Got Degrees. Now What?

Just got home from work again. Seven days down, fourteen more to go until I get two whole, glorious days off. Then it’s on to the 6am shift for the rest of the year. The work BFF and I were talking about how great it will be to have days off again and to have afternoons to get things done. A bunch of us at work were talking the last few days about the strange hours and long stretches we’ve been having to work lately. It actually lead to a small mini-flip-out with the manager the other day, which is what started all of this talk.

I was chatting with the girls and the manager in the office while we grabbed promotional materials and organized for our holiday displays. Someone mentioned what they were going to do on their day off, and I jokingly said that I was counting down the days until I actually got a day off and that I can’t keep doing these long stretches much longer. The manager chimed in and said that the only reason I have any long stretches is because I sign up for them, taking people’s shifts on my days off. For the last long stretch, this was mostly true. I had offered to take a few shifts, switch a few shifts, and come in on days off to cover for people. I was supposed to get two days off one week, but those got taken away when a co-worker had to take a leave of absence. Since I already had that weekend booked off, I didn’t make a big fuss when my days off were taken away. This time, with the stretch I’m in the middle of, I didn’t take any extra shifts. The manager just scheduled me for 21 straight days. He tried to deny it, which is when I snapped a little.

All of our weekly schedules are on the magnetic board. I started pulling schedules down off the board, throwing them all down on the desk and laying out my schedule for him. I stood there and counted off the 21 days in a row that he scheduled me for. His response: Well, why don’t you just take a day off or call in sick one of those days?

The reason a lot of us have to take these stupid long stretches is because we can’t afford to just take a day off. Like I’ve said before, if I give away a shift or call in sick then I’m losing 5-8 hours of pay. If I give up a Tuesday night shift, the boss isn’t going to just add five more hours to my schedule later in the week. I have to hope that: a) it gets ridiculously busy and they need the extra help and have to call me in; b) a co-worker gets sick or injured and needs someone to cover their shift; c) a co-worker’s family member get sick or injured and they need someone to cover their shift so they can take care of them; or d) someone dies. The company is not in the business of just giving away money. When I give away those 5 hours, they’re given to someone else. Those hours aren’t banked somewhere for me to use at a later time.

The funny thing is, the work BFF and I both went to school so we could get jobs that are not in retail. We both worked towards careers where we were either salaried employees, or we would have set hours and wouldn’t be scrambling to pick up shifts all the damn time. Unfortunately, with the job market and economy being what they are in many fields, neither one of us has been able to achieve that. So what to do with those degrees I went into so much debt to earn?

I have two degrees a B.A. Honors in Criminology, and a B.A. in Psychology. I had a plan when I went into school to get these degrees. I had a career picked out, and was going to work towards a very specific goal. Unfortunately, a few different things derailed that plan, which lead me to where I am now. There is a huge part of me that still wishes I could have a dream career in some sort of criminological field. I read over true murder stories, keep up on certain crime statistics, I even have the outline I wrote for a Masters Thesis I wanted to do if I ever got the guts to go to grad school. Hell, maybe for fun I’ll work on some of that research! But what do I do with these damn degrees?

Of course, the Queen of the Internet Jenna Marbles has already tackled this problem herself. As another dual-degree holder working on something she didn’t go to school for, she had to find a way to use her degrees so they wouldn’t go to waste. Now, her ideas are a more hands-on approach to using the actual physical degrees than I’ve been looking at. I mean, I didn’t even get mine framed. Hell, I haven’t even picked up the second degree from the school yet! The first degree is still in the cardboard envelope they gave it to me in, sitting in a plastic shopping bag with my college certificate, wedged between a dresser and some shelves so they don’t bend. Someday I’ll frame them and hang them up. Today is not that day, so I really can’t go with any of Queen Marbles’ ideas here.

You see, I’ve been looking at some of the different things I can do now that I have two degrees. I mean, what the hell do you do with Criminology and Psychology? Unless you’re a sexy super genius in a TV crime show, being a criminal profiler is out (even though my goal was something close to that). My grades in psychology weren’t good enough for me to get into a Masters program in psych, so that destroys any dreams of being a counsellor or psychologist. So what other options do I have?

