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….. tturse Strategies for Creating Success in College and in Life




tturse Strategies for Creating Success in College and in . Life

Eighth Edition

Skip Downing

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To Carol, my compass




Preface xv Acknowledgments xxv

Travel with Me xxv11


1 Getting On Course to Your Success 1 College Smart-Start Guide 2

Money Matters 5

Managing Money: The Big Picture 6

Increase Money Flowing In 7

Decrease Money Flowing Out 11


Understanding the Culture of Higher Education 14

The Surface Culture of Higher Education 16

One Dozen College Customs 16

Write a Great Life 20


Understanding the Expectations of College and University Educators 22

Eight Key Expectations 23


Understanding Yourself 29

What Does Success Mean to You? 29

Ingredients of Success 30

Assess Your Soft Skills for College Success 31

Forks in the Road 36

A Few Words of Encouragement 36


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Jalayna Onaga 38

• Soft Skills AT WORK 39

2 Accepting Personal Responsibility 41 • CASE STUDY IN CRITICAL THINKING The Late Paper 42

Adopting a Creator Mindset 43

Victim and Creator Mindsets 44

Responsibility and Culture 45

Responsibility and Choice 46 vii



viii Contents


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Taryn Rossmiller 49

Mastering Creator Language 50

Self-Talk 50

The Language of Responsibility 53


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Alexsandr Kanevskiy 56

Making Wise Decisions 57

The Wise Choice Process 58


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Freddie Davila 62

• Personal Responsibility AT WORK 62


Believing In Yourself Change Your Inner Conversation 65 The Curse of Stinkin’ Thinkin’ 65

Disputing Irrational Beliefs 67

Stereotype Threat 68


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Dominic Grasseth 70

3 Discovering Self-Motivation 71 • CASE STUDY IN CRITICAL THINKING Popson’s Dilemma 72

Creating Inner Motivation 74

A Formula for Motivation

Value of College Outcomes

Value of College Experiences





• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Chee Meng Vang 80

Designing a Compelling Life Plan 81

Roles and Goals 81

How to Set a Goal 82

Discover Your Dreams 84

Your Life Plan 84


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Brandon Beavers 87

Committing to Your Goals and Dreams 88

Commitment Creates Method 88

Visualize Your Ideal Future 89

How to Visualize 90



Contents ix


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY James Terrell 92

• Self-Motivation AT WORK 93


Believing In Yourself Write a Personal Affirmation 96 Claiming Your Desired Personal Qualities 97

Living Your Affirmation 98


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Tina Steen 100

4 Mastering Self-Management 101 • CASE STUDY IN CRITICAL THINKING The Procrastinators 102

Acting on Purpose 103

Harness the Power of Quadrant II 103

What to Do in Quadrants I and II 105


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Jason Pozsgay 107

Creating a Leak-Proof Self-Management System 108

Time and Culture 108

Weekly Calendar: For Tracking Recurring Scheduled Events 109

Monthly Calendar: For Tracking One-Time Scheduled Events 109

Next Actions List: For Tracking One-Time Unscheduled Events 110

Tracking Form: For Tracking Actions That Need to Be Repeated Numerous Times 111

Waiting-For List: For Tracking Commitments That Others Have Made to You 112

Project Folder: For Tracking and Managing Progress Toward a Large Goal 112

The Rewards of Effective Self-Management 113


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Allysa LePage 119

Developing Self-Discipline 119

Staying Focused 120

Being Persistent 121

Avoiding Procrastination 122


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Holt Boggs 127

• Self-Management AT WORK 127


Believing In Yourself Develop Self-Confidence 130 Create a Success Identity 130

Celebrate Your Successes and Talents 131

Visualize Purposeful Actions 131



x Contents


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Ashley Freeman 134

5 Employing Interdependence 135 • CASE STUDY IN CRITICAL THINKING Professor Rogers’s Trial 136

Creating a Support System 137

A Sign of Maturity 137

Seek Help from Your Instructors 139

Get Help from College Resources 139

Create a Project Team 140

Start a Study Group 141

The Difference Between Heaven and Hell 142


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Mitch M ull 144

Strengthening Relationships with Active Listening 145

How to Listen Actively 146

Use Active Listening in Your College Classes 146


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Teroa Paselio 148

Respecting Cultural Differences 149

Showing Respect 150

a JOURNAL ENTRY 18 154 • Interdependence AT WORK 155


Believing In Yourself Be Assertive 157 Leveling 158

Making Requests 159

Saying #No” 160



6 Gaining Self-Awareness 163 • CASE STUDY IN CRITICAL THINKING Strange Choices 164

Recognizing When You Are Off Course 165

The Mystery of Self-Sabotage 165

Unconscious Forces 166


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Sarah Richmond 168



Contents xi

Identifying Your Scripts 168

Anatomy of a Script 169

How We Wrote Our Scripts 170

Self-Defeating Habit Patterns 172


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY James Florio/Ii 174

Rewriting Your Outdated Scripts 174

The Impact of Outdated Beliefs 175

Doing the Rewrite 176


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Annette Vafle 180

• Self-Awareness AT WORK 181


Believing In Yourself Write Your Own Rules 183 Three Success Rules 184

Changing Your Habits 185


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Brandee Huigens 186

7 Adopting Lifelong Leaming 188 • CASE STUDY IN CRITICAL THINKING A Fish Story 189

Developing a Leaming Orientation to Life 190

Growth Mindsets and Fixed Mindsets 191

How to Develop a Growth Mindset 193


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Jessie Maggard 196

Discovering Your Preferred Ways of Leaming 196

Self-Assessment: How I Prefer to Learn 197


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Melissa Thompson 204

Employing CriticalThinking 204

Constructing Logical Arguments 205

Asking Probing Questions 206

Applying Critical Thinking 207


• Lifelong Learning AT WORK 209




xii Contents

Believing In Yourself Develop Self-Respect 213 Live with Integrity (i.e., No Cheating or Plagiarizing) 213

Keep Commitments 215


8 Developing Emotional Intelligence 218 • CASE STUDY IN CRITICAL THINKING After Math 219

Understanding Emotional Intelligence 220

Four Components of Emotional Intelligence 221

Knowing Your Own Emotions 222


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Lindsey Beck 223

Reducing Stress 224

What Is Stress? 224

What Happens When Stress Persists? 225

Unhealthy Stress Reduction 225

Healthy Stress Reduction 226

Choose Your Attitude 232


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Jaime Sanmiguel 233

Increasing Happiness 234

Limits on Happiness 234

Savoring Pleasures 235

Gratitude 237

Engagement 237

Contribution 238

Strawberry Moments 238


• Emotional Intelligence AT WORK 240


Believing In Yourself Develop Self-Acceptance 242 Self-Esteem and Core Beliefs 243

Know and Accept Yourself 244


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Wynda Allison Paulette 245



Contents xiii

9 Staying On Course to Your Success 247 Planning Your Next Steps 248

Assess Yourself, Again 248


• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Stephan J. Montgomery 254

s A Toolbox for Active Learners 257 Becoming an Active Learner 257

Assess Your Study Skills for College Success 257

How the Human Brain Learns 261

Three Principles of Deep and Lasting Learning 262

The CORE Learning System 264

• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Kase Cormier 267

Reading 268 Reading: The Big Picture 268

Strategies to Improve Reading 269

Before Reading 269

While Reading 271

After Reading

Taking Notes 272

274 Taking Notes: The Big Picture 274

Strategies to Improve Taking Notes 275

Before Taking Notes 275

While Taking Notes 276

After Taking Notes 281

Organizing Study Materials 282 Organizing Study Materials: The Big Picture 282

Strategies to Improve Organizing Study Materials 282

Before Organizing Study Materials 282

While Organizing Study Materials 283

After Organizing Study Materials 288

Rehearsing and Memorizing Study Materials 290 Rehearsing and Memorizing Study Materials: The Big Picture 290

