Things I wish I knew before, during, and after college.

With my senior year having come to a close this past May, I realize it only makes sense to reflect on my college experience in a way that could be useful to others. There were a lot of ways I could’ve gone about making this list but I decided to break it into 3 sections: the bulk of college, the end of college, and what happens after. I’ve also decided to leave out some obvious–but important–advice: ex. advice on selecting a major, reminders to take advantage of the free gym, etc.

Instead, I wanted this to be a list of the most important ideas I carried with me throughout college. I had some of these in mind when I started, in the fall of 2012, but most of them I learned from experience. And all of them are things I wish I had known earlier. But ain’t that always the case.


College ~ Freshman to Junior year

1. Your GPA matters, sort of. Just do your best and take care of your physical/mental health.

In my experience, I’ve found that people who tell you “your GPA doesn’t matter” usually have low GPAs. Does everyone need to be on the dean’s list? No. But for a sticker price of over $100,000 you should probably be working hard. And to go beyond the “get your money’s worth” mindset, you should’ve come to college because you love learning or–more specifically–are passionate about a career in your field. If neither of those are true why are you enrolling in the first place.

In short, do your best and solid grades will follow. In the end a “good” GPA is a nice feather in your cap: something you can add to your resume and a way to qualify for awards/honors while you are on campus. But nothing is worth killing yourself over.

Take care of your mind and body above everything else. It took me too long to learn this. Skip class occasionally and responsibly as a way to replenish your mental health. If you’re working hard who cares if you get a B or an A. The few extra points to your GPA isn’t always worth the amount of effort it will take. Be realistic with yourself and, above all, be kind to yourself.

2. Keep your extracurriculars within reason.

Get involved on campus but don’t get too involved. Where’s the line? Look at your calendar and imagine something unexpected coming up. If you’re panicking, you are too involved. Pick what you care about most. If you still feel the need to be in a lot of orgs only take 1-2 leadership positions. Extracurriculars become a lot more stressful when you’re running meetings instead of just attending them, even if they’re “not that hard.”

3. (From one POC to others:) Get involved with a race-related cultural organization on campus.

While being involved in race-related cultural organizations can certainly benefit all students (allies are important) I highlight people of color because I am one, so I can only speak from my perspective.

For a long time I didn’t, personally, feel the need to be involved in race-related cultural organizations. I wasn’t involved in the Latin American org at my high school so when I got to college I didn’t get involved in our Latin American org either.

But having attended a predominately white private college in small town Iowa has its downfalls. And one of them was my school’s inability to deal with race issues in a way that made me feel respected, supported, and heard. I’ve mentioned this before when I talked about how Cornell College fails students of color, a post written in response to the phrase “Build a wall” having been painted on our community announcement kiosks.

This occurred during the end of my Senior year. I felt stressed, hurt, and isolated. As a Latina, that’s when I realized the importance of having close friends who are also Latinx. This is not to discount the support of my white friends or other POC, but when incidents that target your specific racial group occur part of healing is having safe spaces with that specific racial group.

If I could go back I would definitely join this organization (and others) so I could get more support and offer more support to others.

4. *Wine Wednesday or any tradition with friends goes a long way.

I started doing Wine Wednesdays my senior year, after a semester off campus Chicago. Every Wednesday me and 2 of my best friends would drink a glass of wine together while catching up, watching movies/tv, or playing videogames. Wednesdays were actually one of our busiest days of the week with some of us doing workstudy or having org meetings but we always made time for this. Whether you do this, or make your own tradition, it was really nice to have a set date with friends–especially in the middle of week (which can be a stressful time). It was a weekly reminder of what’s really important in life: spending time with people who make you happy.

*Please do not participate in Wine Wednesday if you are under the drinking age. It is illegal and any wine you get while under the drinking age is bound to taste awful so please just don’t.

5. Start working in/towards your field while you’re in college. If you go to college in an area you plan to live in you basically start your career before you graduate.

Pretty self explanatory. While student-teaching automatically gives me some time in the field, I always looked for summer jobs related to education or (my other major) English. It really helped build my resume which I desperately needed since I still don’t have any full-time work history and finding a job after graduating is hard enough.

6. At the end of junior year (or 1st semester, senior year) quit almost all your organizations and leadership positions.

It doesn’t make sense to be focussing your energies intensely on campus organizations when you’re on your way out the door. If you have an incredibly relevant leadership position (ex. Editor of the school paper and you’re going into journalism) then keep that, but drop everything else.

College ~ Senior year

1. Apply for some jobs/programs 2nd semester of senior year but don’t go crazy. You have plenty of time after college to have adult angst, what’s the rush?

Exactly how it sounds. In fact, many people don’t look for jobs at all until they graduate. The only reason I advise against this is that some positions/programs run on specific timelines, so it can be worth a few google searches on your end. Plus it’d be great to have a job lined up for after graduation, or at least some leads.

2. Have money saved up or shop the summer before senior year because everything seems to require “nice” clothes. 

Between special events, celebrations amongst friends, senior reception, college awards night(s), and graduation, you’re going to need to look nice. A lot. And if you’re like me and hate wearing the same dress over and over again you’re going to want to invest in a few snazzy things.

3. Second semester is the apocalypse semester: everything is made up and the points don’t matter. You will never live this life style ever again so spend time with your friends and enjoy everything college has to offer while you still can. 

This is where that good GPA comes in handy. It takes the pressure off being perfect senior year. Oddly enough I still did really well in all my classes. I’m still not sure if I had gotten better at being a student or if I was just working way too hard the first 3.5 years… Anyway, senior year was great! I said yes to every invite out and spent as much time with my friends as humanly possible. I only had one org meeting a week and my work-study so life was pretty simple.

I spent my last few months enjoying the “free” (albeit repetitive) dining hall food, working out a bunch, going into town as often as possible, and always having plans with friends. Meanwhile, all my freshman, sophomore, and junior friends were always stressed about something and I was just chilling. It was incredible and I totally earned it.

Post Graduation ~ First 6 months

1.Celebrate the achievement

You did it! A lot of people don’t. So celebrate that. Go out to dinner, have a party, do something!

2. Know what you want and actually go for it

If you want to work at a museum apply to museums. If there are no museums around your small home town move to where there are museums. I know that’s easier said then done but it beats working somewhere that has nothing to do with your field. Which brings me to my next point:

3. Don’t take a crummy job out of fear (this early in the game).

Your loans kick in 6 months after you graduate; yes you might need to settle when you’re a month away from these bills but why settle early? As someone with a maxed credit card or two I understand the stress. And being broke in “the real world” feels a lot worse than being broke on campus.

But its been almost 2 months since I graduated and I’m already seeing peers working at retail stores or getting involved in pyramid schemes (No joke). And I’m like it’s been 2 MONTHS.

I understand everyone’s financial and post-grad “housing” situation is different but if you’re like me and are lucky enough to start out in your family’s house, rent free, until you get a job then you have no reason to panic so early on. A lot of people get a whatever job “just to make some extra money” during their job search but then they stop searching for a job. Because who wants to sent our resumes and cover letters after an 8 hour shift? Eventually bills kick in, maybe they get a car, and now they feel stuck at their job.

Be patient and have faith in yourself.

4. Apply for jobs and keep copies of all your resumes/cover letters/application answers.

Recycle, recycle, recycle. I swear some of the applications I’ve done are so involved I feel like applying to schools all over again.

5. Tell everyone, in your social circle(s), what you’re doing

Telling people your goals makes them feel “more real.” Plus, getting friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, etc to associate you with X career can help send leads your way.

6. Don’t make applying for jobs a job in itself

I had a really hard time with this. I would wake up and spend hours on craigslist, indeed, and other job search engines. Then I would have dozens of tabs of potential jobs. Then I would read through the qualifications of each and delete any I was unqualified for. From there I would pick ones I’d actually like to have. From there I would start to apply.

It was exhausting. Plus working so hard on job apps made me feel discouraged that I wasn’t getting any offers (but I’m working so hard!” I’d think to myself). It wasn’t the healthiest approach to job hunting and my brother would tell me not to make applying for jobs a job itself.

He reminded me the time between college and my first full-time job is the last time (until I retire) that I can not have a job and still be completely okay. That really put things in perspective.

7. Take days off

I know this sounds silly because every day is a day off when you’re seeking employment but seriously, take days off. Have days where you don’t look for jobs at all. Take breaks between the interviews. Or you’ll burn out before you even start. And really that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned over these past few years:

mental and physical health are my number 1 priorities. When those are in order everything else seems to fall into place.

Comic Close-Up #4: Nailbiter Vol. 1

NAILBITER_V1_COVER-OCTOBER-PREVIEWSI came across Nailbiter during a trip to Galena, IL. A few friends and I were exploring the town and went into their comic book shop, Have Fun Collectibles. As we browsed for things we could not afford, the saleswoman began asking us about our interests and tastes.

A quick reminder to all of you, I am from Chicago, IL and go to school in Mt. Vernon, IA. I have traveled to San Diego, L.A, and even Paris. Never in my life have I been in a place that provided such incredible in-store, customer service as Galena, IL. And my experience at Have Fun Collectibles was the best I ever had at a comic book shop. But retail tangents aside, I told her I loved Saga, Sex Criminals, ODY-C, and Superman Red Son. I emphasized my proclivity for Image comics and told her I was looking for something new. She pulled several items for me and, after offering me 20% off of 3 or 10% off of 2, I left with 3 comics that day. Nailbiter was the most appealing/familiar looking so I decided to start there.

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“In the spirit of community”: How Cornell College fails students of color

I am writing this post because I refuse to go to a school that tolerates hate speech and I am not leaving.

Cornell’s administration acknowledges discrimination only in its most extreme forms: swastikas, nooses, and slurs. What message does this send? It means Cornell is all about image and appeasing the majority. The aforementioned forms of racism are so extreme Cornell is forced to speak out against them (and label them as hate speech). But when it comes to all other transgressions, Cornell shrugs and basically says, “Americans will be Americans.” Cornell ties their own hands with the first amendment and claims innocence.

As a result, they have left many students (myself included) feeling isolated, uncared for, and disposable. While I believe Cornell fails all minority groups, today I am focussing on racial minority groups.

I will begin by reporting on the incident that occurred, the student response, and the administrative response. And I will end with a personal reflection on the aforementioned events.

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Poetry for Relief: Dealing with Anxiety/Depression

Last year I spent months workshopping a poem about my anxiety, in preparation for the College Slam of Louder Than A Bomb (LTAB).  I’d never talked about my anxiety before then and even then I didn’t call it a disorder… just that I have trouble breathing sometimes. The psych major on our slam team told me it was and I told her maybe.

After I read my poem at LTAB a fellow poet approached me and said “hey, I can really relate to that; I’ve been feeling that way a lot lately. Can you please send me a copy of that poem.”

Today, I woke up after a depressive episode and I was still depressed and the following words were on repeat in my head:

With what I most enjoy contented least
Shakespeare, Sonnet #29

There was a comfort in that: someone else articulating exactly how I felt. It’s why that poet asked me for a copy and it’s why I woke up with Shakespeare in my head.

I woke up today feeling drained… paralyzed… like I wasn’t myself and couldn’t imagine getting back to who I was. I thought about what I most enjoy (being with friends, watching tv, exercising, drinking, eating) and all of it seemed like work. Continue reading

A Response to Cornell College’s Campus Climate Assessment

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been taking a break from blogging. The next few posts were going to be final updates/reflections on Condor Class Libraries and a few posts about teaching. After that, I had plans of more posts on lit, thoughts I being a second semester senior, etc.

However, I’ve returned to blogging early to provide my reactions to Cornell College’s Campus Climate Assessment–as its release has caused some strong reactions from my collegiate peers.

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This blog post is broken down into 4 main sections:
1. Background Info: addressing race & higher ed (2015)
2. Cornell College Unrest: addressing issues students have raised with how the college operates.
3. Cornell College Campus Climate Assessment: a brief recap of what was studied, how it was studied, and the results it produced (for readers outside the current Cornell student body or Cornellians who haven’t read the report).
4. My Reflection: thoughts on the assessment

Those of you in the Cornell community may want to scroll down to the reflection, but if you need more context #1-3 are here.

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Condor Class Libraries: Fahrenheit 451 and a love of reading that rose from the ashes

As student teaching winds down I am saddened by fact that I got to know some students more than others. And even though there are only two weeks left, I’m still working on building rapport. One student in particular has been on my mind this past week: *Angelo (*pseudo name for student confidentiality). In terms of turning in work and positively adding to the classroom, Angelo is my worst student. In a class of over 2 dozen kids he was the only one on his phone when we were reading aloud. Angelo is missing assignments for me and many of his other teachers (and is failing most of his classes). Angelo will make derisive comments towards me sometimes. When I check in with him he will tell me how much he doesn’t care and how boring whatever we’re doing is. Angelo has also been disrespectful in the college and career center and has a generally negative outlook. Continue reading

Poetry x Pop Culture #1: Dear Basketball; Kobe Bryant says goodbye to the game.

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Kobe Bryant announced his retirement from basketball today–which you probably already know. This announcement doesn’t come as a surprise but the way he announced it does.

Through poetry. Yes, poetry. Some have called it a farewell letter, comparing it to Michael Jordan’s farewell letter. And while Kobe likely wrote this with that fact in mind, his “letter” takes the form of a poem. Which is clear because it is written in stanzas and uses rhyme and rhythm.

I’ve discussed the importance of poetry before, but one thing I haven’t gotten to yet–but will be exploring in this new blog series–is the automatic relevance poetry has in our world. By relevance, I don’t mean that poetry is still being written or that old poems have themes that transcend time (though both are true). No, what I mean to say is poetry creeps into our lives often and always. Whether you openly embrace poetry or keep it at arms length, it is here and it is here to stay.

The following is the first poem I will be analyzing in this Poetry x Pop Culture series, written by Kobe Bryant:


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Reflection: Teachers for Social Justice Curriculum Fair

As part of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest’s Urban Education Program, I was required to attend the Teachers for Social Justice Curriculum Fair (TSJCF): which took place Nov.21st at Kenwood high school on the South side of Chicago. This was my first time attending TSJCF but it certainly won’t be my last.

This year marked the 14th annual TSJCF put on by Teachers for Social Justice, an organization for educators of all kinds (ex. teachers, administrators, pre-service teachers, alt ed teachers, professors, etc) who believe in social justice education. Continue reading

Student teaching midpoint

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Those of you who know me know that I am student teaching in Chicago this semester. While I go to Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa I am to student-teach in Chicago through ACM’s Urban Education program. Getting into this program was a dream I had since I was a freshman in college and I’ve been lucky to have been given an incredible placement.

I teach English 4 regular (high school seniors) at a school on the South side of Chicago. My department team is full of experienced and helpful people. And most importantly my mentor teacher gives me the help and freedom I need to grow as a teacher.

In my head, I planned on blogging every 1-2 weeks about my teaching experiences but between all the lesson planning, grading, weekly reflections, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and general unwillingness to make time it.. not much has been shared. Now that I’m over halfway through with my student teaching (5 weeks left!) I figured now would be a good time to reflect on some things in a more public setting. Here are some big picture take-aways from my time student teaching: Continue reading

Comic Close-up #3 pt. 2: Saga, analytical nerd out

As promised, here is part 2 of my Comic Close-up for Saga. The simple description of Saga would be race war in outerspace… + some magic. But for a more nuanced description: Saga is about the futility, but perhaps inevitability, of war. As much as Marko and Alana want to live a peaceful and quiet life, raising their daughter Hazel, their pursuit of that life has led to the death of many.

Never have I been so moved and mentally engaged by a comic. Hazel’s wise narration, which I mention in my previous blog post, literally shifts my perspectives on life.

Here’s one of many quotations that I’ll be carrying with me (from Saga Volume 5):

“Every relationship is an education. Each new person we welcome into our hearts is a chance to evolve into something radically different than we used to be. But what happens when those people disappear from our lives? […] There’s no graduating from this kind of education, couples just keep growing and changing until they either break up or die.” –Hazel

But all of you already know I love Saga and why I love Saga. So to make this post a little different I’m going to do a quick look at Saga Book One and then examine the motifs of the series.  Continue reading