Why Students Should Turn the Internet Off When They Study

By Stefanie Weisman

[Editor’s note: This article was originally posted on the Freedom website and has been re-posted with their permission.]

Okay, I admit it.  I’ve been having a little problem in the self-control department lately.  No matter what I tried to do – write an article, do research, read a book, etc. – I found myself typing the url of some distracting, time-wasting website, with Facebook being the worst offender.  It was a rather bizarre feeling, as if my fingers had acquired a mind of their own.  Before I knew it, I had been sucked into an internet black hole of silly videos and mindless trivia, which used up a good chunk of my time and energy.

My situation is hardly unique.  In my experience as a high school and college study skills expert, I’m constantly reminded of the problems caused by excessive internet usage.  On average, teens spend nine hours a day using media for entertainment – that’s more time than they spend sleeping and far more time than they spend studying.  Many students use social media and other “fun” sites while they’re studying or doing homework.  They may think such media multi-tasking doesn’t hurt their concentration, but study after study has shown this not to be the case.  According to a pioneer in this field, the late Stanford professor Clifford Nass, “people who chronically multitask show an enormous range of deficits. They’re basically terrible at all sorts of cognitive tasks, including multitasking.”  In a 2012 study, researchers found that using Facebook and texting in particular were associated with lower GPA.

But as we all know, it can be hard to give up things that are bad for us.  The instant gratification we feel from sending a Tweet or getting a Like on our Facebook post creates a dopamine loop in our brains that makes us hungry for more.  We can all use a little help in the fight against bad habits.  Which is why, when I was given the chance to try Freedom, a program designed to eliminate distractions on the web, I jumped at the opportunity.

After downloading Freedom, the first thing I did was set up a recurring block of Facebook and other sites I have a weakness for, such as YouTube and Netflix, during the work day.  I was struck by how freeing it was to know these sites were off-limits.  My need to check on my friends seemed to evaporate, and my productivity increased.  At times when I needed complete concentration, I chose to block all websites – easily done on Freedom by checking a box.

freedom_full_view_cropped

A view of what the Freedom dashboard looks like on my computer.

I quickly discovered that Freedom has many features that make it superior to, say, disabling the wi-fi on your computer.  While shutting down wi-fi is an all-or-nothing solution, Freedom helps you fine-tune your internet consumption.  You can create multiple Blocklists, allowing you to block as many or as few websites as you want with the click of a button.  Freedom conveniently lets you choose from a list of the most commonly used (or should I say abused) social media sites, and you can manually enter any other sites you find distracting.  You can put these Blocklists into effect at any time or schedule them for recurring Sessions, which is great if you know you want to avoid certain sites at the same time every day, and sync your Sessions across multiple devices.  Perhaps most importantly, Freedom can keep you from giving in to temptation.  The problem with disabling your wi-fi is that you can easily turn it back on again.  With Freedom, you can select Locked Mode, which makes it virtually impossible to access the internet (or specific sites) for up to 8 hours.

This software would clearly be a great tool for students.  Those who use their PCs to take notes could set up a recurring block of all websites during class time, thus avoiding the distractions associated with in-class laptop use.  Similar blocks could be set up when studying for exams or writing papers.  And when students need the internet to do research, they can block social sites that would keep them from their work.

I used Freedom on a Windows PC and an iPhone.  Here are a few tricks I learned on how to use Freedom most effectively on these devices:

  • When I had a Session going in Locked Mode, I realized I was still able to end the Session by selecting “Quit” on the Freedom desktop icon. To fully enable Locked Mode, go to Options on the desktop icon and select “Disable Quit During Sessions.”  Developers will be syncing this to Locked Mode to eliminate confusion.
  • Having multiple Sessions going at the same time may cause unintended consequences. At one point, I had to restart my computer to regain access to the internet after a Session had ended.  To avoid this, select “Sync Freedom” on the desktop icon.
  • You may still be able to access the Facebook app on your mobile device during Sessions that are supposed to block the site. Developers are working on a way to block the app, but in the meantime, use this work-around.

I’m especially looking forward to the time when Freedom has a whitelisting feature, which developers are hard at work on.  This means that users will be able to block all websites except the ones they specify.  I would love to be able to access my email and a few other sites while blocking the rest of the internet.

I’ll leave you with one last thought, which in my view is pretty amazing: I haven’t checked Facebook once while writing this article.


Want more study tips?  Check out The Secrets of Top Students.

