From Welcome Week to Commencement: Reflecting on My College Years

By: Katie

During my first week as a UMD student, I walked through a tunnel with my fellow incoming students, lined by upperclassmen orientation leaders, staff, and faculty cheering as we were welcomed to the UMD community. Just a couple months ago, I walked through a similar tunnel. Except this time, it was lined by faculty members dressed in commencement regalia while I was outfitted with my black robe and gold tassel. This time, I walked through that tunnel on my last day as a UMD student.

That wasn’t my last act as a member of the UMD community; I have still been working in the office over the summer. It also wasn’t my last day as a student, as I will be starting a graduate program this fall. But it was the last day of my four years as a UMD student, years which were filled with experiencing more change in myself than I could have possibly wrapped my mind around as a lost and intimidated freshman.

Katie tabling for C&IS at a Bulldog Friday Visit.
Katie tabling for C&IS at a Bulldog Friday Visit.

While at UMD, I spoke to a lecture hall’s worth of people, voluntarily, on several occasions. In high school, I couldn’t speak in front of a small class without my voice trembling. At UMD, I danced and yelled and acted a fool while wearing a bright t-shirt and flower headband, for a week, surrounded by hundreds of people. In high school, I did everything I could to disappear into my surroundings, and avoided attention at all costs. At UMD, I completed my psychology degree and got accepted into a counseling grad program. In high school, I had never taken a psychology class nor considered a profession in which I would be so closely involved with others.

I have a distinct and difficult memory of the day when I made the jump from my high school life to my college one. My parents and brothers had helped me move my things into my dorm and shop for dorm-friendly snacks and decor, and now all that was left was to say goodbye. Leading up to that day, I had been excited about being on my own. But when the moment came to stand on a new campus in a new city full of strangers while my family drove away, I hesitated. I tried feebly to say something that would keep them around a little longer, because I suddenly felt lost and alone, terrified of what my shy self would do when my support system left me.

I like to think of that moment when I look toward the day in the near future when I will be moving across the country to begin a new program at a new school in a state where I don’t know a soul. It’s a similar situation, yet this time, I’ll have four years of growth and strength to draw on. I started at UMD shy, timid, alone, and confused, but I’m leaving it open, confident, and capable.

Reflecting on all this, I can think of so many things I wish I could have told my college self throughout the past 4 years. In the absence of this opportunity, I’ll write my advice here, in the hopes that some other college student might benefit.

So, here’s what I can tell you. Know that you won’t be the same person as you move your tassel across your cap on commencement day as you were when you first walked on campus as an 18-year-old. Know that the changes that occur during that time in between are up to you, mostly. Know that your openness to new experiences, new people, and new ideas will become the foundation and the finishing touch on your college experience. Know that there will be things that happen to you, both good and bad, which will influence that experience just as much as the things you choose to do. Know that you don’t need to be in such a rush to figure it all out. It’ll happen somehow, perhaps without you even knowing it.

Most importantly, know that college is going to end one day, and after that, you are pushed out of the educational bubble you’ve lived in most of your life and will truly be responsible for the state of your existence. So before that day, take advantage of these years to focus on yourself.

Flip all the furniture around in the lounge of the dorm floor below yours (ahem..just kidding..I definitely never did that…). Stay up way too late hanging out with your friends even though you have a test at 8am the following day. I promise you, you’ll remember those late nights more than you’ll remember whatever grade you’ll get on that test. Take a ceramics class even though your parents are pushing you to be a doctor like the rest of the family. Embrace every crazy, fun, overwhelming, emotional, unforgettable moment.

If done right, your college years will be ones you’ll miss. I know I will.

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The Art of the Skype Interview

By: Katie

I had my first experience with a Skype interview when I interviewed for a grad program recently. Skype interviews can be very convenient – they can be done wherever you want, and you don’t have to worry so much about wearing the right pants and shoes or making sure you put in a breath mint beforehand. With these different conditions, though, comes a set of factors unique to video interviewing that need to be considered. Here are a few tips I learned to prepare for Skype interviews.