Strategies to Improve Rehearsing and Memorizing Study Materials 291

Before Rehearsing and Memorizing Study Materials 291

While Rehearsing and Memorizing Study Materials 291

After Rehearsing and Memorizing Study Materials 295

• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Michael Chapasko 295



xiv Contents

Taking Tests 297 Taking Tests: The Big Picture 297

Strategies to Improve Taking Tests 297

Before Taking Tests 298

While Taking Tests 298

After Taking Tests 304

• ONE STUDENT’S STORY Ashley E. Bennet 306

Writing 307 Writing: The Big Picture 308

Strategies to Improve Writing 308

Before Writing 308

While Writing 311

After Writing 313


Assess Your Study Skills for College Success-Again 316 Conversation with the Author 321

Bibliography 325 Index 327



On Course is intended for college students of any age who want to create success in college and in life. Whether students are taking a student success or fust-year seminar course, a writing course, or an “inward-looking” course in psychol- ogy, self-exploration, or personal growth, On Course is an instruction manual for dramatically improving the quality of their outcomes and experiences. In each chapter, students learn essential study skills; however, that’s just the begin- ning. Through self-assessments, articles, guided journals, case studies in critical thinking, and inspiring stories from fellow students, On Course empowers stu- dents with time-proven strategies for creating a great life- academic, personal, and professional. Students learn the techniques that have helped many thou- sands of students create extraordinary success!

I am grateful that in the years since its first publication in 1996, On Course has becon1e a market leader in the crowded field of student success texts. Increasingly, educators are finding (as I have) that empowering students to become active, responsible learners produces significant increases in both stu- dent academic success and retention. In addition, the process empowers the1n to create great things in their personal and professional lives. My goal is to make this new edition of On Course even more helpful to the success of students and educators alike.

What’s New in This Edition of On Course: Highlights

• College Smart-Start Guide. Too many students get off course in their very first week of college. Author Skip Downing polled nearly 2,000 college and university educators, asking them, “What do you recommend that your students do in the first week of college to get off to a good start?” The resulting”Smart-Start Guide” provides students with essential first- week actions recommended by the collective wisdom of this large group of educators. A new activity in the On Course Facilitator’s Manual engages students in figuring out which of the actions these instructors thought were the 1nost important. When students follow through on these actions, they will lay an early foundation for their academic success.

• Understanding the Expectations of College and University Educators. This essay and related journal entry help students better understand how to succeed in the culture of higher education. In this section, they learn “Eight Key Expectations” and “A Dozen Differences


[On Course) is the absolute best approach for a first-year seminar/ college success class that there is. The philosophy and textbook are exactly what students need.

Catherine Eloranto, Clinton Community College

W e wanted a curriculum that went beyond study skills to address the foundational needs of first- year college students. On Course causes students to examine and reflect on the causes of their successes and setbacks. It challenges students to go beyond the obvious and really delves into their motivations and mindsets. Oh, yeah, and it does a great job addressing study skills too.

Ann Heiny, Armstrong State University




xvi Preface

There’s nothing better than On Course, as far as I’m concerned.

Lisa Marks, Ozarks Technical Community


On Course has made a huge difference in the students I work with. Most of them see themselves throughout the book, and they are willing to make changes to improve their lives because of the content of On Course.

Tanya Stanley, San Jacinto College

The study skills sections are clear, logically organized and more adaptable as a “how-to” guide than any other texts of similar intent.

Judith Willner, Coppin State University

between High School and College Culture:’ This information helps stu- dents quickly understand which behaviors they can continue doing and which they will need to modify, change, or abandon.

• Tech Tips. Many websites and apps are available to help students achieve greater success. Most chapters now feature a Tech Tips section that pro- vides suggestions for free websites and apps that can help students employ the soft skills of personal responsibility, self-motivation, self-management, interdependence, self-awareness, lifelong learning, emotional intelligence, and believing in oneself, as well as hard skills related to effective studying.

• Discussion about Avoiding Procrastination. Procrastination is the bane of many students’ success. This discussion helps students understand why procrastination is so tempting and offers specific methods for not putting off until tomorrow what they would benefit from doing today. Included in the discussion is research from Dr. Dan Ariely, Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University.

• A Sign of Maturity. This discussion offers an explanation about the various kinds of relationships in whicl1 people engage: dependent, co-dependent, independent, and interdependent. Advantages and disad- vantages of each are explained, and students are urged to use college to develop independence but also to recognize that there are many occasions when choosing interdependence is a true sign of maturity (not to mention improving one’s chances of achieving a goal or dream).

• Increasing Happiness. This new article and accompanying journal entry explore the emotional intelligence skill of maximizing happiness. Drawn from the scientific research of positive psychologists, students learn a number of choices they can make to increase their happiness. This topic has recently gained much interest on college campuses. For example, when a course in Positive Psychology was first offered at Harvard University, it immediately became the university’s most popular course.

• Toolbox for Active Learners. Many On Course instructors asked that study skills be presented in one section (rather than distributed through- out the book). This edition honors that request. Unlike texts that present a long menu of study options, On Course organizes study skills based on the logical learning steps as identified by research on the brain and effective methods for learning. This section begins with a presentation of the CORE Learning Process, the four principles that-consciously or unconsciously- all good learners employ to create deep and lasting learning. Students discover how to use these four principles to learn any subject or skill. Each section of the Toolbox presents effective techniques for one of the study skills covered (reading, taking notes, organizing study materials, rehearsing and memorizing study materials, taking tests, and writing college-level assignments) and ends with an exercise to reinforce the study strategies presented therein.



• Study Skills Self-Assessment. In addition to placing all of the study skills in one section, this edition also offers a new Study Skills Self- Assessment. Students can take this self-assessment before learning about study skills and discover areas in which they are weak. At the end of the course, they can retake the assessment to see where they have grown as learners and where they may still need to improve. Students have the option of completing the assessment in either the text or MindTap•.

• “One Student’s Stories.n A popular feature in earlier editions, these short essays -now numbering 29 in all- are authored by students who used what they learned from On Course to improve the quality of their outcomes and experiences in college and in life. Videos of many of the student-authors reading their essays may be viewed in Mind Tap.

• Convers ation with the Author. Since the first edition of On Course was published more than two decades ago, many students have contacted the author with thoughtful questions. This section includes some of those questions and Skip Downing’s answers.

What’s New in This Edition of On Course: Chapter by Chapter Chapter 1

• New “College Smart-Start Guide” provides students with 13 actions that are important to getting off to a good start in college; recommendations are the result of a poll of 2,000 college educators.

• At the request of a number of On Course instructors, “Money Matters” has been moved to Chapter l, thus helping students early in the semester to reduce struggles caused by financial difficulties.

• New Journal Entry #2.

• New cartoon in “Understanding the Culture of Higher Education:’

• New “Tech Tips: Money:’

• New article, “Understanding the Expectations of College and University Educators:’ including a discussion of Eight Key Expectations and A Dozen Differences between High School and College Culture.

• New article, “Understanding Yourself,’ including a section on Ingredients of Success.

• Revised #7 of the Self-Assessment: “Whether I’m happy or not depends mostly on me:’

• Moved article “Develop Self-Acceptance” and Journal 4 to Chapter 8.

Preface xvii

I think these a re very powerful stories .. .. It’s good for students to hear that other students have faced the same struggles that they are going through and they have achieved success.

Kathryn Burk, Jackson College

On Course is life-changing for my students. I have seen students evolve in ways they never imagined in a matter of a semester thanks to On Course. I cannot imagine using another book. No other book encompasses the reflective, introspective, and success attributes that On Course does. On Course walks students through their journey of self-discovery and allows them to grow into the student they have always wanted to become.

Joselyn Gonzalez, El Centro College



xviii Preface

Arr.tone who can teach students personal responsibility is high on my list

Debbie Unsold, Washington State

Community College

O n several occasions, I have had various members of the same family in different semesters of my [On Course) class because they value the learning so much that they recommend it to sisters/brothers/ children/uncles.

Sandra Lancaster, Grand Rapids Community College

I 1ove On Course, and I use it in my personal life as well as preaching it in all of my classes … I have even used it with the classes that I teach in a women’s shelter. The concept of moving from Victim to Creator puts the individual in charge of their life and I love that mindset

Pat Grissom, San Jacinto College

Chapter 2

• New One Student’s Story by Taryn Rossmiller, Boise State University, ID.

• New cartoon in “Making Wise Decisions” section.

• New “Tech Tips: Personal Responsibility:’

Chapter 3

• New One Student’s Story by Brandon Beavers, Highland Community CoUege, KS.

• New”Tech Tips: Self-Motivation:’

• New One Student’s Story by Tina Steen, Chaffey College, CA.

Chapter 4

• Added Weekly Calendar to “Creating a Leak-Proof Self-Management System:’

• Repositioned “Time and Culture” section, discussing how cultures differ in their beliefs and attitudes about time and what college culture’s expec- tations are about time.

• New information on avoiding procrastination in the “Developing Self-Discipline” article.

• New”Tech Tips: Self-Management:’

Chapter 5

• Added information to “Creating a Support System” on the importance of choosing wisely among various kinds of relationships: dependent, co-dependent, independent, and interdependent.

• Added parable, “The Difference between Heaven and HeU;’ in the “Creat- ing a Support System” article.

• New One Student’s Story by Mitch MulJ, Asheville-Buncombe Technical and Community College, NC.

• New One Student’s Story by Teroa Paselio, Windward Community College, HI.

• New “Tech Tips: Interdependence:’

Chapter 6

• New”Tech Tips: Self-Awareness:’

Chapter 7

• New “Tech Tips: Lifelong Learning.”



Chapter 8

• New article, “Increasing Happiness,” presents research from scientific studies within the new field of positive psychology, including both the limits on increasing happiness as well as ways to become more happy.

• New Journal Entry 30 regarding “Increasing Happiness.”

• New “Tech Tips: Emotional Awareness~

• Moved article, “Develop Self-Acceptance; and Journal Entry 4 (now Journal Entry 31) here from Chapter 1.

Chapter 9

• Revised #7 of the Self-Assessment: “Whether I’m happy or not depends ti .. 1nos yon me.

Study Skills: A Toolbox for Active Learners

• Repositioned study skills materials into one comprehensive section, offer- ing many strategies for Becoming an Active Learner, Reading, Taking Notes, Organizing Study Materials, Rehearsing and Memorizing Study Materials, Taking Tests, and Writing.

• New Self-Assessment of Study Skills, which students can take both before and after they explore the many strategies presented in the Toolbox for Active Learners. When the self-assessment is taken as a pre-test, students learn their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning. When the self-assessment is taken as a post-test, students learn which areas they have strengthened and which areas still need improvement.

• New One Student’s Story by Michael Chapasko, Blinn College, TX.

• New One Student’s Story by Ashley E. Bennet, Heartland Community College, IL.

Proven Features of On Course The Eighth Edition includes all of the best features of On Course, updated and revised fro1n the previous edition.

• Self-Assessment. On Course begins and ends with a self-assessment questionnaire of important non-cognitive skills (“soft skills”). Scores are provided for self-responsibility, self-motivation, self-management, inter- dependence, self-awareness, lifelong learning, emotional intelligence, and belief in oneself. Imagine working with students ‘”‘ho develop strengths in all of these inner qualities! Imagine how these qualities will affect the choices the students make and the outcomes and experiences they cre- ate. By completing the initial questionnaire, students immediately see areas of weakness that need attention. By completing the concluding

Preface xix

[On Course) is directed at students who live complicated lives; the One Student’s Story feature is always relevant to somebody in the class. The case studies are a great way to start conversations that focus on the most urgent needs of students who are often the first in their family to navigate college.

Michelle Cochran, Rochester Community and

Technical College

The [On Course) curriculum is written in a way so as to assess study skills and soft skills without intimidation and provides infonnation and exercises to develop them. Most importantly, [it) places emphasis on mastery through reflection and practice and offers a post self-assessment in order for the student and faculty to measure accomplishment and celebrate success!

Jill Beauchamp, Washtenaw Community




xx Preface

The On Course book and class have changed my students’ lives; it gives them strategies to make wise choices and decisions that affect their college success, as well as life success. Students who had little hope begin to have hope for their lives and their futures.

Dorothy Collins, Eastern Gateway Community


J ournaling is the heart and soul of On Course. It helps me check the pulse of my students on a regular basis. I have countless testimonies from students who describe the journaling process as “life-changing.” The most reluctant students who ultimately “give in” to journaling often become the most avid supporters of On Course.

Gail Janecka, Victoria College

I absolutely love these [Case Studies for Critical Thinking] and spend a lot of time with each of them. My favorite is •A Fish Story,” and [I] start my semester with this one. I get students thinking about professors’ expectations, their own expectations, motivation, taking the initiative. being prepared for class, and being organized.

Cindy Thorp, SUNY Alfred, College ofTechnology

questionnaire, students see their semester’s growth. Students have the option of completing the self-assessment either in the text or online in MindTap•.

• Articles on Proven Success Strategies. Thirty-two short articles explain powerful strategies for creating success in college and in life. Each article presents a success strategy from influential figures in psychol- ogy, philosophy, business, sports, politics, and personal and professional growth. In these articles, students learn the “secrets” of extraordinarily successful individuals.

• Guided Journal Entries. A guided journal entr y immediately follows each article about a success strategy, giving students an opportunity to apply the strategy they have just learned to enhance their results in college and in life. Many instructors of the course say the guided journal writings are extremely powerful in helping students make new and more effective choices, thus improving their academic success and persistence.

• CORE Leaming System. All good learners e1nploy four principles that lead to deep and lasting learning. Students learn how to use these four principles to create their own system for learning any subject or skill.

• Case Studies in Critical Thinking. Case studies help students apply the strategies they are learning to real-life situations. As such, they help prepare students to make wise choices in the kinds of challenging situa- tions they will likely face in college. Because case studies don’t have “right” answers, they promote critical and creative thinking.

• Focus on Diversity. The challenges and opportunities of interacting with new cultures is introduced in the first chapter (“Understanding the Culture of Higher Education”), is explored within many articles (e.g., Responsibility and Culture), and is more extensively examined in the article “Respecting Cultural Differences.”

• On Course Principles at Work. These sections in each chapter show how important the On Course success strategies (soft skills) are for choos- ing the right career, getting hired, and succeeding in the work world.

Support Materials for Students and Instructors For additional information or for help with accessing support materials related to On Course, contact your Cengage Learning Consultant. lf you need help finding your learning consultant, visit, select “College Faculty” from the “Information For … ” menu, and then dick “Rep/Learning Consultant” at the top right of the page.



SUPPORT FOR STUDENTS • MindTap® College Success for On Course. MindTap® College

Success for On Course, Eighth Edition, is the digital learning solution that helps instructors engage and transform today’s students into criti- cal thinkers. Through dynamic assignments and applications that you can personalize, real-time course analytics and an accessible reader, MindTap• helps you turn cookie-cutter into cutting-edge, apathy into engagement, and memorizers into higher-level thinkers. Features include digital versions of the self-assessments and journal entries, videos, and chapter quizzes and homework. MindTap® College Success for On Course, Eighth Edition, includes access to the College Success Factors Index (CSFI) 2.0, an online resource that assesses students’ patterns of behavior and attitudes in ten areas that have been proven to affect student outcomes for success in college. It allows you to identify at-risk students with early-alert reporting, validate your college success progran1 with a post-course assessment of students’ progress, and ilnprove your institu- tion’s retention rates. Textbook-specific remediation helps your students strengthen the areas where the survey indicates they need improve1nent in order to achieve greater success in college. Ask your Cengage Learning Consultant for more details.

• College Success Planner. Instructors can package the On Course text- book with this 12-month, week-at-a-glance academic planner. The College Success Planner assists students in making the best use of their tilne both on and off campus and includes additional reading about key learning strategies and life skills for success in college.

SUPPORT FOR INSTRUCTORS • Annotated Instructor’s Edition. To help guide mstructors to the many

mstructional resources found within the Facilitator’s Manual, the Anno- tated Instructor’s Edition (ISBN: 9781305647664) provides m the margins specific cross-references directly to ideas and activities available in the Facilitator’s Manual. The cross-references are provided by Amy Munson, Director of Instructional Design, United States Air Force Acade1ny, CO.

• Revised Facilitator’s Manual. The Facilitator’s Manual, now offered both in a printed version (ISBN: 9781305647671) and online at the Instructor Companion Site (see below for more information), offers educa- tors specific classroom activities and suggestions from author Skip Down- ing for using On Course in various kinds of courses, and it endeavors to answer questions that educators might have about usmg the teJ.1:. Additionally, the Facilitator’s Manual includes “best practices” provided by On Course instructors; additional study skills activities written by Melanie Marine of the University of Wisconsm-Oshkosh; diversity activities pro- vided by LuAnn Wood and Christina Davis, both of Century College;

Preface xxi

T he information about diversity and culture that is integrated throughout the text is a much more authentic way to discuss diversity and ethnicity rather than with a one- chapter focus.

Linda McMeen, North Hennepin

Community College

T he At Work sections give students a specific venue to see how the soft skills they acquire will transfer to career success. Semester after semester students will share how their work situation improved as a result of what they learned and tried from the At Work sections. These sections are a natural fit in the On Course chapters, and they are packed with pertinent information.

Gail Janecka, Victoria College



xx i i Preface

I use On Course .. . because the concepts are all so valuable in the grand scheme of life. In addition, they are presented in a very user- friendly way and the students are encouraged to apply them in college and in life, so results are observable by the end of the semester!

Jill Beauchamp, Washtenaw Community


It is no exaggeration to say this On Course Workshop experience was transformative- both professionally and personally. This workshop will long remain a high point of my life. I am feeling energized and eager to start teaching my class next week. I can’t wait to use all of my new teaching tools. I will absolutely recommend this workshop to other educators!

Lee Ann Adams, First- Year Seminar Coordinator,

Indiana University East

suggestions for teaching in an online environment written by Pratima Sampat-Mar of Pima Medical Institute and for using MindTap® in an On Course program written by Angela C. Thering of Buffalo State College; and a guide for how to successfully integrate the College Success Factors Index (CSFI) with On Course written by Gary Williams of Crafton Hills College. One of the most popular elements of the On Course Facilitator’s Manual is the numerous in-class exercises that encourage students’ active explora- tion of the success strategies presented in the text. These learner-centered exercises include role-playing, learning games, dialogues, demonstrations, metaphors, mind-mappings, brainstorms, questionnaires, drawings, skits, scavenger hunts, and many other activities.

• Updated Instructor Companion Site. This free protected website provides educators with many resources to offer a course that empow- ers students to become active, responsible, and successful learners. Read the Facilitator’s Manual (which is also offered in a printed version, as explained above), download Power Point slides, view content from the DVD On Course: A Comprehensive Program for Promoting Student Academic Success and Retention, and find a useful transition guide for educators who used previous editions of On Course. To access the site, follow these steps:

1. Visit

2. If you have not previously created a faculty account, choose “Create a New Faculty Account” and follow the prompts.

3. If you have created a faculty account previously, log in with your email address or user name and password.

4 . Search for On Course to add the available additional digital resources to your bookshelf.

You will always need to return to log and enter your email address and password to sign in to access these resources. Use this space to write down your email address or user name and password below:

Email Address: _______________________ _


• On Course Workshops and National Conference. Skip Downing, author of On Course, offers faculty development workshops for all educators who want to learn innovative strategies for empowering students to become active, responsible, and successful learners. These highly regarded profes- sional development workshops are offered at conference centers across North America, or you can host a one- to four-day event on your own campus. Online graduate courses (3 credits) are available as a follow-up to two of the workshops. Additionally, you are invited to attend the annual On Course National Conference, where hundreds of learner-centered educators gather to share their best practices. For information about these workshops,



graduate courses, and the national conference (including testimonials galore), go to Questions? Email workshop@ or call 650-365-7623.

• On Course Newsletter. All college educators are invited to subscribe to the free On Course e-Newsletter. More than 200,000 educators worldwide receive these emails with innovative, learner-centered strategies for engag- ing students in deep and lasting learning. To subscribe, simply go to www and follow the easy, one-click directions. Or you can email a request to

Preface xxiii

S ince first attending one of the summer retreats in 1997, I’ve held nine full On Course staff development trainings for our college, and I plan to offer more. They are invaluable! I strongly recommend this workshop for all faculty, counselors, advisors, administrators. and support staff.

Philip Rodriquez, Director, Student Affairs,

Cerritos College





This book would not exist without the assistance of an extraordinary group of people. I can only hope that I have returned (or will return) their wonderful support in kind.

At Cengage Learning, I would like to thank Amy Gibbons, Marita Sermolins, Erica Messenger, Aimee Bear, and Courtney Triola for their wtlJagging atten- tion to details and encouraging guidance. At Baltimore City Community College, my thanks go to my former colleagues, the dedicated teachers of the College Success Seminar. At On Course Workshops, thanks to the extraordinary support and wisdom of my colleagues and friends Jonathan Brennan, Robin Middleton, Deb Poese, Eileen Zamora, Mark McBride, Teresa Ward, and LuAnn Wood. Thanks also to the 2000+ On Course Ambassadors, some of the greatest educators in the world, who work tirelessly to introduce their students and colleagues to On Course. And especially Carol- your unwavering love and support keep me on course. You are rny compass.

Numerous wise and caring reviewers have made valuable contributions to this book, and many contributed exercises to the Facilitator’s Manual, and I thank them for their contributions:

Susie P. Aceron, College of the Sequoias Dawn Bartlett, SUNY Jefferson Community College Jill Beauchamp, Washtenaw Community College Susan Cain, Southwestern Community College Rebecca Campbell, Northern Arizona University Essie Childers, Blinn College – Bryan Campus Michelle Cochran, Rochester Community and Technical College Dorothy Collins, Eastern Gateway Community College Kathleen Conway, College of the Sequoias Audra Cooke, Rock Valley College George Daniel, University of Tennessee at Martin Christina Devlin, Montgomery College Catherine EJoranto, Clinton Community College Lalanya Ennis, College of the Mainland Annette Fields, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Debra Ford, Davidson County Community College Janeth Franklin, Glendale Community College Erin Frock, Truckee Meadows Comrnunity College Joselyn Gonzalez, El Centro College Maria E. Gonzalez, Broward College Pat Grissom, San Jacinto College Tuesday Hambric, Eastfield College




xxvi Acknowledgments

Dan Hayes, Chemeketa Community College Gerald Headd, Cuyahoga Community College Ann Heiny, Armstrong State University Mark Hendrix, Palm Beach State College David Hoffman, Southern State Community College Gail Janecka, Victoria College Dana Kermanian, Grayson County Junior College Stephanie Kroon, State University of New York – Ulster Sandra Lancaster, Grand Rapids Community College Charlene Latimer, Daytona State College Kristina Leonard, Daytona State College Joy Lester, Forsyth Technical Community College Lea Beth Lewis, California State University – Fullerton Charlie Liebert, Davidson County Com1nunity College Jacquelyn Loghry, Northwest Missouri State University Kimberly Manner, West Los Angeles College Lisa Marks, Ozarks Technical Community College Kim Martin, Chemeketa Community College Claire Maxson, Ivy Tech C01rununity College Rebecca McElroy, Wharton County Junior College Linda McMeen, North Hennepin Comn1unity College Amy Munson, United States Air Force Acaden1y, CO Aletia Norwood, Western Nebraska CC Eva O’Brian, Midlands Technical College Jennifer Palcich, University of North Texas Taunya Paul, York Technical College Adrienne Peek, Modesto Junior College June Pomann, Union County College Carrie Roberson, Butte College Steve Schommer, San Diego City College Jo Allison Scott, Northeast Wisconsin Tech College Peter Shull, Pennsylvania State University Thomas Skouras, Community College of Rhode Island M. Somerville-Reeves, Delaware County Community College Tanya Stanley, San Jacinto College Jennifer Swartout, Heartland Commwlity College Angela C. Thering, Buffalo State College Debbie Unsold, Washington State Community College Judy Weaver, Goshen College Judith Willner, Coppin State University Katie Woolsey, Cabrillo College/UC Santa Cruz

Finally, my deep gratitude goes out to the students who over the years have had the courage to explore and change their thoughts, actions, feelings, and beliefs. I hope, as a result, you have all lived richer, more personally fulfilling lives. I know I have.



Travel with Me

On Course is the result of my own quest to live a rich, personally fulfilling life and my strong desire to pass on what I’ve learned to my students. As such, On Course is a very personal book, for me and for you. I invite you to explore in depth what success means to you. I suggest that if you want to achieve your greatest potential in college and in life, dig deep inside yourself, where you already possess everything you need to make your dreams come true.

During my first two decades of teaching college courses, I consistently observed a sad and perplexing puzzle. Each semester I watched students sort themselves into two groups. One group achieved varying degrees of acade1nic success, from those who excelled to those who just squeaked by. The other group struggled mightily; then they withdrew, disappeared, or failed. But, here’s the puzzling part. The struggling students often displayed as much acade1nic potential as their more successful classmates, and in some cases more. What, l wondered, causes the vastly different outcomes of these two groups? And what could I do to help my struggHng students achieve greater success?

Smnewhere around my 20th year of teaching, I experienced a series of crises in both my personal and professional lives. In a word, I was struggling. After a period of feeling sorry for myself, I embarked on a quest to improve the quaHty of my life. I read, I took seminars and workshops, I talked with wise friends and acquaintances, I kept an in-depth journal, I saw a counselor, I even returned to graduate school to add a master’s degree in applied psychology to my doctoral degree in English. I was seriously motivated to change my life for the better.

If I were to condense all that I learned into one sentence, it would be this: People who are successful (by their own definition) consistently make wiser choices than people who struggle. I came to see that the quaHty of my life was essentially the result of all of my previous choices. I saw how the wisdom (or lack of wisdom) of my choices influenced, and often determined, the outcomes and experiences of my life. The same, of course, was true for my struggling students.

For two and a half decades, I have continued my quest to identify the inner quaHties that empower a person to make consistently wise choices, the very choices that lead to success both in college and in life. As a result of what I learned (and continue to learn), I created a course at my college called the Col- lege Success Seminar. This course was a departure from traditional student suc- cess courses because instead of focusing primarily on study skills and campus resources, it focused on empowering students from the inside out. I had come to believe that most students who struggle in college are perfectly capable of earning a degree and that their struggles go far deeper than not knowing study skills or failing to use campus resources. As a result, I envisioned a course that




xxviii Travel with Me

would empower students to develop their natural inner strengths, the qualities that would help them make the wise choices that would create the very out- comes and experiences they wanted in college … and in life. When I couldn’t find a book that did this, I wrote On Course. A few years later, I created a series of professional development workshops to share what I had learned with other educators who want to see their students soar. Then, to provide an opportunity for workshop graduates to continue to exchange their experiences and wisdom, I started a listserv, and this growing group of educators soon named themselves the On Course Ambassadors, sharing On Course strategies with their students and colleagues alike. Later, I created two online graduate courses that further help college educators learn cutting-edge strategies for empowering their stu- dents to be more successful in college and in life. To launch the second decade of On Course, the On Course Ambassadors hosted the first of many On Course National Conferences, bringing together an overflow crowd of educators hun- gry for new ways to help their students achieve more of their potential in col- lege and in life. Every one of these efforts appeals to a deep place in me because they all have the power to change people’s lives for the better. But that’s not the only appeal. These activities also help me stay conscious of the wise choices I must consistently make to live a richer, more personally fulfilling life.

Now that much of my life is back on course, l don’t want to forget how I got here!



Getting On Course to Your Success

Successful Students … .,.. accept personal responsibility, seeing

themselves as the primary cause of their outcomes and experiences.

.,.. discover self-motivation, finding purpose in their lives by pursuing personally meaningful goals and dreams.

.,.. master self-management, consistently planning and taking purposeful actions in pursuit of their goals and dreams.

.,.. employ interdependence, building mutually supportive relationships that help them achieve their goals and dreams (while helping others do the same).

Struggling Students • • • .,.. see themselves as victims, believing

that what happens to them is determined primarily by external forces such as fate, luck, and powerful others .

.,.. have d ifficulty sustaining motivation, often feeling depressed, frustrated, and/ or resentful about a lack of direction in their lives .

.,.. seldom identify specific actions needed t o accomplish a desired out come and, when they do, tend to procrastinate .

.,.. are sol itary, seldom requesting, even rejecting, offers of assistance from those who could help.



2 Chapter 1 Getting On Course to Your Success

College Smart-Start Guide If you’ve ever bought a new computer, you’ll recall that it came with a user’s manual. The user’s manual- whether in print or online-was many pages long and contained all you needed to know to get the most from your computer.

Think of On Course as your user’s manual for higher education. It explains how to get the most out of college. In these pages, you’ll discover how to learn effectively, how to get high grades, and how to earn the degree you want. As a bonus, many of the strategies you’ll learn will help you achieve success in other key areas of your life, including your career.

Most computers also come with a brief guide that’s only a few pages long. This guide describes the essential steps for getting your computer up and run- ning quickly and successfully.

This Smart-Start Guide has that same intention for college. Complete the following actions before the end of your first week in college, and you’ll be off to a great start. Some of these actions can be done in a few minutes. Others take longer. You can do them in any order you choose.

So, read and do the lucky 13 actions below. Be s1nart-complete one of them right now. Do a couple more every day, and you’ll have them all done by the end of your first week. By then, you’ll be on course to great success in higher education.


1. Leam your campus. Find out where things are so you begin to feel comfortable. What’s

If your campus offers tours, take one. If not, ask a college employee or an experienced student to show you around. Or ask another first-year student to join you on a self-guided tour. As a last resort, explore on your own.

in the various buildings? Where will you find the many services designed to help you suc- ceed? To orient yourself, get a campus map. There’s probably one on your college’s website.

See if you can fill in the location and hours for all of the services listed in Figure 1.1.

Service Location Hours

College Bookstore – Advising Office

Counseling Office

Student Activities Office

Financial Aid Office

Career Center …_ – Registrar’s Office -,… Library


! j

Tutoring or Academic Support – FIGURE 1.1



College Smart-Start Guide 3

Service Location Hours

Computer Center or Lab

Dining Facilities

Fitness Center r–

Athletic Facilities

Student Center

Copy Center

Public Safety

Health Services



FIGURE 1.1 (Continued)

2. Locate your classrooms. Find and visit every room in which you have a class. Noth- ing ruins your first week like missing classes because you can’t find the rooms. You’ll likely find a List of your courses and class- rooms on the document you received ‘vhen you registered. Use this information to fill in the first two columns in Figure 1.2.

3. Learn your instructors’ names, office locations, and office hours. Instructors’ names are usually listed on your registration document next to each course. If an instruc- tor is listed as “TBA”-or something other than a name-an instructor has not yet been assigned to the class. (TBA stands for “To Be Announced:’) In that case, you’ll need to get your instructor’s name at the depart- ment office or the first class meeting. On

Figure l.2, record your instructors’ names, office locations, and office hours. Office hours are times when instructors are in their office and available for appointments … and you’ll want to make an appointment soon. This additional information will likely be on the first-day handout for each class. (A first- day handout is often called a “syllabus.”)

4. Study- don’t just skim – the first-day handout (syllabus) for each course. The syllabus is a contract between you and your instructor. In it, he or she presents essential information about the course. Typically, a syllabus contains …

a) a course description (often the same description as in the college catalogue)

b) learning objectives (what you are expect- ed to learn in the course)

Course Classroom Instructor Office Office Hours




4 Chapter 1 Getting On Course to Your Success

c) homework assignments (probably every assignment for the entire course)

d) exam schedule (when you’ll be tested) e) how your final grade will be determined

(how much each assignment is worth)

f) course rules (what to do and not do, along with consequences)

g) Internet address (if course materials are posted online)

h) information about the instructor (name, office location, and office hours)

The syllabus may be the single most important document your instructors provide, so read it carefully. Now is the time to ask questions about the syllabus. Your instructor will assume that if you stay in the course, you understand the syllabus and agree to abide by it.

5. Get all of your learning supplies. Every job has both a purpose and essential tools. Job # 1 in college is deep learning. So, make a list of all of the supplies you’ll need to learn, such as textbooks, a computerflaptop/tablet, calculator, notebooks, three-ring binders, notepaper, pens, monthly calendars, weekly calendars, folders, and flash drives. Of these supplies, arguably the most essential are your textbooks. Required texts are listed in each syllabus (first-day handout). They can be purchased in your campus bookstore and perhaps online as well. Ideally, you’ll have your textbooks in hand before your first class n1eeting. At the latest, get them before the end of Week 1, because any later can sab- otage your success. College instructors 1nove quickly and expect you to come to class pre- pared. [fit’s Week 3 and you’re just starting to read your assignments, your chances of success plunge.

6. Create a schedule. Adding college assign- ments and activities to your life can be overwhelming. A schedule is essential for getting everything important done on time. Whether your schedule is on paper, on your smartphone, online, or you use some other method, tracking your commit- ments is essential. Make a weekly schedule showing recurring events such as classes, study times, or work. Make a monthly calendar showing due dates for occasional events such as a test, term paper, or meet- ing with an instructor. You’ll find weekly and monthly calendars in the section called “Creating a Leak-Proof Self-Management System” in Chapter 4.

7. Get comfortable with campus technology. The use of technology is com1non on college campuses. Check each course syllabus to see what technology your instructors expect you to use. They may send you course updates using campus en1ail. Or expect you to access online resources for their classes. You may be taking a class that is offered partly or entirely online via a course man- agement system (CMS). Some of the more common course management systems are Blackboard (BB), Desire to Learn (D2L) and Moodie. It’s possible your instructor will arrange some technology help for your class. Nevertheless, be proactive. Go to your campus computer lab and see if an orienta- tion is offered. If not, ask someone in the computer lab to help you learn what you need to know (as defined in each course syl- labus). Or find a classmate with good tech- nology skills and ask for help.

8. Manage your money. Money problems have sabotaged many students’ success in college. Some have had to drop out of col- lege to work. Others have tried working full-time while attending college, but they



became overwhelmed. An important step toward understanding your financial situa- tion is creating a budget. That will tell you (in case you don’t already know) if money is going to be an obstacle to your success in college. If you’re serious about your educa- tion, there are many options to help you overcome the money obstacle. You’ll find 1nany suggestions about money manage- 1nent in the next section of this chapter, “Money Matters.”

9. Set goals for each course. Make a list of your courses. Next to each one, write your target grade for the course. Then write a goal for the most important thing or things you want to learn in the course.

10. Attend all classes and arrive on time. Class attendance is essential to success in college. Remember, Job # 1 as a student is deep learning, and learning starts in the classroom. Many co!Jege instructors do not take attendance, but don’t mistakenly think that means you don’t need to be there.

11. Participate in every class. Active engage- ment is the key to deep learning. Attend each class having done all assignments beforehand. Ask questions about your homework. Answer questions your instruc- tor asks. When an instructor facilitates an activity, she’s intending that you learn

Money Matters

Money Matters 5

something important through the experi- ence. Participate at a high level and look for the learning.

12. Complete and hand in all assignments on time. Make a list of all assignments due in week one (and beyond). Record them, along with test dates, on your monthly cal- endar so you can see them coming. Check them off as you finish each one. Here’s the double benefit. First, you’ll learn more when you attend classes having completed all assigned homework. As a bonus, you’ll reduce the stress that many first-year college students experience when they fall behind.

13. Commit to your success. At the end of your first week, think back over your expe- riences with each course. Be honest with yourself. Will you make the time necessary to do all of the work? Are you prepared to give the course your best effort? If not, discuss your concerns with your advisor or a counselor. If your concerns continue, now may be the time to drop the course (and perhaps pick up another course in its place). But if your answer is “yes” to doing all of the course work and giving it your very best effort, then write out this solemn commitment and post it where you will see it every day: I promise myself to give a 100 percent effort every day to every course. Nothing will keep me from achieving success!

If lack of money could be an obstacle to your college success, get your finances in order now … not after it’s too late. There’s no point heading off on a journey knowing you’ll run out of fuel before reaching your destination.

The good news is that the efforts (even sacrifices) you make now will likely pay off in the future. Check out Figure 1.3 to see how level of education affects earnings and unemployment. Clearly, earning a degree increases the likelihood of greater abundance. Sadly, however, many students’ money problems keep



6 Chapter 1 Getting On Course to Your Success

I Level _o_f_E_d_u_c_a_t_io_n ___ “–M_e_d_i_a_n_E_arnings Unemployment Rate ] Less tha h h h I d I na ig SC 00 ip oma $ 11 24,544 .0%

– High SC hool diploma, no college $33,852 7 .5%

Some co liege, no degree $37,804 7 .0%

Associa te degree $40,404 5 .4%

Bachelo r’s degree $57,616 4 .0%

Master’s degree $69, 108 3 .4%

Doctora I degree $84,396 2 .2o/o

Professi onal degree $89,128 2 .3% –

FIGURE 1.3 Yearly Salaries and Unemployment Rates by Levels of Education (25 and older)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, 2013.

them from completing the very degree that would help them achieve that abun- dance. They work so many hours that their learning and grades suffer. Still oth- ers drop out of college because of lack of money. If money problems threaten your college degree, read on.

In this section, you’ll learn some of the basics of money management. There is, of course, much more to know. But if you effectively apply these strat- egies, you can look forward to building the financial resources that will see you though to graduation.

MANAGING MONEY:THE BIG PICTURE When I was a new college instructor, a colleague and I were complaining one day about how little money we were making. Both of us had young families, and our salaries barely got us from paycheck to paycheck. One day we decided to stop complaining and do smnething about it. Boldly, we decided to award ourselves a raise.

To do so, we brainstormed how we could save or earn more money. Our first discovery was that we were both paying about $6 a month for our checking accounts. We switched to free checking and gave ourselves an instant raise of $72 a year. By itself, that was no big thing. But we also thought of 21 other ways to make or save money. All told, our new choices amounted to an increase of nearly $2,000 a year for each of us. That was the beginning of our realization that we had more control over our money than we had thought.



As you examine the following strategies, keep in mind the big picture of managing money. Do everything legal to increase the flow of money into your personal treasury and d ecrease the flow of money out. The better you become at these complementary skills, the more money you will have to enhance your life and the lives of the people you love. There is great abundance on our planet, and there is no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy your share of it.


1. Create a budget. A budget helps you define and achieve your goals. It helps you 1nake important decisions about the dollars flowing in and out of your life. Beginning your budget is as simple as filling out the My Financial Plan worksheet on the next page. As a guideline, some financial experts suggest that expenditures in a healthy budget should be dose to the follow- ing percentages of your net income (i.e., the money remaining after deduct- ing federal, state, and local taxes):

31% Housing

20% Transportation

16% Food

8% Miscellaneous

7% Entertainment

7% Savings

6% Clothing

5% Health

Obviously, after subtracting all of your expenses from your income, your goal is to have a positive and growing balance. If you have a negative bal- ance, with each passing month you’ll slide deeper into debt. To avoid debt, you need to increase your income, decrease your expenses, or both.

2. Find a bank or credit union. A bank or credit union helps you manage your money with services such as checking accounts, savings accounts, and easy access to cash through automated teller machines (ATMs). Your ideal financial institution offers a free checking account that requires no minimum balance and pays interest. Further, it offers a savings account with co1npeti- tive interest rates. And, finally, your ideal financial institution offers free use of its ATMs and those belonging to other banks or credit unions as well. If you need to pay for any of these services, seek to minimize the yearly cost. Credit unions typically offer lower rates on these services than do banks. To fmd credit unions near you, use the search feature at Whether your checking account is with a bank or a credit union, be sure to balance your account regularly. This will save you the expense of bounced (rejected) checks because of insufficient funds.

3. Apply for grants and scholarships. These are financial awards that do not have to be repaid. For United States residents, a great place to get an overview of financial aid sources online is at .ht1nl. The process of applying for financial aid dollars begins with the FAFSA, which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid Using

Money Matters 7



8 Chapter 1 Getting On Course to Your Success

M y Finan cial Plan

Step A : Monthly Income Amount Balance

Support from parents or others




Earned income

Total Monthly Income (A )

Step B: Necessary Fixed Monthly Expenses

Housing (mortgage or rent)

Transportation (car payment, insurance, bus pass, car pool)

Taxes (federal and state income, Social Security, M edicare)

Insurance (house, health, and life)

Child care


Bank fees

Debt payment

Savings and investments

Necessary Fixed Monthly Expenses (Bl

Step C: Necessary Variable Monthly Expenses

Food and personal care items



Gas and electric


Transportation (car repairs, maintenance, gasoline)

Laundry and dry cleaning

Doctor and medicine

Books and software

Computer/lnternet access

Total Necessary Variable Monthly Expenses (C)

Step D: Optional Fixed and Variable Monthly Expenses

Eating out (including coffee, snacks, lunches)

Entertainment (movies, theater, night life, babysitting)




Charitable contributions

M iscellaneous (music, magazines, newspapers, etc.)

Total Optional Variable Monthly Expenses (D)

Money Remaining or Owed at End of Month (A – B – C – D = 7)



information you report on this form, the government decides what you or your family can afford to pay toward your education and what you may need in the way of financial assistance. Get copies of the form from your college’s financial aid office or online at You’ll find a “fore- caster” at this site that will help you estimate the amount of financial aid you can expect to receive. The deadline for completing the FAfSA form is early July. However, some colleges use the information from the FAFSA form to determine their own financial aid, so be sure to check your school’s deadline or you could be out ofluck (and money) for that year.

The benefit of qualifying for grants and scholarships is that, unlike loans, you don’t need to pay them back. Federal Pell Grants provide fman- cial support to students with family incomes up to $50,000; however, most Pell awards go to students with fantlly incomes below $20,000. With a maxi- mum award in 2014-15 of$5,730, the amount of each Pell Grant depends on four factors: 1) financial need, 2) cost of the college, 3) full- or part-time enrollinent, and 4) attendance for a full acade1nic year or less. Effective July 2012, you can receive a Pell Grant for only 12 semesters, or approx:i- n1ately six years. You can get comprehensive information from the Federal Student Aid Information Center in Washington at

You can also search without cost for scholarships at Internet sites such as,, and Perhaps most important, spend time with a counselor in your college’s financial aid office and let him or her help you get your share of the financial support available for a college education. With all of these resources, there’s no need to pay a private service to find you scholarships. Ron Smith, former head of financial aid at Baltimore City Community College, offers this advice: “Students should apply early, provide accurate information, and follow up until an award has been received:’

4. Apply for low-cost loans. These are financial awards that do need to be repaid. Stafford Loans ( are guaranteed by the federal governn1ent, so they generally offer the lowest interest rates. Depending on financial need, Stafford Loans may be up to $3,500 per year for first-year students, $4,500 for sophomores, and $5,500 for juniors and seniors. As of this writing, the maximum total loan is $23,000. The U.S. government pays interest costs until repayment begins, which is usually after gradua- tion. Unsubsidized Stafford Loans do not depend on financial need, but the interest accumulates while you are in college.

Other federally guaranteed student loans include PLUS loans (1nade to students’ parents) and Perkins Loans (for lower-income students). You 1nay be approved for more loan money than you actually need and be tempted to borrow it all; just remember that what you take now, you’ll need to repay later. You don’t want to finish your education with the burden of an unnecessarily large debt. The standard repayment plan for student loans is equal monthly payments for 10 years. That’s a long time to pay for an earlier bad choice.

Money Matters 9



10 Chapter 1 Getting On Course to Your Success

Here’s one last caution about loans: A report by the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution found that many students didn’t realize that money they received was a loan that needed to be repaid. ln fact, 28 percent of students who did have federal loans reported they did not have federal loans and 14 percent reported that they had no loans at all. Confusion about what they’ve borrowed, the report concludes, is “almost certainly leading some students into decisions that they later come to regret:’ The lesson? Make sure you know how much money you get for col- lege is a loan and will need to be paid back.

5. Work. Even with grants, scholarships, and low-cost loans, many college students need employment to make ends n1eet. If this is your situation, use your financial plan to figure out how much money you need each month beyond any financial aid. Then set a goal to earn that amount while also getting work experience in your future field of employment. ln other words, your purpose for working is both to make money and to get valuable employment experience and recommendations. In this way, you make it easier to find employment after college and perhaps even nego- tiate a higher starting salary. One place that may help you achieve this double goal is your campus job center. Additionally, on some campuses, instructors are able to hire student assistants to help them with their research.

lf you try but can’t find employment that provides valuable work expe- rience (or you’re not sure what your future employment plans are), seek work that allows you to earn your needed income in the fewest hours- saving you time to excel in your studies. You may do well by creating a high-paying job for yourself by using skills you already possess (or could easily learn). For example, one student I know noticed that eacli autumn the rain gutters of houses near his college became clogged with falling leaves. With a leaf blower and ladder in hand, he knocked on doors and offered to clean gutters for only $20. Few homeowners could resist such a bargain. Averaging two houses per hour, he earned nearly $700 each fall weekend.

6. Save and invest. If you haven’t done so already, open a savings account and begin making regular deposits. You can probably save $20 per n1onth just by giving up a pizza and a n1ovie. Set a goal to accumulate a financial reserve for emergencies equal to three months’ living expenses. After that, consider making regular deposits in higher-income investments such as stocks, bonds, and 1nutual funds. These are topics beyond the scope of this book but well worth your effort to research. To gain practical experi- ence and guidance, you may want to join (or start) an investment club on your campus. By investing money regularly, you’ll benefit from compound interest (earning interest on interest). In this way, even people with mod- est incomes can accumulate significant wealth. A way to make your sav- ings grow even faster is to invest in a tax-deferred retirement account.



The money you deposit isn’t taiced until you withdraw it many years later, increasing the amount you can potentially save by thousands of dollars. You can open such an account through your employer (who may even make additional contributions) or by opening an IRA (Individual Retirement Account) on your own.

DECREASE MONEY FLOWING OUT 7. Lower transportation expenses. Cars are expensive. Beyond car pay-

ments, there are costs for insurance, registration, regular maintenance, gasoline, repairs, tolls, and parking. And if you’re under 25, you’ll pay more for insurance than someone over 25 (especially young men, whose rates are double or triple those of older men). So, if money is tight, consider getting along without a car for now. If you live on campus, this option should be fairly easy. If you commute, you could use public transportation or offer gas money to a classmate for rides to school.

8 . Use credit cards wisely. You’ll probably be swamped with invitations to open credit card accounts. You’re not alone. “These credit card issu- ers circle the campus like sharks circling a fish;’ says Elizabeth Warren, senior senator from Massachusetts and former Harvard Law School professor. So, first, consider whether you should even have a credit card. Visa, MasterCard, and other credit cards provide you with short-term loans to purchase anything you want up to your credit limit. These com- panies are counting on you to postpone paying off the loan past the due date. That’s when you start paying interest at their high rates. The conse- quences to your finances can be staggering. Suppose you’re 20 years old, owe $3,500 on a credit card that charges 17 percent interest and you reg- ularly pay the minimum charge. You won’t pay off that debt until you’re 53 years old, and the amount you will ultimately pay is nearly $11 ,000! And if you ever miss a payment, you’ll incur a triple penalty. First, you’ll be charged a late fee that can be as much as $35 for being even one day overdue. Next, some banks punish late payers by raising their interest rates to “penalty rates” of 20 percent or more. Finally, late payments can show up on your credit report, making it difficult for you to get loans for a car, house or other big-ticket items. How serious is the problem of credit card misuse by college students? One widely quoted statement attributed to an administrator at the University of Indiana noted, “We lose 1nore students to credit card debt than to academic failure:’ So, use a credit card only if you can discipline yourself to pay off most, and preferably all, of your balance every month. If you can’t, a wiser choice would be to cut up your credit cards- or not even apply for one in the first place.

9. Choose credit cards wisely. If you decide that you do have the discipline to use a credit card wisely, realize that all credit cards are not created equal.

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12 Chapter 1 Getting On Course to Your Success

Compare your options and choose the one with the lowest interest rates, the longest grace period (time you get to use the money before paying interest), and the lowest annual fee (preferably free). Some cards offer a reward for using them, such as cash back or frequent flyer miles. To find the best deals on credit cards, visit Internet sites such as or

10. Use debit cards wisely. A debit card is similar to a credit card. The dif- ference? The money comes not as a loan from the credit card company but as a withdrawal from your own checking account. Here’s the danger. You may forget to record every purchase made on your debit card, as you more likely would if you wrote a check. Consequently, you can easily overdraw your checking account and incur financial penalties for bounced checks. Use a debit card only if you have the discipline to track every use and keep your checking account balance current.

11. Use ATM cards wisely. An ATM card, like a debit card, draws from your personal accowlt., but here the withdrawal is in cash. ATM cards are so easy to use that some financial experts refer to them as “death cards’.’ Say you withdraw $100 in cash on Monday, and by Thursday the money has dribbled away. So you take out another $100, and that disappears by the weekend. After a couple of weeks like this, your money runs out before the month does, and you’re slipping ever deeper into debt. Use an ATM card only if you have the self-discipline to check your remaining balance after every withdrawal

12. Pay off high-rate debt. Suppose you pay off a loan (such as a credit card balance) that charges 17 percent. That’s the same as investing your money at a guaranteed 17 percent rate of return. Better yet, the 17 percent return is tax free, so you’re actually earning a much greater return! Compare that to the puny interest rate you’d be earning in a savings account. Don’t have extra money in savings to pay off money you owe? A variation is to transfer debt from high-interest-rate loans to lower-interest-rate loans (but watch carefully for hidden transfer costs on some accounts).

13. Avoid credit blunders. There are serious consequences for being finan- cially irresponsible. Every time you create a debt, national credit agencies keep a record. When you later apply for credit, potential lenders can view your credit history for at least the past seven years. Thjs data tells lenders whether you are a good or bad risk. If you’re seen as a bad risk, your applica- tion for a car or house loan 1nay be turned down. Or you may be offered a loan with extremely lugh interest rates. Your credit report might even wind up in the hands of a potential landlord or e1nployer. This information could affect your ability to rent an apartment or even get your dream job. Bottom line, unwise financial choices in the present will follow you for years. To view your present credit report and verify its accuracy, order a copy from Equifax at 800-685-1111 (, Experian at 888-397-3742 (, or Trans Union at 800-888-4213 ( Depending on where you



live, the report will range in cost from free to about $8. At annualcreditreport .com you can get a free credit report for all three agencies once a year. If you make a credit blunder, immediately contact the company you owe and work out a payment schedule. The sooner you clean up your credit report, the sooner your past mistakes will stop sabotaging your future. If you need help with debt, contact the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) for low- or no-cost credit assistance at 800-388-2227 (

14. Use tax credits. Tax credits are expenses you can subtract directly from your federal income tax. If you’re paying for college yourself, you may be eligible for an American Opportunity Tax Credit of up to $2,500 in your first four years. For details on this tax credit (as well as the Lifetime Learning Credit), go to -Information-Center

15. Avoid the “Let’s Go Out” trap. Someone calls and says, “Let’s go out?’ You 1neet for food or drinks and spend $20 … or more. Do this a couple tiJnes a week and you’ll wind up dropping hundreds of dollars a 1nonth into a deep, dark hole. One student reported that even after she ran out of money for the month, friends would say, “Oh, c’mon out wit11 us. I’ll loan you the money:• That meant she was already spending next month’s money. By all means, put entertainment money into your monthly financial plan, but, when it’s gone, have the self-discipline to stop going out. Instead, invite friends over and make it BYO-Bring Your Own. Or you could make a great choice by staying home and studying. Studying costs you nothing now and makes a great investment in your future income.

16. Track your spending. To plug a leak, you have to know where it is. So, carry a notepad with you for at least a week and record every penny you spend. (I know, doing this is a pain, but the benefit is worth it!) Exam- ine your recorded expenses and look for financial leaks that don’t show up in your financial plan. One student was shocked to discover that he was spending an average of $24 per week ($1,248 per year!) on fast-food lunches; he started packing his lunch and saved a bundle.

17. Examine each expense line in your financial plan for possible reductions. Here are some of the money-saving options my students have come up with: Find a roommate to reduce housing costs. Car pool to share commuting costs. Cut up credit cards. Pack lunches instead of eatiJ1g out. Change banks to lower or eliminate monthly checking fees. Exchange babysittiJ1g with fellow students to minimize child-care expenses. Shop at discount clubs and buy non-perishables (such as toilet paper and laundry detergent) in bulk. Join family/friends discounts for cell phones. Read mag- azines and newspapers at the library, instead of buying them. Pay creditors on time to avoid penalty charges. Delay purchases until the item goes on sale {such as right after Christmas). Find other money-saving ideas on the Internet at

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14 Chapter 1 Getting On Course to Your Success


To help increase your flow of money in, make a list of skills you have that you could possibly turn into a high-hourly-wage self-employment oppor- tunity. To help decrease your flow of money out, make a list of choices you could make that would each save you $25 or more per year. If you need help, try an Internet search for “saving money”


Mint is the top money management tool (5 out of 5 stars) recommended by Personal Comput- ing magazine. The software connects to all of your online financial institutions, such as banks and credit unions, which means you must pro- vide your login information. The program tracks your personal finances and helps you budget your money. (Web, Android, and iOS)

LearnVest, which provides paid financial plan- ning services, also offers the option to sign up for free email newsletters filled with extensive tips for budgeting, saving money and other financial topics. (Web; iOS) offers an easy-to-use online budget that (unlike Mint) does not need to be linked to your financial institutions. It promises to help you understand where your money is leaking out and ways to cut off the

or”budget tips:’ Compare your two lists with those of classmates to see if you can find addi- tional choices you didn’t think of. Add up all of the items on your list (income and outflow) and see how much you could improve your financial picture in one year by making these choices. You’ll find more wise advice about managing your money at

flow. The free plan offers options for creating a budget and reports. (Web) is a website offered by a partnership between Khan Academy and Bank of America. It offers valuable tips on how to create and stick to a budget, repay a student loan, finance a car, boost your credit score, save for buying a house, and understand your paycheck. (Web)


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