Advice on Conquering the Personal Statement

October 20th, 2014 by
Rebecca Marcum, admissions counselor and graduate student

Rebecca Marcum, admissions counselor and graduate student

By Rebecca Marcum, Penn State World Campus admissions counselor and graduate student

Writing a personal statement is a very important part of the graduate program application process, but it can be the most intimidating part as well.

Trust me — I know.

I’ve been there, too.

Before applying to Penn State World Campus’s higher education master’s degree program (where I’m slowly but surely making progress toward my M.Ed.), I took a year to write my personal statement.

I won’t shower you with details, but that year was littered with personal upheavals and professional transitions. I wrote in fits and bursts, often stopping and walking away for weeks or months at a time. I had to re-think my priorities, my goals, and my future.

With all of these changes occurring, I found many reasons to procrastinate. “I’m just going to wait until things quiet down,” I kept telling myself, breathing a sigh of relief that I had managed to push the personal statement off a little further.

But then the morning came when I realized that I couldn’t let myself keep making excuses. In the months and months that I had been working on my personal statement, it had somehow mutated into this big, hulking monster, constantly looming in the back of my mind. It was time to sit down and confront the beast – all 2 double-spaced pages of it.

I am now here to tell you that it is possible to face the personal statement and emerge victorious! Here are a few tips that I discovered can help to ease the stress of writing a personal statement; I now also use these tips when I speak with prospective World Campus graduate students in my position as an admissions counselor:

Take a deep breath

Remember that personal statements center on you: your academic, professional, and personal background and aspirations. Think about your career goals and be prepared to explain not only why you wish to enter or advance in this field of work, but also what you hope to contribute to the field. With these thoughts in mind, ask yourself these questions and let them guide your writing: Why are you applying to this program? What will you bring to this program? Where do you want this program to take you? These questions might seem daunting, but don’t be afraid! After all, who’s a bigger expert on you than you are?

Be clear, relevant, concise, and precise

Make sure you answer all the questions the prompt asks in succinct, to-the-point language. Most statements of purpose limit you to 1 to 2 typed pages or 500 words. This doesn’t allow much room for lengthy reflections about your educational philosophy, nor does it give you time to discuss your love of French cooking or how you were the captain of your college’s ultimate Frisbee team. Each word you write must be essential and serve to aid your argument and give your statement a feeling of cohesion. Lastly – and most importantly — make sure you proofread everything!

Don’t forget to be yourself

You are your biggest advocate, so don’t sell yourself short by trying to be someone you’re not. Your personality, your experiences, and your thoughts (yes, including your doubts!) make you a unique person and an intriguing applicant. Being succinct doesn’t mean erasing your personality from the statement.

Ask for help

Have a question about the prompt or about the program? Don’t be afraid to contact the academic department to ask for clarification. Doing this will show the program that you have put time and thought into what you are preparing to say, and that you are interested and invested enough to do some additional digging.

Find a second opinion

Ask someone you trust and respect to read over your statement, once you have a working rough draft. Not only will this person catch any typos or grammatical errors you might have made, he or she will also give you a new perspective. Are you really answering the program’s questions to the best of your ability? Is your statement well written and well argued, or is there room for improvement?

Just remember that, in the end, this is your statement; don’t let it become someone else’s words written in your name!

Proofread once more…or twice more…or…

Just as you wouldn’t want to submit a cover letter or résumé to your dream job only to discover you misspelled the hiring manager’s name, you shouldn’t submit a personal statement that contains careless mistakes. This is a time to slow down, turn on spellcheck, pull out your dictionary and thesaurus, uncap your red pen, call in a second pair of eyes (if you haven’t already). Be prepared to look over your essay multiple times with a critical eye and a fine-toothed comb before you hit “Submit”!

In the end, don’t forget that each program is different and so each statement of purpose is different as well. And if you transform the personal statement into a fearsome, loathsome beast (like I did), remember this: you are more scared of it than it is of you. If you follow the tips above, however, you should be well equipped to face the personal statement – and win!

Happy writing!

Now it’s your turn. What comments or questions do you have? And for those of you who have successfully written your own statements of purpose, what other tips can you provide to eager grad-students-to-be?

4 Ways We’re Making Online Courses Accessible to Students with Disabilities

October 16th, 2014 by

By Sonya Woods, Accessibility Consultant with Penn State World Campus

At Penn State World Campus, we want all our students to have a great learning experience. Part of our focus with course design is keeping in mind students with disabilities, whether they are vision-impaired, hearing-impaired, or have cognitive disabilities such as ADHD. And designing to improve accessibility for those students actually improves usability for all students in online courses. Here are four approaches we use to ensure our online courses are accessible.

1. We Conduct Accessibility Testing

screenshot of JAWS heading list

JAWS users “scan” the a page by pulling up a Heading List, like this one.

We test all the course elements with a screen reader called JAWS (Job Access with Speech). A screen reader is software that enables a computer to read the text on a webpage aloud. JAWS screen reader is favored by people who are blind and is therefore an excellent tool for accessibility testing. If our content works with JAWS, that’s a good sign it will work well for all students, because the design principles that make web content work for screen reader users are good practice for all types of learners.

For example, screen reader users navigate by page headings, so we “chunk” our content with headings and subheadings. This not only makes the page navigable for those who can’t see, but it makes it scannable for sighted students and more searchable for everyone.

2. We Follow Best Practices with Accessibility

Designing courses accessibly from the beginning means that all our students, whether they need accommodations or not, have a better experience; if accommodations are needed, very little extra work goes into providing those, allowing us to make the content accessible quickly.

Anytime a course includes a video, we proactively include transcripts, which are accessible for screen reader users, work at low bandwidths, are printable, and are preferred by some students who would rather read the content than watch a video. Providing the content in multiple formats accommodates students with disabilities, students on various devices and platforms, and students with varying learning preferences. Everyone benefits!

We also offer multiple formats for complex information. Diagrams or charts may have a text description, or the information may also be represented by a table, or a series of lists — whatever communicates the concepts most effectively.

For example, during the summer semester we had a visually impaired student in one of our higher education courses. Part of the course content included a presentation with charts, like this:

Example of a chart from a Penn State World Campus course

Example of a chart from a Penn State World Campus course

To make this information accessible, we also displayed it as a table. The table is accessible to assistive technology, whereas the chart is not.

Table as an alternate format to the chart.

Table as an alternate format to the chart.

We not only practice these approaches, but we teach other design staff throughout Penn State about them. My teammate Nikki and I do trainings and presentations for course authors and designers to educate them about accessible course design and universal design principles. Our goal is to help people create learning experiences that work for the widest number of students possible to lessen the need for accommodations.

3. We Research and Use the Best Methods Available

STEM courses (science, technology, engineering, and math) pose some accessibility challenges. A couple years ago, it was common practice to display math content as images in lesson pages. That was a simple way to preserve the complex formatting. These images by themselves were not accessible (because screen readers can’t interpret graphics) and providing accurate alternative text descriptions was challenging as well.

Recently a special code for math content was developed by the W3C Math Working Group called MathML that allows us to display math content in a screen-reader-friendly way. As an added benefit, it’s easily translatable into a number of languages, including Braille. We identified the best way to use MathML with our course creation system and now we use it for all our math content.

One recent success we saw was from a blind student who used JAWS screen reader to complete one of our online math courses. Because we had the content converted into MATHML, he was able to take the course and hear the math content read correctly with JAWS.

4. We Provide Accommodations for Learners with Disabilities

While we do as much as we can to make our course content work for everyone, there is still a need for disability accommodations for some students. When a student with a vision, hearing, or other sensory impairment enrolls in one of our courses, we are notified by Anita Colyer Graham, manager of access at Penn State World Campus, who is notified the Office for Disability Services or Terry Watson, who works directly with students who have disabilities.

When we receive this information, we review the course, looking at course content, materials, and the technologies to identify any potential barriers for the student, and work with the design teams to complete any necessary remediation work. This work can include adding text descriptions to complex images, or providing the information in a more accessible format, such as converting a Word document to an HTML webpage.

For example, staff from Penn State’s Office for Disabilities Services and the University Libraries make sure course textbooks and readings are provided in an accessible format. Sometimes that means using different software, such as Kurzweil 3000, which magnifies textbooks:

screenshot of Kurzweil 3000 screen reader software

This is an example of the magnification and highlighting available with the Kurzweil 3000 screen reader – software provided by Penn State to students who need it.

The Future of Accessibility

Technology is always evolving, so our course creation process keeps improving to provide all of our students with better and better learning experiences. While there will always be some need for students with disabilities to receive accommodations, I am hopeful that technology vendors, instructors, and instructional designers will embrace the values in universal design to create products that will work for the widest number of people possible, lessening the need for special accommodations.

Mindfulness Can Increase Your Concentration and Lower Stress

October 7th, 2014 by

Photo by RelaxingMusic via Flickr

“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.”
—Dalai Lama 

Mindfulness can help students focus and reduce stress, and help create new neuronal pathways in the brain. As an advocate of meditation, I use mindfulness because it is relaxing and the benefits are extremely rewarding. Read below to discover the history of mindfulness and how you can practice it today.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness originated in Buddhism, and the 2,500-year-old tradition is part of a much wider set of beliefs and behaviors. Some of these behaviors and beliefs are referred to as a psychological process or as a skill developed over time. Mindfulness has been studied at Penn State for years and it has been turning heads outside of the University with programs and workshops. Meditation is a large portion of the practice, if not the only practice.

What does mindfulness entail? Well, if you are constantly aware of your surroundings, you are practicing mindfulness to some degree. Awareness may be one of the most important aspects of mindfulness. This may be because awareness uses your brain in ways that require order and logical thought. Emotions, such as anger, can be extreme only when you sink back into your thoughts, or if you go forward, such as thinking about the future. Awareness helps one to be fully immersed in any moment.

Let’s see how this can help with our brain, emotions, and stress.

Mindfulness is being aware of each moment that passes, while being fully present of our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and surrounding environment. Meditation is used as a mindfulness technique to help us achieve this optimal state of awareness, which can help you improve concentration and reduce stress.

Mindfulness also incorporates acceptance into everyday situations. This means that we do not judge our thoughts or feelings — we allow them fully. For example, instead of thinking that our emotions or thoughts need to be put into a category of right or wrong, practicing mindfulness allows us to accept how we feel in any given moment and allow ourselves a sense of freedom. We also are tuned into the present, so we aren’t focusing on the past, or imagining the future. As I mentioned earlier, this can help with stabilizing our emotions, such as intense anger, fear, or sadness.

Mindfulness Creates New Connections in the Brain

Mindfulness helps us achieve growth of new neural networks in the brain. By growing neural networks, you are essentially rewiring your brain to find better and new ways to handle tasks and cope with stress and emotions. You are also helping yourself increase your focus.

Practicing mindfulness has been shown in research to increase gray matter in the brain. Gray matter holds most of the actual brain cells compared the other structures of the brain. An increase in density may mean an increase in connectivity between the cells, and an increase in two areas known as the pons and raphe nucleus can improve our overall psychological well-being.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

A recent study on mindfulness meditation showed that participants had less psychological stress from anxiety, depression, and pain. To me, this makes sense, because while we experience anxiety, we tend to give our thoughts too much power. Our thoughts run our lives, and if they are negative, that becomes overwhelming.

Increase Your Focus in 8 Weeks

A study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital was the first to report changes in density in the gray matter of the brain. In as few as 8 weeks, participants had increased density in the areas of the brain responsible for:

  • learning and memory processes
  • emotional salience (top priority given to certain healthy emotions)
  • the ability to take on different perspectives
  • emotional regulation

These areas of the brain are known as the posterior cingulate, the temporo-parietal lobe, the hippocampus, and the cerebellum.

As research continues, increases in gray matter density in different brain structures show promise for positive brain changes.

These changes can help improve your focus and enable you to remember what you read more thoroughly. To a higher degree, practicing mindfulness may help you to take more control of what you think about, enabling more space for learning new things, remembering what you have just read, and increasing long-term memory.

New to Meditation?

Of the participants in the study referenced earlier, they were all new to meditation. That means that anyone can start feeling the benefits in several weeks.

At first, you might think your practice is actually making you more distracted. That’s because you’re increasing your awareness of everything, particularly distractions. As you learn to concentrate and focus on your breath, you will notice more thoughts because you are aware of them. So it may seem as if a thousand things come to you during this time. But this means your attention is actually working better — you will notice brain wandering and how easily you can get distracted from just sitting and staring at the wall.

Imagine driving to work. It’s a pretty familiar route, and you know what to expect every day. You see the same trees, signs, roads, and highways. This is how the brain works. The more you think about something, the more it becomes ingrained into your brain, the more you know no other way. The more you are used to racing, uncontrolled thoughts, the more aware you will need to be in order to stop them.

How to Meditate

There are many ways to practice mindfulness meditation: breathing techniques, visualizations, and more. You can find some in my article I wrote earlier this year — Why Mental Breaks Are Important — and here are a few more:

  1. 60 Seconds — Take 60 seconds to focus on only your breathing, nothing else. Do this several times a day. Over time, you can gradually extend this duration or simply double it every day. Don’t think you’ve failed if you begin thinking and not focusing on your breath. It takes years of practice to be able to have one minute of alert, clear attention.
  2. Conscious Observation — Pick an object and devote all your attention and awareness to it. Don’t study it or analyze it — just observe it for what it is. It can be a pen, a cup, a Penn State T-Shirt, or a dot on the wall. It’s essential to practice this, as it gives you an alert, “awake” feeling, and puts you in the present moment. Notice how you don’t really think of the past or future during this exercise.
  3. Slowly Count to 10 — Count to 10 in your mind and catch yourself to see if you are thinking of anything you need to do, a thought from the past, a story you’ve created, or simply forgetting to count completely. If you catch yourself thinking, start over. You can start out doing this a few times until you feel comfortable meditating.
  4. Eat Slowly — Buddhists and Zen masters truly sink into the present moment by eating slowly. It is a concept they have been teaching for a very long time. Mindful eating can slow down your meal and help you to really appreciate the food you have in front of you. Pay close attention to the taste, smell, what the food looks like. You can repeat affirmations in your head like “I am grateful to be eating this wonderful meal.”

Do you have any more useful mindfulness strategies to share? Post them in the comments below.

4 Steps to Planning Undergraduate Courses at Penn State World Campus

September 29th, 2014 by
headshot of Kate Elias

Kate Elias

by Kate Elias, advising program coordinator, Penn State World Campus

Course planning can be exciting and daunting, but with planning and research, you will be able to confidently choose courses that meet your degree’s requirements and your personal interests. Follow these steps and advice for success from our Penn State World Campus undergraduate academic advising team.

1. Confirm your earliest date to register and research your courses thoroughly

You will want to schedule at your earliest possible registration date to ensure maximum availability of courses. To confirm dates for spring registration, you will want to confirm your earliest registration date in September, and for summer and fall, you will want to confirm your dates in late January. Run a degree audit to determine what courses are needed to fulfill degree requirements necessary to earn your degree and to confirm the earliest date you can register. (Instructions for obtaining your degree audit along with tips about how to understand it are located in the My Degree or Certificate section of the Lion Lounge.)

After you know what courses you have left to complete, research your options. Some degree requirements offer you a list of courses, while others are broader. You will have the opportunity to choose a course that best supports your interests and goals. If you have not completed your first semester at Penn State, your academic adviser will be able to provide you with a copy of your degree audit.

Next, search for your course on the Schedule of Courses and take note of schedule numbers for your desired courses. You may find it helpful to narrow your search by using the “Additional Search Criteria” feature.

As you research your options, click on Course Details to learn more about the course in the World Campus Course Catalog. