The Importance of Mentors While in College

By: Kiara

As a college student, it can be beneficial to have a mentor when you find yourself struggling to make a decision or are in need of encouragement. Even though I haven’t had a formal mentor in college yet, I have often asked older students in my workplace and in my extracurricular activities for advice. This has greatly helped me throughout my first year of college to stay motivated and achieve my goals. I think anyone can be a mentor since there is always something new to learn from each person you meet. Being able to talk to someone you trust who has experienced similar things as you can help you gain valuable advice, learn new perspectives, and advance your career. 

Image: book shelves at an angle with lit lightbulbs dangling from ceiling
Text: The importance of mentors while in college.

Gain Valuable Advice
In any unfamiliar situation whether it’s a new job, class, or club it’s important to reach out to others and ask for advice. An official or an unofficial mentor can answer your questions and clarify any confusion. For example, when I started my job at Career & Internship Services more experienced staff members helped me learn the office procedures and expectations. Mentors who share their stories with you can help you figure out your own life and you can also learn from their experiences. Asking upperclassmen about what classes to take, what clubs to join, or any type of assistance in general can aid you in navigating these new situations. It can be comforting to know that someone else has been in your place and understands your challenges. It’s also reassuring to have someone who listens to your academic difficulties or personal problems and can help you plan for your future. 

Learn New Perspectives
Having a mentor can open up new perspectives in the process of sharing ideas and asking questions. Mentors may have qualities in common with yourself and may also have qualities you would like to develop. Qualities I aspire to have from some of the people I look up to include being more outgoing, patient, and a better listener. Mentors can also challenge you to consider different points of view to help you see the bigger picture. This can give you the opportunity to see the positive side of an adverse situation. Additionally, having an outside perspective can shed light on potential difficulties or bring up other valid points to consider when making an important decision.

Advance Your Career
A mentor can advance your career by growing your network of contacts.  Specifically, mentors can connect you to opportunities they have had in the past such as rewarding internships or jobs. Students who are pursuing the same career path or major as you can give you great insight about what their experiences have been like and what they have learned. I have learned that a mentor can also help you identify your own strengths and weaknesses and can aid you in improving upon those qualities.  Having someone you can turn to for career advice can assist you in choosing your major and deciding your career path. For instance, talking to someone with more experience can teach you about careers you didn’t know even existed or inspire you to stay focused on your current career track. Learning from others taught me the importance of being open to advice and suggestions which can help us avoid drawbacks and make better decisions. 

Building a network of mentors can not only help you in college, but can also provide you with support and guidance later in life. I am thankful for the advice I have received from my unofficial mentors since they have helped me learn from my mistakes and prepared me for the future. Overall, formal or informal mentors can assist you in accomplishing your goals within your personal and professional life.

Of Possible Interest:
Mentors: Be One; Have One
• NetworkingOn the Job – all our blog posts on these topics
• Key to NetworkingNow that You’re on the Job – our Pinterest boards filled with resources & articles

Read Kiara’s other posts

Photo Source: Unsplash | Janko Ferlic

Self-Guidance: The Key to Success

By: Paying

All our lives, we have been constantly guided either by our parents, teachers, and/or society. It seems as though a good ⅕ of our lives were following what others have told us to do. As little five-year-olds, we have already started to be shaped to become successful and live a future with purpose. The question now is: what does it mean to actually be “successful” and how do we achieve that? 

When I first started my education in a head start program until the end of my 8th grade year, school was just a part of life and you don’t question it. When high school hit, the struggle of not knowing my strengths and interests complicated the vision that had been engraved in my head: graduate high school, attend college, finish in four years, and spend the rest of my life loving my career. I didn’t want to drop out of high school and disappoint my parents, I didn’t want to take a gap year after high school to figure life out, and I didn’t want to go into college not knowing what I’m there for. 

To answer my questions, I sought guidance from my Upward Bound advisors who emphasized the advantages of college. They reassured me that it’s okay to not know everything and that it was completely normal to feel the way I did. We researched colleges that could offer me what I would be interested in and would enjoy attending. Soon after, I officially declared that I would become a Bulldog at UMD in 2016. 

Image: Colored pencils in cup
Text: Every path you can take has its pros and cons, which varies person to person. The key is to believe in yourself and put in the effort to achieve your success.

After two years of my college life, I knew I had made the right choice to come in unsure because soon I realized how passionate I was in English related courses and declared as an English major. However, I didn’t know where to start because no one around me had a similar path of becoming an editor and once again I was lost. 

The career counselors at Career and Internship Services, along with my alumni friends, guided me through it as they provided stories of their own or others who have been in the same spot and the different paths they’ve taken. Although I was afraid to share my struggles of uncertainty, it definitely cleared my head and made me more confident in my future decisions and to this day I continue striving with the same confidence.

As my last year of education is wrapping up, I realized that soon I won’t have education to keep me busy anymore. Now I have to go out into the “real world” and make my own decisions for my own life, which is a very scary, yet exciting, thought. Throughout my life, I had asked for guidance from my family, my peers, and my academic mentors but now I’ve come to realize that I have started to guide myself. From asking for internships even if there aren’t any listed and becoming the interviewer rather than the interviewee to learn more about the career and/or organization. I am finally guiding myself to live the life I will enjoy and want.

I may have chosen to go through college but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to become successful. Some who never completed high school also reached success and same with those who decided college was not meant for them. A close friend of mine who I could not make it this far without once told me, “Success can’t be measured, it’s not an endpoint. It’s felt by both you and those affected around you.” Every path you can take has its pros and cons, which varies person to person. The key is to believe in yourself and put in the effort to achieve your success. 

Read Paying’s other posts

Photo Source: Unsplash | Crawford Jolly

Making It (This Far)

By: Taylor

My freshman year is coming to an end and it’s unbelievable. When I was younger my older family members would tell me to cherish the time I had while I was young (not that I’m old now) because it was going to fly by. Like the sassy seventh grader I was I’d reply, “If it’s going to go so fast, why am I still in seventh grade?” Now, I’m writing a blog post for my college job and after this am going back to my dorm to take a nap (it’s five in the evening currently).

Coming to UMD was and has been one of the biggest decisions I’ve ever made on my own. I am the fourth of six children but am the first to have moved out and away from home for college. The decision wasn’t easy, telling my parents wasn’t easy, and having all this pressure on me wasn’t easy either. I want to create this new path my two younger siblings could walk on too, and going to a big university rather than community college first and do well, nonetheless survive, is just that. College can be a rollercoaster with its highs and lows, and all I can truly give you are some pieces of advice for your first-year or for the rest of your years in college to come.

Image: Looking down on a glass jar of colored pencils on a white background.
Text: Tips for Freshman Year

Have a core friend group
I’ve met various people who wished they came to UMD knowing some people and others who were ecstatic to get a chance at a new beginning (not knowing anyone). Despite one’s preferences, making new friends or having old ones, it’s important to have close friends who you can lean on, confide in, and to establish Duluth as a new home with. I found it was heartwarming to have friends by my side I could trust and spend most of my time with.

Don’t be afraid to socialize
Whether you consider yourself an introvert or extravert, ultimately everyone else in college is hoping to make new and more friends. My first semester I closed myself off to being as open as my extravert-self could truly be and lost a lot of great opportunities to network. Realizing my faults, I’m now a Tour Guide at UMD and will be a T.A. for UMD Seminar next fall. It’s a good feeling to walk down a hall and wave to someone you know. Kirby Program Board is always hosting events on campus from movies in Bohannon 90 to the Grocery Grab Bingo, get out and be open to meeting new people!

This is your dream too
One of the things I often find myself and many other first-generation college students battling with is this idea that they’re only at college to succeed and make their parents proud. While that could be a reason to push yourself further, it’s important to remind yourself that achieving a higher education is also for yourself. We are all currently working towards a future we are going to live ourselves.

The tips listed are just a few I found helped me make the best of my first-year at UMD. While my advice has been based on my own experience and everyone’s first-year is different, I do hope you take into consideration the tips I’ve given.

Of Possible Interest:
• Navigating Through College as a First-Generation Student: Part 1 & Part 2
The Benefits of On-Campus Jobs
Getting Involved and Why

Read Taylor’s other posts

Photo Source: Unsplash | Debby Hudson

Classic Songs That Describe Your College Experience

By: McKenzie

Being an adult is hard, but becoming an adult is harder and “the college experience” is what we label the messy journey to adulthood. As you trek the path to the being a full-fledged adult you will learn there are few things as emotionally relatable as music. Here is your college experience in the form of some of my favorite classic songs.

Welcome to the Jungle – Guns N’ Roses
It’s the first day of your freshman year. You are surrounded by other giant children pretending to know what they’re doing. You’re lost, hungry, and haven’t seen a single face you recognize in hours. You know where you are? You’re in the jungle baby. Welcome to college.

Total Eclipse of the Heart – Bonnie Tyler
You’ve made it through freshman year and are trudging through the first semester of your sophomore year. You still have no idea what’s going on. Homework is piling up. You mutter, “Every now and then I get a little tired of listening to the sound of my tears,” into your open textbook. You’re only surviving because your love from your friends fuels you to stick around.

Livin’ on a Prayer – Bon Jovi
You just finished your sophomore year. Woah, [you’re] halfway there [and] woah you’re living on a prayer. You’re not sure how you made it this far, but you must keep going. [You’ll] give it a shot!

Eye of the Tiger – Survivor
Here comes your junior year. You did [your] time, took [your] chances. Went the distance, now [your] back on [your] feet. Just a man and his will to survive. This is the toughest year of your life but you’re kickin’ fall semester’s butt.

Where is My Mind? – Pixies
It’s spring semester of your junior year. Time is a social construct and you aren’t sure you actually exist anymore. You’ll keep asking yourself, “Where is my mind? Where is my mind?” At this point, you aren’t sure you can actually survive another year.

Fight For Your Right – Beastie Boys
You wake up late for school, man you don’t want to go. You might still go, but you actually won’t because on a scale from 1-10 your level of care is zero. The senior slide is real. You joke that you gotta fight for your right to party, however, everyone knows you’re too old to go out and are probably in bed by 10 PM.

School’s Out – Alice Cooper
It’s done. It’s over. School’s out for summer, School’s out forever (unless you’re headed to grad school, then good luck).

Read McKenzie’s other posts

Advice for my Younger Self

By: PJay

Greetings everyone! I am so excited to be back to share a few things that I have learned about college and wished an upperclassman could have told me while I was in my younger years. I’m hoping my advice and experiences can guide you to know that it is alright to feel confused right now and that things will get better with time.   

One of the biggest things that I can remember struggling with as a freshman, and even to this day, was maintaining good grades. You may not have received the grade you wanted on an assignment, a test, or in an overall class, but that is fine. College was the first time I had to experience what it felt like to retake a class. It was EMBARRASSING, so I didn’t want to talk about it to anyone. When I learned how to accept the fact that I needed to retake a class, it only challenged me to work harder, learn, and love the class more. Understanding the topics better the second time around will influence you to be more eager to learn which will help you achieve the grade you want.  

Advice to my younger self

I know it’s difficult to hear your friends or classmates say that they barely even studied and still got an A on an exam, whereas you put in so much effort to study the night before but still received an unsatisfactory grade. However, sometimes you have to remember to not compare yourself to them because you are unique and everyone has different learning techniques. Someone can say they only studied for an hour the night before the exam, but that may also mean they studied for an hour every night for a week or the whole semester leading up to the day of the exam. You have to discover what works and doesn’t work for you. Don’t doubt your abilities and your intelligence because you are still learning. No one is expecting you to just know something or get everything right the first time. Remember to not let a grade define who you are. You are a person, not a number or a letter.  

Another thing that I remembered struggling with the most was making friends. Friends can actually help you get through a lot in college. I used to feel hopeless in making friends because when I introduced who I was or who my people were, many of the students that I met have never heard of the Hmong people before. They just assumed I was “Chinese” or “Korean”, so I was placed in an awkward situation when explaining who my people were. Because of those experiences, I shied away from going out to join clubs or even attend classes sometimes. I didn’t know what to do but eventually, I joined an organization that I identified the most with, the Asian Pacific American Association (APAA). By being more active on campus, I learned more than I thought I already knew about people of color, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ community. If you want to learn more about the world than just what you’re taught in school, join a club. Not only do you learn more about others, but you also learn more about yourself.  It’s the easiest way to find friends who will accept you.

Lastly, I want to emphasize that it is okay if you cannot decide on your major. I have seen so many of my friends who wanted to be doctors their freshman year but now want to pursue other professions. Take classes that you have never taken before or even take classes that you may think you are not interested in. If you want me to be honest, there have been times where I enjoyed the classes outside of my major more than my required classes. For example, I have never taken physics prior to college and I was so intimidated to take it. I pushed it off until this year and discovered that it has been one of my favorite classes this semester.  

Sometimes we just all need a little bit of time for things to get better. You are not alone, you are smart, and you can get through all of this. If you are performing actions that come from your heart and passions, you will become the person you want to be in college.

Read PJay’s other posts

Photo Source: Unsplash | Sharon McCutcheon

Career Lessons from Lord of the Rings

By: Ashley

About a year ago I wrote a blog post on the lessons learned from Disney movies, this time around I thought I would write about lessons learned from something more near and dear to my heart, the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. A few of the lessons that correlate with Tolkien’s novels that I have learned over the course of my time here at UMD as an undergrad are:

LOTR Lessons

Say yes to adventure

I think the most obviously benefit for Bilbo Baggins on saying yes to his adventure was that he ended up making off with a large sum of treasure but he also found friendship with many dwarves and elves of Rivendell. I think college is a once in a lifetime experience, these 4 or 5 years are years where we discover who we are and who we want to be and I think we often get caught up in the stress of it all and forget that now is the time to take chances and go on adventures. If you have the chance to study abroad do it, I didn’t and I think it could have been a blast even if it might have ended up adding on an extra semester, who knows maybe it wouldn’t have but what could hurt from going to the International Education Office (IEO) and inquiring about opportunities overseas? Go out and find an internship or volunteer, even if it doesn’t relate to your major, maybe you will find a new passion you didn’t even know you had.

It pays to have friends

Throughout The Hobbit and the LOTR trilogy Frodo and Bilbo were helped out of troubling situations by their friends. Many times Gandalf saved the day, and without Samwise, Frodo would have never gotten the One Ring to Mount Doom. If I had not met my wonderful friends I would have probably ended up never exploring the city of Duluth the way I have and would have never made the memories I have over the years without them. Stay true to your friends and keep them close because you never know when you will need them or they will need you.

Never lose hope and never give up

Even though you might not get the first job, internship, or grad program you apply for that doesn’t mean you should cut your losses and give up. In The Return of the King at The Battle of the Black Gate Sauron’s army was defeated and the battle was won, but victory seemed hopeless and by the means of the destruction of the One Ring by Frodo, Middle-Earth was saved. The Fellowship never gave up and in the end they succeeded, but not without shedding a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Figuring out what you want to do with your life and finding the right workplace for you isn’t meant to be a walk in the park, it takes perseverance, hard-work, and it means not being afraid to ask for help when you need it.

Learn how to defend yourself

Just like Legolas had his bow and arrow, Gimli had his axe, and Bilbo and Frodo both had Sting, you too need to learn how to defend yourself. I don’t mean to say you need to learn karate or go buy a sword; what I mean to say is that as an undergrad entering the work force the best weapon you have at your disposal is your resume. Being able to present your skills and experiences helps demonstrate to future employers what you have to offer. Making sure your resume is up to date before applying for jobs is just as import as checking your chainmail before you head off to battle.

To experience great things, you have to leave your comfort zone

Just like Bilbo and Frodo both left their comfortable lifestyles at Bag End, we made a choice to leave our hometowns to come to Duluth and have the college experience. By choosing to go on their adventures both Bilbo and Frodo got to meet amazing people and do amazing things and in the end they got to sail to the beautiful Undying Lands with the elves. Even though we may not be meeting dwarves or saving Middle-Earth, we get to discover who we want to be, what we want to do with our lives, and get to make wonderful and lifelong friends. In order to make these friends, to gain insight into potential jobs by volunteering or interning, and to get to know the wonderful city that has, for me, become a second home, you have to step away from the familiar and safe and take risks. Like Bilbo says in The Fellowship of the Ring “it’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

These are just a few of the lessons I learned from J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels that apply to my life as a college undergrad and soon to be college graduate. I hope this post was as inspiring as it was entertaining, I hope everyone is making new friends, defending themselves, and setting out on new adventures because that is what college is all about!

Photo Source

Read Ashley’s other posts

Finding a Career in Student Affairs

By: Ellen (Career Counselor & Guest Poster)

I started my career in Student Affairs technically when I was a freshman in college. I got a work study job in the career office on my campus.

At this point, you may be thinking to yourself, “What is Student Affairs?” Well, “Student Affairs” means working in one of many departments on a college campus that are not strictly teaching in a classroom. I was one of those people who decided they never wanted to leave college. Then, I left the college environment after undergrad to work out in the “real world” and desperately wanted back into the college environment the entire time. Student Affairs means: freshman orientation, academic advising, admissions, student union/center, residence life & housing, career services, study abroad, cultural diversity, student involvement, leadership, conduct, disability resources, rec sports, and other similar departments. We educate you outside classroom. We help you see how to apply your in-class education to the real world. We help you invest in the tradition of your university. We provide meaningful opportunities to learn and grow. We challenge you. We help you have fun. We help when you have problems.

We help you see the possibilities.


October is Careers in Student Affairs month. It’s our chance to show you how great a career in higher education can be. Often times, people do not start off college with the career goal of being an academic advisor, greek life coordinator, career counselor, or vice chancellor. These are career ideas that come later in your college experience, usually after some great experience you’ve had through a student affairs department. I feel like I’m not describing this very well, but this round-about path is usually how people end up in students affairs and higher education. As a college freshman, could I have predicted that I’d grow up to be a career counselor who does social media, supervises student employees, and is dabbling in assessment? No. I couldn’t have even predicted that combo while I was in graduate school…or even in the first year of my professional career as a career counselor.

In Student Affairs, experience is your golden ticket. If you’re interested in working with college-aged students and being on a college campus, try out as many departments as you can. See what strikes your interest the most and what you really would like to stay away from. It may take a while to figure it all out. Like I said earlier, I started working my college’s career office as a freshman. It took me until the middle of senior year to realize that I wanted to be a career counselor. Here are some ways at UMD that you can try out working in and experiencing Student Affairs. This is not an exhaustive list, and it’s a good place to start. (Note: most of these positions you can find listed on UMD’s HR website or contact the department to get more information.)

Professional organizations are another great way to get involved with and learn about the profession as an undergraduate. The two governing organizations for Students Affairs are: ACPA – College Student Educators International and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NAPSA). Check out these organizations, and the functional area ones listed below for more information. These are the national level organizations. There are also state and regional levels to these organizations. The state and regional levels might be easier (and less expensive) to get involved in as an undergrad.

  • NODA: National Orientation Directors Association
  • NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation
  • ACUHO-i: Association of College and University Housing Officers – International
  • NACA: National Association of Campus Activities
  • ACUI: Association of College Unions International
  • NCDA: National Career Development Association
  • NACE: National Association of Colleges and Employers
  • NACADA: National Association of Academic Advising

The Minnesota College Personnel Association is hosting a Careers in Students Affairs event on November 22nd at Hamline University. Attend sessions by professionals (I did one a few years ago about using Twitter to connect with SA professionals), get information about different grad school programs, have your resume reviewed, and connect with other undergrads interested in going into Student Affairs and Higher Education.

Something to keep in mind – work in Student Affairs will almost always require at least a Masters Degree. Your two main options will be Student Affairs/Higher Education Leadership (like these programs at Minnesota State University, Mankato or University of St. Thomas) or Counselor Education with an emphasis in Higher Education (like these programs at UW-Whitewater or St. Cloud State). If you have questions about grad school or finding experiences to best prepare yourself for getting in, make an appointment with one of the career counselors in our office.

For even more information, I recommend checking out the Student Affairs Collaborative. It’s a blog with fantastic posts by people who work in all areas of higher education. You can also check out Student Affairs Alltop for a listing of Student Affairs related bloggers and the #CSAM14 hashtag on Twitter.

I am the giver of information. Can you tell? 😉

If you are interested in Student Affairs and working in higher education, feel free to make an appointment with me, or any other of the career counselors in the office, and we can direct you a variety of people on-campus who can share their knowledge of the world of higher education.