Author: Jamie Schlansky

Graduation Bucket List: How Your Final Year in College SHOULD Be

You’ve made it this far.  You’re one year away from graduation, and aside from feeling anxious and excited, you’ve also got that bittersweet feeling that won’t go away.  Where will your friends be next year?  Where will you be?

Well, don’t think about that right now.  Make your senior year something memorable, something you will value for years to come.  You don’t want to remember your senior year as the year you worried about everything coming after it.  Consider these three points to make your final year the best it can be:

1.     Commit a moderate amount of time to studying

Whether you’re under-loading on classes your final semesters, writing a thesis, or taking a normal class load, you still can’t forget that your last set of grades are just as important as the rest.  Spend a considerable amount of time making sure you get your work in by your deadlines (no Senioritis, thank you!), and if you happen to slip up a couple times, just don’t make a habit of it.  It’s important to keep up your grades and sense of commitment to your courses.  After all, you’re going to need that same type of discipline after you graduate.

2.     Be sure to get out and have fun

Sometimes people focus too much on work, and don’t get out with their friends to have a good time once in a while.  Don’t overdo it (partying all nights of the weekend every weekend is a bit excessive for any year of college).  Find a good balance between work and play.  That is true for your college experience in general.  By senior year you should have a good grasp of that—however, most seniors are newly 21 and might go out more often than before due to less drinking restrictions.  Just have good sense and judgment.  You know how much work has been required in your last three years.  Be sure to go off of that so you can gauge how much time you’ll need to commit to everything else.

3.     Stay in your extracurricular activities

If you start to feel burnt out of everything you’re involved in after class, think hard about what you still want to be involved in.  Being in a club or other campus organization for multiple years is a great way to gain experience in that field and also looks good on a resume.  But don’t stay just for the resume boost.  Unless you realize the groups you’re involved with are no longer of interest to you, I highly recommend retaining your level of commitment to them.  Don’t get too lazy your senior year, otherwise you could end up quite bored.  It’s all about maintaining a sense of consistency across your four years.

You want your senior year to stand out, but you also don’t.  Find that equilibrium.  Be sure to study hard, but also to play hard, and graduate from your school with a bang.  Your last year should be the pinnacle, representative of the most recent and lasting memories you have of your undergraduate career.  Make this one count!

The LitMag Dialogues 2: Why Presentation is Key

You’ve heard it before.  Prior to even making a first impression, the other party involved is already taking a visual account of you.  From there they have formed a conception of what they think you’re all about.

What if your visual presentation was the only thing you could use to make a good impression?  What if you weren’t allowed to say anything, and the employer interviewing you, or the attractive group by the bar had complete jurisdiction over whether they liked you or not?

This is what happens at the literary magazine where I intern.  It is clearly obvious when submitters have not read our directions, or have just consciously chosen not to follow them.  It’s not so much the folded corners on papers, or using a stapler versus a paperclip.  It’s the coffee stains, the line spacing (single-spaced submissions are quite a sight for an already-overwhelmed editor or intern), the lack of a clearly articulated cover letter, or the lack of a cover letter altogether.  Resulting from these follies and more, we have already formed an opinion of the writer.  I am less eager to read a thirty-page, single-spaced story simply because it looks too dense to get through.  It could be very well written and engaging, but I might not make it far enough to find out.

Cover letters that don’t say too much about you in general, much less as a writer, are also a turn-off.  I mean to address the letters that basically say, “Here is my submission, I don’t really care what you do with it.”  Instead of just having your contact information and the title of your piece as your cover letter, try making the reader interested in what else you have to say.  Even if you have no prior publications, give us a sense of your personality.  I like to have at least somewhat of an idea of the person whose work I’m about to read.  That being said, don’t be too presumptuous!

Like any other company or group of people, at the magazine we’re human, too.  We like to laugh, we like to poke fun, and sometimes it happens at other people’s expenses.  Don’t give us the opportunity to do that.  Make yourself as professional as you can be and that’s what will put you ahead.  Of course, even professionals can have their share of bad writing, but if their cover letter and physical submissions are done well, they’re one step closer to polishing off the rest of it.

I wouldn’t want to walk into a bar and be judged just on how I was dressed.  It happens to people every day, of course, but just take note of the fact that it’s an important factor.  Presentation is key, whether we like it or not.  Being aware of that guides us further along the professional and social lines of where we live.

So next time you submit your poetry to a literary magazine, a resume to an employer, or even a friendly text to the cutie from last night, be sure to realize that everything you’re presenting is an extension of yourself.  Turn those extensions into the beginnings of showing everyone else exactly what great qualities you have to offer.

 

 

 

The LitMag Dialogues Part 1: How Working at Literary Magazine Draws in a Variety of People

If there is one thing I’ve learned from pursuing a career in writing, it is the fact that words can come from all over.  Everyone has the ability to create something meaningful via his or her own language, background, culture and experience.  I like being surrounded by writers because we each bring something unique to the “universe” that is the written word.  Writing is a method of communication, used formally in medical journals, newspapers, magazines, and of course, literature.

It can be overlooked at times, but reading other people’s writing is the best way to expand your own horizon of knowledge.  If you think about it, nothing is completely objective.  There is always a tone present, lightly detected or not, that can reveal an author’s true feelings about his or her subject.

I never considered how many sources and types of people that various writings could come from—until I was surrounded by writers on a regular basis.  It started when I took my first creative writing workshops away at school, attended a summer writer’s institute, and began interning at a literary magazine in my hometown.  I didn’t understand how much variety there was in literary works because I had been constricted to what I read as a child and what I was assigned later in high school.

Working at the literary magazine has solidified this realization.  As an intern I am partly responsible for reading and voting on submissions from various writers all over the country and abroad.  I have read pieces written by college students, published authors, MFAs, and professionals who never studied writing but love it all the same.  Then I have read work from people who are a mixture of these categories.  It’s amazing to see how one method of communication, widespread as it is, takes its own form within just one person’s imagination.

Then there’s the other side:  us, the receivers—the interns, the editors, the outside readers who volunteer their input, and everyone else who helps out.  There is a variety even within our small group.  We have different educations, have attended different schools, are from towns from all over, and have experienced vastly different lives.  Yet we all get along, and I feel that a large part of this is due to our passion for words.  (Of course, we’re all a fun-loving group anyway, but the writing aspect is still quite important!)

I think the most valuable thing I can take away from what I have experienced, being surrounded by writers and readers, is that variety is a very good thing.  Without it you can miss out on so many perspectives that have the ability to alter your own lifestyle and values.  Without it would be like living in a secluded society of your own, where you can only learn from people just like you.  I value the new people I have been exposed to since I started college because it has helped me grow as a person, a student, and a writer.  Working at the magazine just marks the beginning of that growth—seeing as I have quite a few more years ahead of me.

The same goes for being away at school.  Dip your toes into the water that keeps changing temperature; don’t stick to what you’re comfortable with.  Take it from me, it’s worth it.

 

 

 

10 Ways to Fight Summer Boredom

We all know that when it comes summer and everything is winding down, it can be pretty easy to slip into the feeling of not wanting to do anything.  However, once you’ve arrived at that point, it doesn’t take long until not doing anything morphs into being bored.  While it is perfectly acceptable to feel that you have deserved a break after duking it out with the school year, don’t let too much of a “good” thing bore you down!  Try some of these ideas to still maintain the freedom of a vacation, but also keep your summer exiting and memorable.

1. Travel

Planning a fun road trip with some high school friends, or perhaps college friends who live nearby, is a great option and relatively inexpensive if you split the gas cost amongst four or five people.  Another alterative could be driving to visit other friends a few cities away, which then provides you with a place to stay overnight without having to pay hotel/motel fees.  Or, if you’ve decided to save up for a travel splurge, going abroad or flying domestically – either to tour or visit friends – is very rewarding and calls for a great way to spend some of your vacation.

2. Get a Job

While working isn’t always the ideal way to spend a summer, the money racked in can more than make up for it.  A summer job doesn’t necessarily have to be related to retail or food service.  There are a lot of opportunities to make good money but also enjoy what you’re doing (but that’s not to say that some retail and food service jobs will never meet that criteria!).  Working at a day camp or water park is a good option if you like working with kids.  You can serve either as a counselor or a lifeguard, be able to relax in the sun all day, but still earn your keep.  Babysitting is another viable option if you have the qualifications and the ability to reach out to your community as a trusted sitter.

3. Do Some Summer Cleaning

If you’re one of those people (like me!) who enjoy cleaning out that cluttered basement or garage, take on one of those projects this summer.  It’s a great way to be on your feet and concentrate on a worthwhile task at the same time.  Once the space is cleared, you can even decorate and make the place more “live-able”—who knows, you might have just created a new summer hangout spot!  Even better, your parents may offer to pay you a small sum for the service.

4. Make Some Money off of Your Clutter

Once you’ve cleaned out that living space, you’re probably going to find a lot of old furniture/toys/clothing that you don’t really need anymore (or didn’t even remember having as a kid!).  Talk it over with your parents and see if a garage sale might not be a bad idea.  Other options for your nicer furnishings are to take them to a consignment store in your area.  These stores will typically accept and display your belongings on the storefront for a specified amount of time (perhaps 60-90 days on average) and cut you part of the profits if they sell.  Many other thrift stores will pay you cash on the spot for your items (usually in the clothing and toys category).  Hop online and type in those keywords and your zip code to find such places near you.

5. Earn Money by Taking Surveys

On those slow days when you’re not sure what to do, and feel like making some extra cash, enroll in a few online survey websites that pay you by check or by PayPal for the redemption of a certain amount of points.  This is fun if you already love sharing your opinion.  However, always check first to make sure the site is legitimate (there are scams out there, after all).  The best way to do this is by searching for reviews online by people who have used the site, and likewise by checking the Better Business Bureau website for accreditation.  Once you find the right survey site, you can take multiple questionnaires that may award you points immediately so that the site knows what kind of surveys to match you up with.  It is also recommended by survey takers that you join multiple panels to yield better results and increase the amount of surveys that you qualify for (you will screen out after the first few questions if your answers don’t match the type of person the survey giver wants).  Despite that, if you put the time and effort into it, you can rack up enough points that can be redeemed for a cash payout, or other type of reward.  Just make sure you understand how each site regulates their points/payout system, and you’re good to go!  You won’t get rich off of this by any means, but you may make some spending money.

6. Take on a Crafting Project

I’m also one of those people who love being creative.  One of my early summer projects this month was making a T-shirt quilt out of some old shirts I found shoved into the back of my dresser.  Seeing as I already had sewing materials, the shirts, and one black throw blanket to sew them onto, it only cost me approximately $15 to complete:  $10 for another black throw to sew as the back of the quilt, and $5 for some quilt batting from the local crafting store.  It’s an excellent way to keep yourself busy and make something useful at the same time!

7. Exercise

Whether it’s joining a local gym for the summer, jogging around the neighborhood, or exercising at home, keeping active is a great way to avoid gaining weight during a summer of being stagnant, and to promote positive energy and self-esteem.  Exercising outside especially helps you to get a safe amount of sun (as long as you monitor how long you’re outside and make sure to wear sunscreen) and release more endorphins.  Make it a group activity when you can as well.  Exercising in a social setting can make the act of exercising in itself more enjoyable and doable.  And in the end, who doesn’t want to come back to school in the fall looking their best?

8. Attend a Seminar or Workshop

If there’s something you’re really interested in but don’t have time to pursue at school, summer is the perfect opportunity to let that interest take hold.  If you like art or writing, for example, take some summer writing workshops or art classes that may be offered at your local library or on a nearby school’s campus.  Explore something you’ve always wanted to try, but just never had the time to.

9. Explore the City

I never knew how many attractions were available in my own hometown until after I had already gone away to college.  When I came home for my first summer, many of my college friends who were also from my hometown (but had attended other high schools), showed me a wide array of places I had never been to.  Keep an eye out for areas of town that have great restaurants, bars, and clubs for that fun Friday night with your friends—but also check for some good theatre, museums, and concerts that you may have never known existed.  Larger city parks (like, for me, Forest Park in St. Louis) usually house more than one of these attractions, so just by traveling to one area you can discover a multitude of fun activities.  But as always, remember to stay in a group if you’re in an unfamiliar part of town.  Be safe—while also being classy!

10. Take Some “You” Time!

While it’s great to have an eventful summer, remember to relax and focus on you.  Some alone time can be a good thing.  Keep a journal, decorate your room, shop around the mall—do something that you enjoy that doesn’t necessarily have to be done with other people all the time.

Your entire summer shouldn’t be limited to these ten things, but the most important concept is making sure that you maintain an active summer but also get that feeling of elation.  After all, you did make it through that school year; perhaps you didn’t get all the grades you wanted, or perhaps you were more stressed out than you would have liked.  But regenerating over the summer can certainly lead to a more positive school year in the fall.  The more relaxed and prepared you are for the upcoming semester, the more successful you will be.

 

 

Should Fine Arts Majors Pursue MFAs?

We’ve heard it before.  You’re sitting perhaps at the library, in the dining hall, or somewhere else around campus and you hear the conversation between the biology/pre-med student and the art major.  They’re having a “colorful” argument about who’s bound to get the higher-paying job.  Sometimes it’s not a specific conversation you hear, but just a general consensus at school that pre-business, pre-law, and pre-med students will naturally earn more money in the long run.

When it comes down to it, this could be true a lot of the time.  Working in a much-needed field usually renders an opportunity to land a job sooner and with higher benefits.  So for us arts majors (I’m currently studying Creative Writing and Dance at my school), we are left with a dilemma:  are our futures unsecured?

Not necessarily.  When you get creative (literally), you’ll find that there are a lot of opportunities you can have as a fine arts student.  Just because you may not be attending a conservatory or an arts school doesn’t mean you won’t have job security (and likewise, just by attending one of those schools doesn’t always guarantee you will have job security).

In the end, it comes down to your own abilities and skills.  However, some people think that’s not enough, and hence we introduce the Master of Fine Arts option (MFA).

There are various reasons that arts majors prefer to go to graduate school for an MFA.  The benefits include:

The opportunity to harness your skills in an educational setting for a little while longer

The possibility of more job security if the employer is looking for someone with a higher degree than just an associate’s or bachelor’s

The possibility of more job security if the employer is looking for someone with a higher degree than just an associate’s or bachelor’s

The potential for higher pay

The ability to teach at a university (graduate degrees are required to do so)

It’s great for your resume in general

Many MFA programs (like in Creative Writing, for example) will cover much, if not all, of the cost to attend

However, given the possible benefits, there are also drawbacks to consider when looking at programs:

The cost to apply (application fee + ordering official transcripts, if required)

The cost to attend (if not enough financial aid is offered)

If a future employer is choosing based primarily on talent and skill, an MFA does not always cut it (great for the resume, but only your work samples will push you to the top)

Even with an MFA, if an employer would like to see someone with experience, your education level does not always suffice

As a rising senior at my university, I am also in this dilemma.  It requires quite a chunk of change to apply to these programs.  I also need to consider the fact that an MFA might help my resume, but based on where I apply to work, I could also need prior experience in my field.

The Solution? 

Feel free to apply to a few MFA programs your senior year, perhaps the ones you want to go to most.  If you get into some, that’s great—but if not, you now have plenty of opportunities to gain experience in the working world.  Your GRE scores are good for five years as well, so you don’t have to retake that graduate school exam during that period of time.  Sometimes, if you’re fortunate, after you decide to go for an MFA later on your employer may pay some, or all, of your tuition.

Many MFA programs, after all, are like employers in a sense.  They like to see someone with experience in their field as well—and both have the ability to benefit you in the course of your career.