7 Common Mistakes That Can Seriously Hurt Your GPA

Posted Thursday, May 29, 2014

Your GPA (grade point average) is more than just a number; it’s one of the few ways you’re able to assess your progress and learning throughout your college career. But getting the GPA you want, or the GPA you are truly capable of, can be hard. Even though you are the one in control of your education and future, it may not always feel that way. 

Poor grades are often the result of poor habits, not poor intellect. The wrong decisions can hurt your GPA. You already know how to work harder; you just need to learn how to work smarter. With that in mind, avoid these common mistakes to earn a GPA that will truly reflect your genius:

Managing your time poorly.

Perhaps the biggest mistake students make, poor time management affects productivity, organization, self-control, and ultimately, grades. Studying and completing your schoolwork should be a top priority, and your planning and efforts should reflect that.

Completing work late or not at all.

Days and weeks seem to fly by (and honestly, years, too); time just seems to slip away. Between business trips, carpools and basic household responsibilities, we lose track of time. And now, there’s a paper due in 12 hours?!  How is it supposed to get done – on time? Not completing work or handing it in late can seriously impact your course grade. Stay on track by writing down due dates and consciously checking your course syllabi so you’ll never miss an assignment, and get a poor grade on something you could have excelled at. 

Not getting involved in the discussion.

Many courses require you to participate in course discussions posted on the discussion board, creating dialogue and interacting with your classmates to assess your understanding of course material. The sharing of ideas, opinions and opposing viewpoints makes for a more colorful and well-rounded conversation. Participating very little, or not at all, is a sure fire way to watch your course grade plummet.

Not taking advantage of free tutoring services.

As a Thomas Edison State College student, you’re given access to multiple free resources to help you succeed. One of them is access to SMARTHINKING, an online tutorial service free of charge for students actively enrolled in courses, and found within the links of each course you are taking. It is extremely helpful for specific subjects (think mathematics, Spanish, accounting, chemistry and more) and offers free writing help. If you feel your grades slipping, be proactive and use a tutor, so your grades don’t suffer.

Not studying regularly.

If you’re a procrastinator, your favorite mantra may be the “I’ll just do it later” statement you try to convince yourself over and over again. But putting off course readings and materials, even for a little while, can affect your grades and overall GPA. Study regularly to increase information retention, and ultimately eliminate the need to cram for an exam. 

Not setting clear goals

When you set goals, you set yourself up for success. These goals will help you identify your priorities and the actions you need to take to achieve them. Whether it’s short term (like creating notecards for an upcoming exam), or long term (creating a degree plan with your academic advisor so you can ultimately graduate), the importance you place on your goals will impact your work. Know what you want out of your schoolwork, and how to get there, and great grades will follow. 

Not getting enough sleep

Sleep is often the first to go on our agenda – between running the kids around, client calls and writing your final paper, where is sleep supposed to fit in? Yet, poor sleep habits decrease your energy and increase your difficulty to keep up. Sleep should be a top priority – the right amount will drastically improve your day-to-day energy level, and therefore, keep you focused and on task so you can accomplish not only a great GPA, but also some other activities to boot.


What common mistakes do you think students should watch out for? Share them in the comments for the greater good!

Tags: Online Tools and Resources , Study Tips , Taking Courses , Time Management , Work-Life Balance

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What’s a Capstone Project? And Why Do I Have to Take It?

Posted Thursday, May 22, 2014

Donald S. Cucuzzella, MA Assistant Director
School of Applied Science and Technology
Donald S. Cucuzzella, MA Assistant Director School of Applied Science and Technology

By Donald S. Cucuzzella, MA
 Assistant Director
School of Applied Science and Technology

Over the years, I’ve frequently heard students grumble about taking a capstone course or project, that one last step before graduation as outlined by their degree requirements.

“Why do I have to take it?”
“Do I really have to take this?”
“What is the point of all this!”

This final course may seem daunting or frustrating, but once it’s completed, the capstone often becomes one of the most rewarding and valuable experiences in a student’s college career.

The capstone course is the last class in a program of study. It’s called a capstone because it represents a crowning achievement as a capstone does in architecture. For some degree programs, a capstone course may require a project and subsequent presentation; for others, it may include an assessment exam to test interdisciplinary skills (like math, writing, critical thinking, etc.). A capstone may also involve a final research paper exploring a topic of interest, emerging from a student’s individualized program of study. Ultimately, a capstone project represents new work and ideas, and gives you the opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge and skills you have gained during your college career.

Not only does a capstone course allow us to substantiate if students are learning the necessary skills needed to continue onto success after graduation (and we’ve made changes to courses and degree requirements to better assist students in this manner), but the completion of a capstone project can be used for an employment portfolio. By integrating theory and practical experience, your project can set you apart from graduates of other institutions. Imagine walking into a potential employer’s office with an applied research project exploring solutions to an issue or problem the organization, or industry as a whole, has been grappling with?

A Capstone’s Purpose: Career Advancement

In the field of technology for example, one of the challenges is how rapidly it changes. Jordan Goldberg, mentor and developer of our APS-295 Associate Capstone, course said it helps ensure students are prepared to handle these changes as they start their careers. “Today, it’s important to understand the trends early on in the process, and the tools available to develop and deploy new technology,” he says.  “The capstone course uniquely brings together students from all majors within the school [of Applied Science and Technology] in an interactive and collaborative fashion to discuss and examine opportunities, challenges and issues related to technology.”

Here, students are able to look at real world examples and situations, exchange their points of view based on experiences and discuss potential solutions to problems. “ The concept of the capstone course is to provide the essential information to be able to ask the right questions and critically look at non-technical issues that have the potential to negatively impact the deployment of a new emerging technology or application,” says Goldberg. “Ultimately, this will prepare the student for a technical leadership role in their area of study as they complete their degree.”

Thomas Edison State College offers capstone courses in several of our degrees; LIB-495 Liberal Arts is required for a Bachelor of Arts degree, and APS-401 Current Trends and Applications is required for our Bachelor of Science in Applied Science and Technology degree. Our newest course is the APS-295 Associate Capstone, required for our Associate in Applied Science and our Associate in Science in Applied Science and Technology degree programs. These courses have engaged students to pursue intriguing projects, indicative of their career pursuits, including:

• Classroom accommodations for elementary age students with attention deficit disorder
• The theoretical impact of a present-day conflict between North and South Korea on the U.S.
• Evaluating public awareness of privacy issues surrounding modern technology

On Your Own Terms

In any college degree, there are courses you have to take to fulfill the general education requirements for your degree or area of study. And a capstone project, while relative to your major, allows you to choose your own subject in that discipline. When I was a graduate student studying American History, my capstone project afforded me the opportunity to research a topic that I never solely focused on in any of my courses, but was fascinated by all my life, Abraham Lincoln. 

I delved into an intense study of how the narrative of President Lincoln’s life had changed throughout the course of history, depending on when and who was writing the biography.  This was the most fun I’d ever had taking a college course because I was able to read and write about a topic I was passionate about. Meanwhile, I was able to show off the skills I’d gained during my years in college.  

So if you are required to take a capstone course, I understand if you want to grumble about it a little while. But when it’s all done, get ready for the most exhilarating feeling ever. I promise.


Are you currently working on a capstone project? Share your experience and advice in the comments below!

Tags: Majors and Degree Programs , Science and Technology , Taking Courses

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What is in a PLA Portfolio?

Posted Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Documenting everything you know on a subject or topic seems… an overwhelming task, right?


The truth is, Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is one of the most rewarding ways to earn credits because it acknowledges and validates the knowledge you have already gained in your lifetime. This is knowledge you already have – whether through work, the military, hobbies, or some kind of training – so there is no textbook or studying required!

You can earn credit for your accomplishments and capabilities by creating a portfolio through the PLA process – a written presentation that you assemble and submit to earn credit for knowledge you have, which is equivalent to what would be taught in a course. The College offers two courses to guide you through this process: PLA-100 Introduction to Prior Learning and PLA-200 Introduction to Portfolio Development. These courses will help you understand your options for earning college credit and teach you the skill of portfolio development both for your educational and future professional use. During PLA-200, you will develop and submit your portfolio for assessment to a Subject Matter Expert who has expertise in the subject area being assessed.
So what do you include in a portfolio? Where do you begin?

After you have assessed if you are a good candidate for PLA, (find that out here!) you’ll create a portfolio organized into the four main components explained below:

Review your job history, hobbies, areas of study or special training, volunteer work or other activities to help you narrow down subjects for your portfolio. Once you have identified the college-level knowledge and skills you possess, and the subject or content area to which you think they are related, you can identify an actual college course description.

You can select a course description from the PLA Course Description Database by searching keywords that best match your prior learning. If you cannot find a match there, you can locate a course description from the College catalog or from another regionally accredited college, and submit the course description for approval to an academic advisor. Ensure the portfolio course you have chosen fulfills your degree requirements, and you can demonstrate you already know the content that would be taught in that course. 

Tip: Create or expand upon your existing resume as if you were applying for a job. Detail your skills, experience and knowledge. Be as specific as possible. This exercise will enable you to develop a direction of where to begin.


After you’ve settled upon your course description, your mentor will then outline the course outcome objectives that will serve as a set of expectations and guidelines that you must demonstrate throughout your portfolio. Through these, your mentor will convey what capabilities and competencies someone would have if they had taken this course. You should be able to detail and support your knowledge of these objectives through your writing, experiences and evidence.

Tip: Because this is knowledge you already have, you must be able to explain what you know, not only through the required writing, but also as if you were conducting an interview.  Determine if you could complete the tasks outlined in the course’s learning outcomes, and can articulate that background and knowledge appropriately.

Portfolio development requires a great deal of writing, so college-level writing skills are a must, particularly as you develop your narrative. This component of your portfolio is a student statement that discusses your knowledge of the topics in the course description and correlates these to the course objectives. In the narrative, you should also address how, when, where and why you gained this knowledge, similar to a research paper that is supported by theory or concepts.

Tip: The narrative portion of your portfolio should answer four key questions:

  1. What do I know?
  2. How, when, why and where did I learn this?
  3. How have I or would I apply it?
  4. How will I prove that?


Treat this section as you would a court case; the better the evidence, the stronger your case. Your evidence may include letters of reference or support, transcripts or certificates of completed training, licenses, performance appraisals from supervisors or samples of your work, and much more. You may even include video or audio recordings, newspaper articles or websites demonstrating your experience and skills.  

Tip: Pay attention to the details. Your evidence and/or documentation must demonstrate and support all of the learning you describe in your narrative. The learning outcomes and course objectives should be reflected in your evidence. To cover theory, concepts and context for your experience, one of the most effective items is an informal, annotated bibliography. You can supply a list of publications that include the title of the book or article, the name of the author(s), its year of publication, and a few sentences that summarize the relevant contents of the publication.


Have you gone through the PLA process? What tips or advice can you offer students pursuing their own portfolios?

Tags: Advising , Prior Learning Assessment and Portfolio , Taking Courses

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10 Quick Tips for Easily Solving Your Biggest Technical Issues

Posted Thursday, May 15, 2014

By Kay Howard
Student Affairs Specialist
, Learner Support Center

The online learning environment can be a demanding one. Even with the latest advances in technology, we all run into glitches but still want them solved… yesterday. Save yourself a couple of HelpDesk tickets and frantic phone calls with these 10 foolproof resolutions to your technical issues:

Technical Issue #1: I can’t submit/upload my course assignments or drag and drop, and the page keeps getting stuck.

Solution: Are you using Internet Explorer as your browser? If you’ve ever experienced a myEdison® login fail, the inability to submit/upload course assignments, continually received a spinning loading icon or a missing submit button, the problem is normally caused by compatibility issues between Internet Explorer and Moodle. Switch your web browser to either Mozilla Firefox (download it for free, here) or Google Chrome (download it for free, here) to better function with the College’s Moodle system.

Technical Issue #2: The Moodle App doesn’t work to access courses on my mobile device!

Solution: The Moodle App (from the iOS or Android app store) is not configured for the College’s courses at this time, but you can still log into your courses with your mobile device. If you are using an:

For iPhone/iPad users: Download Google Chrome for iPhone (download it for free, here), and go to “my.tesc.edu.” The mobile page will load; go to browser settings and select “Request Desktop Site.” (The browser settings icon is composed of three horizontal lines and can be found in the top right corner of your browser window.) The desktop version should load at that point. This will allow you to log in and access your courses.

For Android device users: From the main Android browser, go to “my.tesc.edu” and log in to the portal; the mobile page will load. Bring up your browser settings, and select “Request Mobile Site.” The page will reload with the desktop version.

Technical Issue #3: I can log into Moodle but keep getting an error message whenever I click on my courses.

Solution: Re-enter your credentials if you are getting this message:

Click on the GRAY “Enter your credentials” link on the error screen above and you will come to this screen.

Re-enter your credentials, including:
• Windows User Name: firstname.lastname (no students\)
• Windows Password: (Your Password)
• Confirm Windows Password: (Your Password)

Technical Issue #4: I can’t find my College email account.

Solution: Your student email account can only be found within the myEdison® portal.
To access it, log into the College portal (my.tesc.edu). Look along the bottom left side where you'll see a block called “My unread messages.” Click the link inside of this block, and a new window will open, taking you to your College email account (which is also part of Google Apps). Along the top of this window you will also find the Google Apps navigation, which includes your Drive, Calendar, and more!

Technical Issue #5: I’m overloaded with email notifications every time my classmates post in the course discussion boards.

Solution: You can control your email notifications through three options within your profile settings: email display, email digest type and forum auto-subscribe. To find these notification settings, click on “Edit profile” within the settings block. These settings control how often you receive an email, what email account is used, what the email contains and whether or not you’re automatically subscribed to a forum in which you post.

You can also unsubscribe within the individual forums. Once you're inside the forum, look along the left side for a link that says "Unsubscribe from this forum." You can click this link to unsubscribe. For instructional videos on how to manage your profile and forum settings, visit the Moodle Video Help Site.

Technical Issue #6: I’m trying to copy and paste my assignment from a Word document into my course discussion board.

Solution: Using right click and selecting copy/paste will not work. When copying and pasting into Moodle, you will need to use keyboard commands. You can copy by pressing Ctrl+C and paste using Ctrl+V.

Technical Issue #7: I need to schedule my course midterm and final exam.

Solution: Visit the ProctorU site and create an account or log in using your ProctorU user ID and password. Select the "New exam" tab and choose your semester. Be sure to pick the right semester, as that will determine the available test dates you see. Then choose the course and exam you would like to schedule. Select a date from the calendar and a time from the drop down menu. Available dates can be seen in blue and any available slots will be shown in the drop down menu. Click "Add reservation" to add your appointment.

If you need help scheduling an appointment with ProctorU, you can call the ProctorU exam line at 205-870-8122 or email them at [email protected]. Questions regarding the format of your midterm, final or any test-related inquiry can be sent to the Office of Test Administration at [email protected]

Technical Issue#8: I need to schedule an academic advising appointment.

Solution: Advising can assist with planning a degree program, provide course advisement and confirm completion of your graduation requirements, however, before you schedule an appointment, you must first be enrolled as a student. You can make an advising appointment by logging into your myEdison® account with students\firstname.lastname and the same password you use for Online Student Services. Scroll down to “Tools & Forms” and you will see the option, “Make an Advising Appointment.” Login with your College ID number and last name. You can then select your degree program, preferred advisor and the type of appointment you would like to make. You can also view any advisor's profile, and select a day and time to speak with them that accommodates your schedule.

Technical Issue #9: I can’t log in to my Online Student Services account?

Solution: If this is your first time logging into the new Online Student Services site, you will be asked to create your login information. To establish your User ID, use your last name and SSN or College ID.  Students will use firstname.lastname as a User ID. You will be emailed a temporary password, and then asked to change it upon your first login. Your new password must be between 6-9 characters in length, and comprised of letters and numbers.

If you have already established your User ID and do not remember your password, you can view your password hint or reset it under the “User Account” section at any time.

Technical Issue #10: I am trying to buy my course materials.

Solution: You can order your textbooks and course materials through the MBS Direct Book Store.  First select the appropriate term, and then enter the course codes for your courses. Each course code begins with a three letter departmental code (representing the department in which the course is academically based) and followed by three digits to signify the course level. The required texts will then populate and made available for purchase through the site. However, if you are taking a Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) course, you will not have course materials. If you are taking a TECEP® exam, the test description for that exam will include a list of exam topics, suggested study materials, information about the test format and sample test questions.

For more information on common technical issues, visit the Common Issues page.

Tags: Advising , Online Tools and Resources , Student Services , Taking Courses

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Latest Gallup Poll Reveals What Employers Look for When Hiring Employees

Posted Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Image courtesy of Gallup, Inc.
Image courtesy of Gallup, Inc.

Qualifications. Employers favor them. Candidates want to develop them. But what does this factor even mean? And how can candidates and employers share the same definition of qualifications?

For the past three years, Gallup, Inc. and the Lumina Foundation have released an annual survey (What America Needs to Know About Higher Education Redesign) gauging the American public’s perception of higher education, including workforce readiness. This year, in addition to this poll, a second survey was conducted of business leaders in the U.S. to determine what factors they favor when making hiring decisions for their organizations. The results reveal the qualifications employers want in a candidate and the competencies you should develop to get hired. According to the Gallup-Lumina Foundation study:

In ten years, business leaders say 55% of jobs at their organizations will require some kind of post-secondary degree, credential or certification.*

In the future, business leaders noted in the survey that they expect a shift in educational requirements for over half of the job opportunities at their organizations. In addition, they foresee that it will be more important, if not already required, that future job candidates possess a post-secondary degree or credential to be considered for any positions.*


84% of business leaders consider a candidate’s knowledge as a very important hiring factor, while 79% of business leaders find a candidate’s applied skills in the field to be very important when making hiring decisions for their organizations.


Business leaders indicated in the survey that they are looking for candidates with specific skills, experience and knowledge when making hiring decisions. A candidate must be able to possess these key factors to get a good job.


In addition to experience, business leaders most want employees to possess strong communication skills, including writing and speaking skills.


To succeed in the workforce in the coming years, business leaders specified in the poll that employees should develop strong communication skills, including writing and speaking, in addition to the on-the-job, practical experience required in their chosen field.

What does this mean?

If you haven’t given much thought to a career plan, then now is the time to start. By creating a plan, cultivating the skills you’ll need for your chosen career and including any relevant degrees or certifications, you’ll help ensure your future success.

Your future employers are looking for a well-rounded employee; focus on using every learning opportunity to develop the workforce skills that will set a solid career foundation. And when it comes to rewriting that English Composition I paper, again, trust that you are refining your writing, communication and English skills.

Your future self will thank you.

*The Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that 63% of all job openings by 2018 will require workers with college degrees.  Source: Projection of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018, Center on Education and the Workforce.


Tags: Business and Management , Career , Going Back to College , Majors and Degree Programs , Motivation , Taking Courses

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9 Things You Can Learn From Your Kids About Going Back to School

Posted Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Your dinner table is covered in textbooks and papers… pencils are hiding under folders… and you can just make out a calculator or two buried under some barely legible scribbled notes. But none of it belongs to your children.

Homework time isn’t just for kids anymore.

Where you once quizzed your son in preparation for his spelling test, he’s now quizzing you for your World Geography final exam. Just as you used to listen to your daughter read aloud in the other room while you secretly listened from the kitchen sink, she’s now offering pointers on how to be a more effective public speaker for your video assignments. Or maybe you’ve noticed that your pre-teen excels on a test when he or she gets a full night sleep the day before.

Whether your kid is six or 36, there’s a lot you can learn from them about going back to school, reaching a milestone and succeeding.

They get rest.
Children hate naps, and they will huff and puff before finally falling asleep. Without much needed rest, a tantrum isn’t far behind. However, when they wake up from the sleep they so vehemently refused, they are instead refreshed and energetic. Sound familiar? Like most adults, you probably don’t get enough sleep. But by ensuring you get a full night’s rest, you too can wake up ready and recharged to tackle the day (and that final exam) ahead.

They stay creative.
You know how they can turn almost anything into an art project? Dried pasta becomes a macaroni necklace, and your kitchen wall becomes a finger paint project (whether you knew about it or not…). They see the possibilities in even the most mundane things. You too can take a step back and think outside the box. By pausing and rethinking your options, there’s no doubt you can produce a masterpiece your creative writing mentor will love.

They’re confident.
No matter the circumstances, a child’s confidence speaks volumes. Nothing can break their spirit, and as adults, we can’t help but admire that. They can’t ride a two-wheeler? No problem! They’ll climb on anyway and in a couple hours (and a few scraped knees), they’ve accomplished what they set out to do. Consider your own confidence. Worried about how hard a course may be? Why not challenge yourself? The results may surprise (and delight) you.

They ask for help.
When they were two, they needed help getting dressed. When they were 10, they needed help with homework. They were never afraid to ask for your help, so why should you be afraid to do the same? There are some things in life that can’t be tackled alone; we all need a little help along the way. So if you are confused by an assignment, or your group project seems to rest squarely on your shoulders, send that email or make that phone call to ensure your education is on the right track.

They never stop learning.
Childhood is filled with triumphs, achievements and small victories. Whenever they learn a new skill or lesson, it’s a celebration of their development. Learning is crucial in childhood, and it should never stop in adulthood. Learning is a never-ending cycle, and should be treated as such. By continuing to pursue subjects passionate to you, life becomes an interesting lesson every day, and your memory will get a boost too.

They have fun.
Kids are on a constant quest to play and have fun. They simply do what they enjoy doing. And we can’t help but be jealous as our days revolve around responsibilities and busy schedules. But even with a full calendar, you can still have fun. Enjoy the outdoors? Combine it with family time. Love traveling? Take a course on world geography (and use it to research your next vacation destination).

They pursue new interests.
On Monday your child comes home claiming they want to play soccer. Then, on Thursday, they’ve determined that they want to take piano lessons. Their interests are wide and varied, but before you know it, they are on the field getting grass stains and playing “Mary had a Little Lamb” on the piano. So it’s ok if you want to pursue new interests, even a different degree than the one you started 20 years ago. Every new experience can enrich our lives and bring exciting and rewarding triumphs.

They don’t take no for an answer.
Sure, this one may cause some consternation when your child goes about doing what they want, even after you’ve told them no. But children can be very resourceful; told they can’t get a raise on their allowance? Instead, they set up a lemonade stand in the driveway. Don’t let ‘no’ be a final answer for you either. Can’t get that promotion because of your background? Learn the knowledge you’ll need so that next time, you will make the answer “yes.”

They give it their all.
It can be heartbreaking when your child does his or her best, only to come up a little short of their goal. But children have a remarkable resilience that inspires them to get back up and try again, whether focusing on something new or going for round two. Whenever you find life isn’t going your way - maybe you didn’t achieve the exam grade you wanted – get back up and try again. Kids prove time and again that persistence pays off, and your best is all that matters.

How have your children inspired you to go back to school? What have you learned from them?

Tags: Going Back to College , Motivation , Taking Courses , Time Management , Work-Life Balance

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