Traveling in College: Semester Abroad Not Required!

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that there are several Philadelphia Futures collegians who have had the opportunity to spend a highly enriching semester abroad. From South Africa to Chile, our students have studied around the world and loved every mind-broadening moment of it.  If you are interested in travel, your college years are an ideal time to get out and see the world while you have access to unique funding opportunities and before you are tethered by a full-time job. While studying abroad for a full semester is certainly an option that every collegian is encouraged to explore, the truth is that it isn’t the best choice for every student.  However, if a semester abroad isn’t for you, don’t be discouraged! Consider one of these potential travel opportunities which may be more in line with your budget or degree plan:

  • Travel as part of a college course over winter or spring break

Many colleges offer courses during the spring semester which feature a travel component over spring break. Typically, students attend a class related to a specific country or culture throughout the semester, and then travel to study the topic in person over spring break. For example, as part of Arcadia University’s Preview program, students could choose to take a course about the music and culture of Austria, which included a trip to Vienna during the break. Similar programs are sometimes offered during the winter session. Collegians Sony and Frankie both spent time abroad as part of a college course during one of their school’s winter sessions.

  • Alternative spring break/service trips

Certain service organizations, such as United Way, offer opportunities to travel to a different American city over spring break in order to participate in community service projects. This type of service trip, often called Alternative Spring Break or ASB, is a great way to see the country for a very reasonable cost, all while helping communities in need!  Earlier this month, Temple sophomore Mingsi participated in Deloitte and United Way’s Alternative Spring Break program in Atlanta, GA, where she volunteered for Meals on Wheels and a local senior day care center.


Mingsi (holding sign) with other Alternative Spring Break participants

  • International Co-op

If you are a Drexel student, it may be worth considering doing your co-op abroad. Several financial awards are available to students who may need assistance in offsetting the added expense of living abroad. Futures alum Jonathan completed his co-op in Sierra Leone during the summer of 2014.

  • Get Creative!

In the past, we’ve featured students who have traveled the country through fully-funded opportunities offered by athletic teams, student organizations, and academic enrichment programs. No matter what your academic or extracurricular passions are, keep your eyes open and take advantage of any occasion to explore a new city or country that may arise through your interests!

Be A Team Player – Ace Your Next Group Project!

Group projects can be one of the most challenging types of assignments a college student has to face. As if it weren’t enough work managing your own time and productivity, group projects necessitate that you share the responsibility of keeping everyone else on track too. However, the ability to collaborate effectively with people who have learning and communication styles that may be vastly different from your own is an impressive skill valued by professors and employers alike!  The next time you see the words “group project” on the syllabus, keep these tips in mind to ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible:

Get to Know Your Group Members

Before you dive into planning your project, take a little time to get acquainted with your group members. Ask each member to share their major, academic and/or professional background, and what they consider to be their strengths. Getting to know each other will help you decide how to delegate the workload. For example, a Sociology major who loves working with data might be the best person to design any charts or graphs you need. Likewise, an English major with strong writing skills might excel at writing your abstract or editing your final report.

Keep In Touch

Get each group member’s name, email address and phone number during your very first meeting. Consider establishing a group text or Facebook group for the project, and check in with updates often.

Get (and Stay!) Organized

Once each task has been assigned, set clear deadlines for the completion of each component of your project.  Schedule a regular check-in meeting that works with everyone’s schedule, and reserve a space so that you don’t waste group time finding a place to work. Create a shared calendar that clearly lists each deadline and meeting date. According to Kasia Jaworski from Her Campus, Google Drive is wonderful for group projects, because “you can set up Word documents, spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations that all group members can access and work on. It eliminates sending a thousand emails back and forth with edits, which may lead to mistakes and missing parts. All members can work individually on their parts while seeing what other group members have added. It allows everyone to keep your project cohesive as it progresses” (

Anticipate and Manage Conflict

It’s natural for conflict to arise at some point during the course of the project. The key is to respectfully address the issue early on, before it leads to major headaches down the road. If you find that you have a conflict with another group member, it’s important to examine your own behavior first. Remember, group projects require that you draw upon both your leadership skills and your ability to apply constructive criticism and to compromise. Your goal should be to participate actively without monopolizing the group. If you feel like you have a tendency to dominate or micromanage in group work settings, remember to give everyone a chance to voice their thoughts and concerns, and be open to compromise. Conversely, always be sure that you are actively contributing to the group by communicating often and effectively, and by turning in quality material on time. If you find that it’s a fellow group member who is being overly controlling or not contributing their fair share of the work, it’s important to tactfully speak up. For example, you could encourage a bossy group member to ease off the reins by assuring them that you are just as invested in the project as they are and you’d really like to contribute more of your work and ideas. Only a very unreasonable person would be unwilling to compromise after you’ve made such a polite and well-intentioned request!

Of course, the classic worst-case scenario when it comes to group projects is having a group member who continuously fails to pull their weight by failing to meet deadlines and/or turning in subpar work (we’ve all encountered this guy at least once). Always do your best to correct the problem first by stressing to your wayward group member just how much you are all depending on them, and by offering helpful suggestions and encouragement. However, if all of your efforts to intervene are unsuccessful, it’s time to let your professor know what’s going on. Since you’ll be able to document what steps you’ve already taken to resolve the conflict on your own, they’ll be less likely to allow that group member’s lack of participation to impact your grade.

Adapted From:


Why Stockholm

Chris, SAS class of 2014, and Northeast High School graduate, is currently spending an exciting semester abroad in Stockholm, Sweden. A junior at Lafayette College majoring in Psychology, Chris is participating in DIS’s immersive Positive Psychology program, for which he serves as a student blogger. In the post below, Chris describes his first impressions of the city hew will call home for the duration of his three months abroad. You can also read his subsequent blog posts here and here. We wish Chris all the best as he completes his coursework in Sweden and prepares to enter his senior year at Lafayette!

Source: Why Stockholm

Every Day is a New Day

Kiryl, a second-year Temple University student majoring in Criminal Justice, is currently spending the spring semester across the state in Harrisburg, where he is completing a Pennsylvania House Fellowship. The PA House Fellowship program immerses students in the legislative process, providing a solid foundation for any career dealing with government, law, or social issues. As an aspiring law student, Kiryl was placed in the Judiciary Committee, where he conducts research on laws and government programs, drafts talking points for state Representatives, and shadows his Chairman on the job. He is even drafting his own bill as part of his final project! We’re proud to share the following post that Kiryl penned for the PA House Fellowship Blog, in which he describes how valuable the experience has been for him:

Pennsylvania House Fellowship Blog

Have you ever woken up in the morning and thought about how blessed you are to work in the job that you have? Well for me, this happens every single sunny, cloudy, rainy, or snowy morning.

Every day is a new day. This has become the exciting part of my internship. Two weeks prior to taking part in this fellowship, I pondered the idea of what a college student, who’s majoring in criminal justice might do in state government. In reality, I did not know much about state government. I was worried that I would not have experience related to my interest and my major, since in the future I am planning to go to law school. However, within the first week of the internship I found myself pleasantly surprised.

I was placed in the Judiciary Committee. Today, I have the honor to work besides the most hard-working and intelligent co-workers…

View original post 299 more words

Etiquette 101: Emailing Your Professors

While we’ve previously discussed the value of reaching out to your professors, keep in mind that when you contact a professor by email, it’s important to not only carefully consider what you say, but also how you say it. In the age of texting and Twitter, it’s understandable that many students have become a bit lax in their approaches to written communication. In this context, however, you are expected to present yourself professionally and in a manner which conveys respect.  In this post, we’ll show you how (and why!) to craft a thoughtful and polished email to your professor.

First, consider what NOT to do.

Put yourself in your professor’s shoes: you’ve spent the entire break creating the syllabus, selecting readings, and crafting exams and assignments. Then, you receive an email from a student that makes it seem as though they haven’t reciprocated any of your effort. How would you react? Probably something like this:

In the example above, the professor’s irritation is more than reasonable. Conversely, consider the following example, which features all of the elements of a professional, respectful email. Which would you prefer?

Follow these pointers to ensure that you’re presenting your best self in your emails:

  • Choose your subject header carefully

The subject of your email should be a few words which briefly sum up the purpose of your email. Don’t use a greeting (“hey professor”) or a very broad term (“test”) as your subject. Something like “Requesting an Appointment During Thursdays Office Hours” would work well.

  • Greet your professor with a professional salutation, and the correct honorific and last name

Use a professional salutation such as “Dear,” or “Hello,” followed by an honorific and your professor’s last name. An honorific is a title used to communicate respect for a person’s position. In this instance, “Professor” is your safest bet. If you know that your professor holds a PhD, “Dr.” is also appropriate. Next, refer to your syllabus for the correct spelling of your professor’s name. The resulting greeting will be something like “Dear Professor Johnson [,].”

  • Identify yourself

State the name, section, and meeting time of the class. You don’t need to include your name in the body of your email, as you will include it in your signature. Something like “I’m in section 3 of your Foundations of Western Civilization Class, which meets at 2:00pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

  • Clearly state your question or need

Always refer to your syllabus, review your class notes, and reach out to a classmate first to make sure that your professor hasn’t already given the answer to your question. If you still need clarification, state your question clearly and directly in your email. So, instead of asking, “What’s our homework for tonight?” you’ll write, “I looked through the syllabus and asked a classmate for this weekend’s assigned homework, but unfortunately I am unable to locate it. Could you please direct me to the assignment?”

  • Proofread!

Just as you would with a written homework assignment, make sure to check for silly mistakes and correct spelling and grammar.

  • Say thank you

End your email by thanking your professor for their time and signing off with your full name.

Remember, the ability to compose a well-written email in which you present yourself respectfully is a valuable skill that you will be able to draw upon well beyond your college years, so approach corresponding with your professors as yet another collegiate learning experience!

Adapted from:

Profile of a Scholar: Rafael

Rafael, College Connection Class of 2016 and a graduate of Esperanza Academy Charter School, is a first-year Computer Science and Economics major at Haverford College who is driven by his commitment to social justice. Over the recent winter break, Rafael participated in a study trip to Mexico sponsored by Haverford’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship. Over the course of the trip, students studied the migration of Latin Americans to the U.S., a process that is often dangerous and misunderstood by those of us on this side of the border. Below, Rafael shares the lessons he took away from the experience, and his thoughts about the value of breaking down cultural barriers.

What parts of Mexico did you visit?

“We stayed at Casa de los Amigos, a Quaker-run nonprofit peace organization located in Mexico City. It’s located very close to the remarkable monuments and palaces of the city. We also went to the state of Puebla, where we visited Teotihuacán and Puebla City. We visited Teotihuacán because this is one of the many towns in Mexico whose economy is completely based on remittances from Mexican relatives living in the United States. From afar, one can see many empty houses which have been built by undocumented Mexicans living in the U.S., in case they ever need to come back to their native towns. We got to meet some incredible and amiable people there who showed us some of the things they do for a living. Many of the people living in Teotihuacán are of indigenous descent.”


The pre-Aztec pyramids in Teotihuacan

How did you find out about this opportunity?

“The Center for Peace and Global Citizenship at Haverford sponsors this trip every year. Usually, the trip consists of a trip to Arizona to meet with local migration advocates and nonprofit organizations before heading to Mexico. The trip had also included a visit to the US-Mexico border for students to gain a more in-depth understanding of the socio-cultural conflict. However, because of readjustment in the administration, the trip I was on only visited Southern Mexico. As soon as I saw this opportunity posted I reached out to the people in charge to discuss the application process.”


Casa de los Amigos

What drew you to this particular study trip?

“Even though I did not have to pass through the border to come into the United States, I am also a migrant. I have heard multiple stories about the risks people underwent to obtain the opportunities that this country offers; stories of hard-working individuals who really wanted the opportunity to earn a living through their effort and tenacity. Because of these stories, I felt compelled to learn more. I felt like it was my duty to immerse myself in this subject and become more knowledgeable not only about the phenomenon of migration, but also about ways to make an impact on the lives of people who are still seeking refuge in the U.S., often due to violence and corruption in their home countries.”


Rafael (fourth from the left) with his classmates at Casa de los Amigos

Do you have a favorite moment from your experience in Mexico?

“Yes, I do. A few days before heading back, I had the opportunity to walk around Mexico City with a friend of mine before sunset. I was seated in the Monument of the Angel of Independence, and the view was one of the most beautiful I had ever witnessed. Seeing the juxtaposition of the modern with the antiquity of the city was a moving experience. That same night we went to a Ballet Folklórico performance in the Chapultepec Castle, which is an architectural masterpiece. The show highlighted the wealth of the Mexican culture and the vibrancy of Hispanic heritage. I will never forget seeing the city from above and contemplating the lights of the skyscrapers along with the shine of the stars.”


The juxtaposition of old and new in Mexico City

What do you think is the most valuable thing you learned from your participation in this program?

“I think that the most valuable lesson I took away from this experience was the understanding that it is very unrealistic to think that an entire system could change overnight. As one of our guest speakers said, “you cannot change the world, but you can definitely change one person’s world.” Fighting for the rights of others should not make you feel discouraged, but courageous. Big changes always start with little steps, and I know that one day our world, and especially our country, will be more tolerant, accepting, and receptive of diverse cultures.”


What advice would you give to a PF Collegian who is thinking about studying abroad?

“I think that studying abroad can be one of the scariest things one can do. However, I found it to be a very edifying experience. Experiencing a new culture can enrich you in boundless ways. It is transforming to interact with people from other places and cultures because it allows you to dismantle harmful stereotypes about another culture. Going abroad is an opportunity to break down barriers and become a better citizen of the world, because you come away with an even greater respect for the dignity of all human life, regardless of race, gender, religious affinity, sexual orientation, or place of origin.”

If you are a Philadelphia Futures Collegian who would like to share one of your most interesting college experiences, please contact

Reminder: Complete Your FAFSA and PHEAA Application ASAP!

If you haven’t done so already, make sure that you submit your 2017-2018 FAFSA and PHEAA application as soon as possible. Some funds are available on a first-come, first-served basis, so the sooner you file, the better!


  • Make sure you know your FSA ID. If you need assistance logging in with your FSA ID, contact FAFSA at 1-800-557-7394.
  • Because you’ll be using your 2015 tax information, you should be able to save time by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. Watch the video below for more information:

  • After submitting your FAFSA, don’t forget to click the link on your confirmation page that will allow you to complete your PHEAA state grant application. If you don’t see a link on your confirmation page, you may access the PHEAA application here.
  • Contact your OCRS advisor if you have questions or get stuck!


Profile of a Scholar: Will

Will, Sponsor-A-Scholar Class of 2014 and Northeast High School graduate, is currently in his Junior year at Penn State University. An academically gifted student majoring in Bio-Behavioral Health and Psychology, he plans to pursue a career in medicine and is strongly considering medical school as his next step. This past summer, Will had the opportunity to participate in the 6-week Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) at Howard University. Over the course of the program, Will explored the medical profession through coursework, clinical rotations, and visits to the Association of American Medical Colleges and the National Institutes of Health. He was thrilled to be introduced to a vibrant and supportive community of African-American medical professionals, where he found valuable connections with peers and mentors. Will’s highly informative and insightful responses to our questions describe his experience in detail:

What is SMDEP and how did you find out about it?

“SMDEP stands for the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program and it is sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It is a six-week summer enrichment program that seeks to provide exposure and experience and preparation in the fields of medicine and dentistry for students that are underrepresented in those fields. The program is geared toward students of color and other underrepresented students (e.g. low socioeconomic status) in order to improve the racial and cultural diversity and inclusion in the field of medicine which is drastically needed due to the major health disparities in the field. The program is held at 12 different medical schools throughout the country—I participated in the program at Howard University. The best part of it all is that everything is FREE— room and board is covered, and you can also apply to get a travel scholarship to help cover travel expenses. Not only that, but you get a $600 stipend for spending money (warning: this runs out faster than you think!).

Had it not been for one of my best friends who participated in the program the previous summer, I would have never found out about this opportunity. He found out about the program through Ms. Joyce Hopsin-King, the multicultural advisor in the college of Health and Human Development. He was just telling me how awesome the program was in terms of both scholarly enrichment and fun. He went into the program believing that he wanted to be a Physician Assistant and left wanting to be an MD (medical doctor). He also said that program was a lot of fun and that he met a lot of great people that he’s still in touch with to this day. After hearing all of this, I knew this was something I had to apply to because I was considering medical school.”


The 79 2016 Howard University SMDEP students

What were your goals for the program?

“I was initially undecided in my major and my career goals, but as I began my sophomore year, I started to consider medicine as a possible career path. As a sophomore, I could see myself being a doctor from the little I knew about the field; however, I did not know everything it entailed. So, my goals for the program were to get some experience and gain more exposure to what it means to be a doctor, in order to have a more holistic view of the field of medicine and all that it encompasses. At the end of the program, I can proudly say that I have achieved these goals.

What was a typical day like while you were participating in SMDEP?

“Each program site runs the program a little differently, but they all consist of classes and rotations. The program at Howard University consisted of four classes: a health policy/ethics class, a communications class, a choice of either biochemistry or organic chemistry, and a choice of either physics or genetics.  The classes were not taken for course credit, but were meant to serve as introductions to the subjects that would help prepare us for our fall classes. We attended classes from Monday through Thursday and had our clinical rotations on Friday. Our clinical rotations consisted of shadowing doctors from many different specialties including: Surgery, Pediatrics, Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, OB-GYN, Psychiatry, and many others.

Although there was a set schedule for most days, no day ever felt typical. It was as if each day were a new adventure! The staff, mentors, and my fellow students gave the program an amazing atmosphere. The staff and mentors pushed us hard, knowing we had so much untapped potential. They went out of their way to give us so many opportunities such as taking us to visit the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the National Institutes of Health. We also did fun things around the city like visiting national monuments and kayaking (where I fell out of the boat once). We even went to Six Flags!

In my opinion, the 78 other students were the best part of the program; I was humbled to be in the presence of so many talented individuals. Each one of them had a unique story which brought them to Howard. I met so many amazing people, and we all got so close in such a little amount of time. We had so much fun together and built bonds that won’t fade anytime soon!”


At the Washington Monument


What do you think was the most valuable thing you learned over the course of the program?

“I learned so much by being in this program. One of the most important things I learned was what it really means to be a doctor. I gained insight into the clinical, financial, and political aspects of being a doctor, such as how the medical school process works from the MCAT to residency, the financial burdens of being a physician and how to deal with it, and acquiring proper physician’s insurance. Additionally, something else that I learned is the value of black spaces. Being at Howard Medical School (one of the most prestigious HBCU’s in the country) really gave me insight into this.

Being a young black person aspiring to go into a conservative, predominantly white field, I was inspired by the sight of black doctors, med students, and other professionals in the medical field. The best part about being in the presence of black medical professionals was that they not only genuinely cared about us, but could also relate to us. It was literally as if everywhere you turned someone believed in you, and that meant volumes to me because we live in a in a world in which people that look like me are constantly told they aren’t good enough to become things like doctors.”



What advice would you give to a Philadelphia Futures collegian who is considering participating in a summer academic program?

“If you are considering applying to medical school or physician assistant school or any clinical health program, this summer program is a MUST. The program is now called SHPEP—Summer Health Professionals Education Program because it has expanded its scope. The application opens on November 1st of every year and closes on March 1st. There is an early application deadline to apply on February 1st and I highly recommend applying by this date because the earlier you apply the better your chances. This program was really one the best things that I have every participated in, and I am sure that you would feel the same!”


We’re so grateful to Will for sharing this positive and exciting experience with us. In just a few short weeks, he’ll be off to make more amazing college memories as he spends the upcoming winter break studying abroad in Australia! Safe travels, Will!

If you’re a Philadelphia Futures Collegian who’d like to share one of your most interesting college experiences, please contact

Want to Advance Your Career Goals over Winter Break? Try an Externship!

During this hectic time between midterms and finals, it can be hard to believe that winter break is just around the corner! Before you know it, you’ll have another semester under your belt and those 8:00AM classes will be a distant memory. While it’s important to take this time between semesters to recoup and have some fun, don’t overlook winter break as an opportunity to advance your career goals. You’re obviously familiar with internships, but have you considered an externship?

An externship is essentially the same as job shadowing, or following an experienced professional as they go about their workday. Unlike some internships, externships are almost always unpaid and don’t have the option of being counted for college credit. Also, unlike with an internship in which you would be assigned work and projects, at an externship you’re only there to observe and ask questions of the professional you’re following.

Although not as hands-on as internships, externships have two major advantages. First, they are typically held for a short period of time lasting anywhere from a single day to eight weeks – perfect for winter or spring break! Furthermore, externships provide a great opportunity to get a feel for an industry that interests you without the level of commitment that comes with an internship.

So, how do you find an externship? Reach out to a professional in your network (LinkedIn counts!) or contact your school’s career services center to see if they have a job shadowing placement program.

Adapted from: