Archive for the ‘College and Career’ Category

Episode #118, Ryan Gray, Instilling Confidence in Future Doctors

WATCH our videocast on youtube, here:

On episode 118, Alexis Avila talks to Ryan Gray, MD, founder of Medical School a site to help medical school applicants guide their way through the admissions process. Ryan graduated from the University of Florida with a B.S. in Exercise and Sports Sciences, and received his M.D. from New York Medical College. After graduating from medical school, Ryan completed his internship through a Tufts Medical Center transitional medicine program at Lemuel Shattuck Hospital. On today’s episode Ryan talks about his excellent medical school resource Medical School HQ and discusses some of the challenges of going through the Medical School application.
Ryan’s Medical School podcast has over 177 episodes.
Challenges today’s medical school applicants face: long process, many interviews, expensive applications, and it’s really hard to figure out what medical school admissions are looking for
MCAT: The MCAT changed in April 2015 and now has a psychology and sociology section. The exam is heavy in the reading comprehension so take a lot of practice tests.
Ryan’s attributes for a good doctor: empathic, caring, patient, smart
Ryan’s attributes for a bad doctor: egotistical, doesn’t work well with team
Ryan’s advice to teens: It’s a long journey. If you want to be a doctor, start by shadowing other doctors!

Episode #118, Devorah Heitner, Raising Digitally Responsible Teens

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What was your biggest takeaway from this podcast? Do you have any questions for Ryan Gray and Alexis Avila?

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April 15th, 2016
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College and Career, Featured, Podcast
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5 Things to do on a College Visit

College is an expensive investment, so you not only want to take that campus tour, but also do these five things to make sure you find the best college for you!

Alexis Avila CEO of Prepped & Polished gave us some tips.

Five Things to Do on a College Visit
from Alexis Avila CEO of Prepped & Polished

Visit school when it is in session, bustling with kids.
Sleepover in the dorms. Hanging out with students overnight will tell you volumes about the day to day college scene.
Really taste the food! You’re going to spend the next two to four years eating at this dining hall, so make sure you like the cuisine!
Identify your academic interest and take a class in it. Was the class interesting? Were the students engaged?
Get to know other college students. Find out what’s REALLY happening at the school.

5 Things to do on a College Visit

What was your biggest takeaway from these five things to do on a college visit? Do you have any questions for Alexis Avila?

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February 14th, 2016
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Alexis Avila, College Admissions Tips, College and Career, College App Advice, College Counseling, College Tips, Featured
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4 Things the SAT and ACT Test Creators Will Never Tell You

Check out the Four Things the SAT and ACT Test Creators Will Never Tell You. Alexis Avila, Founder of Prepped & Polished, Tutoring and Test Preparation told us more.

1. You can learn to beat the test. By practicing and learning test-taking strategies (such as back solving questions on the math section or answering reading questions as you read the passage), you won’t only improve your test score, but can ace the test.
I had a student who practiced SAT problems each day, got tutored, and took the test 5 times, and then after super scoring his results (combining his best sections from multiple sittings), he improved close to 500 points and got into Brown University.

2. The essay graders spend no more than several minutes reading and grading your essay. The SAT graders are trained to do a masterful job of glancing through hundreds of essays in a sitting. Therefore, it’s critical that you make a great first impression on the judges by taking care of the basics.
Qualities of a cosmetically appealing essay include:

Legible handwriting (not cramped, enough spacing between words)

No cross-outs (erase all mistakes)

3 to 5 indented paragraphs (introduction, 1 to 3 supporting paragraphs, conclusion)

The longer the better (minimum 1.5 pages. In general, scores decrease as the length decreases)

3.The SAT is probably a harder test than the ACT test.

For years, students have come to my office to take my Test Prep Selector Practice Test which is an ACT SAT Hybrid Test comparing your ACT score to your SAT, and find that the majority of students do better on their ACT sections than on SAT sections. Why is that? The ACT is a more straightforward, less trickily worded exam; with fewer answer choices, no guessing penalty, and best overlaps with the school curriculum.
The SAT, which is getting redesigned starting March 2016 is trying desperately to look more like the ACT. The SAT got rid of the guessing penalty, there are fewer answer choices, and made the essay optional, but still the SAT exam questions look harder than ACT questions! So when applying for colleges, consider taking the ACT.
4.The SAT and ACT tests will help you get into college but not predict how successful you will be in college and post-college.

A good SAT or ACT score may get you into a better college on paper. But it’s proven that an accurate predictor of success is not the college you go to but how you utilize your time while in college.
A recent Gallup poll surveyed nearly 30,000 college graduates last year and found the percentages of students, who were thriving in all aspects of their lives, did not vary whether the grads went to a public or private four-year college.
I have students who got descent test scores, didn’t get into a top college but are doing amazingly well. What is their secret? These students maximize their time while at college. They find great programs and professors to partner with, they take advantage of the many internships available to them, and make great social and professional connections.
Overall I know students who didn’t ace the SAT and they are now young adults running their own businesses, working in careers that suit their passions, and best of all these students are happy. Just don’t tell the SAT that!

4 Things the SAT and ACT Test Creators Will Never Tell You

What was your biggest takeaway from these ACT/SAT tips? Do you have any questions for Alexis Avila?