1. Just Be Content in the Job I Have

Ok, I get to play with the surveillance camera at work. And I get to write up the incident reports when we catch shoplifters. I mean, that’s got a bit of a crime-fighting edge, doesn’t it? And sometimes, when we catch a shoplifter and call the police, I get to talk to the cops. Today I got to chit-chat about criminals with a really Sweet constable (who was damn adorable and my girls couldn’t stop checking out).*

2. Go Back To School

Yes, this is something I’ve been thinking of at times. I was all ready to apply to grad school. I had a thesis proposal in the works, a research proposal for my applications, I even had academic references lined up. One of those references is a customer at my store.  It’s almost impossible to look her in the eye some days now. She was so sure I was going to get into grad school at the university I did my undergrad at. Then I would get immersed in some massively messed up crime research on school shootings, and mass shootings, and mass violent incidents, and crime statistics, and I would be so damn happy.

Instead, I chickened out. After getting my references all lined up, and working on proposals, I just didn’t apply. My boyfriend at the time was applying to grad school in his field, and I decided to just find work for the time being. The plan was to work for two years or so, pay off a good chunk of my student loans, pay off the credit cards, and then apply for school. Of course, that didn’t happen. I didn’t get the jobs I had applied to and took a very part-time job in retail. Over the years, I’ve been able to pick up more hours and make a bit more money. But I had to live on credit for a little while. And then kept using credit to keep my head above water and not starve for a while. And now I’m drowning in debt, and can’t even think about student loan payments without bursting out into tears. I know, it’s my own doing, and I’ll fix it all somehow.

But all of that debt threw my plans off, and now I’ve pretty much lost all confidence in myself academically. I’m like the Hiphopopotamus in a rap battle. I would love to go back to school, get a job in corrections and parole. And I’m still looking into that option, it just seems pretty far-fetched at the moment.

3. Go Back To School Online

Ok, this option is looking pretty damn good right now. The other day I made a post about all the different options available for online learning. I’m looking into a few different programs through Athabasca University right now. I’m also looking at just getting a little more education in a few areas that I’m lacking in. I mean, having two degrees is great, but what the hell is it doing for me right now? There’s obviously something I’m lacking in, so I may as well educate myself.

Maybe I’ll get a post-grad certificate in Addiction Counselling, or a diploma education counselling. Or maybe I’ll do something that has absolutely nothing to do with counselling.

Really, at this point, I have no clue what the hell to do with these degrees. I’ve been using the transferable skills I learned and trying to work with those, but it’s only gotten me so far. Maybe it’s time for me to get a new set of skills. Or maybe it’s time I just give up on the degrees and accept that I’ll be a lifer at my current job. What do you think I should do?

 

*he was NOT more adorable than the Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend. Not by a long-shot.

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More Praise for the Internet

Sorry lovelies, but today my head is just a giant pile of mush. I had a few glasses of red last night and the got assaulted with cuddles all morning by the surprisingly loving Bowser Kitten. It’s already after 11am, and I have done exactly nothing all day. I played a game on my phone, checked my Twitter, messaged my mum to see how dad is doing (she’s supposed to be at work, so I can’t just call), and have been hiding in my room from roommates all morning. Even the super snuggly Bowser Kitten is in a mood, burrowed into the blankets on the bed with only his little head poking out.

I just can’t wrap my head around anything today. I’m going over to-do lists, trying to get things done, but no one else around here gets anything done so I get side-tracked. This morning, I got up to make coffee around 9:30. Instead of my usual “put the coffee on, go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, go grab coffee” routine I do most mornings, I had to wash a sink full of dishes, scrub old macaroni and some sort of brown sauce off the counters, and clean off the stove. My 10 minutes routine was more than half an hour thanks to that! And I seem to be doing everything in super slow motion today, too.

