Taking the initiative

April 12th, 2014 by

A book review of “U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges 2014”

Best Colleges 2014 1P plain coverYou have no doubt heard about “U.S. News & World Report” and its guide to the nation’s best colleges. You probably associate it with numbers, lists and rankings. But it actually provides much more information than how your first choice college stacks up in relation to every other university in the country. The guide educates you about how taking the initiative during the college search will benefit you for a long time after the applications are sent. Here are some takeaways that every high school student should remember during the search:

Start early, think deeply
When I started researching colleges in the eighth grade, my teachers and peers thought I was weird. However, I would probably fit in just fine at this point in time. U.S. News’ Brian Kelly notes that “the stakes of the college hunt keep getting higher,” and he is absolutely right. Costs are rising, financial aid is covering less and jobs are still difficult to find. So you need to start thinking about what you want from your college experience as soon as possible. Maybe even before you decide to attend college. Examine your passions, find out what you are good at and explore different colleges through tours or through brochures. Picture what you want from life after earning your undergraduate degree. Kelly claims that there is no “best” college; “The point is to find the one that matches your ambition and abilities.”

Public or private? Big or small? Liberal arts or technical?
Determining the right college for you means more than just considering its featured programs or overall cost. You need to decide which environment is best for you. Are you leaning towards a private school or a state university? Do you work better with more individual time with a professor or within larger classes? Are you interested in taking courses in many different subjects, or do you want to begin your major your first day? “The first step in narrowing your choices should be a long good look in the mirror,” the guidebook advises. “What characteristics must a school have to make you happy?”

Focus on the whole package
When searching for the best college for you, avoid having tunnel vision. Thinking about only the cost, the education, the reputation or the environment will give fewer options and could give you a false sense of what the school is really like. Rebecca Ridings, an alum of John Brown University, was initially “struck by the beauty of the campus’s blooming dogwoods and its peacefulness.” But she found that it was the best choice for her because of its educational methods, its campus and its extracurriculars. “JBU’s small class sizes and professors that care only made me feel more at home,” she remembers. “The school may be small, but it has excellent resources.”

Similarly, Jasmine Ellis first heard about Spelman College when she was 10. Her interest was piqued because of the school’s dedication to attracting women of color from all over the world. While that is very impressive, it is not the only factor Jasmine considered before applying. “Spelman provides a strong liberal arts education, a supportive faculty and ample opportunities to develop leadership skills,” she explains. “I will leave college with the skills and connections that…will enable me to change the world.”

Now that you are better equipped to make your decision, consider getting a copy of “U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges 2014” and begin your research. Other great resources in the book include: How online learning might affect you, how eight high school seniors made it in, hot new majors, and a what to-do list.

As a friend of NextStepU, you have access to a discount code for the book. Use code SCHOOL25 to receive 25% off your purchase!


Written by Rachel Montpelier. Rachel is a senior at Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y. and is the editorial assistant at NextStepU.


Freebie Friday — Nice by Design

April 11th, 2014 by


We have another Freebie Friday for you! Today’s wonderful find is from Nice by Design.

Nice makes CableKeeps™ which are great for preventing tangles when traveling, wrangling cables when plugged into the wall, or just for adding some personality to an otherwise bland charger.

CableKeeps™ organize Apple chargers and cords with a touch of colorful and eclectic style while making sure they remain fully functional. They come in an array of vibrant colors that make it easy to tell whose charger is whose in a house or dorm and they are non-toxic, recyclable and compostable.

We have 5 CableKeeps™ to give away for iPhones and iPads. Use the Rafflecopter app below to enter for your chance to win one of the five prizes. You must enter before April 17 at 11:59 p.m. (ET).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

No purchase necessary. Enter the Nice by Design Giveaway before 11:59 p.m. (ET) on 4/17/14. 5 winners will be chosen shortly afterward and announced before 4/25/14. The winners must respond to the email they receive in order to claim his or her prize. Any prize winner not responding by 5/25/14 will forfeit his/her prize. Entries will only be accepted through the Rafflecopter application and before the deadline date.


5 ways to clean your dorm room and beyond

April 10th, 2014 by

iStock_000035113470SmallSpring cleaning around the house means opening those windows wide, breaking out the vacuum, and doing a healthy dose of dusting. But what about if you’re living in a dorm at college? Is spring cleaning still necessary there? Yes! In truth, you can get by with never cleaning your dorm room … but you’ve seen what that looks like. Since dorm rooms are small, take a holistic approach to spring cleaning; think beyond merely your living space, as there’s plenty more to be kept clean!

1. Dust-Free Dorms
Since dorm rooms aren’t large, they attract and hold in a lot of dust, enough to make you sneeze if you pop your head under your bed. We don’t have to explain how to dust, but to keep items dust-free, store them under your bed in zippered storage containers. When dust accumulates, it won’t coat any blankets, extra clothes or other items kept sealed.

2. Laundry Time
No one likes doing laundry in college. When you finally get around to washing your sheets and bedding, and not just clothes, well, let’s just say if it’s second semester and you still haven’t washed them, now’s the time! Most comforters for college are machine washable, but if you have a down comforter, it is most likely not machine washable. If you’re unsure, just check out the tag for washing instructions. Non-down comforters are filled with polyester, typically (even if their exteriors are cotton), and are generally machine washable.

3. Spring’s Scents
Now that you’ve worked on your room, what else is in need of cleaning? How about the water you drink? The communal bathroom tap doesn’t provide the best-tasting water, and buying bottles of water can get expensive. So if you haven’t started using a filtered water pitcher yet, make a healthy change this spring. Drinking filtered water is a huge money-saver, as it beats buying water or less healthy sodas, anyway.

4. Keep Yourself Clean
Hopefully you didn’t forget to shower while hibernating during this long winter, and since spring has sprung, it’s the perfect time to reinvigorate. A shower in the morning will help wake you up, and you can bring a new boost to your daily routine by adding a fresh, springtime scent to your shower with a new soap or body wash.

5. Weighty Workload
If you’ve been putting off organizing your school stuff, don’t delay. All those papers and folders from first semester are only clutter now. So clean out your binders and rid your drawers of last semester’s syllabi and homework assignments. You don’t have much storage space in your dorm room to begin with, so any no-longer-needed textbooks and school supplies should be cleared to make way for the new. And if you’re still carrying around a notebook or some papers in your backpack from last semester, shed the extra weight! Now that the weather’s nicer, don’t let a heavy backpack lug you down on your springtime walk to class.

Keith-DormCo-headshotWritten by Keith Gillogly, for Connect with DormCo on their Facebook pagePinterest and Tumblr.

> Looking for more tips and tricks for your dorm? Check out these great articles:
4 ways to keep organized for college life
Give your dorm room a makeover


5 books to read before college

April 9th, 2014 by

Smiling Woman Sitting on Couch and Holding a BookLiterature nerd that I am, I relate everything in life to what I have already read in books. So, when I got to thinking about some of you who are graduating seniors, I was reminded of one my favorite novels. Then I thought about other texts that deal with that weird period of time between the end of high school and the beginning of college that might help you remember you’re certainly not alone in this process.

As you prepare to leave high school for bigger and better things, here are five must-reads for you and your friends:

“This Lullaby” by Sarah Dessen
Recent grad Remy meets Dexter and hates him, but then — TWIST — realizes she loves him, blah blah blah. You know where this going. What sets this book apart is its exploration of whether it is ever really possible to sever ties from where you grew up. It is perfect for a senior vowing to never step foot in his or her hometown again. You will be surprised how powerful nostalgia and homesickness is.

“The Bermudez Triangle” by Maureen Johnson
Nina, Avery and Mel have been close friends since childhood, but everything is thrown through a loop when each girl begins her first serious relationship. Nina goes off to a summer pre-college program and comes back with a boyfriend. Meanwhile, Avery and Mel stay home and fall for each other. This novel will give you a preview as to what will happen when you and your friends begin to couple off. Friendship is only occasionally stronger than romantic love.

“The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach
Henry enjoys the wonders of independence when he begins his freshman year in college. This novel balances the perspectives of Henry and several other Westish College community members. For those of you nervous about finding your place in college, this is the story for you. It also features baseball terminology, in case any of you find that appealing.

“Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” by Alison Bechdel
This graphic memoir actually spans Bechdel’s life from childhood through her first year of college. But it is still important to read if only because it is an excellent example of college-level writing. What seems like a simple story (Girl coming to terms with her relationship with Dad) becomes so much more with Bechdel’s beautiful artwork, interesting literary allusions and scholarly vocabulary.

“Sloppy Firsts”/”Second Helpings” by Megan McCafferty
Okay, so this entry is actually two books, but I consider them two parts of an entire story. The first two installments of McCafferty’s Jessica Darling series are the protagonist’s diaries chronicling her dwindling time at a New Jersey high school. These books are for anyone needing a laugh or anyone that wants to commiserate with another too-smart-for-her-own-good high school hater.

Rachel-blog-2104Written by Rachel Montpelier. Rachel is a senior at Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y. and is the editorial assistant at NextStepU.

> Looking for more advice on navigating your senior year? Register at and customize your path to success.



Tuesday Tour Day — ITT Technical Institute

April 8th, 2014 by

itt-profileToday we are touring the campuses of ITT Technical Institute!

ITT Technical Institute is committed to helping men and women develop skills and knowledge to pursue opportunities in today’s most promising career fields. Its various locations provide education in electronics, drafting and design, criminal justice, business, information technology, health sciences and nursing.

Most campus-based ITT Tech programs of study strive to blend traditional academic content with applied learning concepts. In addition, a significant portion of these programs is devoted to practical study in a lab environment. Advisory committees, comprised of representatives of local businesses and employers, help each ITT Technical Institute periodically assess and update curricula, equipment and laboratory design. You can be sure your education will be up to date and will evolve with the always-changing career landscape.

ITT Technical Institute has campuses all over the country including:
California | Massachusetts | New York | Pennsylvania | Texas

Plus many more locations! Search for all locations using NextStepU’s College Match tool.

At each one of these locations, you have the option of studying in the School of Information Technology, the School of Electronics Technology, the School of Drafting and Design, the School of Business or the School of Criminal Justice. No matter which campus you pick or what you decide to learn about, ITT Technical Institute is devoted to giving you the education and practical skills necessary for your ideal career and life.

> For more information about ITT Tech click here!


Major Monday — City, Community and Regional Planning

April 7th, 2014 by

plannerDo you ever wonder how you can improve the layout and traffic of your hometown? Are you interested in how public transportation affects a community? Are you interested in a career that balances design, organization, science and technology? If so, consider becoming a city, community and regional planning major in college! In this field of study, you will learn how to create healthy, thriving and environmentally-friendly communities.

According to the College Board, you can earn either an undergraduate or a graduate degree in city, community and regional planning. To prepare for this college program, consider taking classes including AP Art History, computer-assisted drafting and physics in high school. In college, some courses you will probably encounter include transportation planning, land use regulation and law and economic development.

What to know before you apply
Before you decide on a specific program, consider whether you are most interested in art, science or technology. You may have the chance to concentrate on one area of city, community and regional planning, and learning what you want now will help you in the long run. Also, reach out to some prospective professors and ask them about their background and experience. They could give you some insight into what to expect from the education and what options you will have after you earn your degree. Finally, decide what sort of community you are most interested in planning. Are you partial to small towns or rural villages? Or would you prefer larger cities? Since you will be helping to change and improve these communities, it is important to know which you are most passionate about.

Colleges with a field of study
ITT Technical Institute has multiple campuses offering programs related to city, community and regional planning! They are located in: California | Massachusetts | New York | Pennsylvania | Texas

Studying city, community and regional planning will prepare you for careers in architecture, urban and regional planning and surveying/mapping technology. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, architects earned an average annual salary of $79,300 in 2011, while urban and regional planners earned $67,350. Survey and mapping technicians earned an average of $42,050 in 2011.

> For more information about careers visit


Scholarship Saturday — James Beard Foundation

April 5th, 2014 by

scholarship saturday

NextStepU is happy to help guide you toward scholarships and opportunities to earn money for college. Here is a new scholarship we found for you!

Scholarship: 2014 Culinary Scholarships from the James Beard Foundation

Amount: More than $450,000 in scholarships and grants available.

Details: The James Beard Foundation Scholarship Program is administered by the Scholarship Management Services division of Scholarship America, a nonprofit organization that has helped award scholarships to over one million students. Applications for scholarships are received and evaluated by Scholarship America. The applications of the finalists are then submitted to the James Beard Foundation’s Scholarship Selection Committee for final review.

Deadline: Scholarship applications must be postmarked by May 15, 2014.

For more information and to apply: Visit the James Beard Foundation website after April 1, 2014.

Best of luck to those who apply!

> Want to continue your search? Take a look at NextStepU’s database of more than 3 million scholarships after you register at



Freebie Friday — Co-Ed Supply

April 4th, 2014 by


NextStepU loves to share with you! Our Freebie Friday giveaways let you know about new products and fun opportunities.

This week, we want to share Co-Ed Supply with you! Co-Ed Supply delivers an amazing monthly care package for college students filled with healthy snacks, personal care items and entertainment. Who wouldn’t want a chance to have a Co-Ed Supply box delivered straight to their doorstep?!

Want to make sure you get on the Co-Ed Supply mailing list? We have a coupon code for friends of NextStepU. Enter coupon code NEXTSTEPU101 at checkout for $10 off your purchase. 

You have a chance to win a Deluxe Finals Box right now here on the NextStepU blog. Just fill out the Rafflecopter app below and you are entered into the giveaway. You have until 11:59 p.m. (ET) on April 10 to enter and the winner will be announced the week of April 14th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

No purchase necessary. Enter the Co-Ed Supply Giveaway before 11:59 p.m. (ET) on 4/10/14. 1 winner will be chosen shortly afterward and announced before 4/18/14. The winner must respond to the email they receive in order to claim his or her prize. Any prize winner not responding by 5/18/14 will forfeit his/her prize. Entries will only be accepted through the Rafflecopter application and before the deadline date.



Why SAT study breaks are more than okay

April 3rd, 2014 by

Trying to distractA pervasive and damaging myth among students is that cramming helps. For nearly every scenario, except for that vocabulary quiz in English class which is about to start in 10 minutes, cramming is neither a beneficial nor useful strategy (Even for that English quiz too! You don’t really learn anything). However, more often than not, it is the only available strategy after procrastinating.

The SAT is no different. Students who are successful on the test have spent months preparing. They know how to study for the SAT, and their test scores reflect that preparation. One specific technique that these students employ involves breaks. Taking breaks is not only more than okay, but it is also highly, highly recommend. Let me show you why.

Break and Pivot
One useful aspect of breaking is allowing us to switch focus. Long, sustained hours studying the same thing leads nowhere. I am sure you’ve done it. I’ve done it. After a certain amount of time on one topic, I would reach a point where I felt like I was constantly having to bring myself back to my studies. My mind would continuously drift away, and I would have no idea how long I had been turning pages, not consuming the information. I’d turn back the pages, and start again only to have my mind wander off again. So frustrating!

A break is an easy marker to stop and move on to something else. The nice thing about the SAT is that we have a lot of different topics to study so it isn’t hard to pivot to something entirely new. So set a timer for your study period. Focus on the topic for 20-50 minutes, and when the timer goes off, take a break. When you come back from the break, start on a new topic.

The Anatomy of a Break
What does a break look like, though? Is it a nap? A wiki-wormhole that lasts for hours? A break should last for 5-10 minutes. It should involve standing up and moving around, perhaps stepping outside briefly for fresh air and a change of scenery. I would recommend drinking some water and stretching your legs, back, and shoulders. Ultimately, the key is to get oxygen-rich blood flowing through your veins to reinvigorate your mind and body for the next round of learning.

Supports Learning
Breaking from a concept and returning to it later is key to retaining information. For example, let’s say that you are studying SAT vocabulary. Learning new vocabulary requires memorizing words and their definitions. Let’s stop right there. Is memorizing something new a one-day activity? Something done in one study session? No. We all know how easy it is to forget a word and its definition. It is for this reason that we must take breaks.

Spend 20 minutes working on your vocabulary, and move on to something else. Return to the vocabulary the next day, or even in a few days, and study them again. This spaced repetition is a fundamental part of learning something new, and something that scientists have known about since the early 20th century.

Full Day Breaks
A break is not just something you do in a day of studying. Rather, it is an approach that should be used throughout the weeks and months of preparation for the SAT. By allowing your mind time to almost forget a concept, and then return to it, you are building pathways in your brain that become stronger and stronger. The more times you stimulate the pathway, the easier it will be to remember the concept or idea later.

Hermann Ebbinghaus studied memory and is famous for developing the forgetting curve. Basically what it shows is something we intuitively know; after learning something, we begin to forget it. He mapped it out for us. If we never return to the idea, it will be forgotten, but if we use spaced-repetition, and return to the concept, we can ward off the effects of time on our memory.

And we don’t have to return to the idea at the same interval either. The more times we return to the idea to refresh our mind, the longer we can wait until the next time we review the concept. So after seeing something new, return to it the next day. Then wait two days before reviewing—then four, then eight, then 12 days, and so on.

Moral: Don’t Cram — Study for Months Before Your Test
Take breaks during your study sessions and take breaks between your study sessions. No one has to study every day to do well on the SAT. The real secret is to start early and study over the course of a few months. This allows for plenty of breaks, plenty of rest, and plenty of time to learn. Instead of shoveling mounds of knowledge into your cerebral cortex in a short amount of time, add a tablespoon a day and you’ll be more than ready for anything the SAT throws at you.

magooshsat-imageThis post was written by Kevin Rocci, resident SAT expert at Magoosh. For more advice on SAT prep, check out Magoosh’s SAT blog.

> For more test prep help, check out

Comments introduces new studying app

April 2nd, 2014 by claims to be the quickest, most intelligent way to improve your vocabulary. Their interactive site is accessible to any vocabulary or educational level. The website works with you to master words that are essential and range from any school level to business success.

The vocabulary tool now comes in the form of a free app for both iPhones and iPads (it’s not yet available for Android). After logging in, members can answer a few questions and watch as the site builds a model of your knowledge — the more you play, the more it knows. After that, it predicts vocabulary words that you might not know and teaches them to you. You learn not only definitions but also using words in the context of proper sentences, which can really enhance your vocabulary.

Additionally, there is a dictionary feature that allows you to search a vocabulary word. From there you can hear the pronunciation, see an example, find out more information and of course see the meaning. You can also see the word family and usage examples.

The third tool within the app offers pre-made vocabulary lists for specific lessons and works, which is ideal for a study guide or classroom. This ranges anywhere from “The Declaration of Independence” lists to Minecraft vocabulary, so there truly is something for everyone.

Students can utilize this tool for an exam covering topics in math, English, history, science and much more. This tool grows along with your knowledge and will increase your success. It will then move you forward.

As you transition from high school to college, the app goes right along with you. Check out the app today, over 120,000 questions await your answers!

internAli Sewalt is the editorial intern for NextStepU and is a junior at Nazareth College. You can reach her with questions and for advice at

> Looking for more advice? Register at and customize your path to success.


While we are on the topic of vocabulary, let’s think about your scholarship essays. Here are some quick tips from Laura. Follow her advice and you are sure to score a better impression with that essay.