You might not know her name, but you’ve definitely heard of her work. Jenji Kohan is a television writer, producer and director, best known as the creator of the Showtime comedy-drama series Weeds and the Netflix comedy-drama series Orange Is the New Black.
We’re naming her our “Rebel of the Week” because of how she got her start in show business and her attitude and style about her work. She comes from a talented show business family – her father is an Emmy Award-winning TV writer, her brother is an Emmy Award-winning TV producer, and her mother is a novelist, and she grew up in Beverly Hills. But having her family get her into the business was not what motivated her or even got her started. In fact, after she graduated from college, her family discouraged her from a Hollywood career.
Then, an ex-boyfriend told her that she "had a better chance of getting elected to Congress than getting on the staff of a television show.” She would later say that this "was the perfect thing for him to say”; it launched her entire career. She started writing every day, quitting all her part-time jobs. She says, “Every day (I) would go to these little cafes in Santa Cruz, and I would work on spec scripts and study videotapes I had recorded off television of Roseanne and Seinfeld and The Simpsons. What ended up happening was, my sister-in-law's father worked in a building with an agent and gave him my scripts in an elevator. And he read them, and I was on a show by spring. And it took off from there, and I never stopped working."
Her first show was Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which she said was a "rough entrance" to the business, as she was the only woman in the writer's room. Early in her career, she did work for her brother on Will & Grace. She has discussed the differences between her and her brother's career saying, “David took the big, commercial, funny route; I was always a little darker personally, and not terrific within the system. I had to make my own way.”
Kohan was the creator, executive producer, showrunner, and head writer of Weeds, starring Mary-Louise Parker. She sold the pilot to Showtime with five words: "Suburban. Widowed. Pot. Dealing. Mom." The show ran for eight seasons and despite occasional conflicts with actors and producers, each episode came off just as Kohan planned. She is also the creator of Netflix's Orange Is the New Black, an adaptation inspired by Piper Kerman's memoir about her experience in a minimum-security women's prison. "I loved the characters, the diversity, and I loved that the setting was a crossroads where every type of person could travel through," Kohan says, noting the vast potential for stories. She has said that Piper (played by Emmy-nominated Taylor Schilling) was her "Trojan horse," a network-accessible "cool blonde" entree into a world of characters -- black, Latina, lesbian, transgender -- rarely seen on television. She says, “Yes, the characters are criminals, but I prefer to define them by who they are rather than by what they've done. There's more to us than the moment we made a bad decision;” adding, “I love flawed characters, male or female, and I only want to talk about flawed characters, really, in what I do. Women are flawed, and people are flawed, and why not talk about that?
On why she chose Netflix: "I took it to HBO, Showtime and Netflix. And the greatest thing about going to Netflix was that I pitched it in the room, and they ordered 13 episodes without a pilot. That's miraculous. That is every showrunner's dream, to just 'go to series' and have that faith put in your work. They paid full freight. They were new, they were streamlined, they were lovely, they were enthusiastic about it. And I love being on the new frontier. I love being first out of the gate. It's really, really fun, because I think it is the future in a lot of ways, of how people consume media, and it's great to be in there early."
Kohan may have a reputation in the industry for being a handful -- "I'm easy to work with, unless you piss me off" is the way she puts it – but her writing rooms are revered for their supportive, familial vibe. She is also very outspoken on the issue of gender inequality and unequal pay for women. “I don’t think I’m getting paid as much as the men in my position, still,” she said, “and it’s extremely frustrating.” She highlights this issue in many interviews.
Kohan has received seven Emmy Award nominations, winning as supervising producer of Tracey Takes On..., an HBO sketch- comedy show with Tracey Ullman. She also shared a CableACE Award in 1996 for her work on that show. She received her first nomination for Weeds in 2009, for Outstanding Comedy Series. She was nominated for a Producers Guild of America Award in 2007, and two Writers Guild of America Awards. In 2014, she was named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People and in the same year, Orange is the New Black was nominated for 12 Emmys.
In August 2014, The Hollywood Reporter ran a cover story on Kohan, calling her an iconoclast. We agree. We salute Jenji Kohan and her rebel spirit, and we can’t wait to see what shows she comes up with next!
What's more expensive than getting a college degree?
Sorry, this is a trick question. The only thing more expensive than getting a college degree is not getting a college degree.
The Value of a College Degree: Latest Findings
The earnings gap between young adults with and without bachelor’s degrees has reached its widest level in nearly half a century according to the latest research by the Pew Research Center. It’s a sign of the growing value of a college education despite rising tuition costs, according to an analysis of census data released in February 2014.