Skype Interview

Set the stage.

A big part of preparing for a Skype interview is determining where it will take place. Find a quiet area where you won’t be interrupted (no barking dogs or roommates barging in!). Make sure your interviewing spot has a simple background for you to be in front of – no distracting patterns, colors, or items on the wall. The lighting also should be considered. It needs to be bright enough for you to be seen, but not overwhelmingly so. Seeing what your outfit, hair, and any jewelry will look like is also important. Something that may look good in-person might not look good on camera. Finally, determine how the camera will be set up in relation to you. Set it up so your upper body is showing (not just your face) – it should mimic what you would look like to an interviewer sitting across from you in person. Try different chair positions and stacking your camera up on books or other props to find the best set up.

Make eye contact.

When you Skype or video call someone, do you look at their face on the computer screen? Most people probably do, but it’s not the best in an interview setting. Eye contact is important, and if you’re looking at the interviewers’ faces, to them it will look like your gaze is slightly downward. Looking directly into the webcam is the best way to mimic actual eye contact in a video call. To break the habit of looking at the screen, you can practice saying your answers to common interview questions while looking into your webcam (practicing questions and making eye contact at once!).

Have helpful materials nearby.

The benefit of interviewing via Skype is that you can have extra items around you that the interviewer can’t see. This could be your resume, which you could have printed off on the table or pulled up on your computer screen so you can easily refer to it. Another item I found useful was having post-it notes on my computer screen with words of inspiration on them. Interviewing is stressful for many people (like me), and having that extra bit of motivation or your resume for backup can be very comforting!

Practice and troubleshoot.

Interviewing by video is different than in person for several reasons, but one big one is that there are more things that could go wrong. You could have your Skype set up so your video or your interviewer’s video doesn’t show, or the sound on your computer might not work correctly, or the internet connection could be bad, and so on. To make sure you won’t experience any of these Skype interview faux pas, practice making a Skype call before your actual interview. This will give you the time to troubleshoot any problems that come up, and simply make you more comfortable with what the interview will be like.

Besides these tips, there are several other ways to prepare for interviewing in general. Check out the interviewing-related posts on our blog, do a mock interview with one of our Career Counselors, or stop into our office and we’ll help you prepare!

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Photo Source: Unsplash | Luke Chesser

Choosing the Perfect Grad Program

By: Katie

This past year, I have been going through the daunting process of choosing a graduate program. It’s a process I began during the spring semester of my junior year, and one I’m still not quite done with a year later. From choosing programs to apply to, to actually applying, to interviewing, and to committing to attend a program, getting into graduate school is no easy feat. There are several items to consider during this process. Here are the ones that have been most important to me.

Choosing Grad Program

Program Emphasis or Focus

The first part of choosing a grad program includes looking beyond the basic area of study to what exactly you want to specialize in or focus on in your program. For me, this meant finding a counseling program that would provide me with a broad education, but also allow me to take elective courses in certain specific areas. Making sure your program’s focus or potential specialty areas are right for you is essential.

Location

This could be as broad as a country you want to be in or as specific as a certain area in a specific city. I knew I wanted to move out of Minnesota and the midwest for grad school, so I selected a few states I would like to live in to focus my search. When you decide where you want to go, you are committing to living in that place for the duration of your program (and possibly beyond). Finding a location you’re happy with is important!

Accreditation

Once I knew what type of program I wanted and where I wanted it to be, I then focused on schools with CACREP accreditation. Based on conversations with those in the counseling field, I was recommended to focus on programs with this top-notch accreditation. For this factor, it’s definitely helpful to ask those in your field what you should be looking for in a quality program.

Program Fit

After making a list of potential programs based on the above factors, I looked more specifically at which programs could be a good fit. “Fit” is an important aspect of this process for you in choosing programs and for the programs in choosing you. Being in a program that’s a good fit is essential for your success and satisfaction in the program. For me, this process involved finding programs less focused on research and more focused on the client-counselor relationship, personal growth, cultural competency, and a variety of other factors.

Practicums and Internships

This factor includes any experiential, hands-on, out-of-classroom opportunities in your program. I looked at when I would complete practicums and internships, what they would be like, and where students in the program are placed. That last piece is important, because you don’t want to end up in a program where you won’t be able to get the field experience in the specific area you’re interested in.

Cost of Living

The program’s cost and available financial assistance are important, but it’s also important to look at how much it will cost to simply be alive in the city you’ll be in. This was something I didn’t really think about when choosing programs to apply to, but now that I’m almost at the point of committing to a program, it has become a concern. The two programs I’m currently deciding between vary greatly in this area (on rent cost in particular), so this is something I’ll be considering.

Gut Instinct

After looking at all the above factors, I know I’ll be making my final decision based on which program just “feels right.” Based on tours of the campuses and cities and my impression of the program from my interviews and conversations with staff and faculty, I’ll determine which one is the best grad program for me.

The factors I’ve listed here are only a handful of items to consider when choosing a grad program. For help in this stressful process, I definitely recommend scheduling an appointment with one of our Career Counselors to gain some clarity!

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Photo Source: Unsplash | Lia Leslie

The Dark Side of Leadership

By: Katie

There are many positive things about being in a leadership role, and it’s something I would encourage anyone to do. While being a leader is a great experience, there are also negative things a person has to deal with as a leader. This side of leadership – the dark side – is one we don’t often discuss. However, I think it’s good to know what you’re getting yourself into when you sign on to be a leader. Therefore, here are a few things I have noticed about the dark side of leadership.

Dark Side of Leadership

Other people telling you how to lead.

One of the most frustrating parts of being a leader (in my opinion) is when others disagree with how you lead or try to tell you to do something differently. There are many different ways to lead and different kinds of leaders, and none is more correct than another. Still, there will be those who will tell you you’re doing it wrong or who give you unsolicited advice. It’s best to ignore them and trust your abilities and instincts.

When something goes wrong, it’s your fault.

Whenever something doesn’t go quite as planned – and there is always something – the fault is yours. Or at least that’s how others view it. This is particularly the case when you are the primary leader in a situation. The frustration, confusion, and anger of everyone you’re working with will be directed at you, whether or not it’s deserved. But hey, at least your capacity for patience will improve!

Dealing with the little details.

You don’t realize how much planning and organization goes into events until you’ve been in the position to plan them. There are so many minor tasks to complete for everything, and while none of them are too difficult or time-consuming, they definitely add up. Keeping track of all the little things is a necessary evil as a leader. For this, lists are your friend.

Busy. SO. BUSY.

Being in a leadership role takes a ton of work, and often no one really realizes just how much you do. It will take up large amounts of time and energy, and the work will continue to pile up even when you’re already feeling swamped with that and everything else going on in your life. Here is when it’s helpful to learn the difficult ability of saying no or delegating tasks to others.

When you don’t have the answers.

One of the worst parts for me is when others turn to me for answers I don’t have. As a leader, sometimes you’ll really just have no idea what you’re doing. When that happens, you don’t have the luxury of stepping back and letting others handle it. No – you’re the one in charge, and you need to find a way to lead others even when you feel lost. In my experience, it’s best to act confident even when you may feel like running away and crying in a corner.

Being a leader isn’t always wonderful, and there are times when it certainly won’t be fun. However, the stress, frustration, and confusion are all far outweighed by the benefits of leadership experience.

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Photo Source: Unsplash | Craig Garner

Surviving the GRE

By: Katie

Many people who plan on attending grad school have heard of the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE. The GRE is basically the grad school version of the ACT or SAT, except more daunting. Before taking the GRE, I heard primarily horror stories from GRE survivors. And, I’ll admit, studying for and taking the GRE is not the most enjoyable thing you’ll do. However, there are several things you can do to make the process less stressful and give yourself the best shot for success. Here are some of my tips for making the GRE as painless as possible.

First of all, make sure it’s required.

Before you start preparing for the GRE, make sure you actually need to take it! Only certain areas of study use the GRE in admissions decisions, and within those areas, only certain programs will require it. Before signing up for the test and cracking open a prep book, look at the programs you’re interested in to see if you even need to!

Space out your preparation.

I’m so grateful I took the GRE during the summer. Doing so meant I could focus on preparing for the GRE without worrying about doing any other homework or studying. Make sure you sign up to take the GRE so that you’ll be able to study regularly for a few months leading up to your test date and not cram or skimp on your studying because you have so many other responsibilities.

Figure out what type of preparation works for you.

There are many ways to prepare for big tests, so think about the ways that work for you and focus your studying based on that. Does using flashcards to memorize words or equations work for you, or do you like learning them through completing practice questions and problems? Does doing a lot of practice tests help you, or do you prefer reading mini refresher chapters or going to a prep class? With all the time you’ll spend preparing, make sure the methods you choose work for you.

Take advantage of free prep materials.

Once you know what type of prep works for you, look into all the free materials available. On the ETS website, you can find a few free, full-length practice tests you can complete. These are great, because they’re written by those who create the test and will give you the best idea of what the test will be like. Beyond practice tests, you can also find several different apps or websites for vocab flashcards that can help you prepare for the verbal section. If you want further prep materials, look closely at what the books or other materials will give you before purchasing them. Prep materials vary widely, so pick one that has the resources you need.

Know which schools you want to send your scores to.

On the day of the test, you can send your scores to four schools for free. If you want to send your scores later, you’ll have to pay $27 per report sent. Even if you don’t know exactly which programs you’re applying to, pick four you’re interested in and put those down. If you don’t end up applying to those programs, that’s fine!

Take it easy the days leading up to the test.

You’re not going to learn much more in those last few days. Just take that time to relax and make sure you’re well-rested and mentally prepared for the exam. You also should take those days to make sure you know exactly where to go for your test and what to expect when you get there. Which leads me to my final tip…

Know what to expect the day of the test.

Security for the GRE is no joke. You can’t bring anything inside – not a water bottle, a jacket, chapstick (all of which I wanted with me) or anything else. You will also likely be filmed and have several other students around you taking different tests and moving in and out of the room. If either one of these is a concern for you, contact your testing center to see if alternate arrangements could be made. To prepare for what taking the actual test would be like, I found it helpful to take a practice test under the conditions of the real thing. This meant taking each section back-to-back, with breaks only at allowed times and time limits on the sections and breaks. Preparing in these ways ensures there won’t be any surprises on test day.

While it’s important to study hard and fully prepare for the GRE, it’s also good to remember that how you do on the GRE probably isn’t going to decide whether you get into a program or not. The GRE is just one of several factors considered in admissions decisions, so don’t take it too seriously!

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How to Make Your Life Legen-wait-for-it-DARY!

By: Katie

Oh, How I Met Your Mother. A show for when you’re bored, when you want to veg out for half an hour, or when you need a little pick-me-up at the end of the day. To celebrate HIMYM and all the lovely times it has given us, here are a few lessons I learned from the show on how to make your life legen-wait for it-DARY!

HIMYM 1

Don’t be the blitz.
Say yes to new opportunities. You never know what class you’ll actually love, what activity will give you some direction, or what experience might be life-changing. If you don’t say yes and try new things, you might miss out on gaining a valuable experience or being part of an awesome story.

HIMYM 2

Think about the front porch.
Front porch-worthy friends are the best friends. If you can see someone being in your life years in the future, work hard to keep that person around. On the flip side, if you don’t want someone in your future, just cut them loose. It’s okay to be picky with your inner circle. Some relationships are toxic, and you don’t need that in your life.

HIMYM 3

Just go to bed!
Nothing good happens after 2am – a classic HIMYM lesson. You think you need to pull an all-nighter to study for that “super-important” test tomorrow? You probably don’t. You think it’s a good idea to sleep a grand total of 20 hours throughout the week? It’s not. Getting straight A’s or playing 10 straight hours of League of Legends (I’m looking at you, roommates) isn’t that important. Just go to bed.

HIMYM 4

Don’t cling to the past.
The years of starting college, graduating, and moving on to whatever is next are exciting, but also a little frightening (take it from the graduating senior). The unknown is scary, but holding back or pausing your plans to live in the situation you find comfortable or familiar isn’t the answer.

HIMYM 5

Wait for it…
Sometimes, you’re just going to have to wait for it. The things you want most often won’t come easily, and if they do, you might need to set higher goals. Keep on working for what you want, and eventually, your waiting will be rewarded.

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I Just Have A Lot of Feelings (Life with Empathy)

By: Katie

In a previous post, I wrote about how I use the Deliberative strength from the StrengthsQuest assessment. For this post, I’ll focus on another strength in my top five: Empathy, my number one strength.

Those with the Empathy strength are able to sense how those around them are feeling and can take on those feelings as their own. They instinctively understand others, and can see things from their perspective. To clarify, empathy is different from sympathy. Sympathy is feeling sorry for others – it is a more surface-level action. Empathy is a deeper sense of understanding the situation of another and feeling with them rather than for them.

Empathy can be very beneficial, but it also needs to be “controlled.” It is easy for empaths to become overwhelmed by the feelings of others, and if they don’t find a way to protect themselves, they can become incredibly drained. Here a few things I’ve learned about how to use your empathy rather than be controlled by it.

Learn to detach your life from the lives of others.
I’ll be the first to tell you this is ridiculously difficult. If someone I care about is struggling, that struggle will occupy my mind, too. But, you need to try to not feel guilty for allowing yourself to have your own feelings separate from another’s. It’s perfectly okay to compartmentalize and experience your own feelings and happiness even when those around you aren’t experiencing those same feelings. Think about it – if we all felt sadness at the sadness of others, our entire population would be down all the time. It’s not easy to release yourself from your empathic feelings, but it’s an important skill to learn.

Life with Empathy

Understand that not everyone has the same level of empathy as you.
Not everyone is empathic, and that’s okay. Feeling empathy is one of many ways a person can interact with those around them. As an empath, though, it can be difficult when you interact with others who don’t have the same empathic tendencies as you. Not everyone will be able to quickly and easily feel what you’re feeling and understand what you’re going through. For this reason, you need to be patient when you feel like others are being rude, inconsiderate, or insensitive toward you or someone else. That’s not necessarily the case – they probably just have a different set of strengths than you.

Find activities or a job that allow you to work with others.
While it’s important to learn how to flip your empathy switch off, it is also important to find opportunities where you can have it on and let it shine. Being an empath allows you to relate to others and work with them on a deeper or more meaningful level. Being able to pick up on a person’s feelings helps you adjust how you work with them to make the interaction more effective. Find a job or another space where you are allowed to do this, because the result can be incredibly rewarding.

Work in a place that has the energy you need.
Empaths can easily feed off of the energy of others, so it’s important to make sure you’re surrounding yourself with the energy you need. For me, that means a positive, optimistic environment. I’ve worked in both positive and negative environments, and in both situations I have adopted the positivity or negativity that surrounds me. Living with constant negativity wears me down, while living with positivity helps me do my job to the best of my ability. Find a workplace where the energy matches your own and allows you to do your best work and enjoy it along the way. Happy surroundings make for a happy empath!

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Photo source: Unsplash|Rodin Kutsaev