Top 10 Tools for New College Students

Take a look at the Top Ten Tools by that can support you as a freshman in college (hint: many of them are useful also as a high school student and later on for grad school or in your career):

  1. “Skype– traditionally a software application that allows users to make free voice calls to one another, professors and students are beginning to use its BETA group video-chat service to engage in classroom discussions and host virtual office hours
  2. Google Docs– Google applications such as Google Documents, Calendar and GMail have become a standard suite of tools for college students to collaborate – really hits the spot for group work
  3. Twitter – no longer just a social network, students and academics alike are starting to leverage this network to crowd-source questions, gather research and increase classroom engagement levels
  4. GradeGuru Citation Manager– a bookmarklet & FireFox Add-On that helps students collect and manage citations in APA, MLA and Harvard style straight from their browser – a real time saver for essays, papers and assignments
  5. Chegg– #1 textbook rental site
  6. Studyrails – online study tool that helps with time management by allowing students to schedule their study time and block out access to sites that might distract them
  7. Study Tracker – the iPad app by GradeGuru that helps student track their performance – students can record their study time and grades per class to monitor their effort and outcomes
  8. Mindmeister– online mind mapping and collaboration tool that helps with group projects and presentations
  9. Quizlet–  students can browse and use millions of flashcards created by other students and teachers, or create their own
  10. DYD -a web-based 3-D dorm room design tool that allows college students to customize their dorm room interiors and purchase their favorite room selections online”

Good luck in your new journey!

Tools provided by


No estas listo para la Universidad?

Opciones para Recien Graduados del Liceo

Nuestro programa radial con Eli Bravo en Actualidad 1020 AM acerca de opciones para recien graduados de bachillerato, que desean tomarse un ano antes de entrar en la universidad…

Our radio show this week about options for the Gap year, what to do if you do not want to start college right away…

Only en Espanol!

El Gap year o ano transitorio antes de entrar a la universidad

Give Yourself a Great GAP Year

What do Princeton, Harvard, Tufts and MIT have in common? They all encourage you to take a gap year BEFORE entering college. While this isn’t mandatory, it’s a great idea to consider. The GAP year will give you a much-needed downtime from the stresses of high school plus an opportunity to grow as a person, see new sights, discover new cultures, and learn a language and much more. Whether you volunteer, take a job or travel around the world, the GAP year can help you discover what the real world is all about.

First Things First

According to the Center of Interim Programs, a Gap year consultancy, there are some steps you must take before taking on a Gap year.

1. Secure a place in college first. Then defer enrollment for a year. This is less hectic than spending the gap year doing applications.

2. Have a plan. Set goals and create structure to prevent depressing downtime at home.

3. Research programs. If an organization can’t recommend at least two alumni to discuss their experiences, don’t sign up.

4. Respect your social needs. The year represents a break with the crowd, so it’s important to plan strategies for making new friends and staying in touch with old ones.

5. Plan ahead for health insurance. Some policies won’t cover adult-age dependents if they cease to be full-time students. Check your policy several months in advance, then explore temporary insurance if necessary.

Next Steps:

From becoming a ski instructor to working in fashion, the Internet is filled with gap year ideas. Take Jabob Fienstein who according to USA Today, “has spent the past year doing an internship with a software start-up in New Zealand, taking cooking classes and studying filmmaking in New York City before he enrolls at Harvard University in September.”

Consider the story of Owen Henry who after getting rejected by every college he applied to, he “participated in a program for American gap-year students last fall at Oxford University, where he says he spent less than $10,000, and…decided on a career as an Arabic translator. Since March, he has been handling two tons of sail as a deckhand on the Lady Maryland, a 104-foot-long tall ship and floating classroom in Baltimore. He gets room, board and $6.54 an hour. He has saved $1,600 of this for college, and he plans to enroll this fall at Oberlin College, to which he applied and was accepted during the gap year.”

So while most experts would recommend applying to colleges during your senior year, getting accepted and then requesting a one-year deferral, the Gap year might get schools that rejected you in the past to accept you in the future.

What Are Your Options:

Travel: Many organizations offer programs with an emphasis on traveling or living

abroad. Or, you may wish to plan your own adventure.