Do Sweaty Students Make Better Students? The Connection Between Exercise and Better Grades

By Mathew Jade

It’s no secret that college students have jam-packed schedules. There are classes to attend, assignments to submit and socialization to be done. It’s hard enough to find time to sleep, let alone squeeze in regular exercise. You may ask why it’s important – there will be plenty of time to get fit once college is over, right?  However, what I was taught during my MBA, and what has long been taught in all top-notch business schools, is now being backed by scientific evidence: Regular exercise does not just keep you physically fit but also provides important cognitive benefits that can help you perform better in class – or in pretty much any setting where you need to use your brain cells.

Healthy Lifestyle Seamless Pattern

So how exactly does exercise help? Let me elaborate

  • Exercise acts as a stimulant for brain cell development

For more than a decade, neuroscientists and physiologists have been gathering evidence on how exercise affects brainpower. Recent experiments have proved that there is a definite relationship between exercise and improved cognitive abilities.

For example, the New York Times published the results of a study led by Justin. S. Rhodes, a psychology professor in the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois. His study involved running experiments on four groups of mice. The mice who were given exercise wheels had marked improvements in brainpower. Mice exercising had more neurons – that is, brain cells – than those which did not.  In addition, the mice exercising regularly had developed more complex connections between neurons, meaning they could think faster.  Substitute a treadmill for a hamster wheel, and there’s a good chance you’ll see better grades over time.

  • Exercise will help you be more focused

A Canadian school that caters to learning-disabled and ADHD children carried out an experiment in 2009, in which children exercised for 20 minutes on treadmills or exercise bikes before starting math lessons. Teachers noted a marked improvement in students’ concentration levels, information retaining capabilities, and their overall motivation to study.

  • Exercise relieves stress

We all know college is a stressful time. It’s a challenge to get enough sleep, and there’s tons of work to do. Exercise, even if it is 15 minutes a day (high intensity, enough to jack up your heart rate and breath) leads to the release of endorphins. Endorphins are feel-good chemicals that keep stress at bay. So exercise can reduce stress and help you work your way through college more effectively.

Exercise is very important in college. Not only will it keep your brain sharp, but it will also help you stay physically fit. It’s common for students to suffer from the “Freshman 15” – that is, the 15 pounds freshmen pack on in the first year due to limited exercise and unhealthy diet. And following an exercise regime is something you should do for life. For example, Hong Kong business magnate Allan Zeman does 90 minutes of exercise every morning without fail; Zeman once made a U.S. president wait so he could complete his daily exercise routine.

About the author: Mathew Jade is a passionate blogger who loves to write on Economics and finance-related topics. For further updates follow @Mathew_Jade


Looking for more mind-brain study tips?  Check out The Secrets of Top Students, available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

In Defense of Your Humanities Degree: 5 Reasons Why Studying the Humanities Isn’t a Waste of Time

By Danika McClure

In the wake of a graduate shortage in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), degrees in the humanities and soft sciences have increasingly been deemed as frivolous and less valuable to the American job market. Shortages in technical industries across the country have forced lawmakers to take action, often by decreasing funding to the arts and soft sciences in favor of colleges which produce more STEM graduates.

Rosemary G. Feal, who directs the Modern Language Association of America, attributes the decline in funding for the arts and humanities in the United States particularly to “legislators who themselves have not experienced first-hand the value of studying the humanities.”

The most recent attacks on the arts and soft sciences come from Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, who told members of the associated press last month that he planned on reallocating the state’s higher education budget, giving more funding to colleges which produced the most STEM graduates.  Ironically enough, Bevin received his undergraduate degree in Japanese studies from Washington and Lee University, a private liberal arts institution.

By reallocating the state’s budget, Bevin hopes to curb the state’s STEM graduate shortage. But Bevin is just the latest in a series of lawmakers that don’t see the value in a humanities education, buying into the all too common myth of the unemployable liberal arts major.

As has been noted numerous times by educators everywhere, completing a degree in the social sciences, humanities, and the arts does not automatically condemn you to a life of retail or unemployment. The opposite, in fact may be true, as studying the liberal arts teaches students a variety of skills most sought after by employers. Rather than looking for technical skills, 95 percent of employers, prefer candidates who display “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems,” skillsets which humanities majors are more likely to have upon graduation.

While there are strong voices present in politics and even the education sector, there is proven value in studying the humanities, and as a person who has spent a large majority of her life in the arts and humanities, I’ve found many of the skills I learned in these “frivolous” courses more valuable to my work than any technical education I received while attending college.  Here are 5 reasons why pursuing a humanities degree isn’t a waste of time.

