Being Your Own Advocate

Being Your Own Advocate


You are about to start your first year of college. It is an exciting, yet nerve-wracking time and you may experience some challenges as you adjust to your new environment. One of the most important skills you should practice in order to make your transition successful is self-advocacy. In order to be an excellent student, you must be able to advocate for yourself.

Advocates are people who know what they want and stand up for their rights. The following four steps will help you become a better self-advocate and make your first year at college a success:

1.   Know Yourself

  • Identify your strengths and skills
  • Identify areas of improvement
  • Identify your interests and potential careers you’d like to explore
  • Know your learning preferences: what ways do you learn best?
  • If you require special accommodations, be ready to talk about them and show documentation so you can get the resources you need

2.   Know Your Responsibilities

What are your new responsibilities as a student? Develop a system (i.e. a planner) for keeping track of your assignments and additional responsibilities. You will not have parents, teachers, counselors, etc. checking up on you like they did in high school.

Also, identify the requirements you need to meet in order to graduate with your major(s) in 4 years. By doing this ahead of time, you will avoid unwanted surprises in the future!

3.   Know Where to Go for Help

In order to get help, you’ll need to know where to go to ask for it! Research the support your school has and write down the contact information for people you can go to when you need help. Some of the services you should identify are:

  • Academic support services (For example, tutoring options for different subjects you are taking, a writing center, etc.)
  • Registrar’s Office (for info about your transcript)
  • Financial Aid Office (What GPA do you need to keep your scholarship, and are there additional scholarships you can apply for once there?)
  • Health Center – including counseling services
  • Residence life services, like your resident advisor, for dorm-related issues
  • Information technology (Where do you go when you’re having an issue with your computer or need to download specific software?)
  • Student work (Where can you go to find an on-campus job if you choose to have one?)
  • Professors’ office hours (Use them as much as you need!)

4.   Take Action

Now that you’ve identified who you are, your responsibilities, and where you can receive help, you are well on your way to being successful. The next key step is being able to communicate your needs and take action. No one else is going to do this step for you. You have to be brave and speak up for yourself and seek out resources. Colleges have plenty of resources, but you have to utilize them and do so on your own.

Here are more tips for becoming your own advocate that are applicable now as you search for internships and research experiences that will be helpful in the future:

5 Ways to Be Your Own Advocate

Getting Involved in High School

Getting Involved in High School

Getting involved has so many benefits. Your four years of high school is a time to explore your interests and skills through academic courses while getting involved in sports, clubs and extracurricular activities.

Here’s something else you should know – not only can getting involved be fun, but it also plays an important role when applying to colleges. You’ll find when you start applying to colleges that most applications ask about your activities. Why? Test scores and grades can’t reveal as much about you as the things you do. Taking part in activities can show colleges your leadership skills, time management skills and responsibility – just to name a few.

Don’t like sports?

That’s okay.

There are a number of activities both in and out of school that can show colleges your accomplishments and redeeming qualities. Do you like to write? Maybe the school newspaper is for you. If not, here are a few other places to start:


  • Volunteer
  • Get a job
  • Community Activities


Colleges want to know who you are and what you can do. So, get out there and take advantage of opportunities!

Are you still not convinced?

Here is a list of some of the important reasons you should try new things:

  1. Meet new people – Whether it be in a sport or organization, you have a chance to meet new people with a common interest but from various cultures and with different perspectives.
  2. Develop stronger personal skills – A person typically changes and grows with each new experience. Getting involved allows you the opportunity to take on a leadership role or strategies when working as a team.
  3. Build your resume – Your resume should constantly be changing based on the things you do and opportunities that come your way.  Getting involved in activities and organizations and having a diverse resume can help colleges and future employees see what you’ve experienced and what makes you, YOU.
  4. Learn new things – Getting involved outside of the classroom helps you learn and experience new things.

Getting involved not only allows you to get the most out of high school both in and outside of the classroom, but you may also find your true passion and career path!

Eating Cheaply in College


Lighthouse-College-Planning (13)We all know college is extremely expensive, so try not to add to the cost! If you are that person who needs Starbucks every day, frequents Jimmy Johns, or Pot Belly’s – you must stop immediately! Let’s say you get a $4 Starbuck’s coffee twice a week for the year; that’s over $400 a year! That same money could go straight to your book tab in college. You need to start getting thrifty and clever with how you spend your money on food and drinks!

Freshmen year you will have a meal plan. Get the cheapest meal plan because you can always add money to it. Every school is a little different, so find out immediately if you will get the money back if you do not spend it. Even though you will have a meal plan, you are still spending money every time you swipe your meal card. If you are able to take food back to your dorm room, take fruits or muffins back for the next morning. Don’t be self-conscious, everyone’s doing it!

Give yourself a budget for the week so you don’t over spend, and make a list before heading to the grocery store. Stick to the list so you’re not buying what you don’t need. Find the cheapest grocery store on campus and make friends with someone with a car. Buy generic brands; it all tastes the same. Name brands will be much more expensive – especially in the long-run; it adds up quickly. Learn how to cook; most dorms have a kitchen area. Pasta, oatmeal, Ramen noodles, peanut butter and jelly, black coffee, water, and macaroni and cheese will be your go-to cheap meals in college. If you’re not getting the appropriate nutrients since you will not be eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, buy vitamins to replenish and exercise!

If your parents or friends are coming to visit you for the weekend, ask them to bring food with them. Whenever I visited my sister at Madison-Wisconsin, my parents always went to Costco, and I brought what she needed. Going to Sam’s Club or Costco and buying in bulk will cut down on costs. Furthermore, you can split the cost with your roommate and cut costs even more.

Never go out to restaurants if you can help it! This facet of the cost-conscious student may be the x-factor. If you do, always drink water, never get an appetizer, and – for your main meal – get a big enough entrée for two meals so you can have it for lunch the next day. Eating out at restaurants becomes expensive and you should avoid it. If you go with a bigger group, ask that your meal be put on a separate bill so you are just paying for yourself. Your friends may not need to worry about costs and they might want to split everything evenly. If you are on a budget, this is not practical for you.

Free food! All campuses have hundreds of clubs that offer free food when they are throwing a party or an event. Keep your eyes open on campus for flyers promoting such events! Go with a friend and get a free meal. You may find out you might want to join the club yourself. It is a great way to make new friends if you do not know many people there in the beginning.

You cannot afford to spend frivolously while you are in college. If you do not want to live under your parents’ roof, abiding by your parents’ rules until you are 30 years old, think before you spend!

Help Your Student Determine What College is for: Ask Powerful Questions

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Megan G. Bernard, PhD
Founder, Kairos College Success Consulting

You can help your child thrive in the complex and sometimes overwhelming college environment. Asking questions can create space for them to articulate what matters to them, why it is important, and how their experiences in college can relate to those priorities. Intrinsic personal motivations for pursuing an education are positively correlated with college persistence, learning, and graduation. When students explore their reasons for attending college and studying particular subjects, they are better prepared to overcome obstacles.

Thoughtful, open-ended questions can support students as they work to define the meaning and value of their education.

Here are a few suggestions to help you begin a conversation that will start them thinking strategically:

  • How have you changed in the last year?
  • What aspect of yourself makes you feel proud?
  • Who do you admire? What is it about them or their life that inspires you?
  • Who was the best teacher you had? What did they do that made them the best?
  • What’s a difficult thing you’ve learned in the last year? How did you learn it?
  • Who are you looking forward to meeting/seeing/hanging out with?
  • What do you know about [city/town] outside of your campus so far? What do you want to explore there?
  • Do you have places you want to travel to or study in your lifetime? What is it about those places that interests you?
  • What qualities do you want to be known for? Why are those significant to you?

These questions are tailored to elicit certain productive mindful habits of your student. When you seek insight rather than dictate obligations or offer advice, you position your student as the expert in her own life and position yourself as a curious supporter. You are like an interviewer, making her the star of the story that she chooses to tell about herself.

Tips for Asking Powerful Questions

  • These open-ended questions should be posed lightly, over coffee or on a walk.
  • Select one topic to raise at a time so that you don’t accidentally slip into an interrogation.
  • You can help extend the discussion by offering a brief, previously-untold story about your own college experience; I recommend you reveal a mistake and how you changed as a result. Disclosing new things about your past shows you recognize their independence.
  • Accept that they may not answer your questions directly or deeply; that’s fine—and normal. Even if she does not engage in a dialogue on the subject, you have planted seeds in her mind that can encourage her recognize that she has authority over what happens next.

Thoughtful and supportive coaching like this can guide college students to articulate the hopes they hold for their own futures—and to make real strides toward realizing them. Practicing self-authorship helps young adults develop confidence and persist when college gets difficult.

Getting to Know Your Professors

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Why is having a relationship with professors important? Building a relationship with your college professors can make a difference, both in and outside of the classroom. Maybe you’re thinking to yourself right now that in high school you’ve always been able to build a great rapport with your teachers, and that’s probably true; however, there are several academic differences between high school and college. For one, your class size can easily go from 30 students in your Algebra 2 class to 300 students in a lecture hall. How will your professor ever be able to get to know you, or even learn your name?

Well, it may require a bit more effort on your part, but it’s worth it! Here are some ways to stand out in a large class:

  1. Ask questions.
  2. Don’t rush out of class, stay for a few extra minutes.
  3. Utilize office hours, even if you don’t need help. Pop in and say hello!

Now that we’ve identified a few easy ways to get to know your professors, let’s talk about the benefits of getting to know them; seniors this is extra important for you! Interacting with professors is great preparation for the professional world. Think back to when you really wanted to get into your top college and were considering teachers in high school to write a letter of recommendation for you. Now, fast forward four years, and you really want to get a job that directly relates to your major. A good letter of recommendation from a college professor for a job or internship can be a huge help toward getting you that job. Your professors can also be a great source of networking and likely have connections with professionals in your field.

Getting to know your professors can help you have a more positive attitude toward learning, make classes more fun and offer you professional opportunities.

High School Athletes Navigating Through the Recruiting Process


Whether you’re a stud freshmen playing on a varsity team or an average freshman playing on the freshman team, the recruiting process takes time and effort if you want to receive an athletic scholarship. I suggest you start having conversations with your coaches and counselors starting in your sophomore year of high school. The sooner you begin the process, the more options you will have by senior year.

In high school, I was a three-sport athlete, but I was the most passionate about softball. I was brought up to varsity by the end of my freshmen year, and I played travel softball all year. Unfortunately, I did not have anyone guiding me through the recruiting process. I thought college coaches were going to come find me, and I was going to get a Division I scholarship to play a sport I loved. I thought my stats spoke volumes; I believed any college would be happy to have me. My senior year I signed with UIC, and I
received a scholarship to play Division I softball. Personally, I think I got lucky.
Looking back, I wish I had someone to help me navigate through the recruiting process correctly. If I had to do it all over again, I would have researched Division I, II, III, and NAIA schools that had both my major and a women’s softball team. Along with researching, I would have registered for more exposure
camps or ID camps in order for more college coaches to watch me play. I would have emailed these coaches, sent them my stats, filled-out their questionnaires online, sent them my athletic and academic resume, and sent them a video of my swing and my fielding skills. I would have also taken the ACT three more times and studied each time to increase my score; I only took it twice. Even though I received a scholarship, I did not receive a full ride. If I went through the above list carefully, I know I would have received more money for my academics as well as for athletics. Also, a part of me wishes I settled on Division III or NAIA school and played softball and volleyball.
The recruiting process is strenuous and time-consuming, but if you have a counselor helping you, it makes the process easier and more successful. Student-athletes need to be persistent and take the initiative when contacting college coaches. College coaches are usually either in season, or they are out recruiting; they are very busy and they will not always email athletes back depending on how many recruits are emailing them on a daily basis. If you do not hear back from a coach, do not give up. On average, athletes should email a college coach 3-4 times before moving on. After the fourth email, you can begin to assume they are not interested, but not before. Once you do hear back from a coach, make sure you stay in contact with them at least twice a month. If they are interested in signing you, they may be in contact with you more and eventually, they will ask you to come to their campus on an official visit where you will meet the team and stay overnight with a player. This is also a great time to bring up any questions you may
have regarding the team, school, and scholarship money. This excerpt is a quick glance into the recruiting process. If you are planning on playing a sport in college, speak to your high school coach, school counselor, and someone who has played in college and
has gone through this process. Exhaust your resources and give yourself options. More importantly, start,
and never give up!

What do I want to be when I grow up?

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How many times do you think you are asked that question in a day, week or month?  When arriving at family parties and well-meaning grandparents, aunts or uncles inquire about your life goals and aspirations.  Sometimes when faced with such a heavy, major decision, human nature can tend to cause us to retreat, deflect, avoid or exaggerate the many options out there that are available to us.  So, in an attempt to narrow it down and really get you on the road to what is going to fulfill your intrinsic and extrinsic values, here are a few steps to take to ensure attaining your goals.  If you focus on these 4 steps, you are sure to find the right career for you:  Self-assessment, Exploration, Research, and Planning.

As you begin the career exploration process, you must get to know yourself and really determine what some of your values are both personally and professionally.  Think about the following work values and how high they rank on your list of preferences in the job place:

  • Autonomy: receiving little or no supervision
  • Helping Others: providing assistance to individuals or groups
  • Prestige: having high standing
  • Job Security: a high probability that one will remain employed
  • Collaboration: working with others
  • Helping Society: contributing to the betterment of the world
  • Recognition: receiving attention for your work
  • Compensation: receiving adequate pay
  • Achievement: doing work that yields results
  • Utilizing Your Skills and Background: using your education and work experience to do your job
  • Leadership: supervising/managing others
  • Creativity: using your own ideas
  • Variety: doing different activities
  • Challenge: performing tasks that are difficult
  • Leisure: having adequate time away from work
  • Recognition: receiving credit for achievements
  • Artistic Expression: expressing one’s artistic talents
  • Influence: having the ability to affect people’s opinions and ideas


Before you can choose the right career, you must learn about yourself.  Your values, interests, soft skills and aptitude, in combination with certain personality traits, will make some occupations a good fit for you and others completely inappropriate. Some of your interests may be in a variety of fields.  Do you like to spend your day building something, attending to money matters or numbers, reading, exercising, hiking in the forest, helping others, teaching… do you like to work alone or do you work better completing tasks within a group?  All of these preferences lend to a clearer understanding of some of your interests and completing an interest inventory is one of the first steps to determining your aptitude for a certain professional field.  The Strong Interest Inventory is one of the most famous, long -standing self-assessment tools.  Utilizing this to gain a better view of your aptitudes, personality traits, favorite school subjects and leisure activities gives you a whole picture of your possible career options.

Once an assessment is completed and analyzed, it is time to do the research.  Career exploration is about finding out about the fields that interest you and learning more about what those jobs entail.  If you have a lot of jobs on your list, you may be able to narrow it down by answering a few of the more basic questions about a given occupation.  An important question to ask is how important or relevant is this job in today’s world.  Will there be a job out there for me when I graduate?  What is the job outlook, growth rate?  What kind of salary can I expect?  How much education/training do I need to succeed in this field?  And most important of all is the daily job description?  What setting is this occupation?  What are some positives/negatives of this job?  What are some responsibilities?  What are some skills, abilities and personality traits of those in this occupation?  Once you’ve explored the surface of the occupations, it is imperative to research and dig deeper on more requirements of the job.  Besides using google and other valuable online tools to find this out, nothing beats job shadowing or interviewing somebody you know that is already in this profession.  If you can go and live a day in the life of a doctor, lawyer, physical therapist, psychologist, teacher, wildlife preservationist… you name it…. You will have a great feel for if you can see yourself in this position in your life.

Once you’ve narrowed it down to a certain field or specific occupation, it is time to get to work on the education/training part of your goal.  While determining your job requirements or parameters, i.e… do you have a certain salary in mind?  Do you expect to travel a lot?  Are you considering a family and would you need to travel less or work more?   If there are factors involved or impediments to achieving your goals, it is important to reassess how you are going to go about achieving them.

Here are some helpful links that will get you started on your self-assessment, exploration, research and eventual planning for finding the best career fit for you! (occupational outlook handbook)

And don’t forget the interest inventories:

Good luck in your search!