Internships: Spend some time working in a career field that interests you. If you enjoy it, you’ll have even more incentive to succeed in your chosen college major. If it’s not the field for you, you’ll still have plenty of time to explore other career opportunities.

Volunteer work: You can find volunteer programs both in the U.S. and all over the world. You could build houses, work with children, work on environmental projects, or a host of other activities.

Academics: Students who are not pleased with their high school records might consider a postgraduate (PG) year. The goal for a PG year is to strengthen your academic record in the hope of gaining entry to a better college.

Work: Whether you find a job at home or away, a year of work can give you extra funds to pay for college, plus valuable, real-life experience.

Source: National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Sensible Volunteering

They say that before you can help someone else, you have to help yourself. If you’re planning on becoming a volunteer during your Gap year, do it in an area that’s related to your future career choice (if you already know). For example, someone who wants to major in Fashion Design or Fashion Merchandising might benefit at studying at the Florence Institute of Design International or teaching fashion technology to impoverished children in South Africa.

A nursing major or someone who plans on attending medical school might benefit from the medical and nursing work experience placements by Gap Medics. After an intensive preparation, participants gain on-the job training as well as making a real contribution to communities in Namibia, Nepal and Tanzania.

What makes sense is to think of how your gap year experience might benefit you in the future. With that said, some gap year participants do choose to spend their time becoming ski/snowboard instructors (takes about 11 weeks to earn a level 1 certification) or engage in other activities that might not look that great on a resume but might help them make extra money, find themselves, improve social skills, and have a great time.

Learning a Language

Did you know you can earn college credits BEFORE going to college? The gap year might be the perfect opportunity to learn a foreign language while living in a foreign land. For example, at the BLCU Chinese Immersion Program more than 10,000 students learn Mandarin every year. The advantages of knowing a second or third language are many, being bilingual or trilingual looks great on a resume, can help you get jobs at global corporations or even work in foreign countries after graduation.

Final Considerations

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 30% of freshmen in U.S. four-year colleges and universities drop out before the sophomore year. Part of that is because they get themselves burned out, they weren’t ready for college or didn’t have the maturity level that college demands. Because of this, the gap year can be seen not as an expense but as an investment in the future success of the college student.

Useful Links

Gap Year

11 Amazing Ways To Spend your Gap Year

Study Abroad Links

Study Programs International (learn a language)

Extreme Arctic 2011

Show Radial – Como Escoger Universidades

Nuestro segmento semanal con Eli Bravo en Actualidad 1020 AM acerca de Como Escoger Universidades.

Our weekly radio show with Eli Bravo in Actualidad 1020 AM on the topic of how to choose a college to attend.

Sorry folks, only En Espanol!

Decision Dificil – Como escoger universidades

A Tough Decision – Which College to Attend?

If you’ve been watching TV perhaps you have heard of Dakota Root, she’s the homeschooled girl who was accepted to Harvard, Stanford, Yale Columbia, Penn, Brown, Duke, Chicago, Cal-Berkeley, USC and several other elite schools in America. So how did she choose which college to attend? According to Fox News, she picked Harvard because it’s the school everyone in the entire world knows about. For the record, Harvard is so elitist that only 1% of the best high school seniors dare apply (30,000 applicants) and out of that number about 1,700 will get to attend (less than 6%).

Dakota’s story is exceptional, the average student candidate does not get accepted to 10+ of the most selective colleges in the country. But with more than 4,000 higher education institutions in the US, there are plenty of great options that will cater to your individual needs. And then, the question is – which one provides the best fit for me?

There are many things to consider when evaluating college options. Here are things to think about and thoroughly consider when making your original and final selection.

1- Small vs. Large

Want a school where you know everybody or do you long to have the diversity and social environment offered by a school with 40,000 students? There are great colleges in both spectrums of the balance, so your job is to examine the benefits and drawbacks of all. For example, a large school is more likely to have more student organizations, more student activities, more majors and more classes. A smaller school offers a more intimate environment, more personal attention, and more direct access to your professors, among other benefits. Think then in which type of school you would be able to perform your best in every aspect of college – academic, social, personal, and professional (looking towards the future).

According to Forbes Magazine, “Small liberal arts schools shine in our rankings, probably due to both the quality of their faculty and the personal attention they can provide. Williams and Swarthmore both rank in the top five, while Pomona, Smith, Middlebury and Amherst all come in the top 20, ahead of such schools as Stanford (23rd) and Brown (27th).”

2- Public vs. Private

The main difference between public and private universities is price. Just compare the cost of attending a top public university like UC-Berkeley ($8,353 in-state, $31,022 out-of-state) versus top private universities like Harvard, Columbia, Georgetown, Boston College and Cornell where you can expect to pay more than $50,000 a year without need-based aid. With need-based aid chances are you’ll still have to pay more than $20,000 a year, and that’s not counting room and board which can cost you another $10,000+.

Think about what will happen if you graduate with a huge college loan debt, consider the salary prospects of your chosen career and how you will feel when you’re making $900+ a month in loan payments for a job that pays $50,000 a year. Remember, you don’t need an expensive private school to succeed in life, Suze Orman got a BA in Social Work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign at a low price tag, look at her now!

So if you can’t afford a respected and extremely expensive private school, consider that “according to the 2009 Academic Ranking of World Universities, the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign ranked 25th out of the more than 1000 international institutions recognized. It is home to some of the highest-ranked Engineering, Computer Science, Library and Information Science, and Accounting programs in the United States.” And here’s the best part, it only costs about $9,000 a year for residents and $23,000 for non-residents.

Sometimes the best decision is the least expensive. Not having the financial burden when it is a burden for you and your family can be positive in many ways. Having the extra money and no debt will take you far, especially when considering affording graduate school. Attending a good public school can cost less and make no difference in terms of the quality of your education.

3- Campus Activities

I heard from a graduate from a renowned urban university in Florida how he described it as a weekend cemetery. He explained that there was nothing going on for students in the weekend, who literally left campus almost as a migration only to return on Sunday evening. With no university facilities open during the weekend, the school became a ghost town, certainly not fun for him, as he had nothing to look for outside of the school in the city. He felt so bored and isolated that his full college experience was not the best. However, this environment made sense to the many students wanting a life outside of the college environment, wanting to keep close ties with their family and friends in the area.

Other schools offer great life on campus 24/7. They bring film festivals, concert series, offer many options of coffee shops which remain full of students any day of the week almost at any time. In these schools, we can find libraries servicing students until 4 am, closing for one hour and then reopening at 5 am. So if you’re a bookworm, a jock, a philosopher, or just a person who’s drawn to a certain social environment make sure to find a campus that fits with your lifestyle. Check out their individual websites and see if the school has fraternities, student clubs, fitness facilities, sports, and so on. For example, Penn State University recently dethroned the University of Florida as the top party school according to the Princeton Review. You can also check which lists Tulane University as the #1 school for social life, and if you’d rather be volunteering, US News & World Report recommends Duke, University of Maryland, Stanford, and other colleges where you can learn and make the world a better place at the same time.

4- Campus Politics

They say you should never talk about sex, politics or religion if you want to avoid making people uncomfortable. In college however, you’re likely to meet people who will discuss all three so if you’re a progressive who voted for Obama or a conservative who voted for McCain, you should think very carefully about what kind of people you want to study with.

While some schools encourage vigorous debate, others censor students that hold unpopular views and there are cases of teachers who are openly hostile to conservatives, members of the military, Zionists, etc. Some universities even have “speech codes,” or other draconian laws that stifle the First Amendment of the US Constitution. For example, according to FIRE, an organization that fights for individual rights in education, Binghamton University suspended a student for making posters criticizing the Department of Social Work.

That doesn’t mean conservatives or libertarians have to study at places where they’re not welcome, consider options like Hillsdale College which currently ranks 89th in the 2010 U.S. News & World Report listing of best American Liberal Arts colleges and 76th in the 2009 Forbes report of America’s Best Colleges. It ranks second in the Princeton Review’s The Best 371 Colleges 2009 listing of colleges where students are “most conservative” and among the fifty “best value” private colleges.