I think part of this is because I spent so much time looking at my schedule for work. They decided to open our store later on Sundays for the holidays, and the first night of this is the night of our Christmas Party. The Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend and I are supposed to head out to the party around 6:30 with the work BFF and her fiance, but I am scheduled until 8:15pm. So I have to do a little finagling of the schedule, perhaps a little bribery to switch some things around and get an earlier shift. That’s my only 8-hour shift that week, so I can’t afford to just give it up. Actually, it’s one of the few 8-hour shifts I have in the 21 straight days I’ve been scheduled. Yes, after working a 30-day stretch and getting hell from my manager for working that many days, I take two whole days off just to be thrown into a 21-day stretch. If I hadn’t taken this past weekend off, then I would be working 53 straight days.

There are a few really crappy things that come with this. First off, in our collective agreement it states that we can only be scheduled 6 days a week unless we agree to pick up hours on that 7th day. I could totally go to management and tell them I can’t do all these days in a row, and they’d just give away a shift a week. But they don’t have to make up those hours anywhere on the schedule for me. That means I would be losing 5-8 hours a week just to have a day off. Another crappy thing is that I’m working 7 days a week, and still not being scheduled for 40 hours. In the past, I’ve had weeks where I’ve worked 7 days and not even gotten 30 hours! If I want to pay the bills, then I have to work all of these shifts somehow.

The weird thing is, my managers just gave me hell for doing a 30-day stretch! True, part of the streak was my own doing. When people needed shifts covered, or we knew in advance that we would be short on certain days, I volunteered to pick up hours. But I also did that with the assumption that the days off I was already scheduled for later in the schedule would remain as days off for me. I’d plan for a 14-day stretch, only to have my day off on day 15 rescheduled as a closing shift, give me 20+ days. Even at the very tail end of my streak, I was supposed to get days 27 and 28 off, but the manager tweaked that and gave me shifts instead! On day 30, when I made it known that I had survived yet another 30-day stretch, my manager said I can’t do long stretches anymore and have to take days off. Then he turns around two days later and schedules a 21-day stretch!

All of this scheduling, re-scheduling, and long stretches makes having a life outside of work nearly impossible. It’s already hard to schedule around my job since my shifts change so often. I can be scheduled to close at 4:15, just to get a call at 8am to come in at noon instead. Or I can get a highly coveted morning shift with the expectation to be out of there by 3pm, only to get extended until 6pm. And we just found out recently that the company as started to log everything you do regarding the schedule, possibly to use against you. Every time you request a day off, call in sick, refuse to switch shifts or come in early or pick up an extra shift…….. this all goes in a report they add to your annual review. They even log the reasons why you turn down shifts!  This makes scheduling anything else in my life damn near impossible!

Take, for instance, doctor’s appointments. It’s time for my full physical, something that I simply cannot ignore. We have a history of cancer in my family, and cervical cancer is one of them. I’ve had to have cryosurgery before, to get rid of pre-cancerous cell growth that was caught before it became full-blown cancer. It’s uncomfortable enough for me to make an appointment like this already, but my doctor left his practice and was replaced by a brand new doctor. My down-under exam will be my first time meeting this doctor! I have been trying to find the time to schedule this appointment for almost a month now, and it looks like it will be another few weeks before I know for sure I can have the time to do so without penalizing myself at work. I have a physical to book, moles that need to be checked, I haven’t had my eyes checked in 6 years and need to get new glasses, and I should probably see a dentist someday to check on that wisdom tooth that started coming in a little over a year ago.

What really gets to me, though, is that one of the only ways to really advance in this company is to learn French. Actually, not being bilingual is one of the things that has really been holding me back from getting a government position in my field. There are places around here where I could learn French, but it’s impossible to both afford this and take the time to make it to these classes with the way schedules are done. The work BFF has it in her file that she is only available until 7pm on Mondays and Wednesdays. There are 8 different shifts that the manager has given out on the current schedules that she could possibly work on these days. Still, since she’s not available to close, he doesn’t schedule her at all most weeks. Taking even a few hours off of my availability each week to take French classes could mean giving up 10-16 hours of paid work each week! I really can’t afford to do that.

That’s where the third great love of my life comes in (the first two obviously being AAB and currently hiding Bowser Kitten): the internet. Ever check out Duolingo? It’s free online language lessons! I haven’t been able to keep up with mine much lately, but I’ve been chipping away at them bit by bit. As you learn, you have the option to strengthen your skills and go over things you’ve previously learned. They even have a TinyCards page with little flashcards to help you keep up with your skills. Also, they have an app that lets you learn on the go. And it’s not just French you can learn on there. There are 27 different courses for English speakers to help them learn other languages!

Duolingo isn’t the only free online resource for learning, either. Go do a Google search for free online classes. There are a tonne of resources out there! One of my personal favourites (even though I have a hard time finishing courses sometimes) is Coursera. They have a tonne of courses that you can either take for free (just to gain the knowledge and upgrade your skills), or you can pay to take them to get official credits from schools around the world. You can specialize in things from every area of knowledge in their catalog, from marketing to teaching English as a second language.

Can’t find exactly what you’re looking for on there? Well, try out Open2Study, an Australian-based website that follows the same model. What I love about this site is that it features a lot of self-paced courses. The problem I have when taking online courses is that I’ll start one, get all excited about it, and can only go so far at a time. You have to do a little bit each week, which kind of kills my motivation. With my constantly changing schedule, and putting my writing before anything else online right now, I tend to just drop courses after the third week. With self-paced courses, you can do as little or as much as you want at a time. Have a day off? Laying in bed sick all day? Don’t feel like watching reruns of Friends on Netflix yet again after a long day? You can throw on a lecture video, pull up some online notes, and do just as much work as you’re feeling up to at the time.

One thing I’ve been meaning to look into more is learning a bit of web development online. I learned some very basic HTML way back in my MySpace days, but pretty much stopped there. Having some basic development tools is essential for a lot of jobs out there now. Web development is becoming the new “proficient in Microsoft Office” in resumes. There are a tonne of resources out there, which I haven’t really evaluated for you guys at all. Like I said, this is something I’m looking into, not something I’ve actually thrown myself into yet. Still, I’ve been going over the sites listed here in this article. I’ve heard of a few of them before, like Khan and Code Academy. Maybe one of you out there has a little more insight into which online sites would be best for someone looking to learn online, and would like to leave a comment for us.

It’s actually mind-blowing how much there is that you can learn online. Did you know Yale has free classes online? University of Toronto? MIT? I mean, how great would that look on a resume? “While employed with [XXX], I independently upgraded my skills by taking online courses through both MIT and Yale”. I mean, it just sounds cool. Like, I live in the little border town, working my little retail job, working on my homework for MIT. Need an excuse to get out of a social situation? “Sorry, I can’t make it to your Silly Sock Social and Spritzer Mixer. I have to finish a paper for that class I’m taking at Yale.”

And for anyone who doesn’t think that any of this free online learning is “official” enough for them (I’ve heard that complaint from a lot of people, actually), or you specialized education like a Masters Degree or a few university classes to finish your major, there’s something out there for you too. Almost every single university out there now offers some sort of online learning. All through my two degrees, I took at least two online classes a year, usually during the summer months. I was a Teaching Assistant for an online Sociology class for three years. For us Canadians, there is even an entire university dedicated to online learning: Athabasca University. This online school is a collection of majors, courses, degrees, and certificates from universities all over Canada. Most Canadian universities will allow you to substitute online classes from Athabasca for courses you’re unable to take physically at your school for whatever reason. It’s just a matter of filling out some paperwork and using the online classes kind of like transfer credits. You can pick up a few classes here, or do a full degree. I’ve looked into a few certificates recently that would go great with my degrees, and really add something to my resume!

I don’t know, I’m in one of those moods where I feel like my entire life is falling apart, and I need to do something to get out of here. Like I said, my schedule doesn’t allow me to take the time off to upgrade my education, so I’ve been looking into all of this online learning a lot lately. These classes are perfect for anyone who needs to do a bit of learning but doesn’t have the time to dedicate the same time each week to physically going to a class.

