Tag Archives: firstYear

CollegeQandA asks: What is career fair and why should I go?

What is career fair?

What is a university career fair?  This isn’t that interesting a question, and as you can imagine, career fair has employers come the university to talk to students about careers at their respective companies/institutions.  A university can have a university wide career fair, but there can also be smaller career fairs that are focusing on a particular area or degree.  Most people think that career fairs should be attended in your graduating year where you dress up, and finally, look for a job post graduation.  The wiser among you should go early and often to learn and prepare for your career.  Nobody else will.

University career fairWhy should I go to career fair?

Well, yes, fourth year is a good time to go to career fair and try and find your future employer, but to be prepared for this culminating experience I suggest you go in your first, second, and third year too.  You want to go to learn how the career fair is done, and how you need to be prepared for the event.   For example, at Miami during career fair almost everyone is dressed in a business suit/attire, and students will line up to do short interviews with their prepared resumes that might be followed up with a post fair longer interview.  If you walk into the fair without the proper attire, then unless you’re looking to be recognized for your uniqueness, you stand out as unprepared.  Just knowing your basic career fair flow stops you from making these simple errors.

Also, just like doing integration, playing an instrument, or writing an essay, networking and interviewing are skills that need to be practiced.  Where can you get this practice beyond the mock interviews your career center might provide?  Career fair in your first and second year is great time to practice without any major consequences.  Also, you might find an internship early that will lead to your future career.

Keep in mind, university will help you develop some skills, but getting a job and the skills need to both get said job and perform well at it are your responsibility.  Career fair is a small piece of this, but one you should not ignore.

Credits: photo titled: SNRE Career Fair; by University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment 


CollegeQandA asks: How important is prioritizing in College?

How important is prioritizing in College?

ticket dispenser

Some people would argue that time management is the most important skill that most college students don’t have when they come to college.  I would put a few skills higher, but managing your time is important (especially since the teachers aren’t going to micromanage you like they may have in high school).  The first step is to learn how to prioritize – meaning which tasks should you focus most of your effort on.

The 80/20 rule

First, you should be aware of a general idea – the 80/20 rule.  This is a rule of thumb that roughly states that you get 80% of your results for 20% of the tasks you focus on.  This means that you need to figure out what is that 20% so you can get it done and get 80% of the success.  Basically, this is one form of prioritization.

No is a valid answer

Another challenge with students is figuring out what to say no to or, simply, not do.  In terms of academics, you may be overwhelmed and have to not do something for your classes – we’ll look at this below.  Even more important is saying no to the extra-curricular activities.  I would argue that most extra-curricular activities fit outside the 80% result domain, and you need to forgo those commitments when you don’t have enough time.  Beware of college task bloat that many students experience because they say yes to everything.  I would argue you can have 2 big activities in your college life.  One is academics.  That means you have one more to spend on a sport, club, hobby, social life, etc.  Don’t spread to thin.

Academic prioritization

With an understanding of no and the 80/20 rule, the question is how do you prioritize and time manage your education.  The first place to start is the syllabus.  The syllabus gives you a direct view of what activities in a class are assessed, and how much that assessment impacts your overall grade.

Yes, most assessments and class activities are there to help you learn the material (and you should do them).  If you manage your time well, stay up with a class from day one, and work at the material you really shouldn’t have to prioritize in terms of not doing these activities, but there are times when you need to decide what is most important to do.

Also, consider weighing how well you need to do on various assessments for your overall goals.  If you have a realistic expectation of the grades you want in your classes, then you can shift your workload to focus on the assessments and activities that will allow you to achieve those goals.  For example, if I’m going to get an A in computer science even if I don’t do too well on the final project, means even though I enjoy working on that project, I should reduce the time spent on it to focus on something else that needs more time.

Learn to prioritize to get that 80% success.

Credits: photo titled: take a number; by Mike Mozart


CollegeQandA asks: Why do I need to improve my work ethic for college?

Coming from high school

Why do I need to improve my work ethic for college?  First, let’s look at the process of teaching a class to understand why college might be more difficult than high school as it relates to work ethic.  Any class that a teacher has needs to be viewed as teaching a group.  Because this group has different abilities, teachers tend to teach to the middle.  This tends to mean that there will be a group of students will not be challenged in the course, and there will a group of students will find the course very challenging.  This is true at any level of teaching, and teachers hope to bring as many students past the middle.  If we’re lucky we can inspire the entire group to raise their learning significantly.

TReadmill running

In high school, the class demographics is less selective than a university.  A simple argument is, you do not need to go to university while you do have to go to high school.  That difference, alone, means that the university class is more selective to people who want to do something.  Next, consider how majors divide students further into groupings of people who are pursuing a specific topic/area.  Therefore, the top, middle, and bottom in a college class is more selective.

