How to Get a Great Recommendation Letter

Most graduate schools want you to have at least two letters of recommendation.

The typical strategy is to submit a recommendation from a boss (who can discuss your leadership qualities and character), and a professor (who can discuss your intellectual abilities).

Here are some tips to help you narrow down your choices:

1. Choose someone who knows you very well.
Whoever you decide to ask, make sure you know them well. And don’t choose someone simply because they have a fancy title. You want a letter from someone who can easily write about your strengths and could share stories that clearly show you at your best. They should be able to discuss your:

  • Social skills
  • Motivations
  • Personal relationships
  • Civic responsibility
  • Dependability
  • Morality
  • Sense of humor

2. Choose a person who can talk about your leadership skills.
You want someone – like a boss or business colleague – to write about your leadership qualities. This person should discuss your growth and potential, and provide examples of your work ethic, motivation, and ability to lead a team. They should also be able to discuss your:

  • Work habits under stress
  • Self-confidence
  • Ability to listen and work with others
  • Motivation skills
  • Planning ability
  • Analyze and find solutions
  • Thoughtfulness
  • Well-liked
  • How you overcome difficult situations

3. Choose a person who can discuss your intellectual ability.
You should try and find a former professor to write about your intellectual side. This person should provide some insight into your analytical side, along with how you contribute to a classroom discussion. Here are some other areas they might want to mention about you:

  • Imagination and creativity
  • Communication skills
  • Research methodology
  • Qualitative and quantitative research skills
  • Healthy skepticism

4. Choose someone experienced in the field you’re interested in.
It’s important to choose someone who has a lot of experience and credibility in the educational field you are pursuing. This could be a former boss, senior business colleague, or professor. This can add a lot of weight to your graduate application. They could write about your:

  • Motivation for the field
  • Examples of work you’ve done in the field
  • Mention any awards or accomplishments

5. Choose a person who attended the school you want to attend.
It isn’t always possible to find someone who meets the requirements above – and also attended the grad school you are applying for. However, if you do know someone that meets all these requirements, he or she is an obvious choice for you. Just make sure they know you well, and can write stories about your leadership and/or intellectual qualities.

So if you are planning on attending grad school, start developing and nurturing relationships with people who fit the above qualifications. The better they know you, the more you’ll benefit from their recommendation letter.

And here’s one more tip . . .

Outline a potential letter for him or her.

Sometimes the people you want to recommend you might not know exactly what to write about, so it’s a good idea to provide them with a potential outline if they request one. This outline should include your strengths – and personal stories of your leadership and/or intellectual abilities. Here are areas to include in your outline:

  • A list of your past accomplishments
  • Personal stories that highlight your strengths
  • Your resume

And – as always – provide your recommender with a deadline date, a stamped and addressed envelope, and copies of any forms that need to be submitted with it.

How LinkedIn Can Help You Choose the Best College for Your Career

Are you wondering what colleges to apply to?

Are you curious where alumni at those colleges end up working? Or what career paths are most common?

Well, the LinkedIn College navigation tool provides you real-time data on what college alumni are doing and where they work.

Here is a peek at where U.C.L.A. alumni work (if studied there between 2000 and today):

And if you select a specific company, you can get data on what types of jobs alumni have there. For example, here are the types of roles U.C.L.A. alumni have at Google:

You can also drill-down further by creating filters by location (if interested in knowing what alumni are doing in your area).

For example, U.C.L.A. alumni in San Francisco work at Google, Cisco, Stanford University, Kaiser Permanente, etc. And many alumni in the Bay Area work in engineering, entrepreneurship, research, sales, and education.

The LinkedIn data is not complete since it is only based on what alumni have revealed about themselves on LinkedIn, but this is still a great tool to see where many alumni work. You can dig even further by seeing the LinkedIn profiles of alumni that work in those occupations in specific areas.

The LinkedIn education section can also help you choose a college based on student/faculty ratio, graduation rate, student population, and % admitted and graduated.

Here are stats from LinkedIn about U.C.L.A.:

You can also get a snapshot of how many students are receiving financial aid as well as cost to attend each year:

Where you attend college does not dictate what youll do or where youll work. However, if youre interested in working in a specific professional field, this college navigation tool can help you choose a school that fits your career goals.

The LinkedIn education tool is still in its infancy so not all data is available on all colleges. And there is a lot more this tool can help you with in the future as you build your alumni network.

How will you use this college navigation tool? How would you like to see this improved?

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Application Timetable for Graduate School

If youre thinking about going to graduate school, you should begin planning at least 15 months before the program starts.

Here is a typical application timetable:

June to August

  • Think about what type of graduate school you want to attend and what you want to achieve.
  • Compile a list of potential graduate schools youd like to attend.
  • Visit the grad school websites to see what the application process is like
  • Start thinking about who should write recommendations for you
  • Research financial aid sources for grad students
  • Find out what standardized tests youll need to take – and how much time youll need to prepare. For example: GMAT (Business School), LSAT (Law School), MCAT (Medical School), GRE (Humanities) . . .
  • Research test preparation courses for your program

September

  • Request applications if the schools website doesnt provide it online
  • Register for any standardized tests you need to take
  • Write a first draft of your application essay
  • Take a test preparation course
  • Start visiting graduate schools you are serious about attending
  • Request your undergraduate transcripts
  • Create a list of schools you plan on applying to (with their application deadlines)

October/November

  • Start talking with those people you want to recommend you, and ask them to submit their recommendation within a month
  • Take your standardized exam(s)

December

  • Write a second draft of your positioning paper
  • Submit your applications for financial aid
  • Make sure all recommendation letters have been sent in

January

  • Complete your final draft of your application essay and have it proofread by several different people
  • Submit your loan/scholarship applications
  • Send in your application essays, forms, et al. to the schools

February

  • Prepare yourself for any upcoming interviews at the grad schools you applied to
  • Make sure all the grad schools have received your complete application

Upon Acceptance

  • Notify the school you plan on attending
  • Plan on leaving your job
  • Have a party – and get ready for several years of hard work and drinking tons of coffee

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How to Choose a College Major

Your college major is just one part of your college education.

Youll probably devote only a third of your total course work on your major. And most of your time will be spent on general requirement courses and electives.

That said – your college major is important if youre choosing a particular career field. And its also important if you want to get into a particular grad school program.

So here are some tips on what you should consider before choosing a college major:

Dont choose a major until youre absolutely sure.

The worst move is to choose a major without seriously thinking about it. Its best to be undecided until you know for sure what major is for you. Sure, the academic bureaucrats want you to choose a major quickly, but dont let them stress you out. Choose your major when youre ready.

Talk with academic counselors.

If you know that you want to work in a particular career field like law, health care, or journalism take the time to visit with an academic counselor at your college. They are there to help you decide on classes and majors that will fit with your career interests.

Take a personality/career test.

Many career centers offer free testing to students who are trying to figure out a career field. Take these tests as soon as you can. Youd be surprised how revealing these tests are about what types of careers you should consider. Your unique personality type will work well within certain career fields, and these tests will highlight those careers for you.

Think of the long-range marketability of the major.

I strongly believe you should take college classes that interest you. And that you should choose a major you are passionate about. However, its also important to think about college majors that will help you with your future career. And if youre planning on going into a grad program, you need to choose a major that will interest that grad school.

Consider minoring in the less marketable subject.

If youre very passionate about Womens Literature, then this might be a good subject to minor in. However, if youre ultimate goal is to go to law school consider majoring in political science, which will give you a strong background in public policy and help you later in grad school.

Think beyond your first job out of college.

No matter what career field you choose, think big when choosing your college major. For example, lets say that you want to work in journalism after college. Well, theres a possibility youll be in a management role within 10 or 15 years. And thats why a well-rounded college education that included accounting, media law, and business administration would be important. So take courses outside your major because you never know what you might be doing 15 years from now. And if you want to be in a management or director role in the future, a background in business is always very helpful.

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How to Choose a Professor

I cant believe its already time to register for Spring 2008 classes.

I dont know about you, but I usually have a three day window to lock in my classes. And that doesnt give me much time to research professors and find out what classes fit best into my schedule.

One thing Ive learned about being motivated and excited about a class is to find a good professor. It doesnt really matter if the class title seems really boring – its all about who is teaching it.

You see, a great professor can make even the most trivial subject seem interesting. They can make subjects come alive and cause you to think about the topic in a whole new way. And its those types of professors that you should gravitate toward. Those are the ones that will help you think better and thats what college is all about.

When I was an undergraduate student, I tended to choose instructors who I heard were difficult. Yep, the professors that students warned me about were the ones that I actually really liked. I think its because I loved the challenge of a difficult instructor. And I loved being mentally-pushed by an instructor who really loved teaching.

Now, let me tell you that I didnt just choose difficult professors willy-nilly. There are two types of difficult instructors: those who really love to teach; and those that dont teach in an organized fashion (and dont clearly articulate what they are looking for in assignments). You obviously want to choose the professors who love teaching and want to help you succeed.

Its so important to think more about who is teaching your classes, rather than what classes look the most interesting to you. It can make all the difference in the world in terms of your motivations, interest-level, and ultimate class grade.

So how do you find out who the good teacher are?

Well, aside from asking your classmates for recommendations, check out these online resources:

How to Organize a Cramped Dorm Room

Lets face it: dorm rooms are usually pretty tiny.

And it can be a challenge to turn a small space into an ideal study spot and living area with a roommate.

So here are a variety of ways students are organizing their dorm rooms:

Storage Box Under the Bed
Organize your books, shoes, extra clothes, or whatever with a storage box under your bed.

Closet Organizers
Closet organizers are not just for your closet. You can use them anywhere in your dorm. There are shoe racks, stackable baskets, garment racks, etc.

Plastic Crates
Stack plastic crates in your closet to organize items you might not need on a daily basis.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Bedside Pockets/Organizers
Bedside pockets can help you store a lot of essentials close by. You can sew these yourself to save money.

Stack Your Shelves
Bring plenty of shelves if you plan on keeping a lot of books et al. in your dorm room.


Loft Bed
If youre allowed to bring your own bed – or can hack the one in your room, Id highly recommend you get a loft bed. Its the best way to have a study spot and bed in a tiny little area.


Bed Risers
If you cant use a loft bed in your dorm room, add these bed risers (or breeze blocks) under your bed frame. This will give you plenty of space to stuff boxes, books, and other essentials under your bed.

Please leave a comment to let me know of any other essentials you think are valuable for dorm rooms.

How to Succeed in College—7 Helpful Tips

Everyone wants to succeed in school, but it gets tough when you have so much homework and tests to prepare for. To help you study smarter, here are seven helpful tips to help you succeed:

Talk with your Instructor during Office Hours
Most students never visit their teachers during office hours. Office hours are a great time to get clarification on concepts taught in class, and also a great way to get advice on studying for tests or writing essays. Most teachers love when students visit them because it means you’re interested in learning and getting your assignments right. Don’t be like other students—meet with your teachers on a regular basis. If you can’t meet with them during office hours, try talking with them during class breaks or right before or after class.

Get Approval on Your Essays Before Writing
Okay, we all love to procrastinate, but when it comes to writing great essays, you need to start early. Write your essay thesis and outline as soon as possible. Then meet with your teacher in office hours, or via email, and have your outline reviewed. Your teacher will probably give you some great advice on how to improve or shape your paper. Once you’re essay is finished, get it proofread by several other students. And if you finish really early, ask if your teacher will review your essay before submission.

Get a Study Partner from Class
It’s not always practical to study with another student in your class, but try to do this at least once—especially before a final exam. Study partners can be extremely helpful because they can help clarify subjects taught in class. They might have also written down some notes you might have missed. They also can be great proofreaders for your class essays.

Use Flash Cards
If you’re class requires memorization of key terms or concepts, make flash cards. Flash cards can help you learn concepts quicker because you can study the cards wherever you are. All you need is a big pack of flash cards and a rubber band. Just remember to just have one main point or concept on each card. Don’t make the mistake of putting too much info on a card.

Highlight Your Books
You know those big, yellow highlighters that you used to color with as a kid. Get one and use it to highlight important concepts in your book. Highlighting important parts of your textbooks will help you quickly review your textbook later. And if possible, purchase textbooks with highlights and notes already included. Former notes from students can really help identify key concepts.

Write in Your Textbook
One of the best ways to learn is by getting involved in your study material. You can get involved by writing notes in you textbooks. Circle important words. Underline vital concepts. Write down questions in the margin. Summarize key concepts and write them down on the page. The more you write, the more you’ll probably learn.

Get the Contact Info of Students in Class
Get the contact information from at least two other students in class. You never know when you’ll miss a class, and it’s nice to have someone to call to find out what happened. This is a must for any student.

Succeeding in school takes work, but if you study smart and meet with your teachers on a regular basis, you’ll have a much easier time.

How to Survive Rush Week

If youre planning on participating in Rush Week, here are some tips to help you stay sane:

Dont take Rush Week too seriously.
Please dont worry about what other people say about you. Your sense of self cant be determined by anybody but you.

Dont commit to anything your first year.
If youre a freshman, try to stay away from joining. Youll make plenty of friends in the dorms and youll need any extra time to focus on the books. If you feel like Greek life can benefit you, then consider joining next year. Besides, you can spend this year making friends with people at other houses to see which group you get along with best.

Dont pledge blind.
Dont join a fraternity or sorority until you really know something about the group. This means doing your homework. Ask friends and other people on campus about opinions of that particular house. Find out everything you can.

Dont pledge a certain fraternity or sorority because your mom or dad once belonged.
Greek houses undergo massive personality changes from one year to the next. Theres no way your dads old lodge you heard so much about can be the same one it is today.

Beware of rushing alumni.
Sometimes if a chapter is having a difficult time, they might invite alumni or active members at other campuses to help out during Rush. If youre being rushed by a house of thirty people, and there are only twelve people on the framed yearbook composite picture, get suspicious.

Here is a list of terms you should be aware of:

Active – a member of a sorority or fraternity who has been fully initiated into the group (as opposed to a pledge, who is not a full-fledged member).

Bid – an invitation to join a sorority or fraternity.

Chapter – the individual franchise of a national Greek-letter organization on a campus.

Depledge – to bow out of a sorority or fraternity before initiation

Fraternity – a group of men united in brotherhood, ideally for life

Hazing – a moronic practice of subjecting potential members of a group to various tests of endurance or humiliation. Thankfully, this is becoming obsolete on many campuses.

Invitational parties – these are longer and somewhat more elaborate than the open-house parties. The objective here is to provide smaller groups of rushees with a more intimate impression of the personalities of the individual house.

Legacies – close relatives of current and former sorority or fraternity members, whom that members chapter is basically obliged to accept.

Open-house parties – short receptions of about 30 minutes each, designed to bring every rushee into every sorority house on campus. From these brief encounters, the rushees are supposed to begin narrowing their choices a bit for the next round of parties, the invitationals.

Open Rush – a series of relaxed, informal parties after the main rush is over. The advantage here is that rushees have much more time, and much less pressure to make a decision.

Panhellenic Council – the group that regulates Rush (and all Greek) procedures.

Pledge – to join a sorority or fraternity. A pledge is new, but not yet permanent.

Preferential or Pref Parties – the final rounds of formal rush.

Rushee – someone going through Rush, whos considering joining a sorority or fraternity.

Rush Week – a limited, high-pressure period when people in Greek letter fraternities and sororities recruit, or rush, new students in hopes of nabbing a good crop of pledges to keep their organizations alive and kicking for another four years.

Sorority – a group of women united in sisterhood, ideally for life.

Suicide – an all-or-nothing decision where some desperate person says, If I cant get into Fraternity A, then Im not interested in anything else.

How to Avoid Getting Sick During Finals Week

It seems that whenever it’s finals week, I start to get a little sick.

I’m not sure if it’s because of the stress – or the late nights studying – but it happens every time.

Here are some helpful tips to avoid getting sick during finals:

  • Disinfect your desk, keyboard, mouse, pen, phone and anything you are in close contact with.
  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth
  • Stay away from anyone who is sick
  • Take vitamins E, A, C and B complex
  • Don’t smoke
  • Get at least 8 hours of sleep a night.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Get a flu shot

Top 2011 College Commencement Speakers Videos

Its college graduation time, so Im compiling a list of my favorite 2011 college commencement videos.

Please leave a comment to let me know what great speeches Ive missed or email [email protected]

Harvard College Amy Poehler
Amy Poehler delivers a hilarious speech at Harvards College 2011 graduation.

Spelman College Michelle Obama
Our First Lady, Michelle Obama, gives an inspiring speech to the 2011 graduating class of female students at Spelman.

Miami Dade College President Obama
President Obama delivers this commencement address to the graduating students at Miami Dade College, Miami, FL. April 29, 2011.

Yale College Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks, Academy Award-winning actor, writer and director speaks to Yale Colleges Class of 2011 graduating students.

Harvey Mudd College Marissa Mayer (Googles Vice President)
Marissa Mayer, Googles first female engineer and vice president, gives her speech to graduates at Harvey Mudd College.

West Point College Michelle Obama
First Lady Michelle Obama makes her first visit to West Point as the banquet speaker for the U.S. Military Academy Class of 2011. Held in the historic Cadet Mess this is an address to over 3,000 graduating cadets, their families and guests. This marks the final social event the cadets will take part in as a class prior to commencement and commissioning. This is also the first time a First Lady has spoken for the Cadets at West Point.

And here are some upcoming graduation speeches Ill be adding next . . .

Dartmouth College Conan OBrien
Eric Tanner 11, Dartmouth Student Body President, announces the Commencement speaker for 2011. Watch the live broadcast of the ceremony on June 12, 2011, beginning at 9:30 am EDT on dartmouth.edu.