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January 18th, 2016
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ACT, College Admissions Tips, College and Career, Featured, SAT, Television, Test Prep, test preparation, Tutoring
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College Counseling from a PARENT’S Perspective

On episode 102, Alexis talks to college coach expert and writer Suzanne Shaffer of the popular college coaching site, Parents Countdown to College. Suzanne brings a unique perspective to the college admissions process, the PARENT’S perspective. On today’s episode, Suzanne shares her personal story and insights on how she helped her own kids navigate the college admissions process. If you are a ‘do it yourself’ kind of parent, this episode is a must listen.

Suzanne’s must do’s: apply to local scholarships, apply to colleges where you are going to shine

Suzanne’s things to avoid: don’t waste time applying to scholarships that you don’t think you have a chance winning, and don’t apply to colleges without visiting first

Suzanne’s ‘a-ha’ moment: 1. Everyone qualifies for financial aid, just fill out the FAFSA form!

Advice to parents? Don’t miss out on Twitter. Use twitter to ask questions to experts in college admission process.

Recommended college experts who offer tons of free information:

Financial Aid: Jodi Okun and my podcast with Jodi Okun

College Visits: Kelly Queijo and my podcast with Kelly Queijo

College Planning: Paul Hemphill

College Essays: College Essay Guy

Episode 102, Suzanne Shaffer, Parents Countdown to College

For more information, visit: Prepped and

Please rate, review and subscribe to the show on iTunes!

What was your biggest takeaway from this podcast? Do you have any questions for Suzanne Shaffer and Alexis Avila?

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December 11th, 2015
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College and Career, College App Advice, College Counseling, College Finances, College Search Tips, College Tips, Featured, Podcast
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To Stand Apart in College, Engage

Writing Tutor for study skill developmentBy Meagan Phelan, Writing Tutoring Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC

Imagine you’ve made your college football team. Years of practice in high school and grueling summer training paid off, and you get the chance to play—even to start. When you step out onto the field though, you listen halfheartedly to the quarterback’s calls, sprint just enough to avoid breaking a sweat, and steer clear of tackles.

This may sound absurd. Who would work so hard to make a team, and then disengage, once on it?
Tutoring and Test Preparation and study skill development

But the truth is, getting accepted to college is much like making a team and it is not uncommon for students to apply the same unenergetic approach to learning, once in the classroom. Perhaps this is because the opposite approach—an intentional, intellectually curious one—also takes hard work and practice.

When you get to college, be it this fall or in a few years, you’ll have a chance to take as much from your experience as your discipline will allow—and to stand out from among your peers in the process.

One of the best ways to achieve this is to think actively about what you’re reading when you’re doing work for a particular class. Read it aloud, if that helps, or break up the reading by tackling half a chapter and then asking yourself, “Why should I care about what I just learned?” Or, “How does this information advance what I knew about the topic?”

Chances are, if you can articulate the importance or novelty of the topic you’re studying, you are grasping the bigger picture. And if you are grasping the bigger picture, all the little details—the anecdotes in the chapters you’re reading, or the ones your professor will bring up in the classroom—will “stick.” You’ll be able to recall them later because they support an idea that’s familiar to you.

This kind of engaged participation is particularly key in the classroom; while your classmates may be tempted to snooze after a late night in the library, or text, if you can be disciplined enough to focus on the professor’s lecture, you’ll make your life much easier—and stand out. (I’ve personally had professors approach me and acknowledge that my attentiveness was noticed and appreciated.)

The more engaged you are in the classroom, the less you’ll have to fret about studying. That’s because staying engaged is a sure way to know what material the professor’s most excited about, including some of the deeper, more nuanced points that are likely to be incorporated on a test.

While your college classmates try to answer questions with filler material when in a pinch, you will be positioned to answer test questions directly, and again, to incorporate the subtleties that attention to the lecture revealed.

It takes effort to sit up straight, to hang onto a professor’s (most) every word, and to avoid distractions, but the benefits are a better relationship with that professor, a better grasp of the material, and more efficient studying. Though it could take time, you will also achieve recognition by your classmates as a leader.

Being engaged doesn’t apply merely to homework, reading, classroom presence and test taking. Students who stand apart also pay special attention to the notes and feedback professors take the time to write on their papers and projects. It might seem like extra effort to keep those materials and to take the time—amid all else you have on the go during college—to “study” those pieces, but adding them to your study repertoire will help you identify your weak spots, to avoid them going forward. In this way, you can make progress without the professor having had to call you out on your repeat errors, a process which can be discouraging.

As you go through all this, remember the instruction that ties it all together, the glue in the engaged student’s skeleton: Ask questions when you don’t understand. Whether it’s a professor or a teaching assistant, or even an older student pursuing the same major, find someone you can sit with and pepper with questions. And stand ready to do the same for the younger students who will follow you. Not only is this process important for an engaged collegiate experience; it’s one you’ll see over and over again in every aspect—investing, home maintenance, parenthood—of life.

Meagan Phelan holds an M.A. in Science Writing from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and a B.A. in Biology from Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. She has freelanced as a science writer and is a Fulbright Scholar. Meagan is the Science Press Package Director at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

What other ways can you engage in college? Any other tips you’d like to share?