I do have some words of warning, though. Like I said, I took quite a few online classes at my university and was the Teaching Assistant for one course. I know how easy it is to blow off work for these classes. When I had to physically go into class and participate in lectures, go to labs, hand in work, then that pressure to keep up was the motivating factor in me getting anything done sometimes. With my online classes, I could put off doing any reading at all until just before an assignment or paper was due. I once took a course and didn’t even take the plastic wrapping off the textbook until more than halfway through the semester! Unless there is some sort of schedule to the class that makes you hand things in, or take tests and quizzes, and all of this is at regular intervals, then it is ridiculously easy to dig yourself an academic hole that is stupid crazy hard to climb out of.

So, is there anything out there that you need to learn? Always wanted to learn a little bit about Ancient Rome? High school Spanish teacher always tell you that you’d never be able to learn more than a few words of Spanish, and you want to prove him wrong? There is something out there for everyone online. You just need to know where to look for it.*

*Google. Google is where you look for it. Type it into the damn search and look for it.

Back to School How-To

Hey there Sunshine!  It’s the middle of the night, going on the very early morning hours. I had a bizarro day (may have witnessed a very injured and mentally unstable young man steal a wheelchair and run away from a hospital ER), and that’s making my anxiety go through the roof tonight. When the Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend was heading off to bed, I had to sit up in front of the TV for a bit doing my deep breathing, because I was sure I was about to have a heart attack.

Oh well, hope your night is going much better!

This whole combination of bizarro situations and ridiculously high anxiety DID remind me that school is starting soon, though. I moved a month into high school to a whole new city, to a newly opened high school. Somehow, my parents thought that the fact that the school was new meant that no one there knew each other yet, so I should have no problem making friends. Had to finish my fifth and final year at a new school back in my hometown. After a few years off, went back to college, only to leave after only getting my one year certificate (instead of the 2-year diploma) due to an incident there. Years after that, went back to university as a “mature student” and spent more than 5 years working on my degrees, only to let anxiety get the best of me and not apply to graduate school.

So believe me when I say that I KNOW back to school anxiety.

The thing is, there are so many different things that can worsen your back to school anxiety: financial woes, social anxiety, moving to a new place, the unknown in general, education itself, fear of the future……….  I keep seeing these articles on how to handle your Back To School Anxiety, but they only have band-aid solutions to things.  Sure, lavender might help you relax, but will it help you save money on school supplies and textbooks? Eating lots of veggies is great for your all-around physical and mental health, but how will that help you meet people? Companion animals are great, but most dorm rooms don’t allow them.

So what’s a student to do?

Hopefully, I can shed a little light on that for ya’ll. I researched things back then for myself, and research them now for friends and roommates. I’m digging through my ancient external hard drive, stacks of old half-used notebooks (I dare you to find a troubled writer who doesn’t have at least half a dozen of these in their home), and my very large pile of Research I Printed To Read Later But Never Did. I’m combing Tumblr blogs (I’ll have links to a few that are super helpful), old PowerPoint presentations, and that forgotten “Stuff For My Blog” folder in my Bookmarks. Basically, I’m digging through all my shit to find that shit that works best for you.

So, I’ll try and pour as much of this anxiety-fuelled awakeness into my research for now. Hopefully, I’ll have some posts for you on this all this week, while you’re getting ready for Back to School.

 

Scheduling and your Syllabi

Your syllabus is probably the most important document you’ll receive in a class. It’s your schedule, your contact info, your lifeline for the next semester. How many of you know how to actually use it to your advantage though?

I’ll admit, my first year in University, I didn’t pay much attention to the damn things. I’d write down in my day planner when my exams were and when papers were due. Then, I’d stick my pile of syllabi in a folder and throw my day planner in my backpack. I didn’t check it regularly, and the “F” on my transcript is my proof of that (damn you History and Politics of Asian Religions!!!!).

