc.). And every semester there are students that drop classes because they have taken on too much or they are unable to keep up with their class work because they have other commitments and interests. There is nothing wrong with other commitments or interests. On the contrary, they may bring joy and fulfillment, but do they get in the way of your educational goal(s)? For instance, if you were to drop a class because you required surgery, needed to take care of a sick family member or your boss increased your work hours, those may be important and valid reasons to do so. If you were to drop a class because you wanted to binge watch a Netflix series, or spend more time on TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you may have more difficulty justifying that decision, but it is still your decision to make. Sometimes students do not realize the power they have over the decisions they make and how those decisions can affect their ability to accomplish the goals they set for themselves.

I am no exception. I have a long list of things that I want to accomplish today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year and in my lifetime. I have many more things on my list to complete than the time that I will be alive.

Identifying Goals

Recently, there has been a lot of attention given to the importance of college students identifying their educational objective and their major as soon as possible. Some high schools are working with students to identify these goals earlier. If you are interested in career identification, you may wish to look into a career decision making course offered by your college. You may also wish to make an appointment with a counselor, and/or visit your college’s Career Center and/or find a career advice book such as What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard N. Bolles.

Goal identification is a way to allow us to keep track of what we would like to accomplish as well as a mechanism to measure how successful we are at achieving our goals. This video gives modern practical advice about the future career market.

Video: Success in the New Economy, Kevin Fleming and Brian Y. Marsh, Citrus College:

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Educational Planning

There has also been focused attention on the importance of educational planning.

Education plans developed with a counselor help students determine and explore a program of study and have proven to facilitate student success.

Students can follow educational plans like a road map so they can see how to complete required classes in the most efficient and logical order based on their educational goals.

Educational planning may appear to be simple: identifying the program of study and then figuring out which courses are required to complete it.

Straightforward flowchart showing progression of a student from First Time Student to Register for Classes to Declare a Major to Graduate/Transfer to a Four-Year?
Graphics courtesy of Greg Stoup, Rob Johnstone, and Priyadarshini Chaplot of The RP Group

However, it can often be extremely complex. Many students have multiple goals. One student might be interested in more than one of these goals: earn multiple degrees, transfer to a four-year college or university, prepare for graduate school, start a minor, or complete requirements for several transfer schools.

Students also have different strengths. Some might be strong in English. Some students excel in math. Others might be strong in science, arts and humanities, or social sciences. Educational planning takes these strengths (and weaknesses) into consideration. Students are encouraged to take English and math early, as statistics show that those students will be more successful. But the order of courses taken for students with different strengths could vary even if the students have the same goal. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Educational planning may be further complicated by availability of courses a college or university offers, the process in which a student may be able to register for those courses and which sections fit into students’ schedules. Transcript evaluations (if students have attended previous colleges or universities), assessment of appropriate English or math levels and prerequisite clearance procedures may also contribute to the challenge of efficient educational planning.

Further, students have different priorities. Some students want to complete their goals in a certain amount of time. Other students may have to work full-time and take fewer units each semester. Educational planning might also consider student interests, skills, values, personality, or student support referrals. Grade point average requirements for a student’s degree, transfer or specific programs are also considered in educational planning.

While some students may know what they want to do for their career, and have known since they were five years old, many students are unsure of what they want to do. Often, students aren’t sure how to choose their major. A major is an area of concentration in which students will specialize at a college or university. Completing a major requires passing courses in the chosen concentration and degrees are awarded that correlate with students’ majors. For instance, my bachelor’s degree in Sociology means that my major was Sociology.

It is OK to not know what major you want to pursue when you start college, but I suggest careful research to look into options and narrow them down to a short list of two or three. Talking with a counselor, visiting your college’s Career Center, or taking a college success class may help with your decisions.

Seventy percent of students change their major at least once while in college and most will change their major at least three times. It is important for students to find the best major for them, but these changes may make previous educational plans obsolete.

The simple concept and road map often ends up looking more like this:

Flowchart showing more complicated route from First Time Student to Successful Completion. First Time Student to Meets with college outreach professional to Attends a financial aid workshop to Applies to Institution to Takes assessment test without adequate preparation to Struggles to build an educational plan to Enrolls in dev ed courses to Joins a learning community to Changes from FT to PT status due to work to Chooses too many courses off pathway to Fails key dev ed course to Joins a student club to Required courses are full to Recommended by professor to meet counselor to Rebuilds an education plan with new program of study to Concurrently enrolls at nearby community college to Delays in enrolling in math courses to Changes from PT to FT status to Enrolls in summer sessions to Becomes a student mentor to Eventually completes necessary coursework to Successful Completion
Graphics courtesy of Greg Stoup, Rob Johnstone, and Priyadarshini Chaplot of The RP Group

Due to the complicated nature of educational planning, a counselor can provide great value for students with assistance in creating an educational plan, specifically for each individual student. If you have not done so already, I highly recommend you meet with a counselor and continue to do so on a frequent basis (once per semester if possible).

How To Start Reaching Your Goals

Without goals, we aren’t sure what we are trying to accomplish, and there is little way of knowing if we are accomplishing anything. If you already have a goal-setting plan that works well for you, keep it. If you don’t have goals, or have difficulty working towards them, I encourage you to try this.

Make a list of all the things you want to accomplish for the next day. Here is a sample to do list:

  • Go to grocery store
  • Go to class
  • Pay bills
  • Exercise
  • Social media
  • Study
  • Eat lunch with friend
  • Work
  • Watch TV
  • Text friends

Your list may be similar to this one or it may be completely different. It is yours, so you can make it however you want. Do not be concerned about the length of your list or the number of items on it.

“Obstacles are things a person sees when he takes his eyes off his goal.”

– E. Joseph Cossman

You now have the framework for what you want to accomplish the next day. Hang on to that list. We will use it again.

Now take a look at the upcoming week, the next month and the next year. Make a list of what you would like to accomplish in each of those time frames. If you want to go jet skiing, travel to Europe, or get a bachelor’s degree, write it down. Pay attention to detail. The more detail within your goals the better. Ask yourself this question: what is necessary to complete your goals?

A mug of tea with crescent moon stir stick sits on a boat ledge on a body of water with a background of mountains and a sunrise. Text reads setting intentions.
Goal setting

With those lists completed, take into consideration how the best goals are created. Commonly called “SMART” goals, it is often helpful to apply criteria to your goals. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. Perform a web search on the Internet to find out more about “SMART” goals. Are your goals SMART goals? For example, a general goal would be, “Achieve an ‘A’ in my anatomy class.” But a more specific, measurable, and timely goal would say, “I will schedule and study for one hour each day at the library from 2pm-3pm for my anatomy class in order to achieve an ‘A’ and help me gain admission to nursing school.” Whether goals are attainable or realistic may vary from person to person.

Now revise your lists for the things you want to accomplish in the next week, month and year by applying the SMART goal techniques. The best goals are usually created over time and through the process of more than one attempt, so spend some time completing this. Do not expect to have “perfect” goals on your first attempt. Also, keep in mind that your goals do not have to be set in stone. They can change. And since over time things will change around you, your goals should also change.

Another important aspect of goal setting is accountability. Someone could have great intentions and set up SMART goals for all of the things they want to accomplish. But if they don’t work towards those goals and complete them, they likely won’t be successful. It is easy to see if we are accountable in short-term goals. Take the daily to-do list for example. How many of the things that you set out to accomplish, did you accomplish? How many were the most important things on that list? Were you satisfied? Were you successful? Did you learn anything for future planning or time management? Would you do anything differently? The answers to these questions help determine accountability.

Long-term goals are more difficult to create and it is more challenging for us to stay accountable. Think of New Year’s Resolutions. Gyms are packed and mass dieting begins in January. By March, many gyms are empty and diets have failed. Why? Because it is easier to crash diet and exercise regularly for short periods of time than it is to make long-term lifestyle and habitual changes.

Randy Pausch was known for his lecture called “The Last Lecture,” now a bestselling book. Diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, Pausch passes along some of his ideas for best strategies for uses of time in his lesser known lecture on time management. I don’t believe there is someone better suited to teach about time management than someone trying to maximize their last year, months, weeks and days of their life.

Video: Time Management, Randy Pausch.

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Organizing Goals

Place all of your goals, plans, projects and ideas in one place. Why? It prevents confusion. We often have more than one thing going on at a time and it may be easy to become distracted and lose sight of one or more of our goals if we cannot easily access them. Create a goal notebook, goal poster, goal computer file—organize it any way you want—just make sure it is organized and that your goals stay in one place.

Author’s Story

I learned this lesson the hard way. Some years ago, I used sticky notes all the time. I think they are a great invention and believe they help me stay organized. But one day when I was looking for a phone number I realized that I had sticky notes at work, sticky notes at home and sticky notes in my car. I had so many sticky notes in multiple places that I couldn’t easily find the information I needed. Everyone has a preference of how clean or messy his or her work area is, but if you’re spending time looking for things, it is not the best use of your time. I now keep all of my sticky notes in one place. Further, I always use one and only one point of entry for anything that goes on my calendar. I have also found many advances in technology to assist with organization of information. But I still use physical sticky notes.

Use Technology to your Advantage

Software and apps are now available to help with organization and productivity. Check out Evernote, One Note, or Stickies.

Break Goals into Small Steps

I ask this question of students in my classes: If we decided today that our goal was to run a marathon and then went out tomorrow and tried to run one, what would happen? Students respond with: (jokingly) “I would die,” or “I couldn’t do it.” How come? Because we might need training, running shoes, support, knowledge, experience and confidence—often this cannot be done overnight. An academic goal might be obtaining an A grade on a mid-term essay for a writing class. Small steps might include getting started, planning time for smaller tasks, researching, writing a draft, visiting a writing support service, having a friend proofread, revising. Instead of giving up and thinking it’s impossible because the task is too big for which to prepare, it’s important to develop smaller steps or tasks that can be started and worked on immediately. Once all of the small steps are completed, you’ll be on your way to accomplishing your big goals.

What steps would you need to complete the following big goals?

  • Buying a house
  • Finding a long term partner
  • Attaining a bachelor’s degree
  • Destroying the Death Star

Prioritizing Goals

Why is it important to prioritize? Let’s look back at the sample list. If I spent all my time completing the first seven things on the list, but the last three were the most important, then I would not have prioritized very well.

It would have been better to prioritize the list after creating it and then work on the items that are most important first. You might be surprised at how many students fail to prioritize.

After prioritizing, the sample list now looks like this:

  • Go to class
  • Work
  • Study
  • Pay bills
  • Exercise
  • Eat lunch with friend
  • Go to grocery store
  • Text friends
  • Social media
  • Watch TV

One way to prioritize is to give each task a value. A = Task related to goals; B = Important—Have to do; C = Could postpone. Then, map out your day so that with the time available to you, work on your A goals first. You’ll now see below our list has the ABC labels. You will also notice a few items have changed positions based on their label. Keep in mind that different people will label things different ways because we all have different goals and different things that are important to us. There is no right or wrong here, but it is paramount to know what is important to you, and to know how you will spend the majority of your time with the things that are the most important to you.

A Go to class

A Study

A Exercise

B Work

B Pay bills

B Go to grocery store

C Eat lunch with friend

C Text friends

C Social media

C Watch TV

Do the Most Important Things First

You do not have to be a scientist to realize that spending your time on “C” tasks instead of “A” tasks won’t allow you to complete your goals. The easiest things to do and the ones that take the least amount of time are often what people do first. Checking Facebook or texting might only take a few minutes but doing it prior to studying means we’re spending time with a “C” activity before an “A” activity.

People like to check things off that they have done. It feels good. But don’t confuse productivity with accomplishment of tasks that aren’t important. You could have a long list of things that you completed, but if they aren’t important to you, it probably wasn’t the best use of your time.

Perform an internet search for “Time Management Matrix Images.” The matrix (also referred to in the Randy Pausch video), shows how to categorize your tasks and will help prioritize your goals, tasks, and assignments. Take a look at the matrix and quadrants and identify which quadrant your activities would fall into.

Quadrant I (The quadrant of necessity): Important and Urgent

Only crisis activities should be here. If you have included exams and papers here, you are probably not allowing yourself enough time to fully prepare. If you continue at this pace you could burn out!

Quadrant II (The quadrant of quality and personal leadership): Important and Not Urgent

This is where you define your priorities. What’s important in your life? What will keep you balanced? For example, you may know that good nutrition, sleep, recreation and maintaining healthy social relationships are important but do you consciously make time for them in your daily or weekly routine? This may be where school fits. Where would time for class, homework, study time, required reading, preparing for exams fit in your overall priorities? Quadrant II includes your “A” goals. Managing your life and the lifestyle will help you manage your time.

Quadrant III (The quadrant of deception): Not Important and Urgent

While you may feel that activities, such as texting, need your attention right away, too much time spent on Quadrant III activities can seriously reduce valuable study time. This may leave you feeling pulled in too many directions at once.

Quadrant IV (The quadrant of waste): Not Important and Not Urgent

Quadrants three and four include your “C” goals. If you’re spending many hours on Quadrant IV activities, you’re either having a great deal of fun or spending a lot of time procrastinating! Remember, the objective is balance. You may notice I placed social media and texting into this category. You could make a case that social media, texting, Netflix, and Youtube are important, but how often are they urgent? Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what is important and urgent for yourself, but for the context of this textbook, your classes, assignments, preparation, and studying should almost universally be more urgent and important than social media and texting.

Here is an adapted version of the matrix, with an emphasis on quadrant II.

Time management matrix as described in Merrill and Covey 1994 book "First Things First," showing "quadrant two" items that are important but not urgent and so require greater attention for effective time management
By Rorybowman – Own work, Public Domain,


Managing time well comes down to two things. One is identifying (and then prioritizing) goals and the other is having the discipline to be able to work towards accomplishing them. We all have the same amount of time in a day, week, month and year, yet some people are able to accomplish more than others. Why is this? Often, it is because they are able to set goals, prioritize them and then work on them relentlessly and effectively until they are complete.

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Original:

Content previously copyrighted, published in Blueprint for Success in College: Indispensable Study Skills and Time Management Strategies (by Dave Dillon), now licensed as CC BY.

Roadmap graphics used with permission, courtesy of Greg Stoup, Rob Johnstone, and Priyadarshini Chaplot of The RP Group.

All rights reserved content:

Pausch, Randy. “Randy Pausch Lecture: Time Management.” YouTube, uploaded by Carnegie Mellon University, 6 Feb. 2008. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.

Fleming, Kevin and Marsh Brian Y. “Success in the New Economy”. Vimeo, uploaded by Citrus College, 2017. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved.

Version History: Minor edits and updates for more currency, cohesiveness, inclusiveness, alignment, and cultural responsiveness, July, 2021.

Jeffery Young, “Homework? What Homework?,” Chronicle of High Education, 2002, A35-A37,
Advancing Student Success in the California Community Colleges,” California Community Colleges (California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office: Recommendations of the California Community Colleges Student Success Task Force, 2012),
J. Weissman, C. Bulakowski, and M.K. Jumisko, “Using Research to Evaluate Developmental Education Programs and Policies,” in Implementing Effective Policies for Remedial and Developmental Education: New Directions for Community Colleges, ed. J. M. Ignash (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997), 100, 73-80.
Beth Smith et al., “The Role of Counseling Faculty and Delivery of Counseling Services in the California Community Colleges,” (California: The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges).


Chapter 15: Words of Wisdom: Time Is on Your Side

Christopher L. Hockey

Christopher L. Hockey

There I was, having just eaten dinner and realizing that I had less than twenty-four hours to go before my capstone paper was due for my History of Africa class. This paper was the only grade for the class and all I had done was some research. I still had thirty pages that needed to be written! How was I going to get this paper done?

I came to the realization that I was going to have to skip some classes and work through the night. I kept my roommate up with the click clack of the keyboard and worked through the night with breaks only to replenish the caffeine in my system. Morning came and I still had work to do.

I contacted my other professors letting them know that something came up and I wouldn’t be in class. Thankfully, I was in good standing in my other classes and could afford to miss one class. I snuck in a twenty minute nap and kept working. I finally finished about thirty minutes before the deadline. Exhausted and not terribly proud of myself, I trudged my way to class to drop off the paper and committed to never working like this again. After all, there was a small likelihood that I would get a decent grade; I was hoping for just a C to keep my GPA respectable. I went back to my room and slept for a long time. Imagine my amazement when I received my grade for the paper (and ultimately the class) and there was an A- staring me back in the face! How could this be possible?

My experience illustrates a very important lesson. Best practices do not always yield the best results. Logic would tell us that to manage a thirty-page paper would require the student to spread out all the tasks over the semester and do a little bit of work over a long period of time as opposed to a lot of work over a short period of time. The problem is that time management is a personal thing. Everyone works differently and excels under different circumstances.

The important thing to remember about time management is that there is not one method. Everyone must find what works best for her or him. There are some strategies that have been used for years and others that are new. While there are multiple perspectives on how best to set personal and professional goals, there are three general themes that influence the development of personal time management plans: identifying priorities, managing time, and managing energy.

The concept of time management is actually personal management. Where you are going or what you are trying to accomplish is more important than how fast you get there. Personal management demands organizing and executing around priorities. One thing to watch out for on your college journey is something called time famine. Time famine is the feeling of having too much to do and not enough time to do it. This happens often to college students and without warning. This was certainly the case with my paper. I certainly felt overwhelmed with thirty pages to write and not a lot of time available to write it in. However, there’s one really helpful aspect of time—you always know how much you have in a day. You know that in any given day, you have twenty-four hours to accomplish everything you need to do for that day. With that knowledge in hand it becomes an easy task to make smart choices when planning both the schedule for the day, as well as the energy needed to complete the tasks.

The objective of successful time management is to increase and optimize controllable time. Once you have a schedule made, don’t change it unless something of some serious urgency comes up. However, while managing time is challenging enough, there’s another concept out there about the management of your energy. Think of energy as money and time as what you’d like to buy. If you’re too tired (or energy broke) to be productive, it’s hard to accomplish (buy) everything on your schedule. Luckily, at the age of twenty-two, I had lots of energy and stamina to pull an all-nighter and finish the paper. If I tried to do that today at thirty-five, I would be asleep on my keyboard after a few hours. In order to always have enough of time currency, it’s important that you are physically energized, emotionally connected, and mentally focused on your purpose.

While an understanding of these general principles is essential for the development of sound time and energy management strategies, it is also important to focus on practical strategies that can be implemented to improve the college experience. The first recommendation is to know who you are and how you work. In this step, you need to examine all aspects of your current time management skills. Take a look at personal practices such as where you work, how you organize information and course materials, how current and future assignments and projects are prioritized, how commitments are balanced, and lastly, how you prevent burnout. Once you have taken stock in your current practices, you’ll have a better idea of what you need to do to improve.

Even today, I try to space out large projects and assignments and find that I am not as focused or motivated. I struggle to complete the task and when I do, it never feels like I did it well. However, when I revert back to that practice of waiting until the last minute, I am focused, energized, and motivated and the results have been very positive. In my own doctoral program, I have begun assignments a little too close to the deadlines but they ultimately get completed and I continue to be amazed at the high marks I get back. What does that tell me? It tells me I thrive in high-pressure situations where I have to focus intensely on one thing and stay focused for a long period of time. Is that method for everyone? Certainly not, but it works for some and it may or may not work for you. You must examine your own work habits and practices and look back at times that you have done well and times you have done poorly and identify habits that led to those results.

The next strategy is to create a personal time management method to help prioritize projects and activities. Try to identify and eliminate activities that may detract from effectively balancing your roles and responsibilities. In any given day, what are the most important things that need to be completed? What can be eliminated from your schedule that provides you the time you need to be successful? I like to think of this as the “five-year-old plan.” My five-year-old loves to play in the morning as her Mom and I are getting ready for work. The problem is that we need her to get ready for school, too. We put a plan in place that allows her to play in the morning, only after she is completely ready for school. You need time to play, have fun, and socialize, but it should not come at the expense of higher priority tasks.

The next recommendation is to focus on the process of energy management. Create goals focused on physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional renewal. These goals can include, but are not limited to: getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night, taking small breaks during work sessions, eating healthy, exercising regularly, drinking lots of water, having a positive attitude, and practicing positive self-talk. Anytime I know I have a big work task or school task to complete, I am in the mindset of energy conversation—my energy. I make sure to get a good night sleep, eat my Wheaties, and think good vibes. These habits allow me to complete projects in a way that works for me.

Lastly, set up a reward system. One of the great things about creating prioritized lists of things that need to be done is the sense of accomplishment when you cross that item off the list. Once you’ve identified your major goals and tasks, identify a reward for each of these goals that provides an even greater sense of accomplishment. The reward should be personal and should encourage you to continue your good habits. What are the things you love to do? Write them down next to the major tasks and learn to practice delayed gratification by only doing those things once you’ve crossed the item off.

In conclusion, practical and tangible strategies for time and energy management can be the key to success for any undertaking. While each concept related to time and energy management is unique and provides a starting point for you to begin to develop strong personal management skills, these methods and ideas are not one-size-fits-all, and you need to explore the strategies and discover which components of each best fit your lifestyle and circumstances. Through this exercise, you can develop a personal management plan that is best suited to your needs and goals.

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:
Hockey, Christoper L. “Time Is on Your Side.” In Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom, edited by Thomas Priester. Located at:   License: CC BY: Attribution.


Chapter 16: Time Management Reality

Dave Dillon

“You cannot hoot with the owls and then soar with the eagles.”

– Hubert Humphrey

There is a difference between a goal and a wish. A goal is something that requires action to complete. A wish is something we simply hope will happen without doing anything to achieve it. Students often confuse goals with wishes due to the expected probability of the outcome. For example, a student might say that owning a Ferrari or becoming a movie star were wishes, not goals, because the chance of them happening is slim. We could debate about realistic goals for a long time, but for the purpose of this lesson, the probability of a goal is irrelevant. Think of it like this: the chances of winning the lottery may in fact be slim, but we have no chance to win the lottery if we do not purchase a ticket. Purchasing a ticket requires action, and that distinguishes a difference between a goal and a wish.

When we apply this to education, there are many areas that require action in order to be successful. If I wish for good grades, but spend my time at parties instead of studying, I may not get my wish. But if my goal is to attain good grades, and I take action to achieve them by studying, reviewing, being prepared, etc., then I am much more likely to accomplish my goal.

“Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.”

– Michael Jordan

Author’s Story

I had a friend in college who wanted to be a professional athlete. He would talk about it all the time and say that it was his goal. He was a student-athlete but he loved Carl’s Jr. and ate there frequently. He rarely worked out. Over time, I started to think—if he really wanted to be a professional athlete, in order to give himself the best opportunity to make it, he should exercise more and eat a more nutritional diet. It occurred to me years later that he said it was his goal but in reality, it was a wish. He hoped that he would just magically become a professional athlete one day but was unwilling to take the action necessary to help him achieve his goal.

One of the challenges many students face is being over committed. Some are working full-time, going to school full-time, and have other responsibilities as well. Students may additionally be taking care of children, siblings, parents or have other commitments. It can be difficult to take action to complete goals when there are so many areas competing for our time. And sometimes we cannot “do it all.” Sometimes we need to prioritize, let something go, adjust and reevaluate what the most important things are to us.

Time hourglass with clock inside melting into the sand shape
Trapped in time

Other students may struggle because college does not have as much structure as what they may have been used to in high school. Why should I start a homework assignment now when I don’t have anything I have to do for the next three days? This mindset usually leads to the student waiting until the last minute to start the assignment and as a result, the quality of work is not high.


“Do or do not – there is no try.”

– Yoda

Either a homework assignment gets done on time or it doesn’t. Over the years I have seen a lot of excuses from students who didn’t complete their assignment on time. Think about this: If someone were to give you $500 to complete the assignment on time, would you complete it sooner than you ordinarily would have? What level is your internal motivation? How important is the assignment to you? How important is your grade? How important is your class?

Procrastination is the act of putting something off. It’s doing something that’s a low priority instead of doing something that is a high priority. We all procrastinate sometimes. But when we procrastinate on an assignment or studying for an exam until there is little or no time left, our grades suffer and it can be stressful. Learning about why we procrastinate can help us overcome.

Reasons We Procrastinate

I don’t feel like it. I would rather play a video game, watch TV, hang out with friends, sleep, etc. than start my assignment. (The problem is – you might never feel like starting it.)

Perfectionism. I want to do it perfectly and there is not enough time to do it perfectly so I am not going to do it at all.

Fear of success. If I study my tail off and I earn an A on an exam, people will start to expect that I will get A’s all of the time.

Fear of failure. Without confidence, I can’t do the assignment well, no matter how much time or effort I put into it.

“If we are not prepared to fail, we will never create anything original.”

– Sir Ken Robinson

These reasons have been keeping some students from completing assignments and studying for exams. Do you procrastinate? Why?

Whatever the reason may be, procrastination is not a good idea. It often leads to stress. It can be stressful in trying to complete something if we have left it to the last minute. It can be stressful to know that we didn’t submit work that was our best. And stress can take a toll on the health of our bodies.

There are many examples of how American society realizes that people procrastinate. FedEx is built on the fact that people need something immediately and in many cases, they have procrastinated past when regular mail would have gotten it there on time. Post offices stay open later on Tax Day because they know people procrastinated getting their taxes done. Stores offer sales days before Christmas because they know people have procrastinated their Christmas shopping.

So how do we avoid procrastination?

Tell yourself to do your best all of the time. Ask yourself what is important NOW. Other peoples’ expectations of you shouldn’t matter. Be confident in yourself and in your abilities. Do the best you can and be satisfied with your effort. Realize that we’re not perfect. Make your goal to do your best and understand you don’t need to be perfect. Also, realize that you may never “feel like” doing an assignment or studying for an exam.

Get Started. It is the hardest part to do and will have the biggest effect on defeating procrastination. It can be simple: skim the chapter you have to read, think of a title for your paper or schedule an hour for when you will study. The rest of it will be easier once you get started.

Establish and rely on a process. Figure out what works best for you. Take some time to make a plan, list, or outline that allows you to see what you will do and when to complete your assignment or goal. It might be setting aside time early in the morning or waiting to watch a movie until after you’ve finished an assignment. Set your priorities and stick to them.

Set Imaginary Deadlines. If the paper is due in six days, tell yourself it is due in two days. Knock it out early and then enjoy not having it over your head. Fake deadlines are less stressful. And if you do end up needing more time, you have a cushion.

Don’t Break the Chain. Jerry Seinfeld developed a system to help prevent procrastination. He wanted to be a better comedian and believed that writing better jokes would help. To write better jokes, he thought he should write every day. His system, called Don’t Break the Chain was used to motivate himself to write every day. He started with a big wall calendar with a whole year on a page and a red marker. For each day he wrote, he would place a big red X on that day of the calendar. After a few consecutive days, he had a chain. And then the task became not breaking the chain.

Although originally skeptical, I tried it (with exercise), and found it to work. I liked marking the big red X and I liked seeing a long string of big red X’s after a few weeks. I still use this strategy and find myself much more motivated to not break the chain than to go for a run, swim, or to the gym. If there is something you want to practice every day, try it.

“If you eat a frog first thing in the morning, the rest of your day will be wonderful.”

– Mark Twain

I don’t suggest that you go out and eat a frog, but the point Twain makes is paramount to overcoming procrastination. He meant if you have to do something you don’t want to, the best thing to do is do it right away: get it over with as soon as possible then move on to enjoy the things you want to do.

This might be true of going to the dentist, making a phone call you don’t want to make, or doing your homework.

Tim Urban’s Ted Talk shines a light on procrastination.

Video: Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator, Tim Urban TED Talk

Thumbnail for the embedded element "Tim Urban: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator"

A TED element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

Estimating Task Time

One of the biggest challenges I see college students have is accurately estimating how much time it will take to complete a task. We might think we’re going to be able to read an assigned chapter in an hour. But what if it takes three hours to read and understand the chapter? Having the skill to know how long a homework assignment will take is something that can be developed. But until we can anticipate it accurately, it is best to leave some time in our schedule in case it takes longer than we had anticipated.

We have a limited amount of time. Most of us cannot complete everything we wish to complete—either in a day or in a lifetime. We hear people say, “I wish there was more time” or “If there was more time, I would have done this.” We have enough time to do many of the things we wish to do. People run into difficulty when they spend time on things that are not the most important things for them.

“There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.”

– Bill Watterson

Author’s Story

I used to say to myself that I would do this or finish that as soon as I got caught up. “Caught up” might apply to my e-mail inbox, keeping current with my twitter timeline, or watching the latest episode of The Walking Dead. But I found that sometimes I was never going to be caught up. So, it was important for me to realize that I was inadvertently placing quadrant III and IV activities ahead of quadrant I and II activities. Worse, I was justifying them by telling myself I would do the I and II activities once the III and IV activities were finished. I corrected this by refocusing on quadrant I and II and constantly reminding myself not to concentrate too much time on the things that are neither urgent nor important.

Time Management Strategies

Laura Vanderkam’s TED Talk helps with perspective on free time.

Video: How to Gain Control of Your Free Time, Laura Vanderkam TED Talk

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A TED element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

You must make time for the things that are most important to you. In order to make time, you may need to decide you will not do something else.

The ability to say “no” cannot be underestimated. It isn’t easy to say “no,” especially to family, friends and people that like you and whom you like. Most of us don’t want to say “no,” especially when we want to help. But if we always do what others want, we won’t accomplish the things that we want—the things that are most important to us.

Ask yourself:

What am I doing that doesn’t need to be done?

What can I do more efficiently?

Have you ever ordered an appetizer, salad, beverage or bread, then felt full halfway through your entree? In situations like this many people claim, “my eyes were bigger than my stomach.” This is also true with planning and goal setting. It may be that your plan is bigger than the day. Experiment with what you want to accomplish and what is realistic. The better you can accurately predict what you can and will accomplish and how long it will take, the better you can plan, and the more successful you will be.

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Original:

License: CC BY: Attribution NonCommercial

Content previously copyrighted, published in Blueprint for Success in College: Indispensable Study Skills and Time Management Strategies (by Dave Dillon), now licensed as CC BY Attribution.

Urban, Tim. “Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator.” TEDTalks, February 2016. Located at:
License: CC-BY–NC–ND 4.0 International.

Vanderkam, Laura. “How to Gain Control of Your Free Time.” TEDTalks, uploaded by TEDWomen, October 2016. Located at:
License: CC-BY–NC–ND 4.0 International.


Chapter 17: World View and Self-Efficacy

Phyllis Nissila

World View

Human eye with world globe showing as the iris.
The world in eye (memo) by colorlight4 CC BY NC ND

The term procrastination comes from Middle French and Latin and, of course, means putting something off until later.

It is hardly necessary to define this common problem at school–and everywhere else–in any language, however. We all know what it is. We all do it, and we’ve all suffered to some extent because of it (missed deadlines tend to make instructors–and bosses–crabby).

But here is a problem: some people procrastinate more than others. And NOT just because they are lazy, disorganized, unmotivated, or confused about what to do. Those might be the surface assumptions and sometimes true, but at other times, or perhaps beneath what appear to be the behaviors listed above, defeating habits like procrastination have to do with deeper issues, maybe beliefs and thought patterns such as:

This is why this chapter begins with “foundational issues,” perspectives, and beliefs about ourselves such as our world view that operates at the bottom of our pile of motivations, and our sense of self-efficacy (or lack thereof) that generates thoughts that either work for or against us when it comes to successfully managing time, tools, and environments of learning. Self-efficacy is one’s sense of being able to achieve goals.

First, here is a look at world view, a concept some experts put at the foundational level of how we think and perceive the world. On top of our world view, so to speak, and as a result of it, are our beliefs. And on top of beliefs lay our conscious-level feelings and thoughts.

Pyramid split into three levels: Lowest labeled World View, Middle labeled Beliefs; Top labeled Thoughts and Feelings

Our world view, as researcher F. Heylighen defines it, is “a framework that ties everything together, that allows us to understand society, the world, and our place in it, and that could help us to make the critical decisions which will shape our future.” In his article, What is a world view? Heylighen, citing the work of Belgian philosopher Leo Apostel, lists seven basic components of a person’s world view:

  1. A model of the world (how the world functions/how it is structured)
  2. Explanation (of the model)
  3. Futurology (where are we going?)
  4. Values (good/evil)
  5. Action (plans of action based on our values)
  6. Knowledge (true and false)
  7. Building Blocks (what fragments of others’ world views helped us shape ours)

These components cover the fundamental questions about existence that human beings find themselves mulling over in time, questions that ultimately guide beliefs, thoughts, and feelings.

The exercise below is based on Heylighen’s article. Whereas this exercise is not a “personal inventory” per se, it has value in guiding the learner to discovering, perhaps, some foundational issues that can hinder a successful approach to overcoming non-productive actions and habits such as procrastination.

For example, if a person has a world view that is post-modern, he/she views the world with a heavy dose of skepticism and distrust of ideologies, rationality, and absolute truth. Therefore, it might be easy to subscribe to a “What’s the use?” thought and feeling when it comes to academic and work-world norms such as being on time and getting one’s work done.

Note: It is not necessary, however, to know precisely which world view one has been influenced by to complete the exercise. Indeed, most people more or less absorb their world views from parents, institutions, and the culture in which they grew up. The value in knowing such information about oneself is in understanding how to deal with certain attitudes and beliefs that work against successful learning, and success in life in general. It is also valuable to know what has contributed to successful attitudes and beliefs so that these can be affirmed and reinforced for future success.


  1. Read the article by Heylighen, linked above, for a more detailed explanation of world view and the seven components he cites.
  2. Briefly respond to your thoughts on each of the seven components. If you have not given much thought to some of them as of yet, take time to consider them now. Three to five sentences will likely be sufficient for each component, for a total of approximately 21-35 sentences. It would be helpful to number the components. This does not have to be completed as an essay.


Self-efficacy, or one’s sense of being able to achieve goals, is an essential ingredient in a learner’s ability to succeed. Thoughts and feelings on this topic, which stem from one’s beliefs (remember the pyramid illustration) contribute to more, or less, success.

A key element of self-efficacy is the concept of locus of control. As the definition indicates, the locus, or place, of control is usually either internal or external, but sometimes it is both.

Obviously if a person believes that he/she is in control of situations and outcomes (an internal locus) achieving goals is more likely. If a person believes he/she is controlled by external forces, achieving goals is less likely. But everyone experiences both internal and external forces for various reasons. For example, choosing to do the right thing on the job is based on the external control of workplace rules. Yet, one might apply for the job based on one’s internal belief that he/she can succeed. And both internal and external loci of control are in operation when one chooses to do the right thing at any time based on one’s religious beliefs.

For a more detailed explanation and the relationship of self-efficacy to locus of control, complete this exercise.


After reading the definition of this concept in the article cited above, answer the following questions:

  1. List three attitudes and/or perspectives that a person with a primarily internal locus of control might have that will help him/her succeed in life, and why.
  2. List three attitudes and/or perspectives that a person with a primarily external locus of control might have that might hinder his/her success, and why.
  3. List three instances where both internal and external loci of control help a person, and why.

A chart might help you organize your response.


Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Previously shared:
Nissila, Phyllis. How to Learn Like a Pro!. Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2016. Located at:  CC-BY.

Adaptions: Changed world view image, removed one exercise, edited language to match unit and chapter.

The world in eye (memo) image by colorlight4.  License: CC-BY-NC-ND.


Chapter 18: Procrastination

Phyllis Nissila

Following the introduction to procrastination in the Time Management Reality chapter, this chapter provides a deeper dive into understanding procrastination and finding solutions for it.

Complete the exercise below to help you solve what is arguably the number one detriment to effective learning at school, home, and/or on the job (aka procrastination).

This personal inventory is a bit different from others you may have taken. It incorporates very little about the usual bad habit suspects when it comes to the “P” word and includes more on the other reasons for such a habit, as suggested in the previous chapter as well as one or two other procrastination-inducers which have cropped up in our now social-media-saturated lives. Perhaps there is, in fact, more to your challenges with procrastination than the assumptions about laziness, disorganization, etc. See what you think. More importantly, see what you can do about it.
For each item, circle one. And feel free to add any comments you wish. Sometimes quick-answer exercises like this just don’t have enough of YOUR personal response options, but try not to overthink things. This is, after all, a simple snapshot of where your beliefs and feelings are at this moment in time.
1. I admit it. Just like everyone else, I feel that I am lazy when it comes to getting my assignments and/or work done.
  • usually
  • sometimes
  • rarely
  • never

2. I am disorganized when it comes to getting my assignments and/or work done.

  • usually
  • sometimes
  • rarely
  • never

3. I get confused about what I am supposed to do for the assignment or task.

  • usually
  • sometimes
  • rarely
  • never

4. I have a hard time saying “no” to others which puts me behind in my work/studies.

  • most of the time
  • sometimes
  • rarely
  • never

5. I have this sinking feeling that I will succumb to the usual reasons for procrastinating, no matter what they are.

  • most of the time
  • sometimes
  • rarely
  • never

6. I just don’t think I have the organizational abilities to be able to stop at least some of my procrastinating.

  • most of the time
  • sometimes
  • rarely
  • never

7. When I was in high school it wasn’t a problem studying for most tests the night before.

  • most of the time
  • sometimes
  • rarely
  • never

8. I work best under pressure, so I think that procrastinating is really good for me.

  • most of the time
  • sometimes
  • rarely
  • never

9. When what I have to study or accomplish is just not that important to me, I find it more tempting to procrastinate.

  • most of the time
  • sometimes
  • rarely
  • never

10. I have a hard time talking myself into maintaining a better attitude about not procrastinating.

  • most of the time
  • sometimes
  • rarely
  • never

11. I think I have more time to finish something than I usually do.

  • most of the time
  • sometimes
  • rarely
  • never

12. It annoys me that some instructors assign so much homework when I have a life outside of school, too! So, I believe that it can be their fault that I have to procrastinate on certain things.

  • most of the time
  • sometimes
  • rarely
  • never

13. I am very social and spending time with my friends sometimes gets in the way of doing my work.

  • most of the time
  • sometimes
  • rarely
  • never

14. I can’t seem to stay away from social media.

  • most of the time
  • sometimes
  • rarely
  • never

15. Here is something (or perhaps more than one) not on this list that also causes me to procrastinate. (Possible issues might include a disability or some kind of learning challenge, homelessness or some other kind of living situation challenge, pregnancy, work hours and responsibilities, and/or personal life stress.)


  • most of the time
  • sometimes
  • rarely
  • never
NOTE: This exercise is not graded on responses. The answer key to this personal inventory is to get right into helping the learner start solving some of these causes of procrastination.

As promised above, let’s get started with some immediate solutions as well as some perspectives that might, in time, help you adjust your thoughts and feelings regarding procrastination.



  1. From your responses to the exercise above, select your top five challenges when it comes to procrastinating. Create a chart, such as this, but leave yourself ample space to fill in solutions you find:





Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, previously shared:
Nissila, Phyllis. How to Learn Like a Pro!. Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2016. Located at:   License: CC-BY Attribution.
Adaptions: Removed one exercise, modified an exercise, removed information specific to Lane Community College, opinion article, and some hyperlinks for broader audience purpose.


Chapter 19: Words of Wisdom: Can You Listen to Yourself?

Yuki Sasao

Yuki Sasao

It is almost impossible to find time away from information sources like TV, phone, advertisements, or even your friends and family in this modern society. Can you put yourself in a place that has no information at all—you alone, just yourself? If not, you should try—finding this quiet mental space will let you to practice listening to yourself. It is a wonderful way to find out who you truly are. Our society has become so loud that it is very difficult to listen to your own voice and extremely easy to lose it.

I am an international student from a very small town in Japan, and I am the first one among my family members to study abroad. When I told people that I decided to come to the United States to study, every single one of them was shocked and gave me their advice. Some said Americans are very bossy and tend to look down on people. Some said I would not be able to find any jobs there.

It does not matter who you are and what type of circumstances you are in. You will get some comments and advice no matter what you do.

Was the advice people gave me accurate? I’m sorry, but mostly, no. People I met in the United States were nice, and the advice I received really depended on whether or not the person looked down on others. Am I struggling with finding a job? No. My major in accounting provides me more opportunities than I can take. Looking back on the comments from my friends and family, I am very grateful that I was able to see what I truly wanted and stick with my decision.

The reason I could tune out those negative voices was not because I am lucky or intelligent. It is because I listened to myself—my own voice. However, this doesn’t mean that I didn’t listen to others. I considered what people said to me and I understood them. I just didn’t agree with them, which was the most difficult part. In the process of building my own decisions, many pieces of advice actually helped me and I made some changes based on the advice from others combined with my own thoughts.

Why was I able to stick to my decision so tight and live the life I wanted? It’s because I talked to myself and asked myself millions of questions.

“What do I want in my future?”

“Do I really need it or just want it?”

“Am I where I wanted to be? Yes? No? Why?”

“Where am I going?”

“What am I doing?”

“What would happen if I do this?”

“Why am I doing it?”

It is difficult, frustrating, and time-consuming to find your raw voice in this very noisy society, but in doing so you will get through life with minimal regret and confidence in who you are and what you are doing. Pull yourself away from the massive amount of information, talk to some people, understand them (never ignore them), and then talk with yourself. This is your life, and you cannot run away from yourself forever. You’d better learn how to listen to yourself and be able to stick with your own thoughts even after accepting what other say.

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:
Sasao, Yuki, “Can You Listen to Yourself?” In Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom, edited by Thomas Priester. Located at:  License: CC BY: Attribution.


Chapter 20: The Basics of Study Skills

Dave Dillon, Phyllis Nissila

“If you study to remember, you will forget, but, if you study to understand, you will

– Unknown

I often start this section of my class with a question: Why do some students earn good grades and others do not? Answers vary. Students with poor grades have said students with good grades are born book smart. Students with good grades answer that studying and hard work got them there. What do you think?

Everyone likes to earn an A grade. Despite the stigma of being a “nerd,” it feels good to receive good grades. Take pride in your preparation, take pride in your studying, and take pride in your accomplishments.

I have also noticed over the years with my classes that students know many things they need to do in order to achieve good grades – they just don’t always perform them.

Be Prepared for Each Class

Complete your assigned reading ahead of the deadline. Follow the syllabus so that you’ll have familiarity with what the instructor is speaking about. Bring your course syllabus, textbook, notebook and any handouts or other important information for each particular class along with a pen and a positive attitude. Become interested in what the instructor has to say. Be eager to learn. Sleep adequately the night before class and ensure you do not arrive to class on an empty stomach. Many courses, both in person and online, use digital platforms called Learning Management Systems (LMS). Examples of these are Canvas, Blackboard, and Moodle. It is important for students to check their e-mail regularly as well as Announcements or notifications from their instructor through the LMS.

Attend Every Class

Attending each and every class requires a lot of self-discipline and motivation. Doing so will help you remain engaged and involved in course topics, provide insight into what your instructor deems most important, allow you to submit work and receive your graded assignments and give you the opportunity to take quizzes or exams that cannot be made up.

Missing class is a major factor in students dropping courses or receiving poor grades. In addition, students attempting to make up the work from missing class often find it overwhelming. It’s challenging to catch up if we get behind.

Sit Front and Center

Author’s Story

Full disclosure: I loved to sit in the back of the classroom when I was in college. I felt more comfortable back there. I didn’t want to make eye contact with my instructor. I didn’t want to be called on. But I learned that if I wanted to give myself the best opportunity to see, hear, understand and learn, then I needed to sit in the front and center. And in order to make sure I sat in the front and center, I needed to arrive to my classes early.

I instruct my students to “Sit wherever you want — sit where you are most comfortable.” But I also ask them that if they were to attend a concert for their favorite artist, where would they like to be? It’s always right in front of the stage, because the best experience is closest to the band. That’s why front-and-center tickets are the most expensive. There are some reasons sitting in the back works for some students. But you run the risk of sitting behind someone you cannot see over. And if you’re sitting in the back so that you can send text messages without being seen, work on something else or so that you can disengage (not pay attention without the instructor noticing), then you’re sitting in the back for the wrong reasons. Rather than hiding, you want to create the best learning environment, from seeing and hearing perspectives.

Take Notes in Class

Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist, scientifically studied how people forget in the late 1800’s. He is known for his experiments using himself as a subject and tested his memory learning nonsense syllables. One of his famous results, known as the forgetting curve, shows how much information is forgotten quickly after it is learned. Without reviewing, we will forget. Since we forget 42% of the information we take in after only 20 minutes (without review), it is imperative to take notes to remember.

Take Notes When You Are Reading

For the same reason as above, it is helpful to take notes while you are reading to maximize memorization. Sometimes called Active Reading, the goal is to stay focused on the material and to be able to refer back to notes made while reading to improve retention and study efficiency. Don’t make the mistake of expecting to remember everything you are reading. Taking notes when reading requires effort and energy. Be willing to do it and you’ll reap the benefits later.

Know What the Campus Resources Are and Where They Are, and Use Them

There are many campus resources at your college or university and it’s likely that they are underutilized because students don’t know they exist, where they are or that most of them are free. Find out what is available to you by checking your school’s website for campus resources or student services, or talk to a counselor about what resources may be helpful for you. Check to see where your campus has resources for Counseling, Tutoring, Writing assistance, a Library, Admissions and Records (or Registrar’s), Financial Aid, Health Center, Career Center, Disability Support Services, and other support services.

Read and Retain Your Syllabus

In addition to acting as a contract between the instructor and you, the syllabus is also often the source of information for faculty contact information, textbook information, classroom behavior expectations, attendance policy and course objectives. Some students make the mistake of stuffing the syllabus in their backpack when they receive it on the first day of class and never take a look at it again. Those who clearly read it, keep it for reference and review it frequently find themselves more prepared for class. If there is something in the syllabus you don’t understand, ask your instructor about it before class, after class or during their office hours.

Place Your Assignments on Your Master Calendar and Create Plans for Completing Them Before They Are Due

Remember the story about the sticky notes? Place all of your assignments for all of your classes with their due dates in your calendar, planner, smart phone or whatever you use for organization. Successful students will also schedule when to start those assignments and have an idea of how long it will take to complete them.

Complete All of Your Assignments

There will be things that you are more interested in doing than your assignments and unexpected life happenings that will come up. Students who earn good grades have the motivation and discipline to complete all of their assignments.

Have Someone Read Your Papers Before You Submit Them

You might be surprised to learn how many students turn in papers with spelling, grammar and punctuation errors that could have been easily corrected by using a spellchecker program or having someone read your paper. Many schools offer writing centers or tutors who will read your paper and give feedback, make suggestions, and help shape ideas. Take advantage of these services if they are offered. Another strategy is to read your paper aloud to yourself. You may catch errors when you read aloud that you might not catch when reading your writing. Remember that it is always the students’ responsibility to have papers proofread, not someone else’s.

Ask Questions

Many students feel like they are the only one that has a question or the only one that doesn’t understand something in class. I encourage you to ask questions during class, especially if your instructor encourages them. If not, make the effort to ask your questions before or after class or during your instructors’ office hours.

If you take a class offered online, I suggest asking a lot of questions via the preferred method your instructor recommends. Since the delivery method is different to what most students are used to, I believe it is natural for students in online courses to have more questions. Online students may ask questions to understand the material and to be able to successfully navigate through the course content.

Inside information: I expect students to ask questions for both in person and online courses I teach.

Complete All Assigned Reading at The Time It Is Assigned

College courses have much more assigned reading than what most high school students are accustomed to, and it can take a while to become comfortable with the workload. Some students fall behind early in keeping up with the reading requirements and others fail to read it at all. You will be most prepared for your class and for learning if you complete the reading assigned before your class. Staying on top of your syllabus and class calendar will help you be aware of your reading assignment deadlines. There is a difference in assigned reading between high school and college. In high school, if a teacher gave a handout to read in class, students would often read it during class to prepare to participate in a class discussion. In college, more reading is assigned with the expectation it will be done outside of the classroom. It is a big adjustment students need to make in order to be successful.

Study Groups

It has been my observation that one of the recent generational differences is that students study less in groups than they used to. My advice for you is to study in the environment that works best for you, but ensure that you try a study group, especially if you are taking a class in a subject in which you are not strong. Study groups can allow for shared resources, new perspectives, answers for questions, faster learning, increased confidence, and increased motivation.


PART A: Study Area–Help Tran

Create a plan for Tran, on how to organize a study area in her busy home where she lives with six members of her family.

Tran is a first year college student from Vietnam. She has been in the U.S. with her family for three years and recently passed the English Language Learner classes at the topmost level, so now she looks forward to pursuing her degree in Business Management.

She lives with six other family members, her mother, father, grandmother, and three younger siblings aged 14, 12, and 9. Their home is located right next door to the family restaurant. This makes it convenient for Tran and her parents to work their regular shifts and to fill in if one or the other is ill. Tran is also responsible at times to help her younger siblings with their homework and/or take them to school and other activities if her parents are busy. This usually occurs at peak times for customers in the restaurant. Her grandmother helps out when she can but arthritis flare-ups prevent her from working as much as she would like.

Tran does have a small bedroom to herself, but it also sometimes serves as a storage room for restaurant supplies, mostly paper goods, so it can get crowded.

She is anticipating setting up an effective homework/study area for what she knows will soon become more of an intensive course load.


PART B: Study Group–Help The Athletes

Jeb, Andrew, and Nelson are first year students at the university on sports scholarships: Jeb for basketball, Andrew for tennis, and Nelson for track and field. They share an apartment near the college sports complex. They are all taking Math 95 this term and realize that forming a study group as their instructor encouraged everyone to do would really help them, too.

One of the problems in getting a group going is that they are all big fans of ESPN and each one favors a different sport, so the television tends to be on long–and loud.

They also enjoy trying out all the restaurants in this southern city which is famous for having the best barbecue joints in the nation. They have calculated that there are at least seven restaurants nearby they want to get to know.

And then there are those campus parties on Friday and Saturday nights…

Although the men are highly motivated to eventually finish their degrees in business, culinary arts, and economics, they could use some advice on how to form a useful study group–and how to stick with it, particularly before their sports programs kick into high gear.

Review for Exams

Preparation for an exam should begin on the first day of class, not when the exam is announced nor the night before an exam. Review your notes frequently to keep material fresh in your head.

Schedule Time for Studying

It’s easy to put off studying if it’s not something we schedule. Block specific times and days for studying. Put the times on your calendar. Stick to the schedule.

Study In a Location and At a Time That Is Best for You

Some students study best in the morning and some at night. Some excel at a coffee shop, and others at the library. The place and time in which students often study is usually the most convenient for them. Students often find convenient places and times may also be full of distractions and thus are not good choices for them to study. It’s worth the effort to study at the time and place that will be most productive for you. For most students, it is best to turn off the cell phone and TV and to keep off the Internet (and social media) unless it directly relates to your work.

Tips for Effective, Individual Study Spaces

Most students more or less take what they can get when it comes to study areas. Schools usually offer a variety of nooks and crannies for students to hunker down and get their assignments done. The school library is a good (and quiet) place. Many common areas elsewhere on campus have tables, chairs, couches, and lounges to accommodate learners. But most students end up doing the majority of their out-of-class work at home.

Home environments may be limited in terms of providing all of the recommended aspects of a good study space, but many of the recommendations can be either implemented or adapted from what a student has on hand or what can be improvised no matter what environment he or she is living in. Elements conducive to a more effective study/homework experience include such things as good lighting, ample supplies, comfortable seating, adequate space, and personalizing the study area to add a touch of inspiration and motivation.



Describe your current study area at home–the good, the bad, the ugly. Be thorough.


List as many ways you think you can realistically improve, change, (or start over…) your study area. Remember, you might not have the advantage of a whole room, or even a corner of a room, but there are still some changes you can make to create a more effective study environment.

Author’s Story

I did most of my studying in college in my dorm room, at my house, outside if it was a nice day or at a coffee shop. However, if there was something I knew I absolutely had to get done – read a chapter, finish a paper or complete my preparation for an exam, I would head to one place: McHenry library. It was what I call my go-to place. I was able to concentrate at a higher level there. I was able to block out all other distractions and just focus on the task at hand. You may be thinking: why didn’t he study there all the time? Sometimes it wasn’t convenient. And sometimes it wasn’t necessary. I was able to become an expert on how well I needed to know something, and how much I could get done if I was at McHenry for a couple of hours. Note that I didn’t procrastinate and then try to cram everything in at McHenry. Rather I would place the finishing touches on what had already been studied or worked on.

Don’t Do Anything Academically “Half-assed”

Half-assed is defined as poorly or incompetently done.

Think of it this way: You’ve made the decision to come to college. You’re investing time, energy and money into your commitment. Why would you want to half-ass it? Students who miss class, turn in work late or wait until the last minute are half-assing it. Make college a priority and do your best in all of your college work and preparation.

Apply these basic principles and you will be giving yourself the best opportunity to achieve success. And I’ll let you in on a little secret: apply this to all aspects not just academics and you’ll find success in life!

Licenses and Attributions:

Content previously copyrighted, published in Blueprint for Success in College: Indispensable Study Skills and Time Management Strategies (by Dave Dillon), now licensed as CC-BY Attribution.

CC licensed content, previously shared:
Nissila, Phyllis. How to Learn Like a Pro! Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2016. Located at:  License: CC BY: Attribution.

Adaptions: Exercises for Study Groups and Tips for Effective, Individual Study Areas added from Lesson 2.5 Study Areas and Study Groups.

“Cluttered desk” image by OpenClipart-Vectors is in the Public Domain, CC0


Unit 3: College Level Critical Thinking and Reading

Unit 3: College Level Critical Thinking and Reading

Learning Objectives

After you have completed this unit you should be able to:

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, previously shared:

Nissila, Phyllis. How to Learn Like a Pro! Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2016. Located at:  License: CC-BY Attribution.


Chapter 21: Words of Wisdom: Thinking Critically and Creatively

Dr. Andrew Robert Baker

Dr. Andrew Robert Baker

Critical and creative thinking skills are perhaps the most fundamental skills involved in making judgments and solving problems. They are some of the most important skills I have ever developed. I use them everyday and continue to work to improve them both.

The ability to think critically about a matter—to analyze a question, situation, or problem down to its most basic parts—is what helps us evaluate the accuracy and truthfulness of statements, claims, and information we read and hear. It is the sharp knife that, when honed, separates fact from fiction, honesty from lies, and the accurate from the misleading. We all use this skill to one degree or another almost every day. For example, we use critical thinking every day as we consider the latest consumer products and why one particular product is the best among its peers. Is it a quality product because a celebrity endorses it? Because a lot of other people may have used it? Because it is made by one company versus another? Or perhaps because it is made in one country or another? These are questions representative of critical thinking.

The academic setting demands more of us in terms of critical thinking than everyday life. It demands that we evaluate information and analyze a myriad of issues. It is the environment where our critical thinking skills can be the difference between success and failure. In this environment we must consider information in an analytical, critical manner. We must ask questions—What is the source of this information? Is this source an expert one and what makes it so? Are there multiple perspectives to consider on an issue? Do multiple sources agree or disagree on an issue? Does quality research substantiate information or opinion? Do I have any personal biases that may affect my consideration of this information? It is only through purposeful, frequent, intentional questioning such as this that we can sharpen our critical thinking skills and improve as students, learners, and researchers. Developing my critical thinking skills over a twenty year period as a student in higher education enabled me to complete a quantitative dissertation, including analyzing research and completing statistical analysis, and earning my Ph.D. in 2014.

While critical thinking analyzes information and roots out the true nature and facets of problems, it is creative thinking that drives progress forward when it comes to solving these problems. Exceptional creative thinkers are people that invent new solutions to existing problems that do not rely on past or current solutions. They are the ones who invent solution C when everyone else is still arguing between A and B. Creative thinking skills involve using strategies to clear the mind so that our thoughts and ideas can transcend the current limitations of a problem and allow us to see beyond barriers that prevent new solutions from being found.

Brainstorming is the simplest example of intentional creative thinking that most people have tried at least once. With the quick generation of many ideas at once we can block-out our brain’s natural tendency to limit our solution-generating abilities so we can access and combine many possible solutions/thoughts and invent new ones. It is sort of like sprinting through a race’s finish line only to find there is new track on the other side and we can keep going, if we choose. As with critical thinking, higher education both demands creative thinking from us and is the perfect place to practice and develop the skill. Everything from word problems in a math class, to opinion or persuasive speeches and papers, call upon our creative thinking skills to generate new solutions and perspectives in response to our professor’s demands. Creative thinking skills ask questions such as—What if? Why not? What else is out there? Can I combine perspectives/solutions? What is something no one else has brought-up? What is being forgotten/ignored? What about ______? It is the opening of doors and options that follows problem-identification.

Consider an assignment that required you to compare two different authors on the topic of education and select and defend one as better. Now add to this scenario that your professor clearly prefers one author over the other. While critical thinking can get you as far as identifying the similarities and differences between these authors and evaluating their merits, it is creative thinking that you must use if you wish to challenge your professor’s opinion and invent new perspectives on the authors that have not previously been considered.

So, what can we do to develop our critical and creative thinking skills? Although many students may dislike it, group work is an excellent way to develop our thinking skills. Many times I have heard from students their disdain for working in groups based on scheduling, varied levels of commitment to the group or project, and personality conflicts too, of course. True—it’s not always easy, but that is why it is so effective. When we work collaboratively on a project or problem we bring many brains to bear on a subject. These different brains will naturally develop varied ways of solving or explaining problems and examining information. To the observant individual we see that this places us in a constant state of back and forth critical/creative thinking modes.

For example, in group work we are simultaneously analyzing information and generating solutions on our own, while challenging other’s analyses/ideas and responding to challenges to our own analyses/ideas. This is part of why students tend to avoid group work—it challenges us as thinkers and forces us to analyze others while defending ourselves, which is not something we are used to or comfortable with as most of our educational experiences involve solo work. Your professors know this—that’s why we assign it—to help you grow as students, learners, and thinkers!

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:

Baker, Dr. Andrew Robert. “Thinking Critically and
Creatively.” In Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom, edited by Thomas Priester. Located at:  License: CC BY: Attribution.


Chapter 22: Comprehending College Level Reading by Using the Reading Apprenticeship Approach

Phyllis Nissila

Most students entering college have not yet dealt with the level of difficulty involved in reading–and comprehending–scholarly textbooks and articles. The challenge may even surprise some who have pretty good reading and comprehension skills so far. Other students for whom reading has mostly consisted of social media, texts, forum chat rooms, and emails, find they are intimidated by the sheer amount of reading there is in college classes.

Reading Comprehension Definition

Reading comprehension is defined as the level of understanding of a message. This understanding comes from the interaction between the words that are written and how they trigger knowledge outside the text/message. Comprehension is a “creative, multifaceted process” dependent upon four language skills: phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. Proficient reading depends on the ability to recognize words quickly and effortlessly. It is also determined by an individual’s cognitive development, which is “the construction of thought processes.” Some people learn through education or instruction and others through direct experiences.

There are specific traits that determine how successfully an individual will comprehend text, including prior knowledge about the subject, well-developed language, and the ability to make inferences. Having the skill to monitor comprehension is a factor: “Why is this important?” and “Do I need to read the entire text?” are examples. Another trait is the ability to be self-correcting, which allows for solutions to comprehension challenges.

Reading Comprehension Levels

Reading comprehension involves two levels of processing, shallow (low-level) processing and deep (high-level) processing. Deep processing involves semantic processing, which happens when we encode the meaning of a word and relate it to similar words. Shallow processing involves structural and phonemic recognition, the processing of sentence and word structure and their associated sounds. This theory was first identified by Fergus I. M. Craik and Robert S. Lockhart.

Brain Region Activation

Comprehension levels can now be observed through the use of a fMRI, functional magnetic resonance imaging. fMRIs’ are used to determine the specific neural pathways of activation across two conditions, narrative-level comprehension and sentence-level comprehension. Images showed that there was less brain region activation during sentence-level comprehension, suggesting a shared reliance with comprehension pathways. The scans also showed an enhanced temporal activation during narrative levels tests indicating this approach activates situation and spatial processing.


Initially most comprehension teaching was based on imparting selected techniques that when taken together would allow students to be strategic readers. However, in 40 years of testing these methods never seemed to win support in empirical research. One such strategy for improving reading comprehension is the technique called SQ3R: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review, that was introduced by Francis Pleasant Robinson in his 1946 book Effective Study.

Between 1969 and to about 2000 a number of “strategies” were devised for teaching students to employ self-guided methods for improving reading comprehension. In 1969 Anthony Manzo designed and found empirical support for the ReQuest, or Reciprocal Questioning Procedure, it was the first method to convert emerging theories of social and imitation learning into teaching methods through the use of a talk rotation between students and teacher called cognitive modeling.

Since the turn of the 21st century, comprehension lessons usually consist of students answering teachers’ questions, writing responses to questions on their own, or both. The whole group version of this practice also often included “Round-robin reading”, wherein teachers called on individual students to read a portion of the text. In the last quarter of the 20th century, evidence accumulated that the read-test methods were more successful assessing rather than teaching comprehension. Instead of using the prior read-test method, research studies have concluded that there are much more effective ways to teach comprehension. Much work has been done in the area of teaching novice readers a bank of “reading strategies,” or tools to interpret and analyze text.

Instruction in comprehension strategy use often involves the gradual release of responsibility, wherein teachers initially explain and model strategies. Over time, they give students more and more responsibility for using the strategies until they can use them independently. This technique is generally associated with the idea of self-regulation and reflects social cognitive theory, originally conceptualized by Albert Bandura.


Reading comprehension and vocabulary are inextricably linked. The ability to decode or identify and pronounce words is self-evidently important, but knowing what the words mean has a major and direct effect on knowing what any specific passage means. Students with a smaller vocabulary than other students comprehend less of what they read and it has been suggested that the most impactful way to improve comprehension is to improve vocabulary.

Most words are learned gradually through a wide variety of environments: television, books, and conversations. Some words are more complex and difficult to learn, such as homonyms, words that have multiple meanings and those with figurative meanings, like idioms, similes, and metaphors.

Three Tier Vocabulary Words

Several theories of vocabulary instruction exist, namely, one focused on intensive instruction of a few high value words, one focused on broad instruction of many useful words, and a third focused on strategies for learning low frequency, context specific vocabulary.

Broad Vocabulary Approach

The method of focusing of broad instruction on many words was developed by Andrew Biemiller who argued that more words would benefit students more, even if the instruction was short and teacher-directed. He suggested that teachers teach a large number of words before reading a book to students, by merely giving short definitions, such as synonyms, and then pointing out the words and their meaning while reading the book to students. The method contrasts with the approach by emphasizing quantity versus quality. There is no evidence to suggest the primacy of either approach.

Morphemic Instruction

Another vocabulary technique, strategies for learning new words, can be further subdivided into instruction on using context and instruction on using morphemes, or meaningful units within words to learn their meaning. Morphemic instruction has been shown to produce positive outcomes for students reading and vocabulary knowledge, but context has proved unreliable as a strategy and it is no longer considered a useful strategy to teach students. This conclusion does not disqualify the value in “learning” morphemic analysis – prefixes, suffixes and roots – but rather suggests that it be imparted incidentally and in context. Accordingly, there are methods designed to achieve this, such as Incidental Morpheme Analysis.

Reciprocal Teaching

In the 1980s Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar and Ann L. Brown developed a technique called reciprocal teaching that taught students to predict, summarize, clarify, and ask questions for sections of a text. The use of strategies like summarizing after each paragraph have come to be seen as effective strategies for building students’ comprehension. The idea is that students will develop stronger reading comprehension skills on their own if the teacher gives them explicit mental tools for unpacking text.

Instructional Conversations

“Instructional conversations”, or comprehension through discussion, create higher-level thinking opportunities for students by promoting critical and aesthetic thinking about the text. There are several types of questions that a teacher should focus on: remembering; testing understanding; application or solving; invite synthesis or creating; and evaluation and judging. Teachers should model these types of questions through “think-alouds” before, during, and after reading a text. When a student can relate a passage to an experience, another book, or other facts about the world, they are “making a connection.” Making connections help students understand the author’s purpose and fiction or non-fiction story.

Text Factors

There are factors, that once discerned, make it easier for the reader to understand the written text. One is the genre, like folktales, historical fiction, biographies or poetry. Each genre has its own characteristics for text structure, that once understood help the reader comprehend it. A story is composed of a plot, characters, setting, point of view, and theme. Informational books provide real world knowledge for students and have unique features such as: headings, maps, vocabulary, and an index. Poems are written in different forms and the most commonly used are: rhymed verse, haiku, free verse, and narratives. Poetry uses devices such as: alliteration, repetition, rhyme, metaphors, and similes. “When children are familiar with genres, organizational patterns, and text features in books they’re reading, they’re better able to create those text factors in their own writing.”

The Reading Apprenticeship (RA) Approach to Comprehension

Now to some strategies to help you with some typical college-level comprehension challenges as well as some of your specific challenges identified in the previous exercise.

This lesson focuses on a method called Reading Apprenticeship. It is based on the premise that people who have become expert readers can assist learners by modeling what they have learned to do. As explained in the text, Reading for Understanding, How Reading Apprenticeship Improves Disciplinary Learning in Secondary and College Classrooms, “One literacy educator describes the idea of the cognitive apprenticeship in reading by comparing the process of learning to read with that of learning to ride a bike. In both cases, a more proficient other is present to support the beginner, engaging the beginner in the activity and calling attention to often overlooked or hidden strategies.”

This is a strategy that takes a metacognitive approach to comprehension, utilizing various strategies readers may already know they know how to do, then adding more. For example, most readers have learned to make predictions, ask questions concerning meanings (“I wonder about…”), visualize a scene being described, associate the material being read to some other material, and, at the end, summarize the material.

I like to call these our “hard drive” skills. Like a computer hard drive always humming in the background doing its thing behind the scenes, our metacognitive skills have already been assisting us as readers. We just don’t usually talk about what we are doing, for example, “Well, by golly, now I’m predicting what Godzilla will do to the poor villagers in about two scenes from now,” we just automatically predict, especially if we are familiar with characters and plot lines. For another example, “I am now going to visualize this scene in graveyard when Hamlet comes across the deceased court jester’s skull in Act V, Scene 1.” We just see it in our mind’s eye.

Now review and affirm important comprehension skills you already possess and complete the exercise below.


Go back through the excerpt, above, on reading comprehension and THIS time, write marginal notes where you used any of the comprehension tools listed below:

  • predicting
  • asking questions of the material such as, “I wonder about,” “Could this mean?”
  • visualizing
  • connecting this material to something else you have learned
  • noting where you think you might need to read something over again for comprehension
  • summarizing

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, previously shared:
Nissila, Phyllis. How to Learn Like a Pro! Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2016. Located at:  License: CC-BY Attribution.
Adaptions: Changed formatting, removed one exercise, removed some hyperlinks, removed two class discussion sentences and related footnotes.
“Books” image by Hermann is in the Public Domain, CC0


Chapter 23: Getting the Most Out of Your Textbooks

Phyllis Nissila

Reading Textbooks: Front and Back Matter

Before diving into every line of text in a textbook reading assignment, it is helpful–and saves time–to find out, first, what resources the entire book has to offer you. Then, as those chapter readings are assigned, it helps to first skim read them for the big picture meaning.

The first exercise in this chapter will help you find all the resources in your textbook–and some textbooks have a lot more help in the front matter and back matter of the text than you may realize. I always think of one student who, when given this exercise to use on any textbook he had with him, picked his math book. He was at that time re-taking that math class because he had failed it the term before. As he did the exercise, he realized the back matter of the book included an answer key for half of the problems for every exercise. “Had I known this last term,” he said, “I would have passed!” See if you, too, find something useful in your textbook that perhaps you didn’t know was there, either.

The Exercises in this chapter cover strategies for skim reading specific chapters and a strategy for getting the most out of graphics included in textbooks.

Here is a list of several kinds of resources typically in the front of a textbook, known as “front matter,” and a list of typical “back matter” resources. For one of your textbooks, put a check mark next to the front and back matter features it includes, then answer the two questions, below.
Textbook title____________________________________________________



___Table of Contents



___To the Teacher

___To the Student

___Other (list, here): _____________________________________________


___Glossary of Terms

___Index of subjects

___Answer Keys

___Additional Exercises

___Additional Readings

___Tables, graphs, charts


___Other (list, here): ________________________________________________

Answer the following questions:

  1. Were there any surprises for you?
  2. How can you use the front and back matter in your text to help you with your studies? (3 or 4 sentences)

Skim Reading Textbook Chapters

Before doing a detailed reading of a textbook chapter, get the big picture by following these steps:


Using the recommendations on how to skim through textbook chapters, do so with a textbook chapter of your choice. When you are finished, close the book and write about the following: write down as many of the main ideas of this chapter as you can remember by skim reading it. Try not to look back. When finished, check your work to make sure you have transcribed the information correctly.

Reading Graphics

Listed below are various types of data found on most graphics, whether a pie chart, bar graph, line chart, or other type.

The key to comprehending graphics and using them to get more meaning from a textbook chapter or an article, or to answer study questions, is to pay close attention to the typical elements of the graphic. Not every graphic includes all of the elements listed.


  1. Title
  2. Captions
  3. Legend
  4. Axis information (vertical information, or “Y” data, and horizontal information, or “X” data)
  5. Publication date (important for the most current information)
  6. Publisher (important for credibility)
  7. Labels
  8. Color (used to differentiate and compare data)
  9. Size (also used to represent comparisons)
  10. Spatial positions (helps for comparing and contrasting)
  11. Patterns represented by the content, itself, and
  12. Trends that appear more evident when viewing the visual representation of the data.

It is easy to overlook all of the information present in a graphic, so give yourself enough time to note all the elements and their meanings before answering questions about them. This exercise offers some practice.


This exercise uses Thematic Maps of the United States Census Bureau.

  1. Choose a theme of the many listed that include, for example, Agricultural, Business, Income and Poverty, and Natural Disasters. There are many categories to choose from.
  2. Click through to the actual graphic for the information on that theme. For example, click on Natural Disasters, then Hurricane Katrina Resource Maps, then to more options listed from there.
  3. Write down the title of the thematic graphic you choose, and list all of the elements of the graphic from the list, above. Not all may be present on the specific type of graphic you choose.
  4. Summarize three things you learned about the information presented in this graphic form.


Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, previously shared:

Nissila, Phyllis. How to Learn Like a Pro! Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2016. Located at:  License: CC-BY Attribution.

Adaptions: Changed formatting.

“Books” image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images is in the Public Domain, CC0

“Statistic” image by JuralMin is in the Public Domain, CC0


Chapter 24: Reading Textbooks

Dave Dillon

“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.”

– Walt Disney


If you want to be a better swimmer, you practice. If you want to be a better magician, you practice. If you want to be a better reader, you practice. I encourage you to read. Read, read, read. Read newspapers. Read magazines. Read books. Use your library card (get one if you don’t have one). Read blogs. Read tweets. Read Wikipedia articles. Read about history, politics, world leaders, current events, sports, art, music—whatever interests you. Why? Because the more you read, the better reader you become. And because the more you read, the more knowledge you will have. That is an important piece in learning and understanding. When we are learning new information, it’s easier to learn if we have some kind of background knowledge about it.

Background Knowledge

In their book, Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum, Vacca and Vacca postulate that a student’s prior knowledge is “the single most important resource in learning with texts.”

Reading and learning are processes that work together. Students draw on prior knowledge and experiences to make sense of new information. “Research shows that if learners have advanced knowledge of how the information they’re about to learn is organized — if they see how the parts relate to the whole before they attempt to start learning the specifics — they’re better able to comprehend and retain the material.”

For example, you are studying astronomy and the lecture is about Mars. Students with knowledge of what Mars looks like, or how it compares in size to other planets or any information about Mars will help students digest new information and connect it to prior knowledge. The more you read, the more background knowledge you have, and the better you will be able to connect information and learn. “Content overlap between text and knowledge appears to be a necessary condition for learning from text.”

There are a lot of recent advances in technology that have made information more accessible to us. Use this resource! If you are going to read a chemistry textbook, experiment with listening or watching a podcast or a YouTube video on the subject you are studying. Ask your instructor if they recommend specific websites for further understanding.

“The greatest gift is a passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you the knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination.”

– Elizabeth Hardwick

The Seven Reading Principles

Read the assigned material. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but you might be surprised to learn how many students don’t read the assigned material. Often, it takes longer to read the material than had been anticipated. Sometimes it is not interesting material to us and we procrastinate reading it. Sometimes we’re busy and it is just not a priority. It makes it difficult to learn the information your instructor wants you to learn if you do not read about it before coming to class.

Read it when assigned. This is almost as big of a problem for students as the first principle. You will benefit exponentially from reading assignments when they are assigned (which usually means reading them before the instructor lectures on them). If there is a date for a reading on your syllabus, finish reading it before that date. The background knowledge you will attain from reading the information will help you learn and connect information when your instructor lectures on it, and it will leave you better prepared for class discussions. Further, if your instructor assigns you 70 pages to read by next week, don’t wait until the night before to read it all. Break it down into chunks. Try scheduling time each day to read 10 or so pages. It takes discipline and self-control but doing it this way will make understanding and remembering what you read much easier.

Take notes when you read. You may recall Hermann Ebbinghaus’ research from a previous chapter. He determined that 42% of information we take in is lost after only 20 minutes without review. For the same reasons that it’s important to take notes during lectures, it’s important to take notes when you are reading. Your notes will help you concentrate, remember and review.

Relate the information to you. We remember information that we deem is important. The strategy then is to make what you are studying important to you. Find a way to directly relate what you are studying to something in your life. Sometimes it is easy and sometimes it is not. But if your attitude is “I will never use this information” and “it’s not important,” chances are good that you will not remember it.

Read with a dictionary or use an online dictionary. Especially with information that is new to us, we may not always recognize all the words in a textbook or their meanings. If you read without a dictionary and you don’t know what a word means, you probably still won’t know what it means when you finish reading. Students who read with a dictionary (or who look the word up online) expand their vocabulary and have a better understanding of the text. Take the time to look up words you do not know. Another strategy is to try to determine definitions of unknown words by context, thus eliminating the interruption to look up words.

Ask a classmate or instructor when you have questions or if there are concepts you do not understand. Visiting an instructor’s office hours is one of the most underutilized college resources. I think some students are shy about going, and I understand that, but ultimately, it’s your experience, and it’s up to you if you want to make the most of it. If you go, you will get answers to your questions; at the same time, you’ll demonstrate to your instructor that their course is important to you. Find out when your professor’s office hours are (they are often listed in the syllabus), ask before or after class or e-mail your professor to find out. Be polite and respectful.

Read it again. Some students will benefit from reading the material a second or third time as it allows them to better understand the material. The students who understand the material the best usually score the highest on exams. It may be especially helpful to reread the chapter just after the instructor has lectured on it.

Strategies To Think About When You Open Your Textbook

Preview: Look at what you are reading and how it is connected with other areas of the class. How does it connect with the lecture? How does it connect with the course description? How does it connect with the syllabus or with a specific assignment? What piece of the puzzle are you looking at and how does it fit into the whole picture? If your textbook has a chapter summary, reading it first may help you preview and understand what you are going to be reading.

Headings and designated words: Pay close attention to section headings and subheadings, and boldface, underlined or italicized words and sentences. There is a reason why these are different than regular text. The author feels they are more important and so should you.

Highlighting: Highlighting is not recommended because there is not evidence supporting it helps students with reading comprehension or higher test scores.

Pace: One of the biggest challenges I see students have with reading is accurately assessing how long it will take to read what is assigned. In many cases, it’s important to break the information up in chunks rather than to try and read it all at once. If you procrastinate and leave it until the day before it needs to be read, and then find out it will take you longer than you anticipate, it causes problems. One strategy that works well for many students is to break the information up equally per day and adjust accordingly if it takes longer than you had thought. Accurately estimating how much time it will take to practice the seven reading principles applied to your reading assignments is a skill that takes practice.

“Drink Deeply from Good Books”

– John Wooden

It’s Not All Equal

Keep in mind that the best students develop reading skills that are different for different subjects. The main question you want to ask yourself is: Who are you reading for? And what are the questions that drive the discipline? We read different things for different purposes. Reading texts, blogs, leisure books and textbooks are all different experiences, and we read them with different mindsets and different strategies. The same is true for textbooks in different areas. Reading a mathematics textbook is going to be different than reading a history textbook, a psychology textbook, a Spanish textbook or a criminal justice textbook. Further, students may be assigned to read scientific journals or academic articles often housed in college libraries’ online databases. Scholarly articles require a different kind of reading and librarians are a resource for how to find and read this kind of information. Applying the principles in this chapter will help with your reading comprehension, but it’s important to remember that you will need to develop specific reading skills most helpful to the particular subject you are studying.

Licenses and Attributions:

Content previously copyrighted, published in Blueprint for Success in College: Indispensable Study Skills and Time Management Strategies (by Dave Dillon), now licensed as CC BY Attribution.

Richard T. Vacca and Jo Anne L. Vacca, Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning across the Curriculum, 6th ed. (Menlo Park, CA: Longman, 1999).
Joe Cuseo, Viki Fecas and Aaron Thompson, Thriving in College AND Beyond: Research-Based Strategies for Academic Success and Personal Development, (Dubuque, IA: Kendal Hunt Publishing, 2010), 115.
W. Kintsch, “Text Comprehension, Memory, and Learning,” American Psychologist 49 no. 4 (1994): 294-303,
Lucy Cui, “MythBusters: Highlighting Helps Me Study,” Psychology in Action, accessed April 27, 2018,


Chapter 25: Context Clues and Close Reading for Literature

Phyllis Nissila

Context Clues

Besides clues to help you determine the pattern or genre of a reading selection, there are clues to help you figure out the meaning of specific words that are unfamiliar to you. Here are the five most common:

  1. Definition/Explanation Clues: sometimes the meaning of a word or phrase is given right after its use.
    Example: Taxidermy, the art of preparing, stuffing, and mounting the skins of animals (especially vertebrates) for display or for other sources of study, is popular among museum curators.
  2. Restatement/Synonym Clues: sometimes a word is presented in a simpler way.
    Example: Stuffing dead animals has been a dream of Stedman Nimblebody, author of  Taxidermy Through the Ages, ever since his pet snake died when Steddie was six years old. He still misses Mr. Scaly Face.
  3. Contrast/Antonym Clues: sometimes the meaning of a word is clarified by presenting a word or phrase opposite of its meaning.
    Example: Little Steddie wanted to visit the Taxidermy Museum but the rest of the family preferred a trip to the Zoo to see live animals.
  4. Inference/General Context Clues: sometimes the meaning of a word or phrase is in the surrounding sentences, or must be inferred or implied by the general meaning of a selection.
    Example: When Steddie finally got the chance to visit the Taxidermy Museum, he was very excited. He even found a stuffed snake that looked exactly like Mr. Scaly Face! “Just think,” he exclaimed to his parents, “If Mr. Scaly Face was stuffed, I could still tease the cat and the dog with him!”
  5. Punctuation: the correct use of punctuation helps a reader get the meaning of a term, phrase, or thought. Likewise, incorrectly placed or missing punctuation sometimes gives an entirely different and incorrect meaning across.
    Missing punctuation: Is it time to eat Grandma?
    Corrected: Is it time to eat, Grandma?

There are many examples online of punctuation errors in signs that change the meaning. Create a chart such as the one below for 5 of the signs that you really like.


Close Reading

In addition to using reading comprehension skills such as predicting, visualizing, “talking to the text,” skimming a textbook before reading, and noting context clues, another strategy called “close reading” is helpful. This is popular with literature professors; however, the skills involved in close reading are applicable to any complex reading assignment.

Since this kind of comprehension starts with knowing nothing about the elements of a story, novel, poem, or essay, I stand with my arms spread wide.

I then discuss, briefly, each element of a work starting with the title as a place to begin comprehension, while slowly moving my arms toward one another, a few inches per element.

Titles, for starters, particularly of non-fiction works, usually tell you precisely what the main idea, or thesis, is. For example, a book about “The History of the Roman Empire” usually gives you just that–the history of the Roman Empire.

This is not usually true, however, for works of fiction, for which inference is the key to comprehension. For example, “Story of an Hour,” by Kate Chopin, while it might seem to be something about time, also suggests it is about something other than a clock ticking away seconds and minutes, and indeed it is.

I next add the author, as this might aid comprehension. For example, most students are familiar with Stephen King, who writes in the horror genre. Knowing this element brings the arms in a bit closer as the reader will know to anticipate (and predict) a horror story with a lot of plot twists and turns in some horrible ways. Prediction has begun.

Next, I briefly discuss how knowing about the remaining elements – plot, characters, and setting – help the reader close in on meaning enough to be able to discuss the theme or themes of the work with reasonable evidence to support one’s conclusion.

This visual of the arms getting closer together can continue through a discussion of close reading of small passages, individual sentences, and even specific words. Each level of careful attention and thought helps a reader “read between the lines” when meaning is not overtly stated, when themes are inferred rather than explained outright.

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, previously shared:

Nissila, Phyllis. How to Learn Like a Pro! Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2016. Located at: and  License: CC-BY Attribution.

Adaptions: Changed formatting, Changed title of chapter to Context Clues and Close Reading for Literature, combined chapter with content from Close Reading for Literature, removed Patterns content and exercise.

“Books” image by Wokandapix is in the Public Domain, CC0


Unit 4: Listening and Note-Taking

Learning Objectives

After you have completed this unit you should be able to:

License and Attributions

Content previously copyrighted, published in Blueprint for Success in College: Indispensable Study Skills and Time Management Strategies (by Dave Dillon), now licensed as CC BY Attribution.

CC licensed content, previously shared:
Nissila, Phyllis. How to Learn Like a Pro! Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2016. Located at:  CC-BY Attribution.


Chapter 26: Preparation for Note-Taking

Phyllis Nissila

Non-Verbal Communication

When we think about listening we think about, well, hearing sounds via the ears. However, when it comes to listening in order to pick up key points for note-taking, it takes more than just hearing. In this case, it takes a “critical ear,” that is, absorbing key points by noticing not only the words spoken, but also by noting tones, volume, and even the body language that goes along. Additionally, being an active listener increases a note-taker’s chances of getting the information needed. Exercise 1 illustrates common non-verbal communication.



List as  many non-verbal, emotional cues as you can by studying the faces in the pictures below.



The image below illustrates non-verbal body language. Describe a few poses or body movements one or more of your teachers now, or from the past, takes or has taken that communicates: pay closer attention. It might be from these examples, or something quite different. For example, an instructor might move close to the front row and fold his/her arms to indicate that what he or she will be saying is of a more serious nature. For another example, if he or she moves toward the white board to write something, it’s probably key information.


Active Listening

In previous units, we covered ways that students can actively engage in the learning process in order to get the most out of their education. There are ways to actively listen as well, in order to get the most out of lectures and, more importantly, take all of the notes that might be required. The video in the next exercise covers several active listening strategies along with why we sometimes have difficulty listening.



