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Professional Confessional

A blog providing tips and resources for life after college

2013 November

I am thankful for…

Is a popular post popping up on Facebook news feeds this month. If you have a Facebook page, you may have seen a post from a friend or two state, “I am thankful for…” as his/her status update. I am guilty of participating in these daily updates.  It provides a grounding perspective for what truly matters to me, and what I am appreciative of and grateful for in life. The giving of thanks is not a new phenomenon; especially for November. The Thanksgiving holiday reminds us to be thankful.  The holiday was dedicated to giving thanks in the spirit of bringing people together and sharing a meal with traditional favorites. Perhaps, it’s a time for personal reflection on the year that is coming to a close. May be it is time spent with family and friends. Whatever Thanksgiving means for you – be thankful.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? As a matter of fact, don’t keep the attitude for gratitude only for November. Gratitude is something we need to possess and express every day. On a daily basis, find something you are appreciative of or find something you are grateful for. As a daily reflection, end each day with “I am thankful for…”.

Don’t discount the little things in life. It’s the small things that make the greatest impact. It can be as simple as I am thankful for my roommate remembering my birthday. Pass on the gratitude to that person by telling him/her you appreciate the remembrance of your special day.

So, what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? Carry forward this gratitude every day. You may be surprised what impact gratefulness has on you and others around you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Difficult Conversations: How To Talk to Your Parents About Your College/Career Plans

Kate BrooksOPCD Expert Contributor – Dr. Katharine S. Brooks, Executive Director of Personal and Career Development

I call it THE QUESTION.  It’s the question that compelled me to write my book, You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career (Plume, 2009).  The one that you’ve probably been facing (and maybe dreading) ever since you decided to attend Wake Forest. And it’s a question that you are likely to hear when you go home for the Thanksgiving holiday.

It starts out rather innocently: “What are you majoring in?” a favorite relative asks.  But when you reply, the next question goes in for the kill, “What are you going to DO with that?”

So how do you handle THE QUESTION?  What if you’re thinking about a major that doesn’t seem to have a lot of career options directly related?  After all, no one seems to offer “philosopher” jobs.  Or maybe there are seemingly related careers but they don’t interest you like “English teacher” or “Librarian.”  Or maybe you simply don’t know what you plan to do after graduation, so regardless of your major, it’s an awkward moment.  How do you handle these challenging questions?

Let’s start with some information that may help you think this through.

First of all, it’s OK not to know what you’re going to “do” with your major.  Because you won’t really “do” anything with your major.  You’re going to work in whatever field you select, and your major will influence how you think, and how you approach your field of work.  Your major will have provided a perspective or way to view a situation and you will use the analytic, creative, strategic and other mindsets you have honed through your major to work in your chosen field.

It’s also OK not to know what you’re going to “do” generally, as in what career field you will pursue.  College is a time to develop knowledge and insight into yourself, your interests, and your talents and skills.  It’s a time to consider and explore a variety of career options.  I often tell students to consider themselves in a “gathering information” stage: you’re collecting information and learning and you’re not ready to make a decision yet.  So take the pressure off.

That said, you’re still going to be asked some difficult career questions.  So here are 5 quick tips for navigating around them:

1. Remember that questions like this, despite making you uncomfortable, are usually asked out of the best intentions and with concern and kindness.  Your relatives worry about you, they want to brag on you, they want you to succeed—but mostly, they want you to be happy.  And deciding on and pursuing a fulfilling career can be one major component of a happy life.  So try not to take the questions personally or assume that someone is trying to put you on the spot.

2. When you say what you’re majoring in, talk about your favorite class or professor.  Tell people what you are learning or what you enjoy about it.  Be a spokesperson for its value in how you find it interesting, how it’s changed your thinking, or what it has meant to you.  Talk about the book you read that really made you think. Parents are often understandably concerned about whether their money is invested wisely in your education; demonstrating that you are invested in what you’re learning goes a long way to reassure them.

3. If you have some career ideas, share them.  Mention that you’re thinking of becoming a ______, and then ask your relatives if they know anyone in that field.  They may—and if they do, perhaps they can put you in touch with that person.  You never know where that might lead—maybe an internship or a shadowing experience—or even a job!

4. If you have no idea what you plan to do, try saying, “I’m still investigating my options—what made you choose the career field you’re in? “ Getting them to talk about their own careers will take some of the pressure off you, and who knows what you might learn.  Be sure to follow up with more questions if you’re interested—What would they do differently?  How did they find their first job?  At the end, thank them for sharing their insights.  Tell them you’re looking forward to figuring out your own career plans.