Of course, if you’re a progressive or liberal, you might feel comfortable at Duke, NYU, Columbia, Oberlin, Ohio State University, Princeton, Tufts, Berkeley and lots of other great schools, some more politically correct than others.

5-      Religious vs. Secular

Nietzsche said that God was dead, yet almost every school in the nation has at least one religious student group. Catholic and Protestant schools have their own chapels, even orthodox Jews can attend top-rated schools like Baruch College, Yeshiva University, and Brandeis, where the food follows Jewish dietary restrictions. The question for you is how much or how little religion you want in your life, there are top-rated Christian schools like Wheaton College, ranked 59 in U.S. News & World Report (2008) and 11th in total number of graduates who go on to earn doctorates. Other options include Baylor University with over 146 undergraduate degrees, Pepperdine University, Calvin College and others.

One thing to consider about religious schools is their standards of conduct, many of them don’t tolerate smoking, drinking (even if you’re over 21), drug use, premarital-sex, homosexuality, and in the case of Bob Jones University, interracial dating used to be against their laws. At Liberty University for example, students are not allowed to have TV’s in their rooms and the televisions in public areas are tuned to family-friendly programming.

The rules of conduct are less strict at top-rated Catholic universities such as Georgetown, Loyola, Boston College, Creighton, and others.

If you are religious and choose to attend a secular college find out if they have college ministries, a college-age Sunday school class or youth group, worship services, and churches near campus.

6-      College Rankings

Not our most favored way to choose a college, but certainly one of the most popular. Google “college rankings” and you’ll find that schools are rated by organizations like US News & World Report on a wide variety of categories such as “Highest (and Lowest) Acceptance Rate,” “Top-Public Schools,” “Best Nursing Programs,” “Most Students in a Fraternity,” “Most International Students,” etc.  However, BEWARE! College Rankings should be only a guide and never the reason why to choose a school – it would be the wrong decision to make your college decision based solely on the ranking of a specific school vs. others. Remember, rankings change every year, and they are measures that cannot directly point your fit with the programs. They try to assess college proficiency in many areas and far too often fail at being accurate by not taking under consideration the “soft” aspects of the college education.

As quoted by College Confidential, here is another comment on “Rank vs. Individual Fit: College admissions counselors universally agree that a school must “fit” the student in terms of academic environment, social environment, athletic and other extracurricular opportunities, urban or rural location, etc. A good fit will result in a great college experience and, most importantly, maximum personal growth and achievement. Rankings can be a negative influence when students or parents look more at how highly a school is ranked instead of how well it will serve the needs of that particular student.”

Example, say you’re a passionate outdoorsman who enjoys kayaking, hiking, horseback riding, etc. If that’s the case, the rankings of Outside Magazine are going to suit you perfectly. Perhaps you’ll love Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. At Warren, The Bent Creek Experimental Forest offers miles of singletrack, road riders convene every Tuesday at Liberty Bikes for a morning ride, and runners can join the Asheville Track Club. Prefer solitude? Hop onto the Mountains to Sea Trail…Hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders don’t even have to leave the 1,200-acre campus, as more than 25 miles of trails cut through the grounds.”

Of course, you’ll also want to know how Warren and other schools rank nationally, in your major, cost, and other categories relevant to you. For example, if you are a vegetarian you should check the PETA’s college rankings, did you know Yale, Oberlin, NYU and University of Florida are among the top-ten options for vegetarian students? Rankings however, are also a tool for selling magazines. Each organization that has developed a ranking has a different way to calculate results, and they are not infallible. This is mainly the reason why many often do not agree with results. However unfair and miscalculated results are, having lists of colleges that distinguish themselves for one reason or another can make it easier to find options for a student. If nothing else for this, rankings become a valuable resource when seeking college information.  With this said, use rankings as a tool to learn more about the school’s areas of strength, but make sure not to believe all you read…

How not to choose a college

Believe it or not, sometimes people pick the wrong college for the wrong reasons. Some may say “my boyfriend/girlfriend/best friend” is going there, others are impressed by the football team (which makes no sense unless you’re going to be on the football team), some pick a prestigious school even if they don’t have the major they want, others want to go where their parents went, or they want to live in a specific city where a college is located, and so forth.

Choosing a college based on factors that have nothing to do with your education and fit with the program/environment of the college could become a disaster. Remember, these four or more years could affect the rest of your life, and unlike Suze Orman, most of us don’t get to turn a B.A. is Social Work into a lucrative career as a Television Financial Adviser. So when it comes to your college choice, research, research, research and focus on fit by considering your needs and how the college meets them.


College Match

Outside Magazine Top-40

Top Vegetarian Colleges

Top Party Schools

Best Social Life

Best Colleges for Volunteering/Service Learning

Top Catholic Universities

Top Christian Colleges

Foundation for Individual Rights in Academia

How Not to Choose a College

2011 CommonApp Preview

College Applicants seeking admissions for August 2011 can find a preview version of the 2010-11 Common Application in the News section of the Common App website. Click this link to go directly into the 2010-2011 Common Application.

Tackling the Dangerous College Transition Process

By Claudine Vainrub

Unlike high school, college is the embodiment of freedom. Your parents aren’t there to make sure you wake up in the morning, do your homework and stay out of trouble. You’re free to study as much or as little as you want, and with only about 15 hours of class each week, you might think you have plenty of time to spare. However, did you know that to become a great college student the rule of thumb is first and foremost is to study for four hours outside of the classroom for each lecture hour you attend? When you do have spare time, participating in extra-curricular activities can provide leadership opportunities and even open doors in the future as you network with peers and faculty. A detrimental alternative is simply to use this time to get into trouble. Did you know some students get so involved with the bar-scene that they flunk out their first year? Yes, this happens even to bright straight-A students who fail to remember what got them into college in the first place.

Here are some things you should consider as you make your transition from high school to college:

Choosing/Changing Your Roommate/Dorm: Unless you choose to live off campus, chances are you’ll be living in a dorm room with one roommate or more (single rooms may be available but are more expensive). Usually, colleges send a questionnaire on what you seek in a roommate, they will want to know if you’re neat, messy, etc., so they can find you somebody that is most likely to get along with you. Some colleges have specialized dorms for international students, honor students, freshmen, single-sex and even co-ed dorms. Talk to students and others on campus to find out what each dorms is really like, some might have a reputation for being quiet, some are perfect for football players, journalism majors, and others have a reputation for being loud party dorms. In case you have problems with your roommate or dorm, talk to your resident assistant (RA) and ask to transfer to another dorm. Seek help from the college’s housing department, that’s one of their duties, to support you in case of need.

Good Study Habits: The typical student may think that “this is my time to have fun because life after college is boring.” That is a myth; a good college education can provide you with great fun in the future if you make sure to spend those four years wisely.  So consider the following study habits that will help you succeed.

A. Take notes and/or record the class: Doing this will make you active during class time which will improve your data retention. When you record your classes you are able to you listen to your professors while you’re walking, working out at the gym, riding the bus and in other instances.

B. Avoid Facebook/Texting/Social Networking in class: Multitasking by listening to a lecture while texting your friends and having fun with a blog will get you distracted and force you to study more when you’re not in class. Remember, your parents aren’t spending more than $20,000 a year for you to waste your time in class. Facebook has become very controversial for college students prompting some to unite into groups against the habit-forming site. These students claimed that their use/addiction to use Facebook was taking time away from their studies, and their grades were suffering because of this. Don’t let this happen to you – remember, the key to success is balance. However, if you can’t control it, it is wiser to drop it than to allow your college work to suffer because of your participation in this or any social network.

C. Do your homework on time: If you were studying French, would it be easier to learn 10 words a day or 100 words for tomorrow’s exam? The answer is obvious, if you complete your homework assignments and study every day, you will not have to stay up all night preparing for an exam and you will be more likely to get a better grade.

D. Seek Help: Almost all professors have office times to meet with their students so they can help you with any questions. You can also seek tutors from the university, find out about different study groups, and work with your academic adviser to drop a class if the course is too difficult. In college, you will find that professors want to help you, most of them want you to succeed. If you are having a tough time with one course, be prepared to go the extra mile, do extra work, ask questions to the faculty and personally sit with them until the task is successfully completed. This will support you in getting closer to the grade you desire.

Extracurricular Activities: Engaging in fun/educational activities outside the classroom will help you keep your spirits up, network with future leaders and even spice-up your resume. Just like Journalism majors often write for the college newspaper, it’s not uncommon to see Business majors participating in clubs related to entrepreneurship, finance/venture capital management, and marketing, while other majors join political or even bizarre clubs. Fraternities for example are a great place to develop leadership skills and become part of a very special organization where the loyalty between members outlasts college – it’s no secret that frat brothers and sorority sisters often hire their own.

Homesickness: It’s not uncommon for students to miss their families, but thanks to technology we are all one step away. Call them from your free long-distance cell phone account (that’s what it is for), e-mail them, and even visit them in your computer screen. To avoid getting homesick, you should try contacting your parents at the very least once or twice per week. Let them know how you’re doing, ask them for advice, this will not only show them how grateful you are for everything they have done for you, but it will keep your spirits up in the most difficult times.

Date Rape: Colleges recruit students from all walks of life and unfortunately, we can find students amongst our peers that do not have good judgment or are up to no good. Incidents of date rape do happen, some rapists try to put a “roofie” in your drink to make you fall asleep which is why you should protect your drink at all time (if you’re old enough to be drinking).  Others may try to get you drunk so you’ll be more likely to agree to sex or not have the power to resist an advance. If you find yourself in a place where you feel unsafe, seek help from campus security. Do not risk walking back to your dorm alone if late in the night, do not open your door to strangers. Never abuse alcohol – remember that you have to take care of yourself and if you are not in your senses, it is easy to fall into traps where others could take advantage of you. If you become a victim of rape, call the police immediately and don’t take a shower because that removes crucial evidence.

Illegal Drug Use: Movies like Animal House show a world where using illegal drugs has no consequences, this is not so. Schools are becoming stricter about drugs, some will even expel you not just for your own drug use but the drug use of your roommate if you know about it and don’t report it. In some cases just having drug paraphernalia can get you expelled, so aside from the usual dangers of drugs, getting expelled from college can have disastrous consequences for your future. Also, corporate recruiters nowadays are very thorough in testing you for drugs. Many test through hair, which can carry a history of two years in some cases. Any trace of illegal drug use can become a factor when hiring you for employment following your college years. Don’t let a bad decision mark your future, there are certainly some things worthwhile not trying in life – drugs is one of them.

Spring Break: Because 18 is the legal drinking age in Mexico and drugs are common and easy to find, a lot of young college students that vacation there during spring break. But it’s not all fun and games, in Mexico people can and do get arrested and when that happens they face a legal system where you are guilty before proven innocent.

Psychological Issues: From eating disorders to depression, the college experience can bring out more topics than an entire year of The Tyra Show. The good news is that almost every college has a counseling center with trained psychologists at no cost to you, they can help you get your life back on track and avoid letting a small problem becoming a big one that ruin your academics and your life.

Don’t try to do it all: “Jack of all trades, master of none” applies to students who learn about everything but specialize in nothing. What good is a Communications degree if you can barely work a camera, barely write a screenplay, barely direct a movie/TV show and barely write an article? Smart students do their best to find their passion and master it. This will not only help you find a great job right after college, but it might save you having to enroll in a technical institute to learn what you didn’t learn in college.

Don’t Cheat: From hiring a student to write your essays to cheating during exams, some students play tricks with their college education in order to get better grades. If you get caught doing this, you could be put on probation or expelled. If you don’t get caught, you might end up doubting your abilities because you’ll know you’re a cheater and if you have a conscience, it will affect you. Colleges are very strict with plagiarism too, and professors are instructed to check all work for originality. The honor code in most colleges is extremely rigid – colleges will trust you as a principle, but if they ever find out that you cheated, you will not be forgiven. It is not worth the risk to test the system and try to cheat. Stay true to your work, make your best honest effort and this will get you far.

In conclusion, use your college years wisely, avoid drugs and alcohol, remember that the courses you take and activities you participate in can affect you in many years to come. Value your academics, because a high GPA can help you land the best internships and someday the highest paying jobs.  Strive for your best, with vision and heart, and you’ll really enjoy the best years of your life!