Watch the TED talk below and answer the following questions:

Video: 5 Ways to Listen Better, Julian Treasure at TED Global 2011

Thumbnail for the embedded element "Julian Treasure: 5 ways to listen better"

A TED element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

  1. What 3 types of listening does the speaker discuss?
  2. How and why have we been “losing our ability to listen,” as the speaker suggests? He cites 5 ways.
  3. What are the 5 tools we can use to listen better?


Taking into consideration all of the activities in the exercises above, write a one-page (250-300 words) reflection on how you can use the information on non-verbal and listening skills to enhance both your ability to pay attention to lectures and to take better notes on them.

Perhaps the most useful learning tools of all are notes taken from both lectures and course materials. By annotating for key information, then condensing it, students create personalized summaries helpful for studying.

Often, students are unsure about what constitutes “key information.” Here is a list of items to highlight or annotate for in textbooks and a list of items to listen for in lectures.

Key Information in Textbooks

The following elements of a textbook chapter are especially important in helping you discern key information:

Key Information in Lectures

As the lecturer, live or video, presents the material, there are two types of key information cues to be aware of.


A speaker will often have unique facial and body nonverbal cues that alert you to several things, as you learn to “read” your professor:


Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, previously shared:

Nissila, Phyllis. How to Learn Like a Pro! Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2016. Located at: and  License: CC-BY Attribution.

Adaptions: Changed formatting, removed emoticon image, embedded Ted Talk video, slight edits for consistency, combined Lessons 4.1 and 4.2, retitled chapter.

Treasure, Julian. “5 Ways to Listen Better.” TEDTalks, July 29, 2011. Located at:
License: CC-BY–NC–ND 4.0 International.

“Universal Emotions” image by Icerko Lýdia is licensed under CC BY 3.0

“Men Silhouette” image by geralt is in the Public Domain, CC0


Chapter 27: Taking Notes in Class

Dave Dillon

“He listens well who takes notes.”

– Dante Alighieri

Take Notes To Remember

If for no other reason, you should take notes during class so that you do not forget valuable and important information. Despite living with incredible search engines on computers and smart phones that give us a plethora of information 24 hours a day, seven days a week, students do not have the ability to access those during exams. Instructors want to know what you know not what Google knows. We’ve become accustomed to searching for information on demand to find what we need when we need it. The consequence is that we don’t often commit information to memory because we know it will be there tomorrow if we wish to search for it again. This causes challenges with preparation for exams as what we’re tested on is in our brain rather than information we can search for. Thus, there is an importance of taking notes. “Note-taking facilitates both recall of factual material and the synthesis and application of new knowledge, particularly when notes are reviewed prior to exams.”

As you may recall from The Basics of Study Skills Chapter, Hermann Ebbinghaus studied the rate of forgetting and formulated his “forgetting curve” theory. Perform a web search for “Ebbinghaus forgetting curve.”

The curve shows that after one month, only 20 percent of information is retained after initial memorization. Without review, 47 percent of learned information is lost after only 20 minutes. After one day, 62 percent of learned information is lost without review.

In order to try to retain information long term, we must move it from our short-term memory to our long-term memory. One of the best ways to do that is through repetition. The more we review information, and the sooner we review once we initially learn it, the more reinforced that information is in our long-term memory.

The first step in being able to review is to take notes when you are originally learning the information. Students who do not take notes in class in the first place will not be able to recall all of the information covered in order to best review.

Taking notes during lectures is a skill, just like riding a bike. If you have never taken notes while someone else is speaking before, it’s important to know that you will not be an expert at it right away. It is challenging to listen to someone speak and then make a note about what they said, while at the same time continuing to listen to their next thought.

When learning to ride a bike, everyone is going to fall. With practice and concentration, we gain confidence and improve our skill. The more we practice, the better we get. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell refers to the “10,000-hour rule.” Based on research by Anders Ericsson, the rule states that 10,000 hours of dedicated practice in your particular field will allow for the greatest potential of mastery. I do not expect you to practice taking notes for 10,000 hours, but the point is that practice, just like many things, is necessary to become more skilled.

Some instructors will give you cues to let you know something is important. If you hear or see one of these cues, it’s something you should write down. This might include an instructor saying, “this is important,” or “this will be covered on the exam.” If you notice an instructor giving multiple examples, repeating information or spending a lot of time with one idea, these may be cues. Writing on the board or presenting a handout or visual information may also be a cue.

There are many different ways to take notes during lectures and I encourage you to find the way that works best for you. Different systems work best for different people. Experiment in different ways to find the most success.

Tips for Taking Notes During the Lecture

Arrive early and find a good seat. Seats in the front and center are best for being able to see and hear information. A seat at the 50-yard line for the Super Bowl is more expensive for a reason: it gives the spectator the greatest experience.

Do not try to write down everything the instructor talks about. It’s impossible and inefficient. Instead, try to distinguish between the most important topics and ideas and write those down. This is also a skill that students can improve upon. You may wish to ask your instructor during office hours if you have identified the main topics in your notes, or compare your notes to one of your classmates.

Use shorthand and/or abbreviations. So long as you will be able to decipher what you are writing, the least amount of pen or pencil strokes, the better. It will free you up so you can pay more attention to the lecture and help you be able to determine what is most important.

Write down what your instructor writes. Anything on a dry erase board, chalkboard, overhead projector and in some cases in presentations; these are cues for important information.

Leave space to add information to your notes. You can use this space during or after lectures to elaborate on ideas.

Do not write in complete sentences. Do not worry about spelling or punctuation. Getting the important information, concepts and main ideas is much more important. You can always revise your notes later and correct spelling.

Often, the most important information is delivered at the beginning and/or the end of a lecture. Many students arrive late or pack up their belongings and mentally check out a few minutes before the lecture ends. They are missing out on the opportunity to write down valuable information. Keep taking notes until the lecture is complete.

The Cornell System

One way of taking notes in class is using the Cornell System. Created in the 1950s by Walter Pauk at Cornell University, the Cornell System is still widely used today. Perform a web search for “Cornell note taking method.”

The note-taking area is for you to use to record notes during lectures.

Students use the column on the left to create questions after the lecture has ended. The questions are based on the material covered. Think of it as a way to quiz yourself. The notes you took should answer the questions you create.

Tips for after the lecture

Consolidate notes as soon as possible after the lecture has ended. Identify the main ideas and underline or highlight them.

Test yourself by looking only at the questions on the left. If you can provide most of the information on the notes side without looking at it, you’re in good shape. If you cannot, keep studying until you improve your retention. Review periodically as needed to keep the information fresh in your mind.

Students use the bottom area for summarizing information. Practice summarizing information — it’s a great study skill. It allows you to determine how information fits together. It should be written in your own words (don’t use the chapter summary in the textbook to write your summary, but check the chapter summary after you write yours for accuracy).

The Outline Method

Another way to take notes is the outline method. Students use an outline to show the relationship between ideas in the lecture. Outlines can help students separate main ideas from supporting details and show how one topic connects to another.

Perform a web search for “outline note taking method” to see what they look like.

Mind Maps

Visual learners may want to experiment with mind maps (also called clustering). Invented by Tony Buzan in the 1960s, it’s another way of organizing information during lectures. Start with a central idea in the center of the paper (landscape is recommended). Using branches (like a tree), supporting ideas can supplement the main idea. Recall everything you can as the lecture is happening. Reorganization can be done later. Perform a web search for mind maps for note-taking.


The most important aspect of reviewing your lecture notes is when your review takes place in relation to when your notes were taken. For maximum efficiency and retention of memory, it’s best to review within 20 minutes of when the lecture ends. For this reason, I do not advise students to take back-to-back classes without 30 minutes in between. It is important to have adequate review time and to give your brain a break. Reviewing shortly after the lecture will allow you to best highlight or underline main points as well as fill in any missing portions of your notes. Students who take lecture notes on a Monday and then review them for the first time a week later often have challenges recalling information that help make the notes coherent.

If you wish to go “above and beyond,” you may consider discussing your notes in a study group with your classmates, which can give you a different perspective on main points and deepen your understanding of the material. You may also want to make flashcards for yourself with vocabulary terms, formulas, important dates, people, places, etc. Online flash cards are another option. Students can make them for free and test themselves online or on their phone.

The Big Picture

Keep in mind that students who know what their instructor is going to lecture on before the lecture are at an advantage. Why? Because the more they understand about what the instructor will be talking about, the easier it is to take notes. How? Take a look at the syllabus before the lecture. It won’t take much time but it can make a world of difference. You will also be more prepared and be able to see important connections if you read your assigned reading before the lecture. It’s not easy to do, but students that do it will be rewarded. If I have read information assigned before the lecture and know what the lecture will be about, I have best prepared myself for taking notes during the lecture and given myself the greatest potential for understanding relationships between the reading material and the lecture.

Licenses and Attributions:

Content previously copyrighted, published in Blueprint for Success in College: Indispensable Study Skills and Time Management Strategies (by Dave Dillon), now licensed as CC BY Attribution.

Adaptations: Changed formatting, removed all copyrighted information, slight edits for consistency.

Deborah DeZure, Matthew Kaplan, and Martha A. Deerman, “Research on Student Notetaking: Implications for Faculty and Graduate Student Instructors,” 2001,
Anders Ericsson et al., “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,” Psychological Review, (Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 1993), 393-394.


Unit 5: Memory Principles and Techniques

Learning Objectives

After you have completed this unit you should be able to:

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, previously shared:
Nissila, Phyllis. How to Learn Like a Pro! Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2016. Located at:  License: CC-BY: Attribution.

Content previously copyrighted, published in Blueprint for Success in College: Indispensable Study Skills and Time Management Strategies (by Dave Dillon), now licensed as CC BY Attribution.


Chapter 28: Memory

Phyllis Nissila and Dave Dillon

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my ax.”

– Abraham Lincoln


An Information Processing Model

Once information has been encoded, we have to retain it. Our brains take the encoded information and place it in storage. Storage is the creation of a permanent record of information.

In order for a memory to go into storage (i.e., long-term memory), it has to pass through three distinct stages: Sensory Memory, Short-Term Memory, and finally Long-Term Memory. These stages were first proposed by Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin (1968). Their model of human memory is based on the belief that we process memories in the same way that a computer processes information.

Learning, Remembering, and Retrieving Information Is Important for Academic Success

The first thing our brains do is to take in information from our senses (what we see, hear, taste, touch and smell). In many classroom and homework settings, we primarily use hearing for lectures and seeing for reading textbooks. Information we perceive from our senses is stored in what we call the short-term memory.

It is useful to then be able to do multiple things with information in the short-term memory. We want to: 1) decide if that information is important; 2) for the information that is important, be able to save the information in our brain on a longer-term basis—this storage is called the long-term memory; 3) retrieve that information when we need to. Exams often measure how effectively the student can retrieve “important information.”

In some classes and with some textbooks it is easy to determine information important to memorize. In other courses with other textbooks, that process may be more difficult. Your instructor can be a valuable resource to assist with determining the information that needs to be memorized. Once the important information is identified, it is helpful to organize it in a way that will help you best understand.

Author’s Story

I do not have a great memory. I write a lot of things down to help me remember. And I have always had to work hard to memorize and study for exams.

In my high school and college years I spent a lot of time cramming the night before the exam. In retrospect, I believe this was partly due to procrastination, partly due to lack of interest in the material, and partly—subconsciously—wanting to perform well on the exam without putting a lot of time into preparation (an attempt to get the maximum of the minimum). Cramming allowed me to store a lot of information in my short-term memory. I would regurgitate information on the exam and then forget nearly all of it shortly thereafter. It is not how learning and education were intended.

My performance on the exams were satisfactory, but I could’ve done much better had I adequately prepared and been disciplined enough to review more frequently. Doing so would have allowed much of that information to enter my long-term memory, which would have had many benefits. Students often believe the information they are learning in classes that are required for general education have little to do with what is needed for them in their future career. However, skills like critical thinking, communication (both oral and written), and literacy are often developed from these courses and are extremely beneficial for the student. Sometimes these skills are acquired without the student realizing it! This makes for a better student, better person and better member of society.

In addition, I would love to be able to recall information from some classes I took in high school and college, but cannot because the information never entered my long-term memory. I did some of it the wrong way and hope that you do not make the same mistake. Students who take in information by gradually reviewing and memorizing over a longer period of time and can store more information in their long-term memory will be able to access it long after the course they are taking is over.

Moving Information from the Short-term Memory To the Long-term Memory

This is something that takes a lot of time: there is no shortcut for it. Students who skip putting in the time and work often end up cramming at the end.

Preview the information you are trying to memorize. The more familiar you are with what you are learning, the better. Create acronyms like SCUBA for memorizing “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.” Organizing information in this way can be helpful because it is not as difficult to memorize the acronym, and with practice and repetition, the acronym can trigger the brain to recall the entire piece of information.

Flash cards are a valuable tool for memorization because they allow students to be able to test themselves. They are convenient to bring with you anywhere, and can be used effectively whether a student has one minute or an hour.

Once information is memorized, regardless of when the exam is, the last step is to apply the information. Ask yourself: In what real world scenarios could you apply this information? And for mastery, try to teach the information to someone else.

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, previously shared:

Nissila, Phyllis. How to Learn Like a Pro! Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2016. Located at:  CC-BY: Attribution.

Adaptions: Changed formatting, removed image, removed pre-test link, removed exercises.

“How memory functions” by OpenStax is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Content previously copyrighted, published in Blueprint for Success in College: Indispensable Study Skills and Time Management Strategies (by Dave Dillon), now licensed as CC BY Attribution.


Chapter 29: Concentration and Distraction

Dave Dillon

concentration. n. exclusive attention to one object.


Where To Study

In order to study successfully, students must learn to concentrate at a high level. It is important to know where we study best. Some students study well at home. Other students study well at a library or coffee shop. There is no best for all. Your best environment is based on you and your preferences.

Watch this selective attention test video and see if you come up with the correct answer.

Video: Selective Attention Test, Daniel Simmons

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A YouTube element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

When To Study

It is also important to know when we study best. Many students are most efficient studying in the morning when they are fresh. Studying late in the day may be the only option for some students but often we are tired at the end of the day, and this can have a major effect on study efficiency. Figuring out where and when we study best may take some time. And even when we find the best place and time to study, we also have to be aware of distractions, which can be internal or external.

Internal Distractions

An internal distraction includes thought processes, self-esteem, or confidence. It’s something that interrupts you from what you’re doing. It might also be a computer or cell phone – something that is controlled by you. Many students intend to study but easily get distracted with surfing the Internet, checking social media, watching YouTube videos, or receiving a text message. If you don’t absolutely need your computer or cell phone for your study, it is my suggestion to not bring them or turn them off. If you do study with your phone or computer, it is best to have all potential alerts turned off. Notifications of text messages, emails, or social media updates all can serve as a major distraction to your studying.

External Distractions

External distractions might be your roommates, family or friends. Even if they are supportive of your study, it may be challenging to concentrate when they are around. Saying “no” is an important skill that may need to be utilized in order for you to have your study time without interruption.

Keep in mind that it may take 20 minutes to reach a high level of concentration. When we are interrupted, it takes on average another 23 minutes to get back to the level of concentration that we were at prior to the disruption. If a student is studying for an hour and is interrupted twice, the consequence to study efficiency is devastating.

One way to try to monitor how many interruptions you incur and how well you maintain your level of concentration is to keep track of it. Take a blank piece of paper when you are studying and mark down each time you were interrupted.

Over time, with practice, you should be able to decrease the number of interruptions you incur. This will allow you to be most efficient when studying.

I always find it odd to think that before mobile phones, we invented the answering machine. Its purpose was to allow us to receive a message when someone called if we were not home or it was not convenient to answer the phone at the time. In contrast, text messaging is designed in most cases (user’s notification preferences) to interrupt us and alert us immediately that someone has contacted us. Whatever your opinion may be on this, my point is to tread cautiously when using technology that may be addicting and may frequently (consciously or unconsciously) distract you from studying and concentrating.

Author’s Story

When I was a first-year student in college, I lived in the dormitories and enjoyed socializing with my friends. I didn’t want to miss out on any social interaction opportunities, so I waited to study after everyone else was asleep. I regularly studied from midnight to two or three in the morning. I would not ordinarily suggest this for most students. It worked for me because I did not have any early morning classes or work. I took my classes in the late morning and afternoon, worked in the afternoon, and attended basketball practices in the afternoon or early evening. I was able to stay awake and concentrate well at that age and also be able to get adequate sleep. However, if I was studying for an exam or doing the heavy work on a paper, I would do it in the morning because that was when I concentrated the best. Now, almost two decades after college, as someone who works full time and takes care of two young children, there is no way I could stay up that late and be productive on a regular basis. It’s important to find out what works best for you, and it’s also important to understand how the environment you are in effects your concentration ability.


Millennials are considered extraordinary multitaskers, though brain science tells us that multitasking is a myth. More likely, they are apt to switch tasks quickly enough to appear to be doing them simultaneously. When it comes to heavy media multitasking, studies show greater vulnerability to interference, leading to decreased performance.

My classes have had lively discussions on multitasking. Most of the time, I am able to convince students that multitasking is not a good idea for them. (There are always a few stubborn hold outs). Trying to do multiple things at the same time may seem like it may allow you to accomplish more but when studying it often leads to accomplishing less. There are things that I think can be successfully multitasked. I could throw clothes in the washer and make a snack, then eat and read a book at the same time while waiting for the clothes to be washed. But if I try to text, check e-mail, watch TV and look at my Twitter timeline all while studying, it won’t work well.

A study from Carnegie Mellon University found that driving while listening to a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent. Why would anyone choose to use less brain activity when they study?

Licenses and Attributions:

Content previously copyrighted, published in Blueprint for Success in College: Indispensable Study Skills and Time Management Strategies (by Dave Dillon), now licensed as CC BY Attribution.

All rights reserved content:
Simons, Daniel. “Selective Attention Test.” March 10, 2010. 1:21. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.

Gloria Mark, Daniela Gudith, and Ulrich Kiocke, “The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress,” 2008,
Jim Taylor, “Technology: Myth of Multitasking,” 2011, Psychology Today,
Eyal Ophir, Clifford Nass, and Anthony D. Wagner, “Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2009,
Byron Spice, Timothy Keller, and Jacquelyn Cynkar, “Carnegie Mellon Study Shows Just Listening To Cell Phones Significantly Impairs Drivers,” (Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Mellon, 2008).


Unit 6: Test-Taking Strategies

Learning Objectives

After you have completed this unit you should be able to:

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, previously shared:

Nissila, Phyllis. How to Learn Like a Pro! Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2016. Located at:  CC-BY Attribution.


Chapter 30: Pre- Mid- and Post-Test-Taking Strategies

Phyllis Nissila

Pre-Test Strategies

chalkboard with "anxiety" written on it
“Anxiety” by HAMZA BUTT is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Q: When should you start preparing for the first test? Circle…

  1. The night before.
  2. The week prior.
  3. The first day of classes.

If you answered “3. The first day of classes,” you are correct. If you circled all three, you are also correct. Preparing to pass tests is something that begins when learning begins and continues all the way through to the final exam.

Many students, however, don’t start thinking about test taking, whether weekly exams, mid-terms, or finals, until the day before when they engage in an all-nighter, or cramming. From the previous unit on memory, you might recall that the brain can only process an average of 5-7 new pieces of information at a time. Additionally, unless memory devices are used to aid memory and to cement information into long term memory (or at least until the test is over tomorrow!) chances are slim that students who cram will effectively learn and remember the information.

Additionally, a lot of students are unaware of the many strategies available to help with the test-taking experience before, during, and after. For starters, take a look at what has helped you so far.


Pre-Test Taking Strategies


Put a check mark next to the pre-test strategies you already employ.

____ Organize your notebook and other class materials the first week of classes.

____ Maintain your organized materials throughout the term.

____ Take notes on key points from lectures and other materials.

____ Make sure you understand the information as you go along.

____ Access your instructor’s help and the help of a study group, as needed.

____ Organize a study group, if desired.

____ Create study tools such as flashcards, graphic organizers, etc. as study aids.

____ Complete all homework assignments on time.

____ Review likely test items several times beforehand.

____ Ask your instructor what items are likely to be covered on the test.

____ Ask your instructor if she or he can provide a study guide or practice test.

____ Ask your instructor if he/she gives partial credit for test items such as essays.

____ Maintain an active learner attitude.

____ Schedule extra study time in the days just prior to the test.

____ Gather all notes, handouts, and other materials needed before studying.

____ Review all notes, handouts, and other materials.

____ Organize your study area for maximum concentration and efficiency.

____ Create and use mnemonic devices to aid memory.

____ Put key terms, formulas, etc., on a single study sheet that can be quickly reviewed.

____ Schedule study times short enough (1-2 hours) so you do not get burned out.

____ Get plenty of sleep the night before.

____ Set a back-up alarm in case the first alarm doesn’t sound or you sleep through it.

____ Have a good breakfast with complex carbs and protein to see you through.

____ Show up 5-10 minutes early to get completely settled before the test begins.

____ Use the restroom beforehand to minimize distractions.


By reviewing the pre-test strategies, above, you have likely discovered new ideas to add to what you already use. Make a list of them.

Mid-Test Strategies

Here is a list of the most common–and useful–strategies to survive this ubiquitous college experience.

Post-Test Strategies

In addition to sighing that big sigh of relief, here are a few suggestions to help with future tests.


Write a letter of advice to Chen incorporating 10 test-taking tips and strategies you think will help him.

Chen believes he is good at organization, and he usually is–for about the first two weeks of classes. He then becomes overwhelmed with all of the handouts and materials and tends to start slipping in the organization department. When it comes to tests, he worries that his notes might not cover all of the right topics and that he will not be able to remember all of the key terms and points–especially for his math class. During tests, he sometimes gets stuck on an item and tends to spend too much time there.  He also sometimes changes answers but finds out later that his original selection was correct. Chen is also easily distracted by other students and noises which makes it hard for him to concentrate sometimes, and, unfortunately, he does admit to occasionally “cramming” the night before.

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, previously shared:

Nissila, Phyllis. How to Learn Like a Pro! Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2016. Located at:  CC-BY Attribution.

Adaptions: Changed formatting, removed one exercise.

“Anxiety” image by HAMZA BUTT is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Chapter 31: Test-Taking Strategy Specifics

Dave Dillon

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

– Benjamin Franklin

Discipline, Preparation and Execution

From what I have seen in my own educational experiences, along with coaching and teaching at the college and university level for over 20 years, test taking (with few exceptions) comes down to discipline, preparation and execution. Students wanting to be successful have to have the self-discipline to schedule time to study well in advance of the exam. They have to actually do the work: the preparation needed in order to have the best opportunity for success on the exam. Then they must execute: they have to be able to apply their preparation accordingly and perform well on the exam.

Preparation for an exam is not glamorous. It’s easy to find other things to do that are more interesting and fun. Students need to keep themselves motivated with their “eyes on the prize.” Think of it like this: if the most important event of your life was coming up and you wanted to perform to the best of your ability in that event, you would likely spend some time preparing for it, rehearsing for it, practicing it, etc. A student may argue that an exam they will be taking would not be the most important event of their life, but think back to the chapter on Passion. If you’re already spending the time, effort, energy and money to attend college, why not do it to the best of your ability?

It would be beneficial to spread this preparation and practice out over time and prepare periodically rather than to wait until the last minute and binge study or cram. Your preparation would not be the same and this may affect your test score. Binge studying and cramming also are not healthy. Staying up late puts stress on our brain and body, and not getting adequate sleep places our bodies at risk for getting sick.

“One of the most important keys to success is having the discipline to do what you know you should do, even when you don’t feel like doing it.”

– Unknown

“The will to succeed is important, but what’s more important is the will to prepare.”

– Bobby Knight

Everyone wants to be successful. When the exam is passed out, everyone wants to perform well. But what often separates successful students and less successful students is the preparation time put in.

Studying the right thing is a process and a skill. As you gain more experience, you will learn how to become better at knowing what to study. It can be very frustrating to spend a lot of time preparing and studying and then finding out that what you studied was not on the exam. You will see a lot of variance with exams due to different instructors, classes and types of tests. The better you become at predicting what will be on the exam and study accordingly, the better you will perform on your exams. Try placing yourself in your instructor’s shoes and design questions you think your instructor would ask. It’s often an eye-opening experience for students and a great study strategy.

Preparation for Exam Strategies

Find out as much about the exam in advance as you can.

Some professors will tell you how many questions there will be, what format the exam will be in, how much time you will have, etc., and others will not. I encourage students to ask questions about the exam if there is not information given. I also encourage students to ask those questions before class, after class, in professors’ office hours or via e-mail rather than during class.

Know the test

If you know how many questions, what the format is, and/or how much time you will have, you can start to mentally prepare for the exam much more so than if you are coming in with no information. There are two more important aspects that you may or may not know: a) what will be covered or asked on the exam; b) how the exam will be scored. Obviously, the more you know about what will be covered, the easier it is for you to be able to prepare for the exam. Most exam scoring is standardized, but not always.

Look for opportunities where some areas of the exam are worth more points than others. For example: An exam consists of 21 questions, with 10 being True/False, 10 being multiple choice, and one essay question. The T/F questions are worth 1 point each (10 points), the multiple-choice questions are worth 2 points each (20 points), and the essay question is worth 30 points. We know that the essay question is the most valuable (it is worth half of the value of the exam). And we should allocate our time for it accordingly. I would advise starting with the essay question. Do a quick analysis of time to be able to spend your time on the exam wisely. You want to spend some time with the exam question since it is so valuable, without sacrificing adequate time to ensure the T/F and multiple-choice questions are answered.

Often, the order of the exam in this scenario will be: T/F first, multiple choice second and essay third. Most students will go in the chronological order of the exam, but a savvy student would start with the essay. If an exam were to last for 30 minutes with this format of questions, I might recommend a student spent 15 minutes on the essay question, ten minutes on the multiple choice, three minutes on the T/F and two minutes reviewing their answer.

Also, look for situations where exams penalize students for incorrectly answering a question. This does not occur very often, but is the case with some exams. With the SAT for example, students are awarded one point for a correct answer and ¼ of a point subtracted for an incorrect answer. Points are not awarded nor subtracted for leaving a question blank. Thus, the strategy for a multiple-choice question is: if you can narrow down the potentially correct answer to two rather than four or five, it is statistically advantageous to answer the question and guess between the two answers; however, if a student had no idea if any of the answers were correct or incorrect, it would be best to leave the answer blank. Remember, this is rare, but it is important to understand the strategy when students take these exams.

In conclusion, the more information you have about the exam, the better you can prepare for content, allocation of time spent on aspects of the exam, and the more confident you will be in knowing how and when to attempt to answer questions.

Take care of your body

Before the exam, it is important to prepare your brain and body for optimal performance for your exam. Do not cram the night before. Get a good night’s sleep. Make sure you eat (nutritiously) before the exam. I recommend exercising the day before and if possible a few hours before the exam.

Strategies for Specific Exam Formats

True or False Questions

Look for qualifiers. A qualifier is a word that is absolute. Examples are: all, never, no, always, none, every, only, entirely. They are often seen in false statements. This is because it is more difficult to create a true statement using a qualifier like never, no, always, etc. For example, “All cats chase mice.” Cats may be known for chasing mice, but not all of them do so. The answer here is false and the qualifier “all” gave us a tip. Qualifiers such as: sometimes, many, some, most, often, and usually are commonly found in true statements. For example: “Most cats chase mice.” This is true and the qualifier “most” gave us a tip.

Make sure to read the entire statement. All parts of a sentence must be true if the whole statement is to be true. If one part of it is false, the whole sentence is false. Long sentences are often false for this reason.

Students should guess on True or False questions they do not know the answer to unless there is a penalty for an incorrect answer.

Multiple Choice Questions

Think of multiple choice questions as four (or five) true or false statements in one. One of the statements is true (the correct answer) and the others will be false. Apply the same strategy toward qualifiers. If you see an absolute qualifier in one of the answer choices, it is probably false and not the correct answer. Try to identify the true statement. If you can do this, you have the answer as there is only one. If you cannot do this at first, try eliminating answers you know to be false.

If there is no penalty for incorrect answers, my suggestion is to guess if you are not certain of the answer. If there is a penalty for incorrect answers, common logic is to guess if you can eliminate two of the answers as incorrect (pending what the penalty is). If there’s a penalty and you cannot narrow down the answers, it’s best to leave it blank. You may wish to ask your instructor for clarification.

Answers that are strange and unrelated to the question are usually false. If two answers have a word that looks or sounds similar, one of those is usually correct. For example: abductor/ adductor. If you see these as two of the four or five choices, one of them is usually correct. Also look for answers that are grammatically incorrect. These are usually incorrect answers. If you have to completely guess, choose B or C. It is statistically proven to be correct more than 25 percent of the time. If there are four answers for each question, and an exam had standardized the answers, each answer on the exam A, B, C and D would be equal. But most instructors do not standardize their answers, and more correct answers are found in the middle (B and C then the extremes A and D or E). “People writing isolated four-choice questions hide the correct answer in the two middle positions about 70% of the time.” This is 20 percent more correct answers found in B or C than a standardized exam with equal correct answers for each letter.

Matching Questions

Although less common than the other types of exams, you will likely see some matching exams during your time in college. First, read the instructions and take a look at both lists to determine what the items are and their relationship. It is especially important to determine if both lists have the same number of items and if all items are to be used, and used only once.

Matching exams become much more difficult if one list has more items than the other or if items either might not be used or could be used more than once. If your exam instructions do not discern this, you may wish to ask your instructor for further clarification. I advise students to take a look at the whole list before selecting an answer because a more correct answer may be found further into the list. Mark items when you are sure you have a match (pending the number of items in the list this may eliminate answers for the future). Guessing (if needed) should take place once you have selected answers you are certain about.

Short-Answer Questions

Read all of the instructions first. Budget your time and then read all of the questions. Answer the ones you know best or feel the most confident with. Then go back to the other ones. If you do not know the answer and there is no penalty for incorrect answers, guess. Use common sense. Sometimes instructors will award partial credit for a logical answer that is related even if it is not the correct answer.

Essay Questions

Keep in mind that knowing the format of the exam can help you determine how to study. If I know that I am taking a True-False exam, I know that I will need to discern whether a statement is True or False. I will need to know subject content for the course. But if I am studying for short answer and especially for essay questions, I must know a lot more. For essay questions, I must have much greater content knowledge and be able to make a coherent argument that answers the question using information from textbooks, lectures or other course materials. I have to place a lot more time and thought into studying for an essay exam than for True-False or Multiple-Choice exams.

Read the essay question(s) and the instructions first. Plan your time wisely and organize your answer before you start to write. Address the answer to the question in your first or second sentence. It may help to restate the original question. Write clearly and legibly. Instructors have difficulty grading essays that they cannot read. Save some time for review when you have finished writing to check spelling, grammar and coherent thought in your answer. Make sure you have addressed all parts of the essay question.

During the Exam:

Always read the directions first. Read them thoroughly.

Preview the exam to help you allocate proper time for each area.

Skip questions if you do not know the answer but make a mark somewhere to ensure you are able to go back to those questions (you may need to reallocate your prepared time for this depending on how many there are).

Allocate some time to review your answers before submitting your exam or the exam time expiring.

One of the biggest mistakes that students make after they take an exam in a course is that they do not use the exam for the future. The exam contains a lot of information that can be helpful in studying for future exams. Students that perform well on an exam often put it away thinking they do not need it anymore. Students who do poorly on an exam often put it away, not wanting to think about it any further.

In both cases, students are missing out on the value of reviewing their exams. It is wise to review exams for three reasons: 1) students should review the answers that were correct because they may see those questions on future exams and it is important to reinforce learning; 2) students should review the answers that were incorrect in order to learn what the correct answer was and why. These questions also may appear on a future exam. In addition, occasionally an answer is marked incorrect, when it should have been marked correct. The student would never know this if they didn’t review their exam; and 3) there is value in reviewing the exam to try to predict what questions or what format will be used by a professor for a future exam in the same course.

Author’s Story

What does it mean to be a “poor test taker?” Think about that. Does it mean that the student has put effort into studying but has difficulty under pressure? Does it mean that a student studies the wrong material? Is the student prepared but does not execute well? Could the student have a learning disability? Are they missing key strategies for taking tests? It could mean any of those things. And while I believe that it may be true that a student may be a “poor test taker,” it does not by any means mean it is permanent. Students willing to work hard and learn can improve their test taking skills and raise their confidence.

In high school chemistry, I earned a D grade. In microeconomics at UC Santa Cruz, I struggled and barely passed. Both of these classes had grading systems that were heavily weighted by exams. I was an above average student in my other classes in both high school and college, and so I was told (and believed for a long time) that I was not a “good test taker.” I no longer believe this. I will not make excuses. The responsibility for the grade I earned rests solely with me. I mention this because many students come to my office and complain that their professor grades in a way that is unfair to them because so much emphasis is on exams and that they understand the material but are “not good test takers.” It may be the case that my grade or another students’ grade would have been better had the course grade been determined with less weight levied to exams. That to me is irrelevant. It does not absolve me from being responsible for knowing what the grading metrics were at the beginning of the course and choosing to continue in the course after learning this knowledge. In the end, I realized I was not a poor test taker and that I needed to spend more time studying and preparing to perform well on exams. I changed my attitude from being afraid of exams to one of believing I was going to do well regardless of the class or the format of the exam. Once I had confidence that I had the necessary tools and was willing to work hard, it changed my entire perspective and experience with exams.

Note: if you think you may have a learning disability and would like to get assessed, contact your college to see what steps to follow to begin the assessment process.

Mike Krzyzewski, point guard at Army in basketball jersey with Bob Knight, coach at Army Academy in 1960's.
Mike Krzyzewski, point guard at Army with Bob Knight, coach at Army.

Thinking about excuses reminds me of a story about Mike Krzyzewski, the successful Duke University men’s basketball coach. Before Krzyzewski coached, he was a student at the United States Military Academy at West Point. One day in his first year, Krzyzweski and his roommate were walking and his roommate stepped in a puddle. Mud splashed onto Krzyzewski’s uniform. Immediately, an upperclassman screamed at Krzyzewski about not knowing the rules of wearing a clean uniform. Plebes (first-year students at military academies) are allowed three answers when asked a question: “Yes sir!” “No sir!” And “No excuse sir!” Krzyzewski repeated himself, “No excuse sir!” Despite wanting to explain what had happened and that it was not his fault, he realized that there was no excuse. It was his responsibility to keep a clean uniform.

Licenses and Attributions:

Content previously copyrighted, published in Blueprint for Success in College: Indispensable Study Skills and Time Management Strategies (by Dave Dillon), now licensed as CC BY Attribution.

Yigal Attali and Maya Bar-Hillel, “Guess Where: The Position of Correct Answers in Multiple-Choice Test Items as a Psychometric Variable,” Journal of Educational Measurement 40 no. 2 (2003):109-128.


Unit 7: Career Exploration

Learning Objectives

After you have completed this unit you should be able to:

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Original:

Beiderwell, Bruce , Linda F. Tse, Tom Lochhaas, and Nicholas B. deKanter. “College Success”. Lumen Learning. 2016. Located at: sources in Career Exploration Unit beginning with The Big Picture chapter and beginning of all Career Exploration Unit chapters). License: CC BY: Attribution.


Chapter 32: Words of Wisdom: Learn What You Don’t Want

Jamie Edwards

Jamie Edwards

For a long time, my plan had always been to be a kindergarten teacher. But when I began my undergraduate degree I fell into that ever-growing pool of college students who changed their major three times before graduation. I was swayed by family members, my peers, and the economy, but I eventually realized that I was investing my education in the wrong areas for the wrong reasons. It shouldn’t just be about salaries and job security. I needed to find that personal attachment.

At eighteen, it’s hard to see your entire life spread out before you. College may feel like a free-for-all at times, but the reality is that it’s one of the most defining times of our lives. It should never be squandered. I started to imagine my life beyond college—what I found important and the type of lifestyle I wanted in the end. I started thinking about the classes that I was actually interested in—the ones that I looked forward to each week and arrived early just so I could get a seat up front.

A turning point for me was when I took the advice of a campus mentor and enrolled in a career exploration course. I learned more about myself in that class than I had in my entire three years at college prior to taking it. It showed me that my passion was something I had always thought about but never thought about as a career. In high school, I could sit in the Guidance Office for hours on end. I enjoyed listening to others—hearing and helping people work through their struggles.

I had seen firsthand how detrimental the absence of career classes can be to someone’s future. Through this realization and my participation in my career exploration class, I saw a viable future in the Higher Education Administration field. As I dove deeper, I was opened to an incredible amount of unique and diverse opportunities to work with students. My main approach was to get a taste anything to do with student services: I shadowed a career counselor in a career services office, attended graduate school fairs and informational sessions, discussed the Higher Education Administration Program with several staff at my college, and most importantly, I talked with my internship coordinator (my mentor). From there, I completed an internship in my prospective field, which gave me a wealth of insight and skills that directly related to my future career goals.

From where I sit now—my former personal and professional struggles in tow—I offer up some pieces of advice that were crucial to getting me where I am today. Whether you’re an undecided major who is looking for guidance or a student with a clearly defined career path, I suggest the following:

  1. Find a mentor—For me, everything began there. Without my mentor, I wouldn’t have done any of the other items I’m about to suggest. Finding the right mentor is crucial. Look for someone who can complement your personality (typically someone who’s the opposite of you). My advice would be to look beyond your direct supervisor for mentorship. It’s important to create an open forum with your mentor, because there may be a conflict of interest as you discuss work issues and other job opportunities. Potential mentors to consider are an instructor on campus, your academic advisor, a professional currently working in your prospective field, someone you admire in your community, or anyone in your network of friends or family that you feel comfortable discussing your future goals with.
  2. Enroll in a Career Exploration/Planning course, or something similar—Even if you do not see the effects of this course immediately (such as dramatically changing your major), you will notice the impact down the road. Making educated career choices and learning job readiness skills will always pay off in the end. Through my career exploration class, I learned how to relate my personality and values to potential career fields. These self-assessments changed my entire thought process, and I see that influence daily. Beyond changing the way you think, the knowledge you gain about effective job search strategies is invaluable. Learning how to write purposeful résumés and cover letters, finding the right approach to the interview process, and recognizing your strengths and weaknesses are just a few of the benefits you can gain from these types of courses.
  3. Complete a Job Shadow and/or Informational Interview—No amount of online research is going to give you the same experience as seeing a job at the front line. In a job shadow or an informational interview, you’re able to explore options with no commitment and see how your in-class experience can carry over to a real world setting. Additionally, you’re expanding your professional network by having that personal involvement. You never know how the connections you make might benefit you in the future. My only regret about job shadowing in college is that I didn’t do it sooner.
  4. Do an Internship—A main source of frustration for recent grads is the inability to secure an entry-level position without experience. “How do I get a job to gain experience when I can’t get a job without experience?” This is how: do an internship or two! Most colleges even have a course where you can obtain credit for doing it! Not only will you earn credits towards graduation, but you’ll gain the necessary experience to put on your résumé and to discuss in future interviews. Having completed four internships throughout my college career, I can’t say they were all great. However, I don’t regret a single one. The first one showed me the type of field I didn’t want to work in. The second confirmed that I was heading in the right direction with my career. My third and fourth internships introduced me to completely different areas of higher education which broadened my knowledge and narrowed my search simultaneously.

My takeaway is that sometimes you have to learn what you don’t want in order to find out what you do want. The more informed you are about career options through real life conversations and experiences, the better prepared you will be for your future and the more confident you will be in your career decisions. Always explore your options because even if you learn you hate it, at least you’re one step closer to finding what you love.

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:

Edwards, Jamie, “Learn What You Don’t Want.” In Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom, edited by Thomas Priester. Located at:  License: CC BY: Attribution.


Chapter 33: The Big Picture

Lumen Learning and Linda (Bruce) Hill

“Stay focused, go after your dreams, and keep moving toward your goals.”

– LL Cool J

College and Career: Key Connections

Think back to the time when you first began to contemplate college. Do you remember specific thoughts? Were you excited about the idea? What began to draw you into the web of college life? What compels you to be here now?

In this topic on career and college readiness, we examine key connections between your motivations to be in college and your ultimate success in achieving your goals. We also examine how your college experience prepares you for a specific career, as well as for attaining general skills that you can apply to multiple pursuits.

Activity: Motivations for Attending College


  • Review some of the many motivations students have for entering college.
  • Identify your personal motivations as pathways to achieving goals.


  • Review the table below, which lists various motivations cited by other students.
  • Identify your main motivations, and rank your top five.
  • Reflect on your selections in terms of how they connect with short-term and long-term plans for the future.

Understanding your motivations is essential to helping you not only prioritize your plans for the future but also gain inspiration about directions you may not have yet charted. Ultimately, your motivations for being in college align you with roadways to fulfilling your goals and ambitions.

Gain more qualifications in my field
Increase my earning potential; make more money
Challenge myself
Show others that I can succeed
Start an independent life
Satisfy my curiosity
Have fun
Change my career
Do what my parents were not able to do
Find a better lifestyle
Build my confidence
Expand my social contacts; bond with new friends
Improve my network of business associates
Gain exposure to a wide array of topics
Attend campus events
Make my family happy
Fulfill my dreams
Take classes at home or work or anywhere
Take advantage of campus resources like the library and gym
Join a sports team
Join campus organizations
Spend my time during retirement
Have continued support via alumni programs
Learn to study and work on my own
Gain access to professors
Link up with people who already excel in the ways I aspire to
Get sports spirit
Gain more access to entertainment like theater and bands
Be more productive in life
Explore myself
Become well versed in many subjects
Dig deeper into learning than I did in high school
Expand my knowledge of the world

Am I College and Career Ready?

Knowing what you truly want to gain from your college experience is the first step toward achieving it. However, reaching your goals does not necessarily mean you are college and career ready.

What does it mean to be ready for college and a career? In general, you are a college- and career-ready student if you have gained the necessary knowledge, skills, and professional behaviors to achieve at least one of the following:

For instance, if you are studying for a skilled trade license in college, or perhaps pursuing a bachelor of arts degree, you are college-ready if you have the reading, writing, mathematics, social, and thinking skills to qualify for and succeed in the academic program of your choice.

Similarly, you are a career-ready student if you have the necessary knowledge and technical skills needed to be employed in your desired field. For example, if you are a community college student ready to be a nurse, you possess the knowledge and skill needed to secure an entry-level nursing position, and you also possess required licensing.

“Ultimately, college and career readiness demands students know more than just content, but demonstrate that they know how to learn and build upon that content to solve problems. They must develop versatile communication skills, work collaboratively and work competitively in a school or work environment. Ensuring that you possess both the academic and technical know-how necessary for a career beyond the classroom is a great step toward succeeding on whatever path you choose.”

– Washington, DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education


College and Career Readiness in Your State

So where are you on the readiness scale? You can find out how your state measures your readiness. Visit the Interactive State Map at the College and Career Readiness and Success Center of the American Institutes for Research Web site. The map leads you to definitions of college and career readiness for your state. It also provides metrics to measure readiness. And it provides information about programs and structures to help you and educators. You can compare states across one or more categories.

Student Voices on Being College and Career Ready

In the following video, a number of high school students and recent graduates reflect on college and career readiness and their futures. As you view the video, be thinking about how your short-term goals can connect with longer-range ambitions. You might also reflect on how your deepening experiences in college can lead to achieving your longer-term goals. After all, each new experience in your life builds upon the last. You may never truly “arrive” at a destination if indeed your life is an ongoing journey.

Video: Student Voices: What Does it Mean to be College and Career Ready?

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The Marriage of College and Career

The oldest institution of higher learning in the United States is widely acknowledged to be Harvard University. It was established in 1636 with the aim of providing instruction in arts and sciences to qualify students for employment. In the 1779 Constitution of Massachusetts submitted by Samuel Adams, John Adams, and James Bowdoin to the full Massachusetts Convention, the following language was used:

Art. I.—Whereas our wise and pious ancestors, so early as the year one thousand six hundred and thirty six, laid the foundation of Harvard-College, in which University many persons of great eminence have, by the blessing of GOD, been initiated in those arts and sciences, which qualified them for public employments, both in Church and State . . .

Is “public employment” preparation still the goal of higher education institutions today? Indeed, it is certainly one of the many goals! College is also an opportunity for students to grow personally and intellectually. In fact, in a 2011 Pew Research Center survey, Americans were split on their perceptions of the main purpose of a college education:

These statistics are understandable in light of the great reach and scope of higher education institutions. Today, there are some 5,300 colleges and universities in the United States, offering every manner of education and training to students.

What do employers think about the value of a college education? What skills do employers seek in their workforce? In 2014, Hart Research Associates conducted a survey on behalf of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. The survey revealed that the majority of employers believe that having field-specific knowledge as well as a broad range of knowledge and skills is important for recent college graduates to achieve long-term career success.

Employers also said that when they hire, they place the greatest value on skills and knowledge that cut across all majors. The learning outcomes they rate as most important include written and oral communication skills, teamwork skills, ethical decision-making, critical thinking, and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings.

Employment Rates and Salaries

Consider, too, the following statistics on employment rates and salaries for college graduates. College does make a big difference!

Perhaps most important, an overwhelming majority of college graduates—86 percent—say that college has been a good investment for them personally (PEW).

Differences in Earnings between States

You may wish to use this Earnings and Educational Attainment (2011) interactive table to see how earnings for college graduates vs. high school–only graduates in your state compare with those in other states.

All in all, college imparts a wide and deep range of benefits. The short video Why College, below, shows that with a college degree you are more likely to


Video: Why College?

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Success in college can be measured in many ways: through your own sense of what is important to you; through your family’s sense of what is important; through your institution’s standards of excellence; through the standards established by your state and country; through your employer’s perceptions about what is needed in the workplace; training for and becoming an entrepreneur, small business owner, or your own boss; and in many respects through your own unfolding goals, dreams, and ambitions.

How are you striving to achieve your goals? And how will you measure your success along the way?

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Original:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:

All rights reserved content:

  • “Why College?”, uploaded by OregonGEARUP. 2012. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.

Public domain content:

Adaptions: Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom essay removed (exists elsewhere in this work), relocated learning objectives, removed Earnings and unemployment rates by educational attainment graph, updated footnote references, modified footnote formatting. Removed job fair image.


“What Does College and Career Readiness Mean?,” Office of the State Superintendent of Education, accessed April 26, 2018,
“Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success,” Association of American Colleges & Universities, Hart Research Associates, 2015,
“Employment and Unemployment Rates by Educational Attainment,” 2016,
“Is College Worth It?,” Pew Social Trends, Pew Research Centers Social Demographic Trends Project RSS, 2011,


Chapter 34: Career Paths

Lumen Learning and Linda (Bruce) Hill

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep
looking. Don’t settle.”

–Steve Jobs

Pursuing Your Professional Interests

One of the most widely known and successful American entrepreneurs of all time is Steve Jobs. He is best known as the cofounder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Apple, Inc. He also cofounded Pixar Animation Studios, and he was a member of the board of directors of the Walt Disney Company. Four hundred eighty-four inventions bear Jobs’s name.

From early on in his life, Jobs was interested in electronics. When he was thirteen, for instance, he worked at the Hewlett Packard factory, which developed hardware and software components. Jobs later reflected on how he landed this job when he called Mr. Hewlett to ask for parts for an electronics project: “[Hewlett] didn’t know me at all, but he ended up giving me some parts and he got me a job that summer working at Hewlett-Packard on the line, assembling frequency counters . . . well, assembling may be too strong. I was putting in screws. It didn’t matter; I was in heaven.”

Jobs’s electronics and computing career quickly unfolded as he pursued his passion for creating and promoting computing products. At age nineteen, he was a technician for Atari, a leading electronics, gaming and home-computer corporation. By twenty-one, he and his two partners had formed Apple, Inc. At thirty-four, he was named “Entrepreneur of the Decade” by Inc. magazine. And at fifty-two, he was inducted into the California Hall of Fame by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

All in all, Jobs was relentless about pursuing his interests and passions. The products he and his associates developed have transformed modern culture, including the iMac, iTunes, Apple Stores, the iPod, the iTunes Store, the iPhone, the App Store, the iPad, the Mac OS, and the Mac OS X.

This story of Steve Jobs’s professional pursuits illustrates a dream, a goal, and an ambition that many college students share: to be successful in earning money and finding personal satisfaction in employment. His story also illustrates how opportunities are all around us and how random events aren’t always so random.

In this section, we explore strategies that can help you chart your professional path and also attain ample reward. We begin by comparing and contrasting jobs and careers. We then look at how to match up your personal characteristics with a specific field or fields. We conclude by detailing a process for actually choosing your career. Throughout, you will find resources for learning more about this vast topic of planning for employment.

Job vs. Career

What is the difference between a job and a career? Do you plan to use college to help you seek one or the other?

There is no right or wrong answer, because motivations for being in college are so varied and different for each student, but you can take maximum advantage of your time in college if you develop a clear plan for what you want to accomplish. The table below shows some differences between a job and a career.

Definitions A job refers to the work a person performs for a living. It can also refer to a specific task done as part of the routine of one’s occupation. A person can begin a job by becoming an employee, or by volunteering, for example, by starting a business or becoming a parent. A career is an occupation (or series of jobs) that you undertake for a significant period of time in your life—perhaps five or ten years, or more. A career typically provides you with opportunities to advance your skills and positions.
Requirements A job you accept with an employer does not necessarily require special education or training. Sometimes you can get needed learning “on the job.” A career usually requires special learning—perhaps certification or a specific degree.
Risk-Taking A job may be considered a safe and stable means to get income, but jobs can also quickly change; security can come and go. A career can also have risk. In today’s world, employees need to continually learn new skills and to adapt to changes in order to stay employed. Starting your own business can have risks. Many people thrive on risk-taking, though, and may achieve higher gains. It all depends on your definition of success.
Duration The duration of a job may range from an hour (in the case of odd jobs, for example,) to a lifetime. Generally a “job” is shorter-term. A career is typically a long-term pursuit.
Income Jobs that are not career oriented may not pay as well as career-oriented positions. Jobs often pay an hourly wage. Career-oriented jobs generally offer an annual salary versus a wage. Career-oriented jobs may also offer appealing benefits, like health insurance and retirement.
Satisfaction and contributing to society Many jobs are important to society, but some may not bring high levels of personal satisfaction. Careers allow you to invest time and energy in honing your crafts and experiencing personal satisfaction. Career pursuits may include making contributions to society.

In summary, a job lets you enjoy at least a minimal level of financial security, and it requires you to show up and do what is required of you. In exchange, you get paid.

A career, on the other hand, is more of a means of achieving personal fulfillment through the jobs you hold. In a career, your jobs tend to follow a sequence that leads to increasing mastery, professional development, and personal and financial satisfaction. A career requires planning, knowledge, and skills, too. If it is to be a fulfilling career, it requires that you bring into play your full set of analytical, critical, and creative thinking skills. You will be called upon in a career to make informed decisions that will affect your life in both the short term and the long term. A career also lets you express your unique personality traits, skills, values, and interests.

The following video gives explicit, textbook-style distinctions between the terms job, work, and career. You may especially appreciate this video if English is a second language for you or if you are a first-generation college student.

Video: Difference between Job, Work, and Career

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You can find the quiz referenced at the bottom of the lesson here. The next video takes a different look at jobs and careers. The speaker discusses the more affective, emotional aspects of pursuing a career. His emphasis is on the importance of being passionate about your work.

Video: Job vs. Career – Think about a long time career

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Whether you pursue individual jobs or an extended career or both, your time with your employers will always be comprised of your individual journey. May your journey be as enjoyable and fulfilling as possible.

The Five-Step Process for Choosing Your Career

As your thoughts about career expand, keep in mind that over the course of your life, you will probably spend a lot of time at work—thousands of hours, in fact. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average workday is about 8.7 hours long, and this means that if you work 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, for 35 years, you will spend a total of 76,125 hours of your life at work. These numbers should convince you that it’s pretty important to enjoy your career.

If you do pursue a career, you’ll find yourself making many decisions about it. Is this the right career for me? Am I feeling fulfilled and challenged? Does this career enable me to have the lifestyle I desire? It’s important to consider these questions now, whether you’re just graduating from high school or college, or you’re returning to school after working for a while.

Choosing a career—any career—is a unique process for everyone, and for many people the task is daunting. There are so many different occupations to choose from. How do you navigate this complex world of work?

The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office has identified a five-step decision process that will make your career path a little easier to find. Below are the steps:

  1. Get to know yourself
  2. Get to know your field
  3. Prioritize your “deal makers” and rule out your “deal breakers”
  4. Make a preliminary career decision and create a plan of action
  5. Go out and achieve your career goal

Step 1: Get to Know Yourself

Get to know yourself and the things you’re truly passionate about.

The following video has some good ideas for ways of matching your personality and skills with a career. You can download a transcript of the video here.

Video: Matching your skills to a career

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This next video looks at the connection between childhood interests and career options. Several successful entrepreneurs and employees share stories about how they turned childhood interests into careers that suited them well. Learn how listening to your inner child can help you find the right career.

Video: Childhood Interests Can Help You Find the Right Career

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Before moving on to step 2, you may wish to review the online surveys in the Personal Identity module, especially the Student Interest Survey for Career Clusters, which is available in both English and Spanish. Yet another survey is the Career Assessment Test. All can help you align career interests with personal qualities, traits, life values, skills, activities, and ambitions.

Ultimately, your knowledge of yourself is the root of all good decision-making and will guide you in productive directions.

Step 2: Get to Know Your Field

Get to know your field. You’ll want to investigate the career paths available to you. You may also want to see what your college Career Center offers or conduct informational interviews to find out more about your field. One of the handiest starting points and “filters” is to decide the level of education you want to attain before starting your first or your next job. Students should consider determining both how much education they are willing to acquire, and how much education a particular career will require. Do you want to earn an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or a doctorate or professional degree? Meeting with a college counselor or career counselor can help a student clarify this information.

Step 3: Prioritize Your Deal Makers

Prioritize your deal makers and rule out your deal breakers. Educational requirements aren’t the only criteria that you will want to consider. Do you want to work outside or in an office? In the country or a city? In a big or small organization? For a public organization or a private company? What type of industry is interesting to you? What role do you see yourself playing in the organization? Do you want to be your own boss?

Step 4: Make a Preliminary Career Decision

Make a preliminary (or first) career decision and create a plan of action. It is not set in stone and you may have multiple careers in your lifetime, but everything starts with that preliminary career decision and plan of action. As a student matures and gains experience, more career opportunities will present themselves.

Now that you have an idea of who you are and where you might find a satisfying career, how do you start taking action to get there? Some people talk to family, friends, or instructors in their chosen disciplines. Others have mentors in their lives with whom to discuss this decision. Your college has career counselors and academic advisers who can help you with both career decision-making and the educational planning process. Nevertheless, be advised: You’ll get the most from sessions with your counselor if you have done some work on your own.

Get started by using the Career Café or the Career Zone.

“Find a career that you love and you will never work another day in your life.”

– Barbara Sher

 Step 5: Go out and Achieve Your Career Goal

Go out and achieve your (initial) career goal! Now it’s time to take concrete steps toward achieving your educational and career goals. This may be as simple as creating a preliminary educational plan for next semester or a comprehensive educational plan that maps out the degree you are currently working toward. You may also want to look for internships, part-time work, or volunteer opportunities that help you test and confirm you preliminary career choice. Your college counselor can help you with this step, as well.

Your work experiences and life circumstances will undoubtedly change throughout the course of your professional life, so you may need to go back and reassess where you are on this path in the future. However, no matter if you feel like you were born knowing what you want to do professionally, or you feel totally unsure about what the future holds for you, remember that with careful consideration, resolve, and strategic thought, you can find a career that feels rewarding.

This isn’t necessarily an easy process, but you’ll find that your goals are more tangible once you’ve set a preliminary career goal. Don’t forget: There is always support for you. Ask for any help you need.

Activity: Take the CAREERLINK Inventory


  • Formally assess your aptitudes, interests, temperaments, physical capacities, preferred working conditions and career preparation time using the CareerLink Inventory instrument.


  • Access the CAREERLINK Inventory, add your name, and then click on the “Aptitudes” frog icon to begin the inventory. The CAREERLINK Inventory is designed to match the way you see yourself—your interests, aptitudes, temperaments, physical capacities, preferred working conditions, and desired length of preparation for employment–with available career information from the United States Department of Labor. The information you provide about yourself will produce a career profile showing to what extent your self-identified characteristics and preferences match those considered significant in 80 career clusters.
  • Your responses to the items contained in this inventory should reflect your honest self-judgments in order to provide you with meaningful career information. If you are unsure about a particular response, please answer as accurately as possible.
  • When you complete the inventory, review your personalized Career Inventory Results.
  • Write a 750-word reflection discussing the results of the inventory. Use the guidelines, below, to guide you.

To help you develop your reflections, you may want to consider the following:

  • What were your highest career-area clusters?
  • Review the work performed, worker requirements, sample occupations, related clusters, and response summary (this will make sense to you once you complete the inventory).  Do the results of the inventory surprise you?
  • Do you believe the Careerlink Inventory produced accurate or inaccurate suggestions for you?
  • Did you learn anything new about your career interests?
  • What insights from the inventory results might you apply to your life?
  • Follow your instructor’s directions for submitting this assignment.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the average worker currently holds ten different jobs before age forty. This number is projected to grow. A prediction from Forrester Research is that today’s youngest workers will hold twelve to fifteen jobs in their lifetime and it is estimated that people will change their career an average of 5-7 times over their lifetime.

What jobs are in store for you? Will your work be part of a fulfilling career? What exciting prospects are on your horizon?

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:

All rights reserved content:

  • “Job vs Career – Think About a Long Time Career.”, uploaded by els gcr. 2013. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
  • “Matching Your Skills To a Career.” WWLP-22News. 2011. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
  • “Childhood Interests Can Help You Find the Right Career.”, uploaded by Hire Story. 2009. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.

Lumen Learning authored content:

Adaptions: Relocated learning objectives. Removed image of outdoor information fair.


Chapter 35: Words of Wisdom: What Do You Enjoy Studying?

Dr. Patricia Munsch

Dr. Patricia Munsch

There is a tremendous amount of stress placed on college students regarding their choice of major. Everyday, I meet with students regarding their concern about choosing right major; the path that will lead to a fantastic, high-paying position in a growth industry. There is a hope that one decision, your college major, will have a huge impact on the rest of your life.

Students shy away from subject areas they enjoy due to fear that such coursework will not lead to a job. I am disappointed in this approach. As a counselor I always ask—what do you enjoy studying? Based on this answer it is generally easy to choose a major or a family of majors. I recognize the incredible pressure to secure employment after graduation, but forcing yourself to choose a major that you may not have any actual interest in because a book or website mentioned the area of growth may not lead to the happiness you predict.

Working in a college setting I have the opportunity to work with students through all walks of life, and I do believe based on my experience, that choosing a major because it is listed as a growth area alone is not a good idea. Use your time in college to explore all areas of interest and utilize your campus resources to help you make connections between your joy in a subject matter and the potential career paths. Realize that for most people, in most careers, the undergraduate major does not lead to a linear career path.

As an undergraduate student I majored in Political Science, an area that I had an interest in, but I added minors in Sociology and Women’s Studies as my educational pursuits broadened. Today, as a counselor, I look back on my coursework with happy memories of exploring new ideas, critically analyzing my own assumptions, and developing an appreciation of social and behavioral sciences. So to impart my wisdom in regards to a student’s college major, I will always ask, what do you enjoy studying?

Once you have determined what you enjoy studying, the real work begins. Students need to seek out academic advisement. Academic advisement means many different things; it can include course selection, course completion for graduation, mapping coursework to graduation, developing opportunities within your major and mentorship.

As a student I utilized a faculty member in my department for semester course selection, and I also went to the department chairperson to organize two different internships to explore different career paths. In addition, I sought mentorship from club advisors as I questioned my career path and future goals. In my mind I had a team of people providing me support and guidance, and as a result I had a great college experience and an easy transition from school to work.

I recommend to all students that I meet with to create their own team. As a counselor I can certainly be a part of their team, but I should not be the only resource. Connect with faculty in your department or in your favorite subject. Seek out internships as you think about the transition from college to workplace. Find mentors through faculty, club advisors, or college staff. We all want to see you succeed and are happy to be a part of your journey.

As a counselor I am always shocked when students do not understand what courses they need to take, what grade point average they need to maintain, and what requirements they must fulfill in order to reach their goal—graduation! Understand that as a college student it is your responsibility to read your college catalog and meet all of the requirements for graduation from your college. I always suggest that students, starting in their first semester, outline or map out all of the courses they need to take in order to graduate. Of course you may change your mind along the way, but by setting out your plan to graduation you are forcing yourself to learn what is required of you.

I do this exercise in my classes and it is by far the most frustrating for students. They want to live in the now and they don’t want to worry about next semester or next year. However, for many students that I see, the consequence of this decision is a second semester senior year filled with courses that the student avoided during all the previous semesters. If you purposefully outline all of your courses and coursework for each semester, you can balance your schedule, understand your curriculum, and feel confident that you will reach your goal.

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:

Munsch, Dr. Patricia. “What Do You Enjoy
Studying?” In Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom, edited by Thomas Priester. Located at:  License: CC BY: Attribution.


Chapter 36: College Majors

Lumen Learning and Linda (Bruce) Hill

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go.”

  – Dr. Seuss

Your Major

In the United States and Canada, your academic major—simply called “your major”—is the academic discipline you commit to as an undergraduate student. It’s an area you specialize in, such as accounting, chemistry, criminology, archeology, digital arts, or dance. In United States colleges and universities, roughly 2,000 majors are offered. And within each major is a host of core courses and electives. When you successfully complete the required courses in your major, you qualify for a degree.

Where did the term major come from? In 1877, it first appeared in a Johns Hopkins University catalogue. That major required only two years of study. Later, in 1910, Abbott Lawrence Lowell introduced the academic major system to Harvard University during his time as president there. This major required students to complete courses in a specialized discipline and also in other subjects. Variations of this system are now the norm in higher education institutions in the U.S. and Canada.

Why is your major important? It’s important because it’s a defining and organizing feature of your undergraduate degree. Ultimately, your major should provide you with the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and/or behaviors you need to fulfill your college goals and objectives.

In this section we look at how to select your major and how your college major may correlate with a career. Does your major matter to your career? What happens if you change your major? Does changing your major mean you must change your career? Read on to find out!

How to Select Your College Major

Selecting your major is one of the most exciting tasks (and, to some students, perhaps one of the most nerve-wracking tasks) you are asked to perform in college. So many decisions are tied to it. But if you have good guidance, patience, and enthusiasm, the process is easier. Two videos, below, present lighthearted looks undertaking this task. In the first one, the following five tips are discussed:

  1. Seek inspiration
  2. Consider everything
  3. Identify talents and interests
  4. Explore available resources
  5. In-depth career exploration

Video: How to Pick a Major

The next video shares nine tips:

  1. Narrow your choices by deciding what you don’t like.
  2. Explore careers that might interest you. Ask questions.
  3. Use your school’s resources.
  4. Ask your teacher, counselor, and family about your strengths.
  5. Sixty percent of students change their majors.
  6. Your major isn’t going to define your life. But choosing one that interests you will make your college experience much more rewarding.
  7. Go on informational interviews with people in careers that interest you.
  8. There’s no pressure to decide now.
  9. Take new classes and discover your interests.

Video: How to Select Your College Major – WiseChoice

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Does Your College Major Matter to Your Career?

There are few topics about college that create more controversy than “Does your major really matter to your career?” Many people think it does; others think it’s not so important. Who is right? And who gets to weigh in? Also, how do you measure whether something “matters”—by salary, happiness, personal satisfaction?

It may be difficult to say for sure whether your major truly matters to your career. One’s college major and ultimate career are not necessarily correlated. Consider the following factoids:

It’s also important to talk about financial considerations in choosing a major.

So where will you stand with regard to these statistics? Is it possible to have a good marriage between your major, your skills, job satisfaction, job security, and earnings?

Here to share a personal story about selecting your college major and finding the right career fit is Marc Luber, host of Careers Out There. Enjoy his insights, which he sums up with, “Focus on what makes you tick, and run with it.”

Video: Choosing a College Major & Finding the Right Career Fit

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The best guidance on choosing a major and connecting it with a career may be to get good academic and career advice and select a major that reflects your greatest interests. If you don’t like law or medicine but you major in it because of a certain salary expectation, you may later find yourself in an unrelated job that brings you greater satisfaction—even if the salary is lower. If this is the case, will it make more sense, looking back, to spend your time and tuition dollars studying a subject you especially enjoy?


“Success doesn’t come to you . . . you go to it.”

– Dr. Marva Collins

This quote really sets the stage for the journey you’re on. Your journey may be a straight line that connects the dots between today and your future, or it may resemble a twisted road with curves, bumps, hurdles, and alternate routes.

To help you navigate your pathway to career success, take advantage of all the resources available to you. Your college, your community, and the wider body of higher-education institutions and organizations have many tools to help you with career development. Be sure to take advantage of the following resources:

Many organizations have free materials that can provide guidance, such as the ones in the table, below:

1 List of College Majors (MyMajors) A list of more than 1,800 college majors—major pages include description, courses, careers, salary, related majors and colleges offering major
2 Take the College Major Profile Quiz ( Quiz is designed to help students think about college majors, personality traits, and how they may fit within different areas of study
3 Choosing a College Major Worksheet (Quint Careers) A six-step process to finding a college major
4 Common Mistakes Students Make in Choosing a Major (Wayne State University) Lists common misperceptions about choosing a major and explains how these misperceptions can cloud future plans
5 Best college majors for your career 2015-2016 ( Explore a detailed list of the top ten majors that give students the greatest potential for success in the workplace, good incomes, and ample job opportunities
6 Explore Careers (BigFuture/The College Board) Explore careers by selecting “Show me majors that match my interests,” “Show me new career ideas,” and “Show me how others made their choices”
7 The College Major: What It Is and How To Choose One (BigFuture/The College Board) When to choose a major, how to choose a major, “you can change your mind,” majors and graduate school, and majors and professions

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Chapter 37: Professional Skill Building

Lumen Learning and Linda (Bruce) Hill

“Every artist was first an amateur.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you lived and worked in colonial times in the United States, what skills would you need to be gainfully employed? What kind of person would your employer want you to be? And how different would your skills and aptitudes be then, compared to today?

Many industries that developed during the 1600s–1700s, such as health care, publishing, manufacturing, construction, finance, and farming, are still with us today. And the professional abilities, aptitudes, and values required in those industries are many of the same ones employers seek today.

For example, in the health care field then, just like today, employers looked for professionals with scientific acumen, active listening skills, a service orientation, oral comprehension abilities, and teamwork skills. And in the financial field then, just like today, employers looked for economics and accounting skills, mathematical reasoning skills, clerical and administrative skills, and deductive reasoning.

Why is it that with the passage of time and all the changes in the work world, some skills remain unchanged (or little changed)?

The answer might lie in the fact there are are two main types of skills that employers look for: hard skills and soft skills.

What Employers Want in an Employee

Employers want individuals who have the necessary hard and soft skills to do the job well and adapt to changes in the workplace. Soft skills may be especially in demand today because employers are generally equipped to train new employees in a hard skill—by training them to use new computer software, for instance—but it’s much more difficult to teach an employee a soft skill such as developing rapport with coworkers or knowing how to manage conflict. An employer might rather hire an inexperienced worker who can pay close attention to details than an experienced worker who might cause problems on a work team.

In this section, we look at ways of identifying and building particular hard and soft skills that will be necessary for your career path. We also explain how to use your time and resources wisely to acquire critical skills for your career goals.

Specific Skills Necessary for Your Career Path

A skill is something you can do, say, or think right now. It’s what an employer expects you to bring to the workplace to improve the overall operations of the organization.

The table below lists four resources to help you determine which concrete skills are needed for all kinds of professions. You can even discover where you might gain some of the skills and which courses you might take.

Spend some time reviewing each resource. You will find many interesting and exciting options. When you’re finished, you may decide that there are so many interesting professions in the world that it’s difficult to choose just one. This is a good problem to have!

1 Career Aptitude Test (Rasmussen College) This test helps you match your skills to a particular career that’s right for you. Use a sliding scale to indicate your level of skill in the following skill areas: artistic, interpersonal, communication, managerial, mathematics, mechanical, and science. Press the Update Results button and receive a customized list of career suggestions tailored to you, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can filter by salary, expected growth, and education.
2 Skills Profiler (Career OneStop from the U.S. Department of Labor) Use the Skills Profiler to create a list of your skills, and match your skills to job types that use those skills. Plan to spend about 20 minutes completing your profile. You can start with a job type to find skills you need for a current or future job. Or if you are not sure what kind of job is right for you, start by rating your own skills to find a job type match. When your skills profile is complete, you can print it or save it.
3 O*Net OnLine This U.S. government website helps job seekers answer two of their toughest questions: “What jobs can I get with my skills and training?” and “What skills and training do I need to get this job?” Browse groups of similar occupations to explore careers. Choose from industry, field of work, science area, and more. Focus on occupations that use a specific tool or software. Explore occupations that need your skills. Connect to a wealth of O*NET data. Enter a code or title from another classification to find the related O*NET-SOC occupation.

Transferable Skills for Any Career Path

Transferable (soft) skills may be used in multiple professions. They include, but are by no means limited to, skills listed below:

These skills are transferable because they are positive attributes that are invaluable in practically any kind of work. They also do not require much training from an employer—you have them already and take them with you wherever you go. Soft skills are a big part of your “total me” package.

So, identify the soft skills that show you off the best, and identify the ones that prospective employers are looking for. By comparing both sets, you can more directly gear your job search to your strongest professional qualities.

10 Top Skills You Need to Get a Job When You Graduate

The following video summarizes the ten top skills that the Target corporation believes will get you a job when you graduate. Read a transcript of the video.

Video: 10 top skills that will get you a job when you graduate

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How to Find a New Job–Transferable Job Skills

If you are an international student, or perhaps English is your second language, the following video may especially appeal to you. It covers similar information to the 10 Top Skills video above. Discover how to find a new job more easily by learning how to identify and describe your transferable job skills in English.

Video: How to find a new job – Transferable Job Skills

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Activity: Assess Your Soft Skills


  • Review the transferable skills listed in the self-assessment exercises developed by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).
  • Analyze your strengths and areas in which you need to improve individual essential skills.


  • Read each statement in Section 1 of any transferable skills pertinent to a profession you are interested in.
  • Place a checkmark in the column that best describes how well you can complete that task. Think about your work and life experiences as you consider each task.
  • Review your responses for each task. If you have checked five or more in the “Somewhat” and/or “No” columns, you may want to consider upgrading your oral communication skills.
  • Complete Section 2 to identify your training needs.

Self Assessments

Acquiring Necessary Skills (both in and out of class) for Your Career Goals

“Lifelong learning” is a buzz phrase in the twentieth-first century because we are awash in new technology and information all the time, and those who know how to learn, continuously, are in the best position to keep up and take advantage of these changes. Think of all the information resources around you: colleges and universities, libraries, the Internet, videos, games, books, films—the list goes on.

With these resources at your disposal, how can you best position yourself for lifelong learning and a strong, viable career? Which hard and soft skills are most important? What are employers really looking for?

The following list was inspired by the remarks of Mark Atwood, director of open-source engagement at Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. It contains excellent practical advice.

Just Get Involved

After you’ve networked with enough people and built up your reputation, your peers can connect you with job openings that may be a good fit for your skills. The video, below, from Monash University in Australia offers the following tips:

  1. Get involved in part-time work
  2. Get involved in extracurricular activities
  3. Get involved with employment and career development
  4. Get involved with volunteer work.  Check out this website for volunteer matching.

“Just get involved. There are so many opportunities and open doors for you.”

Video: Tips to improve your career from Monash Graduates

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  • 10 top skills that will get you a job when you graduate. Authored by: TARGETjobs. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
  • How to find a new jobu2014Transferable Job Skills. Authored by: Learn English with Rebecca. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
  • Tips to improve your career from Monash Graduates. Authored by: Monash University. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.

Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom essay removed (exists elsewhere in this work).
Relocated Learning Objectives. Removed image of woman holding test strip.


Chapter 38: Career Development

Lumen Learning and Linda (Bruce) Hill

Career Development

See if you can remember a time in your childhood when you noticed somebody doing professional work. Maybe a nurse or doctor, dressed in a lab coat, was listening to your heartbeat. Maybe a worker at a construction site, decked in a hard hat, was operating noisy machinery. Maybe a cashier at the checkout line in a grocery store was busily scanning bar codes. Each day in your young life you could have seen a hundred people doing various jobs. Surely some of the experiences drew your interest and appealed to your imagination.

If you can recall any such times, those are moments from the beginning stage of your career development.

What exactly is career development? It’s a lifelong process in which we become aware of, interested in, knowledgeable about, and skilled in a career. It’s a key part of human development as our identity forms and our life unfolds.

Stages of Career Development

There are five main stages of career development (developed by Donald Super). Each stage correlates with attitudes, behaviors, and relationships we all tend to have at that point and age. As we progress through each stage and reach the milestones identified, we prepare to move on to the next one.

Which stage of career development do you feel you are in currently? Think about each stage. What challenges are you facing now? Where are you headed?

1 GROWING This is a time in early years (4–13 years old) when you begin to have a sense about the future. You begin to realize that your participation in the world is related to being able to do certain tasks and accomplish certain goals.
2 EXPLORING This period begins when you are a teenager, extends into your mid-twenties, and may extend later. In this stage you find that you have specific interests and aptitudes. You are aware of your inclinations to perform and learn about some subjects more than others. You may try out jobs in your community or at your school. You may begin to explore a specific career. At this stage, you have some detailed “data points” about careers, which will guide you in certain directions.
3 ESTABLISHING This period covers your mid-twenties through mid-forties. By now you are selecting or entering a field you consider suitable, and you are exploring job opportunities that will be stable. You are also looking for upward growth, so you may be thinking about an advanced degree.
4 MAINTAINING This stage is typical for people in their mid-forties to mid-sixties. You may be in an upward pattern of learning new skills and staying engaged. But you might also be merely “coasting and cruising” or even  feeling stagnant. You may be taking stock of what you’ve accomplished and where you still want to go.
5 REINVENTING In your mid-sixties, you are likely transitioning into retirement. But retirement in our technologically advanced world can be just the beginning of a new career or pursuit—a time when you can reinvent yourself. There are many new interests to pursue, including teaching others what you’ve learned, volunteering, starting online businesses, consulting, etc.

Keep in mind that your career development path is personal to you, and you may not fit neatly into the categories described above. It’s more common than it has been in the past for people to change careers in their thirties, forties, fifties, and even sixties. Perhaps your socioeconomic background changes how you fit into the schema. Perhaps your physical and mental abilities affect how you define the idea of a “career.” And for everyone, too, there are factors of chance that can’t be predicted or anticipated. You are unique, and your career path can only be developed by you.

Career Development Resources in Your College, Community, and Beyond

Career experts say that people will change careers (not to mention jobs) five to seven times in a lifetime. So your career will likely not be a straight and narrow path. Be sure to set goals and assess your interests, skills and values often. Seek opportunities for career growth and enrichment. And take advantage of the rich set of resources available to you. Below are just a few.

Career Development Office on Campus

Whether you are a student, a graduate, or even an employer, you can obtain invaluable career development assistance at your college or university. Campus career centers can support, guide, and empower you in every step of the career development process, from initial planning to achieving lifelong career satisfaction.

Books on Career Development

Going to college is one of the best steps you can take to prepare for a career. But soon-to-be or recently graduated students are not necessarily guaranteed jobs. Staying educated about strategies for developing your career and finding new jobs will help you manage ongoing transitions. The book The Secret to Getting a Job After College: Marketing Tactics to Turn Degrees into Dollars, by author Larry Chiagouris, was written specifically to help recent grads increase their chances of finding a job right after college. It speaks to students in all majors and provides tips and tactics to attract the attention of an employer and successfully compete with other candidates to get the job you want.

The following video provides an introduction to the book. You can download a transcript of the video here.

Video: The Secret to Getting a Job After College

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Career Roadmap

You can use the Career Roadmap, from DePaul University, to evaluate where you are and where you want to be in your career. It can help you decide if you want to change career paths and can guide you in searching for a new job. The road map identifies the following four cyclical steps:

  1. Know yourself
  2. Explore and choose options
  3. Gain knowledge and experience
  4. Put it all together: the job search process

Plan, Do, Check, Act

PDCA (plan–do–check–act) is a four-step strategy for carrying out change. You can use it to evaluate where you are in the career development process and to identify your next steps. The strategy is typically used in the business arena as a framework for improving processes and services. But you can think of your career as a personal product you are offering or selling.

  1. PLAN: What are your goals and objectives? What process will you use to get to your targets? You might want to plan smaller to begin with and test out possible effects. For instance, if you are thinking of getting into a certain career, you might plan to try it out first as an intern or volunteer or on a part-time basis. When you start on a small scale, you can test possible outcomes.
  2. DO: Implement your plan. Sell your product—which is YOU and your skills, talents, energy, and enthusiasm. Collect data as you go along; you will need it for charting and analyzing in the Check and Act steps ahead.
  3. CHECK: Look at your results so far. Are you happy with your job or wherever you are in the career development process? How is your actual accomplishment measuring up next to your intentions and wishes? Look for where you may have deviated in your intended steps. For example, did you take a job in another city when your initial plans were for working closer to friends and family? What are the pros and cons? If you like, create a chart that shows you all the factors. With a chart, it will be easier to see trends over several PDCA cycles.
  4. ACT: How should you act going forward? What changes in planning, doing, and checking do you want to take? The PDCA framework is an ongoing process. Keep planning, doing, checking, and acting. The goal is continuous improvement.

Internet Sites for Career Planning

Visit the Internet Sites for Career Planning Web site at the National Career Development Association’s site. You will find extensive, definitive, and frequently updated information on the following topics:

Activity: Campus to Career


  • Examine two critical questions about developing your career while still in college: How do I prepare myself for a career while I’m in college? How do I position myself to get ahead?


  • Review the Campus to Career Web site called “Top College Career Tips from Freshman to Senior Year.”
  • Visit the section for each year of college: Freshman Year, Sophomore Year, Junior Year, and Senior Year. You may need to return to the main page of the site to access the sophomore, junior, and senior year pages of content.

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  • Campus to Career Quiz. Authored by: Ronda Dorsey Neugebauer. Provided by: Chadron State College. Project: Kaleidoscope Open Course Initiative. License: CC BY: Attribution.

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  • The Secret to Getting a Job After College. Authored by: CT STYLE. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.

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Chapter 39: Words of Wisdom: Transferable

Vicki L. Brown

Vicki L. Brown

I was supposed to be a teacher. Growing up, I had a classroom in the basement. I had a chalkboard, chalk, desks, textbooks, homework assignments, pens, pencils, paper—you name it, I had it! My brother and sister called me “Miss Brown.” All I ever wanted to be was an elementary school teacher—until I went to college.

As an elementary education major in college, I participated in a variety of classes—classes on literacy, math and science, philosophies of teaching, child development theory, principles of education, foundations of classroom behavior, and a whole list of others. We learned how to write a lesson plan, manage a classroom, how to set up a classroom, and much, much more.

In addition to my studies, I got involved in campus life. I joined the swimming and diving team, participated in campus activities, and joined clubs. I served as a captain of the swimming and diving team, became an Orientation Leader and a Resident Assistant, and completely immersed myself in the college experience. It was through these co-curricular activities that I was introduced to the world of higher education and a potentially new career choice for myself.

Through my academic and co-curricular activities, I gained valuable knowledge from all those I came in contact with—my peers, professors, Residence Hall Directors, and many college administrators. They encouraged me to explore what it was that I really wanted to do with my life. The more I got involved in my college experience, the more I learned about myself: what I’m good at, what I’m not good at, what I wanted to do, and what I didn’t want to do.

As I started to sort through my options, I continued my studies, receiving both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in elementary education. While attending graduate school, I also worked as a Graduate Residence Hall Director. It was during that time when I finally made the decision to pursue a career in higher education administration/student affairs administration and leave my plans of being an elementary school teacher behind.

The decision wasn’t as difficult as one might think. When some listen to my story, I often hear “you’ve wasted all that time and money…” But, the truth is I gained valuable, lifelong skills from the people I met, the classes I took, the jobs I’ve had, and the activities I involved myself in. Each and every skill you acquire is transferable. This is perhaps the best lesson I’ve ever learned in college.

The countless lesson plans I had to write for my education classes and student teaching have helped me prepare practice plans as the head coach for the men’s and women’s swimming and diving team. The skills I learned while planning programs and activities for my residents as a Resident Assistant, Hall Director, and Area Coordinator have helped me plan campus events as the Director of Student Activities in the Center for Student Leadership & Involvement. The classroom management techniques I learned in college have helped me to manage my office, staff, team, committees, etc. The communication and development theories I’ve learned have taught me how to have meaningful conversations with others and how best to meet their needs.

Each and every skill you learn throughout your academic, personal, and professional career is valuable and transferable. Do not let your college degree define who you are but rather, let the knowledge and skills you’ve acquired define who you are.

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Chapter 40: Networking

Lumen Learning and Linda (Bruce) Hill

“Communication—the human connection—is the key to personal and career success.”

– Paul J. Meyer

In the context of career development, networking is the process by which people build relationships with one another for the purpose of helping one another achieve professional goals.

When you “network,” you exchange information.

Networking can occur anywhere and at any time. In fact, your network expands with each new relationship you establish. And the networking strategies you can employ are nearly limitless. With imagination and ingenuity, your networking can be highly successful.

A series of stick figures connected by dotted lines.
A series of stick figures connected by dotted lines.

Strategies for Networking

We live in a social world. Almost everywhere you go and anything you do professionally involves connecting with people. It stands to reason that finding a new job and advancing your career entails building relationships with these people. Truly, the most effective way to find a new job is to network, network, and network some more.

Once you acknowledge the value of networking, the challenge is figuring out how to do it. What is your first step? Whom do you contact? What do you say? How long will it take? Where do you concentrate efforts? How do you know if your investments will pay off?

For every question you may ask, a range of strategies can be used. Begin exploring your possibilities by viewing the following energizing video, Networking Tips for College Students and Young People, by Hank Blank. He recommends the following modern and no-nonsense strategies:

  1. Hope is not a plan. You need a plan of action to achieve your networking goals.
  2. Keenly focus your activities on getting a job. Use all tools available to you.
  3. You need business cards. No ifs, ands, or buts.
  4. Attend networking events. Most of them offer student rates.
  5. Master Linkedin because that is what human resource departments use. Post updates.
  6. Think of your parents’ friends as databases. Leverage their knowledge and their willingness to help you.
  7. Create the world you want to live in in the future by creating it today through your networking activity. These are the times to live in a world of “this is how I can help.”

Video: Networking Tips for College Students and Young People, Hank Blank

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International Student Series: Finding Work Using Your Networks

If you are an international student, or perhaps if English is not your native language, this video may especially appeal to you. It focuses on the importance of networking when looking for jobs and keeping an open mind. Simply talking to people can help you move from casual work to full-time employment.

