An Educational State of Mind

Marvelina Barcelo is the co-director of Cerritos College’s Transfer Center and a member of the iFALCON academic success campaign’s leadership team.

Many students often question the student health service fee added to their tuition charges upon enrollment. It is a neat perk to have in college. Paying the $16 fee for the semester allows access to the Student Health and Wellness Clinic (SHWC) services such as urgent and preventive care, women’s and men’s health care along with mental wellness services to name a few (see a complete listing of services). As a college student, I took advantage of the available women’s health care, but could have benefitted greatly from psychological counseling. No one plans to have someone pass away in their family when they are young, but LIFE HAPPENS.

It was overwhelming to have my father pass away during my sophomore year in college, more so because it was due to an overdose. Why would I write about this? I can only write blogs if I stay true to my experiences and I think this is one to share. The importance of knowing how to seek support for the loss of a loved one or any circumstance is crucial.

As a result, I developed my first anxiety attack in college. I did not know how to find help. Going to college was already so new to me. I wanted to talk about my feelings, but not with anyone I knew because I feared people would judge me and my family for what I would share. I lied to many people about the cause of my father’s death. I was very confused about how my father passed away. He was a funny man, the life of the party.  I couldn’t map out how a person so high on life could be so high on something dangerous.

A year after my father passed away, one of my favorite and rising comedians, Chris Farley, also overdosed and died, and I had to relive everything all over again. My senior year I took an Educational Psychology class and volunteered to be part of a training video for their Psychology graduate program. This was my first step to open up about my life and remove the stigmas that come along with seeking counseling like having others see you as “crazy” even though the setting was meant as a training. During this training, I was the patient in a therapy setting.  All I did was cry during the session. It was an eye opener. I am fortunate that waiting this long to open up did not have other major consequences. But this may not be the case for everyone.  Take action NOW! Like comedian George Lopez says “right now, right now or later, later.” I mean right now, right now…

Students need to know there is help at Cerritos College for psychological counseling through the Student Health and Wellness Clinic for any issue (i.e., relationship problems, adjustment to college life, depression, anxiety/stress/panic attacks, text anxiety, anger management, eating disorders, depression, sexuality, self-esteem, abuse (current or past), and drug and alcohol use/abuse). All records are confidential within legal constraints and are NOT part of the student’s academic records. Taking the first step should be seen as a preventive action. It’s best not to wait until things are beyond your control. I still suffer from anxiety and have utilized Psychological Counseling Services in various ways through my healthcare provider.  It never hurts to take a peek at the SHWC website and TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE!

How to access Student Health and Wellness Services:

Online References:

Obama: Destigmatize Mental Health Issues

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Posted in Education, Higher Education, Student Success, Transfer | Leave a comment

The G.I.F.T of Education

by Thu Nguyen, Cerritos College Counselor

Lately I have met with students to discuss their probationary or terminated statuses with financial aid because they did not meet Satisfactory Academic Progress, which includes maintaining a minimum 2.0 GPA and obtaining a 70% completion rate. It’s a difficult conversation to have, because many students encounter challenges that affected their grades or their ability to complete their courses. Some students have to work extra to help pay a mortgage, others have to take time to help sick family members, or some are taking courses that are more challenging than usual. As I reflected on this, I knew that I would not have been able to earn my college degree if it were not for the financial assistance that I received as a student. I have always valued my opportunity to attend college, and seeing how difficult it can be for others, I really feel like my education was a gift that I received and I’m grateful for.  

 I explored different strategies with students and the following are some key highlights. For me, mnemonic devices have always been helpful to remember information so here’s an example of using an acronym—G.I.F.T:

 Grades – aim high! Keep a minimum of 2.0 GPA, but aim for higher–‘A’s and ‘B’s. Consider:

  • Visiting your instructors’ office hours if you have questions about class topics
  • Getting a tutor – check with the Success Center
  • Forming a study group with classmates (find people who are motivated share the same goals of academic success as you)
  • Learning how to calculate your GPA by going to the Transfer Center website & click on GPA calculator on bottom right menu ‘Transfer Links’

Invest – reflect on why you are attending college. Make sure you understand the importance of your education and invest your energy in succeeding. Some investments you can make:

  • Buy your textbook and course materials on-time (buy things you ‘need’ before things you just ‘want’)
  • Choose to invest your energy into your course assignments before participating in other non-pressing activities (ex: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)
  • Unmotivated because you’re unsure of your major? Attend a Choosing a Major workshop through the Career Center

Finish – make the commitment to finish. Not completing or withdrawing from classes will decrease your completion rates.

  • Before withdrawing from a class, talk it through with someone like your instructor or a counselor about the ‘pros’ & ‘cons’
  • Know the deadlines to withdraw according to the Calendar of Important dates in the Class Schedule
  • Identify mentor(s) who can help motivate you to overcome barriers and persist. You can also check out Coaching Corps through iFALCON  
  • Learn how to calculate completion rates according to the 2012-13 SAP policy

 Time – make sure you have a well-balanced schedule between school, work, & other activities.

  • Focus on completing important tasks in advance before they become urgent. If you sort your tasks like this chart below, prioritize your time to complete tasks in Quadrant II first.




Not Urgent


Quadrant I (Important & Urgent)

  • Example:  staying up all night cramming for a test next morning

Quadrant II (Important, Not Urgent)

  • Example: start studying for your midterm 2 weeks in advance

Not Important

Quadrant III (Not Important & Urgent)

  • Example: fixing someone else’s problem

Quadrant IV (Not Important & Not Urgent)

  • Example: mindlessly watching television


  • Have a place to record all course assignments so that you can get them done on time. Organize your course assignments using a planner, a ‘to-do’ list, your phone calendar, a wall calendar…basically use whatever strategies work best for you!

What about other campus resources to help you stay on track?

  • Want to speak to a counselor but have a hard time getting an appointment? Attend a Counseling Tune Up workshop.
  • Want to be better prepared for exams? Attend a test preparation workshop at the Student Success Center.  
  • Feeling a high level of stress or anxiety? You can get psychological counseling at the Student Health Center.

There are many resources available to students at Cerritos College; I encourage you to start exploring them so that you not only maintain satisfactory academic progress if you are receiving financial aid but to perform your best in school.   

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Once Upon a Time an Open Access Pathway

Back in September I came across an article titled Drummond: Community Colleges No Longer a Place to Find Yourself. From this point, I started to spend more time thinking about the many changes to come for college students with the Student Success Act (SB 1456) and how to help students keep their motivation.

These days it is a struggle reading the latest articles about the state budget right before staring into the glowing eyes of a student learning that transfer is a possibility based on their educational plan. Most of my student appointments walk away with a long term educational plan, but once they are out of my sight a deep breath of hope and good luck always follow. It’s this simple, there is no guarantee students will be able to get the courses listed on their educational plan. Of course, this is just one of many things that can make the community college pathway less desirable or worrisome. But remember, these factors are also occurring up and down the state and in all system of higher education.

Although the mission of Cerritos College seems far removed from the present time when you read “The college takes pride in offering open access education…,” the fact is Cerritos College has found creative ways to receive funding for special programs and has been chosen for a few university partnerships which help increase student success/achievement. Do you know what they are?  Do you know where to find them, if needed?  Here are some special partnerships, programs and services that are unique to Cerritos College:

With more impaction statuses in the CSU system and stricter major requirements in the UC system, your grades, educational goal and flexibility are extremely important. There is not enough time for students to take their education lightly. Here is what students can do to be in a favorable position:

  • Do your best in class to avoid dropping a class or withdraw a class before the deadline to drop without a W. (consider the person who is trying to add that may not get a spot)
  • Seek tutoring early in the semester to keep your educational plan on track (in particular courses like math, English).
  • Remember, a C grade is not repeatable, so do your best at all times.
  • Keep yourself well informed by reading the course descriptions before enrolling in GEs, major and elective courses. You do not want to be in a class that is not interesting to you and as a result put yourself on a path toward academic or progress probation or dropout.

A tip I have mentioned before is students can take classes at other campuses to complete requirements or consider private and out-of-state universities. Now that enrollment for spring is around the corner ask yourself what you need to do.

This is the time to check MyCerritos student portal to access enrollment dates, view to do lists, verify balances due and transcripts. Enroll in units that are manageable with your personal load and do your best in all your classes. Think twice about the type of classes you are taking (check course descriptions) or consult with a counselor. If your units go over 18 units, you will be referred to take classes at another campus or consult with the Dean of Counseling Services for approval. Counseling appointments are limited so use the various workshops in the Counseling Division to supplement your academic advisement. If you need a review of the college orientation, you can always view the online orientation through MyCerritos or attend a Tune-Up Workshop. For quick questions, you can utilize online counseling or attend various Transfer Center Workshops/Career Services Workshops. For academic help, check out the Student Success Center. Keep yourself in the loop with the most current information. It’s your future!

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Posted in California State University, Higher Education, iFALCON, Student Success, Transfer, University of California | Leave a comment

Comprehend: Understanding the Transfer Degree Majors (SB 1440/AA-T/AS-T) for the CSUs

The newest transfer pathway (SB 1440) to the California State University (CSU) system will be important for students to become acquainted with as we approach the university application season. Currently Cerritos College offers 4 Transfer Degree Majors:

For spring 2013 transfer (application filing period: 8/1/2012 through 8/31/2012)

For fall 2013 transfer (application filing period: 10/1/2012 through 11/30/2012)

Many more Transfer Degree majors are coming down the pipeline so stay tuned! See below for the “go-to” section on the Transfer Center website.

My last blog pointed out that students need to stay updated on the information impacting future transfers and look ahead for ways to complete your educational goal(s). There is now a “go-to” place on the Transfer Center website under the CSU tab regarding SB 1440 degrees and information.

According to SB 1440, this pathway gives students guaranteed admission into the CSU system, and further are given priority consideration when applying to a particular program that is similar to the student’s community college major.

Is AA-T/AS-T for you?  Here are some things students should learn when considering the SB 1440 transfer degree pathway:

  • There are numerous bachelor degrees offered at the university. Is your major available as an AA-T/AS-T? And, is it approved as a similar major to the CSU campus? See the Majors and Campus matrix for more information.
  • AA-T/AS-T major requirements along with CSU GE/IGETC (Plan B or Plan C) must be completed a semester in advance (by end of spring for fall transfer and by end of summer for spring transfer). Will you have all your requirements completed on time? I just got word that CSUF will allow AA-T/AS-T major requirements and Plan B or C, with the exception of the Golden Four, to be in progress for fall 2012 for spring 2013 transfer.
  • Some CSU campuses offer more than one bachelor degree and concentration with similar AA-T/AS-T names. Do you know what degree you are applying for at the CSU campus with your AA-T/AS-T? (i.e., AA-T-Communication Studies at CSU Fullerton is a BA in Speech Communication) See the spring 2013 Transfer options for more information.

A student applying for an AA-T/AS-T to the CSU must also submit a petition with the Cerritos Admissions & Records office. There are two Associate in Arts degree petition on the admissions website: 1) Petition for Associate of Arts degree and 2) Petition for Associate in Arts degree for Transfer (AA-T). Another responsibility for the student is to make sure to indicate on the CSU application (CSU Mentor) intent to apply for an AA-T or AS-T.

The SB 1440 transfer pathway should be seen as another opportunity such as the UC Transfer Admission Guarantee (TAG), Teacher TRAC, CSULB STEM-TAP or UCLA TAP. More pathways mean more opportunities. Finding the right transfer pathway may require assistance from a counselor. Cerritos Falcons, please do not hesitate to follow-up with a counselor to help you COMPREHEND and decide the best transfer pathway. When it comes to transfer there is no “one-size fits all” pathway. SB 1440 information is very unclear when it comes to deadlines and what coursework can be in progress a semester prior to transfer. Stay connected and be patient with your counselors and the CSU campus for the latest information. By the time you read this blog, new information may have come through. Continue to stay flexible and creative to achieve your educational goals.

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Posted in California State University, Education, Higher Education, iFALCON, Student Success, Transfer, University of California | 14 Comments

New Ideas: Expecting the Unexpected in Transfer Admissions

On the same day the Transfer Center hosted a University Fair with over 30 colleges attending, the CSU system made an announcement to close transfer admissions for spring 2013 except for 8 campuses (Channel Islands, Chico, East Bay, Fullerton, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Bernardino, and Sonoma)*. In the weeks prior, I was advising many students about the spring 2013 transfer opportunity. Now this advisement will stand as misleading, confusing and/or frustrating to many students.

What should you do when you feel like California transfer opportunities keep getting worse? Continue to be flexible and creative. Learn what information will be impacting future transfers and look ahead for ways to complete your educational goals.

Here are some things students have heard and are wondering whether they are true:

  • California Community College enrollment fee will increase from $36 to $46 by summer 2012. (FACT)
  • No summer classes for 2013 for Cerritos College. (POSSIBILITY)
  • A time limit will be implemented on the Pell Grant for Financial Aid recipients affecting transfer students the most. (FACT)
  • The CSU system plans to accept fall 2013 applications on a wait-list basis until the outcome of the tax initiative in the November election is determined. (POSSIBILITY)
  • Only students who follow and complete the SB 1440 transfer degree will be considered for any of the 8 campuses open for spring 2013 admissions. (FACT)
  • CSU tuition will increase to $7,017 with fees ($5,970 tuition only) for fall 2012. (FACT)
  • Additional cuts in class sections at Cerritos College for fall 2012 & spring 2013. (POSSIBILITY)

The items above are primarily to bring awareness to the issues affecting community college transfers as well as the challenges that follow counselors. These days, you cannot expect a simple answer from a counselor when it comes to transfer, especially if you are going through walk-in counseling.

Keep yourself informed. Get connected with the counseling office, instructors, student success center, financial aid, and student activities for information to assist you with your educational goal(s). Identify the areas where you have control to help you move forward.

  • If you cannot enroll in the classes you need at Cerritos College, I encourage you to explore other community colleges to meet your needs. Many students attend more than one community college campus to complete requirements.
  • Apply for scholarships. Often times scholarship deadlines get extended to increase the number of applications.
  • Explore the possibility of participating in the Scholars Honors Program to benefit from priority admissions to various universities.
  • Undecided on a career. Check out Career Coach through the Cerritos College home page.

When you start feeling like you are pinned to the wall with no transfer options, make sure you Link Up with someone on campus or explore the many links throughout this blog. The California transfer student must always be on her toes. If you know of a peer who seems to know far less than you about transfer options, place yourself in the mentor role and help that student get connected.

*CSU Freezes Enrollment for Spring and CSU Outlines Options if Budget is Cut

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Be Organized! Manage Your Unit Load for Success

As class sections are significantly reduced due to budget cuts, more students will consider taking more units than is advised. Does this sound like you?  You are not alone. I certainly was one of these students when I was in college. Some reasons could be: a sense of feeling like you’re getting behind on your educational goal or feeling the need to complete your educational goal quicker in preparation for future cuts in sections. Both points are well taken, but you still may want to pay close attention to some pros and cons.

Here are my pros & cons:

Pros to taking extra units in the semester:

  • Complete educational goal in a timely manner
  • Opportunity to increase GPA
  • Demonstrate ability to manage time

Cons to taking extra units in the semester:

  • Chances of hurting GPA which can affect short and long-term plans such as scholarships, AA degree/transfer, deans/presidents list
  • Increase chances of earning W’s on transcript (another perspective is taking a spot from a student than can complete the course)
  • Less time to appreciate the courses due to an overwhelming schedule
    • Less time for leisure
    • Increase emotional stress
    • Long days

Deciding on a unit load (# of classes) includes many factors besides the amount of class time you will spend a week and the reasons mentioned above. Family responsibility, personal commitments, tutoring and added time for class (i.e., lab hours, arranged hours) are other things to consider when deciding on a unit load. Don’t forget about work!

I recall taking 20-23 quarter units (13.34-15.3 semester units) for 3 quarters (10 weeks/quarter vs. 18 weeks/semester) during my last year in college while working 10 hours/week. Changing majors in my 3rd year put me in a difficult situation. My decision to take a high unit load for 3 quarters just to complete my degree in 4 years was definitely not the best. My overall GPA suffered and I was not able to appreciate my Sociology courses. Looking back I would have considered staying an extra quarter to balance things out and enjoy my major courses. I also should have considered speaking to an advisor early on about my poor academic performance in my first major (Business Economics).

Do the math on your hours of commitment. Start off with the following formulas:

# of units per week = Class time per week

# of units per week x 2 = Approximate study time per week

Recommended units if working:

40 hours per week = 3-7 units

30 hours per week = 8-11 units

20 hours or less per week = Full-time (12-14 units)

Less than 15 hours = Full-time (14-18 units)

Example for a full-time student (12 units) taking Math, English and Social Sciences courses working 15 hours of week. This student is committing to 12 hours of class time, 24 hours of study time and 15 hours of work for a total of 51 hours a week.  This student can easily be over committing if there are “other things” to consider outside the 51 hours.

Think smart! The key is to walk away feeling good about your decision and one way is to think things through before jumping into a high unit schedule. Be ORGANIZED. Search for a plan that will bring you SUCCESS…….In the end, students with academic success will open up more opportunities along their journey.

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Linking Up – My Success Recipe

Cerritos Counselor Thu NguyenThu Nguyen is a counselor in the Counseling and Guidance division at Cerritos College.

“Familiarity breeds likeliness,” was a phrase introduced by a psychology instructor at UC Irvine that helped me understand perspectives from an instructor’s point of view. An instructor uses additional factors besides graded assignments and exams to monitor the learning progress of students in the classroom. This revelation helped me change my view about how it is ok to seek help from others. But it wasn’t something I knew at the beginning of my college experience.

In my first quarter at UCI, I went to an instructor’s office hours to inform her that I was struggling and needed help. I didn’t come with specific questions and got flustered when she asked what I really needed help on. By the end of this meeting, the instructor actually suggested that I re-consider my major, because if I couldn’t understand an introductory topic, how would I be able to pass the advanced levels? I left her office feeling hurt, concluded she’s a bad teacher, and contemplated dropping the course. After all, I’d just failed my first midterm, I didn’t feel prepared for my second midterm, and my grade was dependent mainly on the two midterms and the final. I’m no quitter though. I attended tutoring sessions, got myself into a study group, and even paid for private tutoring off campus. I passed the class with a C!

As great as I felt, I had a moment of realization about my role as a student. In high school, I had almost a straight “A” record. In my first quarter at UCI, I had a 2.3 GPA; I was close to being on academic probation. I knew right away that some things had to change, and it was going to be me (it’s not likely that the school or instructors were going to change to make things easier for me).

At that moment in my life, I was very proud of myself for being independent and responsible. I’m the youngest of 8 kids in my family; I always felt I had to prove myself because I would assume that people thought I was spoiled, since I was the baby of the family. Quite the opposite, by the time I was 18 years old, I was the only one left living at home and I had to help my parents with many tasks, since they do not speak English. In addition, of the 8 kids, only one sister, Tiffany, graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree. I would be the second. But I was also determined to be the first to earn a graduate degree.

Although it helped me to have a goal and I felt great about being ambitious, I knew it was not going to be easy. And as great as it was for me to feel independent, I acknowledged the fact that utilizing the help of others kept me from being on academic probation during my first college term. I learned that it was ok to talk to academic advisors about class selection, to tutors when I had difficulty with an assignment, to career counselors about different suitable majors and careers, to mentors or people who I admired, like Tiffany, for advice. Reaching out to other people and resources didn’t mean that I was less capable or independent.

Which brings me back to the phrase “familiarity breeds likeliness” and what that psych instructor was explaining to us.  When an instructor is able to get to know a student more–whether it be through in-class participation, office hours visits, or even sitting in the front row of the class to be more recognizable–this familiarity with a specific student can help the instructor to see the areas that the student is struggling with, and she may be able to help identify strategies that will be most effective. I then realized that as a student, I could help myself by helping the instructor teach me how to learn.

After hearing that, I was less hesitant about going to office hours. I was also less hesitant about making an appointment to meet with advisors, getting into a study group, joining student clubs, and going to different workshops. For me, linking up with my instructors, campus activities, and college staff helped me become more familiar with the campus, and I was actually enjoying my college experience more. I made new friends, I got help exploring majors and careers, and I felt great about playing an active role in my education and career.

As a result, I went to graduate school to earn my Master’s Degree. From personal experience, linking up meant that I was taking initiative to connect myself to people and environments that would help me succeed in college and in life. That’s my success recipe –you should try it!

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