True or False: Making Sense of Making the Honor Roll

Honor-rollIt’s back to school time. And whether you’re an incoming freshman with butterflies in your stomach or a seasoned senior with nothing but coffee and ramen in yours, every student’s goal is the same: to achieve academic success.

But there are a lot of misconceptions about making the honor roll or dean’s list that can turn students off from the idea, making them think it’s not really worth it.

So let’s sort out some of the common myths from the truths when it comes to having an elite semester.

You have to sacrifice.

True. The extra effort you put into making the honor roll has to come from somewhere. But with the right approach, it is possible to sacrifice things you won’t even end up missing. The key is constant planning and organizing to allow yourself to keep a relatively normal sleep schedule, eating schedule, and fitness regimen, while cutting out less important activities like watching TV on weekdays.

Like any goal, you have to tell it to someone.

False. Unlike common New Year’s resolutions like losing weight or quitting smoking, telling someone close to you your goal is not necessary. Instead, keeping your goal to yourself can help you avoid putting excess pressure on yourself and, more importantly, will keep you in the hunt for personal reasons rather than someone else’s.

People who make the honor roll enjoy studying.

True. And make no mistake about it, it’s completely deliberate that they do. The students who do the best in classes usually chose that class or major for that exact reason: they enjoy it. Pick classes you’re interested in, project topics you enjoy, and, at the very least, try to spin subjects into a way that fits into your interests and aspirations.

All your time is spent alone.

False. In fact, studying alone all the time is the fastest way to make yourself go crazy and not want to press on. Study groups, office hours, and a rotating set of coffee shops or libraries are all terrific ways to keep your study sessions fresh. Also, having someone to talk to about what you’re learning in a more social setting can help you stay engaged.

You need to have been doing it all your life.

False. Reaching your academic goals requires that you’re not afraid to fail, even if it requires putting yourself out there like you haven’t before. Getting in this mindset allows you put your best effort forward on a day-to-day basis, and ensures that you can be proud of yourself no matter what the outcome is.

Find ACI on Twitter at @ACISpecBenefits or on facebook, Google+, Pinterest, or YouTube. Also feel free to contact ACI Specialty Benefits at (800) 932-0034, or email

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The Grand Finale: 4 Outside-the-Box Senior Projects

Bike-MeetingYour final year of college will probably be centered around – or include – some sort of independent project. Independent meaning that, for once, a project does not come with a set of step-by-step instructions or a list of guidelines. While exciting, the idea sometimes ends up leading students to choose the default 5-paragraph thesis or presentation as a safe-bet project.

But if you think more creatively, you can end up with a capstone project that gets your point across in compelling and impressive fashion. Here are 4 outside-the-box ideas that can turn your senior project into something bigger and longer lasting.

#1 Website

Creating a website or app can demonstrate coding ability, computer knowledge, and interface savviness. However, in today’s web-based world, creating a website or app can also serve as a platform to showcase any kind of knowledge, from history to teaching to engineering. If you’re not a website design or computer science major, consider pairing up with someone who is (or learning how to do it yourself) to create a website that compiles everything you’ve learned along the way to your degree. For help researching for your website, check out our research tips.

#2 Business plan

Believe it or not, some of today’s most popular companies began as senior projects. Jamba Juice, for example, was one outside-the-box senior project that took off and created the niche market of smoothie chains which is so popular today. While your project may not turn out this successfully, creating a business plan makes for a more realistic presentation for your panel/audience and gives you the freedom to make any kind of company, no holds barred. It also serves as a chance to learn invaluable economic and forecasting skills for whatever field you’re in.

#3 Client solution

Developing a client solution means that you first have to think of a possible client problem. Brainstorm some of the most pressing, modern issues facing your field today, and imagine that a client wants that issue fixed or circumvented by a deadline (the due date of your project). After this, the bulk of your project will come from solving the problem logistically, while another aspect will be dealing with the human side of the issue – that is, communicating with a client. The result is a project whose critical thinking is apparent as well as compelling for graders.

#4 Curriculum/workshop

No curriculum is perfect. And after going through the entire coursework of your degree, chances are you’ve had some moments of constructive criticism for yours. So why not channel these sentiments into a senior project that looks to create a curriculum tailored to students like you – think tech-savvy students, adult learners, international students, veterans, or anything else you can think of. Creating a workshop or curriculum builds off of your experience, and is one of those projects that stands a good chance at creating actual change.

Want more project ideas? Just ask ACI on Twitter at @ACISpecBenefits or on facebook, Google+, Pinterest, or YouTube. Also feel free to contact ACI Specialty Benefits at (800) 932-0034, or email

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The Dos and Don’ts of Standardized Testing

lsat_Los_angelesFrom MCATs to LSATs to RN certs to writing requirements, testing in college isn’t always limited to what’s seen on the syllabus. Students who wish to become certified in their industry, for example, must first do well on rigorous, nationally standardized tests, and many colleges even have their own standardized tests that are required for graduation.

But it’s all much easier said than done. Especially when students try to pass these tests alongside a full class load and even fuller life load. To help get you started, here are some of the major dos and don’ts of standardized testing, from the planning phase to test time.

Do schedule heavily. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can squeeze in studying for your standardized test on the bus, during meals, or as a “break” from your regularly scheduled studying. Doing well on standardized tests when you’re already extremely busy starts with careful and written-out planning.

Don’t set a numerical goal. Tests differ every year. As such, historical scores, percentiles, and averages never really mean anything for your particular testing year. So rather than setting numerical goals and getting caught up in the statistics, ease the pressure and up the motivation by simply setting study goals.

Do make a study guide. Chances are you’ve been preparing for your standardized test long before you even signed up for it. So separate what you already know from what you still need help on by making a brief list of topics. Then, find old class notes and read up in review books to freshen up on material and address weaknesses.

Don’t do it alone. These days, there are endless resources to help students study for certifications and tests. Check out local study groups, tutors, online videos, forums, and practice tests. If you need assistance in locating the very best and the most affordable resources for your test, contact your Student Assistance Program.

Do strategize. A good test strategy starts with researching the ins and outs and “rules” of your particular test. If there are sections you know you’ll be better at, for example, plan on answering those questions first. If you know that there is no penalty for wrong answers, be prepared to take educated guesses. Any information you can get on the test can be turned into an advantage for you.

Don’t forget to relax. It can’t be overstated how hard it is to study for standardized tests on top of your classes. Take a break whenever you need to, vent to others, and don’t rule out putting off your test until the next cycle. The last thing you want is for your desire to do well on your test to come at the expense of everything else you having going on.

Find ACI on Twitter at @ACISpecBenefits or on facebook, Google+, Pinterest, or YouTube. Also feel free to contact ACI Specialty Benefits at (800) 932-0034, or email

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Making the Most of Your Entry-Level Job

iStock_000006191773SmallIt doesn’t matter whether you have a doctorate, an associate’s, or are just beginning your higher education. Our careers all get their start in the same place: an entry-level job or internship.

But once you’ve gotten that job, how do you make sure you’re getting the most out of it and not just showing up to work everyday, working, and then leaving? The key is being open and ready to learn, not just to complete assignments. Here are the 5 best tips to getting more than just another line on your resume out of your first job.

Put no work beneath you

When you land your first internship or entry-level job, it’s natural to feel that you’ve made it big. But that doesn’t mean you’re too good to do certain tasks. Realize that filing, assisting, and runner duties are a common way for companies to gauge your enthusiasm, and that having the right attitude can go a long way in making your impression on coworkers.

Ask questions

Asking questions will not only increase the rate at which you learn about your company and your field, but it will show supervisors that you’re truly interested. Come to work each day with 3-5 solid questions (anything that requires more than a “yes” or “no” answer) and don’t be afraid to clarify instructions when you get assignments. It beats having to redo them because you misheard one step.

Plan your next steps

As you begin to learn more about the hierarchy within your company and industry, begin to ask coworkers about the paths they took to getting where they are now. Then, start to analyze where your personality, experience, and education fit into all of this and begin to plan your next step to getting into your dream job, area of education, or career field.

Take notes on what you’re doing

Your time at your first job can fly by. So when it’s all over, it can be difficult to recall everything you did while working when it comes time to update your resume. Make sure that with every new task you take on you are taking detailed notes of what you’re doing, what skills you’re acquiring, and what keywords you’re hearing.

Never say “no”

Beyond just assignments, it’s good policy to never turn down an opportunity to sit in on a meeting or join coworkers for lunch. Networking and hands-on experience are some of the biggest things a first job can offer you, and you’ll find that it isn’t really possible to suceed without putting yourself out there.

Find ACI on Twitter at @ACISpecBenefits or on facebook, Google+, Pinterest, or YouTube. Also feel free to contact ACI Specialty Benefits at (800) 932-0034, or email

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Your Fall 2014 Bargain Textbook Guide

textbooksThe start of August means that for most students a new class schedule is just around the corner. And for those who want to avoid paying bookstore prices for their textbooks, it also means it’s time to start doing your homework. So to help you save the most money that you can on textbooks, we’ve compiled some of the best tips and sites for getting cheap textbooks.

Finalize your classes To avoid paying a premium to get last-minute textbooks, register for and finalize your class schedule as soon as possible. Once you have your classes, you can begin making a list of the books you’ll need and start cashing in on options that will become less available the longer you wait.

Check the library It makes sense to start with the options that require no payment at all. So before you do anything, check your school’s library to see if they have the book you’ll need available for check-out or on reserve. If you aren’t near a campus library, check your local library. If they don’t have it you can ask about getting a copy shipped there at no cost to you.

Check the internet If your local library system doesn’t carry your book, the virtual library – the internet – may. Do some quick searches for tablet versions and PDFs of your books that may have been uploaded by professors or schools. At the very least, there may be cheaper ebooks available to download.

Consider sharing If you know you’re going to be taking a class with a friend, or that he/she will be taking the course soon after you, consider splitting the cost of the book and taking turns using it, or studying together.

Ask about earlier editions When cheaper options for certain books are running thin, ask your professor about using an earlier edition. Chances are, the newest edition of the book has only changed slightly from the last so that you could get away with purchasing an older edition of the book and following along just fine.

Rent More and more every year students are turning to book rentals as a cheap textbook option. Renting is substantially cheaper than buying, and at the end of the year it’s one less book you have to worry about selling back to some third party. Make sure, though, that the book you rent is not something you’ll need for future classes in your area of study.

Buy used If your only option is to buy the current edition of a required book, buying used is your best option. Used books are available through many sites such as,, and, and you can even compare prices by shopping through Google Books.

Need more advice on cheap school supplies? Ask ACI on Twitter at @ACISpecBenefits or on facebook, Google+, Pinterest, orYouTube. Also feel free to contact ACI Specialty Benefits at (800) 932-0034, or

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How to Nail Your Next Phone or Video Interview 


Video interviews can be intimidating if you’re not prepared.

Some people are relieved to find out their next job interview won’t be held in-person. Some become that much more petrified. Some take it as an excuse to not wear any pants.

Others, though, use the occasion as a chance to get a leg-up in their interview — a chance to use new media tools to separate themselves from the competition by being extra prepared. And, aside from being fully clothed in case you’re asked to stand up in video interviews (which does happen), there are many ways to do this. Here are a few of them:

Be extra attentive Don’t fall victim to approaching phone or video interviews with a more relaxed attitude. Instead, understand that being in a different location than your interviewer will require you to be even more alert. Be ready to anticipate lag time in your responses so that you don’t interrupt, observe interviewers’ facial expressions and body language, and look up files or answers your interview may expect you to have access to.

Check 1, 2 Unfortunately, just because your technology works most of the time doesn’t mean it will when you need it most. To combat technical difficulties, ask your interviewer which video software you’ll need and test it with a few calls to a friend. Also make sure that you know where you’ll do the interview so that you can test the reception or Wi-Fi connection.

Make a cheat sheet Phone and video interviews are here to stay. So you may as well take advantage of your so-called “invisibility” — the fact that interviewers can’t see your full environment. Before the interview, jot down a few notes about the company, what you would say to certain questions, and even an annotated resume so that you know exactly how you want to explain your skills.

Choose a fit environment Don’t just assume that you can do your interview in your room or usual workspace. Instead make sure that your interview area will provide a professional background, good lighting, and that your roommates or family will know when you need a certain space so that there isn’t any background movement or noise, which can turn off employers.

Follow-up With a firm handshake and other body language techniques out the window, it can be hard to stand out in remote interviews. That’s why following up your with your interviewer is so vital. Be sure to thank your interviewer for the opportunity following your meeting and also note that you’d welcome the chance to meet in person to make your enthusiasm felt, rather than just becoming another resume in the stack.

Need interview help? Ask ACI on Twitter at @ACISpecBenefits or on facebook, Google+, Pinterest, or YouTube. Also feel free to contact ACI Specialty Benefits at (800) 932-0034, or email

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4 Steps to Better Listening

listening-1The world is a loud place. With constant web contact, advertising distractions, and noise just about everywhere, it’s hard to know what’s worth listening to. So how do you avoid tuning out conversation after conversation?

The answer is active listening — not just smiling and nodding, but listening closely so that you pick up the important things, remember them, and dismiss the things that aren’t as meaningful. Here are 4 steps to become a more active listener.

Step 1: Eye contact - Making eye contact with the speaker means you’ll hear everything — including what isn’t said, but gestured. By facing whoever you are listening to, you’ll naturally become more focused on what your professor or friend is saying, and be more keen to pick up nonverbal cues, which are often just as important as verbal ones, especially in the classroom.

Step 2: Welcome lulls – When studying in groups, forming questions, or even when engaging in everyday conversation, don’t think of pauses in talk as awkward. Instead, use the time to process what has just been said and how it relates to the bigger picture. This technique will allow you to form more substantial opinions and responses, and will prevent the conversation from becoming a “talking for talking’s sake” kind of dialogue.

Step 3: Don’t interrupt – It’s a lesson we’ve been told to follow since we uttered our first words, but one that can take decades to perfect. Waiting your turn to speak can become a vital part of making a good impression on professors, fellow students, and even employers. And aside from being a key factor in looking like you’re listening, the habit of not interrupting can make you less anxious to say your piece, and therefore more attentive.

Step 4: Picture words – As a student, much of the time you are listening, not actually speaking directly with someone, but rather sitting in a large classroom. During long periods of listening like this, forming mental connections between the speaker’s words with images you have in your own mind can help you remember the material. It may even help to make small graphics or images in your notes to help you quickly jot down memory devices while still keeping up with the lecture.

Find ACI on Twitter at @ACISpecBenefits or on facebook, Google+, Pinterest, or YouTube. Also feel free to contact ACI Specialty Benefits at (800) 932-0034, or email

HealthyU_Harry (1)



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