Video: International Student Series: Finding Work Using Your Networks

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. . . And More Strategies

Strategies at College

Strategies at Work

Strategies at Home and Beyond

Activity: Networking for Career Development



For additional ideas and inspiration about networking for career development, watch the following video, Hustle 101: Networking For College Students and Recent Grads. The speaker, Emily Miethner, is a recent college graduate and the founder and president of NYCreative Interns, “dedicated to helping young creatives discover and then follow their dream careers.”


Video: Hustle 101: Networking for College Students and Recent Grads, Emily Miethner

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Sources for Developing Professional Networks

The bottom line with developing professional networks is to cull information from as many sources as possible and use that information in creative ways to advance your career opportunities. The strategies listed in the section above provide you with a comprehensive set of suggestions. Below is a summary of sources you can use to network your way to career success:

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  • Hank Blank – Networking Tips for College Students and Young People. Authored by: Hank Blank. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
  • International Student Series: Finding work using your networks. Authored by: The University of Sydney. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
  • Hustle 101: Networking For College Students & Recent Grads. Authored by: NYCreativeInterns. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.

Adaptions: Relocated learning objectives. Removed career fair image.


Chapter 41: Words of Wisdom: It’s Like Online Dating

Jackie Vetrano

Jackie Vetrano

Searching for a job, especially your first job, is a lot like online dating. It begins as a time commitment, gets nerve-wracking towards the middle, but ends in success and happiness if you follow the right process.

Like many single people with access to current technology, I ventured into the world of online dating. I went for coffee with potential mates who were instant no ways, some who left me scratching my head, and a few who I found a connection with.

But hang on. We are here to talk about professional development, not my love life.

Being on the job hunt is not easy. Many spend hours preparing résumés, looking at open positions, and thinking about what career path to travel. Occasionally, it is overwhelming and intimidating, but when taken one step at a time, it can be a manageable and an exciting process.

Your Dating Profile—The Résumé

The first step of online dating is the most important: create your dating profile. Your profile is where you put your best foot forward and show off all of your attractive qualities through visuals and text. Online daters find their most flattering photos and then season the “about me” section of their profile with captivating and descriptive words to better display who they are and why other online daters should give them a shot.

Résumés follow this same logic. Your résumé should be clean, polished, and present you in your best light for future employers. Like dating profiles, they are detailed and should paint a picture for other prospective dates (or future employers) supporting why you deserve a chance at their love—an interview.

The unspoken rules of online dating profiles are very similar to the rules for writing a résumé. Whether you like it or not, your online dating profile and résumé both serve as a first impression. Profiles and résumés that are short, filled with spelling errors, or vague are usually passed over. Your written description is very important to display who you are.

Your résumé should capture who you are, your skill set, education, past experiences, and anything else that is relevant to the job you hope to obtain. Knowing your audience is a key factor in crafting the perfect résumé. Logically, if my online dating profile presented studious and quiet personality traits, I would likely start receiving messages from potential mates who are looking for someone who is seeking those traits. By taking a similar approach while writing a résumé, you can easily determine the tone, language, and highlighted skills and experiences you should feature. The tone of your résumé is dictated by the nature of the position you hope to obtain in the future. For example, hospitality jobs or positions that require you to interact with many people on a daily basis should be warm and welcoming while analytical jobs, such as accounting or research positions, should reflect an astute attention to detail. Your choice in language follows similar logic—use appropriate terms for the position you are seeking.

Unlike online dating profiles, your résumé should include your important contact information, including email address and telephone number.

Finding Love—The Job Hunt

Simply crafting an online dating profile doesn’t necessarily mean you will find your one true love, and the same applies to your career. Once your résumé is crafted, it is equally as important to search the job market to find what you think would be a good fit based on your skills and preferences.

An important part of online dating is setting the appropriate search filters. Sites allow users to search by gender, location, age, religious beliefs, or social practices. All these are small pieces that affect the overall compatibility between two people, with some factors being more important than others. By carefully choosing which filters are most important, you’re sure to have better luck finding a perfect match that will make you happy and excited.

As you begin the job hunt, it is important to determine your filters when it comes to a career or first job. Some of these filters, like dating, may hold more weight to you than others. Many job search sites allow users to find job listings as defined by these filters, and they can include: location, type of organization, starting salary, potential for promotion, job responsibilities, etc.

Always establish filters. You may say, “I don’t care what I find, as long as I find something.” All of us have a preference in our love lives as well as our careers, and being honest with yourself about these filters will increase the likelihood for happiness in the end. These filters also allow you to more quickly read through job postings, because you will be focusing on positions with the qualities that you already determined are the most important to you.

When you are searching for a posted position using an online service, enter your filters and try a variety of search phrases to find as many postings as possible. Even changing “school counselor” to “guidance counselor” or only “counseling” may produce a different set of job postings, depending on the website.

It is also important to remember, like online dating sites, not every job posting will be on every employment site. Experiment with different search techniques and websites, and seek the advice of others for the best resource for recent postings. It’s easy to save these filters and search results on most job search websites, allowing you to check back on a constant basis without resetting your filters. Most sites also allow you to create a free account, providing you a way to receive email alerts any time a new job is posted and fits in with your filters.

After the filters are set, it is time to start the exciting and nerve-wracking part: scrolling through profiles.

Scrolling through Profiles—The Job Postings

You will find attractive potentials with no description provided, others who exclusively take selfies, and a whole list of people who simply are not right for you based on their description. But then, it happens. You find someone who may be a match, and your heart starts to flutter.

Reading through a job description is equally as exciting. A good job posting provides a robust description of responsibilities, minimum qualifications, and desired qualifications for candidates. Knowing your own skill set, you can determine if you’re a match or not. By having honest filters set before searching, it’s likely that you are.

Sometimes, online dating simply doesn’t work. Many will then turn to speed dating to meet new people in the area. This method allows for daters to quickly determine whether or not there’s any chemistry, without spending time searching through online profiles. Similarly, job fairs provide this quick face-to-face advantage. If you’re attending a job fair, be sure dress appropriately and have copies of your résumé and business cards on hand. Through job fairs, you’ll be building your first impression right away, and may even be offered an interview on the spot.

Sending a Message—The Cover Letter

After searching through dozens of profiles, online daters generally find a handful of people they can picture themselves with. There’s only one way to find out more about the person, and that’s by sending the first message.

My personal rule for online dating is to always send a thoughtful first message to those I want to meet. It’s easy enough to send a short, impersonal “hey,” but it’s important to make a good impression. It’s obvious that the message I send, combined with my well-written profile, is going to continue to form a first impression of me. First impressions are very important in dating, job-hunting, and life overall.

The challenging part of the first message I send through online dating sites is determining what to say. I’ve never met these people before, but I do have access to their dating profiles filled with their hobbies, hometowns, and more. This is a perfect starting point for my message, especially if we both root for the same football team or if the other person likes to run as much as I do.

Your cover letter serves as an introduction to your future employer and should compliment your résumé to create a shining first impression. It is incredibly challenging to sit in front of a blank screen trying to find a good starting point, which means you should look at the job posting and organization’s website for ideas about what to include.

Generally, these job postings provide a set of hard skills (such as proficiency with certain technology) and soft skills (such as public speaking, teamwork, or working in a flexible environment) required and desired for the posted position. This information provides you a list of what should be explained in your cover letter. Demonstrating your hard skills is a simple enough task by using examples or stating certifications, but describing your soft skills may require a little more thought. These soft skills can be exhibited by discussing specific examples of past experiences in previous jobs you’ve held, volunteer work, or work you’ve done in college classes.

After you have crafted your cover letter, you should send it to a few people you trust for their opinion and overall proofreading along with the job posting for their reference. It’s obvious that your cover letter should be free of spelling and grammar errors, but these trustworthy individuals will also be able to provide helpful insight about the examples you’ve used to display your soft skills.

The Hard Part—Waiting

You just sent your first message to the love of your life, but now what? You wait. You will undoubtedly feel anxious, especially if you sit refreshing your inbox for hours at a time, but if you made a good first impression and they like you as much as you like them, you will hear back.

While you wait, take the time to do a little research. Search for the organization online and view what information they provide. You will be storing up some good facts about your future partner, which is something you can bring up when you’re on your first date. This research will also allow you to understand the company better. The organization displays their values, work ethic, and personality through online and print resources, which allows you to see if their values match with yours.

Unlike online dating, it is helpful to follow up with an organization you’ve applied to. Generally, the Human Resources department of an organization is the best place to start if you are unsure whom to call. This phone call is another piece of your first impression, which means you should be prepared to talk. Have any materials that you need ready, and be sure you are in a quiet place.

The First Date—The Job Interview

After what may feel like forever, you hear back from the love of your life. Congratulations! In the online dating world, you may chat about common interests (because you wrote a stunning first message), but in the world of work, you’ll be asked to visit the organization for an interview.

I have been on many first dates, and whether it’s in a coffee shop or over dinner, the first face-to-face meeting is tremendously important. If someone I am meeting for the first time looks like they just came from the gym or rolled out of bed, my impression instantly changes. This same theory can be directly applied to your first date with your future employer. You have worked hard on your cover letter and résumé, and you should not taint the sparkling first impression you have created with the wrong choice in dress.

What you wear to a job interview may change based on the position you have applied for, but there are a set of basic rules that everyone should follow. Similar to meeting someone on a first date for coffee, you want to be comfortable. Some interviews may take place with multiple people in an organization, meaning you will be walking to different locations, sitting down, and potentially sweating from a broken air conditioning unit. Consider these factors when choosing your outfit for your interview, and if you’re concerned about being underdressed, remember to always dress a bit nicer than how you’d dress for the job itself.

There is nothing worse than sitting alone at a coffee shop waiting for a mystery date to show up. It’s uncomfortable and affects my overall first impression of whom I’m about to meet. Avoid making your mystery employer annoyed and waiting for you by leaving at least ten minutes earlier than you need to, just in case you get stuck in traffic. Arrive at least ten minutes early. The interview will start out much better if you are early rather than nervous and running late. Arriving early also gives you the time to have some coffee and review materials you may need for the interview. Coming on time to an interview or a first date shows you respect the time of the person you plan to meet.

On a first date, it is all about communication. Sometimes, there may be silences that cannot be filled or the person I have just met discloses their entire life story to me in less than an hour. If we cannot achieve a proper balance, there will not be a second date. Communicating effectively in a job interview is equally as important, especially if you want a job offer!

All of the rules of dating apply to how you should behave in a job interview. The interviewer will ask you questions, which means that you should look at them and focus on what is being asked. Your phone should be on silent (not even on vibrate), and hidden, to show that you are fully attentive and engaged in the conversation you are having. Much like having a conversation on a date, the answers to your questions should be clear and concise and stay on topic. The stories I tell on my first dates are more personal than what would be disclosed in a job interview, but the mindset is the same. You are building the impression that the organization has of you, so put your best foot forward through the comments you make.

To make that great impression, it is really important to heavily prepare and practice, even before you have an interview scheduled. By brainstorming answers to typical interview questions in a typed document or out loud, later during the interview you will easily remember the examples of your past experiences that demonstrate why you are best for the job. You can continue to update this list as you move through different jobs, finding better examples to each question to accurately describe your hard and soft skills.

This interview is as much a date for your future employer as it is for you. Come prepared with questions that you have about the company, the position, and anything else you are curious about. This is an opportunity for you to show off the research you’ve done on the organization and establish a better understanding of company culture, values, and work ethic. Without knowing these basics of the company or organization, what you thought was a match might only end in a tense breakup.

After your interview is over, you continue to have an opportunity to build on the positive impression that you’ve worked hard to form. Sending a follow up thank you note to each person you interviewed with will show your respect for the time the organization spent with you. These notes can be written and sent by mail or emailed, but either way should have a personal touch, commenting on a topic that was discussed in the interview. While sending a thank you note after a first date may sound a little strange, you might not get asked to a second interview without one!

It’s Official—The Job Offer

In the online dating world, it takes a few dates to determine if two people are a match. In the corporate world, you may have a one or two interviews to build a relationship. If your impression was positive and the organization believes you’re a match for the open position, you’ll be offered a job.

With a job offer also comes the salary for the position. It is important to know what a reasonable salary is for the position and location, which can be answered with a bit of research. One good place to look is the Bureau of Labor Statistics website: At this point, it is not uncommon to discuss your salary with your future employer, but be sure to do so in a polite way.

Online dating sites provide the means for millions of people to meet future partners, and the number of people who use online dating is so large that there are sure to be disappointments along the way. I have met people who I thought were compatible with me, but they did not feel the same, and vice versa. This happens frequently while searching for a job, which can be discouraging, but should not hinder you from continuing to search! There are a great number of opportunities, and sometimes all it takes is adjusting your filters or revising your résumé and cover letter. The cliché “there’s plenty of fish in the sea” may be true, but there is definitely a way for each person to start their career off right.

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Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom. Edited by Thomas Priester.  Essay authored by Jackie Vetrano. Located at:  License: CC BY: Attribution.

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Chapter 42: Résumés and Cover Letters

Lumen Learning and Linda (Bruce) Hill

“The most important tool you have on a résumé is language.”

– Jay Samit

A résumé is a “selfie” for business purposes. It is a written picture of who you are—it’s a marketing tool, a selling tool, and a promotion of you as an ideal candidate for any job you may be interested in.

The word résumé comes from the French word résumé, which means “a summary.” Leonardo da Vinci is credited with writing one of the first known résumés, although it was more of a letter that outlined his credentials for a potential employer, Ludovico Sforza. The résumé got da Vinci the job, though, and Sforza became a longtime patron of da Vinci and later commissioned him to paint The Last Supper.

Résumés and cover letters work together to represent you in the most positive light to prospective employers. With a well-composed résumé and cover letter, you stand out—which may get you an interview and then a good shot at landing a job.

In this section, we discuss résumés and cover letters as key components of your career development tool kit. We explore some of the many ways you can design and develop them for the greatest impact in your job search.

Your Résumé: Purpose and Contents

Your résumé is an inventory of your education, work experience, job-related skills, accomplishments, volunteer history, internships, residencies, and/or more. It’s a professional autobiography in outline form to give the person who reads it a quick, general idea of who you are, and what skills, abilities, and experiences you have to offer. With a better idea of who you are, prospective employers can see how well you might contribute to their workplace.

As a college student or recent graduate, though, you may be unsure about what to put in your résumé, especially if you don’t have much employment history. Still, employers don’t expect recent grads to have significant work experience. And even with little work experience, you may still have a host of worthy accomplishments to include. It’s all in how you present yourself.

The following video is an animated look at why résumés are so important. Read a transcript of the video.

Video: Why Do I Need a Resume?

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Elements of Your Successful Résumé

Perhaps the hardest part of writing a résumé is figuring out what format to use to organize and present your information in the most effective way. There is no correct format, per se, but most résumés follow one of the four formats below. Which format do you think will best represent your qualifications?

  1. Reverse chronological résumé: A reverse chronological résumé (sometimes also simply called a chronological résumé) lists your job experiences in reverse chronological order—that is, starting with the most recent job and working backward toward your first job. It includes starting and ending dates. Also included is a brief description of the work duties you performed for each job, and highlights of your formal education. The reverse chronological résumé may be the most common and perhaps the most conservative résumé format. It is most suitable for demonstrating a solid work history, and growth and development in your skills. It may not suit you if you are light on skills in the area you are applying to, or if you’ve changed employers frequently, or if you are looking for your first job. Reverse Chronological Résumé Examples
  2. Functional résumé: A functional résumé is organized around your talents, skills, and abilities (more so than work duties and job titles, as with the reverse chronological résumé). It emphasizes specific professional capabilities, like what you have done or what you can do. Specific dates may be included but are not as important. So if you are a new graduate entering your field with little or no actual work experience, the functional résumé may be a good format for you. It can also be useful when you are seeking work in a field that differs from what you have done in the past. It’s also well suited for people in unconventional careers. Functional Résumé Examples
  3. Hybrid résumé: The hybrid résumé is a format reflecting both the functional and chronological approaches. It’s also called a combination résumé. It highlights relevant skills, but it still provides information about your work experience. With a hybrid résumé, you may list your job skills as most prominent and then follow with a chronological (or reverse chronological) list of employers. This résumé format is most effective when your specific skills and job experience need to be emphasized. Hybrid Résumé Examples
  4. Video, infographic, and website résumé: Other formats you may wish to consider are the video résumé, the infographic résumé, or even a website résumé. These formats may be most suitable for people in multimedia and creative careers. Certainly with the expansive use of technology today, a job seeker might at least try to create a media-enhanced résumé. But the paper-based, traditional résumé is by far the most commonly used—in fact, some human resource departments may not permit submission of any format other than paper based. Video Resume Examples; Infographic Résumé Examples; Website Résumé Examples

An important note about formatting is that, initially, employers may spend only a few seconds reviewing each résumé—especially if there is a big stack of them or they seem tedious to read. That’s why it’s important to choose your format carefully so it will stand out and make the first cut.

Résumé Contents and Structure

For many people, the process of writing a résumé is daunting. After all, you are taking a lot of information and condensing it into a very concise form that needs to be both eye-catching and easy to read. Don’t be scared off, though! Developing a good résumé can be fun, rewarding, and easier than you think if you follow a few basic guidelines. In the following video, a résumé-writing expert describes some keys to success.

Video: Resume Tutorial

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Contents and Components To Include

  1. Your contact information: name, address (note that some recommend not sharing for security purposes, others recommend sharing to be complete), phone number, professional email address
  2. A summary of your skills: 5–10 skills you have gained in your field
  3. Work experience: depending on the résumé format you choose, you may list your most recent job first; include the title of the position, employer’s name, location, employment dates (beginning, ending); Working for a family business is valid work experience and should definitely be on a resume.
  4. Volunteer experience: can be listed in terms of hours completed or months/years involved. Use the same format as that used to list work experience.
  5. Education and training: formal and informal experiences matter; include academic degrees, professional development, certificates, internships, etc.
  6. Other sections: may include a job objective, a brief profile, a branding statement, a summary statement, additional accomplishments, and any other related experiences


Résumés resemble snowflakes in as much as no two are alike. Although you can benefit from giving yours a stamp of individuality, you will do well to steer clear of personal details that might elicit a negative response. It is advisable to omit any confidential information or details that could make you vulnerable to discrimination, for instance. Your résumé will likely be viewed by a number of employees in an organization, including human resource personnel, managers, administrative staff, etc. By aiming to please all reviewers, you gain maximum advantage.

Top Ten Tips for a Successful Résumé

  1. Aim to make a résumé that’s 1–2 pages long on letter-size paper.
  2. Make it visually appealing.
  3. Use action verbs and phrases.
  4. Proofread carefully to eliminate any spelling, grammar, punctuation, and typographical errors.
  5. Include highlights of your qualifications or skills to attract an employer’s attention.
  6. Craft your letter as a pitch to people in the profession you plan to work in.
  7. Stand out as different, courageous.
  8. Be positive and reflect only the truth.
  9. Be excited and optimistic about your job prospects!
  10. Keep refining and reworking your résumé; it’s an ongoing project.

Remember that your résumé is your professional profile. It will hold you in the most professional and positive light, and it’s designed to be a quick and easy way for a prospective employer to evaluate what you might bring to a job. When written and formatted attractively, creatively, and legibly, your résumé is what will get your foot in the door. You can be proud of your accomplishments, even if they don’t seem numerous. Let your résumé reflect your personal pride and professionalism. A resume is also a “living document” and will change as your experiences and skills change.

In the following video, Résumé Tips for College Students From Employers, several college graduate recruiters summarize the most important points about crafting your résumé. Download a transcript of the video.

Video: Résumé Tips for College Students From Employers

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Résumé Writing Resources

2 The Online Resume Builder (from My Perfect resume) The online résumé builder is easy to use. Choose your résumé design from the library of professional designs, insert prewritten examples, then download and print your new résumé.
3 Résumé Builder (from Live Career) This site offers examples and samples, templates, tips, videos, and services for résumés, cover letters, interviews, and jobs.
4 Résumé Samples for College Students and Graduates (from About Careers) This site offers a plethora of sample résumés for college students and graduates. Listings are by type of student and by type of job. Résumé templates are also provided.
5 Job Search Minute Videos (from College Grad) This site offers multiple to-the-point one-minute videos on topics such as print résumés, video résumés, cover letters, interviewing, tough interview questions, references, job fairs, and Internet job searching.
7 42 Résumé Dos and Don’ts Every Job Seeker Should Know (from The Muse) A comprehensive list of résumé dos and don’ts, which includes traditional rules as well as new rules to polish your résumé.


Activity: Create Your Résumé


  • Compile data reflecting your professional and educational skills and accomplishments.
  • Assess the main résumé formats and select one that meets your needs.
  • Create a first draft of your professional résumé.


  1. Compile all needed information for your résumé, including your contact information, a summary of your skills, your work experience and volunteer experience, education and training (including your intended degree, professional development activities, certificates, internships, etc.). Optionally you may wish to include job objective, a brief profile, a branding statement, additional accomplishments, and any other related experiences.
  2. Select one of the résumé builder tools listed above in the Résumé Writing Resources table.
  3. Create your résumé, following instructions at your selected site.
  4. Save your document as a PDF file.
  5. Follow instructions from your instructor on how to submit your work.

Your Cover Letter

A cover letter is a letter of introduction, usually 3–4 paragraphs in length, that you attach to your résumé. It’s a way of introducing yourself to a potential employer and explaining why you are suited for a position. Employers may look for individualized and thoughtfully written cover letters as an initial method of screening out applicants who may who lack necessary basic skills, or who may not be sufficiently interested in the position.

 Cover Letter Examples

Often an employer will request or require that a cover letter be included in the materials an applicant submits. There are also occasions when you might submit a cover letter uninvited (also called a letter of interest). For example, if you are initiating an inquiry about possible work or asking someone to send you information or provide other assistance.

With each résumé you send out, always include a cover letter specifically addressing your purposes.

Characteristics of an Effective Cover Letter

Cover letters should accomplish the following:

The following video features Aimee Bateman, founder of, who explains how you can create an incredible cover letter. Download a transcript of the video.

Video: 5 Steps to an Incredible Cover Letter

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Cover Letter Resources

1 Student Cover Letter Samples (from About Careers) This site contains sample student/recent graduate cover letters (especially for high school students and college students and graduates seeking employment) as well as cover letter templates, writing tips, formats and templates, email cover letter examples, and examples by type of applicant.
2 How to Write Cover Letters (from CollegeGrad) This site contains resources about the reality of cover letters, using a cover letter, the worst use of the cover letter, the testimonial cover letter technique, and a cover letter checklist.
4 Cover Letters (from the Yale Office of Career Strategy) This site includes specifications for the cover letter framework (introductory paragraph, middle paragraph, concluding paragraph), as well as format and style.

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  • WHY DO I NEED A RESUME? Authored by: Leinard Tapat. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
  • Resume Tips for College Students From Employers. Authored by: Clarkson University. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
  • 5 Steps to an Incredible Cover Letter. Authored by: Aimee Bateman. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
  • Resume Tutorial. Authored by: Cameron Cassidy. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.

Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom essay removed (exists elsewhere in this work).

Adaptions: Relocated learning objectives. Image of helping write a resume removed. Image of piles of paper on a table removed.


Chapter 43: Interviewing

Lumen Learning and Linda (Bruce) Hill

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.”
– Arthur Ashe

If your résumé and cover letter have served their purposes well, you will be invited to participate in an interview with the company or organization you’re interested in. Congratulations! It’s an exciting time, and your prospects for employment are very strong if you put in the time to be well prepared.

In this section we look at how to get ready for an interview, what types of interviews you might need to engage in, and what kinds of questions you might be asked.

Preparing Effectively for a Job Interview

Review the Job Description

When you prepare for an interview, your first step will be to carefully read and reread the job posting or job description. This will help you develop a clearer idea of how you meet the skills and attributes the company seeks.

Research the Company or Organization

Researching the company will give you a wider view of what the company is looking for and how well you might fit in. Your prospective employer may ask you what you know about the company. Being prepared to answer this question shows that you took time and effort to prepare for the interview and that you have a genuine interest in the organization. It shows good care and good planning—soft skills you will surely need on the job.

Practice Answering Common Questions

Most interviewees find that practicing for the interview in advance with a family member, a friend, or a colleague eases possible nerves during the actual interview. It also creates greater confidence when you walk through the interview door. In the “Interview Questions” section below, you’ll learn more about specific questions you will likely be asked and corresponding strategies for answering them.

Plan to Dress Appropriately

Interviewees are generally most properly dressed for an interview in business attire, with the goal of looking highly professional in the eyes of the interviewer.

Come Prepared

Plan to bring your résumé, cover letter, and a list of references to the interview. You may also want to bring a portfolio of representative work. Leave behind coffee, chewing gum, and any other items that could be distractions.

Be Confident

Above all, interviewees should be confident and “courageous.” By doing so you make a strong first impression. As the saying goes, “There is never a second chance to make a first impression.”

Job Interview Types and Techniques

Every interview you participate in will be unique: The people you meet with, the interview setting, and the questions you’ll be asked will all be different from interview to interview.

The various factors that characterize any given interview can contribute to the sense of adventure and excitement you feel. But it’s also normal to feel a little nervous about what lies ahead. With so many unknowns, how can you plan to “nail the interview” no matter what comes up?

A good strategy for planning is to anticipate the type of interview you may find yourself in. There are common formats for job interviews, described in detail, below. By knowing a bit more about each type and being aware of techniques that work for each, you can plan to be on your game no matter what form your interview takes.

Screening Interviews

Screening interviews might best be characterized as “weeding-out” interviews. They ordinarily take place over the phone or in another low-stakes environment in which the interviewer has maximum control over the amount of time the interview takes. Screening interviews are generally short because they glean only basic information about you. If you are scheduled to participate in a screening interview, you might safely assume that you have some competition for the job and that the company is using this strategy to whittle down the applicant pool. With this kind of interview, your goal is to win a face-to-face interview. For this first shot, though, prepare well and challenge yourself to shine. This type of interview should be treated like a real interview. This may mean dressing for the interview and having a resume in front of you so that it can be referred to. Another suggestion is to use a land line phone if possible and/or make sure a cell phone is fully charged and that the screening interview takes place in a location that is free of distractions. Try to stand out from the competition and be sure to follow up with a thank-you note.

Phone or Web Conference Interviews

If you are geographically separated from your prospective employer, you may be invited to participate in a phone interview or online interview, instead of meeting face-to-face. Technology, of course, is a good way to bridge distances. The fact that you’re not there in person doesn’t make it any less important to be fully prepared, though. In fact, you may wish to be all the more “on your toes” to compensate for the distance barrier. Make sure your equipment (phone, computer, Internet connection, etc.) is fully charged and works. If you’re at home for the interview, make sure the environment is quiet and distraction-free.  If the meeting is online, make sure your video background is pleasing and neutral, like a wall hanging or even a white wall.

One-on-One Interviews

The majority of job interviews are conducted in this format—just you and a single interviewer—likely with the manager you would report to and work with. The one-on-one format gives you both a chance to see how well you connect and how well your talents, skills, and personalities mesh. You can expect to be asked questions like “Why would you be good for this job?” and “Tell me about yourself.” Many interviewees prefer the one-on-one format because it allows them to spend in-depth time with the interviewer. Rapport can be built. As always, be very courteous and professional. Have handy a portfolio of your best work.

Panel Interviews

An efficient format for meeting a candidate is a panel interview, in which perhaps four to five coworkers meet at the same time with a single interviewee. The coworkers comprise the “search committee” or “search panel,” which may consist of different company representatives such as human resources, management, and staff. One advantage of this format for the committee is that meeting together gives them a common experience to reflect on afterward. In a panel interview, listen carefully to questions from each panelist, and try to connect fully with each questioner. Be sure to write down names and titles, so you can send individual thank-you notes after the interview.

Serial Interviews

Serial interviews are a combination of one-on-one meetings with a group of interviewers, typically conducted as a series of meetings staggered throughout the day. Ordinarily this type of interview is for higher-level jobs, when it’s important to meet at length with major stakeholders. If your interview process is designed this way, you will need to be ultraprepared, as you will be answering many in-depth questions. Be prepared.

Lunch Interviews

In some higher-level positions, candidates are taken to lunch or dinner, especially if this is a second interview (a “call back” interview). If this is you, count yourself lucky and be on your best behavior, because even if the lunch meeting is unstructured and informal, it’s still an official interview. Do not order an alcoholic beverage, and use your best table manners. You are not expected to pay or even to offer to pay. But, as always, you must send a thank-you note.

Group Interviews

Group interviews are comprised of several interviewees and perhaps only one or two interviewers who may make a presentation to the assembled group. This format allows an organization to quickly prescreen candidates. It also gives candidates a chance to quickly learn about the company. As with all interview formats, you are being observed. How do you behave with your group? Do you assume a leadership role? Are you quiet but attentive? What kind of personality is the company looking for? A group interview may reveal this.

For a summary of the interview formats we’ve just covered (and a few additional ones), take a look at the following video, Job Interview Guide—10 Different Types of Interviews in Today’s Modern World.

Video: Job Interview Guide – 10 Different Types of Interviews in Today’s Modern World

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Activity: What Makes You a Great Fit?


  • Define your ideal job.
  • Identify the top three reasons why you are a great fit for this ideal job.


  • Write a paragraph describing your ideal job. Imagine that you are already in this job. What is your job title and what are you responsible for executing? What is the name of the company or organization? What is its function?
  • Now identify the top three reasons why you are a great fit for this ideal job. What sets you apart from the competition? List the qualities, skills and values you have that match the job requirements. Provide examples to support your answers. Connect your values to the company’s values.
  • Summarize your answer.
  • Submit this assignment according to directions provided by your instructor.

Interview Questions

For most job candidates, the burning question is “What will I be asked?” There’s no way to anticipate every single question that may arise during an interview. It’s possible that, no matter how well prepared you are, you may get a question you just didn’t expect. But that is okay. Do as much preparation as you can—which will build your confidence in your answers and ready for unexpected questions.

To help you reach that point of sureness and confidence, take time to review common interview questions. Think about your answers. Make notes, if that helps. And then conduct a practice interview with a friend, a family member, or a colleague. Speak your answers out loud. Below is a list of resources that contain common interview questions and good explanations/answers you might want to adopt.

1 100 top job interview questions—be prepared for the interview (from This site provides a comprehensive set of interview questions you might expect to be asked, categorized as basic interview questions, behavioral questions, salary questions, career development questions, and other kinds. Some of the listed questions provide comprehensive answers, too.
2 Interview Questions and Answers (from BigInterview) This site provides text and video answers to the following questions: Tell me about yourself, describe your current position, why are you looking for a new job, what are your strengths, what is your greatest weakness, why do you want to work here, where do you see yourself in five years, why should we hire you, and do you have any questions for me?
3 Ten Tough Interview Questions and Ten Great Answers (from CollegeGrad) This site explores some of the most difficult questions you will face in job interviews. The more open-ended the question, the greater the variation among answers. Once you have become practiced in your interviewing skills, you will find that you can use almost any question as a launching pad for a particular topic or compelling story.

Why Should We Hire You

From the Ohio State University Fisher College of Business Career Management Office, here is a video featuring representatives from recruiting companies offering advice for answering the question “Why should we hire you?” As you watch, make mental notes about how you would answer the question in an interview for a job you really want.

Video: Why Should We Hire You?

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Unit 8: Social Interaction and Diversity

Learning Objectives

After you have completed this unit you should be able to:


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College Success. Authored by: Linda Bruce. Located at:  and   License: CC BY: Attribution.

Burke, Monica G.; Keaster, Ric; Norman, Hideko; and Pereira, Nielson, “Global Pathways: Cultural Competence Curriculum Module” (2014). Counseling & Student Affairs Faculty Publications. Paper 71. License: CC BY: Attribution.




Chapter 44: Socializing

Lumen Learning and Linda (Bruce) Hill


When we explore relationships within groups of people, interdependence may well be one of the most meaningful words in the English language. It’s meaningful because it speaks to the importance of connecting with others and maintaining viable relationships.

Interdependence is defined as the mutual reliance, or mutual dependence, between two or more people or groups.

An interdependent relationship is different from dependent and codependent relationships, though. In dependent relationships, some members are dependent while some are not (dependent people believe that they may not be able to achieve goals on their own). In codependent relationships, there is a sense that one must help others achieve their goals before pursuing one’s own. Contrast these relationships with interdependent relationships, in which the dependency, support, and gain is shared for the enrichment of all.

Interdependence in College

Interdependence is valuable in college because it contributes to your success as a student. When you feel comfortable with interdependence, for example, you may be more likely to ask a friend to help you with a class project. You may also be more likely to offer that same help to someone else. You may be more inclined to visit a faculty member during office hours. You may be more likely to attend the tutoring center for help with a difficult subject. Perhaps you would visit the career counseling center.

Overall, when you have a sense of interdependence, you cultivate support networks for yourself, and you help others, too. Interdependence is a win-win relationship.

The following table illustrates how interdependence can play a role in college life.

Interdependence Struggle Mode

Interdependence Success Mode

Students in struggle mode maintain a stance of dependence, co-dependence, or perhaps dogged independence, but not interdependence Students in success mode develop relationships that support themselves and support other people, too
Students in struggle mode may avoid cooperating with others in situations where the common good could be achieved Students in success mode develop networks of friends, family members, professionals, and others as a support team
Students in struggle mode may be reluctant to listen compassionately and attempt to understand the perspective of another person Students in success mode actively and compassionately listen to others as an action of support; they demonstrate care and concern

Benefits of Social Interaction in College

If you were to ask fellow students what they think are the greatest benefits of social interaction in college, you would probably get a wide and colorful range of responses. How would you answer? Gaining good friends to “talk shop” with? Easing loneliness during difficult times? Having a group to join for Friday night fun? Indeed there are many, many benefits personal to each of us. But you may find, too, that there are certain benefits that are recognizable to all. These are highlighted below.

Form Deep and Lasting Relationships

When you socialize regularly in college, you tend to develop deep and lasting relationships. Even if some of the connections are shorter term, they can support you in different ways. For example, maybe a college friend in your same major is interested in starting a business with you. Or maybe a roommate helps you find a job. With a foundation of caring and concern, you are bound to find that your interdependent relationships fulfill you and others. It’s unlikely that students without interdependent relationships will experience these kinds of benefits.

Develop Good Study Habits

Study habits vary from student to student, but you can usually tell when studying and social life are at odds. Creative, organized students can combine studying and socializing for maximum advantage. For example, you might join a peer study group for a subject that you find difficult or even for a subject that you excel in. Either way, you and others gain from this relationship. There is mutual support not only for studying but for building social connections.

Minimize Stress

When you feel stressed, what are your “go-to” behaviors? It can be hard to reach out to others during times of stress, but socializing can be a great stress reliever. When you connect with others, you may find that life is a little easier and burdens can be shared and lightened. Helping is mutual. The key is to balance social activities with responsibilities.

Share Interests

In college, there are opportunities not only to explore a wide spectrum of interests but also to share them. In the process of exploring and developing your personal interests, you may join a club or perhaps work in a campus location that fits your interests. By connecting with others in a context of shared interests, everyone stands to gain because you expand knowledge and experience through social interaction.

Develop Social Skills

As you engage in social activities in college, you have the opportunity to observe how other people act in these situations. You may see behaviors you want to emulate or behaviors you wish to avoid. Throughout these observations and experiences, you can learn new ways to handle yourself in social situations. These skills will benefit you as you pursue a career and engage with people who interest and inspire you.

Communication Strategies for Effective Interactions

Socializing is generally considered a leisurely, enjoyable activity. But depending on your personality and attitude, it can also feel like work or provoke anxiety.

Whatever your natural inclinations are, you can learn how to communicate more effectively with others and foster supportive interactions. The “doors” of change to more effective interactions are threefold:

  1. Examine your reservations
  2. Engage with others
  3. Expand your social circle and/or build a few meaningful friendships.

Examine Your Reservations

Everybody feels shy or insecure from time to time, but if you feel inhibited by your shyness, it may be because you’ve developed certain habits of thought that don’t serve your best interests anymore. Below are some strategies to help you examine reservations you may have about engaging in social activities.

  • Change ideas and thoughts: In our busy, high-octane lives, it’s not always easy to be aware of our thoughts, especially habitual thoughts that sometimes lurk behind the others. But if we make a point to listen to our thoughts, we may discover some that we’d like to change. Once you begin to recognize thoughts you’d like to change, you can train yourself in new directions. For example, you can start by closing your eyes and visualizing the negative thought. Let it slowly dissolve until it disappears completely.
  • Turn a negative thought into a constructive thought: If you find yourself thinking that you’re not suited to joining a group that interests you, turn this thought into a positive one by saying, “I am an interesting person and I have a lot to offer and share.” This affirmation is true! You might want to come up with three or more replacement thoughts.
  • Acknowledge that everyone is unique: Everyone has their own unique mind, body, personality, interests, beliefs, and values.

Engage with Others

  • Smile: One of the easiest ways to compel yourself into socializing is to smile. Smiling can instantly make you feel more positive. It also draws other people to you.
  • Use welcoming body language: If you are at a social gathering, be aware of your body language. Does it signal that you are approachable? Make eye contact with people, give them a small wave or a nod, and look in front of you instead of at your feet or at the floor. When you look happy and ready to talk, people are more likely to come up to you.
  • Put your phone away: If you look busy, people won’t want to interrupt you. Your body language should say that you are ready to interact.
  • Be genuine: Whether you are talking to an old friend or somebody you have just met, show genuine interest in the conversation. Being fully engaged shows that you are compassionate and makes for more stimulating and fulfilling interactions with others.
  • Keep conversations balanced: Ask people questions about themselves. Show that you care by asking others to share.
  • Be open-minded: The old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is relevant here. Someone you’re ambivalent about could end up being your best friend. Give yourself a chance to get to know others. What interests might you share?

Expand Your Social Circle

  • Offer invitations: As you reach out to others, others will be more likely to reciprocate and reach out to you. Call old friends that you haven’t seen in a while and set up a time to get together. Invite a friend to the movies, a baseball game, a concert, or other activity. Consider having a party and telling your friends to bring guests.
  • Accept more invitations: Granted, there are only so many hours in the day for socializing. But if you’re in the habit of turning down invitations, try to make a point to accept some—even if the invitation is to attend something out of your comfort zone. You might even want to make a habit of arbitrarily saying yes three times for every one time you say no.
  • Join a club or group with like-minded people: Making new friends and expanding one’s social network can be accomplished by joining a club or group. You may even want to consider joining a group focused on something different from what you’re used to.
  • Meet mutual friends: Meeting friends of friends is one of the easiest ways to meet new people. Try to view every person you meet in your life as a doorway into a new social circle.
  • Look for unique opportunities to be social: This can be as simple as starting a conversation with a checkout clerk—”Hey, how’s your day going?”—instead of remaining quiet.

All in all, make your social life one of your top priorities. Everyone needs some alone time, too, but it’s important to stay connected. Keeping those connections alive contributes to healthy interdependence and personal success.

Activity: Reflections on Self-Confidence


  • Identify personal traits that give you self-confidence and use them as a springboard to social interaction.


  • Make a list of your positive qualities. Acknowledge your accomplishments, talents, and good nature. Ask yourself the following questions to get you started:
    • What have I done in the past year that I am proud of?
    • What is my proudest accomplishment of all time?
    • What unique talents do I have?
    • What do people tend to compliment me for?
    • What positive impact have I had on other people’s lives?
  • Draft your responses as a journal entry, or a diary entry, or even a poem or a brief essay.
  • Submit your writing to a friend, a family member, or a social network. Reach out. Be social.

Social Conflict Situations and Resolution Strategies

Now that you know more about communication strategies for interacting in college, you may find it helpful to identify common situations that can evoke anxiety or social problems and conflict.


The definition of bullying according to the NCAB (National Center Against Bullying) is when an individual or a group of people with more power, repeatedly and intentionally cause hurt or harm to another person or group of people who feel helpless to respond. Often receiving more attention at the K-12 level, bullying also occurs in college.  For more information, please see these two websites:

Portrait of a person with shattered porcelain skin and one hand covering their face and the other covering their chest in a protective gesture
Mental Health

High school student Hazel Taintor produced this youtube video emphasizing the power of words:

Video: The Broken Plate


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Campus Parties and Hookups

Many college students report that they have social limits not shared by some of their friends. For example, you may join a group of friends to attend a party off-campus where a lot of drinking is taking place, along with other activities you are not comfortable with. If this kind of situation clashes with your personal, cultural, or religious values, you may feel best leaving the event and seeking out other social settings in the future. Angle your social interests toward people and situations that are compatible with your values and preferences. Be aware of your environment and your company and think about your health and safety.

Academic Problems

When you’re in college, it’s not unusual to hit a rough patch and find yourself struggling academically, and such challenges can have an impact on your social life. If you may find yourself in this situation, you may benefit from slowing down and getting help.  This is especially true if you may be experiencing additional stressors, such as employment difficulties, responsibilities for a family member, or financial problems.

Your college or university has support systems in place to help you. Take advantage of resources such as the tutoring center, counseling center, and academic advisers to help you restore your social life to a balanced state.


Homesickness is a common among college freshman, but it can persist in later college years, too. During this time, one may not feel up to being fully sociable or outgoing, especially if depression is involved. In fact, depression and social isolation tend to go together. As unappealing as it may feel, one of the best antidotes to homesickness (and depression, too,) is try to make new social connections. Try to appreciate your new environment and know that you are not alone in feeling a bit out of place and alone. Many potential new friends may be sharing the same feeling and hoping to connect with someone just like you. Give yourself time to acclimate, but reach out as soon as possible and take an active role in building your new college life.

