Special Guest Writer-Avery Thompson: Tips for Students with Disabilities

Fellow readers,

I challenge you to the simple task of tying your shoes. Easy right? Oh, I forgot to mention one thing. Tie your shoes with one hand behind your back and your left eye covered. I challenge you again. Attend a university, community college, or any form of post-high school education. Easy right? Now endure your schooling with a learning or physical disability. A disability is any mental or physical condition serving as a limitation or hindrance on movements, activities, or senses. I offer up this scenario to give you an idea of the life of a college student with disabilities which include added difficulties to everyday endeavors.

There is a social stigma regarding the word “disabled.” It is this 3 syllable word that society defines as something wrong or different. Let’s all remember one thing. A disability is nothing to be ashamed of or seen as less than. I equate a disabled individual as someone who is running a race uphill while everyone else is running a straight path. I can attest to these tips because I apply them to my life every day after I had a retinal detachment at age 17. After several surgeries, my vision was left extremely impaired. Although this has caused limitations and issues within my academic career, I won’t allow this to define me or be a setback to my future. Disabilities, including my retinal detachment, are not academic-ending impairments. My hope is to offer tips for college success to those who have disabilities or those with relationships with disabled individuals.

Let’s run this race together

1) Accept Help

As a disabled student, you have been given a challenging aspect in your life and academic career. Because of this challenge, most institutions provide accommodations to aid these obstacles; accept this help and take advantage of it. At first, I did not want to get any help; I just wanted to tough it out and do it on my own. I finally and realized that the Disability Resource Center is there to help me; I needed their help. If you have been given extra time on exams, use it. If you have been given alternative options like paper copies, use them. If you have been given copies of visual note presentations, use them. If you have been given assistive technologies like audio or braille books or audio note translators, use them. Exploit these resources. Also, exploit resources that are given campus wide; I urge you to go to office hours to form relationships with your professors and use tutoring resources. Make good use of the opportunities you have been given.

2. Plan, plan, and plan!

I believe the most vital task for academic success is applying effort into creating and executing a plan. This will set the tone for your intentions for optimal performance. Tools like Google Calendar, for example, are free and allow users to plan and track day-to-day duties. The tool that has helped me the most is keeping an academic calendar. Filling out academic calendars allows you to view your current and upcoming assignments from different viewpoints including daily, weekly, and monthly. It is beneficial to look ahead at upcoming assignments, but don’t look so far ahead that you create unwanted and unnecessary mental and emotional strains. The viewpoint that has been the most helpful to me is the weekly approach. I start at the very beginning of each week and make a list of what I will need to accomplish that week. Furthermore, it is helpful to add a task to your list immediately after gaining knowledge about that task; this is most useful for those who have memory troubles. Also, order tasks by urgency. Planning through academic calendars and lists equip you to stay on task and not take in too much information.

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3. Organize and Manipulate Studying Methods

Every individual, disabled or not, prefers and succeeds in certain study methods over others. No matter the method… have a method! It may take trial and error but acquire a study method that is specialized to your particular strengths and weaknesses regarding your disability. The most beneficial study method for my set of circumstances is flash cards. I transfer my consolidated notes to flashcards right after class; this is an automatic review session and forces you to acknowledge the material when it is fresh in your brain. While using flashcards, color coding the cards or using various colors of ink allows you to generate the information in a grouping fashion. Whether you use flashcards or not, studying works best during “prime mental time” which is the time you are most productive. While studying, find an adequate environment that will aid in keeping you focused. Decide if your study environment needs to be quiet vs. background noise, alone vs. study partners, or outside vs. inside of various locations. General study tips can include rewriting important definitions or formulas for memorization, doing practice problems or exams, taking breaks, and creating mnemonic devices for mental associations.

4. Utilize All Resources

There are endless avenues of assistance that are intended to extend a helping hand. In other words, seek help beyond local resources. For those with learning disabilities, the National Center for Learning Disabilities empowers student, revolutionizes education, campaigns for equal rights, and provides scholarships and awards. Also, for those with speech disorders, the American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association aims to provide educational resources, and the Center for Hearing and Communication includes up to date information on speech technology. There are a wide range of disabilities but an even wider range of outlets that administer support and services.

problem-2731501_960_720.jpgUltimately, you need to understand that disabilities DO NOT inhibit or eliminate academic success. Focusing on positive features of your disability will lead to a positive outlook in your academic career. College is a pivotal stepping stone in the path of life. Whether you will embark on this journey in the future or are enduring the journey right now, just know college is demanding when carrying a disability on your shoulders. Although it’s difficult, you can make it easier by accepting help, planning, manipulating study methods, and utilizing all resources.

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

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Study Abroad: A Student’s Viewpoint

College students often dream of studying abroad and how it’ll be the “experience of a lifetime”. More often than not, when you ask a friend how their time was abroad, they’ll reply with a short sentence or two, which ends up focusing around an enthusiastic “Fantastic!”. There has to be a more descriptive answer than that, right? What happens that leaves such an impact on participants? I believe the majority of students completely fail to put influential experiences into words.

My name is Josh Benner and I lived Mitaka City on the western edge of Tokyo, Japan during the Summer 2018 semester. If you ask me how my trip abroad was, I would respond by saying that it was one of the most rewarding, exciting, stressful 7 weeks of my life. In this post, I hope to holistically approach different aspects of living abroad and how they have helped me develop as a person, student and professional.

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What was the first week like?

The first week living abroad was a whirlwind of emotions. I stepped off the plane and was instantly bombarded with a culture so incredibly different than my own. I had to take many short breaks throughout the week to process everything around me. The biggest challenge of my trip was communicating and figuring out where I needed to go. I have never been too confident in my Japanese skills, so I had to overcome my anxiety of using a foreign language to even leave the airport. Surviving this first week made me feel like all of the social fears at home were nothing in comparison. In this first week, I had to figure out how to use a foreign train system, ask for directions an obscene number of times, order food, check out at convenient stores, and hold conversations with people in a language that I was not comfortable with. In this short time, I had overcome so many challenges that doing anything in the US seemed easier in comparison.

What was the scariest part about going abroad for you and how did you overcome those fears?

            I had so many fears about going abroad: the trip there, navigating, culture-shock, etc. In case you weren’t aware, EVERYONE has fears about studying abroad when it comes down to it. Who wouldn’t be at least the slightest bit nervous about living somewhere completely new?! I learned that I couldn’t let this fear prevent me from making this summer the experience of a lifetime. I had a metaphorical tattoo on my forehead that said “no regrets” in a sense. I got to the point eventually where I enjoyed putting myself in uncomfortable situations, simply because I knew I would grow as a result. Studying abroad is the perfect time for you to face your fears. In life at home, we often avoid uncomfortable situations and our insecurities and anxieties remain, because we can simply walk the other direction. But while studying abroad, you may be forced to deal with these things, but the rewards are incredible. For someone as shy as I am, I was able to grow exponentially. I still reap the benefits now, months after returning.

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How did you handle classes while abroad?

One skill I feel like I truly mastered was time management. My goal was to make sure that I visited all the places I wanted, while still excelling in my courses. I had classes 3.5 hours a day, 5 days a week, all in Japanese. Classes and homework kept me busy, but I forced myself to make time to take the bus to the station for dinner with friends, or to the next town over to shop for a bit. Studying abroad is by no means a vacation. You’ll be tired, busy, and frankly a little sweaty, but the joy and excitement of simply living abroad and experiencing all there is to do will make the time and effort very much worth it.

In short, studying abroad is a time of rapid growth, as well as emotion highs and lows. If you have the opportunity about studying abroad or are still on the fence about whether you want to make the effort, know that you will hands-down have the time of your life and will benefit from the experience for years to come.

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Life as a College Student Athlete: Keeping the Right Perspective

     It seems that a lot has been written about student-athletes in college, but often this writing skips past the challenges that these individuals face balancing their lives. No matter what the sport, big time men’s basketball or less publicized women’s tennis, student athletes have a difficult task negotiating the academics and athletics. Over my 30 years as a Professor, I have taught and supervised hundreds of student-athletes. I have talked to them a bit about dealing with college with dual-demands, but I never took the time to really understand how these individuals manage their lives. For this post, however, I talked at length with Jenny Schaper, a star catcher on the University of Kentucky women’s softball team (coached by Rachel Lawson) to try and uncover what it is like to be a college student athlete. Below is our conversation.

Dr. Golding: How do you manage your athletic and academic schedules?

Jenny: I have a lot of late nights and a lot of early mornings. I’m pretty much used to it now. It was a lot harder when I was a freshman to manage everything because freshman year you had to have mandatory 8 study hall hours a week on top of class and practice and adjusting to college life so I think freshman year was a lot tougher. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned my own time management techniques.

Dr. Golding Did anyone ever tell you about time management skills?

Jenny: We have an academic advisor and she’s really helpful. Freshmen go through orientation, where they’re talked to about grades, time management, getting your work done, all that kind of stuff, I think that’s really helpful. But it is a lot on yourself just figure it out and kind of learn as you go. There’s usually about five or six other girls in an incoming class who are doing the same thing as you. Our coach actually made us fill out time sheets our freshman year. The day was broken up into 30-minute segments every day, and you had to write what you were going to be doing every thirty minutes of the day. I know, it’s a little excessive, but it helped you think about what you had to get done. Stuff like that was really helpful.

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Dr. Golding: Have there been times where you had to make a decision between studying, for example, and going to practice, or working out on your own? Or do you find that you manage things so well that that doesn’t really come up?

Jenny: You never really have to pick one or the other. Our coach, personally, is really good about school coming first. She’s a very big believer in that. Just last week, one of our girls was struggling a little bit with her grades, so the coach didn’t take her on our away trip so she could stay and do schoolwork. I guess there was a choice where she picked academic over athletic, but personally, I’ve never had to not participate in something in order to get schoolwork done.

Dr. Golding Do you talk to your professors about being an athlete?

Jenny: Most don’t ask. You’re the one who asks about it. I’ve never had any professors have issues with it, but girls on my team have.

Dr. Golding: Professors who said that your teammates couldn’t miss class?

Jenny: Yes. My roommate this year—a professor told that she should quit softball to take the class more seriously. And she’s a 4.0 student, so it’s not like it’s causing problems. She stayed in the class. She was like, “I’m going to prove her wrong, I’m going to show her that I can do it.”

Dr. Golding Are you ever jealous of students who aren’t participating in sports?

Jenny: Sometimes, especially around the holidays I get very jealous. We have to come back January 2 every year, just to start practicing. We get about two weeks for Christmas, which is nice, but most students get about a month. We’ve never gotten a spring break. Plus, I stay here over the summer just to work out. Definitely, at times like that, yes I’m jealous. I’m not so much jealous of the party scene, but just of having free time.

Dr. Golding: When you’re here in the summer, you can’t have an actual job, right?

Jenny: You can, but you just have to register it. And you can’t get any special perks. That’s a really big violation.

studentAthlete-studying.jpgDr. Golding: You’re a junior now. What advice would you give to freshmen about how they have to think about being in college, because it’s so different from being in high school?

Jenny: You have to know yourself, and you have to understand what kind of student and worker you are. The most important thing is your choices. You could choose to sit down and do your homework, or you could choose to hang out with your friends. It’s about where you want to succeed in life. One thing I remember my coach saying was that in college you can be good at athletics, academics, or partying, and she said you can be good at two out of the three, but you can’t be good at all three. So it’s your priorities, really.

Dr. Golding: What keeps you so motivated to do well? A lot of students who aren’t athletes could learn from the athletes.

Jenny: I think that being an athlete has taught me how to work hard for things, and that things aren’t just going to be given to you. You have to actually earn them. I think very highly of myself and of the people I like to associate myself with. I take a lot of pride in being able to be a successful athlete and a successful student, and I think that just being able to say that I do it and I do it well is important to me.

After talking to Jenny (and I hope you will agree), I have a much greater appreciation for what it is like to be a student athlete, and the demands you must deal with to succeed both academically and athletically. Of course, thanks to Jenny and best of luck to her as she moves on to her senior year!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Dealing with the Cost of Textbooks

At this time of year, rising freshmen either are having summer orientation or are about to, and they will certainly hear about something all students have to think about each semester—the cost of textbooks. This is not a small matter, because textbooks can end up costing hundreds of dollars each semester, and it seems that each year the cost of textbooks is a bigger and bigger chunk of college expenses. When I was in college, amazingly 40 years ago, there really was no question—everyone bought the textbook for each class. Of course, things have changed a lot over the years, and you now have several options to consider when dealing with textbook costs.

Before making any decisions concerning textbooks, be clear whether each of your classes requires a textbook. This information is always in the syllabus for each class, but you can also check with your college bookstore to see what is required. Remember that classes may: (a) have no required textbook; (b) require you to buy a physical textbook (new or used), an ebook of the textbook, or either; (c) require you to buy a new physical textbook that includes a digital code for online access to certain information; or (d) may not require a textbook, but recommend a textbook. In this last case, you may have to wait a few weeks to determine whether you need to be reading the textbook.

If you do have a required textbook, there are several ways to deal with costs. I will list each way and give a few advantages and disadvantages of each.

1) Buy a new physical textbook

Advantages

  1. you can write in it, bend back tops of pages, etc.
  2. a textbook in your major may be worth keeping, as well as textbooks that help you with other course
  3. you have access to it all the time
  4. you might find it easier to read a physical textbook

Disadvantages

  1. most expensive of all the ways to deal with textbook costs, although you can reduce your costs by buying from Amazon or other online book dealers, and directly from the publisher—school bookstores are usually the highest priced for buying and renting textbook
  2. if you sell back your textbook, you will only receive a percentage of the original cost of the textbook—this percentage will decrease if the textbook is damaged (including writing/highlighting) or if a new edition is being published soon
  3. can be a pain to bring to class or the library–textbooks are usually quite heavy
  4. can be stolen

good grades-books2) Buy a used physical textbook

Advantages

  1. much cheaper than buying a new textbook
  2. used textbooks can be purchased from the same places as new textbooks
  3. you can write in it, bend back tops of pages, etc.
  4. a textbook in your major may be worth keeping, as well as textbooks that help you with other courses

Disadvantages

  1. although you can sell back a used textbook, but you will likely receive much less than selling back a new textbook—this amount will depend on the textbook’s condition (including writing/highlighting in the textbook) or if a new edition is being published soon
  2. can be a pain to bring to class or the library–textbooks are usually quite heavy
  3. can be stolen

3) Buy an ebook

Advantages

  1. it is much cheaper than buying the physical textbook
  2. you do not have to bring the textbook with you to class or the library—you can access the ebook as long as you can get to a computer
  3. cannot be stolen

Disadvantages

  1. you need a computer to read it, and some people do not like reading on a computer
  2. you cannot sell it back
  3. you cannot write directly in an ebook
  4. you cannot keep it—most ebooks are good for the semester you bought it for

4) Rent a physical book

Advantages

  1. it is significantly cheaper than buying a new physical textbook or ebook
  2. you are being environmentally conscious—renting typically leads to fewer textbooks, less paper, and more trees
  3. if you decide to buy your rental textbook at the end of the semester, you can typically do so

Disadvantages

  1. if you damage a rental textbook (e.g., writing/highlighting in it) you will be charged the full price of the textbook
  2. there are usually strict deadlines for turning the rental textbook back in
  3. sometimes rental companies do not have the edition you need
  4. can be a pain to bring to class or the library–textbooks are usually quite heavy

5) Rent an ebook

Advantages

  1. it is significantly cheaper than buying a new physical textbook or ebook
  2. you are being environmentally conscious—renting typically leads to fewer textbooks, less paper, and more trees
  3. you do not have to bring the textbook with you to class, but can access the ebook as long as you can get to a computer
  4. will not be stolen

Disadvantages

  1. sometimes rental companies do not have the edition you need
  2. you need a computer to read it, and some people do not like reading on a computer
  3. you cannot sell it back
  4. you cannot write directly in an ebook
  5. you cannot keep it—most ebooks are only good for the semester you bought it for

girlread-868786_6406) Share a textbook or ebook with one or more classmates—an option that I feel more students should at least consider

Advantages

  1. may be the cheapest way to deal with costs, depending on the number of students who share with you
  2. may promote working with others
  3. you are being environmentally conscious—sharing (at least for physicaltextbooks) will lead to fewer textbooks, less paper, and more trees
  4. you do not have to be in control of the textbook at all times

Disadvantages

  1. coordinating how the textbook will be shared can be difficult, and may lead to you not having the textbook when you need it
  2. the writing/highlighting in the textbook by others may negatively impact your reading and studying
  3. each member of your “sharing group” may be required to bring the textbook to class on certain days, but that will be impossible

7) Reading a textbook that your Instructor puts on reserve at the library or another site on campus—does not occur that often

Advantages

  1. no cost
  2. you are being environmentally conscious—reading a reserve copy will lead to fewer textbooks, less paper, more trees
  3. you do not have to bring the textbook with you to class or the library
  4. will not be stolen

Disadvantages

  1. you can only get access to the textbook when the textbook’s location is open
  2. you cannot write in the textbook
  3. others may be reading the textbook when you want to read it
  4. you cannot keep it

So there you go. It is a lot to think about, but important, because as I said earlier, textbook costs will be a constant during your years in college. Think about what will work best for you. Good Luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Use the Summer For Career Planning!!!

Summer Break is starting, and although everyone needs to refresh, this break is a perfect time to work on career planning. Despite students having this free time, I keep meeting with undergrads (often in their junior and senior years) after the summer who have wasted their summer months and done absolutely nothing with regard to career planning Of course, these students have made a major mistake that typically leads to a great deal of anxiety and frustration with each passing day.

What should students be doing during the summer? Before anything, they need to get a better handle on the idea that career planning: (a) starts sooner versus later (e.g., immediately upon entering college); and (b) requires a lot of time and effort. In some ways career planning is a never-ending process until one really gets immersed in a career path (e.g., attends graduate school). It is unclear whether these individuals thought a career was going to be thrown into their laps.

doors-1767563_640Once a person gets a clue that career planning is a process that requires a lot of time and effort, they need to get off their butt (you heard me right!) and be an active participant in their career planning. There are people who can help with career planning, like Professors and careers counselors, but the real nitty-gritty of career planning requires a person to move forward on their own. In my mind, one can active in their career planning by navigating a series of “steps”. Keep in mind that these steps are not necessarily sequential, they can occur during the school year and in the summer, and they can definitely overlap. Here we go:

(1) Take certain courses

Whether you are taking formal courses on a college campus, or completing online courses, there are certain courses you should consider that go well beyond typical introductory courses, and that will group together based on your career direction. For example, someone focused on a career in mental health may select courses like Personality, Abnormal Psychology and Child Psychopathology. However, someone with an interest in Law may select Forensic Psychology and other law-related courses in other majors (e.g., Political Science, Criminology). I should note that if you plan on going to graduate school or professional school the selection committees will also like to see that you took challenging courses (e.g., math and science courses).

(2) Do well in your courses

Whether it is a graduate school or job, selection committees want to see good grades. It’s pretty simple, if you were choosing someone, who would you pick, the person with the higher or lower GPA. Remember that your record is evaluated on a number of grading dimensions: grades in certain courses, overall GPA, GPA in your major, GPA in your minor (if you have one), last two years in college GPA, and maintaining a high GPA from your freshman year on. I will add that if you do not get an A or B in a course you should probably repeat the course, especially if it was a course in your major.

(3) Don’t just go to class

It is important that you highlight your motivation and interest in whatever you hope to have a career. One way you can do this in college is to get involved in research, whatever your major. I can hear some of you now arguing that research is not what you want to do. The key is that getting involved in research (not even in the exact area as your main interest) shows you are motivated and interested in a specific area. Getting involved in research can also possibly increase your GPA if your research is part of a course. Finally, by conducting research you get to know a faculty member who can write you a strong letter of recommendation when you are ready to apply to graduate school or for a job.

Other ways to get involved in activities outside of the classroom are through an internship, involvement in extracurricular activities (e.g., volunteering), joining an organization tied in to your interest area, and/or work experience related to your area of interest.

(4) Develop critical skills

Whatever career path you take will require you to have critical skills over and above your general knowledge. It will be important for you to develop skills in computers, writing, and oral communication that will supplement what you already know. Such skills are invaluable for whatever you do in the future. Start developing these skills right away!

(5) Visit the Career Center

If you are on a college campus, is there a Career Center? Do you know where it is located? Have you ever visited the Career Center? For most students, it is sad to say that the answer is probably “no” to all of these questions. But, the Career Center is a definite place you should visit—probably more than once. The professional staff at a career center can help you write a resume, give you advice on cover letters and personal statements, and offer an amazing array of resources on career issues like internship possibilities, job openings, entrance exams, and graduate and professional schools. In most cases, you pay for the Career Center—use it!

goalplansuccess-1240825_640-1(6) Get on the Internet

We all know that the Internet is our friend. In the case of career planning, it is can be your best friend. There is simply so much information on the Internet that you should be spending a significant amount time searching out career-related information. First, you can read through various online career sites. Of course, I will plug my own site if you are a Psychology major (scoutiescareersinpsychology.org), because I think it can be really helpful. Of course, there are a variety of other online sites for other majors, but be wary of sites that emphasize a lot of for-profit schools. Second, there are government sites that give a lot of information on various career paths—one great site is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Second, every school that has a graduate/professional degree program will have a site. Third, a lot of good sites exist about preparing for entrance exams (GRE, LSAT, MCAT, etc.). These exams are not to be taken lightly, and can be the difference between getting accepted or not accepted to a school. One last thought on searching the Internet. Make sure you take your time searching–do not think you will accomplish everything in an afternoon. There is a lot of information you will have to read through, so plan accordingly.

(7) Interact with Professors (if in college) or your boss (if working)

To move forward with your career requires having the support of superiors. Gaining this support will require your superiors to actually know you. Think about it, how can your Professor or your boss write you a letter of recommendation unless they know something about you. Thus, start interacting with your superiors. Talk to them. For example, you might make a contribution in class or just visit your Professor during office hours and have a conversation about issues in their field of study. These interactions can lead to certain jobs, hearing about job openings, and (of course) a letter of recommendation. I know it might be tough talking to a superior, but it is really important to get over your fear and interact. You’ll be surprised how easy it is, and you will reap the benefits.

Now that you know the things that you should be doing, I hope you will start moving forward with your career plans. Again, I know you just want to have fun during the summer, but is an ideal time to get started planning for the future—your future!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Special Guest Writer–Amara Tanweer (undergraduate): Take Advantage of Education Abroad!

Like many students, I thought studying abroad was an experience I just was not destined to have. I only began to consider it towards the end of my sophomore year of college. There were several reasons for deciding to pursue this opportunity. First, it gave me an excuse to travel. I did not have a lot of exposure to other cultures, and I thought this had hindered my growth and perspective as a person. Second, studying abroad would assist with the pursuit of my career and educational goals. I am planning to get a doctorate in clinical or counseling psychology, and I thought studying abroad would make me stick out from my competitors. Third, I would not be opposed to working abroad upon completing my advanced degree, and I believed that being exposed to other cultures and understanding a culture’s impact on psychological techniques, would prepare me to be a better psychologist. Finally, I wanted to challenge myself – to throw myself into the unknown and make the best of it.

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The logistics of selecting a program was not as difficult as I thought it would be. The Education Abroad Office at my university was a tremendous help with the application and payment process, and I utilized their assistance frequently. I decided to study abroad the Spring semester of my Junior year. I did not want to go during the Fall semester because there was a possibility of overlapping dates with some programs. That is, the end date of the study abroad program could go past the first few days of classes of the spring semester at my home university. I selected an “exchange” program, which essentially meant that I paid the same amount of tuition as at my home university. I am an in-state student, so this worked out in my favor. In addition, it was important that I chose a study abroad program that was affordable. I chose the cheapest program in terms of housing costs as well as overall cost of living in the particular region I was looking at. Related to this last point, I applied for and received several education abroad scholarships, which helped significantly. The study abroad program I selected was the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, England.

studyabroad2Overall, my education abroad experience was incredible, and I am humbled to have had this time overseas. I would highly recommend studying abroad as it provides valuable life lessons. I accomplished all of my goals, gained valuable insight into how culture can affect psychology, and was able to network with many professors and other students. I will end on this note: studying abroad is not an opportunity that is out of reach. There are many benefits, and with the help of your school’s Education Abroad office, it really is much more feasible than you realize!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Special Guest Writer–Amber Sexton: Preparing for Medical School–What Should Be Your Major?

From a young age, I was entirely certain of the career path I wanted to pursue- medicine. While I totally understand that everyone reading this might not say the same, I know some of you have the same career aspirations as myself. So, for those of you with every intention of going to medical school, this is for you!

Let’s rewind almost four years to the summer before my matriculation here at the University of Kentucky. Though on the edge of huge change in my life, there were a few things I was very sure would remain constant as I began college, one of those being my passion for medicine. So I knew what my end goal was, but I still had one important decision to make.

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What should I major in?

You all faced the same question with lots of inward reflection and thought, I’m sure. For me, and I imagine for you as well, the decision was multi-faceted. Of course, my biggest concern was “what major/degree would help me most in applying to medical school?” I considered which major would be impressive to medical school admissions committees, which major would “diversify” me in an applicant pool, which major would best prep me for the MCAT (the standardized test required of all medical school applicants), and which major would be best to juggle alongside the prerequisite courses I planned to take.

With these questions I couldn’t answer, I sought advice from my older brother who, at the time, was a fourth year medical student preparing to begin residency. I applied his advice to my own journey. Now, as I prepare to graduate from UK and begin medical school in the fall, I will pass the same advice given to me to you:

Truthfully, with respect to admission to and preparation for medical school, it does not matter what major you choose.

Now, with a surplus of options, here are a few helpful things to consider when narrowing your choice:

  1. First and foremost, choose something you have genuine interest in studying. This subject will be something you immerse yourself in for four years. Don’t choose to major in electrical engineering if you hate math but you think it will impress a medical school admissions committee. Not only will you make it much harder to succeed in your coursework, but also you’ll make yourself absolutely miserable. The two things that will impress admissions committees are a great GPA and a great MCAT score. To bust the myth of biology and/or chemistry degrees: while some of you choosing to pursue medicine may have a genuine interest in studying biology and/or chemistry in depth, these two majors are not one-way tickets to medical school. So, don’t feel pressured to choose one of them as your major.
  2. Understand that there are specific prerequisite courses that medical schools require you take prior to beginning medical school. Though these are mostly consistent from school to school, you should check with each specific medical school you’re interested in to ensure you take what is necessary. If you choose a major other than biology, chemistry, etc., also remember that it is your responsibility to work those prereqs into your schedule. You’ll want to have the bulk of these prerequisites completed prior to sitting for the MCAT.
  3. Be prepared to explain why you chose your major. If you choose to major in theater and vocal performance, for example, yet you want to attend medical school, you should have strong reasons for why you chose this major and, of course, why you want to be a doctor. If you major in something rather atypical for pre-med students, interviewers at medical schools will almost always ask you about it. Don’t worry- they aren’t necessarily trying to grill you, they genuinely want to know you and your interests.

operation-afamerc-medschoolAs for me, I chose to pursue a degree in psychology. After taking one psychology class in high school, I became incredibly interested in studying psychology in depth. I believe that as a professional expected to treat humans, it’s absolutely imperative to somewhat understand their behaviors and motivations. I wholeheartedly believe that my degree in psychology will help me to become the best physician I can be.

Best of luck with all of your endeavors!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.