I wised up a bit my second year. I’d check my planner once or twice a week, keep my syllabi with my class notebooks, and thought this was good enough. Actually, this is what most students do. And this is why so many students try to write 15 page research papers in two days, pull all-nighters cramming for exams last-minute, and spend more on coffee and Monster than tuition.

This method lulls you into a false sense of scheduling security. Yes, you have everything you need written down in front of you somewhere. And yes, you actually check what needs to be done the beginning of the week. But what do you have next week? Or a month from now? Can you open your day planner to a random page from this semester and easily figure out which classes will take up the most of your time and resources at a glance?

In my third year, I came up with a system. The first week of classes, I got all of my syllabi in class or on the class websites. Then, I took a whole afternoon to go over them and start scheduling. (Come on, it’s the first week of classes. You can spare a few hours to make the next few months a little easier!) All I needed were some coloured pens, sticky notes, and a day planner.

First, each class was assigned a colour. In the day planner, go through class by class and fill in WHEN each class is. I know you think you’ll remember that you have that Post-Modern Comic Theory class every single Thursday at 1pm. In a month or two, when you’re running on no sleep and ALL the caffeine, though, you may not even remember you’re enrolled in that class, let alone when it is. This also puts it right in front of you, in writing, when you are committed to be there.

Then, for each class, make note of your exams, papers, assignments, labs, and anything else that is a part of your grade. Write down when these things are, and a detail or two about each (like exam rooms and times, paper lengths, etc). This gives you your deadlines.

Now, for each major grade event that you need extra time for (like paper writing or studying for exams), give yourself at least one weeks notice. Flip back one week in your day planner, and make a section for this. Some planners come with a Notes area each week you can use. If you don’t typically have much planned for weekends, you could always use your Sunday space for this. Or, you could use the sticky notes I said to grab. (You can never have enough sticky notes in your life). Write down the day, time, subject, and how much of your grade this is worth. This ensures you have extra notice, so things don’t creep up on you at the last minute.

And now, VERY CAREFULLY read through each syllabus. Each syllabus is your professor’s notes to you on how to get as high a grade as possible. Take a page in your planner and write down each professor’s contact information, office hours, the course you are taking with them, and the course time and place. Then, read their instructions. Some professors will throw in exactly what they expect for assignments, or a grading rubric to help you plan our papers. They also give details about your exams, like if the final exam is cumulative, or only covers materials you learned since the mid-term.  Some will break down exactly what chapters to read each week, what online material to look up, and what they expect to cover in their lectures each week. Make note of ALL of this! You need to know what you’ll have to do before each class, or else you can’t actually do it.

I know this seems like a lot to do all at once. This is the simplified version of what I did for three years, though, and what a lot of friends and colleagues have said have worked best for them. When my schedule got really tight (4-5 classes, two jobs, 6 volunteer positions, fraternity events, family obligations, sleeping, eating…..), I used a day planner, a one-month wall calendar, a 4 month wall planner, a system of 4 separate To-Do lists, and email reminders to keep everything straight. Compared to all of that, this is a walk in the park.

This also helps make your semester run a little more smoothly. Imagine, never checking your schedule on Monday to find out you have a paper due Wednesday that you forgot about; never again forgetting about your Monday midterm until Saturday night; never missing a party because you have to pull an all-nighter to finish an assignment you forgot. Sure, this will take a few hours to get done in one day. But think of all the money you’ll save on energy drinks, caffeine pills, coffee, and everything else you’ve been using to keep you up for those last-minute all-nighters.

Most of all, think of all the stress you can save yourself by giving up one afternoon to write stuff down with pretty coloured pens. You can plan things out like those real grown-ups you see in the movies, with their leather-bound planners and appointment books, snootily telling people “sorry, I need at least 3 weeks notice. I’m already all booked. Are you free in May? I may have an opening in May sometime.” This one afternoon with your day planner could be all it takes to put you on the path to becoming Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada.……. or it could at least free up enough time for you to remember you love that movie, and actually watch it again.