Too Much Social Networking

It’s pretty obvious that social media is an integral part of the social landscape in college. From tweeting about a football game, to posting an album on Facebook about your spring break, to beefing up your LinkedIn profile before a job hunt, to Instagramming a picture of party hijinks, social networking is everywhere in college, and it’s likely to stay. Remember to be thoughtful about what you post. Content you post may be seen by future employers. Some things online will never go away (even after you delete them).

The following video gives an insider look at why college students use social media.

Video: The True Reasons College Students Use Social Media

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Despite the many benefits, as you know, social networking can be a major distraction. If social networking is getting in the way of any part of your college success—whether its social or academic success—take a break and disconnect for a while.

Here are ten reasons why you may wish to step away from social media, at least temporarily: When It’s Time to Unplug—10 Reasons Why Too Much Social Media Is Bad for You

With a Little Help from My Friends

In a 2014 research study by the University of California-Los Angeles (the American Freshman Survey), 153,000 full-time, first-year students at more than 200 four-year public and private institutions were surveyed. Only 18 percent of those surveyed said they spend more than 16 hours weekly with friends. Compare this data point with a similar survey conducted in 1987: in that year, two-thirds of surveyed students said they spent more than 16 hours each week socializing.

What accounts for this change? Are academic pursuits now taking a larger percentage of students’ time? Is socializing being replaced by part-time jobs? And what is the impact of less socializing? You can read about the survey results to find out more: College Freshmen Socialize Less, Feel Depressed More.

For now, keep in mind the many benefits of socializing in college. It’s possible to have a healthy social life that’s balanced with other responsibilities.

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Chapter 45: Words of Wisdom: Fighting for My Future Now

Amie Bernstein

Amie Bernstein

Instead of completing high school, I elected to obtain my GED due to an anxiety disorder that kept me from being successful in the traditional school setting. At sixteen years old, I thought I had it figured out. I was going to go to college before my high school class graduated, and I would be ahead of the curve. But I learned quickly that college coursework is tremendously different from high school. College requires a level of self-discipline that I had not yet developed. More importantly, college requires a substantial amount of courage and confidence that I was sorely lacking.

In the spring of 2005, I attempted to take my first two college classes. I withdrew from both within the first month. I made excuses as to why I could not complete the semester. I told people that it was the professor’s fault for making the information too difficult or teaching the material too quickly. I told other people that the readings were too easy and I was wasting my time. The truth was that I was afraid to try. I was afraid that if I tried, the result would be failure.

After eight consecutive semesters, I had completed only five classes successfully, accrued seventeen withdrawals, and got three failing grades. In those four years, I was placed on academic probation five times because I neglected to withdraw from classes and just received a failing grade instead. I made the decision to find an entry-level job in an office so I could grow with a company to be successful instead of getting an education. Through a little bit of searching, I found what I was looking for. At the time, it seemed like the perfect place to be, and I was excited to start.

I was working at an HVAC company in the office part-time as a general office assistant. My duties included answering phones and taking messages. There wasn’t a great amount of room for growth, however it had a better salary than any of the previous jobs I had at fast food restaurants and retail stores. I worked at the company for nearly two years before I asked for a raise. It took a month of contemplation, and the owner finally agreed to give me a raise. I waited for my next paycheck, excited to see the increase in pay even though I knew it wasn’t going to be very big.

The raise meant that I had accomplished something, but when I received my next paycheck, the pay rate wasn’t changed and it felt like I had accomplished nothing at all. When I questioned the owner about it, he said he forgot and he would change it for the next pay period. This same routine went on for two months until I made a big decision. The moment I received my paycheck, three months from when I originally asked for a raise, I walked out of the office and drove directly to the registrar on my local community college. I registered for classes again, but this time I promised myself it would be different; I was fighting for my future now.

I then started taking classes again in the fall of 2011 going part-time. I attended every class and studied as much as I could. I took every opportunity for extra credit assignments. I didn’t stop to doubt myself. I just kept my thoughts focused on finishing the assignments—one at a time. Before I knew it, I had successfully completed the semester. I continued to take classes and try my best—taking every challenge head-on.

A year later, in the fall of 2012, I received a letter in the mail inviting me to join the honor society. Up until this point in my life I had let my anxiety disorder rule my life. This was proof that I was finally on the right track. I reluctantly joined and decided to continue to further push myself outside my comfort zone to challenge my anxiety.

Not only did I start going to meetings, but I participated in every event that the honor society had to offer. That included bake sales, volunteering for nonprofit organizations, and volunteering for the college itself. The opportunities came at me from every angle.

I then started to be recognized by the college. In addition to being recognized for my good grades, I was also recognized for my involvement with campus activities through the honor society. I received both a Distinguished Student Award from my college and a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence. I joined everything I could after that, including two more honor societies, one for English and the other for Psychology. I enrolled in a non-credit bearing leadership class on campus so I could have even more experience that would help me with my future goals. I even went on to run for a regional officer position in my honor society and won. I was able to travel to California, Florida, and Missouri, all because of campus involvement in the honor society.

I still have anxiety, but now I am able to cope with it without letting it dictate my every move. I have confidence. I always thought that because I wasn’t that cookie cutter all-American student, my opportunities would be limited, but getting involved on campus opened so many doors for me. I learned so much about what it was to be a leader. I learned what it meant to be part of a team and the value in building relationships. I learned what it meant to be engaged both inside and outside of the classroom.

I developed a deeper sense of who I am through my campus involvement. Sometimes I think about what would have happened if I never had taken that step and joined the honor society or never attended any meetings. Honestly, I probably would have been okay. I would have been steadily gliding through my education. I would have shown up to class, taken notes, then gone home and studied. I would have probably then gone on and found a decent job with a regular amount of satisfaction. But who wants an okay, decent, or regular life? I don’t; I need more. I want to love what I do and enjoy every moment I can.

Maybe the honor society isn’t something that you are interested in and that’s okay. Do something different and learn about all of the opportunities that your campus offers and pick one to try out. Make your life more than run of the mill—and start now.

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Chapter 46: Diversity and Accessibility

Lumen Learning, Linda (Bruce) Hill, Dave Dillon

“Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.”

– Malcolm Forbes

What Is Diversity?

There are few words in the English language that have more varied interpretations than diversity. What does diversity mean? Better yet—what does diversity mean to you? And what does it mean to your best friend, your teacher, your parents, your religious leader, or the person standing behind you in a grocery store?

For each of us, diversity has unique meaning. Below are a few of the many definitions offered by college students at a 2010 conference on the topic of diversity. Which of these definitions rings out to you as most accurate and thoughtful? Which definitions could use some embellishment or clarification, in your opinion?

Diversity is a group of people who are different in the same place.

Diversity to me is the ability for differences to coexist together, with some type of mutual understanding or acceptance present. Acceptance of different viewpoints is key.

Tolerance of thought, ideas, people with differing viewpoints, backgrounds, and life experiences.

Anything that sets one individual apart from another.

People with different opinions, backgrounds (degrees and social experience), religious beliefs, political beliefs, sexual orientations, heritage, and life experience.


Having a multitude of people from different backgrounds and cultures together in the same environment working for the same goals.

Difference in students’ background, especially race and gender.

Differences in characteristics of humans.

Diversity is a satisfying mix of ideas, cultures, races, genders, economic statuses and other characteristics necessary for promoting growth and learning among a group.

Diversity is the immersion and comprehensive integration of various cultures, experiences, and people.

Heterogeneity brings about opportunities to share, learn and grow from the journeys of others. Without it, limitations arise and knowledge is gained in the absence of understanding.

Diversity is not tolerance for difference but inclusion of those who are not the majority. It should not be measured as a count or a fraction—that is somehow demeaning. Success at maintaining diversity would be when we no longer ask if we are diverse enough, because it has become the norm, not remarkable.

A crowd of rainbow colored faces with gray neck and shoulder outlines overlap in a space with white background
Cultural Diversity

Diversity means different things to different people, and it can be understood differently in different environments. In the context of your college experience, diversity generally refers to people around you who differ by race, culture, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, abilities, opinions, political views, and in other ways. When it comes to diversity on the college campus, we also think about how groups interact with one another, given their differences (even if they’re just perceived differences.) How do diverse populations experience and explore their relationships?

“More and more organizations define diversity really broadly,” says Eric Peterson, who works on diversity issues for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “Really, it’s any way any group of people can differ significantly from another group of people—appearance, sexual orientation, veteran status, your level in the organization. It has moved far beyond the legally protected categories that we’ve always looked at.”

The following videos explore aspects of diversity. They highlight the passion and excitement about diversity and the many ways in which diverse groups can support one another.

Video: Color blind or color brave? Mellody Hobson TED Talk

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Video: When To Take a Stand and When To Let it Go, Ash Beckham TED Talk

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Video: How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them, Vernã Myers TED Talk

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Video: ‘Ask Me’: What LGBTQ Students Want Their Professors to Know

(View this video by clicking the subheading above or at

Surface Diversity and Deep Diversity

Surface diversity and deep diversity are categories of personal attributes—or differences in attributes—that people perceive to exist between people or groups of people.

Surface-level diversity refers to differences you can generally observe in others, like ethnicity, race, gender, age, culture, language, disability, etc. You can quickly and easily observe these features in a person. And people often do just that, making subtle judgments at the same time, which can lead to bias or discrimination. For example, if a teacher believes that older students perform better than younger students, she may give slightly higher grades to the older students than the younger students. This bias is based on perception of the attribute of age, which is surface-level diversity.

Deep-level diversity, on the other hand, reflects differences that are less visible, like personality, attitude, beliefs, and values. These attributes are generally communicated verbally and nonverbally, so they are not easily noticeable or measurable. You may not detect deep-level diversity in a classmate, for example, until you get to know him or her, at which point you may find that you are either comfortable with these deeper character levels, or perhaps not. But once you gain this deeper level of awareness, you may focus less on surface diversity. For example: At the beginning of a term, a classmate belonging to a minority ethnic group, whose native language is not English (surface diversity), may be treated differently by fellow classmates in another ethnic group. But as the term gets under way, classmates begin discovering the person’s values and beliefs (deep-level diversity), which they find they are comfortable with. The surface-level attributes of language and perhaps skin color become more “transparent” (less noticeable) as comfort is gained with deep-level attributes.

Positive Effects of Diversity in an Educational Setting

Why does diversity matter in college? It matters because when you are exposed to new ideas, viewpoints, customs, and perspectives—which invariably happens when you come in contact with diverse groups of people—you expand your frame of reference for understanding the world. Your thinking becomes more open and global. You become comfortable working and interacting with people of all nationalities. You gain a new knowledge base as you learn from people who are different from yourself. You think “harder” and more creatively. You perceive in new ways, seeing issues and problems from new angles. You can absorb and consider a wider range of options, and your values may be enriched. In short, it contributes to your education.

Consider the following facts about diversity in the United States:

Legendary filmmaker and culture crafter, Spike Lee sits in a “X” and Morehouse college t-shirt in front of the words of the iconic song “Fight the Power”. Spike Lee has always pushed the limits of storytelling and telling the truth of what goes on under the American sun in its relation to Blackness and race in general. The graffiti is used to express the urban grit it takes to push the limits of any art form
Fighting against racism

All in all, diversity brings richness to relationships on campus and off campus, and it further prepares college students to thrive and work in a multicultural world. Diversity is fast becoming America’s middle name.

Activity: Cultural Sensitivity and Inclusivity in Practice


  • Identify ways in which you can make diversity more personal.


This activity will help you examine ways in which you can develop your awareness of and commitment to diversity on campus. Answer the following questions to the best of your ability:

  • What are my personal and intellectual goals in college?
  • What kind of community will help me expand most fully, with diversity as a factor in my expansion?
  • What are my comfort zones, and how might I expand them to connect more diversely?
  • Do I want to be challenged by new viewpoints, or will I feel more comfortable connecting with people who are like me?
  • What are my biggest questions about diversity?
  • Write several paragraphs reflecting on the questions above.
  • Submit this assignment according to directions from your instructor.

Consider the following strategies to help you answer the questions:

  • Examine extracurricular activities. Can you get involved with clubs or organizations that promote and expand diversity?
  • Review your college’s curriculum. In what ways does it reflect diversity? Does it have departments and courses on historically unrepresented peoples, e.g., cultural and ethnic studies, and gender and sexuality studies. Look for study-abroad programs, as well.
  • Read your college’s mission statement. Read the mission statement of other colleges. How do they match up with your values and beliefs? How do they align with the value of diversity?
  • Inquire with friends, faculty, colleagues, family. Be open about diversity. What does it mean to others? What positive effects has it had on them? Ask people about diversity.
  • Research can help. You might consult college literature, websites, resource centers and organizations on campus, etc.

Accessibility and Diversity on Campus

The idea of “accessibility” is an important force of change on college campuses today. Accessibility is about making education accessible to all, and it’s particularly focused on providing educational support to a diverse group of students, faculty, and staff with disabilities. According to the American with Disabilities Act, you can be considered disabled if you meet one of the following criteria:

If you meet one of these criteria, you have special legal rights to certain accommodations on your campus. These accommodations may include, but are not limited to, the following:

Assistive technologies and Web-accessibility accommodations are critical in today’s technology-driven economy and society. The following are some examples of assistive technologies:

Students in the following video share some of their experiences with the Web-accessibility.

Video: Experiences of Students with Disabilities

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For more information about Web-accessibility, visit

For further information about race and ethnicity, visit Chapter 11 (Race and Ethnicity) of the OpenStax Sociology 2E OER textbook:

For further information about gender, sex, and sexuality, visit Chapter 12 (Gender, Sex, and Sexuality) of the OpenStax Sociology 2E OER textbook:

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  • Experiences of Students with Disabilities. Authored by: Jared Smith. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License/

‘Ask Me’: What LGBTQ Students Want Their Professors to Know:

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License: CC-BY–NC–ND 4.0 International.

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Adaptions: Relocated learning objectives, added videos, removed Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom video as it appears elsewhere in the text. Added link to OpenStax Sociology 2E Chapter 11: Race and Ethnicity.

OpenStax, Introduction to Sociology 2e. OpenStax CNX. Feb 19, 2019

Added link to OpenStax Sociology 2E Chapter 12: Gender, Sex, and Sexuality.

OpenStax, Introduction to Sociology 2e. OpenStax CNX. Feb 19, 2019


“How Would You Define Diversity?,” Open Ended Student Survey on How to Define Diversity, April 28, 2010,
Kevin Whitelaw, “Defining Diversity: Beyond Race and Gender,” accessed April 27, 2018,


Chapter 47: Campus and Student Life

Lumen Learning and Linda (Bruce) Hill

Student Life

Whether your campus is small, tall, grande, or venti, you are probably amazed by the array of institutionally supported student activities available for your enrichment and enjoyment. Perhaps your biggest challenge is deciding how much extra time you have after studying and which added activities yield the greatest reward.

Regardless of where your institution fits on the spectrum of size, or how many activities, clubs, and organizations your institution offers, it’s very important for you to be able to explore co-curricular interests—for learning, enjoyment, and personal satisfaction. Student life should always be satisfying and rewarding to students, as well as to alumni, faculty, staff, and community members. Together, these groups are an institution’s lifeblood.


Organized Groups on Campus

Student Organizations

Colleges have an abundance of student organizations. Some examples you may be familiar with are the Hillel Student Organization for enriching the lives of Jewish students, the Chess Club, and Model United Nations. Larger institutions may have hundreds of such organizations. Here is a lengthy and exciting list of student organizations at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Generally, an organization is created and run by current students, and it’s sponsored by an executive officer, dean, or director of a major academic or operational unit. An organization must also have a mission that’s consistent with the mission of the college and sponsor. It might also collect dues from members, but in many cases, membership is free.

To link up with a student organization, you may not need to do much more than take stock of your interests. What do you love to do? In a later section, you’ll find a list of ways to learn about student organizations at your institution. If you find that your college doesn’t have an organization that speaks to your particular interests, you might consider starting one.

Fraternities and Sororities

Fraternities and sororities are social organizations at colleges and universities. The terms “Greek letter organization” (“GLO”) and “Greek life” are often used to describe fraternities and sororities. Generally, you obtain membership while you are an undergraduate, but your membership continues for life. Most Greek organizations have five shared elements: secrecy, single-sex membership, rushing and pledging to select new members, occupancy in a shared residence, and identification with Greek letters. Fraternities and sororities also engage in philanthropic activities, and they often host parties and other events that may be popular across campus.

Diversity and Multiculturalism

Diversity and multiculturalism are indeed critical pursuits not just on college campuses but in communities, businesses, and organizations around the world. If you are interested in expanding and promoting awareness of this issues on campus and further afield, you can seek opportunities at your college for starters. You will likely find informal gatherings, presentations, campus-wide events, individual students and classes focused on creating diverse, multicultural, and inclusive communities. As an example, here is a list of student clubs at Goucher College.

Civic Engagement and Leadership

Most colleges have many opportunities for you to learn about and prepare for civic engagement and leadership on campus and in the wider community. What is civic engagement? It’s your involvement in protecting and promoting a diverse and democratic society—and clearly, leadership is an important part of this. Student organizations and activities related to these pursuits may be student government associations, leadership courses and retreats, social change projects, service opportunities, social innovation initiatives, and many others.

Service and Volunteerism

If you are like many new college students, you probably already have experience volunteering. It may have been part of your high school requirements. Or perhaps you engaged in volunteering as part of a faith organization or as part of a community fundraising effort. Any of your volunteering can continue in college, too, as your institution will have many special and meaningful ways to stay involved, work on social problems, and contribute to a better world. Service and volunteer efforts may include philanthropy, activism, social entrepreneurship, advocacy, and direct service.

Student Activities

On any college campus, satellite center, or virtual space, students may be involved in activities around the clock on any given day. These activities may include student organization activities as well as special presentations, meetings, performing arts events, sporting events, intramurals, recreational activities, local community activities, holiday events, commemorative events, and so on.

You are heartily encouraged to pursue any interests that enhance your education and enrich your student experience. Your participation can expand your horizons, deepen your interests, and connect you with new people.

Resources for Learning About Campus Organizations

It can seem overwhelming to learn about all the activities, events, clubs, organizations, athletics, performing arts, etc. on campus. Sometimes you may need to dig a little, too. The following resources are a good place to start:

Activity: Campus and Community Activities

This project involves attending two campus and/or community culture activities (not athletic events), collecting mementos from each event, and displaying evidence of your experience via social media.


  • Attend campus activities/events to heighten a sense of connection with your institution
  • Use social media to display artifacts from these events


  • Choose two activities to attend (athletic events not included).
  • Collect mementos (such as a ticket stub, a program, take pictures and/or video).
  • Digitally archive them (for example, take a digital picture of the ticket stub).
  • Create a digital presentation about your two activities. For each activity, include the following:
    • what, when, and where the activity occurred
    • why you chose the activity
    • uploads of the related mementos
    • what you learned from the experience
  • Follow your instructor’s directions for submitting this activity.

Benefits of Participating in Student Life

How is it that becoming fully involved in student life can have such a positive impact on student satisfaction and academic success?

The National Survey of Student Engagement—a survey measuring student involvement in academic and co-curricular activities—shows that student success is directly linked to student involvement in the institution. In fact, survey results show that the higher the level of student involvement is, the higher student grades are and the more likely students are to re-enroll the next semester. All of this seems to translate to satisfaction. The following lists some of the many benefits and rewards that result from active participation in campus and student life.

All in all, being involved in the campus community is vital to every student, and it’s vital to the college, too. It’s a symbiotic relationship that serves everyone well.

The key to getting the most out of college is to take advantage of as many facets of student life as possible while still keeping up with your academic commitments. That’s pretty obvious, right? What may be less obvious is that focusing exclusively on your academic work and not getting involved in any of the rich and diverse co-curricular activities on campus can come at a real price and even hamper your success.

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Chapter 48: Cultural Competency

The information in this chapter is designed to better prepare students for the intellectual and societal challenges facing an increasingly diverse society.

Life in Quarantine

Since March 2020, the world has been turned upside down due to the covid-19 pandemic.  The Life in Quarantine Project has invited people from all over the globe to share their personal stories about how the pandemic has affected them.  To read about others’ experiences and share your own story, please see:

Where Are You From?

Think about the question “where are you from?” What does it imply? Is it home? Is it where someone was born? Is it where their parents were born? Their grandparents? Is where someone is “from” connected with where they live? Have you ever assumed that someone of a certain ethnic background might come from a certain region?

A beautiful woman is wrapped in a glittering green scarf with only one kohl lined eye peering out at the viewer. Gold cuffs adorn both of her wrists as she holds gently onto the scarf

Definitions of Cultural Competence

Cultural competence is the social awareness that everyone is unique, that different cultures and backgrounds affect how people think and behave, and that this awareness allows people to behave appropriately and perform effectively in culturally diverse environments.

Cultural competence is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes and policies that come together in a system, agency or among professionals and enable that system, agency or those professions to function effectively. Five essential elements contribute to a system’s, institution’s, or agency’s ability to become more culturally competent which include:

These five elements should be manifested at every level of an organization including policy making, administrative, and practice. Further these elements should be reflected in the attitudes, structures, policies and services of the organization.

As a college student, you are likely to find yourself in diverse classrooms, organizations, and – eventually – workplaces. It is important to prepare yourself to be able to adapt to diverse environments. Cultural competency can be defined as the ability to recognize and adapt to cultural differences and similarities. It involves “(a) the cultivation of deep cultural self-awareness and understanding (i.e., how one’s own beliefs, values, perceptions, interpretations, judgments, and behaviors are influenced by one’s cultural community or communities) and (b) increased cultural other-understanding (i.e., comprehension of the different ways people from other cultural groups make sense of and respond to the presence of cultural differences).”1

In other words, cultural competency requires you to be aware of your own cultural practices, values, and experiences, and to be able to read, interpret, and respond to those of others. Such awareness will help you successfully navigate the cultural differences you will encounter in diverse environments. Cultural competency is critical to working and building relationships with people from different cultures; it is so critical, in fact, that it is now one of the most highly desired skills in the modern workforce.2

Cultural Quotient (CQ)

Cultural Quotient (CQ) helps us understand and communicate with people from other cultures effectively. It is one’s ability to recognize cultural differences through knowledge and mindfulness, and behave appropriately when facing people from other cultures. Mindful is defined as being conscious or aware of something. The cultural intelligence approach goes beyond this emphasis on knowledge because it also emphasizes the importance of developing an overall repertoire of understanding, motivation, and skills that enables one to move in and out of lots of different cultural contexts.

Due to the globalization of our world, people of different cultures today live together in communities across our many nations. This presents more opportunities to interact with diverse individuals in many facets and thus, today’s workforce would need to know the customs and worldviews of other cultures. Therefore, people with a higher CQ can better interact with people from other cultures easily and more effectively.

Rationale for Curriculum Inclusion

Our country and our workplace settings are becoming more and more culturally diverse. Additionally, interaction with individuals and groups from other countries and cultures either face-to-face or in virtual contexts is more commonplace than ever. Effective working relationships provide for productive outcomes (e.g., products, services). For college students to be successful in their future careers, it is necessary that they be exposed to others who are culturally diverse and that they engage in discussions and activities that help them not only effectively function in those settings but actively contribute to those positive and productive outcomes.


Intercultural Skills Project. Students are to choose one of the following three options (activities) that will contribute most to their personal and professional goals and learning.

Option A: Attend and assist with activities at the International Student Orientation. Once you have participated in this activity, please prepare a report in which you address the following points:

  1. Describe your feelings and thoughts regarding your experiences at the orientation.
  2. What did you learn about yourself?
  3. What did you learn about international students?
  4. Name two ways in which you can use what you have learned in relationship to your personal/professional goals.

Option B: Make contact with a refugee center, international service agency, director of International Program (if not in your office), place of worship, or local commmunity center to volunteer.  The goal is to be able to meet and spend some time serving an international student, family, or individual. (This must be a student, family, or individual you are not previously acquainted with). Many international students have remained on the campus during the break or are soon arriving at campuses. They may need assistance finding their way around, visiting various campus/community offices, grocery shopping, etc. Some International Centers may have refugees who may need someone to take them grocery shopping, to visit thrift shops, or other introductory experiences in the community.

Once you have participated in this activity, please prepare a report in which you address the following points:

  1. Describe your feelings and thoughts regarding your cross cultural interaction.
  2. What did you learn about yourself?
  3. What did you learn about individual(s) from other countries?
  4. Name two ways in which you can use what you have learned in relationship to your personal/professional goals.

Option C: Develop a program, activity or service designed to meet the needs of a specific international student population. As part of the research for the development of this program, activity or service, you should interview and interact with representative(s) of the international student population identified for this project. Once you have participated in this activity, please prepare a report in which you address the following points:

  1. Describe the program, activity or service you developed (what, why, how, when, where).
  2. What did you learn about yourself?
  3. What did you learn about individual(s) from other countries?
  4. Name two ways in which you can use what you have learned in relationship to your personal/professional goals.

Sample scenarios:

Matt’s case:

Matt is participating in a student exchange program in Japan. He loves to eat doughnuts or pancakes for breakfast.   However, his host-family usually has a traditional Japanese breakfast (e.g., rice, miso-soup, pickles, egg dish, and/or broiled fish) with chopsticks. He is learning and getting better at using chopsticks. However, he doesn’t feel like having soup or fish for breakfast.   One day when he went to a grocery store with Sachi, his host-mom, he found a doughnuts section. Matt suggested that they have doughnuts for breakfast. Sachi was surprised and said, “We can have doughnuts as a snack, but not for breakfast. They are too sweet for breakfast.”

Cultural norms influence when, how, and what we eat.

Kate’s case:

Kate is a first-generation college student from a rural area of Kentucky.

When she came to college, she was surprised to see many foreign-born students and faculty/staff on campus.   One of her class instructors is not a native English speaker, and he has a thick foreign accent. At first she was shocked because she could hardly understand her teacher. However, when she paid more attention to what he said, she found out that his English was not bad. She actually got used to his accent during the first week of classes.

One day, Kate met Tim from Boston, Massachusetts.   Unfortunately, she sometimes could not understand what he said because of his Boston accent. When she politely mentioned his accent, he laughed and pointed out that she has a Southern accent. He seems to be a nice person, but she feels that he is too direct.

How we speak and what kind of accent we have is determined by our experience (i.e, where we grew up and by whom we were raised, etc.).

In the following video, representatives from Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care elaborate on the concept of cultural competency:

Video: Cultural Competency at Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care

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We don’t automatically understand differences among people and celebrate the value of those differences. Cultural competency is a skill that you can learn and improve upon over time and with practice. What actions can you take to build your cultural competency skills?

Since before the writing of the Declaration of Independence,African descendants have been here on this land helping to grow and build it into what it is today. “I too am America”shows some figures and collages of the past and present to showthe viewer that even though the struggle has persisted we are still herefighting just to be considered. 3/5 is written on the canvas just in case we have forgotten that African Americans or blacks were not even considered a whole person. With the killing of so many people of color through the years it still feels that way
I too am America

Developing your cultural competency will help you be more in tune with the cultural nuances and differences present in any situation. It is also the first step in being able to appreciate the benefits diversity can bring to a situation.




  • Define and apply principles of cultural competency


This activity will help you examine ways in which you can develop your awareness of and commitment to diversity on campus. Answer the following questions to the best of your ability:

  • What are my plans for expanding myself personally and intellectually in college?
  • What kind of community will help me expand most fully, with diversity as a factor in my expansion?
  • What are my comfort zones, and how might I expand them to connect with more diverse groups?
  • Do I want to be challenged by new viewpoints, or will I feel more comfortable connecting with people who are like me?
  • What are my biggest questions about diversity?
  • Submit this assignment according to directions from your instructor.

Consider the following strategies to help you answer the questions:

  • Examine extracurricular activities. Can you get involved with clubs or organizations that promote and expand diversity?
  • Review your college’s curriculum. In what ways does it reflect diversity? Does it have departments and courses on historically unrepresented peoples, e.g., cultural and ethnic studies, and gender and sexuality studies. Look for study-abroad programs, as well.
  • Read your college’s mission statement. Read the mission statement of other colleges. How do they match up with your values and beliefs? How do they align with the value of diversity?
  • Inquire with friends, faculty, colleagues, family. Be open about diversity. What does it mean to others? What positive effects has it had on them? Ask people about diversity.
  • Research can help. You might consult college literature, Web sites, resource centers and organizations on campus, etc.


Global Stratification and Classification

This photo is of a city with large high rises in the background and a slum in the foreground.
Figure 48.1 Contemporary economic development often follows a similar pattern around the world, best described as a growing gap between the haves and have-nots. (Photo courtesy of Alicia Nijdam/Wikimedia Commons)

The April 24, 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh that killed over 1,100 people, was the deadliest garment factory accident in history, and it was preventable (International Labour Organization, Department of Communication 2014).

In addition to garment factories employing about 5,000 people, the building contained a bank, apartments, childcare facilities, and a variety of shops. Many of these closed the day before the collapse when cracks were discovered in the building walls. When some of the garment workers refused to enter the building, they were threatened with the loss of a month’s pay. Most were young women, aged twenty or younger. They typically worked over thirteen hours a day, with two days off each month. For this work, they took home between twelve and twenty-two cents an hour, or $10.56 to $12.48 a week. Without that pay, most would have been unable to feed their children. In contrast, the U.S. federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, and workers receive wages at time-and-a-half rates for work in excess of forty hours a week.

Did you buy clothes from Walmart in 2012? What about at The Children’s Place? Did you ever think about where those clothes came from? Of the outsourced garments made in the garment factories, 32 percent were intended for U.S., Canadian, and European stores. In the aftermath of the collapse, it was revealed that Walmart jeans were made in the Ether Tex garment factory on the fifth floor of the Rana Plaza building, while 120,000 pounds of clothing for The Children’s Place were produced in the New Wave Style Factory, also located in the building. Afterward, Walmart and The Children’s Place pledged $1 million and $450,000 (respectively) to the Rana Plaza Trust Fund, but fifteen other companies with clothing made in the building have contributed nothing, including U.S. companies Cato and J.C. Penney (Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights 2014).

Think about the global system that allows U.S. companies to outsource their manufacturing to peripheral nations, where many women and children work in conditions that some characterize as slave labor. Do people in the United States have a responsibility to foreign workers? Should U.S. corporations be held accountable for what happens to garment factory workers who make their clothing? What can you do as a consumer to help such workers?

Just as the United States’ wealth is increasingly concentrated among its richest citizens while the middle class slowly disappears, global inequality is concentrating resources in certain nations and is significantly affecting the opportunities of individuals in poorer and less powerful countries. In fact, a recent Oxfam (2014) report that suggested the richest eighty-five people in the world are worth more than the poorest 3.5 billion combined. The Gini coefficient measures income inequality between countries using a 100-point scale on which 1 represents complete equality and 100 represents the highest possible inequality. In 2007, the global Gini coefficient that measured the wealth gap between the core nations in the northern part of the world and the mostly peripheral nations in the southern part of the world was 75.5 percent (Korseniewicz and Moran 2009). But before we delve into the complexities of global inequality, let’s consider how the three major sociological perspectives might contribute to our understanding of it.

The functionalist perspective is a macroanalytical view that focuses on the way that all aspects of society are integral to the continued health and viability of the whole. A functionalist might focus on why we have global inequality and what social purposes it serves. This view might assert, for example, that we have global inequality because some nations are better than others at adapting to new technologies and profiting from a globalized economy, and that when core nation companies locate in peripheral nations, they expand the local economy and benefit the workers.

Conflict theory focuses on the creation and reproduction of inequality. A conflict theorist would likely address the systematic inequality created when core nations exploit the resources of peripheral nations. For example, how many U.S. companies take advantage of overseas workers who lack the constitutional protection and guaranteed minimum wages that exist in the United States? Doing so allows them to maximize profits, but at what cost?

The symbolic interaction perspective studies the day-to-day impact of global inequality, the meanings individuals attach to global stratification, and the subjective nature of poverty. Someone applying this view to global inequality would probably focus on understanding the difference between what someone living in a core nation defines as poverty (relative poverty, defined as being unable to live the lifestyle of the average person in your country) and what someone living in a peripheral nation defines as poverty (absolute poverty, defined as being barely able, or unable, to afford basic necessities, such as food).

Global Stratification

While stratification in the United States refers to the unequal distribution of resources among individuals, global stratification refers to this unequal distribution among nations. There are two dimensions to this stratification: gaps between nations and gaps within nations. When it comes to global inequality, both economic inequality and social inequality may concentrate the burden of poverty among certain segments of the earth’s population (Myrdal 1970). As the chart below illustrates, people’s life expectancy depends heavily on where they happen to be born.

Country Infant Mortality Rate Life Expectancy
Norway 2.48 deaths per 1000 live births 81 years
The United States 6.17 deaths per 1000 live births 79 years
North Korea 24.50 deaths per 1000 live births 70 years
Afghanistan 117.3 deaths per 1000 live births 50 years

Table 48.1 Statistics such as infant mortality rates and life expectancy vary greatly by country of origin. (Central Intelligence Agency 2011).

Most of us are accustomed to thinking of global stratification as economic inequality. For example, we can compare the United States’ average worker’s wage to America’s average wage. Social inequality, however, is just as harmful as economic discrepancies. Prejudice and discrimination—whether against a certain race, ethnicity, religion, or the like—can create and aggravate conditions of economic equality, both within and between nations. Think about the inequity that existed for decades within the nation of South Africa. Apartheid, one of the most extreme cases of institutionalized and legal racism, created a social inequality that earned it the world’s condemnation.

Gender inequity is another global concern. Consider the controversy surrounding female genital mutilation. Nations that practice this female circumcision procedure defend it as a longstanding cultural tradition in certain tribes and argue that the West shouldn’t interfere. Western nations, however, decry the practice and are working to stop it.

Inequalities based on sexual orientation and gender identity exist around the globe. According to Amnesty International, a number of crimes are committed against individuals who do not conform to traditional gender roles or sexual orientations (however those are culturally defined). From culturally sanctioned rape to state-sanctioned executions, the abuses are serious. These legalized and culturally accepted forms of prejudice and discrimination exist everywhere—from the United States to Somalia to Tibet—restricting the freedom of individuals and often putting their lives at risk (Amnesty International 2012).

Global Classification

A major concern when discussing global inequality is how to avoid an ethnocentric bias implying that less-developed nations want to be like those who’ve attained post-industrial global power. Terms such as developing (nonindustrialized) and developed (industrialized) imply that unindustrialized countries are somehow inferior, and must improve to participate successfully in the global economy, a label indicating that all aspects of the economy cross national borders. We must take care how we delineate different countries. Over time, terminology has shifted to make way for a more inclusive view of the world.

Cold War terminology was developed during the Cold War era (1945–1980). Familiar and still used by many, it classifies countries into first world, second world, and third world nations based on their respective economic development and standards of living. When this nomenclature was developed, capitalistic democracies such as the United States and Japan were considered part of the first world. The poorest, most undeveloped countries were referred to as the third world and included most of sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and Asia. The second world was the in-between category: nations not as limited in development as the third world, but not as well off as the first world, having moderate economies and standard of living, such as China or Cuba. Later, sociologist Manual Castells (1998) added the term fourth world to refer to stigmatized minority groups that were denied a political voice all over the globe (indigenous minority populations, prisoners, and the homeless, for example).

Also during the Cold War, global inequality was described in terms of economic development. Along with developing and developed nations, the terms less-developed nation and underdeveloped nation were used. This was the era when the idea of noblesse oblige (first-world responsibility) took root, suggesting that the so-termed developed nations should provide foreign aid to the less-developed and underdeveloped nations in order to raise their standard of living.

This video portrays assumptions and expectations some people have about having their DNA tested.  How do you think it ties into cultural competency?

Video: The DNA Journey

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Curator’s note: This chapter was created as a project for an Stanford University EPIC (Education Partnership for Internationalizing Curriculum) Global Studies Fellowship project.

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The Life in Quarantine Project was designed by Stanford University graduate students Nelson Shuchmacher Endebo, Farah Bazzi, and Ellis Schriefer.

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Cross, T., Bazron, B., Dennis, K., and Isaacs, M. (1989). Toward a culturally competent system of care (Vol. 1). Washington, DC: Georgetown University.
Ang, S., & Van Dyne, L. (Eds.) (2008). Handbook on cultural intelligence: Theory, measurement and applications. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.


Unit 9: Health

Learning Objectives

After you have completed this unit you should be able to:

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Chapter 49: Nutrition

Lumen Learning, Dave Dillon

“A sound body nurtures a sound mind.”

– Plato

A diet is anything that you consume on a regular basis. If you drink Diet Coke for breakfast every day, that’s part of your diet. When people talk about “going on a diet,” they usually mean changing their existing dietary habits in order to lose weight or change their body shape. All people are on a diet because everyone eats! Having a healthy diet means making food choices that contribute to short- and long-term health. It means getting the right amounts of nutrient-rich foods and avoiding foods that contain excessive amounts of less healthy foods. The right mix can help you be healthier now and in the future.

Hard boiled eggs and salt shaker on a counter in a kitchen
Salty eggs

Developing healthy eating habits doesn’t require you to sign up for a gimmicky health-food diet or lifestyle: you don’t have to become vegan, gluten-free, “paleo,” or go on regular juice fasts. The simplest way to create a healthy eating style is by learning to make wise food choices that you can enjoy, one small step at a time. See the ChooseMyPlate website for more guidelines. Additionally, the following current USDA Healthy Eating Guidelines replace the old “food pyramid.”

USDA Healthy Eating Guidelines

Infographic showing a picture of a plate divided into four segments: One segment is labeled "Fruits," one is labeled "Grains," one is labeled "Protein," and the last is labeled "Vegetables." Next to the plate is a circle (suggesting a cup or glass) that's labeled "Dairy."

Make half your plate fruits and vegetables: Focus on whole fruits, and vary your veggies

Close-up cropped view of a few colorful heirloom tomatoes
Heirloom tomatoes

Make half your grains whole grains

Vary your protein routine

Move to low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt

Drink and eat less sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars

Eat the right amount

Cornell University found that the average adult eats 92% of whatever he or she puts on their plate. One of the challenges is that portion sizes have drastically increased over the last 50 years.

Healthy Eating in College

College offers many temptations for students trying to create or maintain healthy eating habits. You may be on your own for the first time, and you’re free to eat whatever you want, whenever you want. Cafeterias, all-you-can-eat dining facilities, vending machines, and easy access to food twenty-four hours a day make it tempting to overeat or choose foods loaded with calories, saturated fat, sugar, and salt. You may not be in the habit of shopping or cooking for yourself yet, and, when you find yourself short on time or money, it may seem easier to fuel yourself on sugary, caffeinated drinks and meals at the nearest fast-food place. Also, maybe you played basketball or volleyball in high school, but now you don’t seem to be getting much exercise.

On top of that, it’s common for people to overeat (or not eat enough) when they feel anxious, lonely, sad, stressed, or bored, and college students are no exception. It’s incredibly important, though, to develop healthy ways of coping and relaxing that don’t involve reaching for food, drink, or other substances. It’s also important to eat regular healthy meals to keep up your energy.

Activity: Assess Your Snacking Habits


  • Recognize the temptations not to eat well in a college setting


  • Keep a daily snack journal for one week: Write down the types and amounts of snack foods and beverages you consume between meals each day. Record the time of day and note where you eat/drink each item.
  • At the end of the week, review your journal. Do you notice any unhealthy snacks or empty-calorie drinks? Are there any patterns? Are there times of day when you’re especially prone to choosing unhealthy snacks/drinks? Are there particular places where you tend to reach for junk food?
  • In a short, reflective essay (1–2 pages long), describe what you observed about your snacking habits during the week. Identify any habits you’d like to change, and explain why. Describe several strategies you could use to break bad habits and replace unhealthy snacks with healthier ones. Explain why you think these strategies will be effective.
  • Follow your instructor’s instructions for submitting assignments.

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Brian Wansink and Katherine Abowd Johnson, “The Clean Plate Club: About 92% of Self-Served Food is Eaten,International Journal of Obesity, 39 (2015):371–374.


Chapter 50: Exercise

Lumen Learning, Dave Dillon

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle: when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

– Dan Montano

Regular Exercise: Health for Life

The importance of getting regular exercise is probably nothing new to you. The health benefits are well known and established: Regular physical activity can produce long-term health benefits by reducing your risk of many health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, and it can also increase your chances of living longer, help you control your weight, and even help you sleep better.

As a busy college student, you may be thinking, I know this, but I don’t have time! I have classes and work and a full life! What you may not know is that—precisely because you have such a demanding, possibly stressful schedule—now is the perfect time to make exercise a regular part of your life. Getting into an effective exercise routine now will not only make it easier to build healthy habits that you can take with you into your life after college, but it can actually help you be a more successful student, too. As you’ll see in the section on brain health, below, exercise is a powerful tool for improving one’s mental health and memory—both of which are especially important when you’re in school.

A bicyclist rides across a rugged landscape in front of ragged mountains with clouds high above in the blue sky
Peak performance

The good news is that most people can improve their health and quality of life through a modest increase in daily activity. You don’t have to join a gym, spend a lot of money, or even do the same activity every time—just going for a walk or choosing to take the stairs (instead of the elevator) can make a difference. The following video describes how much activity you need.

Video: Physical Activity Guidelines – Introduction

Fight or Flight

Our bodies have an automatic “fight or flight” reaction when we perceive a threat. Fighting or running is physical exercise and the result is metabolizing our excessive stress hormones and bringing our bodies and minds back to a more relaxed state. Even though we do not suffer from the same threats cavemen and cavewomen incurred many years ago, we still perceive threats and we still suffer from stress. Exercise has many physical and mental benefits in addition to lowering stress.

Regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do to be healthy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, its benefits include: controlling weight, reducing risk of cardiovascular disease, reducing risk for type two diabetes, reducing risk of cancer, strengthening bones and muscles, improving mental health and mood, increasing chances of living longer. One assignment I give my students is to have them record all food and drinks consumed in one week, along with keeping records of how much exercise and how many hours of sleep take place. Some students know exactly what they are putting into their body and how they are treating it. But most are surprised at how little one or more of these important aspects are sufficient. Try it. Think of it as an opportunity to see what you actually put into your body, how much exercise and rest you give it.

Author’s Story

I had not prepared for an astronomy final exam. The night before the exam, I stayed up all night cramming, and regurgitated information I had learned onto the test. Immediately after the exam, I ordered a large pepperoni pizza, ate the whole thing in one sitting, and then slept for 15 hours. Regardless of the exam result, this example represents what not to do. In the long run, human bodies cannot do things like that without consequence. With the lifestyle I live now, being married, parenting kids and working full-time, there is no way that I could have done that and been able to function well with my responsibilities the next day. In addition, it was not healthy for my body.

After a class I was speaking with a student about diet and nutrition and our conversation led to a discussion on the contrast of what some students give their children to eat versus what they eat themselves. It reminded me of the 5-2-1-0 graphic my children recognize at their pediatrician visits. It stands for (each day) 5 or more fruits or vegetables, 2 hours or less recreational screen time, 1 hour or more of physical activity, 0 sugary drinks (more water). Of course, it is designed for kids. But many students would do well for themselves to keep the 5-2-1-0 recommendation in mind.

Our bodies are more prone to getting sick if they are not well taken care of. Getting sick in the middle of an academic term can have devastating effects on the academic performance.

A much better way to go (as I painfully learned) is to make a schedule, stick to it, prepare and review periodically, get adequate sleep, eat well, and be on an exercise plan.

For optimal concentration levels, work performance and test scores, proper nutrition and adequate sleep have a large effect. My personal opinion is that exercise helps clear the mind, which is so important in our current generations’ overwhelming bombardment of information around us.

Physical Fitness and Types of Exercise

Physical fitness is a state of well-being that gives you sufficient energy to perform daily physical activities without getting overly tired or winded. It also means being in good enough shape to handle unexpected emergencies involving physical demands—that is, if someone said, “Run for your life!” or you had to rush over and prevent a child from falling, you’d be able to do it.

There are many forms of exercise—dancing, rock climbing, walking, jogging, yoga, bike riding, you name it—that can help you become physically fit. The major types are described below.

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise increases your heart rate, works your muscles, and raises your breathing rate. For most people, it’s best to aim for a total of about thirty minutes a day, four or five days a week. If you haven’t been very active recently, you can start out with five or ten minutes a day and work up to more time each week. Or, split up your activity for the day: try a brisk ten-minute walk after each meal. If you are trying to lose weight, you may want to exercise more than thirty minutes a day. The following are some examples of aerobic exercise:

Strength Training

Strength training, done several times a week, helps build strong bones and muscles and makes everyday chores like carrying heavy backpacks (or grocery bags) easier. When you have more muscle mass, you burn more calories, even at rest. Here are some ways to do it:

Flexibility Exercises

Flexibility exercises, also called stretching, help keep your joints flexible and reduce your risk of injury during other activities. Gentle stretching for 5 to 10 minutes helps your body warm up and get ready for aerobic activities such as walking or swimming. Check to see if your college offers yoga, stretching, and/or pilates classes, and give one a try.

Being Active Throughout the Day

In addition to formal exercise, there are many opportunities to be active throughout the day. Being active helps burns calories. The more you move around, the more energy you will have. The following strategies can help you increase your activity level:

Benefits of Exercise and Physical Fitness


Exercise, even after age fifty, can add healthy, active years to one’s life. Studies continue to show that it’s never too late to start exercising and that even small improvements in physical fitness can significantly lower the risk of death. Simply walking regularly can prolong your life.

Moderately fit people—even if they smoke or have high blood pressure—have a lower mortality rate than the least fit. Resistance training is important because it’s the only form of exercise that can slow and even reverse the decline of muscle mass, bone density, and strength. Adding workouts that focus on speed and agility can be especially protective for older people. Flexibility exercises help reduce the stiffness and loss of balance that accompanies aging.


Diabetes, particularly type 2, is reaching epidemic proportions throughout the world as more and more cultures adopt Western-style diets (which tend to be high in sugar and fat). Aerobic exercise is proving to have significant and particular benefits for people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes; it increases sensitivity to insulin, lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels, and decreases body fat. In fact, studies show that people who engage in regular, moderate aerobic exercise (e.g., brisk walking, biking) lower their risk for diabetes even if they do not lose weight. Anyone on insulin or who has complications from diabetes should get advice from a physician before embarking on a workout program.

Brain: Mood, Memory, Creativity

In addition to keeping your heart healthy, helping with weight loss, and helping you live longer, regular exercise can also improve your mood and help keep depression and anxiety at bay. The following video explains why and challenges you to give it a try:

Video: Exercise and the Brain

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If you still aren’t persuaded, check out this slightly longer but excellent Tedx Talk, which describes how aerobic exercise can improve your cognitive functioning, memory, and creativity:

Video: Exercise and the Brain, Wendy Suzuki, TEDx Orlando 2001

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Activity: Develop an Exercise Program


  • Plan a regular exercise program that works for you.


  • Sometimes getting started is the hardest part of being physically active. The important thing is to find activities you like to do, so you’ll stick with them. Watch the following video, which can help you understand how much activity you need to do on a regular basis and how you can get going on a sensible routine. The video includes personal stories from people—even busy people like you—who have discovered what works for them.
  • List 3 physical activities that you enjoy doing or would like to try doing on a regular basis.
  • Identify any special requirements or equipment you need before doing them (for example, gym membership, running shoes, etc.).
  • Set a realistic, weekly exercise time goal for yourself (150 minutes or more per week is ideal, but start with what you can really do).
  • Using a digital or printed calendar, plan and label the days of the week, times, and places that you plan to exercise. Specify the activity or activities that you intend to do. (For example: Monday, 6–7 a.m., 30 min on stationary bike, college gym; Wednesday, 2–3 p.m., 60 min speed-walking with Maya, Riverside Park; Saturday, 1–2 p.m, lift weights, college gym.)
  • Track your progress for one week, recording the amount of time you actually exercised. If you engaged in any unplanned physical activities (say you ended up riding your bike to school instead of taking the bus), include those, too.
  • Write about your experience in a short journal entry (1–2 pages) and reflect on what you learned:
    • What kinds of exercise did you engage in, and which did you enjoy the most?
    • What was your weekly time goal? Did you meet it?
    • What worked or didn’t work?
    • What might you need to change in order to make exercise a regular habit?
  • Follow your instructor’s instructions for submitting assignments.

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Original:

Content previously copyrighted, published in Blueprint for Success in College: Indispensable Study Skills and Time Management Strategies (by Dave Dillon), now licensed as CC BY
CC licensed content, Shared previously.

All rights reserved content:

  • Physical Activity Guidelines. Provided by: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license
  • Exercise and the Brain. Provided by: WatchWellCast. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license
  • TEDxOrlando – Wendy Suzuki – Exercise and the Brain. Provided by: Tedx Talks. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license
  • Physical Activity Guidelines. Provided by: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license

Public domain content:

Adaptions: Removed image.  Relocated learning objectives.

“Physical Activity and Health,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018,
“Is your child at risk for obesity?,” CACM Health Center,


Chapter 51: Sleep

Lumen Learning, Dave Dillon

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

– Vince Lombardi

The Benefits of Slumber

We have so many demands on our time—school, jobs, family, errands, not to mention finding some time to relax. To fit everything in, we often sacrifice sleep. But sleep affects both mental and physical health. Like exercise and a healthy diet, it’s vital to your well-being.

Of course, sleep helps you feel rested each day. But while you’re sleeping, your brain and body don’t just shut down. Internal organs and processes are hard at work throughout the night. Sleep can help you “lock in” everything you’re studying and trying to remember.

“Sleep services all aspects of our body in one way or another: molecular, energy balance, as well as intellectual function, alertness and mood,” says Dr. Merrill Mitler, a sleep expert and neuroscientist at the National Institute of Health (NIH).

When you’re tired, you can’t function at your best. Sleep helps you think more clearly, have quicker reflexes, and focus better. “The fact is, when we look at well-rested people, they’re operating at a different level than people trying to get by on one or two hours less nightly sleep,” says Mitler.

“Loss of sleep impairs your higher levels of reasoning, problem-solving, and attention to detail,” Mitler explains. Tired people tend to be less productive at work and school. They’re at a much higher risk for traffic accidents. Lack of sleep also influences your mood, which can affect how you interact with others. A sleep deficit over time can even put you at greater risk for developing depression.

But sleep isn’t just essential for the brain. “Sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies,” says Dr. Michael Twery, a sleep expert at NIH. “It affects growth and stress hormones, our immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure and cardiovascular health.”

Research shows that lack of sleep increases the risk for obesity, heart disease, and infections. Throughout the night, your heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure rise and fall, a process that may be important for cardiovascular health. Your body releases hormones during sleep that help repair cells and control the body’s use of energy. These hormone changes can affect your body weight.

“Ongoing research shows a lack of sleep can produce diabetic-like conditions in otherwise healthy people,” says Mitler.

Recent studies also reveal that sleep can affect the efficiency of vaccinations. Twery described research showing that well-rested people who received the flu vaccine developed stronger protection against the illness.

A good night’s sleep consists of four to five sleep cycles. Each cycle includes periods of deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when we dream. “As the night goes on, the portion of that cycle that is in REM sleep increases. It turns out that this pattern of cycling and progression is critical to the biology of sleep,” Twery says.

Sleep can be disrupted by many things. Stimulants such as caffeine or certain medications can keep you up. Distractions such as electronics—especially the light from TVs, cell phones, tablets and e-readers—can prevent you from falling asleep.

A lady with her rest resting on a pile of books
Maintaining a healthy balance of sleep can help avoid burnout


In 1989, 11 million gallons of oil were spilled when the Exxon Valdez ran aground. “The National Transportation Safety Board investigation attributed the accident to the fact that [Third Mate Gregory] Cousins, [filling in for the captain], had been awake for 18 hours prior to taking the helm of the Valdez, failed to ‘properly maneuver the vessel because of the fatigue and excessive workload.’ Given what science can tell us about the deleterious effects of sleep deprivation on decision-making, alertness and coordination, a case can be made that had Cousins simply lain down for a brief sleep, one of the greatest environmental catastrophes in recent memory – and $2.5 billion cost for cleanup – might’ve been averted.”

“Fatigue has been cited as at least a contributing factor in many of the worst disasters in recent history – the Union Carbide chemical explosion that killed thousands of people in Bhopal, India, and the nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl, to name just two.”

Dr. Sara Mednick is a sleep researcher at UC Riverside. Dr. Mednick’s Ted Talk entitled, “Give it Up for the Down State – Sleep: Sarah Mednick at TEDxUCRSalon,” is a resource for more information.

Video: Give it up for the down state – sleep, Sara Mednick, TEDxUCR Salon

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Dr. Mednick’s “Authors@Google: Sara Mednick” video on is a longer lecture on sleep.

Video: Take a Nap! Change Your Life, Sara Mednick Authors@Google 2007

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It’s difficult to do anything well when we’re tired. Studying is difficult, concentration is difficult, writing is difficult and taking an exam is difficult. It’s much more efficient to get adequate rest and study, write, think and perform when we are rested.

This is a link to an article of a National Public Radio interview with Charles Czeisler, the director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. This article, an interview with Czeisler and Scott Huettel, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University links media with sleep interruption. These articles chronicle the benefits of getting adequate sleep and consequences of not getting adequate sleep along with questions and answers from the sleep specialists. It’s easy for me to say that you will perform better in your studies if you are getting enough sleep, but here is some proof from experts on the value of sleep.

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

The amount of sleep each person needs depends on many factors, including age, and getting a full night of quality sleep is important. Infants generally require about sixteen hours a day, while teenagers need about nine hours on average. For most adults, seven to eight hours a night appears to be the best amount of sleep. The amount of sleep a person needs also increases if he or she has been deprived of sleep in previous days. Getting too little sleep creates a “sleep debt,” which is a lot like being overdrawn at a bank. Eventually, your body will demand that the debt be repaid. We don’t seem to adapt to getting less sleep than we need; while we may get used to a sleep-depriving schedule, our judgment, reaction time, and other functions are still impaired. If you’re a student, that means that sleep-deprivation may prevent you from studying, learning, and performing as well as you can.

People tend to sleep more lightly and for shorter time spans as they get older, although they generally need about the same amount of sleep as they needed in early adulthood. Experts say that if you feel drowsy during the day, even during boring activities, you haven’t had enough sleep. If you routinely fall asleep within five minutes of lying down, you probably have severe sleep deprivation, possibly even a sleep disorder. “Microsleeps,” or very brief episodes of sleep in an otherwise awake person, are another mark of sleep deprivation. In many cases, people are not aware that they are experiencing microsleeps. The widespread practice of “burning the candle at both ends” in western industrialized societies has created so much sleep deprivation that what is really abnormal sleepiness is now almost the norm.

Many studies make it clear that sleep deprivation is dangerous. Sleep-deprived people who are tested by using a driving simulator or by performing a hand-eye coordination task perform as badly as or worse than those who are intoxicated. Sleep deprivation also magnifies alcohol’s effects on the body, so a fatigued person who drinks will become much more impaired than someone who is well rested. Driver fatigue is responsible for an estimated 100,000 motor vehicle accidents and 1,500 deaths each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Since drowsiness is the brain’s last step before falling asleep, driving while drowsy can—and often does—lead to disaster. Caffeine and other stimulants cannot overcome the effects of severe sleep deprivation. The National Sleep Foundation says that if you have trouble keeping your eyes focused, if you can’t stop yawning, or if you can’t remember driving the last few miles, you are probably too drowsy to drive safely.

Activity: Assess Your Sleep Habits


  • Examine your current sleep habits,


  • Take a few minutes to review and assess your own sleep habits. Are you getting enough?
 Check the appropriate boxes: Usually Sometimes Never
I get 7–8 hours of sleep at night.
I feel sleepy or have trouble focusing during the day.
I take a nap when I feel drowsy or need more sleep.
I fall asleep or have trouble staying awake in class.
I fall asleep while studying.
I stay up all night to study for exams or write papers.
  • Track how much sleep you get each night during a one-week period.
  • At the end of the week, write a short journal entry (1–2 pages) in which you reflect on your current sleep habits:How many hours of sleep do you think you need every night to function at your best? How can you tell? On an average, how many hours of sleep did you get on weeknights? On average, how many hours of sleep did you get on weekend nights?
  • How would you rank the importance of sleep compared with studying, working, spending time with friends/family, and other activities? What things get in the way of your consistently getting enough sleep?
  • What changes can you make to your schedule and/or routines that might improve your sleep habits?
  • Follow your instructor’s guidelines for submitting assignments.

Falling Asleep and Getting a Good Night’s Rest

Many people, especially those who feel stressed, anxious, or overworked, have a hard time falling asleep and/or staying asleep, and this can shorten the amount of time and the quality of sleep when it actually comes. The following tips can help you get to sleep, stay asleep, and wake up feeling well rested:

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Original:

Content previously copyrighted, published in Blueprint for Success in College: Indispensable Study Skills and Time Management Strategies (by Dave Dillon), now licensed as CC BY Attribution.

Public domain content:

Adaptions: Images removed. Relocated learning objectives.

Sarah Mednick and Mark Ehrman, Take a Nap! Change Your Life (New York: Workman Publishing, 2006), 10.
Mednick and Ehrman, Take a Nap! Change Your Life, 12.


Chapter 52: Substance Abuse

Lumen Learning

“An overindulgence of anything, even something as pure as water, can intoxicate.”

– Criss Jami


A drug is a chemical substance that can change how your body and mind work. Drugs of abuse are substances that people use to get high and change how they feel. They may be illegal drugs like pot, cocaine, or heroin. Or they may be legal for adults only, like alcohol and tobacco.

Medicines that treat illness can also become drugs of abuse when people take them to get high—not because they’re sick and following their doctor’s orders. People can even abuse cough or cold medicines from the store if they ignore the directions and take too much at one time.

People abuse drugs for many reasons:

Cigarettes and Tobacco

It might surprise you to learn that cigarettes and other forms of tobacco are drugs. It’s legal to use tobacco once you’re 18 or 19 years old, depending on where you live. But it’s not healthy for you at any age.

Tobacco contains nicotine, a substance that excites the parts of the brain that make you feel good. You can get addicted to nicotine just like other drugs.

When you use tobacco, the nicotine quickly gives you a mild rush of pleasure and energy. But it soon wears off, which makes you want to use it some more. Sometimes, the rush of energy that comes with nicotine can make you nervous and edgy.

Electronic cigarettes: Read NIDA’s DrugFacts: Electronic Cigarettes (e-Cigarettes) for information about electronic cigarettes (sometimes called “vaping”), including how safe they are compared to tobacco cigarettes.

Effects of Cigarettes and Tobacco on the Body and Brain

These are just some of the problems cigarettes and tobacco can cause:

Lung diseases: Cigarette smoke causes lung cancer and painful breathing diseases like emphysema. These diseases can happen to people who smoke, or to others around them who breathe in their smoke.

Bad breath, bad teeth, mouth cancer: Cigarettes and other kinds of tobacco stain teeth and cause bad breath. Chewing tobacco can make teeth fall out and lead to cancer of the mouth.

Heart and blood problems: If you smoke, you are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke (sometimes called a “brain attack”).

Hurts babies: If a pregnant woman uses tobacco, her baby might be born too early or too small. This can cause health problems for the baby.

More diseases: Using cigarettes or other kinds of tobacco can lead to heart disease and many kinds of cancer.

Addiction: The nicotine in tobacco is what makes you addicted. When you smoke, the effects wear off quickly. This makes you want to keep using tobacco again and again throughout the day. The more you do this, the more your body and brain get addicted to the nicotine. Fortunately, there are medicines, other treatments, and hotlines that can help people quit tobacco.


Drinks like beer, malt liquor, wine, and hard liquor contain alcohol. Alcohol is the ingredient that gets you drunk.

Hard liquor—such as whiskey, rum, or gin—has more alcohol in it than beer, malt liquor, or wine.

The following drink sizes contain about the same amount of alcohol:

Being drunk can make a person feel very silly, angry, or sad for no reason. It can make it hard to walk in a straight line, talk clearly, or drive.

Effects of Alcohol on the Body and Brain

Drinking too much–on a single occasion or over time—can take a serious toll on your health.  Here’s how alcohol can affect your body and brain:
  • Brain: Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways and can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behavior, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.
  • Heart: Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems such as stroke, high blood pressure, and arrhythmia.
  • Liver: Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver and can lead to a variety of problems such as alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis
  • Pancreas: Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.
  • Cancer: Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of developing certain cancers, including cancers of the mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, and breast.
  • Immune system: Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease.  Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much.  Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections—even up to twenty-hour hours after getting drunk.

So how much is “drinking too much?” The following guidelines are from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:

Drinking Levels Defined

  • Moderate alcohol consumption: According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate drinking is up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.
  • Binge drinking: Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men—in about 2 hours. Binge drinking has become a major health and safety issue on college campuses.
  • Heavy drinking: Heavy drinking is defined as drinking 5 or more drinks on the same occasion on each of 5 or more days in the past 30 days.
  • Low risk for developing an alcohol use disorder: For women, low-risk drinking is no more than 3 drinks on any single day and no more than 7 drinks per week. For men, it’s defined as no more than 4 drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week. NIAAA research shows that only about 2 in 100 people who drink within these limits have an alcohol use disorder.  Even within these limits, you can have problems if you drink too quickly or have other health issues.

Certain people should avoid alcohol completely, including those who

  • Plan to drive a vehicle or operate machinery
  • Take medications that interact with alcohol
  • Have a medical condition that alcohol can aggravate
  • Are pregnant or trying to become pregnant


Marijuana is a green, brown, or gray mix of dried, crumbled leaves from the marijuana plant. It can be rolled up and smoked like a cigarette (called a joint) or a cigar (called a blunt). Marijuana can also be smoked in a pipe. Sometimes people mix it in food and eat it.

Marijuana can make you feel silly, relaxed, sleepy, and happy—or nervous and scared. It may change your senses of sight, hearing, and touch. It can also make it hard to think clearly.

Effects of Marijuana on the Body and Brain

These are just some of the problems marijuana can cause:

Cocaine (Coke, Crack)

Cocaine is a white powder. It can be snorted up the nose or mixed with water and injected with a needle. Cocaine can also be made into small white rocks, called crack. It’s called crack because when the rocks are heated, they make a cracking sound. Crack is smoked in a small glass pipe.

Cocaine can make a person feel full of energy, but also restless, scared, or angry.

Effects of Cocaine on the Body and Brain

These are just some of the problems cocaine can cause:


Heroin is a white or brown powder or a black, sticky goo. It can be mixed with water and injected with a needle. Heroin can also be smoked or snorted up the nose.

Heroin causes a rush of good feelings just after it’s taken. But some people throw up or itch after taking it. For the next several hours you want to sleep, and your heart rate and breathing slow down. Then the drug wears off and you may feel a strong urge to take more.

Effects of Heroin on the Body and Brain

These are just some of the problems heroin can cause:

Meth (Crank, Ice)

Methamphetamine—meth for short—is a white, bitter powder. Sometimes it’s made into a white pill or a clear or white shiny rock (called a crystal).

Meth powder can be eaten or snorted up the nose. It can also be mixed with liquid and injected into your body with a needle. Crystal meth is smoked in a small glass pipe.

Meth at first causes a rush of good feelings, but then users feel edgy, overly excited, angry, or afraid. Their thoughts and actions go really fast. They might feel too hot.

Effects of Meth on the Body and Brain

These are just some of the problems meth can cause:

Prescription Pain Medicine (OxyContin, Vicodin)

Pain medicines relieve pain from surgery or injuries. You need a prescription from a doctor to buy some strong kinds of these medicines. Prescription pain medicines are legal and helpful to use when a doctor orders them to treat your medical problem.

But people sometimes take these without a doctor’s prescription to get high or to try to treat themselves or their friends. Drug dealers sell these pills just like they sell heroin or cocaine. Some people borrow or steal these pills from other people.

Some people think that prescription pain medicines are safer to abuse than “street” drugs because they are medicines. Prescription pain medicine abuse can be as dangerous as heroin or cocaine abuse.

Oxycodone is one pain medicine that people often abuse. Sometimes it goes by the brand names OxyContin® or Percocet®. Another one that is often abused is hydrocodone. One of its brand names is Vicodin®.

Pain medicines are usually white, round, or oval pills. They can be taken whole, smoked, or crushed into a powder that is snorted or injected.

Like heroin, pain pills can cause a rush of good feeling when they’re first taken, but they can also make you want to throw up. They can make you very sleepy, and you can get addicted to them.

Effects of Pain Medicine Abuse on the Body and Brain

These are just some of the problems pain medicine abuse can cause:

Other Drugs of Abuse

There are many other drugs of abuse, including:

Ecstasy (X, E, XTC) is a pill that is often taken at parties and clubs. It is sometimes called the “love drug” because it makes people feel very friendly and touchy. It also raises body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure, and can make you feel sad for days after its effects wear off. Click here for more information about ecstasy.

K2 or Spice (fake weed, Skunk) is a drug made from shredded dried plant materials and chemicals. It is usually smoked. The “high” feels about the same as the “high” from marijuana. Spice users sometimes end up in the emergency room with rapid heart rates, vomiting and other uncomfortable side effects. K2/Spice is illegal. Click here for more information about K2/Spice.

LSD (acid) comes in pills or on small pieces of paper that have been soaked in liquid LSD. It makes you see, hear, and feel things that aren’t there. You might see bright colors, pretty pictures, or things that scare you. Click here for more information about LSD.

PCP (angel dust) is a pill or powder that can be eaten, smoked, or snorted up the nose. It makes people feel far away from the world around them. PCP often makes people feel angry and violent, not happy and dreamy. Click here for more information about PCP.

Inhalants are dangerous chemicals that make you feel high when you breathe them into your lungs (also called huffing or sniffing). These chemicals are found in household cleaners, spray cans, glue, and even permanent markers. Inhalants can make you pass out, stop your heart and your breathing, and kill you. Click here for more information about inhalants.

Club Drugs
Some drugs are called “club drugs” because they are sometimes passed around at nightclubs and parties:

Bath Salts are drugs made with chemicals like the “upper” found in the Khat plant. They are only sold with the name “Bath Salts” to make them look harmless. These drugs can make you “high” but they can also make you shaky, afraid, and violent. They look like a white or brown shiny powder and are sold in small packages labeled “not for human consumption.” They can be taken by mouth, by inhaling into the lungs, or with a needle. Some people end up in the emergency room or even die after taking bath salts. Click here for more information about bath salts.

When and Where to Get Help 

Here’s a simple way to think about substance use and abuse: If your use of drugs or alcohol is interfering with your life—negatively affecting your health, work, school, relationships, or finances—it’s time to quit or seek help. People who are addicted to a substance continue to abuse even though they know it can harm their physical or mental health, lead to accidents, or put others in danger. The following video dispels some myths about who is at risk of addiction:

Video: Anyone Can Become Addicted to Drugs

Know that first six weeks of the first semester is an especially critical and vulnerable time for most first-year students. Because lots of students get into the habit of drinking heavily and partying during these early days of college, there’s a risk that excessive alcohol consumption will interfere with successful adaptation to campus life. The transition to college is often difficult, and about one-third of first-year students fail to enroll for their second year.

If you are concerned about your drug or alcohol use, or you need help quitting, visit the student health center or talk with your college counselor. These folks are there to help you—it’s their job to provide information and support.

If you need additional resources or help, the following are good places to check:

Activity: When and Where to Get Help for Substance Abuse


  • Explain what substance use and abuse is and identify the warning signs that help may be needed
  • Identify resources for further information and guidance about substance abuse


  • Pick a topic: Choose alcohol or one of the drugs discussed in this section on Substance Abuse.
  • Consider the following scenario: You suspect that one of your college friends may be abusing this drug. Your goal is to educate yourself about the signs of abuse and collect resources that you can share with him/her.
  • Visit one of the following Web sites to get initial relevant information on your topic. You can research other sites, if you chose a topic that’s not listed here.
  • Research additional sites to identify local resources where someone like your friend might go, or places to call, for help.
  • Creative writing assignment: Write a 2-page letter to the fictional friend in which you share your concerns about his/her behavior and offer to help. Be sure to touch on the following:
    • The type of substance
    • The behavior(s) you’ve noticed your friend engaging in that worry you and cause you to suspect a substance abuse problem
    • The source of your information, which you’re sharing with your friend. For example: “I learned about the signs of heroin abuse from this Web site: . . .”
    • Why you think your friend should quit using or cut down
    • Your suggestions for what your friend should do and where to seek help. Give the names and contact information for at least 3 resources/organizations you found.
  • Follow your instructor’s guidelines for submitting assignments.

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Chapter 53: Stress

Lumen Learning

Causes of Stress

As a student, you’re probably plenty familiar with the experience of stress—a condition characterized by symptoms of physical or emotional tension. What you may not know is that it’s a natural response of the mind and body to a situation in which a person feels threatened or anxious. Stress can be positive (e.g., preparing for a wedding) or negative (e.g., dealing with a natural disaster).

Stress can hit you when you least expect it—before a test, after losing a job, or during conflict in a relationship. If you’re a college student, it may feel like stress is a persistent fact of life. While everyone experiences stress at times, a prolonged bout of it can affect your health and ability to cope with life. That’s why social support and self-care are important. They can help you see your problems in perspective… and the stressful feelings ease up.

Sometimes stress can be good. For instance, it can help you develop skills needed to manage potentially challenging or threatening situations in life. However, stress can be harmful when it is severe enough to make you feel overwhelmed and out of control.

Strong emotions like fear, sadness, or other symptoms of depression are normal, as long as they are temporary and don’t interfere with daily activities. If these emotions last too long or cause other problems, it’s a different story.

Signs and Effects of Stress

Physical or emotional tension are often signs of stress. They can be reactions to a situation that causes you to feel threatened or anxious. The following are all common symptoms of stress:

It’s not only unpleasant to live with the tension and symptoms of ongoing stress; it’s actually harmful to your body, too. Chronic stress can impair your immune system and disrupt almost all of your body’s processes, leading to increased risk of numerous health problems, including the following:

That’s why it’s so important to learn healthy ways of coping with the stressors in your life.

Ways of Managing Stress

The best strategy for managing stress is by taking care of yourself in the following ways:

The following video features a progressive muscle relaxation meditation for you to try. There are many many others available on YouTube and elsewhere.

Video: Progressive Muscle Relaxation Meditation

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If the self-care techniques listed above aren’t enough and stress is seriously interfering with your studies or life, don’t be afraid to get help. The student health center and college counselors are both good resources.

Activity: Reduce Your Stress Level


  • List healthy ways of managing stress that fit your current lifestyle.


  • Identify at least three things you currently do to cope with stress that aren’t working or aren’t good for you.
  • Identify healthy replacements for each of them, and write yourself a “stress-relief prescription” that you plan to follow for one week. Try to include one stress management technique to use every day. At the end of the week, respond to the following prompts in a short, reflective essay (1–2 pages): Which ineffective or unhealthy coping strategies did you set out to change and why? Which stress-relief techniques did you try during the week? Were any of them new for you? Which ones were most effective? How much do you think stress affects you in your current life at college? Do you feel like you have it under control or not? If not, what else might you do to reduce your stress level?
  • Follow your instructor’s guidelines for submitting assignments.

This TedTalk by Shawn Anchor covers happiness related to good health and better work. An important aspect he includes is how our brain performs when under stress.

Video: The Happy Secret to Better Work, Shawn Anchor TED Talk

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“Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk,” Mayo Clinic, 2016, accessed April 27, 2018,


Chapter 54: Mental Health

Lumen Learning

“It is only in sorrow bad weather masters us; in joy we face the storm and defy it.”

– Amelia Barr

Mental Health Basics

Knowing how to take care of your mental health when you’re in college is just as important as maintaining your physical health. In fact, there’s a strong link between the two: doctors are finding that positive mental health can actually improve your physical health.

So, what is “mental health?” Mental health can be defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Having good mental health doesn’t necessarily mean being happy or successful all the time. Most people feel depressed, lonely, or anxious now and then, but those with good mental health can take these feelings in stride and overcome them. When such feelings or moods persist and interfere with a person’s ability to function normally, though, it may be a sign of a more serious mental health problem and time to seek help.

The term mental illness refers to mental disorders or health conditions characterized by “alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.” Depression is the most common type of mental illness, and it affects more than 26 percent of the U.S. adult population. It has been estimated that by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability throughout the world, trailing only ischemic heart disease.

Evidence has shown that mental disorders, especially depressive disorders, are strongly linked to the occurrence and course of many chronic diseases—including diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and obesity and many risk behaviors for chronic disease, such as physical inactivity, smoking, excessive drinking, and insufficient sleep. In other words, if your mental health is poor, you may be at greater risk for disease and poor physical health.

Mental Health Indicators

In the public health arena, more emphasis and resources have been devoted to screening, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness than mental health. Little has been done to protect the mental health of those who are free from mental illness. There are some known indicators of mental health, including the following:

Former surgeon general David Satcher suggests that there are social determinants of mental health—just as there are social determinants of general health—that need to be in place to support mental health. These include adequate housing, safe neighborhoods, equitable jobs and wages, quality education, and equity in access to quality health care.

There are also some common-sense strategies that you can adopt to support and improve your emotional, psychological, and social health. Not surprisingly, they are very similar to the strategies one uses to cope with stress:


Depression is a common but serious mood disorder that’s more than just a feeling of “being down in the dumps” or “blue” for a few days. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.

If you have been experiencing some of the following signs and symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from depression:

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. Current research suggests that depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. It usually starts between the ages of fifteen and thirty, and is much more common in women. Women can also get postpartum depression after the birth of a baby. Some people get seasonal affective disorder in the winter, when there is less natural sunlight. Depression is one part of bipolar disorder.

Depression, even the most severe cases, can be treated. The earlier that treatment can begin, the more effective it is. Depression is usually treated with medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two.

There are days that you will feel down, especially when the demands of college get to you. These feelings are normal and will go away. If you are feeling low, try to take a break from the pressures of college and do something you enjoy. Spend time with friends, exercise, read a good book, listen to music, watch a movie, call a friend, talk to your family, or anything else that makes you feel good. If you feel depressed for two weeks, or the feeling keeps coming back, you should talk to a counselor in the health services/center. They see lots of students who are anxious, stressed, or depressed at college.


Most people experience occasional loneliness, and it’s an especially common experience among first-time college students, who find themselves in an unfamiliar environment with a completely new social scene. Loneliness isn’t necessarily about being alone—you can be surrounded by people and still feel alone. It’s the feeling of being alone that counts, along with feeling empty, unwanted, or isolated. In the following Ted Talk, Sherrie Turkle describes how, in this age of near-constant digital “connection,” loneliness is a challenge that faces us all:

Video: Connected, but alone? Sherry Turkle, TED 2012

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If you’re feeling lonely, try taking Turkle’s advice and start a conversation with someone. College is a great place to meet new people and develop new and interesting relationships. Others in college are new, just like you, and will welcome the chance to connect with and get to know another classmate. Try joining a campus interest group or club, play a team sport, or just ask another student if they’d like to meet for coffee or to study.

If feelings of loneliness persist, and especially if you also feel depressed, you should get help from a counselor or health services.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are mental health illnesses that involve emotional and behavioral disturbance surrounding weight and food issues. The most common are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Eating disorders can have life-threatening consequences.

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by self-starvation and extreme weight loss either through restriction or through binge-purging. This may frequently be a result of body dysmorphic disorder (a condition in which someone feels that their body looks differently than it actually does) or a result of other psychiatric complications such as OCD or depression. Starvation can cause harm to vital organs such as the heart and brain, can cause nails, hair, and bones to become brittle, and can make the skin dry and sometimes yellow or covered with soft hair. Menstrual periods can become irregular or stop completely.

People with bulimia nervosa eat large amounts of food (also called bingeing) at least two times a week and then vomit (also called purging) or exercise compulsively. Because many people who “binge and purge” maintain their body weight, they may keep their problem a secret for years. Vomiting can cause loss of important minerals, life-threatening heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), damage to the teeth, and swelling of the throat. Bulimia can also cause irregular menstrual periods.

People who binge without purging also have a disorder called binge eating disorder. This is frequently associated with feelings of loss of control and shame surrounding eating. People who are diagnosed with this disorder tend to gain weight, and many will have all of the consequences of being overweight, including high blood pressure and other cardiac symptoms, diabetes, and musculoskeletal complaints.

If you think you might have an eating disorder, you should go to the student health center or counseling center and get help. Talk with your family and close friends. Going for help and talking to others about your feelings and illness can be very difficult, but it’s the only way that you’re going to get better. Many colleges have treatment programs for these conditions and trained counselors who can relate to people with an eating disorder.

Anxiety Disorders

People with anxiety disorders respond to certain objects or situations with fear and dread. They have physical reactions to those objects, such as a rapid heartbeat and sweating. An anxiety disorder is diagnosed if a person:

A line drawing of a bath tub, plants, and candles in a calm and private environment including a sign reading don't forget to breathe
Self care

Anxiety disorders include the following:

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder. If you have OCD, you have repeated, upsetting thoughts called obsessions. You do the same thing over and over again to try to make the thoughts go away. Those repeated actions are called compulsions. Examples of obsessions are a fear of germs or a fear of being hurt. Compulsions include washing your hands, counting, checking on things or cleaning. Untreated, OCD can take over your life. Researchers think brain circuits may not work properly in people who have OCD. It tends to run in families. The symptoms often begin in children or teens. Treatments that combine medicines and therapy are often effective.

Panic disorder is a kind of anxiety disorder that causes panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden feelings of terror for no reason. You may also feel physical symptoms, such as

Panic attacks can happen anytime, anywhere and without warning. You may live in fear of another attack and may avoid places where you have had an attack. For some people, fear takes over their lives and they cannot leave their homes.

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Panic disorder is more common in women than men. It usually starts when people are young adults. Sometimes it starts when a person is under a lot of stress. Most people get better with treatment. Therapy can show you how to recognize and change your thinking patterns before they lead to panic. Medicines can also help.

A phobia is a strong, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger. There are many specific phobias. Acrophobia is a fear of heights. You may be able to ski the world’s tallest mountains but be unable to go above the fifth floor of an office building. Agoraphobia is a fear of public places, and claustrophobia is a fear of closed-in places. If you become anxious and extremely self-conscious in everyday social situations, you could have a social phobia. Other common phobias involve tunnels, highway driving, water, flying, animals, and blood. People with phobias try to avoid what they are afraid of. If they cannot, they may experience:

Treatment helps most people with phobias. Options include medicines, therapy or both.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a real illness. You can get PTSD after living through or witnessing a traumatic event, such as war, a hurricane, rape, physical abuse, or a bad accident. PTSD makes you feel stressed and afraid after the danger is over. It affects your life and the people around you. PTSD can cause problems like

PTSD starts at different times for different people. Signs of PTSD may start soon after a frightening event and then continue. Other people develop new or more severe signs months or even years later. PTSD can happen to anyone, even children.

Medicines can help you feel less afraid and tense. It might take a few weeks for them to work. Talking to a specially trained doctor or counselor also helps many people with PTSD. This is called talk therapy.

Line drawing of a figure with a downward gaze expression, a maze at the top of an open head, surrounded by eyes and two sets of text. One book floats overhead with words of positivity while negative words surround the torso of the figure.
Stress can severely affect ones state of mental health, causing fear, anxiety, and grief

Suicidal Behavior

Suicide causes immeasurable pain, suffering, and loss to individuals, families, and communities nationwide. On average, 112 Americans die by suicide each day. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15–24-year-olds, and more than 9.4 million adults in the United States had serious thoughts of suicide within the past twelve months. But suicide is preventable, so it’s important to know what to do.

Girl sitting with arms wrapped around knees in distress.
Piling up

Warning Signs of Suicide

If someone you know is showing one or more of the following behaviors, he or she may be thinking about suicide. Don’t ignore these warning signs. Get help immediately.

Get Help

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK (8255). Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If you think someone is in immediate danger, do not leave him or her alone—stay there and call 911.


OK2TALK is a community for young adults struggling with mental health problems. It offers a safe place to talk.



  • Identify the difference between occasional negative emotions and more serious mental health issues, such as anxiety disorder or depression
  • Explore practices for ensuring mental health and emotional balance in your life
  • Identify resources for further information and guidance about mental health issues


  • Watch the following Tedx Talk, featuring college student Jack Park. In this talk, Jack shares his story of living with a mental disorder and revisits some of the ways he found help and hope. He makes the case for seeing mental illness in a new light, so that people can begin to address some of the issues associated with suicide, depression, and other preventable mental disorders.

     Video: Shedding Light on Student Depression, Jack Park TEDx Penn

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Write a short (1–2 pages) response paper in which you address the following questions: What do you think of Jack’s practice of changing his “to-do” lists into “want-to-do” lists? What does he hope to gain from this shift? Which coping mechanisms does Jack observe his fellow students using to deal with stress and mental health challenges? What does Jack think is the deeper problem? Why, in Jack’s view, is it hard for people to get help for mental health problems in the same way they might seek help for dental problems? Add your own thoughts about the obstacles you think students may face in getting help for mental health issues.

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“Mental Health Basics,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013, April 22, 2016.
“Mental  Health Basics.”
Rahn Bailey, “The Social Determinants of Mental Health,” American Journal of Psychiatry 172, no. 9 (September 1, 2015): 913-914.


Chapter 55: Words of Wisdom: Failure Is Not an Option

Nathan Wallace

Nathan Wallace

In the movie Apollo 13, Ed Harris portrays NASA flight director Gene Kranz as he successfully guides the crew of a damaged spacecraft to safety. In a famous scene during which Kranz and his staff are attempting to overcome some extremely daunting challenges, Harris shouts, “Failure is not an option!” This singular statement perfectly articulated the determination of Kranz to bring the Apollo astronauts back to Earth.

This “failure is not an option” credo was perfect for the life and death situation that NASA was facing. Failure meant that the astronauts on Apollo 13 would never come home, and that outcome was unacceptable. Attending college, on the other hand, shouldn’t be a life or death experience, though it sometimes might feel like one. Failure, though never the intended outcome, can and sometimes does happen. Sometimes failure manifests itself in election results for a student government post, in a test score, or even in a final grade.

Throughout my life I have had many failures. In high school I drove my parents and teachers crazy because of my lack of academic achievement. I even managed to get an F- in Spanish on my report card. When I told my mom that it was a typo she responded, “So you didn’t get an F?” “No,” I said, “I definitely earned the F, but there’s no such thing as an F-.” To this day I’m not so sure that my reply was accurate. I might have earned that minus after all.

My failures in high school led to only one acceptance from of all the colleges I applied to attend. Furthermore, I was not accepted to the school’s main campus, but to their branch campus. During my first semester there my effort wasn’t much better than in high school, but since my parents were now paying for my education I did enough work to avoid academic probation. It wasn’t until my second semester that I found my niche as a Religious Studies major and started getting good grades, moved to the main campus, and eventually graduated with honors.

Since graduating from college, my career path has taken me into higher education as a Student Affairs administrator. This career has exposed me to many great theories regarding student success, and many of them gave me insight into my own college experience. But it was Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck who appeared to be thinking of me when she wrote the following about fixed mindsets in the introduction to her book titled Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:

Believing that your qualities are carved in stone—the fixed mindset—creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character—well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics. (Dweck, 2006)

This statement was a revelation to me. I finally understood my problem throughout high school and even in college. I earned good grades because I liked Religious Studies but never really challenged myself inside or outside of the classroom. My problem was that I had a fixed mindset about academic success. I believed that a person is either smart or they’re not, and nothing could be done to significantly change that. I also believed that I was one of the fortunate ones to be “gifted” with an abundance of intelligence.

One might think that having confidence in your intelligence is a whole lot better than thinking that you’re stupid, but the result was the same. My fixed mindset was holding me back because it led to a paralyzing fear of failure. Since as far back as I could remember, my family, friends, and teachers were always telling me how smart I was, and I believed them. But that belief was a double-edged sword. High school and college offered many occasions when self-confidence in my inherent intelligence could be threatened. If I fail on this test or in this course it means that I’m not the smart person I thought I was. If I fail, my family and friends will find out that they were wrong about me.

However, there was a way to avoid all of the risks of academic rigor. I could just not try. If I didn’t try I would get bad marks on my report card, but those wouldn’t be true indicators of my intelligence. By not putting forth any effort, my intelligence would never be disproven. I would always be able to say to myself and others that, “I could do the work and be a straight A student, but I’m just not interested.” Looking back on this time in my life, it is clear to me that this wasn’t a conscious decision to save face. It was fear, not logic, which was guiding my behavior.

After reading Mindset I have made a conscious effort to identify and thwart any remaining fixed mindset thoughts that I continue to hold. Dweck’s book acts as a manual for rooting out fixed mindset thoughts, because she explains that the idea of fixed mindsets is only half of her mindset theory. There is another kind of mindset, and she calls it growth mindset. Dweck writes that, “This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts” (Dweck, 2006). Dweck goes on to explain that we can choose to have a growth mindset about any type of ability, whether it’s math, art, athletics, or any other skill that one wishes to cultivate.

I put this theory to the test not long after reading the book. A few years ago I attended a meeting only to find out that it wasn’t any ordinary meeting. During this meeting we would be brainstorming solutions to a specific problem. This was going to be a true brainstorming session, led by a facilitator trained in the science of soliciting uninhibited ideas from an audience. As soon as I heard the word brainstorming I froze. I have always hated brainstorming. I’m the type of person that likes to think things through two or three times before expressing an opinion. My fear of failing at this task in front of my coworkers paralyzed my mind. I couldn’t think.

That’s when it hit me. This was fixed mindset thinking. My belief in my brainstorming inadequacies was preventing me from even trying. So I flipped this thinking on its head and decided the best way to improve my brainstorming abilities was to clear my mind and start firing out ideas. I gave it a shot, and though the ideas didn’t come out at the prolific rate of some of my colleagues, I had never before had such a positive outcome and experience while brainstorming. Through this experience I found that I really could choose to have a growth mindset, and that this choice produces a greater chance of success. With a greater chance of success comes a smaller chance of failure.

Nevertheless, when it comes to academic success and success in all phases of life, failure is always an option. Though it can be painful, failure can lead to great learning and progress when a specific failure is analyzed through the lens of a growth mindset. By focusing more on effort than on outcomes anyone can learn and grow, regardless of their skill level. Therefore, to make the most of their time in college, students must seek out challenges that will stretch their abilities. These challenges can take many forms and they can occur in a variety of settings, both inside and outside of the classroom. When seeking out challenges there is always the possibility of agonizing defeat, but out of that defeat can be the seeds of great success in the future.


C. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (New York: Ballantine Books, 2006).

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Chapter 56: Sexual Health

Lumen Learning

Sexuality is a big part of being human. Love, affection, and sexual intimacy all play a role in healthy relationships. They also contribute to your sense of well-being. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.

Your sexuality is your own private business, of course, but whether you abstain from sexual intercourse or decide to become or continue being sexually active, the decisions you make can affect the health and safety of your sexual partner(s)—just as their decisions can affect yours. Therefore, it’s important to get the facts about what you can do to protect yourself (and your partner) from sexually transmitted disease, unwanted pregnancy, and sexual violence.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

STDs are diseases that are passed from one person to another through sexual contact. These include chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), syphilis, and HIV. Many of these STDs do not show symptoms for a long time, but they can still be harmful and passed on during sex.

You can get an STD by having sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) with someone who has an STD. Anyone who is sexually active can get an STD. You don’t even have to “go all the way” (have anal or vaginal sex) to get an STD, since some STDs, like herpes and HPV, are spread by skin-to-skin contact.

STDs are common, especially among young people. There are about twenty million new cases of STDs each year in the United States, and about half of these are in people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four. Young people are at greater risk of getting an STD for several reasons:

Types of STDS


Chlamydia is a common STD that can infect both men and women. It can cause serious, permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system, making it difficult or impossible for her to get pregnant later on. Chlamydia can also cause a potentially fatal ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy that occurs outside the womb).

You can get chlamydia by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has chlamydia. If your sex partner is male you can still get chlamydia even if he does not ejaculate (cum). If you’ve had chlamydia and were treated in the past, you can still get infected again if you have unprotected sex with someone who has chlamydia. If you are pregnant, you can give chlamydia to your baby during childbirth.

Most people who have chlamydia have no symptoms. However, symptoms can include a burning sensation when urinating and/or discharge from the penis or vagina. If you do have symptoms, they may not appear until several weeks after you have sex with an infected partner. Even when chlamydia causes no symptoms, it can damage your reproductive system.

Chlamydia can be cured with the right treatment. When the medication is taken properly, it will stop the infection and could decrease your chances of having complications later on. Repeat infection with chlamydia is common. You should be tested again about three months after you are treated, even if your sex partner(s) was treated.

Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is an STD caused by two types of viruses. The viruses are called herpes simplex type 1 and herpes simplex type 2.

You can get herpes by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the disease. Fluids found in a herpes sore carry the virus, and contact with those fluids can cause infection. You can also get herpes from an infected sex partner who does not have a visible sore or who may not know he or she is infected because the virus can be released through your skin and spread the infection to your sex partner(s).

Most people who have herpes have no or very mild symptoms and, as a result, don’t know they have it. You may not notice mild symptoms or you may mistake them for another skin condition—like a pimple or ingrown hair.

Genital herpes sores usually appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals, rectum, or mouth. The blisters break and leave painful sores that may take weeks to heal. These symptoms are sometimes called “having an outbreak.” The first time someone has an outbreak they may also have flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches, or swollen glands.

Repeat outbreaks of genital herpes are common, especially during the first year after infection. Repeat outbreaks are usually shorter and less severe than the first outbreak. Although the infection can stay in the body for the rest of your life, the number of outbreaks tends to decrease over a period of years.

You should be examined by your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms or if your partner has an STD or symptoms of an STD, such as an unusual sore, a smelly discharge, or burning when urinating.

There is no cure for herpes. However, there are medicines that can prevent or shorten outbreaks. One of these herpes medicines can be taken daily and makes it less likely that you will pass the infection on to your sex partner(s).


Gonorrhea is an STD that can infect both men and women. It can cause infections in the genitals, rectum, and throat. It’s a very common infection, especially among young people ages 15–24 years.

Gonorrhea often doesn’t have recognizable symptoms—or they may be mistaken for bladder or vaginal infections. Symptoms include a burning sensation when urinating, abnormal discharge from the penis or vagina, and bleeding between periods. Rectal infection symptoms include itching, burning, and bleeding.

You should be examined by your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms or if your partner has an STD or symptoms of an STD, such as an unusual sore, a smelly discharge, burning when urinating, or bleeding between periods.

Gonorrhea can be cured with the right treatment. Although medication will stop the infection, it will not undo any permanent damage caused by the disease.

It’s becoming harder to treat some gonorrhea, as drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea are increasing. If your symptoms continue for more than a few days after receiving treatment, you should return to a health care provider to be checked again.


HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It kills or damages the body’s immune system cells. AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. It is the most advanced stage of infection with HIV.

HIV most often spreads through unprotected sex with an infected person. It may also spread by sharing drug needles or through contact with the blood of an infected person. Women can give it to their babies during pregnancy or childbirth.

The first signs of HIV infection may be swollen glands and flu-like symptoms. These may come and go a month or two after infection. Severe symptoms may not appear until months or years later.

A blood test can tell if you have HIV infection. Your health care provider can perform the test, or call the national referral hotline at 1-800-CDC-INFO (24 hours a day, 1-800-232-4636 in English and en español; 1-888-232-6348 – TTY).

There is no cure, but there are many medicines to fight both HIV infection and the infections and cancers that come with it. People can live with the disease for many years, especially if they are diagnosed and treated early. Early diagnosis is also important to reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

HPV is the most common STD. HPV is different from the viruses that cause HIV and HSV (herpes). HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives. There are many different types of HPV. Some types can cause health problems including genital warts and cancers. But there are vaccines that can stop these health problems from happening.

You can get HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. It is most commonly spread during vaginal or anal sex. HPV can be passed even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms. You can develop symptoms years after you have sex with someone who is infected, making it hard to know when you first became infected.

There is no test to find out a person’s “HPV status.” Also, there is no approved HPV test to find HPV in the mouth or throat.

However, there are HPV tests that can be used to screen for cervical cancer. These tests are recommended for screening only in women aged 30 years and older. They are not recommended to screen men, adolescents, or women under the age of 30 years.

Most people with HPV do not know they are infected and never develop symptoms or health problems from it. Some people find out that they have HPV when they get genital warts. Women may find out they have HPV when they get an abnormal Pap test result (during cervical cancer screening). Others may only find out once they’ve developed more serious problems from HPV, such as cancers.

There is no treatment for the virus itself. However, there are treatments for the health problems that HPV can cause:


Syphilis is an STD that can cause long-term complications if not treated correctly. Symptoms in adults are divided into stages. These stages are primary, secondary, latent, and late syphilis.

You can get syphilis by direct contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Sores can be found on the penis, vagina, anus, in the rectum, or on the lips and in the mouth. Syphilis can also be spread from an infected mother to her unborn baby.

Syphilis has been called “the great imitator” because it has so many possible symptoms, many of which look like symptoms from other diseases. The painless syphilis sore that you get after you are first infected can be mistaken for an ingrown hair, zipper cut, or other seemingly harmless bump. The non-itchy body rash that develops during the second stage of syphilis can show up on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet, all over your body, or in just a few places. Syphilis can also affect the eye and can lead to permanent blindness. This is called ocular syphilis. You could also be infected with syphilis and have very mild symptoms or none at all.

Syphilis can be cured with the right antibiotics from your health care provider. However, treatment will not undo any damage that the infection has already caused.

How You Can Protect Yourself Against STDs

The surest way to protect yourself against STDs is to not have sex (practice “abstinence”). That means not having any vaginal, anal, or oral sex. There are many things to consider before having sex, and it’s okay to say no if you don’t want to have sex.

If you do decide to have sex, you and your partner should get tested beforehand and make sure that you and your partner use a condom—every time you have oral, anal, or vaginal sex, from start to finish. Know where to get condoms and how to use them correctly. It’s not safe to stop using condoms unless you’ve both been tested, know your status, and are in a mutually monogamous relationship.

Mutual monogamy means that you and your partner both agree to only have sexual contact with each other. This can help protect against STDs, as long as you’ve both been tested and know you’re STD-free.

Before you have sex, talk with your partner about how you will prevent STDs and pregnancy. If you think you’re ready to have sex, you need to be ready to protect your body and your future. You should also talk to your partner ahead of time about what you will and will not do sexually. Your partner should always respect your right to say no to anything that doesn’t feel right.

Make sure you get the health care you need. Ask a doctor or nurse about STD testing and about vaccines against HPV and hepatitis B.

Girls and young women may have extra needs to protect their reproductive health. Talk to your doctor or nurse about regular cervical cancer screening and chlamydia testing.

Avoid using alcohol and drugs. If you use alcohol and drugs, you are more likely to take risks—like not using a condom or having sex with someone you normally wouldn’t have sex with.

Many STDs don’t cause any symptoms that you would notice, so the only way to know for sure if you have an STD is to get tested. You can get an STD from having sex with someone who has no symptoms. Just like you, that person might not even know he or she has an STD.

There are places that offer confidential and free STD tests. This means that no one has to find out you’ve been tested. Visit GetTested to find an STD testing location near you. If you find out that you have an STD, it’s important to seek treatment—since some STDs can be fatal if left untreated. Although certain STDs (like herpes and HIV) aren’t curable, a doctor can prescribe medicine to treat the symptoms. If you are living with an STD, it’s important to tell your partner before you have sex. Although it may be uncomfortable to talk about your STD, open and honest conversation can help your partner make informed decisions to protect his or her health.

Unintended Pregnancy

Seven in ten pregnancies among single women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine are unplanned. As with STDs, the surest way to avoid unintended pregnancy is abstinence, since no birth control method is 100 percent reliable. However, if you are sexually active, it’s important to protect yourself and your partner from pregnancy and HIV and other STDs. Birth control (such as the pill, patch, ring, implant, shot, or an IUD) provides highly effective pregnancy prevention, but it doesn’t protect you from HIV and other STDs. Condoms can reduce the risk to both of you for pregnancy and most STDs, including HIV. Even if you or your partner is using another type of birth control, agree to use a condom every time you have sex.

His condom + her hormonal birth control or IUD = DOUBLE PROTECTION.

If a condom breaks or you have unprotected sexual intercourse, it’s possible to take an emergency contraceptive pill (ECP)—sometimes called a “morning-after pill”—which may prevent a pregnancy from occurring. ECPs generally contain a higher dose of the same hormones found in regular oral contraceptive pills, and they are most effective when used shortly after intercourse (not the next morning, as the name suggests). It’s important to note that ECPs are not abortion pills, and they do nothing to either prevent or cure STDs.

Visit your campus health center or talk to your doctor to get more information about birth control, condoms, and other reproductive and sexual health issues.

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is any type of sexual activity that a person doesn’t agree to. It can include touching that is not okay; putting something into the vagina; sexual intercourse; rape; and attempted rape. Sexual assault happens on college campuses as well as in communities. One in five women has been sexually assaulted while in college and 80 percent of female rape victims experience their first rape before the age of twenty-five. The following statistics show that sexual assaults usually aren’t random acts of violence carried out by strangers:

Date Rape Drugs

One of the great things about being in college is having the chance to meet and get to know so many new people. Protecting yourself against sexual assaults doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice exciting social opportunities. It just means being informed about risks and taking common-sense steps to protect yourself.

One very real risk on college campuses—and elsewhere—is the use of date rape drugs to assist sexual assaults. Date rape drugs are powerful and dangerous drugs that can be slipped into your drink when you are not looking. The drugs often have no color, smell, or taste, so you can’t tell if you are being drugged. The drugs can make you become weak and confused—or even pass out—so that you are unable to refuse sex or defend yourself. If you are drugged, you might not remember what happened while you were drugged. Date rape drugs are used on both women and men.

The three most common date rape drugs are Rohypnol, GHB, and Ketamine:

These drugs also are known as “club drugs” because they tend to be used at dance clubs, concerts, and “raves.” The term “date rape” is widely used to describe sexual crimes involving these drugs, but most experts prefer the term “drug-facilitated sexual assault.” These drugs are also used to help people commit other crimes, like robbery and physical assault. The term “date rape” can be misleading because the person who commits the crime might not be dating the victim. Rather, it could be an acquaintance or stranger.

Alcohol and Other Drugs

Alcohol is also a drug that’s commonly used to help commit sexual assault. Be aware of the risks you take by drinking alcohol at parties or in other social situations. When a person drinks too much alcohol,

The club drug “ecstasy” (MDMA) has been used to commit sexual assault. It can be slipped into someone’s drink without the person’s knowledge. Also, a person who willingly takes ecstasy is at greater risk of sexual assault. Ecstasy can make a person feel “lovey-dovey” toward others. As with alcohol, it also can lower a person’s ability to give reasoned consent. Once under the drug’s influence, a person is less able to sense danger or to resist a sexual assault.

Even if a victim of sexual assault drank alcohol or willingly took drugs, the victim is not at fault for being assaulted. You cannot “ask for it” or cause it to happen. Still, it’s important to be vigilant and take common-sense steps to avoid putting yourself at risk. Take the following steps to protect yourself from becoming a victim:

  • Don’t accept drinks from other people.
  • Open containers yourself.
  • Keep your drink with you at all times, even when you go to the bathroom.
  • Don’t share drinks.
  • Don’t drink from punch bowls or other common, open containers. They may already have drugs in them.
  • If someone offers to get you a drink from a bar or at a party, go with the person to order your drink. Watch the drink being poured and carry it yourself.
  • Don’t drink anything that tastes or smells strange. Remember, GHB sometimes tastes salty.
  • Have a nondrinking friend with you to make sure nothing happens.
  • If you realize you left your drink unattended, pour it out.
  • If you feel drunk and haven’t drunk any alcohol—or, if you feel like the effects of drinking alcohol are stronger than usual—get help right away.
How and Where to Get Help

Take the following steps if you or someone you know has been raped, or you think you might have been drugged and raped:

The Hunting Ground documentary film is another source of information to learn more about sexual assault on college campuses.

Activity: Sexual Assault on College Campuses


  • Identify risks of sexual assault, including date rape, and where to get help


  • Watch the following video, in which Emma Sulkowicz, a student at Columbia College, describes the experience and aftermath of being raped by a fellow student—who remains on campus.

Video: My Rapist Is Still On Campus: Sexual Assault In the Ivy League

Thumbnail for the embedded element "My Rapist Is Still On Campus: Sexual Assault In The Ivy League | TIME"

A YouTube element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

  • Click on the following link, and read the followup article, which describes Emma’s response to the way the university handled her case: “Students Bring out Mattresses in Huge ‘Carry That Weight’ Protest Against Sexual Assault.”
  • Write a short essay (2–3 pages) in which you respond to the following questions: What were the results of Emma’s “Carry That Weight” protest? Do you think it was an effective strategy for dealing with the problem of sexual assault at Columbia and other colleges? Why or why not? Who has the responsibility for addressing this problem? (College administrators? The police? All students? Female or male students? Someone else?)  Which approach do you think would have the greatest impact? (Education? Activism? Policy change? Something else?)
  • Follow your instructor’s guidelines for submitting assignments.

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Original:

All rights reserved content:

  • My Rapist Is Still on Campus: Sexual Assault in the Ivy League | TIME. Provided by: TIME. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license

Public domain content:

Adaptions: Removed image, quote. Relocated learning objectives.  Added Title IX information and reference to The Hunting Ground documentary.

“How You Can Prevent Pregnancy,” It's Your Sex Life, MTV, March 11, 2016.
“The Offenders,” RAINN | Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, March 11, 2016.


Chapter 57: Safety

Lumen Learning

Safety Consciousness on Campus and in College

College and university campuses tend to have a special feel—so special that when you are on campus you may feel you are fully apart from the wider world around you. But the reality is that any campus is subject to the same influences—indeed, crimes—as the towns and cities that flank the campus. And so it is important to be aware of your surroundings, the people near you, and the goings on in your physical spaces and in your virtual spaces at all times.

In this topic, we explore college safety concerns, and share tips and resources to help ensure that you are always safe, protected, and no more than a phone call away from help if you need it.

Safety Consciousness

Safety consciousness is a term describing your awareness of hazards, and your alertness to potential danger. In order to have safety consciousness, you must value safety no matter where you are or what time of day it is.

Your college or university must also be safety conscious—not only by choice, but also by law. In 1990, Congress enacted the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act, which required all schools that receive federal student aid to share information about crime on and around their campuses. The act is now generally just referred to as the Clery Act, in memory of Jeanne Clery, a student killed in her dorm room in 1986.

What does the Clery Act require your college to do? If your college is receiving federal student aid, here are the major legal requirements it must comply with:

This valuable set of requirements is important for every student to be aware of. It is readily available to you and your family. You don’t need to be a student to access this information about any school.

Strategies for Staying Safe on Campus and Beyond

One of the best strategies for staying safe on campus and beyond is to ask questions. Take the initiative to learn more about your college surroundings, the community culture, and safety precautions you’d be well advised to implement. Below are some questions you can ask to open up important conversations about campus and community safety.

1 How is the college creating a safe environment for all faculty, staff, and students? Your concern about a safe environment on campus and in the surrounding communities is a consumer concern as much as a learner concern. As you and your college make safety a shared priority, awareness builds and safety measures expand, which creates a safer space for you to learn in. Measures can be extensive. Ask for specifics.
2 What communication procedures are in place for emergencies? Many colleges and universities send emergency phone messages, email messages and text messages to all students, staff, faculty, administrators, board of trustees members, etc. Institutions may have sirens and alarms. Signage on campus may be used for alerts, along with other measures.
3 Can you tell me about campus police and security personnel, and how they coordinate with local police? Your campus should have a full contingent of campus police and security personnel who coordinate closely with local police as and when needed.
4 How are sexual assaults on campus handled? Does the college handle investigations or do local authorities handle investigations? Who should you complain to if you have a problem? What confidentialities are in place?
5 How do students learn about safety on campus? Many institutions provide students with classes that help them learn how to intervene as bystanders in altercations. Some courses give students advice about other safety measures. You can encourage your institution to offer workshops or other learning opportunities if it doesn’t already offer them.
6 What measures are in place for protecting students who live off-campus? Some schools help students find safe housing off campus. Your school might have an off-campus housing department.
7 To what degree do alcohol and drug abuse pose issues on campus? How are violations handled? One of the best sources of information about drugs and alcohol on campus is fellow students. You can find information about violations in the annual security report.

Tips for Staying Safe

Walking, driving, traveling:

At home:

On campus:


For a truly comprehensive list of tips for staying safe on and off campus, visit Campus Crime Prevention Personal Safety Tips from Fort Hayes State University.

Also, don’t hesitate to take advantage of campus and community resources, which may include any of the following:

Safety Apps

One of the very best safety measures you can take at any time is to keep emergency numbers handy, either on your phone or in your wallet or backpack or a place where you can easily access them. You may also find it helpful to have a safety app on your mobile device. Consider downloading any of the following free apps.

iTunes logo: bsafeyou bSafe is a personal safety app designed to keep you and your friends safer 24/7. It has features for everyday safety and real emergencies. You can set up your own personal social safety network.
Logo: interlocking C and 6 circles, with U at top left Circle of 6 U is built specifically for colleges and schools, connecting students to each other and to critical resources on specific campuses. The tool lets you choose up to 6 trusted friends to add to your circle, so that if you get into an uncomfortable or risky situation, with two taps you send your circle a pre-programmed SMS alert message indicating your exact location.
Logo: silver eye with "on watch" beneath it OnWatchOnCampus: With just 2 taps, your friends and emergency first responders are alerted to your GPS location and that you need help.
Logo: MyForce MyForce: This tool offers users instant notifications, monitoring agents, nationwide coverage and fast emergency response. When an alert is sent, the 24/7 safety agents track your whereabouts and pinpoint your exact location. They listen in and assess the details.
 iTunes logo: green circle with "okay" hand signal icon, yellow circle with GPS locator icon, red circle with telephone icon React Mobile: Users can quickly send out a widespread emergency alert without having to access and unlock their phone. You choose which contacts you would like to share your location with. Then your contact list can be sent an email and a text message with a link to your GPS location. You can also send an “SOS Help Me” message to an unlimited number of buddies.
 iTunes logo: white balloon on blue background, with white heart inside it Watch Over Me: This tool turns your mobile device into emergency tool with just a shake, even if your phone is locked. The shake turns on your phone’s alarm and video camera, and sends an alert to your emergency contacts.

Resources for Learning About Safety in College

Your personal safety both on- and off-campus, and the safety of your family and friends, is a treasure. The more you know about safety, perhaps the more safe you can be and the more safe you can help others be. Here are many resources to help you learn more about safety.

Sexual Assaults

Activity: Personal Security


  • Describe strategies for staying safe on campus and elsewhere


  • Make a list of 3–5 campus safety issues you’re personally concerned about. This might include anything from worrying about parking lot security and car break-ins to date rape or hate crime.
  • Visit your college Web site, and search for safety and security information that’s relevant to your concerns. Record the name and contact information for each resource you find and any procedures you learn about. For example, if you’re worried about your backpack or computer getting stolen while you’re at school, find out what should you do if it happens. Who should you call, and what might you need to provide? If you come across useful prevention measures (e.g., “record the serial number of your computer somewhere else, so you’ll have it for the theft report”), write those down, too.
  • For the assignment, use the information you found to create your own Safety Directory, as below.
Safety Issue Resource Phone Number Address/Web Site Important Information
  • Make sure the information is also stored somewhere in your computer and phone so you can find and use it later. (Add it to your contacts, for instance.)
  • Follow your instructor’s guidelines for submitting assignments.

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Original:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:

All rights reserved content:

  • Campus Safety – Safety Tips for College Students. Authored by: personalsafetyexpert. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.

Public domain content:

Adaptions: Relocated learning objectives.  Some videos removed.

Ruth Jones, “College Crimes & Sexual Assault,” Affordable Colleges Online, 2016, accessed February 22, 2016.
Briana Boyington, “10 Questions Every Parent, Student Should Ask About Campus Safety,” U.S. News and World Report Education, September 9, 2014, accessed February 22, 2016.


Unit 10: Finances and Resources

Learning Objectives

After you have completed this unit you should be able to:

Licenses and Attributions:

Original content by Dave Dillon, CC BY Attribution.


Chapter 58: Words of Wisdom: Something Was Different

Jacqueline Tiermini

Jacqueline Tiermini

I have earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree and I have nearly twenty years of teaching experience. Would you ever guess that I contemplated not going to college at all? I originally thought about going to Beauty School and becoming a Cosmetologist. It was to me, honestly the easy way out since I was sick of all the drama after high school. The thought of college seemed overwhelming. Why did I really need to have a college degree when all I ever wanted was to get married and be a stay-at-home mom? My friends weren’t going to college either, so I often wondered if going would complicate our friendship.

I decided to go anyway, and it did separate us a bit. While I was writing a ten-page paper for my summer class in Genetics and Heredity, my friends were swimming in my pool. They also had the chance to buy new cars and new clothes and to go on vacations. I just went to school, driving my used Nissan Sentra, without much more than gas money and a few extra bucks. Again, why was I doing this? It would have been easier to just do what my friends were doing.

Little by little, semesters went by and I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in Education. I started substitute teaching immediately and within six months I was offered a full-time job. Just like that, I had more money and all kinds of new opportunities and I could now consider a new car or going on vacation just like my friends. At that point, I decided to continue my education and get my master’s degree. Yes, it was a lot of hard work again, and yes, my friends wondered why I wanted to go back again, but I knew then that this was the best choice for me. The challenge wasn’t knowing where I wanted my career to go, but rather overcoming the pull to settle into a lifestyle or career because it was easy, not because it was what I wanted.

By the time I graduated with my master’s degree I realized that something was different. For all the years that I felt behind or unable to keep up with what my friends had, I was suddenly leaps and bounds ahead of them career-wise. I now had two degrees, a full-time teaching job, and a plan to keep my career moving forward. I was able to do all of the things that they had done all those years and more. None of them had careers, just jobs. None of them had long-term plans. None of them were as satisfied with their choices any longer and a few of them even mentioned that they were jealous of my opportunity to attend college.

Don’t be fooled. Being a college student is a lot of work and, like me, most students have questioned what they are doing and why they are doing it. However, the rewards certainly outweigh all of the obstacles. I used to hear, “Attending college will make you a well-rounded person” or “It sets you apart from those that do not attend,” yet it never felt true at the time. Eventually though, you will come to a point where you realize those quotes are true and you will be on your way to earning that degree!

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:

Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom. Edited by Thomas Priester.  Essay authored by Jacqueline Tiermini. Located at:  License: CC BY: Attribution.


Chapter 59: Beyond Tuition: Understanding College Expenses

Alise Lamoreaux

Expenses you may encounter:

Paying for college is an undeniable component of the educational process. While there are political discussions underway about making college free, at this point in time, students must pay for college themselves or with the help of others. Understanding the factors that combine to create the overall cost of a college education can help a student make decisions about the college that is right for him or her.

Today’s colleges are in a competitive market for students. Thinking about the services you as a student need or want from a college environment can help define what is personally important and what you are willing to pay for.

College costs can be measured by 7 main categories:

  1. Tuition: The price you pay for taking college classes is based on the academic program you choose. Tuition is also affected by selecting a school in the state where you live, and by whether the school is public, private, for-profit, or non-profit.
  2. Fees: Academic programs may have additional fees beyond tuition costs. For example, a student majoring in culinary arts will need specialized tools to participate in that program. Services the college provides to students can have associated fees. For example, a student health center may have a basic fee that all students must pay whether they use the service or not. Some colleges have dining fees that give students food cards to use on campus. Student fees are not fees students can opt out of. It is important for students to examine a college’s fee structure and maximize the services that are being paid for by fees.
  3. Books and supplies: The cost of books and the supplies students will need to complete a program can vary greatly. Books and supplies can add $1000 or more to the annual tuition cost. This is an important factor that is easily overlooked by students. Finding classes that offer low cost book option, open educational resources (OER), or zero textbook cost (ZTC) sections can help reduce the overall cost of college. Students can also check online or with their bookstore for used books or rental options, and/or use reserve books in the library, if available. Sometimes finding a required textbook from Amazon or Chegg or other online sources will be less expensive than purchasing a new textbook from the college bookstore. Often, students will end up financing the cost of books and supplies with financial aid. It is important to remember that an additional $1000 financed with aid or credit cards can quickly add up to an unanticipated cost of college.
  4. Transportation: Getting to and from college costs vary significantly based on how close a student lives to the college campus and the transportation method selected. Some colleges may have a transportation fee as part of the student fees that might provide mass transit (trains or buses) options for getting to school. Colleges may also have parking fees for those students who drive to the campus. Seasonal weather conditions are another factor in transportation choices. As a student estimating the cost of college, remember to think about the entire school year.
  5. Living Expenses: Where will you be living while attending college and with whom? The answer to this question determines a major factor in the overall cost of attending college. Living with family may be less expensive for some, but many times is not an option for students. Answers to the question of where you will live and how much it will cost vary greatly. One thing to think about is how much did it cost you to live last year? Will going to school change that and if so, how? Will you have to eat or spend money on groceries/meals differently than in the past? If the college you choose has a dining fee built into your tuition costs, don’t overlook using it. Staying healthy is an important part of college success.
  6. Personal Expenses: Another wide open category of cost, but don’t forget you will still need basic health care and hygiene. And you will still have social events and family commitments. Students tend to underestimate how much money will be needed for personal expenses. For example, many students today cannot survive without smart phones, computers, and data plans.
  7. Opportunity Cost: Choosing to spend time and money going to college has an opportunity cost. If you are spending time and money on your education, you will not be spending that same time and money somewhere else. One example of this relationship is employment. Attending classes and doing homework may mean you can’t work at a job as much as you want to. It may also mean you will have less time to spend with friends and family. If you have a long commute to school, that may impact other aspects of your daily life.

Financial Aid Basics

Most students will need some form of financial aid to help pay for college. Before accepting an offer of assistance, it is important for a student to understand what each possible offer means and what the student’s responsibility will be after accepting the offer. The Office of US Department of Education offers financial assistance to students in the forms of grants, loans, and work-study programs. Filling out the FAFSA application is the first start towards receiving financial aid for college.

Understanding interest rates and how they impact student loans is essential. Many students shy away from doing the math to understand what their responsibility will be in repaying a loan. It is also essential that students understand the difference between a subsidized and unsubsidized loan. Both types of loans may be offered to a student in an award letter for financial aid. Many of the horror stories about the burden of college debt on students when they graduate from college could be avoided if students better understood options for financing their college education and examined their college selection process in greater detail.

There is a difference between a flat/annual interest rate and a compound interest rate. Compound interest can make you very happy as an investor, but it works against you as a borrower. Subsidized loans do not add interest while a student is attending college. The interest is not compounded while the student is attending college. Unsubsidized loans begin charging interest as soon as you take out the loan, like a car loan would.

Formula for Compound Interest (the formula unsubsidized loans will use)

A= P(1 + r)t

P= amount borrowed     r= interest rate    t = time (years of the loan)

Example #1

Community College Annual In-State tuition is approximately $4,000 for each year of college

*Stafford unsubsidized loan rate for 2015-2016 is 4.29%

First Year of College Second Year of College
A= 4,000 (1 + .0429)2

A= 4,350.56


A= 4,171.60

Total cost for loan over 2-year period:

$4,350.56 + $4171.60 = $8, 522.16 (money borrowed first will accrue interest the longest)

The interest accrued on the loan in a 2-year period is $522.16

Example #2

Community College Annual In-State tuition is approximately $6,000 for each year

*Stafford unsubsidized loan rate for 2015-2016 is 4.29%

First Year of College Second Year of College
A= 6,000 (1 + .0429)2

A= 6525.84


A= 6,257.40

Total cost for loan over 2-year period:

$6525.84 + $6,257.4 = $12,783.24 (money borrowed first will accrue interest the longest)

The interest accrued on the loan in a 2-year period is $783.24

 Example #3

College offering Bachelor’s Degree In-State Tuition at approximately $10,000 each year

*Stafford unsubsidized loan rate for 2015-2016 is 4.29%

First Year Second Year

A= 11,829.63



Third Year of College Fourth Year of College




Total cost for loan over 4-year period:

$11,829.63+ $11343.00+ $10,876.40+ 10429.00= $44,478.03

The interest accrued on the loan in a 4-year period is $4,478.03

The key difference between unsubsidized and subsidized loans is the amount of debt a student will leave college owing. Unsubsidized loans charge students interest while they are attending college, so the interest is growing on the loan during that time. A student might think they are borrowing $4,000.00 or $6,000.00, but unsubsidized loans add interest to the amount borrowed that adds up over time. Subsidized loans do not add interest while the student is attending college, so $4000.00 really is $4,000.00, no extras added.

Another important thing to remember when borrowing money for college is that if you add the cost of books and supplies or other needs onto the loan you have taken on for tuition, and you have unsubsidized loans, that extra money also grows over time with interest. While the tuition may have been $4000.00/year, the amount financed was more than that. Example 4 demonstrates this scenario.

Example 4

Year 1 Year 2
Community College tuition = $4,000.00

Books and supplies = $1000.00

New computer = $1000.00

Total Loan amount = $6000.00


A= 6,000 (1 + .0429)2

A= 6525.84

Community College tuition = $4,000.00

Books and supplies = $1500.00

Other fees = $350

Total Loan amount = $5850.00



A= $6,100.96

Instead of owing $8, 522.16 like in Example #1, total cost for loan over 2-year period:

$6525.84 + $5850.00 = $12,626.80 which is $4,104.64 more for the same time period and degree. Be watchful when adding even small amounts of money to your loan balances. It can add up quickly!

Video: Voices of Debt: The Student Loan Crisis – Don’t Major in Debt

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Loan Calculator

Students need to remember that they are consumers when it comes to taking on loans for college. Not thinking about what the debt means after college only compounds the issues. It is important to think about how much could you afford to pay monthly on a student loan once you have completed college. It’s easy to do the math on loan costs. The Smart Student’s Guide to Financial Aid has a free loan calculator that will do the work for you. All you have to do is plug in the numbers. The loan calculator will also give you an estimate of what your annual salary will need to be to be able to repay the loan. Of course, the loan calculator will not know your other financial commitments, so be sure to look at the monthly payment and decide if you afford that additional expense. College debt is considered a partial economic hardship if it requires you to use more than 15% of your discretionary income.

Here are 2 examples using the same colleges costs as the previous examples:

Loan Balance: $10,000.00
Adjusted Loan Balance: $10,000.00
Loan Interest Rate: 4.29%
Loan Fees: 0.00%
Loan Term: 10 years
Minimum Payment: $50.00
Monthly Loan Payment: $102.63
Number of Payments: 120
Cumulative Payments: $12,315.47
Total Interest Paid: $2,315.47


Loan Balance: 4,000.00
Adjusted Loan Balance: $4,000.00
Loan Interest Rate: 4.29%
Loan Fees: 0.00%
Loan Term: 10 years
Minimum Payment: $50.00
Monthly Loan Payment: $50.00
Number of Payments: 94
Cumulative Payments: $4678.45
Total Interest Paid: $678.45

Note: The minimum monthly payment must be at least $50.00; so on the $4,000.00 loan the number of monthly payments was shortened. Also, there isn’t a prepayment penalty for repaying loans early. If you pay as little as $25 more each month on the loan you can shorten the duration of the loan by almost 3 years.

It is also important to realize that even if you don’t finish college, you will have to repay a loan taken out for college. According to an article titled The Feds Don’t Care If You Dropped Out of College. They Want Their Money, students who dropped out of college and ultimately didn’t obtain a degree or certificate, generally don’t earn higher wages after leaving school. Statistics show that students who start college but don’t finish struggle with student debt.

The US government backs loans that are taken out through FAFSA/Federal Student Aid. Repayment is expected. The government has the authority to garnish wages and withhold tax returns as part of repayment of loans that are not paid. Government-backed debt cannot be forgiven in bankruptcy, expect under rare circumstances.


The cost of going to college seems to be constantly increasing. Understanding the opportunity cost both now and in the future needs to be an important part of a student’s decision process when selecting a college and a major. Do the math! There are plenty of resources to help you. Follow your dreams, but be informed.

Financial aid vocabulary is a specialized language that students participating in the process must understand. Try free flashcards that can make learning financial aid vocabulary fun!

Common Financial Aid Vocabulary Definitions

Terminology Definition
Award package The way colleges and universities deliver their news about student eligibility for financial aid or grants. The most common packages include Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, and Work Study.
Borrower A person or group that obtains funds from a lender for a particular period of time. A borrower signs a “promissory note” as evidence of indebtedness.
Campus-Based Financial Aid Programs The three major aid programs are funded by the federal government, but the disposition of the funds is handled by colleges’ financial aid offices. The aid programs are: the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, the Federal Perkins Loan, and Federal Work-Study (FWS).
Cost of education This includes tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and miscellaneous expenses. A student’s financial aid eligibility is the difference between the cost of education and the Expected Family Contribution as computed by the federal government using the FAFSA.
Default A failure to meet a financial obligation, especially a failure to make a payment on a loan. Defaults are recorded on permanent credit records and may result in prosecution and/or loss of future borrowing possibilities.
Dependent Student A student claimed as a dependent member of household for federal income tax purposes.
Expected Family Contribution (EFC) The amount of financial support a family is expected to contribute toward a child’s college education. This amount is part of the formula used by the federal government to determine financial aid eligibility using the FAFSA form.
Federal Direct Loan A group of federal loan programs for which the lender is the federal government. Included in these programs are government-subsidized loans for students and unsubsidized loans for both students and parents.
Federal Pell Grant Program This is a federally sponsored and administered program that provides grants based on need to undergraduate students. Congress annually sets the appropriation; amounts range from approximately $400 to $3,000 annually. This is “free” money because it does not need to be repaid.
Federal PLUS Loan A nonsubsidized loan program for parents of undergraduate students under the Federal Education Loan Program umbrella
Federal Perkins Loan Program A federally run program based on need and administered by a college’s financial aid office. This program offers low-interest loans for undergraduate study. Repayment does not begin until a student graduates.
Federal Stafford Loan A federal program based on need that allows a student to borrow money for educational expenses directly from banks and other lending institutions (sometimes from the colleges themselves). These loans may be either subsidized or unsubsidized. Repayment begins six months after a student’s course load drops to less than halftime. Currently the interest rate is 0 percent while in school and then is variable up to 8.25 percent. The loan is typically repaid within ten years. Be sure to know the interest rate at the time of borrowing.
Federal Work-Study Program (FSW) A federally financed program that arranges for students to combine employment and college study; the employment may be an integral part of the academic program (as in cooperative education or internships) or simply a means of paying for college.
Financial Aid Award Letter Written notification to an applicant from a college that details how much and which types of financial aid are being offered if the applicant enrolls.
Financial Aid Package The total amount of financial aid a student receives for a year of study.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) This is the federal government’s instrument for calculating need-based aid. It is available from high school guidance departments, college financial aid offices, and the Internet ( The form should be completed and mailed as soon after January 2 as possible.
Gap The difference between the amount of a financial aid package and the cost of attending a college or university. The student and his/her family are expected to fill the gap.
Gift Aid Grant and scholarship money given as financial aid that does not have to be repaid.
Grants/scholarships These are financial awards that are usually dispensed by the financial aid offices of colleges and universities. The awards may be need- or merit-based. Most are need-based. Merit-based awards may be awarded on the basis of excellence in academics, leadership, volunteerism, athletic ability, or special talent.
Lender One who provides money on the condition that the money be returned, usually with an interest charge.
Merit awards, merit-based scholarships More “free” money, these awards are based on excellence in academics, leadership, volunteerism, athletic ability, and other areas determined by the granting organization, which can be a college or university, an organization, or an individual. They are not based on financial need.
PIN Personal identification number.
Student Aid Report (SAR) Report of the government’s review of a student’s FAFSA. The SAR is sent to the student and released electronically to the schools that the student listed. The SAR does not supply a real money figure for aid but indicates whether the student is eligible.
Subsidized Student Loan The government is paying the interest on the loan while the student is in college at least part-time (six credits).
Tuition Amount of money charged to students for instructional services. Tuition may be charged per term, per course, or per credit.
Unsubsidized Student Loan The interest is accruing while the student is in college. The government is not paying the interest on the loan.

Making It Personal:

  1. What is the tuition cost for the college/program you want to enroll in?
  2. What additiona