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Professional Confessional

A blog providing tips and resources for life after college

Professional Development

Your Winter Break To-Do List – Part 3

Here is your last item or three for your winter break to-do list. Rest, relax, and rejuvenate. Follow these 3 Rs:

1) Rest. Get plenty of sleep. You can’t catch up on lost sleep from the late night cramming. This is your chance to get some much needed shut eye. It will be tempting to stay up late to catch up on your favorite TV show’s episodes and movies you didn’t have a chance to watch during the semester. Our bodies and brains need rest to reboot our systems.

Also, I encourage you to designate a few days a week to rise early (at a reasonable time). You don’t want to sleep the day away. Though, I don’t blame you for wanting to take the first few days to veg and just be. You’ve earned it. You’ve worked hard. However, you want to have a productive winter break too. On the days you want to knock out those items on your to-do list, set your alarm as if you are going to an early morning class or a job. Designate a space in your house as the work zone without distractions or grab a coffee and work at the local coffee shop. Schedule work days and rest days, or set aside a few hours to be productive and a few hours to rest each day.

2) Relax. Take time to curl up on a couch, read a good fiction, visit with family, hang out with friends or reconnect with old ones. Choose a healthy approach to do what helps you relax. Also, I challenge you to disconnect from technology for a day. We are so wired to stay connected that we feel guilty unplugging from the world. You may be surprised at how much you become more aware of who’s and what’s around you when you let go of the technology. We are so connected that we are disconnected. Reconnect with yourself and others on a personal, authentic level. Be fully present in the moment.

3) Rejuvenate.  Revive your favorite hobby that you postponed during the semester. Try something new such as learn to play an instrument or take a class at a local community college. Exercise has restorative qualities too. Take a stroll in your neighborhood minus the smartphone and iPod. Enjoy the sights and sounds to its fullest. Also, getting out of a routine sparks breakthrough and renewed energy. What will ignite new energy for you or renew your spirit? Go and do it.

Let go and disconnect from the source(s) of stressors. Use rest, relaxation and rejuvenation as a catalyst to rediscovering who you are.

Visit the blog next week for a unique perspective on discovering who you are.

Your Winter Break To-Do List – Part 2

Winter break is the perfect time to get ahead on the career development process. If you have already created and updated your resume and LinkedIn profile, you are ready to move forward with conducting informational interviewing and seeking job shadowing/internship experiences.

Here are some additional action items to consider completing during break:

1) Conduct informational interviews. A productive way to learn about a job, career, or industry is to speak with someone in the field. Get started by reaching out and connecting with alums through LinkedIn. Wake Forest alums are a wonderful resource for gathering information and connecting with a professional in the field. Use this list of questions (select the most appropriate questions) to discover more about the position, company, and industry. Don’t ask questions when you can find the answers on their website unless you need clarification. Always send a thank you note after the conversation!

2) Research and apply to internship or job opportunities. Now is the time to be researching and applying for internship/job opportunities on DeaconSource and other job databases.  Many internship applications have deadlines as early as mid-January. Companies will be posting jobs soon after you return from break. The “Find an Internship” and “Find a Full-Time Job” pages on our website has a multitude of resources to aid in your search.

3) Seek job shadowing experiences or a mini internship. Job shadowing allows you to experience a day in the life in a position or industry that you may want to pursue. A mini internship provides you with experience in the industry and an opportunity to develop skills. Both are great ways to add to your work experience. Make the most of your experience by following these great tips. Remember you will meet individuals who are professional networking contacts. After the experience, follow-up with your contact(s) by writing a thank you note.

4) Give back to your community. The holiday season offers many opportunities to give back to the community. Volunteering at a local non-profit will provide assistance to those in need, add to your resume, and build your professional network. Seek positions and/or responsibilities relevant to the skills you want to develop relative to your career interest. Most importantly, focus your energy towards helping those in need.

5) Be social. The season is filled with social opportunities from dinners, parties, to visiting with friends and family. These are unique, safe environments to practice your elevator pitch. When appropriate, share your career interests and goals. The conversations may lead to helpful information for future reference. You never who may be listening that can provide timely advice and leads for internship/job openings. It is a natural space to build your network.

6) Prepare for the Career and Internship Fair. On Wednesday, January 22th from 12-4 pm, employers representing a wide variety of industries will be on campus to meet with students about a myriad of internship and career opportunities. Update your resume with your current GPA, study abroad experience and extracurricular activities. Research your career interests. Prepare and practice your elevator pitch. Purchase a suite to wear to the career fair and interviews. Refer to the “Interview Attire” page on our website if you have questions about appropriate attire for the event and interviews.