Young adults with just a high-school diploma earned 62% of the typical salary of college graduates. That’s down from 81% from almost 50 years ago.
As a whole, high-school graduates who did not go on to college were more likely to live in poverty and be dissatisfied with their jobs, if not unemployed.
In contrast, roughly 9 in 10 college graduates ages 25 to 32 said that their bachelor’s degree had paid off or will pay off in the future, according to Pew’s separate polling conducted last year. Even among the two-thirds of young adults who borrowed money for college, about 86% said their degrees have been, or will be, worth it.
‘‘In today’s knowledge-based economy, the only thing more expensive than getting a college education is not getting one,’’ said Paul Taylor, Pew’s executive vice president and co-author of the report. ‘‘Young adults see significant economic gains from getting a college degree regardless of the level of student debt they have taken on.’’
The latest findings come amid rising college tuition costs, which have saddled young adults in the so-called Millennial generation with heavy debt amid high unemployment. Noting the increasing importance of a college education, President Barack Obama and Republicans and Democrats alike have pushed proposals to make higher education more affordable as a way to promote upward mobility and bolster America’s shrinking middle class.
The report found that not only does a college degree typically yield much more inflation-adjusted earnings than before, but a high-school diploma also is now worth less. That adds to a widening earnings gap that Pew researchers found mirrors the U.S. gap between rich and poor.
For instance, college graduates ages 25 to 32 who were working full time now typically earn about $17,500 more annually than employed young adults with just a high school diploma ($45,500 vs. $28,000); those with a two-year degree or some college training earned $30,000. In 1965, before globalization and automation wiped out many middle-class jobs in areas such as manufacturing, the inflation-adjusted gap was just $7,449.
Meanwhile, median earnings for high-school graduates have fallen more than $3,000, from $31,384 in 1965 to $28,000 last year.
Simply put, you'll make more money if you complete a college degree. Figures range from several hundred thousand to a million dollars or more over your lifetime. Regardless of the details, however, you'll have more income if you earn a college degree.
If that alone does not persuade you, think of these other benefits:
You'll have a lifetime of increased opportunities. More job openings, more chances at promotions, and more flexibility with which jobs you take (and keep) are just a few of the doors that will be opened when you have your degree in hand.
You'll be more likely to build a career, rather than just have a job. The Pew research also found that young employed college graduates are more likely than those with just a high school diploma or less to say their job is a career or stepping stone to a career. In contrast, those with just a high school diploma or less were three times more likely than college graduates to say their work is ‘‘just a job’’ to help them get by — 42% vs. 14%.
You'll be more empowered as an agent in your own life. You'll be better educated about the things that have an impact on your day-to-day existence: knowing how to read a lease, having an understanding of how the markets will influence your retirement accounts, and handling the finances of your family. A college education can empower you in all kinds of ways to be more in control of your life's logistics.
You'll be better able to weather adversity. From having more money available to having marketable skills and an education during an economic downturn, having a degree can come in handy when life throws you a curve.
You'll always be marketable. Having a college degree is becoming increasingly important in the job market. Consequently, having a degree now will open doors for the future, which will in turn open more doors and make you more marketable later ... and the cycle continues.
You'll lead a more examined life. The critical thinking and reasoning skills you learn in college will stay with you for a lifetime.
You can be an agent of change for others. Many social service positions, from doctor and lawyer to teacher and scientist, require a college degree (if not a graduate degree). Being able to help others means you have to educate yourself to do so through your time in school. You'll also be a role model for your children and other family and community members.
You'll have more access to resources. In addition to the financial resources you'll have access to through your higher income, you'll also have resources in all kinds of unexpected and intangible ways. Your roommate from freshman year who is now an attorney, your friend from chemistry class who is now a doctor, and the person you met at the alumni mixer who may offer you a job next week are the kinds of benefits and resources that are hard to plan for -- but that can make all the difference in the world.
You'll have future opportunities in ways you may not be considering now. When you graduate from college, you may have never even given a second thought to graduate school. But as you get older, you may unexpectedly develop a strong interest in medicine, law, or education. Having that undergraduate degree already under your belt will allow you to pursue your dreams once you realize where they are going.
You'll have a strong sense of pride and self. You may be the first person in your family to graduate from college or you may come from a long line of graduates. Either way, knowing you earned your degree will undoubtedly give a lifetime of pride to yourself, your family, and your friends.
Here are two other "takeaways" from the Pew research study:
About three-fourths of all college graduates say they regretted not doing more during school to better prepare themselves to find a job, such as getting more work experience, studying harder or looking for work sooner.
The field of study in college does seem to matter. Those who studied science or engineering were most likely to say that their current job is ‘‘very closely’’ related to their college or graduate field of study, at 60 percent, compared to 43 percent for both liberal arts and business majors.
But what if you have an interest other than science or engineering? How can you increase the chances that your career will be closely related to your field of study? For this, we recommend considering an individualized degree route, where you can pursue a particular passion and gear your studies toward a certain career goal.
City University of New York has a flexible, distinctive individualized degree, and 80% of graduates report they are working in jobs related to their self-designed studies. Intrigued?
It took nine years, but Elin Nordegren earned her bachelor's degree in psychology this month, with a 3.96 GPA and earned the Class of 2014's top honor, the Hamilton Holt Outstanding Senior Award.
Ms. Nordegren was not very well known until her famous husband, Tiger Woods, was outed for cheating on her, and their marriage crumbled. She gave a rare interview to PEOPLE in 2010 about the divorce, but has never wanted to be in the spotlight. Still, she agreed to be the Commencement speaker for her graduating class this month.
Ms. Nordegren started college courses at Rollins in 2005, when she was married to Woods and did not yet have children, typically taking just one class at a time. She took a semester off following the birth of each of her children, and again in 2010, in the wake of the much publicized infidelity by her then-husband. In her speech, she referred to that time as "the wild storm of my personal life."
With her young sons asleep in the audience, Ms. Nordegren said to applause: "Education has been the only consistent part of my life the last nine years. And it has offered me comfort. Education is one thing that no one can take away from you."
[photo by Scott Cook for Rollins College]
The Swedish-born American citizen said her fellow students helped her to keep going. "When you told me stories about your full-time day jobs, about coming home to cook dinner for your families, and about making sure your children were cared for while you were attending classes, you inspired me," she said. "Whatever obstacle I was facing at the time, your stories and sharing helped me put things in perspective."
In an exclusive interview for an upcoming issue of PEOPLE, Nordegren says that, although she was a bit scared and unsure when asked to be the student speaker, she ultimately embraced the role: "If I can inspire even one mom to go back and get her degree with the message that it's never too late, then I am happy."
We are inspired by Elin Nordegren and hope that you are too. If you are a mom (or a dad!) who would like to start or return to college, consider the individualized, interdisciplinary degree at the City University of New York. For mature, focused students, this flexible degree, structured with adult students in mind, allows students to pursue areas of interest that may not be otherwise attainable as majors at any one college. In this way, adult students design degrees, working with faculty mentors, that address their own personal academic and professional goals.
Students in this degree program, commonly known as "CUNY BA" are pursuing cutting-edge areas that demand cross- and interdisciplinary knowledge, such as Digital Diplomacy, Data Science, Behavioral Economics, Game and Toy Design, Terrorism and Counterterrorism, Brand Management and Social Media, Development Sociology, Bionics and Engineering Psychology, to name a few. To quote Thomas Friedman, “American students need to learn to think across disciplines since that's where most new breakthroughs are made.”
Find out more here:
We typically think of rebels as people who refuse allegiance to, resist or rise up in arms against their governments. But a true rebel stands up for what he or she believes is right, not against what’s right. It’s about being an individual, upholding your principles and refusing to simply follow a crowd or let others force you to think and act the same way they do. Rebels are often trendsetters, innovators, trailblazers, thought leaders, change-agents.
In CUNY Baccalaureate, each student designs his or her own major guided by at least one faculty mentor. This is CUNY’s most innovative and flexible degree where students have access to courses across the entire university and they take on a major share of the responsibility for planning and carrying out their studies.
Because our students are taking “the road less traveled” by designing their own degrees, we’ve come to think of them as rebels, in the very best sense of the word. Accordingly, we’d like to tip our hat to other rebels who match our students’ tenacity and ambition.
This week’s “Rebel With a Cause” is enigmatologist Will Shortz, the world’s only academically accredited puzzle master. He designed his own major at Indiana University, graduating in 1974 with a one-of-a-kind degree in Enigmatology, the study of puzzles.
If you don’t recognize his name, you might be familiar with his work if you crosswords or Sudoku puzzles.
Mr. Shortz has been the puzzle master for NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday since the program’s start in 1987, crossword editor of The New York Times since 1993, editor of Games magazine for 15 years, and the founder and director of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, held annually since 1978. He also founded the World Puzzle Championship in 1992 and co-founded the World Puzzle Federation in 1999.
He sold his first puzzle professionally when he was just 14 years old to a youth magazine. At age 16, he became a regular contributor to Dell puzzle publications. To date he is the author or editor of more than 500 puzzle books.
Mr. Shortz entered law school at the University of Virginia straight from college. His plan was to earn the law degree and practice law for ten years. By then he estimated he would make enough money to retire and do what he really wanted—create puzzles.
He did earn the degree but right after that, he skipped the bar exam and began his career in puzzles.
Mr. Shortz relishes his position at The Times. He believes the publication garners the most intelligent, educated group of solvers in the country. This allows him to presume a level of culture and solving skill that he could not anyplace else.
He has made some modest but important modifications to the daily Times puzzles. Constructor bylines were added; previously the contributors were anonymous. He had the puzzles become increasingly harder each day of the week to provide something for every skill level. Finally, the cultural references were broadened to include movies, television and rock music.
He made the crossover from word puzzle to number puzzles soon after the Japanese puzzle Sudoku became an international hit in 2005; with his longtime crossword publisher, St. Martin’s, Mr. Shortz has a 50-book Sudoku series that has sold over 5 million copies.
Mr. Shortz wrote the riddles for the film Batman Forever and has guest-starred in episodes of The Simpsons and How I Met Your Mother, in each case playing himself. He was also the subject of the 2006 award-winning documentary film Wordplay.
An avid table tennis player, he is the owner and director of the Westchester Table Tennis Center in Pleasantville, NY, the largest table tennis facility in the United States. He also happens to own the world’s largest puzzle library, numbering over 25,000 puzzle books and magazines dating back to 1533!
We salute Mr. Shortz as a rebel who designed his own degree and had the courage to forsake a traditional path so he could follow his passion.
11 Tips for All Ages to Help You Finance Your College Education
Apply for financial aid.
Even if you don’t think you'll qualify, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. You may be pleasantly surprised with the result.
Apply for national grants.
Options include Pell Grants, Academic Competitiveness Grants and National SMART Grants.
Apply for local scholarships.
Civic organizations and religious institutions often have meaningful amounts of aid to dole out.
Cast a wide net...and bargain.
Applying to plenty of schools means a better chance of getting into more than one; getting into more than one translates to a higher likelihood of receiving a big financial aid package. Even schools that only provide need-based aid sometimes come up with drastically different offers. If you have more than one package on the table, you may be able to negotiate a better deal at your top choice college.
Find an official benefactor.
AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, National Health Services Corps and ROTC programs offer college money in exchange for a service commitment.
Tuition and fees at U.S. private four-year colleges and universities now averages $27,293. At Scotland’s St. Andrews, the alma mater of Britain’s Prince William and wife Kate, U.S. students pay only $21,650; Canada's McGill University charges just $17,400 for Americans studying for a B.A.
Start at a community college.
Starting out at a low-cost community college and transferring to a four-year college for the final two years will wipe away a hefty chunk of tuition.
Apply to your in-state college.
Every state in the U.S. has a system of public higher education. As a state resident, you'll pay a lower rate for tuition than a non-reisdent will. If you are looking at public colleges and universities in other states, find out what you can do to establish residency there first to take advantage of the in-state tuition rate.
Take advantage of tax breaks.
The American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit are two excellent options.
Ask a guidance counselor.
If you're a high school student or recent HS graduate, don't forget to consult your local expert -- guidance counselors are often aware of options you may not have considered; best of all, their help is free.
Get college credit for your life experience.
Adults who have worked, served as volunteers, or taken classes at non-accredited organizations may have learned enough through those experiences to demonstrate the equivalent of college level learning. Many colleges offer life experience credits that help shortent the distance between you and a college degree, which will lower the cost of attendance.
If you find that last tip intriguing, you are not alone. Earning college credit for life experience has been featured in The New York Times Education Section and other publications. It is a valid, rewarding way to make significant progress toward earning the college degree. We've put together an overview of what the process typically entails; click here to learn more:
by Marcia Y. Cantarella, Ph.D, President, Cantarella Consulting
People think of education as something the young engage in, but education is right at any age. Obviously, kindergarten through high school are years of education for the young. College years can be a time of transition between adolescence and adulthood, especially if you're between the ages of 17 and 21. However, changes in the workplace landscape have meant that the skills once adequate from a high school degree are no longer the skills that will allow for advancement today. Employers are looking for those with college degrees. That means that more people than ever are entering college -- as adults. That could be you.
You would be in the category of adult learner. You may be older than the traditional student and have family and home responsibilities to manage. Your time is precious. At some point you realized that to progress in your work or to move to a more lucrative field, you need a college degree or more specific training in a specific arena. Perhaps you felt long ago that you weren't ready for or did not need college, or now you're dead-ended in a career and need to develop new skills. You are part of a large and growing group for whom increasing resources are available.
It has been noted that returning students are more focused and harder working and often do better, so many colleges are coming to value them greatly. In some ways I was an adult learner myself. I had a college degree and a successful corporate career but when I made the decision to move to higher education I was 40 and needed to earn a doctorate to advance in my field. So at age 40 I was the oldest kid in my graduate school class. But I also had a family and a job.
Part of what worked for me was having a clear sense of why I was doing what I was doing. That is part of the challenge for students going back to school. You do not want to feel you are wasting time and want to get what you need and then get on with it. But the reality is that you may not recognize that the skills that you need will come disguised in many forms. You may need specific skills such as financial management if that is the field you seek. But you will also need broad skills that will carry you to and through the many opportunities you could have along the way. The broad skills are communications (written and verbal), critical thinking/problem-solving, research and the ability to work well with others. Those skills emerge in the classes many think are a waste. They will be found in English (think communications), Philosophy (think about thinking), History (think about research) or Social Science classes (think about human behavior). They will be found in the papers you research and write for any class or the team projects you have to do. They are the skills employers are seeking.
The reason to focus on skills is that advancement often moves people from one job and job category to another. Or the economic landscape changes and you need to switch gears but not go back to school every time. Or there is a new field that emerges that you can slide into because you have those broad skills. So if you approach every class in the spirit of understanding what skill you are learning it will seem more purposeful. You could actually end up enjoying the subject matter along the way.
Once you have the right mindset you need to choose a major that both aligns with your goals and also will give you enjoyment. If you find that you don't like what you are studying and if it represents the field you want to enter, you may not have a good career fit. Stop there and regroup. You are also more likely to excel in a subject area you enjoy. Employers do not want to see GPAs much below 3.0. There are exceptions but they are looking for really smart people. If your back story is also a challenging one then the value of the higher GPA goes up even more. So if you are working and taking care of kids and getting a 3.4 GPA then you must be a very well-organized, focused and determined person. That is someone worth hiring.
Your family needs to understand that while you do this there will be sacrifices -- usually of your time with them -- but they will all benefit in the end. Be sure to build family time into your weekly game plan. Friends can be supportive, but if they are not then you need to let those friends go. Those who are supportive will be the ones who encourage you when things get tough. Some of the best can be the new friends you make in college... maybe others like yourself. I have seen students volunteer to babysit for classmates' children when things were tight and papers due.
If you are working too then time management will be one of the most essential things you have to do. Your planner or diary will be your new best friend. The right school can also make that easier. Take one course to get your feet wet and assure this is the right fit if you have been away for a while. It will also help in getting back into a student frame of mind. Most universities now offer some mix of online and on site courses. Public universities and schools in urban centers are often more attuned to the needs of the adult learner. Community colleges can be excellent choices, as they are more flexible in scheduling and can offer courses specific to certain career goals. Some schools give credit for life experience or allow you to use your work as part of your learning experience. Many schools offer courses in the evenings or on weekends, or special programs designed for the working student. It is a challenging situation, for instance, when your curriculum requires lab time, which is not readily available other than in the daytime, when most of the faculty are present. But some schools now even offer labs on the weekend. But you have to do the research to find the ones that will work for you.
You obviously have to also do research to see where your money will be best spent. It would seem that some of the private online colleges would be best for adult learners but if you Google them you will see articles that suggest that they may be expensive and may not always deliver on what they advertise. I would suggest caution here. Be a smart consumer and be sure any school is accredited, does not have problems with the Better Business Bureau if it is a for-profit school, and delivers what it promises before you give them your money. Look at graduation rates and evidence regarding post-graduate employment. Look to your local state or city colleges and universities for the best return on your investment. Build up your savings now for books and any expenses not covered by financial aid. Sometimes your employer will have a tuition reimbursement plan. Sometimes private colleges will have scholarships that make them viable as long as the courses you need are offered at times you need them.
One of the things that will be important will be to network while in college. That is where the real career action is. Careers are built on relationships. This can take many forms. You will need to get to know your classmates. You can help and support each other. But also if others are adult learners too they may be good professional connections. Your faculty may know people in your field of interest but certainly will be good as references. So cultivate them. That helps your grades too. Get to know your deans or advisers as often opportunities come their way and it helps to be on their radar screens. One of my students recently found an internship through one of my undergraduate college connections and now has a job offer for after graduation.
If you can manage it, take part in some activity on or off campus that shows your heart, leadership and skills in a non-classroom context so you can enrich both your resume and your network. While it may take more time in your life it can also fast track your career.
The bottom line is that you can finish college whenever and wherever suits you best. Age is not a barrier. My best grad student assistant was 70 and some of the best undergrads I have known have been returners. One especially inspiring student was a widowed mother of two teens -- and she was blind. She graduated at the top of her class as a math major and went on to graduate work to become a math teacher.
You can do this.
Dr. Cantarella is the author of I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide (www.icanfinishcollege.com) and a consultant on higher education, access and success. (email@example.com) Information on finding the right college fit at any age can be found in Chapter 1 of I CAN Finish College For other valuable resources or to buy the book visit www.collegecountdown.com
Now, what if you could return to college, going full-time or part-time, at an affordable price, while you design your own degree -- the degree that most closely matches your own interests and goals -- working one-on-one with a faculty mentor? Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? But it is. The City University of New York offers a university-wide individualized degree that allows you to do just that. Find out more by clicking this link:
CUNY BA allows me to participate in the classes that are preparing me for my career. This is a program that allows you to build your dream future by designing your ultimate BA.
Galit Felner, Organizational Behavior ǀ Mentor: Prof. Yochi Cohen-Charash, Psychology, Baruch ǀ Home College: Baruch
If you found this article of interest, we think you'll also like 11 Tips for Financing Your College Degree
Well, of course, we are very different, in that Whole Foods is a grocery chain with over 300 stores, 54,000+ employees and sales of about eight billion dollars a year. CUNY BA (shorthand for CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies) is a small academic program with 450 enrolled students and a staff of 11. But we have a lot in common when it comes to our values.
At Whole Foods, their motto is "Customers first." At CUNY BA, we believe in "Students first."
At Whole Foods, you can churn your own peanut butter, blend your own coffee beans, create your own granola combination. They are customer-centered. At CUNY BA, you can design your own degree. We are student-centered.
Whole Foods is also very responsive to their customers' requests. For instance, a few years ago, customers asked the company to procure more from local producers. They are now steadily increasing emphasis on local products and farms. When customers asked for more soda choices without artificial flavoring and color, Whole Foods stocked their shelves with those products.
Similarly, CUNY BA is very responsive to requests from our students, alumni and faculty mentors. Most recently, for example, a student and professor from Kingsborough Community College asked if CUNY BA would start allowing full-time faculty from the community colleges to be official mentors for CUNY BA students, as the program has always required that faculty mentors be selected from CUNY’s 11 four-year colleges. The proposal was discussed at the University Committee on the CUNY Baccalaureate (CUNY BA's governing body), and the change was immediately embraced and adopted. We are very excited to have more participation from CUNY's community college faculty and their students.
Based on feedback from alumni surveys about what kind of programming they'd like to see CUNY BA offer, we hosted a workshop last year called Improving Your Digital Self, to a packed audience. In response to requests from our students, we host workshops on applying to graduate school, writing the personal statement, and studying abroad every semester.
At CUNY BA, we know all our students by name. That's actually pretty impressive at a university with over 250,000 students enrolled. Each CUNY BA student is assigned to a CUNY BA academic advisor who works closely with them through their CUNY BA career. We get to know each student individually and we respond to their needs. In fact, we are often proactive about that; for instance, we typically contact individual students directly when we learn about opportunities that we think match their interests.
We're not advocating that you shop in Whole Foods; NYC offers you many food shopping possibilities. We are struck, however, by our similar values and outcomes: We both offer increased choices with fewer restrictions. Whole Foods has satisfied shoppers; CUNY BA has fulfilled, successful graduates.
CUNY BA is the best place to design your own degree. We offer access to courses across the University; a comprehensive, upfront transfer evaluation; close collaboration with faculty mentors and academic advisors; learning that speaks directly to your own academic, personal and professional interests; the most affordable degree in New York.
Intrigued? Interested in putting your passion into a program? Learn more by receiving our exclusive "white paper," a two-page, colorful overview of this truly remarkable degree.
The personal statement. It's something that is asked of you when applying to college, to graduate school, to scholarship and fellowship opportunities. For many, it can be a source of anxiety and lead to writer's block. But personal statements present an opportunity to show aspects of yourself that may not be developed in other areas of your application. So we've assembled tips we think will help unlock your potential for writing the best personal statement you can. We've also identified some things you should avoid.
7 Best Practices for Writing the Personal Statement.
Answer the questions that are asked. If you are applying to several programs, grants or scholarships, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar. Don’t be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It is important to answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, you should write separate statements. In every case, be sure your answer fits the specific question being asked. Politicians might be able to get away with dodging questions, but this is not the place for that.
Tell a story. Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you’ll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable. And stories can be told in many different ways, they do not always have to be strictly chronological.
Be specific. Your application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story. For example, don’t state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons and evidence of your potential. In other words, your desire to become a lawyer, engineer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experience that is described in your statement.
Find an angle. If you’re like most people, your life story may lack drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding an angle or a “hook” is vital.
Concentrate on your opening paragraph. The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader’s attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.
Tell what you know. The middle section of your essay might detail your interest and experience in your particular field, as well as some of your knowledge of the field. Too many people graduate college with little or no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the profession or field they hope to enter. So be as specific as possible in relating what you know about the field, and use the language that professionals use in conveying this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you’ve read, seminars you’ve attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you want, college you want, or scholarship you want and why you’re suited to it. Since you will have to select what to include in your statement, the choices you make are often an indication of your judgment.
Write well and correctly. Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay carefully. Have friends and/or teachers proofread it too. Many admissions officers say that command of correct use of language is important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.
8 Things Not To Do.
Don’t just write what you think the admissions or scholarship committee wants to hear. You are probably wrong, and such a response is likely to make you blend into the crowd rather than stand out from it.
Avoid using empty, vague, over-used words like ‘meaningful’, ‘beautiful’, ‘challenging’, "very", ‘invaluable’, or ‘rewarding’.
Don’t overwrite or belabor a minor point about yourself.
Don’t repeat information directly from the application form itself, unless you use it to illustrate a point or want to develop it further.
Don’t emphasize the negative or make excuses for yourself. Explain what you feel you need to, but emphasize the positive.
Don’t try to be funny. You don’t want to take the risk that your readers won’t get the joke.
Don’t get too personal about religion or politics -- unless you are treating these as integral to your life story as framed in a positive perspective. Avoid emotional catharsis.
Don’t include footnotes.
Now that you have a better handle on writing the personal statement, let us introduce you to CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies. Commonly known as CUNY BA, we are the university-wide BA and BS degree at the City University of New York. A most important part of our application process is the personal statement. If you would like to learn more about becoming a student in this individualized degree, where you create your own major working with faculty mentors, click here. You'll see a list of the benefits of this degree, and you'll receive a set of emails that will advise you on how to apply.
A 5-Step Guide to Applying to Graduate School
By Gerry Martini
So you have decided to go for a graduate degree? Both a “congratulations” and a “good luck” are in order! Graduate applications can sometimes be confusing, so let me take a few moments to see if I can ease your mind as you prepare for the process. Hopefully this 5-step guide will help you.
Step 1: Identify Your Passion
Going to graduate school is not a step to be taken lightly—it takes plenty of time, effort, and (oftentimes) money to get through a program, so make sure that you really are passionate about what you want to study. I know it sounds cheesy to say “be passionate,” but you aren’t going to be as successful if you are spending all your time on a subject that you only have lukewarm feelings for; after a few months of non-stop study, you could become bitter that you are dedicating all of your time to something you don’t care enough about. So pick something you want to expend your energy on.
Step 2: Research
This is possibly the most difficult part of applying to graduate school (stop shaking your head at the screen—it’s true!). There are a lot of graduate programs out there, and probably quite a few of them in your area of interest, so give yourself time (at least a month—you don’t want to rush it) to look around so that you can find the best ones for you to apply to.
By “best” I mean:
- Is this the right kind of program for me (MA, PhD, JD, etc.)?
- Are there faculty working in my area? For example, if you’re looking to get a PhD in English, don’t just look to see that schools have a PhD program; if you’re interested in 18th Century British Poetry, and most of their poetry scholars work on Contemporary American Poetry, it’s probably not the right place for you.
- Will I be happy living here for 2-5 years (depending on the degree)? The academics of a school can be great, but you have to live there too.
- What are the financial aid offerings (depending on the degree)? For PhDs this is especially important to pay attention to—sadly, for most master’s degree students your funding options are likely limited.
Do your research thoroughly. You can look at grad school guides (online or off); you can talk to your professors, college career services officers, and colleagues; you can visit campuses digitally and in person—take advantage of as many of these as you need to feel confident in the schools you will be applying to. And when you have further questions, take advantage of the schools’ friendly admissions officers (like me!) and/or professors who you might be interested in working with.
Step 3: Gather Materials for Applications
Now, you might be saying “But Gerry, I haven’t actually started applying yet.” You’re absolutely correct: I’m suggesting that you start collecting supplemental materials for your applications well before you apply.
Why? Because some materials take time to get together. If you have to have GRE scores, for example, you are should take the exam a few weeks (at the very latest) before the deadline in order to ensure your scores make it in time. You will need letters of recommendation, and I can guarantee you will get better results if you give your recommenders plenty of time to get them done (professors are busy people, many of whom procrastinate just as much as their students do during paper-writing season!). Even requesting transcripts takes time. Since most online applications can now be completed relatively quickly you might be able to get the actual application done at the last minute; however, the remainder of your documentation requires time.
Step 4: Apply
This should be the shortest part of the process. As I mentioned, most applications are online and take only an afternoon to complete because much of the information is going to be basic.
The piece of the application itself that will take a little longer is your applicant statement. This is your opportunity to present yourself to the admissions committee—make it count! If you have identified faculty members that you want to work with and/or an idea for your research, talk about these. Be especially sure to talk about why you think the program is right for you, and perhaps more importantly, why you feel you are perfect for the program.
Step 5: Wait
This last step is the most terrifying aspect of applying to graduate school. But let me promise you that when a decision is made by the department, you will be notified very quickly. Just try and relax as much as possible.
It’s the holiday season and so there are plenty of reasons to be stressed out. Follow these five steps and, hopefully, your graduate applications won’t be another one….
Gerry Martini is Admissions Coordinator at the Graduate Center, CUNY. You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or @TheGCGerry
Choosing the right college and getting accepted were major milestones for you. Now, you are there and taking courses in your chosen major...and it's just not working out. You are bored. Your grades are low, maybe even failing. The content of the major you picked is very different from what you expected. You only chose that major because you had to make a decision...or to please your parents. Or, perhaps you've become interested in a different subject thanks to an elective or general education course you took, an experience you had, or people you met. And thanks to those experiences, you are feeling much more interested and passionate about a whole new area of study.
But now the major you know you want isn't offered at your college. What can you do?
Well, you might consider transferring to a college that does offer the major you want.
But what if you could stay right where you are and earn a degree in your new area of interest?
Many colleges offer students the opportunity to create their own academic paths. They might call it Ad Hoc Majors, Individualized Studies, Independent Majors, Interdisciplinary Majors, or Self-Designed Studies, but the idea is generally the same. These degree routes encourage motivated students to carve out their own academic curricula, usually working closely with faculty and special advisors. What's more, students in these individualized degree programs can usually select courses from not just one, but multiple disciplines. So, if you've become excited about an area such as, say, Political Psychology, or Musical Theater, and your school offers the individualized degree route, you are in luck. At large universities with multiple, separate schools (i.e., schools of health, eduation, arts, social work, etc.), individualized degree students can often choose courses that cut across those boundaries, as well.
Do you have what it takes?
You should expect that the individualized major will have it's own application process and criteria for admission. The required GPA may be higher than what was required for your current major. You might be expected to supply a letter of recommendation from a faculty member. You will probably have to submit a statement about what you want to study and what you expect to learn.
One student's story.
Emma was enrolled at Brooklyn College, one of the 11 four-year colleges at the City University of New York (CUNY); she was enrolled in Brooklyn's Journalism program, but that major wasn't satisfying her academic appetite. As an upper junior, she realized she really wanted to be making films. But not just any films - she wanted to somehow combine her passion for social justice with documentary filmmaking. Emma found out that CUNY offers an individualized degree route called CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies, commonly known as CUNY BA. She says, "CUNY BA has allowed me to explore my academic and intellectual interests in a way that works with my creative mind and independent nature. The major I created is 'Film through Sociological Research and Practice.' This allows me the freedom to learn about society through a sociological lens and use that knowledge when creating documentaries. I am achieving my goal of being a filmmaker through the classes I am taking, working on my own documentary, and gaining hands-on experience through internships. The courses in the film department at Brooklyn College are providing me with the knowledge I need in order to perform different tasks on professional movie sets. I also take sociology courses in order to better understand the world I capture on film. Throughout the year I make sure to work on different projects that give me the experience I need in order to turn my passion into a career. For the past two years, I have been continuously learning." To design her degree, Emma is working closely with her faculty mentor, Assistant Professor Sarah Christman, in the Film department at Brooklyn College. Prof. Christman is an award-winning, internationally-known filmmaker who makes non-fiction films that examine the intersection between people, technology and the natural world
Does Emma's story resonate with you? If you are a student enrolled in a CUNY college, or at another college that does not offer an individualized degree route, learn how to transfer to CUNY BA where you can design your own degree working closely with faculty mentors. Just click here: