Taking Advantage of What a College has to Offer

Before I attended college, I had no idea that colleges and universities had so much to offer outside of the classroom.  No matter what your interests, hobbies, and passions are, students should be able to find something to keep them busy when not attending classes.  Whether it is clubs and organizations, sports, concerts, politicians, entertainment….so many different options.  Each college is different as far as what might be available, so it is up to the student to be aware of and seek out what interests them.

For example, when I attended the University of Northern Iowa, I found out that the university offered some study abroad programs.  The way I found this out was by seeing posters on campus advertising the Study Abroad Office. 

I previously did not have an interest in studying abroad; however, I was curious to see if they might offer a program in the country that my grandfather emigrated from.  My grandfather was born in 1891 and came to the United States from Denmark in the early 1900’s.  I was very close to my grandfather up until the time he died when I was in my early 20’s.  I knew I still had relatives living in Denmark and thought it would be interesting to explore the country of my heritage.

It turns out that UNI did have a program in Denmark, an exchange agreement with the University of Aalborg located in Aalborg, Denmark.  I couldn’t believe it; this was the same area my grandfather came from!  It was a program for business majors where you would participate in their International Business Program with students from different countries.  The classes would be taught in English and you would receive 12 elective credits through UNI.  Since I was not a business major (I was getting a minor in business) I had to get approval from the Business Department Head to be able to participate.  I had to do a little leg work, getting a student visa, arranging air fare and housing, etc., but it was well worth it.  The Study Abroad Office was very helpful in making the arrangements.

Obviously, the cost to study abroad varies from college to college and also depends on the country you would be going to.  At the time I participated (a long time ago….) the agreement between the schools said that I could receive financial aid to help cover the costs and my tuition was at a reduced cost.

I was able to spend my last semester as a college undergraduate in Denmark.  I met students from all around the world, some of which I am still friends with today (25 years later).  I learned a lot from the business courses I took, however, I think I learned even more by living in and learning about a totally different culture.  Even going to the grocery store was an experience when you do not know the language (I bought a lot of fresh foods and canned foods with pictures on them)!  I shipped my bicycle over and I also used a lot of public transportation (buses and trains).  I was able to visit castles, see an opera at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, and even visit the U.S. Embassy.

I was also able to meet my 4th cousin and his family, see the farm house my grandfather was born in 100 years earlier, and even saw my great-grandfather’s grave.  During breaks, and for a month after the semester ended, I traveled to Norway, Sweden, Finland, Greece, Italy, Germany, Holland, France, and Austria.

Had I not been willing to explore my options and do a little risk taking, I would never have had this opportunity again in my life, to not only travel to other countries but to actually live there and be a part of the culture for 6 months, get college credit, and get financial assistance to help cover costs.

My suggestion to you is that if you are even remotely interested in outside activities, like study abroad, do some research both before and after you set foot on campus to see what is offered.  My guess is that you won’t regret it!

John Holland
ICAN Waterloo Center

Choosing a Major or Program

Whether you’re a junior starting the college search process, a senior filling out applications for admission, or already a college student, chances are you’ve had plenty of people ask you, “What are you majoring in?” If you already have a good idea of the type of career you’re looking for, this question is probably easy to answer. However, if you have no idea what you want to do, this question can be supremely stressful. Lots of students feel pressured to choose a major as a high school junior or senior, and they worry that they have to stick with that major in college, even if it doesn’t turn out to be a good fit.

If you are still questioning your major, you’re in good company! 30-50 percent of students come into college still deciding on a major, and close to 80 percent of college students change their major at least once. So much changes as you transition from high school to college, and it’s only natural that your interests and career aspirations will change too. Don’t feel stressed if you don’t know what you want to study, or if you change your mind! As a high school student, I thought I knew what I wanted to do, but I wound up changing my mind right before freshman orientation, and wound up going into college undecided. I picked a major in the first semester of my sophomore year, and I still managed to graduate in four years.

There are lots of different tools that you can use to explore potential careers and college majors. Check out actprofile.org to fill out a career interest inventory online -- it only takes about fifteen minutes! Job shadowing and volunteering are also great opportunities to see if a career is a good fit for you. Check out the Iowa Intermediary Network for more information about job shadowing, and volunteeriowa.org for volunteer options near you!

If you’re currently in college, develop a good relationship with your academic advisor. They can help you figure out what classes might correspond with your interests, and they might have good recommendations of activities on campus that can help you learn more about different majors. Talking to your family and friends can also be an easy way to learn more about different careers or college majors. Ask your relatives and friends what they like about their jobs and what their career path has looked like -- everyone’s story is different.

It can seem stressful to not know what you want to major in or what career interests you, but relax! You have plenty of time to explore and learn more about different opportunities. Explore your options with ACT Profile, job shadowing, and volunteering, and spend time talking to your friends, family, and academic advisors -- you’ll find the right fit in no time!

Susan - Hiawatha ICAN Center

Recommended Movies & Books

I love to read, and I love watching movies. One of my favorite things to do is go to the movie theatre by myself. Some people wouldn’t dream of going to the movies on their own…how embarrassing, right? Whatever, I don’t care. Not sharing popcorn & candy is reason enough for me to continue to go to the movies by myself. In no particular order I will provide you with a list of my favorite movies and books that I don’t get tired of reading and watching.


Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel - The novel follows the story of a young girl named Tita who longs her entire life to marry her lover, Pedro, but can never have him because of her mother's upholding of the family tradition of the youngest daughter not marrying but taking care of her mother until the day she dies. Tita is only able to express herself when she cooks.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory - A historical loosely based on the life of 16th-century aristocrat Mary Boleyn, the sister of Anne Boleyn, of whom little is known. Inspired by the life of Mary, Gregory depicts the annulment of one of the most significant royal marriages in English history (that of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon) and conveys the urgency of the need for a male heir to the throne.

Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros - Caramelo, Celaya Reyes remembers a summer trip from Chicago to visit her grandparents in Mexico City in about 1962. With rich imagery and humor and from the perspective of a five-year-old, Celaya introduces her extended family and the culture of Mexico City in the mid-twentieth century.

Love in the Time of Cholera –by Gabriel Garcia Marquez Love - A celebration of life over death, love over despair, and health over sickness. It is the story of Florentino Ariza, who was rejected by Fermina Daza in his youth. He maintains a silent vigil of unrequited love for fifty-one years, nine months, and four days, until he meets Fermina again at her husband’s wake and renews his suit.

Little House on the Prairie Book Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder – No need to provide a summary of this. Everyone knows what these books area bout. I think I like them so much because these are the books that helped me learn the English language. 


Under the Tuscan Sun – Leaving everything behind and moving to Italy…who wouldn’t want to do that. Diane Lane is queen of everything.

The Sandlot – No need to describe this one. “You’re killing me, Smalls”

The Little Mermaid – the real life version of this Disney classic is coming soon. It’ll be based on the real Hans Christen Andersen story, it’ll be dark and not for children. Can’t wait!

The Devil Wears Prada – The clothes, the Anne Hathaway, the Meryl Steep…love it all!

Any of the Bourne movies – Matt Damon kicking butt all over Europe. I’ll never get tired of it. The newest cam out last summer and should be in a Red Box near you.

Lupe - ICAN Hiawatha Center

Brrr, it's cold out there, time to work on scholarships

Brrr…it is cold out there. When I was a senior, and every year through college, I spent this time inside as much as possible. I am not a fan of winter or the frigid temperatures that come along with it. And once the holidays are over, it can seem just a bit dreary.

A good way to pass the time is to focus on the future and this time of year is perfect for scholarships. There are a lot of organizations and businesses that are opening up their scholarship applications right now and you can get a lot accomplished.

Start with a general search and get organized. Outline the scholarships you qualify for by due date and then make a list of the requirements. Do you need essays? What topics? Do you need letters of recommendation? How many and from who? What about a list of your accomplishments?

Once you have a list of all the pieces, you can begin your work.

First make sure your activities resume is up-to-date. If you need to create one, visit www.ICANsucceed.org/materials and download the template from the resource zone. Having this list of your accomplishments well organized is a great way to help those writing you recommendations.

Speaking of, here is to do number two. Ask people to write you letters of recommendation and provide them a copy of your activities resume, along with anything specifically requested from the scholarship. If you need a general letter mention that, but you can also ask for a letter that touches on specific things requested in the scholarship application guidelines. Be sure to give your letter writers plenty of time. A couple of days is not enough. Try and give 2-3 weeks if possible.

Once you have your letter writing requests out it is time to focus on your part – the applications and essays. Some applications will have specific topics for your essay, while others will just ask for a personal statement. Make yourself stand out and be unique. Share your personality while following the guidelines provided.  Your essay may be one of a hundred or more a scholarship review committee reads; you want to stand out and be remembered.

Take your time and always have someone else read your essays and get feedback. Never submit your first draft.

Scholarships are a lot of work, but the payoff can be BIG if you take your time and really put in the effort. Remember a couple hours spent on a scholarship worth $500 could wind up paying you $250 per hour. That’s the best part-time job you could possibly find to help you pay for college.

Good luck and if you need help with the scholarship process you can check out ICAN’s virtual presentation on the scholarship process. This video goes through searches, applications, essays and letter writing. Visit www.icansucceed.org/virtualpresentations to learn more. You can also begin your search for scholarships with the ICAN scholarship database – www.icansucceed.org/scholarships.

And finally, if you’re a senior, don’t forget to apply for the ICAN scholarship at www.icansucceed.org/ICANscholarship.

Good luck! 

Brittania - ICAN Hiawatha Center