Why Studying Abroad Will Change Your Life

A major part of the college experience which is so often thought of as “optional” was a big part of how I actually picked my university. From a very early age I knew that study abroad would be an unparalleled opportunity to live and breathe in another culture, without missing a beat in my college studies. Studying abroad can not just help shape/confirm/change what you want to study in college, but it can truly change your life.

The first part of my 21st year was spent in Rome, Italy, in 2000. I spent a semester there with my entire class. The school I attended for the first two years of my undergraduate career, Thomas More College, made the entire sophomore class leave the beautiful woods of New Hampshire in the Spring Semester. It had been a big selling point for me in coming to the school in the first place.

Despite the fact that I was born in Asia and didn’t move to America until I was 9, at 21 America was very much my home, and being dropped smack into Italy was everything I had hoped and wanted it to be. I got to see hundreds of churches, monuments, and ruins.  We observed life in Italy: slow, ancient, new, and impossibly different from the New World we had left.

My roommate and I had made a pact to only use sign language with each other to communicate, forcing us to use the Italian we had learned in preparation for the trip.  And it’s true, there’s nothing like immersion to perfect an accent, to learn what textbooks sometimes make impossibly difficult, and to really dig into a culture.

I would find myself on sunny afternoons, doing homework, writing, reading, or sketching (and I was no artist, but the city brought it out of me!).  I watched tourists scurry to and fro while I had the satisfaction of knowing I had the city to myself all semester. Classes ended on Fridays by 10am so we could be gone on weekend trips: Assisi, Naples, Florence, Venice, Subiaco, Orvieto… each new place widening my eyes even more than I thought they could be widened.

I came back a hopeless snob about pasta and gelato (though I didn’t eat any for months!  Italians really only eat Italian food and after a full semester of it I needed 6 months of other cuisine). I came back determined to return to Europe to explore all that the Old World would offer me. I came back having beheld things I had only read about in the stacks of books from my liberal arts education.

But the subconscious messages – the ones buried deep from that wonderful time – took years to hatch, and it wasn’t until considered reflection many years after my semester abroad that I realized the seeds had been planted first in the city of the seven hills.


As Americans we sometimes cannot escape the fact we come from a very “young” country. Being abroad drove home how important history is for so many others. As I touched walls that had been around at the time of Christ, I got goosebumps. As I stared at the spot where Caesar was stabbed to death I marveled that people still left flowers thousands of years later. As I walked the ancient seaport of Ostia Antica, just a short drive outside of Rome, I was deeply impressed by how much life in ancient times very much was like life today.


The best gateway to another culture and language is through food.  You learn that how people cook and what they eat what is really important to them.  As I said above, the Italians are hopelessly in love with their own cuisine – but hey, it’s a wonderful cuisine. And as I said, I’m a snob about Italian food now.  But not an annoying one, I promise!


Many students who were with me had never been away from home, much less out of the country, for as long as we were gone. There is nothing that can help you appreciate your home, family, or country more than leaving it all behind.

The vast majority of schools have study abroad programs in which tuition is the same or less than a regular semester in the United States. The same can be said for room and board.  A lot of schools also make provision for having a wide enough selection of classes so that studying abroad doesn’t take you off a graduation track.  Italy was the only option for me – but many schools have options all over the world. If you’re committed to learning a second language, study abroad is the best way to go.

But the most important reason to study abroad? You’ll learn more about yourself. The ancients in Greece and Rome knew this to be one of the most important things any person could accomplish in his/her lifetime. So go abroad. So you can come back wiser, more thoughtful, and more grateful.


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Picking a Major

I recently had a conversation with one of my students about picking her major.  She had gotten into her first choice school based, in large part, upon her test score, but was now trying to pick her field of study.

“I want to study psychology, but everyone tells me I can’t do anything with a Bachelor’s in that field.”

“Everyone is right,” I said.  “At least a Masters, and even there the money isn’t necessarily phenomenal.”

“My brother says ‘study business.’  He hates the idea of my studying psych.”

“He’s the successful guy, right?  You told me you look up to him and trust his advice.”


