Author Archive | Abby A-A.

Image by Julia Manzerova, Flickr

Image by Julia Manzerova, Flickr

Every day we’re faced with decisions. Get up or stay in bed? Check Twitter or scan newspapers? Then you decide what to have for breakfast and what outfit matches your mood for the day. These are pretty simple choices that don’t require much thought. But when trying to decide what educational qualification you need to have for the career you want, you’re better off making a thought-through decision based on data.

3 ways to decide if you should go to college or university

  1. Figure out what you want: It can be tough sometimes, but you need to have an idea of what kind of work you’re interested in. Finding what interests you the most is the first step. In high school, did you get excited about technical classes where you had to design things and use tools/instruments to construct or take things apart? Or were you more of a numbers person who found finance and accounting really easy? There is only one expert who understands what gets you excited and what you enjoy – and that expert is you.

  3. What is the industry demand?: Once you have an idea about what kind of work you’re best suited to, the next step is to find out what the industry trends are predicting. Are there lots of opportunities? What influences the industry? Is it a growing or dying industry? If becoming an administrative assistant is your goal, you’ll be disappointed to learn that this is not a growing career path. These kinds of jobs are affected by technology. There are dozens of software applications used to automate most of the tasks previously performed by administrative assistants.
    One way to learn about the industry is to search for the governing body for that career group. Examples of governing bodies for Accountants are the Certified General Accountants or Certified Management Accountants; for Plumbing it’s the Canadian Institute of Plumbing & Heating; for Supply Chain it’s the Canadian Supply Chain Council. Most professions have governing associations with local chapters where you can meet and learn from professionals who are already doing what you’re interested in.

  5. What qualification is required?: If you followed the first two steps in this process, you’ll know what qualification(s) you need to have to get the job you want. Compared to university and college student recruiters who conduct education fairs at your high school, industry professionals are in the best position to tell you what education is needed for that career path. The fact remains that where you get your education should be determined by the nature and requirements of the job you want. A couple expecting a baby and in need of a new car should be looking at buying a spacious car rather than a 2-seater convertible. Same thing applies with university or college education – it has to fit your purpose.


How not to decide between college and university

  1. Following the crowd: All your friends are going to university. If you follow the crowd, you’ll never get past them. Besides, you may be interested in a different program compared to your friends. Don’t let them control your future.

  3. Selecting a college or university just because your parent(s) went there: Unless your parent currently has the kind of job you want and other industry experts in this same profession have also recommended that college or university, don’t decide just based on your parents’ emotional attachment to their alma mater.

  5. Deciding based on the cost: Money is the basis of a lot of decisions. How much is the tuition? Do I have to take a student loan? Can I get scholarships? These are important questions that require answers. But simply choosing to study at a university or college based on the tuition or amount of scholarships offered is not the best way to go. Do what you can to attend the best school for you.


Check out more free advice on making your college vs. university decision.

Image by Capture Queen, Flickr

Image by Capture Queen, Flickr

We live in boxes, sleep on boxes, pour our breakfast out of boxes. While hurrying to class or work we run along with our lunch boxes, and after a long day of hard work we order takeout dinner and yes, you guessed right, we eat it out of boxes. When the box in which we preserve most of our food gets empty, we jump into our four-wheel boxes and drive off to big box stores to buy more boxed food.

So how exactly are we supposed to think outside the box?

Kids do. If they don’t know something, they’ll still give it a try because they’re not scared of being wrong. Here’s a quick story for you: A five-year-old girl in grade school hardly paid attention or concentrated in class. During art class one afternoon, her teacher noticed she was really focused on what she was drawing. The teacher walked up to her and asked, “What are you drawing?” and the girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” A little surprised, her teacher said, “But no one knows what God looks like,” and the girl said, “They will in a minute.” Funny story – but the moral is that children are not afraid of trying. As we grow into adults we tend to lose that unhindered capacity to take risks and take the path less travelled.

