Oh, the holiday season. So many family get-togethers and parties with friends. That one crazy uncle pulling yet another practical joke. Grandma making the best food. And of course, your aunts, cousins, and mom’s friend’s dads wanting to know what you’re up to.

Thinking about college? Where are you headed? What to do you want to study? What can you even do with that degree?

When the questions start coming in waves, it can feel like you’re suffocating under the barrage of people’s curiosity, particularly if you still don’t know what you want to do with your future.

However, this scary time can also be a very useful tool. With a little prep, and a little change of mindset, you can turn these nosy questions into networking opportunities and possibly move one step closer to securing your future career.

Do Some Digging

Before you head into family festivities, do some research on your own family. Talk with your parents and identify if there’s anyone in the family that could have connections in the field you’re considering. Is there someone you could job shadow? Someone who works for a business you want to intern at? Take note.

Strike Up A Conversation

The nice part of networking with family and friends is that you already know them (at least somewhat). Strike up a conversation. People generally love to talk about themselves and their work. A quick prompt like, “Hey Aunt Marty, I’d love to hear more about your work at the hospital,” may be all you need to launch into a potential job shadowing experience.

Or Let the Conversation Come to You

You may be surprised the connections your great-aunt Maria has. Don’t shut down conversations off the bat when someone asks nosy questions about your future plans. Express your long-term goals “I want to be a pediatric nurse” and short-term goals “I’m looking to job shadow this summer.” People can’t read your mind, so the more you mention opportunities you’re looking for, the more others can help connect you to said opportunities.

Make the Ask

Sometimes the hardest part of networking is shifting from hearing about someone’s job to asking how that job could help you. Unfortunately, there’s no magical solution, so just take a deep breath and ask: “I’m interested in getting more hands-on experience. Do you know if your company has internships available?” or “I’d love to see more of what your job entails. Would it be possible for me to shadow you?”

Be Respectful

This is a holiday party, after all. Not everyone may be wanting to take a look at your resume on the spot or send an email to their boss about an internship for you next summer. Get people’s contact information, if you don’t have it already, so that you can follow up with them in a couple days. And of course, like any networking experience, make sure to send a thank you.
Instead of getting sucked under in the tormult of probing questions, set your mind on networking and finding connections. Who knows, you could land your next internship over a plate of grandpa’s fried turkey.

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Buzz buzz buzz. Time for school. Backpack? Lunch money? SAT Prep book? Good to go. Rush rush rush. Class 1, 2, 3, 4. Lunch (finish that homework you forgot to do last night.) Class 5, 6, 7. DONE! Go to practice. Go to a study session. Go to dinner. Go do homework. How is it 11 p.m.? Hit the pillow. Repeat.

High school can be a busy time, especially for high achieving students. The pressure to do well academically, socially, and extracurricularly can be so intense. By the end of the semester, you are ready to simply crash on the couch and give your best impression of a baby sloth (incredibly cute and no one expects you to move fast).

However, even winter break doesn’t always feel like a break. There’s still homework to do, scholarship applications to fill out, and college visits to schedule, not to mention all the holiday get-togethers to prep for. How can you make sure you stay on top of all your responsibilities, yet still have time for the fun stuff, namely, relaxing? Glad you asked.

  1. Prioritize: Decide what really needs to get done before you head back to school. In a perfect world you can magically accomplish a zillion things during break. I always think I can get more done in a day than is humanly possible. I’ve slowly come to terms with the fact that I’m not superhuman. (Shocking, I know.) This is your break. Set realistic goals for what school work, fun projects, and college prep you can actually finish.
  2. Set a schedule: I know, I know, the last thing you want to do is set another dictator schedule to abide by during break. But if you budget time to finish your homework assignments early in the break, you will have even more time for guilt-free vegging.
  3. Force yourself to actually use your schedule: “I’ll do it tomorrow” is procrastination’s favorite phrase. Don’t feed the monster, prove it wrong and get things done when you say you will. In the words of a wise professor of mine, “Things fill the time you give them.” Stick to the deadlines you set for yourself so you don’t have homework hanging over your head till the day before school starts.
  4. Let break be a break: Now that you’ve accomplished your attainable goals, sit back and relax. Treat yourself to a spa day with mom, a Netflix binge with friends, or a cup of coffee and that book you’ve been wanting to read. This is your break, and you deserve it.

Amid the business of high school, the holiday season is the perfect time to slow down and take inventory of your life. As that ancient Greek guy Socrates said, “beware the barrenness of a busy life.” Now that you have time to breathe away from the classroom, contemplate all the activities and responsibilities on your plate.