The reality is that in your high school days, you were probably at the top end of the class.  This means that you were not, likely, challenged as much as you could have been, and therefore, you didn’t have to work too hard to succeed.   You might have been called “smart”, but unfortunately, “smart” is more of a concept compared to the skill of learning.  And learning happens via hard work.  The reality is many college first year students do not have a good work ethic, and for this reason, the first year transition can be hard as courses get into more challenging topics.

Work ethic

You need to improve your work ethic, and this is hard.  I know from personal experience that a bad work ethic can be a serious challenge to a successful college career.  My work ethic was fine when I was interested in the topic (for example basketball and making video games), but I had just enough work ethic to squeak out of my first two years where I wasn’t interested in the material.

One recommendation for high school students is to find your work ethic and then learn how to motivate yourself to working through the stuff you don’t like.  Then when you find your passion you will be able to do great things, and when you encounter something that is a real challenge you will have the ability to work through it.

Credits: photo titled: physical-activity-120112-M-2021D-019; by MilitaryHealth


CollegeQandA asks: What is the difference between high school and college?

What is the difference between high school and college – Are they different?

Yes.  Let me highlight a few reasons why, and how the transition can be challenging for many students.

highschoolFirst, the most common idea in popular cultures is that of the: First-year 15 (more usually called the freshman 15, but I’m against the word “freshman”) – the idea that your grades will go down by 15 points and your weight will go up by 15 pounds.  I suffered from only one of the two in my first-year, and I didn’t gain any weight.

Your life

The first major change, independent of the academics, is the life change (for most people).  Until now, many of you have relied on your family to do much of the “life stuff” – laundry, food, bills, doctor, etc.  University life is a first-step, though still sheltered, into you running your own life and becoming an adult.  This includes the all important You choose when, what, and where to be since it is Your life.  Nobody is responsible for you attending class, getting your homework done, sleeping, eating, showering, etc.  The great freedom you have been searching for is now here, but you now have to take full responsibility for your actions.  This includes legal consequences for breaking the law.

University vs. High School teachers

Another major difference is that the people that teach you have different responsibilities in university versus high school.  In both cases, the teachers want you to do well and achieve great things, but in high school your teachers see you 5 days a week and they have a much tighter relationship in your learning process.  They can check if you have done your work each day and are progressing in learning.

Let’s assume that you spend 6 hours a day in high school equaling 30 hours a week.  In college you will have between 12 to 20 hours a week of class/lab/studio time with an instructor (not necessarily the professor).  The expectation is that instead of in-class learning, that much of your new found free time will be spent studying.  College classes are, likely, larger than your high school classes, meaning the professor has less time to spend with you.

The major crux, though, is that a college professor has no responsibility to give you a passing grade just because you attended.  A college course sets a bar of success that you must satisfy, and depending on your demonstration you will be graded accordingly.  High school teachers, on the other hand, are pushed to make sure you pass your course, and to move you on through the system.

Is that it?

Those are just two reasons why the two institutions are different.  There are many more, but keep in mind that the biggest step in succeeding at this transition is you getting organized, disciplined, and working hard.  I have seen many people avoid the first-year 15.  Also, minor hiccups in this transition are not the end of the world.  Try and avoid a disastrous first year (failing courses) since this will cost you both financially and academically.


Photo from creative common license: City of Boston Archives;  titled: Roslindale High School – Exterior View 1, Poplar St., Roslindale, Boston, MA. School building photographs circa 1920-1960 (Collection # 0403.002)


CollegeQandA asks: Why are my class sizes so big in my first and second years in college?

Welcome to BIG 101

“In this class you will have three multiple choice exams.  You will need to read the text book and learn the material from this lecture.  If you are having problems, then talk to your assigned TA.  You will find your assigned TA on the online course system.  Exam one is in four weeks, so let’s begin…”, said some professor in my imaginary past.  The reason it’s imaginary is because I don’t remember one thing a professor said to me in my big classes (150+), which included physics, chemistry, computer science, calculus, economics, and linear algebra.  Not one useful word.

So, why are my classes large?

bees in bee hive
Pack those classes full

Well, you might learn this in economics if you pay attention, but one factor is economies of scale.  First, take a look at one of the metrics reported by your university – student to faculty ratio.  The main factor here is faculty are paid employees and need to be hired, retained, and compensated – so they cost money.  For a university to keep the student to faculty ratio low they can do a number of things:

  • Charge a lot for tuition
  • Have another revenue source that compensates there professors this for example donations to the endowment
  • Higher adjuncts and part-time instructors
  • Increase how many courses professors teach
  • Have big classes for early introductory courses taught by instructors

So, first beware of the metric student to faculty ratio as an indicator of small classes or an indicator of whether you’ll be on a first name basis with your professors.

