Back-to-school worries? Look to the experts at Brandman

September 17, 2015
Students arrive for classes at Brandman University's Irvine campus.

Students arrive for classes at Brandman University’s Irvine campus.

It isn’t just kindergarteners who get first day of school jitters. College students get them, too, even “older” college students. We turned to an expert for a little advice on adjusting to Brandman University and its eight-week sessions.

Her first piece of advice: “Don’t wait to buy your books.”

Carmen Gonzalez is one of Brandman’s academic advisors, and she knows all about the challenges, mistakes and successes of students.

“If you don’t have your books when school starts, you’ll be way behind,” says Gonzalez. Many students wait until their financial aid is finalized, which can often be a week after classes have started. If students wait until then to buy books, it can often be another seven to 10 days before they have them in hand. That puts students two weeks behind in reading in an eight-week term.

“There is no lag time,” she says, noting that students transferring from a semester system need to readjust their thinking quickly to stay caught up.

Carmen Gonzalez is an academic advisor for online students.

Carmen Gonzalez is an academic advisor for online students.

The second biggest hurdle students face is a very human one. They assume they know more than they do, particularly about Blackboard. Although some may have used some components of Blackboard in high school or community college, all students should take the time to learn about how Brandman uses Blackboard for both in-seat and online courses.

Students are often reluctant to admit they don’t understand the system. “These are the things they don’t call me about but when I get the grade report and they’re not turning in assignments, that’s when I find out,” she says. Her advice: use the series of tutorials on even if you think you’ve used the system before.

The third key piece of advice is time management and having a realistic view of how much time going to school takes.


“There’s a perception sometimes that online is easier, but it’s not. You have to be that much more dedicated. You have to budget the time and be diligent about spending that time. It’s easy to get distracted,” she says.

When panic starts to set in, or even before, Gonzalez sees it as her job to not just listen but to really hear what a student’s concerns are.

It’s not always a straight-out statement. I try to empower them, to give them the tools to work through it and use me as an emergency line. I let them know they can always come to me,” she says. She knows she’s doing her job right, is when students need her less and less as they move through their academic roadmap.

“The goal is to have them be more independent and still know they have a home base and someone to talk to,” she says.

Gonzalez worked with at-risk girls, helping them get into college before coming to Brandman almost two years ago. She was initially surprised that Brandman students had many of the same fears, insecurities and misconceptions: Am I smart enough to go to college? Will I be the oldest? Will I be the dumbest?

“Fears get expressed in different ways. That’s something I’ve learned over time. I hope students know they’re not alone and that their peers feel the same we. We all carry fears.”

Because she mainly works with online students, she meets many of her advisees for the first time at commencement. When she introduced herself this spring, she was often greeted with a warm hug. Watching them get their diplomas, she says, gives her fulfillment, too.

That diploma at the end is also what she uses to help students stay motivated. “I tell them keep that in mind. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. You can’t always see it, but remember that it’s there.”

Is college a good value?

Education bonusAmong the many things new and returning college students worry about is the cost of college and whether it’s worth it. There’s plenty of opinion for both yes and no answers, but consider the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics looking at the employment rate of those 25 and older by educational attainment as of July 2015:

  • Less than a high school diploma: 8.3 percent
  • High school graduates, no college: 5.5 percent
  • Some college: 4.4 percent
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher: 2.6 percent


The median annual income in 2014 for those with a high school diploma but no college was $34,736 compared to $57,252 for those with a bachelor’s degree, a difference of 49 percent.

Or as the New York Federal Reserve declared in a recent report: “… the benefits of both a bachelor’s degree and an associate’s degree still tend to outweigh the costs, with both degrees earning a return of about 15 percent over the past decade.” That’s a rate of return investors love.

Advice from Brandman’s academic advisors

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