Experiences College Students Say Lead To Success

When a college information session mentions the number of students who return for a second year, they are giving insight into the quality of the programs designed to integrate young students into the fabric of college life.  Most do a good job.

First Year Experience Programs that create  groups of students with similar interests or into a First Year Seminar in which all participants student the same thing or read the same book make it possible for new students to have an immediate group of acquaintances to walk with, talk to and meet for dinner or coffee.

The National Career Development Association polled students to formulate this list of activities that helped them stay the course to graduation.

6 College Experiences that College Grads Say Helped Them Be Successful  NCDA

  1. I had at least one professor at [college] who made me excited about learning.2.2. 2. My professor(s) at [college] cared about me as a person.
    3. I had a mentor who encouraged me to pursue my goals and dreams.
    4. I worked on a project that took a semester or more to complete.
    5. I had an internship or job that allowed me to apply what I was learning in the classroom.
    6. I was extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations while I attended [college].

Point 1, having professors who create excitement about learning or who fuel your curiosity puts the onus on the professor to bring the subject to life.  You will meet professors who know a lot but aren’t inspiring teachers and you will meet professors who can make a brick wall interesting.  Don’t write off the boring subjects or boring teachers: learn what you can because somewhere, some time, you will be able to use that knowledge.

Notice that Points 2-6 all rely on the student to take initiative.

#2 For your professors to care about you they must know you.  Get over your intimidation and drop by office hours for a chat.  See them as people who happen to know more about a given topic than you do.  Pick their brain, ask questions, show interest.

#3 To find a mentor you have to  know people and when you find the right one you must ask.  Mentors don’t pop up out of nowhere: you have to look for and make connections with lots of people.  Put yourself out there!

#4 Projects that are interdisciplinary or are carried out over an extended period mirror work experiences.  Assisting a professor’s research or writing is a great way to get yourself known in your field.  Many undergrads are published before commencement.

#5 Internships are like jobs.  You will need a resume and an interview.  Students who expect the college or a professor to hook them up with an internship have missed the point.  Gaining experience requires that you know what you are good at as well as what you need to learn.  Guess what?  You will use those skills every time you look for a new job.  Internships create experience and networks that lead to your first post-grad job.  Use this opportunity to have as many internships or co-op experiences as possible.

#6 Joining organizations early in your first year is a great way to meet people and explore ideas or events that you might consider in your job search.  Students who spend their time with high school friends on FB or Instagram tend to be lonely and unhappy.  Choose a time once a week to check in with your old group but spend the bulk of your socializing hours getting to know the people in your new world.  Those with the most connections tend to be the happiest and most successful.  You may make life-long friends in the organizations you join.

To sum up, colleges have a responsibility to provide relevant knowledge and to make it available to students.  Students have the responsibility to build relationships with faculty and other students.  You aren’t in high school any longer; only you can make these years productive and fulfilling.

I have more transition advice for college-bound students.  Let me answer your questions and give you the confidence you need to flourish.  610-212-6679 or stephanie@accessguidance.com

Vermont Offers $10K To Remote Workers Who Move There

If you like to work from Starbucks, the park, or even Indonesia, if you make Vermont your home and work remotely for a company headquartered outside Vermont, the state will write you a check for $10,000.

The plan is good for Vermont because you will be spending your money there, buying a house or renting one.  Your groceries will come from the local market and you will buy gas from the local station.

You benefit because Vermont has a live-and-let-live attitude, is home to several top notch universities and has a lower cost of living than, say, the mid-Atlantic region or Chicago.  And locally sourced, eco-friendly, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream is made just down the road.

Vermont is known for its fall color and attracts visitors from all over the county and Europe. There is great skiiing in-state.  Boston, NYC, Montreal and Quebec are a short trip away.

So who could you work for?  The Flexjobs article lists 7 companies that are hiring right now.  Polish your resume, pack your bags and go collect your bonus!


5 Career Lessons I Wish I’d Had When I Was 22.

Here’s an article from LinkedIn that every undergraduate student and every recent college grad should read.

Sara Sutton Fell     May 5, 2014

I live in a college town, and besides just busy restaurants and more traffic, this time of year is chock-full of college graduations, commencement speeches, and lessons for young professionals just embarking on their careers. I thought back to when I was that age and what advice I wish I had been given — and listened to — that would’ve saved me a lot of stress-related headaches and self-doubt. As part of LinkedIn’s #IfIWere22 series, here are five lessons for my 22-year-old self. (Hopefully they’ll help someone else starting their career and interested in saving themselves some career-related agony!)

Common sense is more important than an MBA.

While an MBA can be useful, it is not a requirement to be successful in business. However, I believe that common sense is. I started my first business when I was 21, with a childhood friend who was also 21– and honestly, we both looked like we were about 16. We had no business experience whatsoever and obviously no MBAs, but we were incredibly driven and passionate about our idea. In an effort to learn from others’ experiences, we actively built a group of advisers who were older, had MBAs, and who were impressively experienced. But our company was an internet company in the dawn of the new economy, and while the advice was well-meaning and came across with confidence and levity, it simply wasn’t as applicable, and they didn’t understand the audience and product nearly as well as we did. Because we were young and lacking professional depth, we didn’t give these two factors enough credit, and too often we were swayed from our instincts by people who we thought were smarter just because of their MBAs. Bottom line, always be open to learn from people who might have more knowledge or experience than you, but don’t sacrifice your common sense for it.

Each and every job will teach you something about what you want to do (or not to).

No matter how bleak or pointless a job might seem, there is actually always a valuable takeaway… it just might not be what you expect. The boss you hate? Well, you might realize that you never want to be a manager like that. The soul-sucking job hawking a crappy product? It might be horrible, but you might learn some amazing marketing tactics that you will use down the line to get national awareness for a product you do believe. Regardless of your job and whether you love it or hate it (or vacillate in between), look for opportunities to learn about what you like and don’t like. These lessons will help you design your career in a way that makes you happy and proud.

Your career path is almost certainly going to be more of a meandering river than a straight path.

You will move backwards, forwards, sideways. There will be jobs that on the outside promise to be a ticket to the top, but instead that end up leaving you laid off when you are seven months pregnant, wondering how the heck you got there (as I did). You might take a job that seems like a step (or more) backwards in your career, but because you are such a high-performer you are offered an unexpectedly awesome skyrocket to the top within a few years (as I was). You might find that you want to switch careers entirely. So try to remember to ride each unexpected twist and turn, take it all for what it’s worth, and try not to stress too much that your career path isn’t as straight as you expected it to be.

Networking just to network can be more distracting than helpful.

We’ve all heard it’s about “who you know”, blah, blah, blah. And I get that, BUT. Be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that quantity is more important than quality. While I admit it’s cool to see the “500+ connections” indicator on someone’s LinkedIn profile, if all of those 500 are strangers or low-grade acquaintances, you’ll be missing the real opportunities that networking really provides. So be sure to seek out substantive professional relationships (mentors, trusted colleagues, people in your company you admire, friends and family, or just people you respect). Keep regular communication with them, and engage them in real conversations. It’s not to say that general casual networking can’t be helpful–it can!–but don’t let it be your only goal. Because those deeper, “real” connections are like investments that will yield better and better results over time, on both a professional and a trusted personal level.

Place high value on company culture.

There are a lot of bells and whistles that companies may advertise as why you want to work there, but no matter what industry you’re in, the culture where you work is vitally important. Is there a ton of turnover? Do colleagues often have advancement opportunities? Do people enjoy working there? What the company values and identifies as important to them will impact you every single day. , also don’t rely on it exclusively. Supplement the information they’ve provided by researching people who work for the company (ideally in a related department) on LinkedIn, see if you have any connections, and ask them for an informational interview. Or use sites like Glassdoor to read reviews of companies from the employees themselves. And in job interviews, always ask specific questions about the culture. Always. You are going to invest a huge amount of your time and energy into this place. Make sure it’s a worthwhile investment.


Sara Sutton Fell is an expert in the online employment market and is currently the Founder and CEO of FlexJobs, an award-winning career website for telecommuting and flexible job listings. Sara is the Founder of 1 Million for Work Flexibility, an initiative to help positive change towards flexible options in the workplace.


How Compensation Decisions Are Made

How Compensation Decisions Are Made

Understanding how employers make compensation decisions is critical if you want to be effective in negotiating your own compensation package.

Compensation has been very much in the news during the past year.  From the fervor over a $15.00 per hour minimum wage to robots coming to take people’s jobs to an accelerating employment market, compensation is on the minds and hearts of just about everyone. Before you can begin to get a handle on any of these issues, you first must have a basic understanding of how employers make compensation decisions.

Current Factors Impacting Compensation.

Like any other aspect of compensation, trends in the current market are impacting the compensation offered for specific positions.  Here are five of the factors that dramatically impact compensation ranges for virtually every position:

  1. The value of the work being done. Labor costs are almost always the single largest expense item incurred by any employer, other than the costs for the goods and services produced.  Labor costs include components such as base compensation (hourly or salary), variable compensation (such as bonuses or commissions), benefits, payroll taxes, and related insurances. So there is always pressure to assure that the value produced by each employee exceeds the costs associated with that employee.  Because the market sets to price for the goods and services it consumes, compensation must be tied to the value of what an employee’s work produces – or the employer cannot afford to remain in business.
  2. Supply vs. demand. This factor affects both industries and regions.  If there is a shortage of qualified candidates for a position in a particular area, compensation will tend to be on the high end of the range, with some employers electing to pay sign-on bonuses to attract candidates.  Likewise, if there is an over-supply of qualified candidates, compensation will be on the lower end of the range, with relatively few people hired in the higher ranges of compensation.  You will need to understand the dynamics of your industry and region.
  3. New job vs. raise. People changing employment (either inside their own company or moving to a different employer) tend to have larger compensation increases available, versus those staying in the same job or role.  The typical range for an annual increase is about 3%, while the average increase achieved when changing jobs is about 10%.
  4. Difficulty of filling the position. The difficulty an employer has experienced or (is anticipating) in filling the position will tend to increase what the employer is willing to pay.  Highly specialized skills, experience, and education are often the largest reason for the difficulty in filling a position.
  5. Benefits add 10% to 70% to total compensation. While benefits such as healthcare have been in the headlines during the past few years, the cumulative value of non-salary benefits is significant.  Here is an excellent calculator from CalcXML to determine the value of the benefits being offered.

The Mechanics of Compensation Decisions. 

Employers have established a range of what they are willing to pay for a particular position.  For example, a position with a target average annual salary of $55,000 might have the following range:

  1. Minimum – $45,000
  2. Mid-point – $55,000
  3. Maximum – $65,000

The interview process – the candidate’s credentials (résumé, social profile, and the like) and the results of any pre-offer background check (references, social media) – all influence where within the compensation range the initial offer will be made.

Researching compensation.

This can be done via the internet by Googling salary ranges or visiting compensation sites such as salary.com, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or payscale.com. Because information may be self-reported, tend to view these figures as optimistic about the position evaluated.  While the information provided on these sites is generally accurate (± 10%), there are regional differences, as well as differences from organization to organization.  Another helpful site for salary research is Glassdoor, which provides an inside look at jobs, companies, and compensation (as reported by current and former employees).  When calculating total compensation, bear in mind that benefits can be worth as little as 10% of base compensation, or as much as 50% or more.  Employer-paid expenses, travel allowances, hiring bonuses, tuition programs, insurances, paid time off, and other benefits add up quickly.

Some companies provide a lower starting salary, with a compensation increase once the new employee completes his/her training period (usually 90 days) and proves him/herself.  In a slow economy, there is an abundance of people looking for positions, so salaries can be somewhat depressed.  Likewise, when the economy is booming, starting salaries may be increased to attract better candidates.

Finally, understand that regional cost-of-living factors greatly affect the market-based compensation for any position.  A $60,000 position in an average cost of living area may translate to $48,000 in a low-cost area and $110,000 in a high-cost area.  Based on the relative cost of living of the area, the $48,000, $60,000, and $110,000 benchmarks reflect the same equivalent purchasing power.

Bottom Line

Like anything else in life, proper preparation prevents poor performance.  Never enter into a compensation negotiation without first having done your homework, with includes not only understanding how compensation for the position is established and what the reasonable ranges for compensation for your position by market, but also how you can prove that you’ll be able to deliver excellent value for the compensation you desire.

This article was excerpted from the most recent edition of Get a Better Job Faster? now available on Amazon.com.

WOW Your Essay Reader With These Tips

Its time for rising seniors to begin to think about the application essays, a critical piece of the application puzzle.  Your courses, GPA, activities and leadership are set in stone.  The essay is the one piece over which you still have total control.

The Common App essays have been published.  Even though you don’t know what other prompts will be you can plan your strategy now.   Let’s make it an enviable piece of writing.


  1. What do you want the admissions counselor to know about you that isn’t on your application already.  Write about something that moves you or about which you are passionate.    When you decide what you want the reader to know, choose appropriate anecdotes.
  2. Your topic should not cover anything else on the application.  Hard working student?  They can see that from your courses and grades.  Love sports?  On the activities list.  If you can’t think of anything, ask 5 people to describe you.  Kind?  OK, find a story that illustrates that.   Funny?  Tell a good story about what makes you laugh or how you entertain your friends.  Maybe talk about a book or movie that you find hilarious-and why.
  3. Tell a story.  Why do you like looking at the stars from your bedroom window?  What do you and your mom talk about over Sunday morning pancakes?  Why did you and your best friend part ways and how did it make you feel?
  4. Do you have a situation or event that has put roadblocks in your path?  Maybe you repeated a grade and can talk about why that happened or how that impacted your social life.  If you are writing about a challenge the focus should be on what you’ve done to overcome the obstacle and how your efforts have changed you.
  5. Have plans for the future?  A recent client, Sam, who was shy in high school, wanted to learn to tolerate uncomfortable group events and be more social in college.  Sam described his plan and the changes he expected to take place.
  6. Whatever you write about make it personal.   Your subject doesn’t need to be earth shaking; its a means to revealing who you are to someone who doesn’t know you.  Make your essay  memorable for its honesty, not its Pultizer worthiness.

There you have it in a nutshell.  Write from the heart, not from the head.    Let me help you design your personal statement with the admissions office in mind.  Stephanie@accessguidance.com or 610-212-6679

Lessons From The College Application Process

Rising seniors are beginning to assemble documentation for their applications, and filling in the Common App which now rolls over for the next application season.   I’ve heard college students lament choices they made at this point in their journey and I’ve read about the lessons others have learned.  Here are a few.

1. Get your priorities straight before you start choosing where to apply.  If you don’t know what you want from a college or the education it offers, you can’t begin to make good decisions.

2. Getting into an ultra-selective college may boost your ego but the actual environment might not be so appealing.  One student was upset to find her friends took free time when she was studying and studied when she wanted to play or sleep.  The constant pressure of exams and projects wore her down, resulting in a 6-week bout with mono.

3. Choose your colleges wisely.  Don’t add some just because Uncle Henry went there, your mom liked the campus, or it has a respected name.  If you don’t like a college or don’t think you’re a good fit, don’t apply because you might be the only one you get into and the one you will attend.

4. Mind your deadlines! Everything must be in on time and there are no do-overs.

5. It isn’t possible to know or understand the variables that each college considers and how the elements are weighted.  If you did, you would still not be able to maximize your use of the application real estate.  Stop worrying about getting everything right on each application.  Do the best you can.  When you click Submit, let it go and enjoy peace of mind.

6. Prepare for disappointment.  No matter how wonderful you are, how bright, thoughtful, charismatic, committed, you are, college admissions decisions can seem random (and maybe they are).

7. Do not prepare for failure.  Getting a “Dear Suzie” letter only means that you weren’t the right person at the right time for that college.  It isn’t a failure.  We humans are good a picking ourselves up and moving on.  I give the same advice for college rejections as I do for dating or not getting the perfect job: Why would you waste time on someone who doesn’t want to be with you, want to hire you, or admit you to their freshman class: step right up to the person, job or college that really wants to have you.  That is the one that deserves you!

Plan your college applications carefully, execute diligently, trust your own judgement.  I’m here to help.  Stephanie@accessguidance.com or 610-212-6679.

Please share with others who may need this information.



Effective Prep For Career or Job Change

According ot Dan Schwabel, between ages 18 and 50, the average person will hold 12 jobs and almost half of them may be before age 25.  If you are contemplated a change in  employment, read these 7 tips to speed you on your way.

  1. Before you leap into a new career or move your current one to a new company, spend some time thinking about what you want in the new position.  How do you want to spend your day?  What problems do you want to solve?  What challenges you? Which skills do you want to use? Who do you want to work with-what kind of people help you perform optimally?  Where to you thrive, what environment and elements of company culture nurture your gifts?  Answer these questions to help you make the best career-promoting decisions.
  2. Create a career plan, frame the trajectory of you working life using the information generated by step one.   You need to have a goal in order to select the path most likely to move you toward it.  Not knowing where you are going is the biggest mistake you can make.  The goal may be revised many times as doors close and windows open through no action of yours.  Think of the job categories that no longer exist and those that have sprung up in the last  years.  To be able to evaluate new options you must have some standards to compare them to.
  3. Expand your knowledge of what is out there, where the opportunities are.  Don’t limit yourself to the kinds of jobs you’ve held or the fields of endeavor  you already know.  Great ways to learn about new kinds of work are through networking and getting to know lots of new people.  Join something; connect with professional groups; use LinkedIn to expand your horizons.  Ask for informational interviews; ask to shadow someone whose job seems interesting.  Read newspapers and magazines; read professional journals in fields that interest you.  Attend professional organization meetings, conferences, presentations.  Volunteer.  Think outside the box you are in!
  4. Before you settle on a new direction, research the job market and salary.  Be certain that there are openings to be filled.  If you don’t have all of the sills required, consider the time and expense or re-tooling and prepare to show how your current experiences have positioned you to slip seamlessly into the new role.
  5. Financial planning for the transition is necessary.  You may need to support yourself without income for a short while.  Training may be necessary and not all companies pay full salary during this period.  Have some extra funds so that you aren’t forced to take the highest paying (but not necessarily the most rewarding) job or the first one offered.  Sometimes you will need to accept a lower starting salary or fewer benefits until you’ve proven your value.
  6. Don’t assume that in order to get the job you want you will need another degree or job specific skills.  Many companies prefer to train new hires themselves.  Others will pay for employees to go back to school.  Where it appears that only MBAs will be interviewed, look for other positions that do the same work but without the degree requirement from the start.  Most professionals know that a degree gives good backgrounding and exposure, but the real learning is done on the job.
  7. Some DONTs and DOs.  Don’t wait before you have a new job.  Don’t neglect networking.  Don’t skip the research into  yourself and potential careers.  Don’t give up too quickly.  Do begin to consider a move when you aren’t growing in your present role or when you can see that the fit isn’t a good one. Do draw on strengths developed in previous positions. Do find a mentor or support team. Do adjust your resume to reflect the new position or career field.

I’m available to help with your career journey.  Lets get together soon! stephanie@accessguidance.com or 610-212-6679.


Are You Savvy About Getting A Job?

Job Applications

Students, how much do you know about the documents and activities that help you find a job?  Take this Job Search Strategy Quiz from Grand Valley State University.  The 14 True/False questions will show you how far ahead of the curve you are.






After you complete the quiz, give me a call to talk about strategies you will need to get a job or an internship.  610-212-6679 or stephanie@accessguidance.com


3 Things That Lead To Promotion


Being promotable is as easy as ABC.  As with interviewing for a new job, you want to show that you already have the soft skills needed in the new position.  Employees who are creative, innovative and who have a history of solving problems are considered more valuable.

A.  The ambitious person will actively seek problems to solve.  A problem you can attack could be as simple as making certain that there is fresh coffee all day or as serious as revision of the on-boarding procedures for new clients.

B. The upwardly mobile employee seeks projects and responsibilities beyond the current job description.  Join a team effort. Lend a hand when a co-worker is overwhelmed.  Volunteer to lead a project.  Beginning early in your tenure in a position get to know the other employees (or in a large company  meet the key players in each department), their responsibilities, and how your job impacts theirs.  Knowing how the parts of the company function positions you to work smoothly with everyone.

C. Let your boss know that you are open to expansion of your duties and are actively looking forward to consideration for a promotion.  If no one knows of your interest you may not be considered.  Needless to say, how you approach the chain of command and co-workers is vital.  Avoid brown-nosing, being the office know-it-all, don’t step on toes or appear to be trying to replace your boss!

Need to talk about office politics or how to position yourself to be noticed?  I can help. stephanie@accessguidance or 610-212-6679.  Lets talk soon!

SAT Subject Tests: What You Need To Know

As the clock ticks down to the end of junior  year, students are scheduling and prepping for standardized tests.  Most will choose the SAT or the ACT and take the AP exams for the courses they complete this year.

As of March 2018 only 7 colleges require SAT Subject tests: Cornell (some departments), CalTech, Harvey Mudd, Harvard, MIT, svMcGill (or the ACT), and Webb Institute.

Fourteen more recommend subject tests: Georgetown wants to see 3 tests; the others, Brown, Carnegie Mellon, Dartmouth, Duke, Emory, Lafayette, Northwestern, Penn, Princeton, Rice and Yale, University of Delaware (strongly recommend for Honors), University of Georgia suggest 2. “Recommended” should be read as ‘required”

Check with each university for specifics on which ones are preferred.

SAT 2, or subject tests are aligned with the material covered in a high school curriculum.  Unless specified, colleges don’t care which tests are submitted.  Engineering programs are likely to expect to see  either Math 1 or Math 2 and Physics.

The tests offered are Math 1 (SAT math); Math 2 (pre-calc)

Biology with emphasis on Ecology or Molecular Biology; Chemistry and Physics

US or World History

Literature adds poetry and drama to the SAT literature questions

Languages.  Many native speakers take these tests; not being a native speaker doesn’t impact the scores significantly.  Test prep is suggested.

Each test is one hour and a max of 3 may be taken on the same day.  Register for one test to save your seat.  On the day of the exam you can choose which exams to take and in which order.  You may take fewer or more than you registered for.

Subject tests are offered on all test dates except March.  The Language with Listening is ONLY offered in November.  The multiple choice test is as highly valued as the test with  listening.

Scoring     Tests are scaled 200-800 and also by percentile.  Math exams have many testers score 800 so the highest percentile coordinated with the top score is around 80th percentile.  Good news is that you can miss 4-5 questions and still receive your 800; a 750 or better can be reached with 8-9 incorrect answers.

You will find 5 answer choices and there is a quarter point penalty for guessing.

Score Choice     You are permitted to take the same test more than once and can choose which scores to send unless a college requires all scores.

Accommodations that you have for the SAT apply to subject tests as well.

If you want to confer on which tests to take and when to take them, lets talk! stephanie@accessguidance.com or 610-212-6679