Advice from Past and Current Scholars

We understand that college is a completely different world from high school. That is why we've invited our past and current scholars to share their experiences and advice on various topics to help you in your college journey. Click on the topic below to learn what advice our scholars have for you.

Transitioning from high school to college life

Arizbeth Posada, a past San Antonio Area Foundation scholarship recipient, shares her first year college experience through a Q & A. Posada graduated from Trinity University with a double major in communications and marketing. She currently works at the Area Foundation as a communications specialist.

Q: Think about your first impressions of being on a campus: What surprised you? Which things were exactly as you expected?

A: I went into my freshman year expecting to be surrounded by a very different culture and found it to be true. It took me awhile to adjust to everyone, but eventually I found myself enjoying the campus and making meaningful connections.

One of the things that surprised me was enjoying the small sized classrooms. I had originally thought it wouldn’t make much of a difference to my learning experience, but I was wrong. I tended to get bored in the larger classrooms where interaction was minimal.

Q: What was one challenge you experienced during your first year of college? How did you handle it?

A: My biggest challenge during my first year was time management. What helped me stay on track was investing in a customizable agenda with plenty of writing space. I wrote down everything from assignments to work hours to reminders to take a break! If you purchase one, I suggest making sure you are comfortable with the weight and size. You might find yourself carrying this everywhere.

Q: What did you wish you had known when you first started college?

A: I wish I had known healthier habits. Many times, I would skip lunch or stay up very late. It can really take a toll on you after a while. I found I always did best on exams when I ate and slept well versus trying to study all night.

Q: Which school resources were the most helpful to you?

A: I found professors to be the most helpful resource. I would recommend taking advantage of any open-door hours they may have. Most are willing to help not only with their course, but any advice you may need.

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to students?

A: Plan and keep track of your degree plan starting now, even if you are unsure of what major you want to declare. Use your first two years to fulfill any required common curriculum and use these courses to explore your passion and interests. Come senior year, you will be thankful to have everything in order.

Prioritizing your time in college

Jose Treviño, a past scholarship recipient, shares how he learned to manage his time and how he stayed focused while in college. Treviño received a bachelor’s in environmental sciences from the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley. He is a published author in the International Journal of Life Sciences Research for his research using natural agents to make cloudy fresh water clear.

Q: What tools do you use to help you stay organized?

A: A must, to me, is to get some type of organizer whether physical or digital and be detailed with anything and everything that you must do for the day, week, month, year, and years. Always think things through, do not just think short term, rather long term as well because it helps to have something to look forward to and work toward.

Q: How do you prepare for mid-terms and finals week?

A: I make sure that I get plenty of rest those weeks because it’s good to study, work on papers, projects, and presentations, but resting your mind and body is also a must. In addition, I try to pace myself and make sure to have an objective(s) everyday of what I hope to accomplish, that way I can feel good knowing that I am making progress those weeks and build up confidence for those strenuous mid-terms and finals. 

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to students?

A: You should enjoy the little detours to the fullest because that’s where you’ll find the things more important than what you want. In life its more about the journey than the destination.

Networking leads to opportunities

Originally from Venezuela and raised in Kissimmee, FL, Valentina is the student trustee on American University’s Board of Trustees, becoming the first LatinX person to hold the role and serving as the only undergraduate student on the university’s strategic planning committee. Most recently, she interned with District of Columbia Public Schools supporting Career and Technical Education programs and college and career counselors. Valentina served as the vice president of AU College Democrats where she founded a mentorship program and organized events with elected officials and policy leaders. As a Constitutional Law teaching assistant, Valentina co-developed a 60-hour civics curriculum for middle schoolers in DC, integrating arts and social studies pedagogy. She has also interned at DC consulting firms, Women’s Foreign Policy Group, and the U.S. Senate. This summer, she will be attending Carnegie Mellon as a Public Policy and International Affairs Fellow. If it were not for San Antonio Area Foundation’s Rapier Educational Foundation scholarship, she would have never had the opportunity to attend college and have the opportunities to work in politics and policy to create equitable education policy reforms that reduce barriers to access in higher education.

Q: What resources did you use to find your internship opportunities?

A: I found my first internship through a relationship I built with a faculty member at the end of my first year in college. She believed in my work ethic, story, and potential and connected me to one of her mentors. Since then, all my supervisors have continued sharing their networks with me, leading to other opportunities and expanding my skill set. To prepare, once it was time to interview and prove my potential, I used the career services at my college to improve my resume, used LinkedIn to talk to people that worked at places I was interested in, and most importantly, talked to my peers who had already gone through a lot of these experiences.

Q: Why did you decide to take an internship over the summer break?

A: As a low-income student, I recognize that being comfortable with the bare minimum is not enough. I wanted to put my knowledge into action and have hands-on experience about what a potential job would entail. With a competitive job market, it is crucial that I developed the experience future employers are looking for. More importantly, I viewed internships as a stepping stone to learning more about the different platforms for me to make an impact in the world.

Q: What are 3 things you learned from your internships?

  1. It’s not just a way for you to learn - it’s literally a job interview.
  2. Relationship building is important, and it will take you a long way.
  3. There is more to the “perfect job” than just the job description. Who you work for and the office culture plays equally important roles in how much you enjoy the work you do.

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to students?

A: No goal is ever too large. Be confident and believe in yourself. Use LinkedIn to find people that work in the place you are interested in working at and set up an informational interview before you apply. This will help you decide if the goal is something you are interested in and give you an advantage when you are applying.

Internships can help your future

Jared Pauletti is a freshman at Texas A&M University studying aerospace engineering. Jared is a recipient of the Rapier Educational Foundation scholarship of the San Antonio Area Foundation. He is immensely thankful that he was selected to receive the scholarship, which helped him pursue engineering at one of the nation's top engineering schools.  Without the Foundation's financial assistance, Jared would not have been able to devote the time necessary to secure his internships. He is passionate about computing, flight, and cybersecurity, and he hopes to one day combine those fields and work on the cutting edge of space technology. In the Summer of 2017, he was selected to be the Network Operations Intern at GVTC Communications, and this summer he looks forward to participating in the NASA summer intern program at the Independent Verification & Validation facility in West Virginia working on cybersecurity applied to satellites.

Q: What resources did you use to find your internship opportunities?

A: When I am applying for internships, I have found that the best way to search for an opportunity is to use Google or a job searching site. They are posted throughout the year, so it helps to check for new ones frequently. In addition to searching on the internet, if you have a specific company in mind it also helps to actively seek an internship; getting in contact with a company may show your passion and the persistence and help you secure an interview.

Q: Why did you decide to take an internship over the summer break?

A: I took an internship because I wanted to make money over the summer, but I also wanted to work toward my future career. An internship fit both criteria, so I decided that it was the best use of my time. I knew that I did not want to just waste time sitting at home over the summer, so for me the choice was to seek out an internship or find some other work, and I knew that an internship would better serve me in the future, so I opted to be a summer intern.

Q: What were other fun ways you stayed productive during the summer?

A: I helped with Eagle Scout projects and did a few other service activities. I also taught myself a bit of programming and tried to build a 3D printer (I haven't gotten it working yet). This coming summer I am planning on taking core classes online while doing my internship. Taking your core classes online or through community college is a cost-effective way to quickly get started on classes toward your major and make yourself a more attractive candidate for possible internship positions.

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to students?

A: Apply to internships if they look interesting; don't let the requirements stop you. Sometimes the qualifications listed are hard cutoffs, but more often they act more as guidelines. The companies hiring do not expect you to already know everything because you are applying to be an intern, not a full-time employee. Internships are a learning experience like no other because they mostly exist to help you learn without the expectation of delivery that a full-time job often carries, so make the most of them!

Time management and study tips

Alaya Keane is currently enrolled at Texas A&M University (TAMU) pursuing a master’s degree in international wildlife conservation. She completed her undergraduate degree at TAMU last spring with a bachelor’s in wildlife and fisheries ecology and conservation with the help of the Rapier Foundation Scholarship, a scholarship fund of the Area Foundation. Alaya loves the environment and Texas.

Q: How do you manage your time when studying for exams?

A: While studying for exams, and even just throughout the semester I live by my planner. I write everything down including when I need to study and what information I need to cover. Using some sort of planner or task tracker can help you maximize productivity and look for any gaps where you can be studying. When things get really hectic, I sometimes even use an hourly planner, so I can keep track of what I should be doing at all times throughout the day. But, a regular planner works just fine for most people!

Q: What are your top 3 - 5 study tips/tricks that have helped you do great on your exams?

  • My saving grace in undergrad was the five-day study plan! If you don’t quite know how to study for exams yet, try using this template: I used it before every big exam.
  • Make study guides made of practice questions. Instead of just reciting material, ask yourself questions about the material to make sure you really understand it. If you can’t explain the material to yourself or someone else, mark it to review!
  • Although the five-day study plan is great, don’t wait until a week before the exam to review lectures. At the end of each week, go back through the lectures from that week to make sure you understood everything, if not, asking earlier about that information rather than later will always help.
  • Lastly, take care of yourself. Eat plenty and drink water, rest when you need to, make sure you are getting enough sleep, and form a solid support system.

Q:  What is one piece of advice you would give to students?

A: Learn more about yourself and prioritize your well-being! No one told me this in undergrad (sounds pretty silly to be told to know who you are, right), but eventually I understood that this meant learning when I am the most productive, how I study, how I know when I am tired, etc. For example, I am most productive during the late afternoon and throughout the evening, so I know that this time is when I need to prioritize my studying and I can do other tasks at different times. I also know that once it hits about midnight, I simply can’t study anymore, and that my body needs to rest. This is different for everybody, and it takes some time to figure out, but it makes all the difference.

Make self-care a priority

Ilanna Villagran is currently a senior in the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Washington D.C., studying culture and politics with a concentration on environmental justice and peacebuilding. She received the San Antonio Area Foundation’s Glenda Woods Scholarship. She has also studied abroad for a full year in Salamanca, Spain and then at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel-Palestine. She believes that any student who has the ability to travel abroad with the help of scholarships and financial aid should definitely do so.

Q: How do you balance your school work, extracurricular activities, and having a social life? 

A: Having a balanced life, I think, starts with making a routine and sticking to it. Taking five minutes at the start of my day to go over my schedule and prioritizing assignments/study time goes a long way. My friends and I talk about our schedules and plan time to study together and go out on the weekends that works for all of us.

Q: How do you get yourself back on track when you’re feeling overwhelmed? 

A: I’ve been lucky enough to find amazing friends who support and challenge me, who help hold me accountable to my goals. I’ve also made sure to seek out a few professors that I trust and respect to help me talk through my academic challenges and guide me through my last semesters in school. Without a network of friends and mentors to confide in, it would be very difficult to get through the times that are overwhelming.

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to students?

A: The one thing to remember is that your mental health is more important than any assignment, meeting, or class. Take care of yourself by planning, being open and honest with yourself, and choosing your friends wisely. Find someone you feel you can be completely open with, whether it’s a friend, sibling, or mentor and don’t be afraid to be honest with your professors, who are more understanding than you may think. There are always people there willing to help.

Turn your internship into a job

Starjjil Shelvin is currently a senior at Trinity University majoring in Engineering-Science with a minor in mathematics. Last summer, Starjjil interned for the indirect procurement department at Dell Technologies. This internship landed Starjjil a full-time job as the new incoming sustainable sourcing lead for the global operations department at Dell Technologies. Starjjil is excited to graduate this May and begin his transition from college to the professional world.

Q: Why was it important for you to get an internship?

A: It was important for me to obtain an internship because it allowed me to step outside of the classroom setting and apply my knowledge to a real-world atmosphere. Internships allow you to showcase your talents and build your professional network with many potential employers. Additionally, internships are important because they allow a better understanding of the type of career path that I desire; my internship at Dell Technologies provided a valuable stepping stone when deciding on where I would like to continue my professional growth upon graduation from Trinity University.

Q: What resources did you use to find your internships? How soon did you start looking?

A: To find Internships, I utilized career services on campus my freshman year. They did an excellent job perfecting my resume to make sure that I was a competitive candidate. I recommend that it is best to start as early as possible for the best chances of getting contacted by employers. Make sure to print out numerous resumes and never be afraid to hand them out with confidence, engaging eye contact and a firm handshake to start off with remarkable first impressions.

Q: What skills and experience did you gain from your internship(s)?

A: During my internship, I gained professional and proper communication skills from numerous business partners within the company. It is very easy to sit behind a desk and email back and forth, however, the power of face-to-face interaction is much deeper than anything. Interacting with coworkers was fantastic. I talked with several people from all over the globe and had a great time understanding many new experiences from new people of different backgrounds. The main advice is to always focus on your people skills. Employers can always teach skills, but employers cannot teach a person’s character. That must come from within and can often be the deciding factor during the hiring process.

Q: What advice would you give to other students seeking to get the most out of their internships? Also add how an internship can help you land a job?

A: The advice that I would give is to prioritize work-life balance. I understand that it is a priority to get the work done that is asked of you, however, you must also make time to socialize and make connections with others. Many times, employers would prefer hiring someone who lacks skill but has strong character skills. I also recommend showing up early and leaving late. This really stands out and shows that you are eager to learn and that you are not afraid to stay late in case a task needs additional work before a deadline. Internships overall help you land a job by getting you in contact with many great employers; there’s also the added benefit of including professional references to your resume. These added references and connections are a great way to have justified team leadership skills, communication skills, accountability, and adaptability.  

Understanding the ABCs of Finance

Erik Russell is currently a process engineer for an oil and energy company in Oklahoma City, but before that, he was a student at Rice University, relying on the help of two San Antonio Area Foundation scholarships - the Jimmy & Elizabeth Harper Scholarship and Patricia & Lois Hartman Scholarship. Russell graduated in 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering, and says his financial journey through college is now helping him lead a financially fit lifestyle after college. Here are his tips to help you have a finacially fit experience. 

Q: Have you ever been faced with running out of money before month’s end? If so, how did you overcome this obstacle?

A: When I was in college, I had a student job but there were still some months where I overspent. I managed to get my budget back on track by cutting back on my largest expense — eating out or ordering takeout. I planned my meals so I could cook something quick and healthy on weeknights, giving me a little more cash to splurge on the weekend. Also, spending an extra 10 minutes making my lunch before work saves me about $10 a day, which adds up quickly for more money in my pocket.


Q: How do you prioritize what to spend your money on? What are you do’s and dont's concerning spending?

A: Instead of spending my money on things, I tend to spend my money on activities or experiences like nice meals, concerts, or special events. Outside of necessities, I would say don’t buy an item unless it is something you are likely to enjoy and appreciate for a long time. And of course, hold off on any big purchases unless you have saved the money and are comfortable with your budget.


Q: Do you have a written budget or do you use a software program to help you stay within your budget?

A: I have a written budget that I put together in a spreadsheet as well as an app for tracking all of my planned monthly income and expenses. Many banks now offer budgeting programs or apps that make it easy to see what your spending habits look like and quickly create budgets. There are also many free tools like Mint that can help you create smart spending habits and know when you are spending too much.


Q: What is your advice on getting and using credit cards?

A: Focus on building your credit by paying your bill on time and in full each month. Take advantage of special offers from credit card issuers, but don’t try to meet any special spending goals if they aren’t feasible no matter how enticing the rewards sound. If you expect you will need to carry a balance, look for a card with a low interest rate. The card perks will likely not be as dazzling, but the most important part is the money you save by paying lower interest fees.


Q: What other advice you would give to help students finish school with minimal debt (student loans, credit cards, etc.)?

A: There are various local and federal student loans that offer loan forgiveness. For example, some lenders will forgive all or part of your student loan debt if you meet certain criteria (graduation within four years, certain grade point average, career path, etc.). Be sure to explore programs that offer loan forgiveness and see if they are a fit for your student career. These can help offset the cost of school and you may already meet the criteria.

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