In the News: Microsoft Boasts Smartest Business Apps

October 21st, 2016 by

This week, Microsoft launched a new suite of business applications called Dynamics 365, which will officially become available November 1.

Dynamics 365 takes elements from pre-existing Microsoft products such as Dynamics CRM and several enterprise resource planning (ERP) software applications. The functions fulfilled by Dynamics 365 handle the front and back end of office processes, managing inventory, manufacturing processes and finances.

microsoft_logo_2012_modifiedThe key to Dynamics 365 is the built in AI features. Microsoft is adding “smarter” technologies that it’s been working on for years and Dynamics 365 runs on Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform. The “smarter” apps are able to better predict what a user wants to do based on previous actions and make recommendations, similar to the way Amazon suggests items to customers based on previous searches.

Each user is charged 70 dollars per month for all of the sales, customer service and field services applications included in Dynamics 365. Comparatively, Salesforce (one of Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 competitors) offers a low-end bundle starting at 70 dollars, with their most popular bundle costing users 150 dollars.

The new focus on business applications from Microsoft and strategically standard pricing means Microsoft will compete more rigorously with Salesforce and other companies offering business applications in the future. This is a great opportunity for small businesses and entrepreneurs to access vital business applications without having to break the bank.

Take Next Step Academy’s “Entrepreneurship” course to learn how to be successful in your business ventures.


Asking for References

October 19th, 2016 by

Whether you’re applying to a new school or a new job, at some point you may need a reference. This could be a written reference submitted with an application or a contact a potential employer will reach out to. In either case, there are guidelines to follow when asking someone for a reference.

Make sure you ask. If you’re asking someone to be reference that a potential employer is going to call, make sure you remember to actually ask! Otherwise, they may be totally unprepared for the phone call. This can reflect poorly on you on both ends and you may not get the shining reference you were hoping for.

Ask the right way. For a professor or past employer, an email is a sufficient way to ask for a written reference. However, make sure you ask the right way. Tell them about the school or the position you are applying for, how the opportunity will help you build your future and make sure you emphasize how grateful you are for their help. Sign the email with “Thank you for time and I look forward to your response” or something similar. If the reference is going to be called, you may want to consider asking them to be a reference with a phone call as well.

Give enough notice. Start asking for references before you start applying for jobs, internships or schools. Especially when you’re looking for jobs, the hiring process can be quick, so it’s good to nail down references ahead of time.

If you know you a need a written reference by a certain time, it’s good to give the person you ask a minimum of two weeks to write it but typically don’t give them longer than four. You want to give them enough time to write a good reference, but you don’t want to give them so much time they forget. It’s also a good idea to give them a deadline of a  week or two before you actually need it, giving you a little extra time just in case.

Follow up. After your written reference has been submitted or you’ve submitted your application, send a note or email thanking your reference once again for their help. Also make sure you tell them each time you use them as a reference so they can be prepared. When you land the job, are accepted to your dream school or receive an internship, make sure you follow up once again telling your reference the outcome. This is a great way to maintain a relationship and they’ll love to hear how they helped you achieve your goals.

Before you send an email asking for a reference, brush up on your professional writing skills with Next Step Academy’s “Business Writing” course!


Transferring to a Four Year College

October 17th, 2016 by

It still feels like the fall semester just began, but if you’re considering transferring to a four-year school next year it’s already time to start the application process. Here’s how to get started:

6260836872_3581b1512d_bChoose a school. Beginning the college search all over again may seem like a daunting task, but it’s often easier the second the time around. You’ll likely already know the best resources and college search websites available. Also, look back at the schools you considered the first time and see if any of those are still a good fit.

Most two-year schools also have a transfer center that can provide you with information and help you find the best options for your major. Once you’ve considered all of your options, choose at least two to apply to.

Do your research. This is another area where your school’s transfer center can be a big help. You need to make sure the schools you want to apply to have an articulation agreement with your current school and will take the credits you’ve already earned. This will ensure you stay on track to graduate two years after you transfer.

Know the requirements. You’ll need to verify that your GPA is high enough to transfer and whether there are any supplemental materials needed to apply. Depending on your major, you may need to submit a portfolio or collection of previous work. If the school or program you are applying to is highly competitive, you may also want to consider asking professors to write you a reference.

Apply. Mark application deadlines on your calendar and make sure you submit all of your materials on time. Most schools allow you to track your application online, but if you don’t receive a direct confirmation from the school that your application was submitted, you may want to send a follow up email to make sure the school got it.

Need more transfer advice? Take Next Step Academy’s course “How to Transfer to a 4-year School


Five Careers That Require Two Years of Training or Less

October 12th, 2016 by

Post-secondary education is a requirement for most career paths, but not every career requires a four year degree. There are plenty of stable and well-paying jobs that only require a certification or an associate’s degree. These careers can be a great option if a four year degree isn’t something you are interested in or able to pursue.

Dental Assisting

Perform a range of tasks including record keeping, scheduling appointments, patient care and taking x-rays.

Average salary: $35,980

Education: Certificate

Registered Nurse

Provide patient care as well as medical advice and emotional support for patients. Nurses work in hospitals, physician’s offices, clinics and other healthcare facilities.

Average salary: $67,490

Education: Associate’s degree


Install, maintain and repair electrical systems for homes, businesses and factories.

Average salary: $51,880

Education: Certification and apprenticeship


Install and maintain heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration systems.

Average salary: $45,110

Education: Certificate or associate’s degree


Provide hair cutting, styling, manicure and other beauty services.

Average salary: $23,710

Education: Certificate

Salary estimations were based on as of 2015.

The Dos and Don’ts of Productivity

October 10th, 2016 by

You arrive at work coffee-buzzed and ready to get to business. Then sometime after lunch the caffeine wears off and the end of the work day seems further away than it did in the morning. Even if you love your job, it can tough to stay motivated and productive. Here are a couple of ways to stay on-task and focused during the day.

Do: Take regular short breaks

It may sound counterproductive to take breaks in order to be more productive. However, a quick walk around the office or chat at the water cooler helps break up the day and gives your mind a rest. No matter what, always take your lunch break to refuel for the afternoon.

images1Don’t: Reach for another cup of coffee

Drinking coffee in the afternoon can affect your quality of sleep, causing you to wake up feeling sluggish and drinking more and more coffee to compensate. This creates a vicious cycle of poor sleep and caffeine consumption. Studies show that the optimal time to consumer coffee is three to six hours after you wake up. If you wake up at 6:00 in the morning, drink coffee between 9 and 12, but cut yourself off in the afternoon.

Do: Create a to do list and stick to it

At the beginning of each work day, spend a few minutes creating a to do list. Assess how long each project will take and be realistic about how much time you have to complete your list. A checklist can help you remember all the little things you need to do and keep you on track throughout the day.

Don’t: Multitask

When you start a task, make sure you finish it. Do not go back and forth between different projects or try to do multiple things at once. Nobody can truly multitask and it will just leave you feeling burned out. You’ll most likely spend more time working trying to multitask than if you start and finish one item at a time.

Do: Avoid distractions

Keep your work area clear and don’t open up browsers unless you need them. You might say you’ll only check social media for five minutes, but that can easily turn into half an hour. If it helps, there are browser extensions such as Work Mode for Google Chrome that can block websites for a set amount of time. This way you won’t be tempted to check your feed or watch the most recent viral video.

Don’t: Stay late

Finishing up a project after normal work hours once in awhile is okay, but don’t make it a habit. You should have a set time where you pack up and leave everyday. You’ll be more productive and realistic about how much work you can get done in a day if you give yourself limits. If you work from home or have a flexible  schedule, make one for yourself and stick to it.

Need more help staying productive? Take Next Step Academy’s “Time Management” course!


In the News: The Future of Education? New Computer Coding Program Has No Courses or Professors

October 7th, 2016 by

Last week, the first group of students enrolled at 42 USA, the new computer coding program which opened in Silicon Valley.

images-1What makes 42 USA unique is that there are no courses and no professors. Instead, students work in groups to complete projects which are then graded by their peers. Students earn points upon completing an assignment which allows them to move on to the next project, much like levels of a video game. Extra points can be earned by completing extra projects and participating in clubs.

The program imposes no cost upon the students and takes three to five years to complete regardless if the student already has a degree or has zero coding experience. 42 USA is open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 30.

In order to enroll, prospective students need to go through a selection process. Applicants need to pass two online logic exams followed by a month-long orientation where they are asked to complete increasingly difficult logic puzzles.

It’s currently unclear how 42 USA will impact current higher education coding programs or how the format will be received. However, this could be a huge change to the teaching of STEM fields and influence the way education structured.

Learn more about degrees in coding by taking our Careers-In course at


Careers in Coding

October 5th, 2016 by

We rely on computer technologies every day to manage our finances, to get ready for work or school, stay entertained and socialize with friends. Without computer programmers to supply the code, none of these functions would be possible.


An associate’s degree in computer science or a related field will allow you to obtain entry-level positions in the field. Over the course of an associate’s program you will learn about database management, networking and operating systems. Classes will also cover software design and programming languages.

Some employers may require a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions. A bachelor’s will also give you the best edge for career advancement in the future. You may also want to consider a master’s degree if you want to pursue a management position in the future. A graduate program typically takes 2 years after undergraduate school.


As a computer programmer or coder, you will work with coding languages such as C++, C# and Java to write computer software. Coders also maintain and upkeep these programs. This includes continuous testing and debugging of programs to make sure they are running correctly.

Salary and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer programmers earned a median salary of $74,280 or $35.71 per hour in 2015. Employment of computer programmers is expected to increase by 8 percent over the next decade.


Networking 101

October 3rd, 2016 by

When it comes to building a business or finding new career opportunities, who you know can be the most important tool for growth.  Networking is a necessity for making connections and establishing relationships with people in your industry. There are different ways to network, each with their own set of benefits and uses.

Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network event - NYCTraditional networking events. With a simple internet search, you can find plenty of networking events — held as frequently as every week — in your area. These traditional networking events usually take the form of a speaker or presentation with a meet and greet afterwards. These types of events are best for meeting new people, especially if you’ve just graduated and don’t know anyone in the industry.

Hosting your own event. If you are already established in your industry and want to make a few new connections or acquire new clients, host your own smaller networking event. Invite clients, business partners or former coworkers and perhaps ask them to invite a few people of their own. Plan an activity that your guests will enjoy. This can be attending a musical, going to a sporting event or even a wine tasting. Even if you don’t gain a new connection from the event, it’s still a great way to strengthen the connections you already have.

Double “dating.” A double “date” (not an actual date) in the business world has the same effect as hosting your own networking event, but on a smaller scale. If you have extra tickets to a show, invite a current client, connection, or strategic partner to go along with you. Ask them to bring someone they think you should meet and you’ll do the same. This is a great opportunity to make an ideal connection you may not have met otherwise.

Reconnecting. This strategy is meant for following up with connections you haven’t spoken with in a while, whether it’s a former professor, classmate or coworker. You and your current connections likely run in the same circles. Meeting up with old connections can be a great way to break out and meet people outside of your current network.


Finding College Scholarships

September 30th, 2016 by

Finding scholarships can seem like a daunting task, but there are plenty of opportunities available to you. In fact, a 2015 study conducted by NerdWallet found that over $2.9 billion in scholarships and aid went unclaimed during the 2013-2014 school year. The money is out there, you just need to know where to look.

Your first step is submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which tells you how much in federal aid you qualify for based on income, among other factors. For the 2017-2018 school year, the FAFSA opens on October 1st with the priority deadline being December 1st. These dates are earlier than previous years, as the FAFSA is undergoing several changes to make it easier for students to receive aid.

Next, check out scholarship matching websites. Sites such as or ask you to fill out personal information and then find you scholarships that fit your needs and qualifications. These sites often provide a direct link to the scholarship website or application. Also when you’re searching, try to think of what makes you unique. There are scholarships based on gender, cultural background, religion, even height!

While you can qualify for some scholarships based solely on an application, many scholarships require a little work on your part. You may need to provide examples of experience, write a short essay or take part in an event. Take note of all application deadlines and read scholarship rules carefully to make sure you are meeting all the requirements before you submit the application.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to apply for scholarships or grants because you think you won’t qualify. Additionally, don’t discount local scholarships just because they aren’t as lucrative as the $10,000 sweeps contests. You have a much better chance when there is a smaller pool of applicants, and every dollar counts when it comes to finding money for your education.

Most of the $2.9 billion in unclaimed aid went unclaimed simply because students didn’t apply. Take advantage of every opportunity that is out there.

Looking for more help funding your education? Check out our Paying for College course to learn more!


In the News: Changes to FAFSA to Help Students Receive Aid

September 28th, 2016 by

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is making several changes to impact students in the upcoming academic school year. This year, the form for the 2017/2018 school year will open on October 1st with the priority deadline changing to December 1st. This is four months earlier than past years.

top-5-fafsa-faqs-for-2016The FAFSA is also allowing students to use prior-prior-years tax information. Previously, students had to use prior-year tax information. This was problematic for many students whose parents hadn’t filed their taxes yet and were instead asked to estimate. Now students can submit accurate tax information from two years prior to the school year and no longer have to log in a second time to update information once taxes have been submitted. For example, for the 2017-2018 school year, families will submit tax information from 2015 instead of estimating information from 2016.

Changes to the FAFSA will allow students to know how much aid is available to them earlier, giving them more time to accurately assess their financial situation before committing to a school. Before these changes, financial aid information often arrived less than a month before students had to decide on a school. Now students and their families have several months to explore financing options and figure out whether they can afford tuition.

There is some concern that changes to the FAFSA application dates will influence schools to change their decision dates as well. Federal officials have requested that schools refrain from making changes to their own deadlines as this would make the FAFSA changes irrelevant.


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