If you’re not feeling fulfilled or challenged, maybe now is the time to try something new. However, if you’re feeling overwhelmed with everything (even if they’re all good things) maybe now is the time to cut back. A busy life may be full, but it’s not always fulfilling.

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With the abundance of school administered standardized testing for students, it’s no surprise that the PSAT/NMSQT (
Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) is overlooked as “just another test.” But did you know the PSAT could be your ticket to getting into top schools and even receiving full-tuition scholarships? In a few short weeks, the PSAT will be administered at most high schools. (Talk with your guidance counselor if you’re unsure when the test is.) So now’s the time to learn what you’re up against and why it matters.

To dig into the details of the PSAT and the National Merit Scholar Competition, we sat down with National Merit Scholar Zach Bruick, who studies meteorology at Valparaiso University.

bruick-zachary-2March Consulting: What is the PSAT?

Zach Bruick: [The PSAT is] a preparatory standardized exam that aims to prepare students for the SAT and ACT which are required to enter college. It’s also a basic requirement to participate in the National Merit Scholar Competition. It’s generally taken sophomore and junior year of high school with sections on reading, writing and language, and math.

MC: What is the National Merit Scholar Competition?

ZB: The National Merit Scholar Competition selects the top high school seniors in each state for recognition.The top students overall receive scholarships in addition to national recognition. There are different levels of being recognized: after you take your PSAT the competition evaluates the scores in your state and if you are found to be in the top percentage in your state [16,000 students nationally are selected] you are designated as a semi-finalist. Then you take the SAT and if you score well enough on the SAT you are declared a finalist. From the finalists scholarships are declared based on supplementary materials [check out the National Merit website for specifics].

MC: What are the benefits of being a National Merit Scholar?

ZB: NMSC is a nationally recognized award, so when you list that on college applications it looks extremely good. It continues to be a note of recognition even beyond college for jobs and internships. In my experience, one of the schools I was interested in offered me a full-tuition scholarship because I was a National Merit Finalist.

MC: How did you prep for the PSAT?

ZB: The test was required at my school, and I don’t think I was even aware of the program or its benefits at the time. If I had known about it I probably could have prepared for it more. But it is more simplified version of the SAT so you may not need to do a lot of prep.

MC: How did you prepare for the SAT?

ZB: It was a lot more stressful because I knew I could get full-tuition to my fall-back school if I did well enough. I had a friend who was also taking the SAT for the same purpose so we studied together in the weeks prior to the tests. We didn’t bother spending money on prep books and used practice tests from books at the local library. It helped to share tips with each other and looking [more tips] up online. There are a ton of free resources available for studying online as well

If you tend to do well in testing situations, the PSAT/NMSQT could be your avenue to getting into your top schools and potentially scoring scholarship money.

However, if standardized testing is your biggest weakness, never fear! There are still tons of ways to win scholarship money: national programs, local programs, and through your high school and future university.

Stay tuned for more articles in the coming months on how to stand out in the scholarship hunt. In the meantime, feel free to Contact Us with any questions or concerns  you may have.

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5 Ways to Reach GoalsRemember last year how you said you would start studying for tests two weeks in advance…. but then never did? A new school year, like a new calendar year is the perfect time to set goals and resolutions, but actually implementing those great ideas into your day-to-day life can be a challenge. Your goals of getting good grades, making varsity, and applying for college scholarships sound great, but they won’t become reality without some serious prioritizing and organizing in your life.

  • Set SMART goals: “I’m going to get all A’s” sounds like a fantastic goal. But what if I told you that’s actually a terrible goal? The idea is great, the wording is just off. Goals that you’re actually going to follow through with need some substance and guidance. Using the acronym SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Oriented) and listing actions you can take to reach the goal can help. For example “I will achieve a 90% or higher in chemistry by the end of the fall semester. To reach this goal I will begin studying two weeks prior to each test, I will meet one-on-one with my teacher at least twice this semester, and I will meet with my lab partner outside of class once a week.”
  • Work out a backwards calendar: When it comes to writing essays or turning in big projects, it’s easy to say “I’ll start it later” especially when day-to-day homework seems more pressing. However, setting up a backwards calendar can help you determine exactly when you need to start a big assignment. Say you have a five page essay due October 28. Start asking yourself “How much time do I realistically need for each step of the process?” Maybe you want a week to revise and have others edit, so you need a full draft finished by October 21, so that means you need to have an outline finished by October 17, and so realistically you need to have your thesis formed by October 14. If you hold yourself to these deadlines, you won’t be staying up crazy late trying to write the entire paper on October 27.
  • Use a planner: Unless you’ve got the memory of a wizard, you’re going to need somewhere to put all these dates. Whether it’s paper or electronic, keep track of all your due dates, test dates, and backwards calendering in one place. Don’t forget to write in college application deadlines, your team’s practice and game schedule, upcoming performances, days off, vacations, etc.
  • Establish an organization system: There was a reason your elementary school teachers had you bring folders and binders to school every year. In high school some of your teachers may have you organize papers for their class in a specific way, others will just let you do your thing. So what is your thing? Maybe you’re a “one giant 4 inch binder” kind of guy or a “separate folder for each class” type of girl. Whatever your style is, you’ve got to organize in a way that makes sense for you.
  • Embrace imperfection: Some mornings you won’t roll out of bed on time. Some tests are going to be WAY harder than you thought. You might even completely forget about a homework assignment. No matter what happens this semester, don’t let it derail your quest to reach your goals. As cheesy as it sounds, every day is a new day. Give yourself the grace of fresh starts whenever you need them.