  1. Thinking Only About Shortages in the STEM Fields Will Oversupply the Workforce

While it cannot be understated that America is in the midst of a STEM crisis, reducing funding for programs outside of the hard sciences will ultimately oversupply the workforce in the scientific and technological sphere. After all, this isn’t the first time that the U.S. has experienced a workforce shortage; according to The Washington Post, this is a mistake the U.S. has perpetuated previously. A generation ago, lawyers made more money than investment bankers; but in the present day, the workforce is oversaturated with law graduates, while the investment banking industry is constantly searching for qualified candidates to fill positions.

While America does need to produce a certain number of STEM graduates in order to keep up with the global economy, there are other complex issues which graduates will have to confront in future years–issues which will require adaptability, in a variety of different environments.

  1. Humanities Education Gives Employees a Global Perspective

As business evolves to be ever globally-minded, business owners, civic leaders, and politicians are increasingly looking to understand the cultural and social climate of countries around the globe, and are counting on humanities graduates to better understand the cultural, historical, and political differences present in these countries.

Many large and revered corporations have failed to expand into overseas markets by ignoring cultural differences present in those markets.

“Some of the most successful American companies, including Walmart in Germany and TJK in Holland have failed overseas,” explains Professor Harry Lane, who teaches in Northeastern University’s School of Business, “because they did not understand how cultural differences would affect their business models.”

Lane, who has spent the past 30 years teaching individuals how to adjust to overseas markets, adds, “Thanks to globalization, an executive deals with more organizations, governments, and people, many of which are vastly different from the entities the executive is accustomed to and from each other.”

Those who have spent time studying the humanities and social sciences are able and ready to help their employer adapt to a variety of situations, partially because of their ability to adapt to any given situation and their proficient social skills, but also because humanities graduates have likely dipped their toes in a variety of social subjects including politics, sociology, anthropology, and language. These skillsets and areas of study allow graduates to adapt more quickly to the history and culture of a region, adding value to employers who seek to quickly develop relationships and transition into lucrative interactions in unfamiliar territories.

  1. Having an In-Demand Degree Doesn’t Necessarily Guarantee Job Placement

Given the fact that college has become increasingly expensive over the past decade, it makes sense that people are choosing majors based on their “employability factor.” Recent studies indicate that nearly 82 percent of 2015 graduates researched their field of study before choosing a degree path at their college.

If obtaining a certain degree guaranteed you a job, this kind of long term thinking would make perfect sense. But many professors, such as Jay Halfond of Boston University, have been speaking out against this line of thinking. In an interview with EvoLLLution, the professor notes, “In my view, it is dangerous and even corrupting to proceed down a path that shows that higher education ensures lucrative jobs soon after graduation. But we need to do a far better job demonstrating the relevance of a broad, general education, while linking what we teach to what is critical in the professional world.”

While there are jobs that require certain skillsets affiliated with specific degrees, generally speaking, your degree may have little to do with your career success. Recent research indicates that 62 percent of college graduates are working in jobs which require a degree, but only 27 percent of graduates are working in careers related to their major.

So what are employers looking for?

Many companies have begun seeking out candidates who have skillsets that are particularly developed among humanities majors: those who are adaptable, possess high levels of emotional intelligence, and are able to fit into the company’s pre established company culture.  That is to say, employers are less worried about your degree program and GPA, and are paying more attention to your personality, adaptability, and your predisposition to upholding company values.

  1. Humanities Courses Teach You How to Grapple with Uncertainty

In many STEM courses, students are presented with factual information and straightforward answers. Humanities classrooms, by contrast, are more likely to present students with material that is subjective, in which analyzing and considering a question is more important that giving a correct answer.

John Horgan, a professor at Stevens Institute of Technology explains his own defense of the humanities, writing “The humanities are subversive. They undermine the claims of all authorities, whether political, religious or scientific. This skepticism is especially important when it comes to claims about humanity, about what we are, where we came from, and even what we can be and should be.”

He adds later that by the end of his courses, his students will learn to question all authorities including himself. “You’ll question what you’ve been told about the nature of reality, about the purpose of life, about what it means to be a good person. Because that, for me, is the point of the humanities: they keep us from being trapped by our own desire for certainty.”

  1. The Job Prospects and Income for Humanities Majors Aren’t as Dire as Has Been Reported

UNEMPLOYMENT RATES danika mcclure

Image Source: cew.georgetown.edu

As grim as the job prospects seem to be for humanities majors right out of school, studies show that obtaining a job isn’t quite as difficult as is typically reported. In fact, the average unemployment rate for new graduates in the humanities is right on par with those with computer science and math degrees (9% v 9.1%).

Other studies indicate that humanities majors end up making more money on average than their peers who study the hard sciences. In a column written for The Wall Street Journal, Scott Samuelson cites a study performed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities which found that “at peak earning ages (56-60 years) workers who majored as undergraduates in the humanities or social sciences earn annually on average about $2000 more than those who majored as undergraduates in professional, or pre-professional fields.” Once again, employers were looking to hire graduates with the ability “to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems.”

Author Bio: Danika is a musician from the Northwest who sometimes takes a 30 minute break from feminism to enjoy a tv show. You can follow her on twitter @sadwhitegrrl


 Whether you’re studying the humanities or STEM, The Secrets of Top Students can help you get better grades!

Quick Tips Part 2: How to Use Citations in Your Papers

By Stefanie Weisman

Writing a paper and need help with citations?  Can’t choose between APA, MLA, and Chicago Style?  Here’s a quick overview to help you decide:

The three most common citation styles are APA (American Psychological Association), MLA (Modern Language Association), and CMS (Chicago Manual of Style).  Your teacher may tell you which one to use, but MLA is used most often in humanities courses; APA is generally used in social sciences, engineering, and business courses; and CMS tends to be used in history courses.

All of these citation styles consist of two parts:

  1. A section at the end of your paper, in which you list all the sources you used for your paper, in alphabetical order.  In MLA style, this is called the “Works Cited” page.  In APA style, this is called  the “References” page.  And in CMS style, this is called the “Bibliography.”  In this list, you will usually have to include the author of the work, the title, the journal or anthology it comes from (if applicable), the editor or translator (if applicable), the publisher, the publisher’s location, and the date of publication.  If your source is a website, you will probably have to list the web address and the date you accessed it.
  2. Attribution for each quote, paraphrase, and summary in your paper.  Whenever you use someone else’s words or ideas, you must state the source and the page number(s) where they come from.  This may occur in the form of in-text citation, which appears within the body of the paper (as in the case of APA and MLA); or in the form of footnotes or endnotes (as in the case of CMS).
You do NOT need attribution when:

  • You state your own, original ideas.
  • You state something that is common knowledge.

If you’re in doubt about whether something needs attribution, however, you’re better off citing it just to be on the safe side.

 

Here are some great online resources to help you with citations.

Online Guidelines:

  1. Bedford/ St. Martin’s Website guide to researching and documenting sources
  2. The OWL Purdue Online Writing Lab

Online Citation Generators:

  • Griffith University provides a free online referencing tool in which you select what citation style you are using and the type of source you are citing.  It then shows you an example of how to format that citation.
  • Son of a Citation Machine is another free online source in which you choose your citation style and enter information about your source in order to view the correctly formatted citation.
  • EasyBib provides a free citation generator for MLA format.
  • You can also use Zotero to organize your research and generate citations automatically.  This requires you to download some free software.

What are some tools you like to use?


For more tips on writing papers, check out The Secrets of Top Students.

 

Moving Off-Campus: What You Need to Know

By Stacy Eden

Moving into your first real apartment or house off-campus is tricky, especially if you spent a year or two in the dorms. For most college students, dorm life is the first time to live without the watchful eye of the parental units. And because you have this experience under your belt, you may be thinking that an apartment is pretty much the same thing, right? Wrong!

Your first apartment or house is a big adjustment, maybe even bigger than adjusting to the dorms. You have roommates, the commute to campus, renters insurance and cooking your own meals to keep you busy when you’re not studying. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here are the essential hacks every new off-campus student needs to make the transition go smoothly:

Prepare for Moving Day

It’s a lot different than moving into the dorms. For one thing, your parents may not be there to help this time. And while your friends are willing to help if you promise to feed them, don’t rely on anyone to show up out of the goodness of their heart. And don’t expect a rented moving truck to be easy to drive either. If you have big or heavy stuff to move, it may be worth it to budget enough cash to hire movers. It may save you a lot of time and frustration in the end.

Take Inventory of Damages

Take pictures on your phone of every dent and ding in the walls, every little blemish and any other damage in your apartment first thing on your move-in date. Email the pictures to yourself with the subject: security deposit. Landlords are notorious for blaming renters at the end of the lease for small flaws that were already there to keep the deposit. If you have photographic proof that the damage was already there (most camera phones have a photo time stamp), you have a better chance of getting your deposit back.

Get Renters Insurance

Odds are you have some pretty valuable stuff in your new place, like your computer, speakers, TV, musical instruments and gaming systems. Don’t risk what you can’t afford to lose. Get renters insurance — You’ll sleep better at night.

But don’t stop there. Make a list in Excel of all your valuables; include the make and the model, and hang on to the receipt if you can. Also take a picture of where each high-ticket item usually is in your house or apartment. This makes it easier to file a report with police and put in a claim with the insurance company if you need to.

Pay Rent on Time

Late fees kill your summer savings. It can be tough to get that check to the front office or in the mail every month when you have classes, tests and a social life to think about. But this is one place where being late doesn’t fly. Talk to your roomies about setting up direct deposit so you’re not waiting on anyone’s share of the rent to make you late.

Also take a look at your lease before you sign to make sure that late fees are in writing and aren’t totally unreasonable. Nolo has a great legal guide to dealing with difficult landlords and excessive late fees in case you do get yourself in hot water.

Plan Your Commute to Campus

Rolling out of bed and trekking across the quad was probably your longest commute to class last year, but now that you’re off campus, be prepared to face the insane traffic that comes with just about every college campus across the country. Plan extra time to get to morning classes, and you might want to reconsider that 8 a.m. class, as it will probably coincide with rush hour traffic. A bicycle is always an option, but make sure it’s the right mode of transportation for you with this list from Fearless and Loathing.

Stacy Eden is a Phoenix, Arizona native with a passion for art, power tools, and historical significance. She draws inspiration from classic cars, ancient mythological sculptures and jewelry designers such as Delfina Delettrez, Shaun Leane, and Dior Jewellery creative director Victoire de Castellane.

Heading off to college?  Start the school year off right with The Secrets of Top Students.

7 Things to Consider Before Going Back to School to Further Your Career

By Liz Greene

Despite what you may have heard, a college diploma isn’t the only way to get a decent job. There are multiple professions where you can make serious money without a degree — including working as a web developer, paralegal, or insurance agent. However, many careers that start without the need for formal education can be furthered by adding a degree to your portfolio. When weighing the idea of whether or not you should go back to school, there are a few things you should consider before you make your decision.

going back to school

Evaluate whether a degree will help you achieve your career goals.

The first step is to be absolutely sure that you’re on the career path you want to be on and research whether additional schooling is a necessary to further that path. You don’t want to find yourself several years down the road massively in debt, without the position you wanted.

Know what degree you will need.

If you start without a degree of any kind, a clear place to start would be to obtain an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, you’ll want to find out whether a certificate or a degree program is the next step — and which degree is going to offer the best prospects for career betterment.

Decide if the financial investment is worth it.

There’s no doubt about it, going to school is an expensive venture. It’s important to evaluate whether your future salary will allow you to pay off the accumulated educational debt in a reasonable amount of time. Thoroughly research your options before committing to a program. Attending classes at a private university will likely cost substantially more than those offered by a state school or community college. However, depending on the major, the value of getting a degree from a first-rate university might make the additional cost a worthy investment.

Explore financial aid and scholarship opportunities.

Carefully explore your financing options — you might be eligible for special scholarships, grants, or beneficial financing arrangements. Contact your school’s financial aid department for more information, and be sure to check with your employer to see if they offer a tuition reimbursement program.

Look into transfer credits and work experience

Sometime the experience you have can be one of the greatest benefits. If you earned college credits in the past, check the transfer credit policies at the college you’re considering to see if your credits will apply. Some colleges will accept work experience as well. You can easily shorten the amount of time it takes to earn your degree by getting credit for for the knowledge and experience you have already acquired.

Consider an online/nontraditional program.

Deciding where to attend college is an important step in the process. If you work full time and have a family, you’ll want to find out which colleges in your area provide resources to help nontraditional students earn their degrees — full-time versus part-time curriculums, night classes, etc. A great way to get started is to visit a school’s website and search with the keyword “nontraditional student.”

If the program you’re after isn’t available at a nearby university, an online degree program is something you can consider. Most colleges offer full online programs or blended programs that allow you to do a great deal of the coursework online as well as scheduled in-class time to meet with your professor. However, it’s important not to mistake online classes for being easier or less time consuming. Online classes require just as much a discipline and time management skills as traditional classes.

Evaluate whether you’ll be able to balance school, work, and family.

For each hour you spend in class, you are likely to spend an additional two hours studying and completing assignments. If you have a family, a full time job, and a social life, how will you find time for classes and assignments? Are you and your family willing to sacrifice time together? School commitments will mean additional stress on both you and your loved ones. It’s imperative to consider the impact on your life and whether or not you’re willing to shoulder the burden.

Going back to school can be a massive benefit to your career. Gather your data, gauge your finances, talk to your family, and take the time to make the best decision for your particular set of circumstances — it’s the best way to set yourself up for success.

Liz Greene hails from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. She’s a lover of all things geek and is happiest when cuddling with her dogs and catching up on the latest Marvel movies. You can follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene or delve deeper into her internal musings at InstantLo


Heading back to school?  Don’t forget to order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students.