Follow Through With Your Plans

So you have a plan. That’s fantastic! You know pretty much what you want to do after graduation, what your chosen career path is, and/or what you want to do with the rest of your life.

So how to you follow through with all this?

For a lot of careers,getting a degree just isn’t good enough. You need a totally kick-ass CV and/or resume, with loads of entries on it showing why you would be the most obvious choice for a job in this field. Sounds easy, doesn’t it. Yeah, it’s kinda not.

You see, need to create epic aura of awesomeness that not only makes you perfect for this specific job, but also doesn’t make you perfect for ONLY this specific job. You need to make yourself seem like some secret super soldier created specifically for this job, but also for other jobs in that field that you may want to apply for. Basically, you need to show that you are perfect across the board.

No pressure, right?

Calm down. There are a few universal things that you can do, no matter what your career goal is:

  1. Leadership! Show that you’re not only great at taking directions, but that you can give directions to others. Join a club that interests you, and get yourself into a position of leadership. Anything from President of the Psychology Association to the Event Planning Chair of the Local Hippie Coalition works for this. Anything that gives you the power to give orders to others is good.
  2. Financial Responsibility! Chances are, at some point in your career, you will have to work with a budget. You may have to create a budget, keep track of petty cash, delegate funds for other projects, or oversee a large project on a budget. Do something specific that shows that you know how to do this already. Join a club (or just use your position in the last point), and plan an event. Make sure you work with a budget, and can track everything. And hey, now you also have experience in event planning! That’s TWO skills in one point! Bonus!
  3. Computer Skills! Obviously, someone in a Computer Science program will already have plenty of experience with computers. I mean, it’s right there in the program name. Criminology? Math? Political Science? Nothing there screams “I’m not a technological failure”. You need to up your skills, and make sure they are marketable. First off, know your Microsoft Office programs. It never hurts to get certification in programs like Word or Excel. Next, work on programs that are needed in your specific field. Things like statistical analysis have a few programs used by pretty much everyone in the field. If your field has programs like this, then you damn well better them!

Now that you have these few things taken care of, lets take a look at your actual course work. Do you know exactly what you need to get into your chosen career?  Some jobs require grad school, a doctorate, special certification, or co-op/internship experience. Does yours?

It’s best to do research into your field early. Ideally, as soon as you know what it is you want, you would start your research. If you require a graduate or doctorate degree, then you need to also start researching how to apply for these programs. You also need to know what the admission requirements are. Some schools require tests like GRE or LSATs, a large number of letters of recommendation, or admission essays. Know what is required.

Certification requires knowing where and when to test, what knowledge is needed, and where to get study material. Sometimes, it’s only a matter of sitting through a workshop. Other times, you need to take a series of tests. For my Advanced Certificate in Microsoft Excel, I took three workshops (basic, intermediate, and advanced levels), with a series of small assignments during them. To get actual Microsoft Certification from Microsoft, there are special certification tests that have to be administered at very specific locations, by specially trained administrators. Make sure you are actually getting what you need when you sign up for these.

And finally, take a look at the courses you’re taking. Even within your program, you can show specialization or expand your knowledge. In my Criminology program, I chose to take a very broad range of topics that could all apply to my chosen area of research. I took courses in Youth in Criminal Justice, Victimology, Penology, Social Deviation, and Policing and Security. I also took a series of Psychological Development courses, Social Justice, Morality, and both Quantitative and Qualitative Research. All of this is to aide in my research into school shootings and trends in violence and blame. At the same time, I also did courses in Business, Philosophy, Computer Concepts, and Political Science. These gave me a broader range of knowledge, more marketable skills, and gave me a chance to broaden my network. It’s best to also try to do a combination of both of these (specific, and broad).

So, to sum up quickly, you need to make yourself as marketable as possible in your chosen field. Make sure you have all the education and skills you need for your career, and make sure you know what you actually need for that career.

Do You Have A Plan?

I mean beside, “Graduate, find a job, make money”.