This is the year. This is your year. You can do this! (Are you feeling pumped up yet? Okay, good. Now go get ‘em!)

Need some help defining goals to get you where you want in life? Let us help!

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“A high school student must have dedicated time and a room of her own is she is to apply to colleges.” –Virginia Woolf*

*She actually said “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” … but it’s kind of the same thing (okay, not really but just go with it).

A Room of One's OwnWriting Put College to Work sounded like a fantastic idea, but then I had to actually sit down and write it. I knew the only way to meet deadlines was to build a habit of writing every day. I woke up early, went to my office, made a cup of tea, played Mozart, pulled out my special pen and note paper, turned off my phone, and wrote for an hour. Setting aside a specific time and place for writing made it an event.

A similar process can be helpful for any big project you need to tackle, but in this post we’re going to focus on applying to colleges. While you’ve been researching and visiting and testing for months (hopefully), there comes a point when you actually have to sit down and

This is a BIG deal! You’ve been preparing for so long, now is the time to prove yourself: to shine bright in your application! to share with the world your wonderfully crafted essays!…and to fill in approximately 17,000 blanks with information again and again (but thank goodness all these schools take the Common App). So let’s get started crafting your special application writing event:

  • Set aside specific time: Not just “Saturday” because you’ll find something good to watch on TV while you’re eating breakfast, and then you’ll have to run to the store for mom, and while you’re out you’ll see a sale on those pants you wanted, and then when you get home it’s time for lunch… So pick an exact time like Saturday, August 27 from 10 am – noon.
  • Find a distraction free place: Sitting on your bed can turn into sleeping on your bed. Lounging on the couch might turn into watching TV on the couch. Claim a space that works for you: use your dad’s office, go to the library, camp out at your favorite coffee shop, anywhere that you can set aside specifically for your application writing event.
  • Gather your materials: Create one physical binder and/or a folder on your computer with all the documents you need: SAT/ACT test scores broken down by category; current and cumulative GPA; class ranking; list of your activities, courses, and awards; essays; usernames and passwords you create for online applications; whatever card you will use to pay application fees; etc.
  • Get your focus music playing: You might need to forgo the Hamilton soundtrack lest you distract yourself trying to rap every word to “My Shot”. My go-to is an album of Mozart. If you use Spotify, they have tons of playlists specifically for studying. (Our social media manager Victoria recommends the Deep Focus playlist).
  • Have your special treat: Brew your favorite tea, splurge on your favorite pastry, or set out a bowl of your favorite candy. You’re making this a special event, right? So treat yourself!
  • Put your phone away. Better yet, turn it off. You don’t need it right now. Period.
  • Bring a special desk item: Break out the leather-bound journal, the astronaut pen, whatever fun thing you like. Now you’re not just writing with a boring old pen, you’re writing with a purple fountain pen with feathers on the end. Talk about a special event.
  • Make your game plan: Pull out your list of school’s you’re going to apply to. Review each of their applications/supplements and strategize how you want to spend your time TODAY.
  • Just do it: You’ve created the perfect space for applying to colleges. You’re relaxed, prepared, and sipping on perfectly brewed coffee. Tackle the items on your application to-do list and celebrate your progress.
  • Repeat: This may not be a “one-and-done” event. It might take quite a bit of time to finish everything, so at the end of each session, evaluate how much more time you’re going to need and plan accordingly.

I’ll be honest. There were MANY mornings I didn’t want to roll out of bed early and write. There seemed to be so many pressing issues to deal with (mainly sleeping…) BUT honoring the time and space that I set aside for writing was completely worth it in the end.

Want to read the product of all those pre-sunrise mornings? Order a copy of Put College to Work here.

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