By making a class large, a university can bring in significant tuition dollars at the cost of one teacher and some cheap teaching assistants.  Then they can let their star research faculty and senior members teach small senior classes.  Now, the metric averages to a good number.

Is the quality of learning worse in big classes?

That depends – probably.  Introductory courses have been taught for a long time, there are hundreds of textbooks, tested methods, online material, and other related ideas to how to effectively teach a big class.  Have we measured to see if there is a difference?   We have done many studies, but I would argue from the perspective of large populations of students the overall impact on learning is small.  Therefore, the economical benefit is justifiable.

However, you as the individual can not stand for this above argument.  Pick the learning environment that is best for you, and you should take a look at actual class sizes at your potential universities to get a true picture of what it will be like for you.


photo credit: nest via photopin (license)


CollegeQandA asks: How do I pick a major?

The big question rated number 1 for many

For high school students and even first year students, “How do I pick a major?” is the question.  A major is the area of focus, within academia, that you spend the majority of your 4 years of study exploring and learning about.  In many cases, we associate a major with what you are becoming in terms of your future career.

So, in some ways “how do I pick a major?” is the same question as “what do you want to be when you grow up?” that adults ask children throughout time.

My book takes a look at some of these ideas in more detail, but let’s define a few things here:

  • A job is trading your time (and skills) for compensation
  • A career is a path in a set of related jobs of with some goal of getting to a job where you do (mostly) what you want to do on a daily basis
  • A degree is awarded for completing the set requirements usually including a concentration in a major
  • A professional degree is a degree that is a credential step towards a career in a focused concentration
  • Vocational training is a process to teach you a set of skills customized for a specific job(s)

So how does that help you pick a major?

Universities don’t train you for a job

The first thing to truly grasp is you major is not necessarily your future job.  For example, a computer engineer major will start their career in a vast number of jobs that can include engineering work, sales, training, etc.  In other words, I couldn’t list all the jobs that someone who did a major in computer engineering does.  Even in one of my narrow research fields: Field Programmable Gate Arrays, the list of jobs which you need this major for easily goes over 100!

Therefore, we can not train you in a major for a job.  You will have to prepare for your career while pursuing your degree in your major, and yes, the university will provide great opportunities to do that (career center, career fairs, company visits, etc.), but that is not the universities primary goal.  It is up to you to shape your career.

A major is your opportunity to explore an area of interest (caveat economics)

Most of us have to worry about our future career, income, and financial stability.  The tricky part is how can you pursue what you are truly interested in while balancing the realities of your future career and your family situation.  There seems to be evidence that your major choice correlates to your family’s current financial status.

If I was allowed to choose what I was interested in when I was 18, then it would have been video games and basketball.  My parents, however, were not going to pay for my education if it did not include science, engineering, or math.  I was fortunate to find a compromise in computer engineering.  Was that a compromise?

As I’ve matured, I have come to believe that engineering can be applied to almost any other interest.  For example, if you like sports, then the mathematics, analytics, and modeling applies to understanding sports better in – see Moneyball or The Wages of Wins.   I’m biased towards my experiences in engineering and so is our economically driven world, but do we only need technologists?  I think any major can be applied to any interest, and you should leverage these connections in your pick, and take time to consider how you will mold your major into your career.  There are a common set of what we would call high-level skills needed in all industry – thinking, communicating, and doing.

I, also, think the key to picking a major is to find something that has a spark of inspiration and motivation for you, and you should have some aptitude in that field or be willing to work really hard to develop needed skills.  You need that drive to help get you excited to explore that something more deeply.

Finally, it’s not that big a deal

How do I pick a major?  The question scares all of us.  This decision will define your future.  Your parents hope you pick something that means you won’t live with them forever.  The country needs you to contribute to our bottom line.  Yikes.

Book : You majored in what

In many cases, however, it doesn’t matter that much.  If you have some motivation, curiosity, and interest in learning, then you will find a topic, professor, class, or hobby that starts you on your future path.  You Majored in What?: Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career is a great book that will help you understand what seems to happen for at least half of us.  If anything keep your mind open to opportunities and learn what you can.


CollegeQandA asks: What are the first few things I should do to prepare for my classes?

What should I do to prepare for my classes?

I’ll answer this question by, first, telling you what I do prepare to teach a class in, roughly, sequential order:

  1. [months before] I think about what I want to do with this course, what previously went bad, what was good, and what ideas I want to try.
  2. [months before] I come up with what are the learning objectives of this course.
  3. [weeks to months before] I layout the calendar for the course deciding when things will happen and what order we will try to progress at to achieve the objectives.
  4. [weeks to months before] I create the syllabus with these dates and objectives in mind including how to assess students on satisfying the objectives.
  5. [weeks to months before] I create the online presence that we will use to communicate in electronic form.
  6. [weeks to months before] I prepare lectures, quizzes, exams, projects, labs into some depth of the course, though this can vary depending on a number of factors.
  7. [weeks before] I check into the lab and classroom and log into the computer to check out the technology for the classroom.  Where are the lights?  What type of writing board do I have?
  8. [weeks before] I start practicing names for everyone in the class who has a photo.
  9. [week before] I run though the materials I have prepared to check if things look good.
  10. [day before] I review my class plan.
  11. [hour before] I review the plan and check all documents.
  12. [15 minutes before] I warmup my voice, head to the classroom, and prepare the room.
  13. [10 minutes before] In the classroom, I play or show some unrelated/related articles/videos/etc. to start a discussion as people walk into the classroom.
  14. Showtime !!!

In summary, I’m the so called expert and I’ve already spent a number of hours preparing for a class before you the learner walk into the classroom.

Based on that what should I do?

Here’s a few suggestions that you can do to prepare for my classes and others:

  1. Have your notebook (separate one per class), recording devices, and supplies organized and ready.
  2. Print out the syllabus and have it pasted/attached to your notebook.
  3. Read that syllabus ahead of time and scan through any online materials that are available.
  4. Learn a little bit about the topic of the class.  A quick search on Wikipedia should give you some basic ideas related to the course.
  5. Decide what you find interesting or curious about this topic to help motivate yourself.  Even if the topic doesn’t relate to what you really like, frame some questions back to your passions such as, “How will topic X relate back and help me with my interest Y”.
  6. Find the classroom the day before classes start so you aren’t one of the many who come in late because they can’t find their classroom.
  7. See if there is anything online about the lecture that you can read ahead of time to provide you with a framework of what will be done in that class.
  8. Arrive early to class, if you can.
  9. Pick a seat in the front or in the center to sit (the closer to the front the better).  Oddly enough, you may sit in this spot for the rest of the semester.
  10. Introduce yourself to people around your seat and ask for contact information before the class starts.
  11. Prepare yourself to be an active listener as opposed to a passive listener.  This might require thinking about your earlier questions or new ones about the topic that you might be interested in.
  12. Take a deep breath and relax…this is about learning and should be fun.

CollegeQandA asks: Why do I have a reading assignment for this book over summer for my university or college?

Mandatory Summer Reading

Ah yes, the summer reading book experience.  Summer is a time for internships, jobs, relaxation from class work, and maybe some time to holiday.  However, some institutions such as universities and even businesses (J.P. Morgan for example) expect us to do summer reading.  That’s particularly true for incoming first-year universities.


Here’s a brief list of some schools and their 2015 summer books:

That’s a lot of books.  Why are we reading them?

First off, let me remind everyone that the internet is great for reading a variety of things, we can tailor it to our likes and dislikes (for the good or bad), and find exactly what we’re looking for.  Therefore, books are not needed 😉 .  Maybe, but books are in depth, organized, well edited, and thought out writing on a topic that tends to be…a much better treatises of ideas.  For example, take this post as an example.  I have thought about it, written it, edited it (once…maybe twice), and posted it.  All of that, and I don’t need anyone to back up anything that I write.  A book goes through a much deeper proofing process.

Summer reading books are meant to challenge us, and equally, bring us together at the start of the new academic year with a common ground of experience.  I read this book, and you read this book.  We can now start a conversation on a common topic regardless of where we came from and where we are going, and this has great potential for community building.   Furthermore, Continue reading CollegeQandA asks: Why do I have a reading assignment for this book over summer for my university or college?


Question – What are some useful summer activities to prepare for my first year at university?

The first year of undergraduate study is a major transition for a person moving from high school to university.   In many cases, you will be out on your own for the first time, you will have less contact with your teachers, you will be expected to do much of the learning on your own, and the pace of your courses is fast.

In the few remaining months of summer what can you do to help prepare?

Here are two things that will help:

  • Review your math.  The hardest courses for first years will, likely, be calculus or physics.  These courses are problem based courses, so start practicing early.  I suggest Khan’s academy (math) as a nice organized progression.
  • Learn to program.  If you don’t know how to program, then start now.  Programming is a tool that will help you automate things, make your own creations, and understand how problems can be broken down into steps.  Khan’s academy (programming) or Hello Processing are two of many options.