The top three reasons you should have a portfolio

More and more often, job applications are being updated to include a little dialogue box known as the “portfolio link.” Here, employers look for prospective employees to enter a personal website that showcases their relevant or even non-relevant work–anything that would help recruiters get a better idea of who they may be hiring.

615 hiring computer shutterstock Viorel SimaAnd while portfolios were once reserved for photographers and creative positions, today they’ve been established as valuable assets for any student looking to get an extra edge.

If you’re still on the fence about setting up an online portfolio, here are three reasons to stop the debate and jump on board.

It sets you apart

Portfolios can be as unique as you want them to be. Just as they’re no longer reserved for artists, they no longer have to be elaborate, fancy spaces that try to overhype your accomplishments. If you’re more of a head-down worker, for example, create a portfolio that focuses solely on a few of the accomplishments you’re most proud of.

If you’re someone who takes pride in their volunteer or personal work, showcase the pursuits you have that aren’t necessarily on your field of study but showcase your outgoing nature. Furthermore, make sure you pick a theme that is right for you; different page layouts can help showcase your tone as a possible fit into a team setting.

It complements your resume

Are you the kind of student that treats your schoolwork like a job? If you are someone who makes a point to “learn by doing” in college, don’t let the value of your research and your projects go to waste. While one-page resumes leave little room for anything other than skills and professional experience, your portfolio is your chance to show, not tell, what you’ve done.

When making your portfolio, be sure to include pictures and work from projects you did with groups or research you did with professors.

It speaks for itself

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a portfolio is worth many more. Your ability to combine photographs, videos and words on free sites like Portfolium not only is a chance to say more about yourself, it can be seen as a skill in itself. Having a portfolio shows you truly care about showing yourself in the best light, and that you have the ability to see a personal project through from start to finish.

If anything, this is the number one reason to create your portfolio–it’s free, it’s unique, and you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

HealthyU_Harry (1)Start creating your portfolio with one of ACI’s Student Assistance experts. We can point you to the right website for your portfolio, and even help you decide what goes in it. Drop us a line on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, or YouTube or contact ACI Specialty Benefits at (800) 932-0034 or info@acispecialtybenefits.com.

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The pros and cons of taking a gap year

Gap years can be instrumental in getting ahead in life in general when done for the right reasons.

Gap America defines a gap year as “a structured period of time when students take a break from formal education to increase self-awareness, challenge comfort zones, and experiment with possible careers.”

But at what risk would you be taking a gap year and what benefits would you get out of an extended internship, travel, or personal projects? If you’re considering taking time off of school, be sure to first weigh out these important pros and cons to the gap year.

Cons

Falling behind

Be honest with yourself. When you take a gap year for the wrong reasons (i.e., because you’re upset with your school, because you want to relax, or because you’re afraid of failing.) you run a serious risk of losing vital momentum when it comes to working toward a degree. Create a failsafe degree progress plan that keeps a graduation date in mind and not simply “sometime in the future.”

Getting out of the rhythm

One of the biggest benefits school can offer is a structure with set deadlines, schedules and predetermined dates. If you plan on taking a gap year, make sure you know you can be equally diligent on your own as you are when a professor is leading your progress. ACI’s student assistance experts can help you keep you form and keep up with a work schedule.

Finance

If you plan to spend a gap year traveling, as many do, or pursuing an internship or apprenticeship it’s important to first weigh out the financial risks. Sit down with your family as well as an academic advisor to assess whether the opportunity is worth the financial risk and, more importantly, think ahead and come up with a one-year financial plan for when you do return from your gap year.

Pros

Work

On the flip side of things, gap years can be instrumental in getting ahead in life in general when done for the right reasons. Maybe you feel you’re simply treading water in school because you’re unsure what you want to do, or maybe you want the chance to start working on your own project or company. Either way, understand that a gap year isn’t about relaxing, but working hard on other jobs or projects you’re passionate about.

Education

Whether you’re a STEM student, a liberal arts major, or business student, most can agree that it’s hard to spend four years learning about all these issues happening in society and around the world without actually going out and experiencing them for yourself. Gap years are almost always beneficial when they’re used to go out and learn by doing in your desired field.

Renewed energy

Just as it’s not always best to follow the traditional, formal school plan, it can be wise to take a gap year on your own terms. Maybe you simply take a semester off; maybe you take fewer classes for a few terms to focus on personal issues; maybe you just make a resolution to install more you time into your weekly schedule. The important thing to remember is that you’re young and a gap year should be all about what’s best for you and your future.

HealthyU_Harry (1)ACI’s student assistant experts are here to help. Feel free to contact ACI Specialty Benefits at (800) 932-0034 or info@acispecialtybenefits.comACI can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, orYouTube.

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The 5 most common interview questions (and how to prepare for them)

Job interviews, no matter how much you have prepared, are almost always unnerving and intimidating experiences.

Business meeting

“Do you have any questions for us?” is asked at almost every job interview.

But despite the anxiety that naturally comes from being one of dozens candidates applying for the same position, one thing job interviews don’t have to be is unpredictable.

Here are five questions you should expect to hear in any job interview, as well as a few of the best ways to answer them.

  1. Tell me about yourself

It’s no wonder that this has become the almost guaranteed first question of every job interview. Interviewees not only want to know right off the bat who you are, they want to find out what your speaking style is and how you can handle a very much open-ended question. Prepare for this question by thinking ahead of time of one or two things that describe you best, and list them in an organized fashion. This way, you can give employers a sense of where you come from and what you’re interested in, while also showing you can speak in an easy-to-follow way, without jumping all over the place.

  1. How much do you know about what we do?

Hiring managers spend much of their time communicating internally with their coworkers–when interviewing, it’s their chance to see what others think of their company. Don’t make the mistake of simply repeating the mission statement you read on the company’s website, but instead come up with your own unique description of not only what the company does, but how they help improve the local community as well as the world.

  1. What are your strengths?

There’s no one way to answer this question, as different job opportunities will obviously call for different skill sets. There are, however, excellent techniques to prepare for this question long before you even have your interview scheduled. Whenever you find yourself updating your resume or writing a new cover letter, make it a habit to update your “strengths list”–a document to keep track of your best skills that only you see. When the opportunity does come for a job interview, circle two or three that best apply to the position, and focus on those in your interview.

  1. What are your weaknesses?

On the flip side, employers love to see how potential candidates deal with one of the most classic–and daunting–interview questions. One of the best ways to answer this question is to recount a story where you faced a problem during a project at school or at a separate job. Point out what went wrong, but make sure to spend equal time recalling how you and your team overcame whatever issue it was you were having.

  1. Do you have any questions for us?

This is how almost every job interview ends, and when an interviewer asks you for your questions it’s not just a formality–it’s an opportunity for you to show your interest and enthusiasm for the position. Some good questions to ask are those regarding the culture and environment of the workplace, what a typical day in the workplace looks like, or even how performance and progress is measured in employees. In any case, don’t bypass this opportunity to learn more about the company while also displaying your excitement for the position.


HealthyU_Harry (1)Need more help preparing for your next job interview? ACI’s student assistant experts are here to help. Feel free to contact ACI Specialty Benefits at (800) 932-0034 or info@acispecialtybenefits.com
ACI can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, orYouTube.

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The Final Countdown: what to do in the weeks leading up to finals

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Yes, it’s that time of the year again. The time for students to clean their apartments, reorganize their closets, rearrange their living rooms, read a magazine and then, finally, study.

But finals season doesn’t have to be about dreading studying. In fact, procrastination and cramming are more often a result of poor preparation rather than a distaste for studying. So how do you make your semester wrap-up enjoyable, or at the very least bearable?

Here are five ways to not only set yourself up for success across the board this finals season, but boost your engagement throughout the process.

Organize

While we may not always realize it, the thing holding us back the most from studying is often figuring out what to study. And with so much material thrown at us over the course of dozens of class sessions, it can be difficult to get organized and develop a plan of action. Accept this, and don’t think you’re above setting aside a few hours or even a full day to simply organize your notes, class by class. Doing this will make every step of actually studying that much easier as you can now effortlessly locate information and check off material you know.

Make a question list

As you go through your notes, it is essential that you address anything confusing right away. A good way to do this is to create a document or section in your notebook reserved specifically for questions that come up. Once you have four, five or even more questions, schedule a quick 30-minute meeting with your professor or attend their office hours to clear the air. Compiling study questions is something every successful student does, but beware that you start early as the close you get to your final, the harder it may be to get some of your professors’ time.

Bump up your ‘dead week’

Starting your studying early isn’t just beneficial when it comes to getting your concerns addressed by professors, it also allows you to avoid the dreaded ‘dead week’ – the week leading up to final exams. No matter how much or how little you think you need to get done, start now. Just an hour a day per class is usually enough to ensure that when it comes to the traditional dead week you won’t have to scramble. Instead you can spend your time casually studying while still going about your regular routine.

Exercise and meal prep

Finals week can take a toll on more than just your brain cells. Most students will tell you that the time they are most likely to be sick is during finals season because there simply isn’t enough time to exercise and sleep. Moreover, with less time available to grocery shop and cook students will also be more likely to go out to eat and thus spend more money. Avoid this common trap by setting a loose menu for the week and even prepping a few meals each Sunday.

Study, study, study

Finally, the biggest thing to do to help yourself this finals season is to study every day. Study with buddies, study alone, study at the library, study at a coffee shop. And, if you really are having trouble buckling down and getting your schedule down, don’t hesitate to speak to one of ACI’s education experts for advice on managing your time and avoiding that dreaded procrastination.

Get started at www.acispecialtybenefits.com, or contact ACI at info@acispecialtybenefits.com / 800.932.0034

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How to succeed as a first-generation college student 

First-generation college students are often perceived as hard-working and driven–supported by family, friends or mentors to overcome the odds and make their dreams come true.

graduationBut what is often overlooked is the variety of challenges faced by students without many close relatives or mentors at hand to contribute.

Having already helped thousands of college students along the way to their degrees, ACI Specialty Benefits is well-versed in tackling many of these challenges. Here are five of the most important things first-generation students should do to turn themselves into first-generation graduates.

Connect socially

Many first-generation students worry that their unfamiliarity with college will strip them of having a “traditional college experience.” In reality, however, the traditional college experience is just another way of saying meeting like-minded individuals, something any student can do. Don’t close yourself off to opportunities to connect with others–attend club meetings, get coffee with classmates, and spend as much time as possible on campus to expand your network. You’ll be surprised how much you will end up having in common with certain students.

Uncover all costs

What you see is not always what you get when it comes to the price of college, which is why it’s important to look past “sticker prices” and calculate the net total each time you gear up to pay tuition and fees. If you don’t regularly sit down to uncover all the costs of college, you may end up having to put your priorities on hold as uncertainty holds your budget back. Check out a website like the National Center for Education Statistics or talk to an ACI expert to find out the true cost of your education and how to prepare for it.

Have a 4-6 year plan

When you’re the first person in your family to go to college, you’re often expected to take on more than just the responsibility of school. Maybe you have to work, maybe you have to play an important familial role, or maybe you’re relied on to be at home often. Make a point to let those around you know your commitment to graduating by sitting down with an advisor to map out, class-by-class, a 4-6 year graduation plan that your loved ones can also sign off on.

Take risks

You’re already making history by being the first in your family to graduate from college, why not go all out and take a few risks? Risks can amount to asking questions, participating, visiting with professors regularly and even going out on a limb to run for positions within clubs or student government. Don’t settle for a monotonous routine just to get a degree you need, but rather go out on a limb every now and then to get the education and experience you deserve.

Talk to an ACI expert  

Whether it’s finding out the net price of your remaining college years, establishing a roadmap to graduation, or just answering the general questions that come up during the day-to-day of college, make sure to talk to an ACI expert about all your new experiences. It’s why we’re here.

HealthyU_Harry (1)Get started at www.acispecialtybenefits.com, or contact ACI at info@acispecialtybenefits.com / 800.932.0034

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To enroll or not to enroll: the pros and cons of summer classes

It’s that time of the year again. Time to buckle down as the spring term enters its home stretch, time to tie up any loose ends from the academic year, and, for many students, time to consider enrolling for a class or two this upcoming summer.

OSU COB, May 22nd 2010But how do you know if it’s right for you? How do you make sure you won’t be studying come July, regretting your choice as you gaze out the window? The key is to weigh the pros and cons long before you even enroll so that you can foresee any problems and take into account all the benefits. Here are some of the biggest pros and cons facing students considering summer classes.

Pros

Getting ahead It’s no secret that summer classes are one of the best ways to make your graduation date come even sooner, but signing up for summer sessions can even quicken the pace at which you can take certain classes. For example, if you know that there are certain classes that require taking prerequisite classes, doing so in the summer can put you on a fast track to getting a seat in higher-level courses.

Keeping your routine One of the most underrated benefits of taking a class or two over the summer is avoiding A) falling into the trap of “summer melt” where you completely check out of the college mindset and B) having the kind of slow start in the fall that plagues so many students and causes them to fall behind right away. If you’re somebody who knows that a regular routine is key to your productivity, that could be enough reason to enroll.

A concentrated environment Any student who has ever taken a summer class will tell you that they’re nothing like the courses taught in fall, winter and spring. Summer classes tend to move quicker, spending less time beating around the bush and more time getting straight to the point. Accelerated classes, for example, pack all the lessons of a 16-week semester into eight or sometimes even four weeks, which could be a great way to get that General Ed class out of the way. Or, take that difficult class where you’d prefer a smaller class size and more one-on-one time with a professor.

reading_on grassCons

Money For most students, the trickiest part of enrolling for summer classes ends up being the financial side of it. Depending on your school, for example, certain grants, loans, and waivers may not apply to the summer term, or for others using such financial aid for your summer term will mean you have to sacrifice it another time. To avoid the headache of summer session finances, make sure to talk to someone who knows about your school and state’s specific guidelines.

Summer jobs Summer is traditionally a time for students to pick up a summer job or an extra shift or two at their existing job so they can earn some extra cash. Don’t be fooled into thinking that summer classes will be easier and make the mistake of overloading your schedule. If you know that your summer job or internship is important to you, consider taking just one class or none at all.

Downtime Finally, summer is a time to enjoy being young, to take a vacation, to get organized, or to simply take in the longer days by spending them at the beach or in a park with a good book in hand. One of the most important things to consider in enrolling for summer classes is how well you’ll be able to manage your time, so that you can set aside at least two days a week to simply recharge your batteries before another academic year begins.

HealthyU_Harry (1)Want more advice? ACI is on Twitter at@ACISpecBenefitsor on facebook,Google+, Pinterest, orYouTube. Also feel free to contact ACI Specialty Benefits at (800) 932-0034 or email info@acispecialtybenefits.com

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6 tips for proper discussion board #netiquette

To supplement their online and in-person lectures, more and more professors are turning to online discussion boards as places where students can show what they’ve learned, as well as interact with their peers.

But for many students, discussion boards are only added stress – a place where professors grade your work based on how well you formulate a typed response rather than behave in a traditional classroom setting.

05Wtiprodservvetsmain-1367422044942Sometimes, though, all it takes to nail a discussion board assignment is to practice good Internet etiquette and come up with one or two ideas. Here are five steps to exercising the kind of discussion board strategy that will always earn an A.

Arrive early

Many students, especially those who grew up without the Internet as a prominent learning tool, can get caught off guard by online discussion boards when there’s already a class to attend and homework to complete. Make sure you’re doing whatever it takes to prevent procrastination, like setting an alarm on you phone or making the discussion board your browser’s home page. Arriving early to the discussion means your ideas won’t get posted first, and also that you’ll get time to read what others say about your ideas as well as edit your response.

Follow instructions

Classroom discussion boards are not a place to talk about whatever you’d like. In fact, doing this can make things more complicated. Don’t overthink your discussion board responses, but rather just read the instructions carefully and respond directly to the prompt.

Be original

The main problem students have with discussion boards is how easy it is to get lost in the mix of pages upon pages of posts. However, don’t fall into the trap of banking on this and simply parroting others’ ideas. Instead read what other students have said and use what you’ve learned to formulate your own ideas. Even if it isn’t necessarily how you feel on a subject, being original is always the best way to learn and better your persuasion skills.

Have substance

While coming up with one good idea is great, that doesn’t mean you should simply repeat that idea several times in slightly different ways and call it a day. After you’ve formulated an interesting claim, back up your post with reasonable evidence from whatever books your class is reading or lectures you’ve taken notes on. Backing up your original idea with substance is often the only way to take your posts from the B range to the A range.

Don’t be afraid to (respectfully) disagree

Back-and-forth is the root of debate and more often than not professors will encourage spirited discussion on their boards. If you think that you can present a hole in somebody else’s logic, say so, just make sure you’ve left the door open for a two-way conversation. Discussing topics directly with other students not only shows your knowledge, but also displays that you’ve read other students’ posts.

Have a conclusion

For labs especially, oftentimes your entire discussion board assignment will be your conclusion to the work you did in class. But even if this isn’t the basis of your discussion board, it’s important that everything you post is tied off with a single, straightforward conclusion. A strong conclusion should summarize your argument without just repeating what you’ve already said.

HealthyU_Harry (1)

Want more advice? ACI is on Twitter at@ACISpecBenefitsor on facebook,Google+, Pinterest, orYouTube. Also feel free to contact ACI Specialty Benefits at (800) 932-0034 or email info@acispecialtybenefits.com

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