Check back next week for one more action item for your winter break to-do list.

Your Winter Break To-Do List – Part 1

Fall semester classes completed. Check. Exams done. Check. Now that you have checked those items off your list, you can focus your attention and energy towards taking small steps in the career development process. You have one month before classes begin for the spring semester. Use this time not only to reflect upon the last semester (as mentioned in last week’s post), but to create or update professional documents (e.g. your resume), and research and explore majors or career interests.

Depending upon where you are in the process, you may want to either start with creating or updating your resume, researching careers, or conducting informational interviews. Select 2-3 things to complete while on winter break. If you haven’t started the career development process, here are some action items to help get you started:

1) Create or update your DeaconSource profile. Create or update your DeaconSource profile to reflect your current career interests and GPA. By selecting up to three different interests (e.g. Consulting, Government, Legal, Non-Profit, Research, Marketing/Sales/PR/Advertising), you will receive personalized email announcements tailored to those interests. These emails are increasingly important now that organizations will begin recruiting for summer interns after the break and throughout the spring semester.

2) Update your resume. First years and sophomores, transform your high school resume into a collegiate resume. Use these resume samples to make the transformation. Juniors and seniors, add and update your collegiate experiences with student organizations (e.g. leadership positions), research, internships, and volunteer opportunities. If you are tailoring your resume for a specific job or internship, be sure to keep your experiences relevant to that position and company. If you don’t have experience, make a plan to intentionally seek out opportunities to develop skills and knowledge in the spring semester and beyond. When you return from winter break, bring your updated resume into the OPCD during resume review hours before sharing it with networking contacts and potential employers.

3) Create or update your LinkedIn profile.  After you update your resume, create or review your LinkedIn profile.  Be sure you update your profile to be consistent with your resume. If you have not created a profile, please review the sample profile. LinkedIn is a great way to network with Wake Forest alums through informational interviews. Also, the OPCD offers LinkedIn photo booth – a place to get a more professional photo taken of you rather than using the cropped picture of you with your friends. Have your profile reviewed during resume review hours.

4) Explore majors. If you are still not decided on a major, don’t fret. Use the holiday break to explore your choices. Reflect upon the courses you took and activities you participated in last semester. Which classes have you most enjoyed and why? Which classes have you performed best in and why? Which classes and majors in the course bulletin do you find most interesting and why? For more clarity, take an assessment to determine your strengths and characteristics. The results may help clarify and confirm crucial decisions like selecting classes, majors, summer options and career interests.

5) Explore careers. When thinking about your future career options, you need to learn more about the career fields that interest you. Use the winter break to research different careers. The OPCD offers information on 26 different career fields complete with industry overviews, positions types and helpful resources. Dig deeper into the careers to learn more about what a day in the life of a certain profession looks like and what the responsibilities entail. Use these helpful career exploration sites to explore and research your interests. One of the best ways to learn about a career is to speak with an alumnus who is currently in the field.

Check back next week for tips on informational interviewing, job shadowing, and more for your winter break to-do list.

Fall Back into Reflection

Classes ending and exams looming; it’s the end of the semester. After taking a day or two recovering from exam week, slow down and take a moment to reflect.

Too often we don’t make time to reflect on our experiences. We rush to the next “event” without giving much thought to what happened minutes ago. We want to check the box and move on. During the winter break, reflect upon the semester – the courses you completed, the extracurricular activities you participated in, and other experiences. Think about your intention and goals set for these areas. The process will help you develop yourself as well as capture stories you can use for future internships and job interviews.

Schedule time now before temptation surrounds you to put it off for another day. To help guide the reflection process, print or download the reflection exercise worksheet. Use the questions to discover who you are, your interests, strengths, and areas for improvement.

Upon completion of the reflection exercise, you may need to adjust your semester and/or annual goals based on the information gathered about yourself, courses, and activities. If needed, modify your goals. Goals do not have to be static. They are a measure to keep you on track toward your desired end result.

Before winter break takes hold and the new semester starts, fall back into reflection.

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.

Which Admissions Exam Do I Take?

It depends upon the program. While some programs will require that you’ve completed various academic coursework, most graduate programs require that you take an admissions exam. There are several options available. First, decide where you want to apply. Then, research the admissions requirements for each program. Finally, determine which exam is required for each program.

GRE – The Graduate Record Exam General Test measures quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, and analytical writing skills. It is a computer-based test allowing test takers to skip questions and change answers. It also provides an on-screen calculator. There are five sections of multiple-choice questions with at least two sections of quantitative reasoning and two sections of verbal reasoning. The quantitative and verbal sections’ scores are reported on a 130-170 scale. The analytical writing assessment provides two prompts for you to analyze and write a short essay using the computer. This section is scored on a 6-point scale.

Some programs require the GRE subject test such as psychology. The Subject Tests are given at paper-based test centers worldwide three times a year in September, October, and April. Research your program to identify which GRE, general test or subject test, is required for admittance into the program. Scores are valid for 5 years.

Visit www.gre.org for more information.

GMAT – The exam includes analytical writing assessment, quantitative, and verbal sections.  Data sufficiency and problem solving questions are intermingled throughout the quantitative section, and sentence correction, reading comprehension, and critical reasoning questions are intermingled throughout the verbal section. The verbal and quantitative sections contain computer-adaptive multiple-choice questions. For the analytical writing assessment, you will be presented with two essay topics and will type your responses using the computer.  Scores are valid for 5 years.

Visit www.mba.org for more information.

LSAT – The exam is a half-day standardized test consisting of five 35-minute sections of multiple choice questions. It is designed to measure reading and comprehension of complex texts with accuracy and insight, the organization and management of information and the ability to draw reasonable inferences form it, the ability to think critically, and the analysis and evaluation of the reasoning and arguments of others. The test is offered 4 times per year: June; October; December; and February. Scores are valid for 3 years.

Visit www.lsac.org for more information.

MCAT – The exam is a four and a half hour test only on the computer. There are four sections; the verbal reasoning, physical sciences and biological sciences sections consist of multiple-choice questions and the writing sample consists of two essays. Scores are valid for 3 years.

Visit www.aamc.org/mcat for more information.

Remember, plan ahead. Studying for these exams may take 3 months or more. So, you want to work backwards. Know the application deadline for the program(s). Put the date on your calendar. Count back six months from the application deadline date and mark the date on the calendar. Consider when the exam is offered too. This will be the target date to start studying, preparing your personal statement, and requesting recommendations. Exam fees range from $160 to $250. Therefore, you want to provide ample time to prepare for the exam. You don’t want to pay another fee to retake the test. Do you best to do well the first-time. Good luck!

Are You Ready to Apply to Graduate School?

If not, don’t let the application process frighten you. It’s not scary; though it takes time and planning. After you narrowed your choices and identified programs to which you want to apply, now research the application process for each program. Each school varies on the application process and requirements. Don’t wait until the last minute to apply. You will need time to request and receive recommendations, and gather supporting documents. Allow at least 3 months to prepare. Add an additional 3 months if you need to study and take an exam before applying. It may be helpful to follow a timeline. Use these timelines of the graduate schoolpre-law and pre-med application process to help you stay on  track.

Here are several general items to consider in the application process:

Test Scores – Test requirements and scores vary from program to program. Research programs of interest for test requirements including test type and preferred scores. Some schools will list the score(s) they are seeking in competitive applicants. Be familiar with what exam you need to take in order to apply for admittance to the program.

Application – Generally, an application asks for your program of study designation, personal data, academic information, disciplinary actions, and test scores. Most schools have an online application process which makes it easy to complete the application and upload the required documents such a personal statement.

Transcripts – Programs require you to provide an official transcript from the university. However, some programs allow you to submit a copy of the transcript in order to apply. Upon acceptance, you will need to send an official transcript. Contact the registrar’s office to request an official transcript. There is a fee associated with the request.  Be prepared to pay a fee.

Recommendations – Typically, programs require you to submit at least 2-3 recommendations. These recommendations vary from whom you receive them. Pay attention to what your school requests. You may need to have academic, community/service, professional references.

Personal Statements – Graduate schools want to learn about you. You need to tell your story, but be specific about your long term goals, and how the program to which you are applying will help you to accomplish your goals. Some programs will have specific prompts to answer; others might simply ask you to “write a personal statement.”

Writing Samples – Some programs want you to submit a writing sample. Research papers written in your undergraduate courses and select one that best represents your writing aptitude. If feasible, select a sample related to the program to which you are applying. This will help make a connection to the program and your interest in the discipline.

Fees – There are fees associated with the application process. Fees vary from school to school. They can quickly add up if you apply to multiple schools. So, narrow your choices.

Remember, each program is different. Do your research and allow yourself adequate time to prepare and apply.