“He’s right – but I know you hate all that stuff: accounting, finance, etc.  I mean you’ll love marketing but a business degree is very math-oriented and you’re not a fan.”

“I know I know I know.  So I can study something I love and have no job or trudge through something I hate so I can have one?”

I laughed.  I wasn’t trying to be cruel.  But her statement indicated she was one step ahead of where she should have been.  The question she needed to begin with was:

Why am I going to college?

If the answer is:

A) To get a job

Then yes, she should look at careers and jobs and work backwards from there, identifying the majors of people successful in those fields, either from research or asking people personally.  Do not make the assumption that a degree in a field gets you a job in the field (unless you are picking accounting, in which case you will be nearly guaranteed a job upon graduation, and at a reasonable rate too!).

B) To study something I love

Then sure, she should study psychology.  I have a Liberal Arts background myself, with a degree in Literature.  I am now and always have been an intellectual so I, at her age, might have just breathlessly have told you that I “loved books” and wanted to go to college to read hundreds of them.

I could never have told you that I would be an entrepreneur when I was 18 because I don’t think I even considered that a possibility at that age.  I loved to learn and I had earned a full academic scholarship to my school of choice so I wasn’t taking a financial risk to pursue the studies I wanted.  The caveat here is that if you love Art History I am NOT encouraging you to study what you love if you don’t have some kind of scholarship or college fund set aside.  I’ll address how much I think it’s healthy to spend on college in a future article.

C)  Because everyone tells me I’m supposed to

Hmmmm.  Look, I’ve read the studies too.  People with 4-year degrees make more money (and sometimes, even they get out-earned by 2-year degree holders).  I get it.  But please realize that this is the first decision of your adult life.  Maybe you could have made a decision on where to go to high school based solely on the counsel of your family and friends.  They are important.  Very important.  But you need to own your college decision, really and truly.

D) To party!

Don’t worry.  it’s going to be everything you thought, and more (don’t worry, parents!).  Just be smart about your decisions and your finances.

As we talked through all of this, my student laughed and said, “I’m still undecided.”

That’s fine.  You don’t need to have the rest of your life figured out right now.  And you may have motivations A-D (hopefully not just D.  If you only have that motivation, save us all some time and money and just go to community college!).  Just make sure you have a plan.  Plans can change.  But “no plan” isn’t wise.  “No plan isn’t worthy of someone on the cusp of adulthood.  As you get ready for college – no matter how many years away it is – whether you are a parent or a student – remember that college ends in a ceremony called Commencement, which means “beginning.”  Everything you do up until then is preparation and planning.

Make it count.


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Is Grad School now “expected”?

Is Grad School now “expected”? While almost all of our seniors have long since turned in their applications to college, there are some of our former students who are now college seniors who are looking at their final semester. They are about to enter the workforce…or are they?

We’ve all heard that a bachelor’s degree simply isn’t “what it used to be.”  There are a number of reasons for that:

  • Simple numbers: more people are getting undergraduate educations than ever before.  Unless the job market is growing at the same rate that degrees are, this means there are more college graduates chasing the same number or – in a recession – fewer – jobs.
  • The greater numbers mean that potential employers are seeking greater differentiation from the bucketfuls of students who are coming to them with “Finance” or “Marketing” degrees.  Unfortunately, not enough students focus on getting thoughtful and relevant internships, useful study abroad programs, or even the most basic work experience.
  • The recession in the US economy has caused a slowdown in hiring, which means that new graduates aren’t just competing with their fellow classmates, but against those who may have graduated 1, 2, or even 3 years ahead of them.

Some students choose to tough it out – working in non-related fields in order to have a job to pay the bills or to stay employed.  Others don’t wait for a solution to be handed to them and choose to start a business.  But increasingly since 2008, many students are choosing more schooling.

It’s unexpected, isn’t it?  After four years of school, students are signing up for…more school!  Mind you – it’s also more expensive per credit hour with more challenging requirements.  Since they have not made alternate plans, the idea that “a Masters certainly can’t hurt,” has inspired tens of thousands to get one, but it is not always to their benefit.  Why?  Because we have the same related problems listed above:

  • Marketplaces adjust to supply and demand.  When there are a lot of oranges available for sale, prices go down and demand is sated.  When there are a lot of MBAs available on the job market, the degree no longer carries cachet, which leads employers to look at other factors – Was there an emphasis within the MBA which is distinctive (a particular one these days is “Business Intelligence” which marries nicely with the megatrend of big data)?  Or, was there a useful capstone or study abroad program in a relevant field?  Did the student just get a Masters right after undergrad (this means that there wasn’t the rich work experience which informs any real MBA program)?
  • The flatter worldwide job market increasingly means that you aren’t just competing within your country anymore.  You may be competing against candidates from other countries who share your qualifications.
  • Instead of improving their chances to be hired by increasing their qualifications, students who have not distinguished themselves now find themselves in far deeper debt than when they started, shiny undergraduate diploma in hand.

What can we do?  Well here at Get Smarter we’re always trying to prepare our students for life, not just for their next standardized test.  So here are three things to keep in mind as you prepare for undergraduate life:

1.    Do not expect a University to land you a job.  Parents increasingly put pressure on universities to deliver “jobs.”  And universities increasingly game their statistics by hiring new graduates internally.  Parents should not expect a university or college to provide a job for their young graduate.  A university can give you a degree – and hopefully teach you to think and learn at a high level so that you will be an asset to any firm (perhaps your own) – but it can’t control what the marketplace wants from possible employees (or can offer).

2.    Don’t let college “happen” to you.  Be the person your advisor actually knows by sight.  Attend those lectures and extra activities offered on campus.  Get involved with a group or two – and no, a fraternity or sorority is not solely the answer to all that, even though the time they demand would make you feel that way (fair disclosure: the author is a member of a business fraternity).

3.    Be as serious about landing internships and summer jobs as you are about your studies.  For those of us who are not college athletes who may possibly turn professional, this undergraduate life can set up the next decade of our pursuits.  ‘Nothing says that taking your future seriously has to exclude fun, but remember that when fun beckons, and serious things are not done, the mark of future success is upon those who accomplish those serious things while others temporize.

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Which School is Right for You: Two Big Factors

Which School Is Right For You?

You’ve studied and you’ve prepared, but what comes next? Determining what colleges to apply to and attend is difficult as there are so many factors to consider. Which school is right for you?  At Get Smarter Prep, we aim to help you achieve your highest possible test scores that provide you with the ability to choose the school that is best for you.

There are a multitude of considerations that contribute to this decision, including your goals and personality. We’ve narrowed it down to two top decision making factor: Size and Location. The benefits and considerations listed below are generalizations, so do not hesitate to reach out to a specific school to learn more about their programs.


The size of the school affects the size of classrooms, size of athletic programs, and numerous other activities that will impact your overall experience.

Attend a Big University

Benefits that come with big colleges include a seemingly unlimited list of majors and minors, well-funded sports teams, diverse academics and student activities, state-of-the-art research facilities, and a variety of housing opportunities. A con for big schools could be that while the research facilities are top-notch, classes may be taught by a teacher’s assistant, rather than a professor.

Students who succeed in large colleges are not afraid to take advantage of the opportunities available and aren’t afraid to speak up. General education courses typically contain hundreds of students, which is a shock to many students.

Attend a Small University

Conversely, benefits of small colleges include personal attention from professors and more hands-on learning opportunities. While there may be fewer majors to choose from, there may be options to design your own major if you realize what you planned on studying isn’t the perfect fit. Smaller schools are able to knit a tighter community because you can meet a higher percentage of students and teachers than at a larger school.


Location is one of the biggest factors since you’ll spend the next four years in this place. When deciding whether you want to go to a college that is a few miles from home or one across the country, take time to reflect on the following considerations.

Attend a University Close to Home

The pros to attending a college close to home include the ability to drive home to visit family more often. Not every school provides A+ food, so a home-cooked meal after a series of stressful exams could be just the ticket. With schools that offer in-state tuition, you and your family can save a significant amount of money, while still affording a top-notch education. Even if you are close to home, you don’t have to go home every weekend, as there are so many opportunities to make the campus your new home away from home.

Attend a University Far From Home

If you’re looking for a completely new experience and a chance to become more independent, going to a college in a different state is a good idea. You are already familiar with the area you grew up in, so why not take the chance to experience a new area and climate!

Nervousness is normal because you are taking a risk and pushing yourself to become more independent. You may fall in love with this new city and decide to continue living there after college. Besides, receiving care packages from family is a lot of fun, and you may have the chance to tag along with a new friends’ family over the holidays if you can’t fly home. There are also rideshare programs at most schools if you need to find a ride home.

While new adventures are great, airfare prices may restrict you from attending big family events or just seeing your family on a regular basis. Out-of-state tuition costs are typically higher, and you’ll need to figure out a game plan for shipping or storing your belongings during the summer.

Decisions, Decisions

Regardless of how close you are to home or what size college you attend, your college experience will be what you make of it. While size and location factors are definitely something to take into consideration, it’s important to choose the school that’s right for you.

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MidAmerica Nazarene University

Name: Caleb Pierce
College: MidAmerica Nazarene University
Major: Chemistry

1. What first drew you to MidAmerica Nazarene University?

I was focused on smaller schools with solid results in helping students get into Medical School (obviously my plans changed). As a serious added bonus, I was recruited for both football and baseball – and the coaches were great!

2. What other colleges were you considering? 

Colorado College was on my short-list, as was University of Denver, K-State, University of Illinois, Purdue University, and Northwest Nazarene University.

3. How was the adjustment from high school to college?

My transition socially was fantastic! I enjoyed high school – but thoroughly loved college! My biggest challenge was blowing out a shoulder and not being able to compete in either of the two inter-collegiate sports I had been recruited for.

4. What was your favorite class? Why?

I loved my Analytical Chemistry course. I took the course my Junior year, with three other students and we frequently had to complete presentations on various topics! I still remember some of my handouts – one had a coversheet with photos of great scientific minds, plus a photo of me – completely absurd, yet informative!

5. What clubs or groups were you involved in? 

I was certainly one of those students that was over-involved in college. I certainly could have spent a bit more time studying! I was a Resident Assistant for three years, worked in Admissions, an active member of the Pre-Med club, helped with on-campus events (three year champ of Mock-Rock), hosted my own KMNU TV show (what were they thinking?), was an avid sports enthusiast (I only missed one football game – home or away – in my four years, and didn’t miss a single home basketball game), and shadowed several physicians.

6. Anything else you want to tell us?

College is whatever you make of it. Take full advantage of the resources available – both socially and academically. Be prepared to work hard – and don’t take anything for granted.

7. In one sentence, what do you love about your school?

I love that it’s a place where a student is encouraged to focus on their studies, grow in their personal lives, and serve others in word and deed.

Caleb Pierce is a Tutor and the President at Get Smarter Prep.

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GSP and UMKC Partner

GSP and UMKC Partner

As a recent alumnus of the University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Law and a current employee of Get Smarter Prep, I was thrilled to learn that the two were finally going to partner up for an LSAT class. To me, it seemed a match made in heaven and something that should have happened a long time ago. Get Smarter Prep is well-known in the Kansas City area for its ACT and SAT test prep and its individual attention to students’ needs.

UMKC law school is also known for its smaller class sizes and focus on individual students’ needs. The first class through the new partnership is in full swing and the class is set to finish right in time for the June LSAT.

Get Smarter Prep developed the material for the six week course and UMKC is providing the location as well as law school professors who are willing to work one-on-one with the students to help them determine what score they will need to get accept at UMKC. The law school professors are even willing to talk to the students about the other important aspects of law school admissions, such as the personal statements and their grades during undergrad.

I was fortunate enough to teach the first class of this brand new class this past week and I was extremely proud of each and every student after class. The first class was Logic Games and for most students, Logics Games are a struggle. In fact, when I took a poll in class, seventeen out of the twenty students raised their hands when I asked if Logic Games was the area they dreaded the most on the LSAT.

We started off the class rather slow but as the two hours went on, students became more engaged and the “light bulb” went off for some students who were really struggling at the beginning. The class as a whole worked really diligently throughout the two hours, which is no small feat when you are working on logic games after logic games.

During our short break and even at the end of class, students were coming up to me to ask questions and were really engaged. I felt that our first LSAT class as a GSP-UMKC team was successful and I am looking forward to seeing the students’ scores after the six weeks of class.

If you are interested in taking the LSAT test prep through GSP and/or attending UMKC School of Law, please do not hesitate to contact me as enrollment@getsmarterprep.com. I’m a strong believer in GSP and the results that can be produced from our test prep and I’m a UMKC roo through and through.

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Finals in College

Finals in College

Unlike in most high schools, finals in college are spread out across a week’s time, with each class getting assigned a particular day and time. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have two finals on one day, but it does mean that you’ll have significantly more time to study between tests than you did in high school. Sometimes students grow complacent and assume that they’ll have plenty of time to study for each class, but unfortunately, final exams in college tend to be comprehensive (ie. over everything you’ve learned that semester). Unless you’re awesome at last minute studying (many of my students think they are but their scores say otherwise), I suggest preparing your study schedule weeks in advance.

When I was in school, it seemed like all the final paper due dates and final exams happened at the same time. It seems like this is still the case as I watch my students start to glaze over and stop doing their homework right before finals weeks.

I suggest that, with your syllabi in hand, you sit down in mid-April with your calendar and figure out a game plan that keeps you on track to finish everything. Maybe you’re going to write a page a night to get that Econ paper finished by mid-May. Maybe you’re going to review anthropology lectures for 15 minutes after dinner to prepare for the final.

Planning makes sure that your future self, who could potentially be working into the wee hours of the night for a week straight (during what tends to be some of the most beautiful weather of the semester), is not going to curse your lazy, Game of Thrones-watching past self.


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Springtime for Sophomores

Seniors have heard back from their schools and are finalizing their college choice in preparation for the May 1 deadline. Juniors are taking the ACT or SAT, SAT subject tests, and AP exams. Those two grades have clearly defined paths to college, but what about Sophomores? While spring of sophomore year seems far away from applying to college, there are three things you can do to strengthen your future college applications.

1. Take an ACT and SAT practice test and determine which test is a better test for you.

We recommend that the students take both an ACT and an SAT practice test near the end or just after their sophomore year. That way, you go into fall of junior year with a plan. Are you in range to be a National Merit scholar? If so, you can sign up for one of our summer classes in preparation for the PSAT. Do you play a winter sport and a spring sport? Another great reason to prepare in the summer and take one of the fall tests! Every student is different. Taking a practice test at the beginning of the summer ensures your student has time to decide which test and test date is best!

2. Finish the year with your highest possible grades.

Yes, this seems like an obvious one, but it really is important! If you have a bad test day, you can retake your SAT or ACT or driver’s license test, but once sophomore year is over, you are locked into those grades. Grades are a key piece of college admissions puzzle, so it is crucial to do your best.

3. Take advantage of the summer.

While it is tempting to spend the summer relaxing before the stress of junior year, you post-sophomore year summer is a great time to get a jump start on college. You are interested in botany but your high school doesn’t offer it? Take a course at a local college or community college. Not only will it look great on your resume, but it will be really interesting! Want to start saving money for college? Get a job! Jobs look great on your resume and give you a great opportunity to make business connections. An anecdotal example: my grandfather worked as a delivery runner for a law firm one summer; after graduating law school, he was hired by that same law firm! Too busy to have the set schedule of a job or class? You can always volunteer, write a paper to submit to your favorite magazine, research colleges, or take test prep!

Most sophomores have no idea where they might want to attend college, and that is perfectly okay! Following these three steps will ensure that when they do choose where to apply, they will have the highest amount of possibilities.


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