During an interview after Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, he was asked by a reporter, “Mr. Edison, you failed 999 times while trying to invent the light bulb; why did you keep at it?” Edison responded,

I didn’t fail 999 times, I just found 999 ways that did not work.

Thinking outside the box requires being prepared to be wrong. If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.

Here are some tangible ways you can think outside this figurative box:

Deconstruct the box
Define the box in the situation you’re faced with, then look for unconventional solutions that most would consider beyond normal. Consider every possibility real and hypothetical – no matter how ridiculous they first sound.

Turn it upside down
Approach the problem or task from a different position. Ask yourself, what if the less important outcome of a problem becomes the most important outcome? Then what will the problem look like? The key is getting your brain untangled from seeing a task in the same way.

Ask a kid for advice
As previously noted, kids are not afraid of failing. If you’re looking for a fresh, undiluted perspective on something, seek the opinion of a kid. Of course not all kids will give you ideas worth pursuing, but at least you have the benefit of seeing things through the eyes of a child, and they’ll often give you the simple, no frills response that you may have thought was too “easy” to solve your problem. Think again!

Image by BeckyF, flickr

Image by BeckyF, flickr

Sitting at number three on a list of the top 10 scariest things in the world is public speaking. Just below this, at number four and five, are ghosts and spiders. Why are presentations so scary? Is it the idea of staring at so many faces and being judged while on the spot that sends chills down your spine? The key to delivering effective presentations is to face this fear.
F – False
E – Expectations
A – Appearing
R – Real

When faced with scary situations, one of three things tends to happen to the average person; they freeze, they flee or they fight. Freezing during a presentation could mean losing train of thought or forgetting lines. Fleeing is avoiding the situation entirely – faking an illness or persuading someone else to take your place. Fighting means thinking on your feet and improvising. This tactic is common with stand-up comedians, TV personalities, and of course, politicians.

So what do Barack Obama, Ellen Degeneres, Kathleen Wynne and Michael Buble have in common? They are all great presenters, but just like you, they were all born with no presentation skills. They learned everything they know, which means you have just as much potential as they did at your age. So, how do you become even half as good as any of them?

  • Step 1 – Develop an Interest
  • Know your topic. Research it and feel comfortable discussing it with people on a casual basis. Try to get used to the idea that you’ll need to speak in front of a group on this topic.

  • Step 2 – Face your Fear
  • Don’t try to brainstorm creative ways to get out of your presentation. Accept that it will happen and focus on discounting the fear. Tell yourself why it’s unreasonable to be afraid of it. Is everyone else presenting too? They’re all in the same boat. Afraid you’ll forget a line? You’re the only one who knows what you’re supposed to say. People won’t know if you skip a sentence.

  • Step 3 – Practice
  • Your parents have been nailing it into your head since the day you were born. “Practice makes perfect.” Does this mean you’re going to fail a few times – or more – before you succeed? Yes. The formula to becoming a successful presenter is to double your failure rate. Am I asking you to fail faster? Yes, I am. Accept that you will make mistakes in your first few presentations. But also accept that the more you present, the better you will get.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane. Remember when your dad or uncle taught you how to ride a bike or how to skate? Recall how many times you fell, picked yourself up and tried again. That same can-do attitude is what you need to become a great presenter or public speaker.

World-famous Canadian author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell shares an insightful concept in his book titled Outliers. He says it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become world class at any endeavour.

Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good. (Gladwell, 2008, p.42)

He goes on to quote neurologist Daniel Levitin,

In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals and what have you; this number comes up again and again… The emerging picture from such studies is that 10,000 hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert in anything.

The takeaway for you here is simple: whether you have 10 hours to spare or 10,000, the more you practice, fail, get feedback, and practice again, the better you’ll become at not only facing your fear of presenting, but in your presentations themselves.

Great speakers are not made on stage, they’re just recognized there.

Image by UrbaneWomenMag, Flickr

Image by UrbaneWomenMag, Flickr

Everyone has exactly 24 hours in a day – how do you spend yours? Studying, eating, sleeping, daydreaming, talking, texting, Facebooking and networking are all frequented activities, but it’s often exercising that gets pushed to the backburner. You’re aware of this, and you keep telling yourself, “I need to find time to go to the gym.” But with a busy schedule, this isn’t always easy. The good news is you can turn everyday activities into quick and easy exercise routines – ones that you can do daily to make sure you don’t let those late-night snacks get the best of you.

  1. Take the stairs

  2. Yes. Put one leg in front of the other and off you go. While you clutch a steaming hot Starbucks beverage with your left hand, reach for the stair railing with your right. Climbing a few flights of stairs is not much, but it certainly counts as exercise if you do it on a regular basis. It doesn’t need to be for 10 flights at a time either; it makes sense to take the stairs for short trips in either direction, rather than waiting for the elevator.

  3. Take over the tap

  4. Sitting for three hours straight while studying in the library can be tiring both physically and mentally. Take five minute breaks every 45 minutes. Brief walks to the nearest water fountain or tap give you time to stretch, hydrate, and clear your mind. Short breaks keep you alert and help you concentrate – you’re also able to retain more information. Take advantage of the breaks your professors give you in class as well – leaving the room for a few minutes does wonders for your energy level.

  5. Get off the bus at the wrong stop

  6. It sounds counter-intuitive, right? You’ve only imagined getting off at the wrong stop after falling asleep or being deep in thought or conversation. It’s good for you! Getting off the bus or train one stop earlier gives you a longer distance to walk, and can be a very enjoyable form of exercise when the weather is nice. When the sun is shining, it can improve your mental health as well.

  7. You are what you absorb

  8. Exercise without proper diet is like a Ferrari without an engine – it looks good on the outside, but won’t get you anywhere. You’ve heard it before – you’re not just what you eat, you’re what you absorb. Oats, vegetables, nuts, fish and all the other healthy food you tend to avoid are vital. Pizza, fries and burgers may be pocket-friendly meals, but they mostly contain empty calories, meaning they keep hunger away but fail to adequately nourish your body. For more insights on your diet, check out 5 ways to stay healthy at school, or the top 10 food items you should have in your kitchen. Remember that eating healthy does not need to be an expensive or time-consuming activity.

  9. Turn your house into a gym

  10. With a little improvisation, you can create your own – inexpensive – home gym. Conduct a quick tour of your kitchen, and chances are you’ll find one or two cans of baked beans or chick peas. With your imagination, you can turn those into dumb bells. They won’t help you build remarkable biceps, but it’s a good starting point. You can eventually graduate to using real weights at the gym or purchasing your own set when you have more time. In your bedroom, challenge yourself to 10 push-ups and sit-ups every morning before stepping out.

"All I want for Xmas is an unpaid internship in accounting." Image by Newtown graffiti, flickr.

“All I want for Xmas is an unpaid internship in accounting.” Image by Newtown graffiti, flickr.

In most industries, it seems there are more applicants than available positions for full-time jobs. What differentiates the successful hires? Although there are many factors, a solid way to get ahead is to build up work experience. Volunteer positions, active engagement with non-academic organizations on campus, and internships are great ways for college students to start.

The Oxford English dictionary defines an intern as “a student or trainee who works, sometimes without pay, in order to gain work experience or satisfy requirements for a qualification.” My favourite part of the definition is “work sometimes without pay”. This is becoming increasingly common in today’s economy, but the undisputed benefit is the amount of experience gained. There is quite a bit of speculation about the legality of college students and new graduates working as unpaid interns, especially those who put in 40-50 hours per week, while holding weekend jobs that pay just enough to cover their cell phone bills and the next month’s bus pass.

The laws of supply and demand in the full-time workforce also apply to internships; moreso for paid positions. The movie The Internship, starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, pokes fun at how competitive it is to land an internship at one of the world’s largest tech companies.

Don’t get discouraged. If you’re reading this article, you’re already a step ahead of the competition. Congratulations on your initiative! Here are the best places to start your hunt for an internship:

  1. Through Niche Websites like TalentEgg
  2. When you think of online videos, I’m sure you think of YouTube. When you think of the online internship hunt, you should be thinking of TalentEgg. The number one online job board for students and new graduates, it should be on your radar throughout your job hunt.

  3. Through your College/University Career Centre
  4. If your academic program doesn’t include an internship option, you should visit the Career Centre. Just as entrepreneurs head to banks to get funding for their businesses, employers head to Career Centres to find new talent for their organizations.

  5. Through your own Network
  6. What if your friend is the brother-in-law’s cousin of the hiring manager for the internship position you so badly want? It seems like a long shot, but according to the theory of Six Degrees of Separation, everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world. That means a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. Your internship search can and should start with speaking to your own friends and family.

  7. Through your Professor/Instructor
  8. Your instructors not only have industry knowledge – they also have a wealth of industry contacts. Whether they work outside your university or not, it’s worth getting to know your professors and feeling out any connections they may have.

  9. Through Professional Organizations
  10. Chances are a group of experienced people in your desired industry comes together several times a year to exchange ideas and insight about their industry. These groups are looking to educate and mentor the future practitioners of their trade. Get in touch with them and try to attend open events or conferences they host.

You can’t go wrong if you start with these five places on your search for an internship. Make sure when you apply, you follow these basic resume tips to give yourself a great shot at being accepted!

Infographic by Yokoland. Answers "What qualities were very or somewhat important when you were deciding which undergraduate college to attend?" in survey by the NewYork Times (click to view).

Infographic by Yokoland. Answers “What qualities were very or somewhat important when you were deciding which undergraduate college to attend?” in survey by the New York Times (click to view).

Big decisions often come down to the smallest details. As you grew from a baby to a toddler to a pre-teen, your parents increasingly gave you more freedom to make your own choices. While you may not have noticed it, you’ve been gaining valuable experience in making tough decisions. Now it’s time to make an essential lifetime decision – what post-secondary school to attend. You’re numb from the multitude of choices available. Some of them have sent current students to showcase (through creative, sometimes quirky presentations) how cool it is to go their school; others have sent you beautifully-designed catalogues with pictures of architecturally sound and well-preserved buildings older than both your parents combined, boasting pictures of perfect college students sitting on the greenest grass you’ve ever seen (Photoshop?), happily working on assignments with expensive laptops, soaking up the summer sun.

You try to block out the persuasion techniques and consider all angles as you solve this choice paralysis and make a well-rounded decision. Unlike that car or cool phone, your college degree has no return policy upon completion. It’s important to step back and take a calm look before jumping in. When you do, make sure you’re covering aspects that matter to you too, not just what you’ve been told to look for in a school (brochures aren’t everything). Here are two Ds you should consider:

Your Desire

You love clothes, flashing lights and the runaway. For as long as you can remember, you’ve always wanted to work in the fashion industry. Or maybe you see yourself as a life saver; always looking to help people, you’ve seen every episode of Grey’s Anatomy, and you’re convinced that the life of a medical professional is your calling. As the saying goes, “if you do what you love you’ll never work another day in your life.” This doesn’t simply mean that you should sit around pondering how to turn your NASCAR obsession into a money-making idea; it’s important to be realistic as well. Remember, once you do something for a living, it changes everything; you’re no longer doing it for pleasure, you’re now doing it to put food on the table. You’ll probably still enjoy it, possibly even love it, but it will likely be more demanding because of the responsibilities that go with it. You’ll have to meet the expectations of clients, bosses and coworkers, and slowly but surely, your obsession may start taking on the features of hard work. Look at Mark Zuckerberg for an extreme example. He started Facebook as a hobby; soon after, it became his job (and certainly pays well), but now, after taking the company public, he’s responsible for keeping multitudes of shareholders, the great majority of whom he doesn’t know personally, happy. Find the balance that works for you.

Industry Demand

20 years ago, there were no job postings for Social Media Manager, Application Developer, or Cloud Computing expert, but head to LinkedIn today. They’re EVERYWHERE. At the current speed of technological advancement, the jobs that will become available in the next 20 years will certainly be something most current students are not prepared for.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the demand for jobs such as Insurance Underwriter, Reporter, Database Administrator, Farmer, and Postal Service Clerk is decreasing. However, regional demand is a great way to gauge the potential return on your educational investment. According to the Globe and Mail, in Canada today, there is a shortage of skilled workers in particular regions for jobs including Heavy Duty Equipment Mechanics, Biologists, Plumbers, Physiotherapists and Welders. These occupations command higher than average income levels, which makes them quite attractive when you’re preparing to save money by skimping on shoelaces for the next four years.

If you have a strong sense of knowledge of your own desire as well as the demand levels in your desired industry, it should not be a challenge to decide who offers the required courses. It’s perfectly normal to be nervous when making such a big decision, but before settling into a certain degree option, make sure you fully understand the importance of the first two Ds.

Image by Tulane Public Relations, flickr

Image by Tulane Public Relations, flickr

What comes to mind when you think of tutors? That nice lady who used to teach you piano lessons at home during middle school? Let’s get rid of the stereotype; a tutor can be anyone who has knowledge or skill in a subject and devotes time towards helping others learn it by offering private lessons. Some people tutor leisurely, while others do it to earn extra income.

Tutors can earn anywhere from $13-$20 per hour (sometimes more!). You’re likely thinking about better ways to spend that hard-earned money from your part-time job – but you don’t want to sacrifice your education. Like any other student, you love getting things for free – and we’ve got a few ways you can get the same quality lessons without spending a dime. So if you’re having difficulty with that statistics or finance course and the first test is in a few weeks, you’ve read the textbook several times but still don’t get it, don’t fret! Here are some free options for you to explore before you tear your hair out:

  1. The Course Teaching Assistant (a.k.a. the T.A.)
  2. Your professor probably doesn’t have sufficient time to explain the material individually with each student taking the class – but that’s why the T.A. was invented. A T.A. could be a graduate student taking a masters or PhD program in your subject, or an undergrad student who got an excellent grade in the same course who is willing to teach others. Teaching Assistants are highly under-used by students, and completely free of charge. Your prof will gladly provide the Teaching Assistant’s contact information if it’s not already on the course outline. Keep in mind, they tend to help professors grade assignments – so they’re a good place to get tips when learning the material.

  3. Study groups
  4. Do you tend to browse through Facebook while in class? Make it productive! Do a search for a study group in your course. If you can’t find one, speak to the people sitting around you to see if they’d be interested in forming a study group. You’ll be amazed how many times people will have the same idea but were too shy to suggest it.

  5. YouTube
  6. If you’re shy or not into group study, you still have options, one of which is YouTube. Every minute, 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube (seriously – check out the stats), and most certainly you’ll find a video – or a dozen – about your course or even the particular chapter you’re struggling with. One big advantage is you can pause and rewind the video as many times as needed. Don’t restrict yourself to YouTube either; a general Google search for videos on your subject will provide you with more results if you can’t find what you’re looking for.

  7. Clubs and Societies
  8. If your internet is down, or you don’t have the T.A.’s email address, or you don’t want to speak to that guy who sits beside you in class, chances are there is a club or a society in your school filled with people who are passionate about the course or subject you need help with. Don’t be afraid to talk to them and ask questions.

Remember that tutoring is not the only option. If you’re willing to explore, you’ll be able to find ways to help you succeed in your course.