To the student mother… you are a superhero without a cape

On Mother’s Day I sat across from my mother watching her completely immersed in her new project, making cloth jewellry, I reminisced on our journey together as “mature students”.

My mother never stopped learning. She never stopped pursuing higher education. She never stopped pushing me, sometimes to the edge of darkness, to be the best version of myself. Because of her, I’m an overachiever. It’s a blessing and a curse. It’s my blessing, my curse.

She used to tell me stories of her reading books to me while I was still in her womb. I remember her carrying me on her back, with my brother in her arms to drop us off at my grandmother’s house, before the sun came up. You see, very early into her marriage, she became a single parent. That’s a long and painful story. But my mother was and is an excellent nurse. And still, she decided, even while she had two small children and a job that required her to work long shifts, she was going to become one of the best midwives in the country.

Today, she is one of the best in the country; literally.

But she just never stopped going.

She did short courses while my brother and I completed the full-time-student phase of our lives. And as soon as I began to work, I began my degree. My mother emerged from her hiatus and applied to enrol in a degree programme, after being out of the school system for almost two decades.

This time, she needed all the help she could get. She needed me.
I can’t begin to tell you how many times we were both frustrated. Both trying to meet deadlines for our assignments at the same time, both overwhelmed with our careers.

I’m going to stop here and show you (with some kinda old, not too well taken, photos) where we have been and what we have accomplished together.

Here are the…

Three stages. Three phases. Three success stories.


Wendy Phillip – Mother of The Graduate Guru
Alette Liz Williams – The Graduate Guru

The first picture – my mother graduated with her BSc in Human Nutrition and Dietetics. It was also my birthday. I told her it was poetic justice (haha) because we both earned that qualification together. I think God let her graduate on my birthday to honour both of our efforts. You couldn’t tell who was more proud that day.

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The second picture – my mother and I graduated on the same day. I got my Associates Degree in Journalism and Public Relations (with Honours). She received her post-graduate diploma; qualifying her as a Diabetes Educator.

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The third picture – I graduated with my BA in Mass Communications (Magna Cum Laude). My #1 cheerleader was by my side. Guess who that was? You got it! My mother πŸ™‚

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What do these pictures have in common?

Struggles and victories.
Caring and understanding.
Compassion and tolerance.
Drive and resilience.

Even while I studied, my mother was motivated to return to school. The motivation was symbiotic.

Many tears were shed between us during those years.

We both haven’t stopped. Presently, we are both enrolled in programmes. I am pursuing an International Masters and she is taking another course to position her for her masters. I think she may decide to do Public Health *covers eyes*.

Final thoughts: Ironically, most of my clients are mothers going back to school. I’m always humbled to share their journey with them. I’ve cried with them and laughed with them. I’ve listened to their concerns and encouraged them through their trials. My service goes beyond providing resources and support. I am as invested in their success because the journey is always familiar. Every stage my mother and I went through together, I have been through with the mother’s I’ve helped (with a few varying situations, of course).

To the student mother… you are a superhero without a cape. Be encouraged.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Yours in Success,
The Graduate Guru

Feel free to comment. I’d love to hear your story πŸ˜‰

Get a grade A when you do this surprising hack!

As an overachiever, nothing makes me feel better than seeing a “Grade A” at the end of a course, project or exam. After all, how can I help my clients achieve the high grades they want, if I can’t get them myself, right?

But, I’m not super intelligent or a genius. People just think I am *smirks*. The real reason I hit that grade, many times, is because I just love hacks.

You see, a few years ago, I struggled through the first year of my Bachelors. Three semesters of getting B’s and C’s. I was always either soooooo close or too far from that better grade, and it was frustrating.

But then I did a personal audit to figure out what I could do to improve my grades.

I realised was that I was constantly trying to keep up in class. And it didn’t help that I was already feeling overwhelmed with trying to balance my work life with my social life, and studies.

So, I decided to “work smart, not hard” and switched up my approach to learning. This one decision set me on a path to become a Magna Cum Laude graduate at the end of my programme.

Quick facts: According to the Investopedia Dictionary, universities use Cum Laude to signify that a student has attained a high level of achievement. Cum Laude means “with distinction” or “with honour”. Magna Cum Laude means “with great distinction”. Summa Cum Laude means “with highest distinction”.

It’s not as difficult as you think, but it keeps you ahead of the game, which was my challenge. If you have the same issue I had, then this hack is your life-saver.

What’s the hack?

Stay ahead of the class!

Grasp the concept before… reinforce during, execute after.

You’re probably asking why I call this a hack. Well, before you dismiss it, let me answer that question be telling you HOW you can make this your ultimate hack in three easy steps!

Read about the SQ3R method here: 7 effective study techniques

Step 1: Read the lecture notes with the intention to clarify what you are unsure about and reinforce what you think you know.

To be forewarded is to be forearmed.

I can guarantee you that 99% of the time, you’ll get the course outline before you begin the course anyway, so why wait until you start the class?

To grasp the concept before, you need to read as though you had to learn the topic quickly for a class discussion. Even if you don’t like to read, read.

In some cases it may be that you have to read a book for the class. Well, set aside a day or two to read a chapter or two. The aim is to stay ahead of the class.

Ask yourself “What main points stand out to me?” “What am I confused about?” “What makes me uneasy?” “What do I want to challenge?” “What relatable example would help me understand this better?” Save the page numbers or articles that spark these questions.

When you list the questions and develop your scenarios to challenge a statement or thought, get ready to make your class sessions interactive – on purpose, with a purpose.

You’ll be needing them ONLY, in the next few steps.

Of it’s an online course, use the forums.

Step 2: Trigger class or forum discussions that would answer all of YOUR questions.

This is how you reinforce during. It’s your head start!

You don’t have to derail the lecture or forum discussion. Actually, you may not even be allowed to. But know this, lecturers actually appreciate when students show interest in what they teach. Simply ask your questions intermittently. The best times would be when the teacher asks if the class has any questions or when there’s a reasonable pause. Sometimes, you may have to ask after the session.
Being inquisitive may make you look like a teacher’s pet, or a nuisance to your peers.

If you have the energy to care about those associations, you’re wasting emotions. Period.

Now on to the next step.

Step 3: Write the responses to suit your style of understanding and organise them by topic.

By this I mean, firstly write the responses you receive in a way that you understand them best.
For me, I write shorthand and write one-line examples. Let me give you an example. Suppose I want to remember different leadership styles for a topic with your MBA. Here’s what I would do do:
Transformative leader – TransLed
Style – With my vision and awesome personality, I inspire employees to use creativity and innovation tomake my organisation grow and be successful. When I’m done with them, they’ll be leaders too!

Hey, don’t judge me. That’s just how I do it, ok? I’d also put a note to learn the definition just in case the lecturer says I have to know it verbatim.

This strengthens the foundation built in Step 2.

Then organise them together, in order, by topic. Only use YOUR notes against the obvious theories or references that are recommended. Don’t neglect to write down the books and page numbers you did your first reading from. The trick with this step will be revealed in the next step.

Execution time: Compare exam or project hint/guides to your unique notes ONLY.

So, this is the part that closes the gap between that average grade and that perfect grade.

All lecturers are inclined to give some kind of hint or guide. Some are very detailed. Bless their hearts. But there are others who just give you generalised overview of what to expect. Sometimes you are the unlucky one that doesn’t get to experience this.

Still, go back to your notes and ONLY flag the unique notes that line up with the guide or hints. This is how you execute after doing Steps 1 to 3, effectively.

Most times, you will have to give an interpretation of what is taught. Everything you’ve done before will work in your favour.

Repeat this hack for every course and you’ll do better every time!

Final Thoughts: I admit, this hack takes work. But the benefit is that planning ahead is much better than trying to keep up. It’s like getting experience before you begin a job. With this strategy, you will find it easy to consistently get high grades, even for subjects you find difficult to understand.

Of course, this hack isn’t for everybody. Some of you are able to learn quickly, interpret and retain information well, and communicate effectively in your projects and exams. Y’all unicorns are scattered everywhere huh? But if you are a normal, busy, overwhelmed, part-time student (like me), you’ll need all of the help you can get to stay afloat in this ocean of academia.

It’s a hack that worked for me. And, it can be used for any type of programme that gives you information beforehand – which is pretty much all programmes. Try it and see if it works for you.

Remember, “Work smart, not hard.”

I’d love for you to share this blog post πŸ™‚

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[Online] Certificate, Diploma or Degree?

This week I had a discussion with a friend – she’s is a mature professional who wanted to upskill. While chatting, she said, “Some people may be intimidated if they have to do a whole course at once. I know it was indicated that single courses can be had. For me personally I’d prefer to start small. Certificate first…especially in courses like psychology.” As I listened to her expressed concern, I realised that, especially as she is new to online learning, searching for the most suitable programme is a challenge because she is trying to decide which to do – a Certificate, a Diploma or a Degree?

She is not alone.

In March 2020, The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), reported that β€œan unprecedented number of children, youth and adults are not attending schools or universities because of COVID-19,” with governments in 100 countries having announced or implemented closures. In 85 countries, schools nationwide have been closed, affecting more than 776.7 million children.

Over 776 MILLION! Wow!

This number accounts for those already attending school, however, as COVID-19 triggered an increase in unemployment (and the restructuring of businesses), there has been a surge in the need for many individuals in the working class to either upskill or retool. I think that it’s safe to assume that the amount of “students” that are not “in a school” is way more than 776 million. Get what I’m, saying?

Also, just like my friend, more people are considering enrolling in programmes to learn a new skill or enhance their professional resumes. I see the number increasing even more now.

If you are new to online learning read this: 5 Tips for New Online Learners

That got me thinking about how many people are experiencing the same dilemma. This must be quite the anxiety-inducing pickle to be in. So in order to help persons, like my friend, make an informed decision I decided to present some information that I believe would be helpful.

Certificate, Diploma or Degree? Let’s define them first with some explanations for each.

What is a Certificate?

Insert name and course *smile emoji*

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a certificate as:

  1. “an official document that states that the information on it is true, e.g. a birth/marriage/death certificate or a doctor’s/medical certificate”, or
  2. “the qualification that you receive when you are successful in an exam”, e.g. a Certificate in Plumbing.

We’ll move ahead with definition #2, of course. Certificates are attained through short courses or programmes which have varying timeframes:

  • A few hours e.g. a Certificate of Participation in a music workshop.
  • A day – you know, like that one time your boss sent the department to learn High Impact Business Writing and you didn’t want to go and then you were glad you went, but you probably still don’t use it because the office has templates *slaps forehead*.
  • A few weeks (usually about 6-8 weeks) e.g. a certificate in Social Media Management.
  • A few months e.g. a Certificate in Cosmetology.

A certificate is cost-efficient and focuses on a specific area or skill. This way you can gain that particular skill without years of schooling. It’s also great if you’re looking to make a career shift. However, its main limitation is that you may not be able to make any move outside of the chosen discipline; unless you do additional certificates.

What is a Diploma?

Your entry to another career.

The Macmillan Dictionary clearly explains a diploma as:

  1. “a course of study at a college or university in  vocational subject (one that prepares you for a particular job) e.g. a Diploma in Psychology.”
  2. “a course of study at a college or university in an academic subject that people sometimes do after getting a degree.” 

Diplomas (or career diplomas) are more comprehensive than certificates and take a bit longer to get, but can be obtained in a year or two. Diplomas are field-specific and are mostly offered in technical and vocational areas like massage therapy and Information Technology.

Diplomas cost less than degrees and have minimal, if any, prerequisites. They concentrate on the skills necessary for the field. The limitation of a Diploma is that it’s just that, a Diploma. You may end up feeling like you’re in limbo and not quite at the finish line with your new certification; it’s above a certificate and just below a degree – get what I mean?

What is a Degree?

You’ll be proud, and relieved, when you’re done.

The definition given by Britannica is as follows:

Degree, also called academic degree, in education, any of several titles conferred by colleges and universities to indicate the completion of a course of study or the extent of academic achievement.” pulls out all the stops to give us the full overview of this type of “certification”:

You can read more about what each entails by clicking here.

The first thing to note about a Degree is that degrees are often a requirement by employers. They take more than two years to complete and are more all rounded with the courses that are enveloped within the programme. Since degrees include elective courses e.g. a language or an art of some form like public speaking (I think public speaking is an art), you end up gaining more intellectual range which gives you a solid foundation to choose different career paths. I’ll give you a personal example.

I did my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Mass Communication. It took me 6 years to do as a part-time student. I know what you’re thinking, “That’s crazy!” right? Yeah, well, it is usually a 4-year full-time programme. Anywhos -it was the best 6 years of my life. I loved every course. I did history, social media management, speech writing and public speaking, website development, photography, journalism, economics and accounting, Spanish. The list was extensive; as you could imagine. At the end, I specialised in Public Relations. I was able to apply for many types of jobs because of this degree. I never regretted it.

So, how do you choose?

Certificate, Diploma or Degree?

I’ll give you five overarching considerations to help you decide. Please note that, each of these prompters speak directly to the scope of your budget and the urgency you’ve placed on upgrading your credentials. Also know that there will be some overlapping features.

#1 Is it complementing a qualification you already have?

Recommended – Certificate.

A certificate would give you the specialisation you require within a targeted discipline. It’s very good to do if you need to fill a gap, expand your skill-set portfolio or modernise an existing skill to adjust in a timely manner with changing markets. Doing a certificate would signal “adaptability”!

#2 Will it give you access to another, or higher, position within your career?

Recommended Diploma or Degree.

Diplomas are like Associate’s Degrees (which I did not elaborate on, I know). They are more significant than certificates but not as weighty as degrees. Because they cost more and take a longer time to earn, there is a higher level of seriousness that is projected with this qualification. Doing a Diploma is usually the first step in beginning a career change, but it is also a great way to position yourself a specialist in a particular area. It signals “decisiveness”!

#3 Is it an entryway into another field or entrepreneurship?

Recommended – Diploma

As the definition states, diplomas are attained for certain fields and are heavily focused on what is needed for that career, only. If you wish to move on from being an employee and become an entrepreneur, or perhaps you want to consider consultancy in an area you are passionate about, a diploma will open that door for you with a reasonable budget and a shorter time frame. It signals “advancement” or “liberty”!

#4 Does it make you more marketable?

Recommended – Certificate.

If you’re looking to become more marketable, you need to sprinkle a few tokens on your resume. Assess your environment, survey job postings, pay attention to the evolution of business operations. You’ll begin to see what’s missing. More so, you’ll notice which of the missing things you can actually do and you should get on. It signals that you are “forward-thinking”!

Read more about skills you should learn here: 6 skills every student should learn – or be able to do

#5 Is it a stepping stone for something greater?

Recommended – Degree (or selectively, Diploma).

Are you seeking to meet the market requirement for a stable job? Do you intend to climb the academic ladder within a chosen career path? While a diploma will steer you to where you wish to go, a degree will definitely authorise your arrival. If the degree is an undergraduate degree, it is also an essential qualification to obtain a higher-level degree such as a Master’s, Master of Philosophy (MPhil), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), or a Doctorate. A degree, undoubtedly, takes much longer to earn and costs more; in every way. Both shift your potential for better compensation packages; positively. Of the two, a degree is clearly more formidable. It signals “professional”!

Final thoughts: I hope this information provided enough fodder to make contemplating your next step easier. Any decision to obtain a new qualification should be applauded. It should matter a lot because your name will be on that final, validating, paper and your resume will carry that new qualification. So, decide where you want to be and just begin!

The Graduate Guru will be your silent cheerleader *wink*. Now get to it!

Let’s have a chat about your concerns?

Book a free 15-minute Discovery Session now. Click here to set your date and time!

Or get in touch and shoot me a message, or a question. Click here.

If this blog can help someone you know, share it! πŸ™‚

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