5.  Finally, the more you take charge of your future plans, the more confidence you will have, and the more confidence you will instill in others who care and worry about you.  So—get started before the holidays.  Read the OPCD website for lots of information about everything from internships to the job search to interesting employers or career options.  Write or revise your resume (maybe you will want to show it to some relatives for their opinions), research career options, check out the OPCD’s First Destination Survey so you can see where other majors have gone.  Get your career act together so that you will take the pressure off your relatives—and yourself!

Have a great holiday season and be sure to include the OPCD in your plans for the spring!

How Do I Pay for Grad School?

Tom BenzaStudent Financial Aid Expert Contributor – Tom Benza, Associate Director

So you’ve decided to go to graduate school?  Great!  Now all you have to do is figure out how to pay for it.  Here are some options available to you:



Most graduate programs award scholarship support based on merit, not financial need, through the program or department of admission.  It is critical to meet early deadlines to ensure that you are in the running for all sources of scholarship support.  Some programs consider the admission application an ‘umbrella application’ and submission will grant you consideration for all merit based scholarship programs.  Other programs may require individual applications for certain scholarships, assistantships, or fellowships.  You will have to research the individual program requirements to find out how scholarship assistance is awarded.  This can vary widely not only between different schools, but between programs/departments of the same school.

National graduate scholarships and fellowships are available, but are highly competitive.  For outside grant or scholarship support, Cornell and UCLA are known for their powerful search sites:



Federal Aid:

To be considered for federal aid, a student must complete a FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, at www.fafsa.gov  The Department of Education considers all graduate students to be independent, so no parental information is needed on the FAFSA.   Once submitted, the graduate school will review and determine a student’s loan eligibility.  The maximum yearly amount of guaranteed federal student loan aid a student can receive is $20,500 through the Unsubsidized Stafford loan program.  If additional federal loan aid is needed, a credit check will be required.  A student can apply for a Federal Graduate PLUS loan at www.studentloans.gov and be eligible for loan aid up to the cost of attendance of the program.  You should always review the total cost of attendance for the graduate program on the financial aid website for the school.  Review the difference between direct costs (tuition, fees) and indirect costs (off-campus housing estimates, books and supplies, personal expenses) to ensure your personal budget reflects the estimates used by the program.  For detailed information on the federal aid programs for graduate students, check out the following site.  Please note that graduate programs may participate in some, but not all, of the programs listed on the following site:


Employer Benefits:

Another great way to pay for graduate school is to work for a company that offers educational benefits.  Some companies offer a tuition reimbursement plan that allows a student to recoup tuition payments based on successful completion of a degree.  Follow up with the HR office at a prospective employer if you know that graduate school is on the horizon and will assist in your career.

Writing a Personal Statement?

Shan WoolardOPCD Expert Contributor – Shan Woolard, Assistant Director of Career Education and Counseling

Make it personal.  As part of the application process for most graduate or professional school programs, you will be asked to submit a personal statement. The personal statement is an opportunity for you to express your interests, goals, and personality. Some graduate programs will ask you to respond to specific essay prompts; others might simply ask you to “write a personal statement.”

If you are asked to write a general personal statement, here are a few tips:

  • Include your background and experiences that led you to develop an interest in the specific program or field of study, your specific long term goals, and how the program to which you are applying will help you to accomplish your goals. When discussing your goals be very specific. For example, if you are applying to a counseling program, rather than write that you “want to help people.” Name the specific group of people, setting, and location where you want to counsel people.
  • The personal statement is personal. It is a chance for the admissions committee to get to know who you are. Use a specific anecdote or several anecdotes to show rather than tell the reader about your personality, strengths, and character.
  • Avoid restating your resume in a paragraph form. Provide information about yourself that the interviewer is not able to attain from other parts of your application.
  • Go for depth rather than breadth. Focus on one, two, or three points about yourself.
  • Write about what makes you unique and sets you apart from other applicants.
  • Tailor the statement to each program to which you are applying.  If a program has specific features in which you are interested, mention these features and why you are interested in them as related to your experience or goals; however, don’t simply tell the admissions committee facts about their program that they already know.
  • Avoid delving too far in the past. In general, don’t write about high school or earlier.
  • Proofread your essay very carefully. Write clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word or page limits. If no word or page limits are given, limit your personal statement to two to three pages double-spaced.
  • Have several people read your personal statement, such as professors, The Writing Center staff members, and OPCD career counselors. Personal statements are subjective, so it is a good idea to get opinions and input on your statement from a variety of people. If you would like for one of the OPCD counselors to read your statement, call 336-758-5902 to schedule an appointment.