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August 19th, 2013
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Top Five Questions to Ask Yourself At Least Once A Week in College

Writing TutorBy Meagan Phelan, Writing Tutoring Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC

The college experience is rich in choices. You could be a double major or pursue two minors. After class, you could go to soccer practice, drama club, debate team, or band. You might study abroad one semester—or maybe even two. You could also have a boyfriend or girlfriend on campus, begin mentoring younger students, or spend a lot of time with older ones, just hanging out.

What do all of these different activities hold in common?

They’ll command your attention—and a lot of it.

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In fact, it could be pretty easy to graduate just having enjoyed the college experience—and even having excelled at it—without looking beyond, to the next chapter, to contemplate the application of college to your life.

Contemplating what college will mean for you in your mid-twenties, thirties, and beyond might be an idea that seems fairly hazy right now (after all, many of you reading this blog are just doing the hard work to get into college—a major feat in itself). So I’ve thought of five questions you could ask yourself throughout the course of your college career—from day one ‘til your last—to help make this thought process relevant now.

Here we go:

1) What industries are booming now, and which ones are saturated?

Forbes Magazine is a great source for information like this. A quick look at the fastest growing industries may reveal some, like manufacturing or cattle ranching, for example, that you’ve never considered. But these businesses—like most—require communicators, leaders, technicians, and people of all kinds to think outside the box and keep them connected and stable. You wouldn’t need a background in manufacturing or cattle ranching to make a significant contribution. You would need a strong set of skills in one of the abovementioned fields and awareness that these industries are hungry.

It’s equally important to know which industries aren’t as open to job applicants. If you’re planning to pursue one, contemplate what skills to develop to set yourself apart.

2) What are three different types of jobs people who pursued my major have done, or are doing?

Get to know some of those people. Ask if you might email or call them from time to time to understand how what they learned in college is helping them in their current role. Ask them what gaps they had in their learning. Maybe you could take one of the classes they wished they’d taken.

3) What is my elevator pitch?

Can you explain your interests and strengths—and even how you want to apply them to your tentative career goals—in the time it’d take you to ride the elevator a few floors?

You’ll often need to present a similar pitch in job interviews, but more importantly, stating your intentions for your career aloud forces you to clarify them in your own mind. Thoughts that floated around comfortably in your head may come across as phony once spoken.

Sometimes the results of this exercise are surprising, particularly if you let people who know you well weigh in on what you say.

4) Where is the nearest business that’d let me shadow for a day?

Even if you don’t yet know what line of work you’d like to pursue, just getting out of the classroom and into a working environment offers important lessons, including the roles communication skills and thinking ahead play in successfully managing people. You might also learn about new cross-industry technologies that businesses are using—and hope their employees will walk in the door knowing.

Check out a previous post, here, for more details on the values of shadowing: The Importance of Internships & Work Experiences While in High School

5) What are my friends thinking of doing after college?

Though this question could make your friends a little uneasy, it’s ok to ask it. For starters, you’re all most likely in the same boat, especially in the first year or two—without a clear cut vision of just what you’ll do with your college degree. Secondly, hearing your friends think through the process of how they will apply what they will learn may give you some ideas.

Lots of people talk about questions to ask before you get to college—and these are important questions to consider. You want to find a good fit for your four-year journey.

But I propose staying just as inquisitive during your collegiate experience. Doing a little each week so you get comfortable with the hard parts.

Evaluating your efforts regularly as you make your way to graduation will mean you’re not nervous when you get there. You’ll be able to celebrate both the closing of that chapter, and the beginning of the next.

Meagan Phelan holds an M.A. in Science Writing from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and a B.A. in Biology from Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. She has freelanced as a science writer and is a Fulbright Scholar. She currently works as a Senior Writer and Editor at AIR Worldwide, a catastrophe risk modeling firm based in Boston.

What other questions should you ask yourself while at college? Any other tips you’d like to share?

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February 19th, 2013
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Mental Preparation: Preparing for Your First Year at College

Writing TutorBy Meagan Phelan, Writing Tutoring Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC

It’s December, and if you’re a high school senior, you might be beginning to breathe a sigh of relief. This is the time of year when the college application process is winding down. All the work you’ve done—taking AP courses, studying for the SATs, visiting campuses, applying for financial aid, writing personal statements—is done. Now all you have to do is wait for that acceptance letter, right?

Well, not exactly…

There is something missing from the list above—a subtler effort that could easily be overlooked after the essays are written and scores are in. I’m talking about mental preparation. After all, high school—the place you’ve spent the last few years—is very different from college. Taking some time to anticipate that transition and develop a good attitude will put you heads above the rest as you embark on your college journey.

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Consider this, for example: in high school, your parents, teachers and even guidance counselor may have checked in on you to see how your work was going. It probably just seemed like a natural part of the high school process. It also meant that any problems you might have had in a particular class couldn’t grow too big; they were spotted first—and you were helped to overcome them and navigate to success. You may have received affirmation regularly, too, as part of this process.
In college, you’ll be living on your own. In this setting, you’ll be expected to look after yourself—and your work. Your professors may have 20 students per class, or 200. Though it is their responsibility to teach and even inspire you, they cannot look after you individually, nor ensure you pass. They may not also be able to give you the feedback you are used to receiving unless you seek them out (at office hours, for example).

In college then, it is very much up to you to chart your course, and the efforts you make—choices about how much to study, when to seek help, and how creative to get with your projects and assignments—will determine your success. This is both a liberating and exciting prospect, and one that will test your responsibility. To understand its real-life implications better, you might touch base with friends currently in college and ask how they are approaching their day-to-day workload.

Here’s another thought to consider as you prepare for the transition to college: you may have to study more than you did in high school to get the same grades. A lot of young people think about college as an exciting new experience ripe with opportunities for socializing and meeting friends; this is absolutely true, but be prepared for the fact that you could have less free time than you did in high school. So don’t get discouraged if you don’t have time to take part in every mixer or event on the quad. There will be plenty more; trust me.

Speaking of free time, just as you’ll have less supervision in your academic life, you’ll also have less of it in your time outside of class. Nobody will be stopping you from joining 8 clubs, opting not to proofread your paper, forgoing office hours (or class), or making Wednesday night the first night of your weekend. Much of this is true even if you live at home while attending college. I suggest trying to develop some routines—and keeping some basic ideas in mind. As simple as these may sound, they’re key to helping you stay healthy and productive.

1) Eat three times a day.

Let’s face it: the “freshman 15” happens. You’re going to be surrounded by a lot of food at college (at my school, the food was ranked 3rd best in the nation!)

Alternatively, you may feel pressure to look a certain way—tempted to skip a meal or two. Here’s the truth: you cannot think, let alone study, if you do not eat. And thinking and studying is what college is all about! Plus, if you hit three squares, your metabolism will be firing on all cylinders! So make time for meals. (Eating at the college cafeteria is also a great time to meet people.)

2) Join clubs. But don’t overbook yourself.

One of the most exciting aspects of college is the different array of activities available. (My freshman year, apart from cross country and track, I did dance, wrote for the school newspaper, joined the Skeptical Chemists, and participated in a service fraternity. It was a blast; I felt like I was getting to know so many of my strengths, but in the end, with school and sports, it was a lot. I backed down to two extracurricular activities and dug into those with a passion. I still met loads of people and felt a satisfying balance between academics and outside activities).

3) Find your professors’ offices.

Put their office hour schedule in your phone, and check in now and then. And definitely check in if you’re feeling foggy about your work. Professors aren’t just teachers; they are life-long friends and advisors. I still correspond with many of mine today. That time at office hours was a great place to get to know them.

4) Prepare to be a roommate.

It may be trying at times; you could have a roommate who doesn’t share much in common with you (including a sleep schedule)—or dorm members who think your room is the best place to hang into the wee hours of the night.

Few experiences challenge your people skills and personal development more than living with a roommate. Think about how you’ve handled compromise in past (you’ll likely have to do it again with the person sharing your room). Prepare to do it in this situation, and don’t be discouraged when the need to compromise arises; it’s part of the college experience. (And you’ll certainly encounter people with whom you have differences later in life, including possibly your spouse!)

5) Find a quiet study place.

This may or may NOT be your dorm room.

6) If you feel peer pressure, you won’t be alone.

This is common on college campuses. And as cliché as it sounds, if something feels really wrong to you, don’t do it. Opportunities will abound for you to get out there, explore, and find your niche.

Amid it all, keep this in mind, college is perhaps most exhilarating in the sense that every day you’re there, you are shaping your future; every class you choose and club you attend is building your knowledge and your network. Because you are in the driver’s seat, you need to step back and think “big picture” now and then. It’s your job to ask yourself if your approach is leading you in a direction, towards a career, where you want to go. And while there’s a lot riding on the way you spend your time, I wholeheartedly believe you can have a great time—socialize, go out, take part in Greek life—and still be on top of your academics.

As you gear up for college then, recognize that it will feel very different because it is very different. Make the conscious decision now to keep your head on your shoulders and to be mindful of how your choices could shape not just your week, but your life. In the end, I guarantee it’ll lower your stress level during your first year, and mean you have had a really rich experience by the time you collect your degree.

Meagan Phelan holds an M.A. in Science Writing from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and a B.A. in Biology from Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. She has freelanced as a science writer and is a Fulbright Scholar. She currently works as a Senior Writer and Editor at AIR Worldwide, a catastrophe risk modeling firm based in Boston.

How did you get yourself mentally ready for college? Any other tips you’d like to share?

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December 6th, 2012
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Selecting a College Major



How to select a college major

Writing TutorBy Meagan Phelan, Writing Tutoring Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC

When you’re college-bound, here’s one question you can be sure to hear.

“What are you planning to study?”

Questions about your major will continue when you enter college—deviating slightly if you’re undecided (“Ok, well, which way are you leaning?”), and becoming more persistent if you remain undecided through sophomore year (“Have you at least narrowed it down?”)

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The questions don’t stop after you’ve obtained your degree; in many a job interview, the topic of your major surfaces, and early. And even at social gatherings, “What did you study in college?” is a common line of inquiry for people getting to know one another.

In short, the choice of a college major is one that society, and employers, find defining. It is your commitment not only to a particular area of study, but also to a relevant career, and it says a lot about you (perhaps even more than you’d say about yourself).

If you’re a high school junior or senior, and you’re not yet confident about what area of study you’d like to pursue in college, don’t fret. You have plenty of time. (In fact, some would say declaring your major early, at the time of college enrollment, limits your opportunity to experiment and explore different fields, including ones about which you’ve never heard).

On the other hand, just because a college major is a college pursuit doesn’t mean freshman year is when you should get serious about contemplating the field of study you’ll make your own. You can start now.

How, you might ask?

Contemplating your interests in terms of a career is a great place to start. In a previous blog post, I talked about how high school is a valuable time to shadow professionals in different fields. If you’ve had some of these experiences and know, for example, that you’re interested in engineering, talk to individuals in this profession. Ask them which major they pursued. (Note that the link between college major and career path is not always direct. Engineers, for example, often pursue majors in specialty areas, like mechanical or civil engineering. But in some cases, they may have majored in seemingly unrelated topics, recognized they were good problem solvers—a huge part of the job of an engineer—and gone on to pursue engineering-focused coursework either as part of their college experience, or after. The path to arrive at a career can vary, but it will undoubtedly contain certain key elements. Get to know what those are by talking to people in the field that interests you about their education.)

Stepping back a bit, if you haven’t yet established your interests in terms of a career, take the opportunity to be proactive. Bear in mind what you’ve enjoyed, and think critically about where you’ve excelled. These experiences provide a guidepost; you will undoubtedly do good work if you enjoy what you are doing—so incorporate established interests in your freshman class schedule.

Meanwhile, because you often don’t have to choose a major until the end of your sophomore year, your coursework during this time can comprise a diverse range. Carpe diem! And as you take a variety of classes, don’t fret that you’re “wasting” time; you’ll earn credits that count toward your degree, no matter your major. (Do keep in mind that some majors—like biochemistry—require numerous courses taken in a specific order. Embarking on one these after your first year might mean you’ll take a little longer to complete your degree. However, even before you formally declare what you plan to major in, you can begin taking classes in a particular field.)

If you sign up for a schedule that is jam-packed but you’d still like to slip into that finance course to see if the material sparks your interest, be open to auditing; ask the professor if you can sit in—without doing homework, taking tests, or getting credit, but giving yourself a chance to hear course discussions.

The key throughout this process is to be hands-on; sign up for classes you know you’ll enjoy, as well as classes that may be completely foreign to you. Go the extra mile to have additional academic opportunities. It’s all about collecting the information you need to help you make your choice. One thing to consider as part of this process is that those who don’t seek immediate satisfaction tend to find lasting satisfaction; some courses (say, statistics) might not excite you at first blush, but the overall degree they will earn can open the door to some pretty exciting careers.

Lastly, recognize that if there is a course of study you’d really like to pursue but it is not available as a traditional major, you might be able to work with college faculty to create an individualized one. In this scenario, you select a theme and then develop it with courses from a number of different traditional major tracks.

When choosing a major, not only do you have to contemplate your interests and strengths (something you can begin to do in high school), and put yourself in fields of study that inspire you to learn. It could also be helpful to think a bit farther ahead—to critically evaluate job needs today, in this country, and abroad. It’s equally important to contemplate challenges you might face once you’ve got gotten your degree and are pursuing a certain job (something those in your field of interest could speak to). For example, it may be that more and more hospitals are looking for doctors who specialize in a particular area, or speak a particular language. In identifying job needs and challenges early on, you can work to equip yourself with a desirable skill set—one that will make you truly competitive.

I would also note that a college major does not align directly with a particular job. A history major could run a business, just as an historian could have studied physics, for his/her major. But in the end, the intensity you put on certain studies will dictate your appeal as you apply for jobs.

Meagan Phelan holds an M.A. in Science Writing from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and a B.A. in Biology from Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. She has freelanced as a science writer and is a Fulbright Scholar. She currently works as a Senior Writer and Editor at AIR Worldwide, a catastrophe risk modeling firm based in Boston.

What was your major in college? Did you pursue a related career with that major?

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November 16th, 2012
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An Actual Thank You Note’s Worth a Thousand Thank You’s

Writing TutorBy Meagan Phelan, Writing Tutoring Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC

Your parents taught you to say thank you—and perhaps even to write thank you notes, but in an age when we whip off emails, texts, and tweets at lightning pace and everything seems instant, how important is it to put pen to paper to express gratitude?

Well… Cicero would say, very. He claimed that “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” Accordingly, overlooking an opportunity to fully express it to someone who has helped you or given you a gift seems equivalent to forgoing an important discussion with that person. Put a bit more harshly, it’s like saying, “I don’t care about my reputation.”

Tutoring and Test Preparation

When you receive assistance from a teacher on a special project, or time from a college admissions counselor during your first campus visit, or a gift from an uncle, you should be thinking about thanking these individuals with a note. Now, you may wonder why I’m writing about thank you notes on a page geared toward high school students contemplating strategies for academic success. I’ll tell you.

First, as previously discussed, thank you notes reflect your character; you’re someone who is cognizant of the sacrifices of time or money others make on your behalf. And character so-shaped is something colleges and employers actively seek. (Think about it: after a while, even the most competitive resumes begin to melt together, but the integrity with which the executive who interviewed you recalls you stands out). Along those lines, the pause you give when writing a sincere note—particularly for something intangible, like inspiration throughout a difficult project—provides space for you to actively consider the role those around you have had in your successes. In other words, it fosters humility, a character trait in leaders who truly garner the respect of those they lead.

Writing thank you notes also gives you practice communicating; even in this digital age of speedy chatter, the written word is important—an extension of your ability to critically think. If you cannot communicate well, your appeal will be limited. It’s one thing to tell the business executive who interviewed “thanks a lot;” it’s another thing entirely to communicate to him that you will apply the advice he gave on getting experience in a particular field, or studying a particular skill—and that in the future you’d be honored to work for him. (Aside: when writing to teachers or employers, keep it brief and professional. You can wax poetic to family and friends.)

Thank you notes are also important because, when it comes down to it, people like being appreciated. You give the gift of acknowledgement through your note, nurturing your relationship with that individual. (In this way, it’s a bit like networking).

Finally, expressing gratitude will also make you happy; it’s a little “time out” you take to recognize what you have, what you’ve learned, or to what lengths another individual has gone to help you succeed. Even when you are striving for goals you’ve not yet attained, it’s important to take time to consider how you’ve been helped in the process so far. It will make your more thoughtful (and even happy) as you pursue additional assistance. And you’d be amazed how much a cheerful persona eases interactions!

After having written your thank you note, you’re not done (exactly). John F Kennedy said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” In other words, take what you write to heart (just as you hope the recipient will)—and try to live up to it! (If you thank your tennis coach for extra time spent the past few weeks helping you on your serve after practice, be sure to recall the lessons she gave you every time you step up to the line to launch that ace. Show her you’ve truly absorbed the teaching.)

I may not do everything my parents taught me (I really should dust my apartment sometime [for the first time]), but I rarely neglect writing a thank you note.

Meagan Phelan holds an M.A. in Science Writing from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and a B.A. in Biology from Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. She has freelanced as a science writer and is a Fulbright Scholar. She currently works as a Senior Writer and Editor at AIR Worldwide, a catastrophe risk modeling firm based in Boston.

Do you send thank-you notes after college visits? When is the last time you’ve written a thank-you note?

Post your tips/comments below.

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September 29th, 2012
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College Admissions Tips, College and Career, Featured
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Episode 1: Dennis Charles, How to Land your Dream Career

Dennis Charles
On this episode of Prepped & Polished Radio, Alexis Avila interviews Dennis Charles of Boston-based Charles Career Mentoring. Dennis talks about job trends today and how young professionals can stand out in the job market.

Tutoring and Test Preparation
Dennis Charles holds Masters in Educational Psychology from Loughborough University in the UK. Prior to this role, Dennis was a high school teacher and professional soccer player and coach.

Transcript (PDF)

Full Word-for-Word Transcription

Announcer: Recorded Live.Alexis: Hello and thanks for joining us for the Prepped and Polished
Radio Show. I’m your host Alexis Avila, licensed guidance
counselor, private tutor, and founder of Prepped and Polished

Tutoring and test preparation in beautiful South Natick,
Massachusetts. The Prepped and Polished Radio Show is your
educational insider. Our show is brought to you by Prepped and
Polished LLC where I’m the principal educator. To learn more
about our firm you can visit

And thank you to everyone who’s listening to the program. We
appreciate you taking in interest in the information we bring
the families and educators all around the globe. For future
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our Facebook community by searching for Prepped and Polished and
clicking like. Or you can follow us on Twitter which is

Joining our show today is Dennis Charles. Dennis is founder of
Boston based firm, Charles Career Mentoring. Where he builds
careers with passion. Dennis is originally from the home of this
years Olympics, East London.

Prior to this role Dennis was a high school teacher, a professional
soccer player. He has a Masters in Educational Psychology, and
is a proud graduate of, and he’ll help me pronounce this later
Loughborough University in the UK. We’re delighted to have
Dennis on our show. He’s going to share with us about what’s
going today in the job market. Give us some tips on how you can
land your dream job, especially for young professionals.

Before we start I just want to make sure listeners have our contact
information. Our email address is
If you’d like to submit a question at any time, you can use
that email address. Often our listeners will have questions as
they’re listening or afterwards so we always appreciate hearing
from our listeners. So you can email us any time at Hey Dennis, are you on the line

Dennis: I’m here with you Alexis. How are you doing today.

Alexis: Good, thanks so much for joining us. How was your weekend?

Dennis: My weekend was fantastic, I was actually down in New Jersey. I
have a lot of family…

Alexis: Great.

Dennis: And thanks so much for having me on the show, I really, really
appreciate it. It’s great to be here.

Alexis: Well, I had the pleasure to meet you quite a few times at
networking conferences and I’m really impressed with how you
relate to young people. And I just wanted see if you could tell
us, start out by telling us a little bit about Charles Career
Mentoring, and how you came up with your company?

Dennis: Absolutely. I’ve been really doing mentoring and coaching and
training for my entire life through various [inaudible 03:02] I
was a former high school teacher. As you mentioned, I used to
be a professional soccer coach. And worked in summer camps for
a number of years as well. The whole time I was really working
with young people, and young people being anywhere from probably
5 years old up to 25 years old.

And one of the things I’ve really always loved doing was helping them
figure out what they wanted to be doing with their lives.
Whether it was younger end of that spectrum, just what were they
interested in. What was fun for them, up into the older ones.
What did they want to be doing in college.

Whether they wanted to be going into college or maybe taking some
time out before they went to college. And once they graduated
from, helping them with their career direction. Helping them
really get out there. Get a job that for them was fulfilling, in
which they can be successful and which they can be satisfied and
they can make a contribution to the world.

And so about five or six years ago I said, you know what. I’m going
to make a go of this and I began to build a private practice and
really enjoyed it over the last five or six years. Just helping
out young people, helping them get into the world and really
making a difference through the work that they do.

Alexis: Well that’s amazing. And you’re making a difference for sure.
What have you seen in the last five years since you’ve started
your practice with the job trends, especially today?

Dennis: Well it’s really been interesting times, the economy’s kind of
been here and there and everywhere. When I first started off it
was a case of you got the job, you got the career, you got the
credential, and then you could go out and market and sell
yourself, and companies would almost be fighting over themselves
to hire you. Then of course you went into the recession 2007
-2008 and things changed dramatically. Companies were slashing

New hires, even interns weren’t getting paid what they were getting.
New hires were getting significantly less income that they were
maybe five or ten years ago. And what I really realized was
those who were being successful were able to standout a little
bit and really able to demonstrate that if a company were to
take a risk to hire them that they could deliver value. I think
ten years ago would hire 100 recruits and hope that 40 would
work out.

Now they’re looking at really targeting the 40 recruits and knowing
that those 40 they’re going to hire they’re going to work with
and stick with. So the hiring process for people coming out of
high school, coming out of college has changed dramatically.
This idea about what the value I can deliver is absolutely huge
for people.

Alexis: Oh definitely. And I totally hear you said at the beginning
when you started five, six years ago. There were companies
fighting for clients, now obviously tables have turned a little
bit. We have clients trying to fight other clients for jobs,

Dennis: Absolutely, yep, yep.

Alexis: So, now this is where you I’m sure that you I’m sure that you
shine because you are a career expert. But without giving all
your secrets away, because I definitely encourage listeners to
sign up for Dennis’s program. But what tips if any do you have
for standing out in the job market?

Dennis: The one thing that I hammer away over and over again with the
clients I work with about the private clients and those that
come to my training are really develop an entrepreneurial
mindset. Now what does that mean? Even if you’re going to go
work and get hired for another company. You really need to
consider: what is the value that you’re going to be delivering?

Why should that company, first of all, hire you? And then consider,
given your responsibility, and then consider promoting you. And
I believe that comes from having an entrepreneurial mindset. So
going in and not just saying all right, this is my job
description, I’m going to do it. But just taking that as the
basis. Going in to an organization, going into a company and
saying this is my job description and what else can I offer.

Where do my skills lay, what’s the value added that I offer, because
time and time again, Alexis. I see those that have gone in and
interned in a company, have got great, great references are the
ones going on and getting hired maybe above those that maybe got
better grades throughout high school and college. Those that
have really gone in and made a difference within a company, an
organization. Been able to demonstrate that, been able to
communicate that to a potential employee are the ones getting

Alexis: Yes, that makes sense. So just kind of having just a little bit
more of the networking mindset as well.

Dennis: Absolutely. Really get out there and build your network. And
networks are a funny thing. Of course again, the last five or
six years we’ve seen social media explode where those that are
on Twitter, on Facebook. You may have 1500 friends on Facebook,
but that to me Alexis, is not really networking.

I would rather see somebody with eight really solid contacts then
1500 random, spread out contacts, who most of whom they’ve never
met in their life. But if you had five to eight really solid
dependable contacts that you could be networking with in your
chosen field. And you really developed those relationships and
put depth into those relationships and demonstrated that you are
a person of substance with those people. Then that’s going to
really help you with your leverage.

Now there’s a statistic out there that 3% of all jobs that are filled
are not actually advertised. So they’re not getting out and
into, we’re talking old school, but they’re not getting out into
the news paper. They’re not getting out to Monster, but they’re
actually either hired within, or they’re positions that become
available and people know through various networks. I’m looking
for a position as a graphic designer. Oh, I know a really great
graphic designer, you should call John.

So if we’re looking at only 17% of jobs and careers coming from
advertisements. You want to really be focused on that 83%, and
as you say, networking and building that, as I call it, that
bridging capital, is really something that is going to be
essential and crucial going forward.

Alexis: That is cool. Sign me up. So now this might be sort of a
redundant question. You know when I go outside you see people
who are just struggling to find a job. So what are maybe like a
couple tips that come to mind if you see somebody coming into
your office just really struggling. Like maybe she’s shy, who’s
knows. But just is kind of firing blanks. What would you say?

Dennis: This is a typical thing I see and this is not everybody, but if
this is very common, is that they’re casting their net far too
widely. They’re saying, I just want a job. Well, that’s not
particularly appealing to potential employee. So what I do get
them to focus down and narrow down.

I’ll sit down and through a process of investigation I’ll find out
where a potential clients skills are. I’ll find out where a
particular clients interests are, and really work out a specific
strategic plan from there. Because as you say a lot of people
are floundering around or fumbling around. But it’s very
difficult to hire someone, just imagine that you’re working for
an [accounting] company, and you just want any job. You’re
probably not going to get hired.

But if you’re hiring in an accounting company and somebody comes in
with the qualifications, with the desire, and says, one of the
things I really love about [accountancy] is just at the end of
the day when I really get those numbers right, and I can really
deliver great service to a client. In fact, I had an internship
six months ago with a particular company, and I just really
loved the client interface, the one to one. That was the thing
that really got me going.

The person is going to get hired. The person that shows up and says,
maybe I want a career in accountancy, maybe I just want to get
hired, please hire me. It kind of smacks like desperation.

So, one of the things I’ll do Alexis, is really get them laser
focused in an area. And work from there. Come up with a plan
from there. So if their interest is in computers that such a
broad field. But again it’s far too general.

What is your specific interest in computers? What are the skills you
have, what are the skills that you can learn, and what’s the
value, getting back to that entrepreneurial mindset? What’s the
value you’re going to be able to go in and demonstrate that you
can deliver to a potential employer?

Alexis: Well that’s amazing. I like the fact that just focusing really
with laser like vision, and just kind of pursuing it with
everything you’ve got.

Dennis: It’s one of those things. I’m a big sports fan, and I find it’s
always [inaudible 12:15] successful in sports are the ones that
are specialize. You know we have very specialized sports over in
the U.S. We have a guy that’s maybe 300 pounds. He doesn’t say,
I’m going to try out for the gymnastics team. I’m going to try
for the triathlon team. I’m going to try out for the sprinting
team. He say’s, 300 pounds.

I can probably be a really good line backer on the foot ball team.
Let me put my attention, and focus my attention for three or
four, five years on being a line backer, and he’s going to have
much more success. My guess is a 300 pound guy is not going to
be very, very good at arrhythmic gymnastics, so why put your
attention there.

Alexis: Absolutely. I guess my last question is if you could just share
with us a success story that you recently had.

Dennis: Yeah, last week I had got a text message from one of my
clients, because one of the ways I work, I like to work in real
time. So I’ll use a lot of Skype, I’ll use a lot of email.
I’ll use text, I’ll use phone calls, and of course I’ll use face-
to-face. And this guy’s a remote client. He’s out in the
Midwest, really nice guy. But just been struggling to find a
career that for him is fulfilling. He’s able to make the
financial end work, but he’s just kind of running into a series
of dead-end jobs. He found it difficult to wake up in the
morning and to get himself motivated.

Alexis: And how old was this guy?

Dennis: He’s in his late 20’s.

Alexis: Late 20’s, Okay.

Dennis: And in many respects, very similar to a recent grad in that he
hadn’t just really found that thing that made him come alive. So
we really focused on what he wanted to be doing. And what he
really wanted to be doing was a lot of customer service. Working
with customers in the entertainment industry.

So for the last six weeks I just had him out and networking and
building up his skills. Interfacing face to face, one to one,
and I get a text message I think it was last Monday. He says,
you got to call me now. I think I was with another client. So I
call him back a half an hour later and I say what’s going on. I
got a job, I got a job, I got a job. He was so pumped and so
excited, and it’s an entry level job, and so in his late 20’s.

One of the things he said was it’s not his perfect career, but it’s a
place where he can begin to leapfrog onto his perfect career. So
for him now the thing is to do. Now he’s got this position, now
how can he demonstrate that when a more senior position within
this organization becomes available that he should be the one to
be hired. That’s the work that we’re going to be focusing on.

Alexis: Wow. Not only is it a success story, but it hasn’t stopped.

Dennis: Yeah, absolutely. And really it never does. I think you know,
one of the things, Alexis, that I see with skilled people, even
folks like Richard Branson from my country most people know him
from the Virgin organization. He has coaches, he has mentors,
he has trusted advisers.

He doesn’t believe that he can do this alone. He works with others
to get input. And ultimately while he takes responsibility and
makes decisions himself, he doesn’t do so until he gets a
significant amount of input. One of the stories when he started
Virgin Atlantic Airlines he went to a guy that had been running
an airline for the last 15 years. A guy named Freddie Laker in
the U.K. And said, can you help me. And this guy said Freddie
Laker kind of really mentored him for the first three years of
building up his airline.

Alexis, one of the things that I’ll say about America is that we love
to do things, were autonomous, we’re independent, we love to do
things on our own and for ourselves and there’s tremendous value
in that. I think that reaching out and getting help,
particularly in regards to careers, with regards to academic
help which I know you do at Prepped and Polished as well. Just
that reaching out and getting help at the right time, it really
can make a difference.

Alexis: Well said. Well this is great. Thank you so much. I think it’s
really evident that the way that you approach every relationship
is just with your methodical, strategic, and you just infuse
passion into your students and your clients and really make a
difference. I know you deliver, so thank you so much.

Dennis: It was my absolute pleasure talking with you Alexis. Thanks so
much for inviting me on, and thanks so much for having the
conversation. I think it’s really important work we both do.
And I really appreciate you taking the time to reach out. Thank

Alexis: Oh yeah, my pleasure. Well thank you. This wraps up our show
today with Dennis Charles, founder of Charles Career Mentoring.
Please visit to learn more about Dennis’s
company, and while you’re there, definitely sign up for his
informative newsletter. I get it, it’s excellent. Thank you
again for joining us Dennis, and thank you for joining us on the
Prepped and Polished Radio Show, we’ll talk to you soon.

Care to share your job searching experiences? What was one of Dennis’ career tips that resonated the most?

Post your tips/comments below.

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July 30th, 2012
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College and Career, Podcast, Radio Interviews
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