So many students go into their post-secondary schooling without any sort of plan in place. It’s almost like they’re on autopilot. Going to college or university just seemed like the logical next step after graduating high school, or not finding their dream job after a few years.

There’s also the outside pressure from friends, family, and “experts” to get some sort of degree. It’s like people seem to think that getting some sort of piece of paper will make the job offers come flying in. I’ve even heard the “advice” that it doesn’t matter what your degree is in, as long as you have a degree.

Well, that’s not exactly true.

Now, you don’t need to have a concrete plan, set in stone, laying out every educational and career move you plan to make in the next five years. You should have some sort of idea of what you’re getting yourself into. You can’t go into this whole “planning the rest of your life” thing blind.

Do you have an idea of what career you want after graduation? If so, that’s great! Make sure you’re on the right track to get there. (I’ll have a whole post next week about how to do this) Not so much? That’s ok too.  Not everyone knows exactly what they want out of life. The main things to focus on are to not panic, and to not pigeon hole yourself into such a small niche that you have no options to look to.

Do you have a major topic of study? Many students spend a year or two as an “undeclared” major, or in a “general arts/science” program. And that’s perfectly fine. If you’re not sure of what you want, then don’t rush into something you could totally regret. It’s perfectly fine to take a variety of courses in order to find out what it is that really gets you going. You may find that you have an undiscovered love of statistics, or geology, or quantitative research. Taking a little time to explore could help you discover your true passions.

Do you have no idea whatsoever what you want to do, but you’re in school anyway because it’s what you’re supposed to do? Then maybe you need to take a little time out here. So many people get pushed into university by well-meaning people and advice, when what they would benefit most from is going into a skilled trade. Or they rush into getting a degree when what they really want is to be a chef. Or they get a job with a company, and would love to just work their way up the chain there, but are pressured to give that up to go to school.

Not everyone needs to run out and get a degree! If you really have no clue what you want to do, or you have a career goal that some seem to see as non-traditional, then maybe you need to take a little time off to figure things out. Some people travel, or take time to explore different career options. I’ve known people who took time off and worked for cruise lines, department stores, garages, fast food restaurants. Some of them found a career path they loved. Others found something they thought they would love, and instead hated with the fiery passion of a thousand supernova-ing suns. Either way, they found something about themselves, and were able to either create or narrow-down their career path.

So do you have a plan? If so, congrats! You’re ahead of myself, and about 3/4 of the people I know. You don’t? That’s ok too. Just make sure not to pigeon hole yourself out of options.

ALWAYS know the rules!

Playing this crazy game called like is a little like…… playing the Game of Life. There are certain rules that need to be followed. If you don’t follow then, you risk failure.

This is especially true when you’re looking at your course load for school. Not every school has the same rules regarding grades, required courses, and how their Degree Audits work. Just because you think you know what you’re doing when planning out your degree, doesn’t mean you actually do. You ALWAYS need to check these things out!

Case in point: I know of someone who was working on a second degree. At one point, she was told that she needed three more courses before she could graduate. Since she was committed to a full year of part-time studies due to her job, she split the three classes between two semesters, and filled in some of the gaps with courses she had already taken.

THIS is where things get a little hairy.

You see, she decided that, since she had already passed these courses, she didn’t need to pass them again. At some schools, when taking the same course multiple times, the school will take the best mark you get and put it on your transcripts.

Not this school.

Here, if you retake a course, your make the second time around is the mark you’re left with. It doesn’t matter if that mark is better than the first time, or worse: that mark is the one you get.

When this person took her courses the second time, she didn’t bother actually taking them. She focused all of her time on her last three courses, and her job. She didn’t even write the exams for her other courses. So, she failed.

Fast forward a few months, and she checked to see why she didn’t get a letter about graduation yet. Low and behold, she was three courses short! It took months of negotiation with the University to straighten things out.

She was lucky. The University forgave those three failed courses. Don’t count on that happening for you.

If you want to retake a course, check with someone to see how this will effect you overall in the event of failure.