Four things you MUST do after the first week of spring semester

January 19th, 2017 by

Many of you finished up your first week of classes for the spring semester. Get organized early and there is no doubt you can be successful this semester.  Here are four ways to get started:

keep-calm-and-read-the-syllabusMake copies of your syllabus. If you weren’t given a hard copy in class, print out your syllabus. In fact, print two copies. Keep one in your class folder or notebook and keep one in a file at home. Professors often make changes to the syllabus throughout the semester, so it’s a good idea to keep a copy with you at all times so you can document changes as they occur. You should also file a copy away for future reference. If you plan on transferring schools in the future, a copy of your syllabus may be needed to verify a class you want to count towards your degree.

Learn the online structure. Most classes these days have some sort of online component. You may have online quizzes or you may need to submit assignments through an online portal. Make sure you understand how to navigate the online component and ask your professor questions if you don’t understand something. This way you can be proactive and prevent issues before there’s a deadline involved.

Create a weekly homework list. Your syllabus, in addition to outlining class policies, often includes a list of assignments. Get a planner and write these due dates ahead of time so there are no surprises later on in the semester. This can help you stay organized and manage your time efficiently this semester.

Get your materials. While you may be able to look up class materials ahead of time, as a general rule I suggest waiting until after the first day of class. More than once I’ve had a teacher switch textbooks on the first day after I’ve already purchased a different book. Wait until class to confirm what you’ll need before you hit up the bookstore. Also make sure you enough pens, notebooks, folders etc.


Summer 2017 Internships: Start Looking Now!

January 17th, 2017 by

The spring semester has just begun and summer break seems years away. However, in reality, there’s just short of 15 weeks until finals are finished and summer begins. If you’re hoping for an internship this summer, it’s time to start preparing now. Here are three questions you should be asking yourself to get the internship search started.

Do I even need an internship? Many science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields require entry level applicants to have prior experience in the form of internships. These include careers in architecture and the medical field, as well as all forms of engineering or research. Careers in the business, law, art and communication fields don’t necessarily require internships, however, internships are a great way to learn about your field and gain experience before entering the workforce.

Intern-1What do I want out of an internship? First, you may want an internship to help you decide what you want to do after you graduate. Over the course of your undergrad, you could potentially have two to four internships, each in a slightly different field so you can learn firsthand what your preferences are. For example, a communications student may want to get an internship at a newspaper, a radio station and at a public relations firm before deciding which career path they want to follow.

Second, you may want to use an internship to help guarantee yourself a job after graduation. If you’re already certain what field you want to work in, a summer internship can be used to build a relationship with a company. (Hint: Read Next Step Academy’s blog “How to Turn an Internship into a Career”)

How do I find an internship that fits my needs? Your first step should be speaking with an academic advisor in your department. Department advisors often have lists of open or upcoming internships. It’s also likely that your academic department already has a relationship with companies in your community that are always open to taking interns from your school. An academic advisor will be able to help you choose an internship that fits your current needs and career goals.

You can also use websites such as or general job search sites such as which have filter options specifically for internships. These sites are great if you want to look for internships outside of your local area. Also, make sure your LinkedIn profile is complete and up to date. LinkedIn will send you job and internship suggestions and some companies recruit interns based on the information you put on your profile.


Careers in Law Enforcement

November 23rd, 2016 by

Law enforcement officers play an important role in society as public servants, dedicated to protecting the citizens in their communities. A person in law enforcement needs to understand the law and have a strong desire to make positive changes in the lives of those around them. This career can be physically demanding and dangerous. People in this field need to willing to give up their own rights to secure the rights of those they vow to protect.


An associates degree in law enforcement or criminal justice will provide you with the necessary foundation for a career as a law enforcement officer. This will take two years on average to complete and will cover the basics of law and public safety.

Most police departments require applicants to hold a college degree, but this isn’t always the case. If you aren’t sure you want to dedicate two years to an associate’s degree, there are other options. Many institutions offer a diploma or certification program in criminal justice that cover the essentials and can be enough to grant you a position in the field, along with proper experience.

After college, applicants attend a training academy where they learn about local and federal laws, civil rights and ethics. Applicants also receive training for patrol, traffic control, self-defense, first aid and emergency response.


The primary duties of law enforcement officer is to enforce laws and keep the public safe. A typical work day for a police officer includes patrols, traffic stops and responding to emergency calls.

The demand and duties of a law enforcement officer will vary depending on if they work at the local, state or federal level. There is also the opportunity to work in a different crime departments, such as narcotics, or special units, such as canine or SWAT.

Salary and Job Outlook

The average salary for police officers and detectives was $60,270 per year in 2014. The field is expected to grow by 4 percent over the next decade.

You can learn more about this career path and related fields with Next Step Academy’s “Careers in Criminal Justice” 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


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.


Five Tips for Eating Healthy in College

September 21st, 2016 by

Avoiding the dreaded Freshman Fifteen can be a challenge in college. Junk food is readily available, dining halls tend to be all you can eat and for the first time you have the freedom to eat ice cream for dinner if you really want to. Don’t let yourself from unhealthy habits. Keep yourself accountable with these 5 tips for eating healthy in college.  

cereal-1474496_960_720Don’t keep junk food in your dorm room. When you’re working on a paper late at night and you need a snack, you’re going to eat whatever is around. Only keep healthy snacks in your dorm room to prevent yourself from snacking on junk all night long. Need some inspiration? Try apples and peanut butter, veggies and hummus, baked corn chips and salsa, or trail mix (heavy on the nuts and seeds, light on the dried fruit and chocolate)

Keep a snack in your pack. Pack a granola bar or other prepackaged healthy snack in your bag at all times. When you’re rushing to your next class and the urge to snack hits you, it’ll prevent you from grabbing a chocolate bar or chips from the vending machine.

Fill half of your plate with fruit/veggies first. When you’re eating in the dining hall, it’s easy to fill up your plate with pasta, pizza and the special of the day before you even see the salad bar. To prevent yourself from overeating and loading up on the unhealthy meals offered, hit the salad bar first and fill up at least half your plate. If you’re still hungry afterwards, you can always get more.

Don’t drink your calories. The unlimited juice and soda available in the dining halls is extremely tempting, but you’ll end up consuming a lot of unnecessary calories. Keep a reusable water bottle with you at all times and fill up throughout the day. Limit your soda consumption to weekends or when you’re dining out.

Eat breakfast in the dorm. Opt for a lower meal plan and eat breakfast in the dorm. Breakfast food tends to be cheap. So in addition to eating healthier breakfasts every day, you may also end up saving money in the long run. Buy food like eggs, fruit, yogurt and granola — food that doesn’t take long to prep, but will fill you up until lunch. Strapped for cash? Fruit is available all day in the dining hall, so fill your backpack up at dinner and you have breakfast for the week.

Looking to build healthier habits? Take Next Step Academy’s Fitness course!


In the News: Does a balanced calendar improve learning?

September 9th, 2016 by

Nearly 86 percent of schools in the United States follow a traditional calendar consisting of a 180 day school year with a long 12 week break during the summer. The original purpose of a long summer break was so kids could help their parents harvest crops, an outdated consideration which is causing more schools to switch to a balanced calendar.

5374200948_539b10fb1c_bWhat is a balanced calendar?

A balanced calendar takes the traditional 180 days of schools and spreads them out throughout the entire calendar year. Instead of a long summer break of 12 weeks, students typically receive a one to two week break every six to eight weeks.

When schools follow a traditional calendar, many students experience what is referred to as “summer brain drain.” On average, teachers spend six to eight weeks re-teaching information at the beginning of each school year.

When students go to school year round, they can retain information better and teachers often spend less time re-teaching after a short break. Research shows that students that attend school year-round have improved retention, better test scores and higher attendance rates.

There are also some challenges associated with a balanced calendar, however these challenges are typically experienced by districts that have schools following different schedules. Transportation and heating/cooling costs increase when two schools within a district aren’t on break at the same time. Parent’s also state that finding childcare can be a challenge when schools within a district aren’t on the same schedule.

The future of education seems to be shifting more and more towards a balanced calendar and continued learning throughout the entire year. As district-wide change occurs and families get past the culture shock of year-long education, challenges should dissipate allowing students to reap the benefits of a balanced school year calendar.

Don’t attend school with a balanced calendar? Keep your brain in tip-top shape by taking life skills and careers-in courses at Next Step Academy!


Tips for Saving Money in College

August 16th, 2016 by

Money is tight when you’re in college, forcing you to become thrifty and develop your money management skills. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years for saving money in college.

Take advantage of campus activities. Instead of going out and spending money, look for events on campus. Your college most likely offers movie nights and other social gatherings that are either really cheap or completely free.

Buy used. This goes for textbooks, clothes, mini fridges, everything. Almost every bookstore has a used section and you can always look online to see if people are selling old textbooks cheap. Many colleges also host a sale at the beginning of the semester where they sell things past students gave away or left behind. This can be a great place to get dishes and cheap electronics.

Opt for a cheaper meal plan. Be realistic about how much food you eat and choose the correlating meal plan. It may also be worth it to choose a basic meal plan and supplement with groceries. Do you really need your meal plan to cover breakfast if all you eat is a granola bar?

Always make a shopping list. Whether you need new school supplies or it’s your weekly trip to the grocery store, always make a list. A list will ensure you get everything you need, but will also help limit wandering and impulse purchases as you shop.

Avoid name brands. Believe me, the generic chocolate sandwich cookies are just as yummy as Oreos. There’s no need to spend the extra buck for a name brand product and those bucks add up fast.
Need help managing your finances in college? Here are some courses that can help you out: Paying for College, Credit


Scheduling College Classes like a Pro

August 9th, 2016 by

The fall semester is fast approaching and if this is your first semester, you may not know the best way to schedule your classes. Some of it is trial and error, but there is a lot you can plan for ahead of time. Consider this your guide to scheduling classes like a pro.

work-1515801_960_720Register ASAP. Don’t wait to register for classes, do it as soon as you can. While you may be limited based on your rank and number, this will ensure that all of your classes are open and you have more flexibility to choose class time.

Check out your professors. In the digital age, there are countless ways to investigate a professor before you register for a class. Use services like Rate My Professor to learn about their teaching style and see what other students have to say about them.

Be aware of program requirements. Make sure you know what classes you need to fulfill general education and major requirements. Keep a list and check them off as you complete them to make sure you stay on track. Try to take classes that fulfill more than one requirement if possible.

Learn the campus. Consult a map while you are registering for classes and make sure your classes aren’t too far apart. Most colleges only give you 10 minutes to travel and if you have back to back classes on opposite sides of campus, you may not make it on time.

Know yourself. If you aren’t a morning a person, then don’t schedule an 8 a.m class. If you have a short attention span, opt for a one hour lecture three days a week, rather than a three hour lecture one day a week. Don’t try to force yourself into a routine you aren’t used to. You’ll lose motivation and the prospect of skipping class will begin to look better and better as the semester goes on.

When in doubt, reach out to your academic advisor. They are by far the best tool available to you and can help you stay on track as you complete your degree.



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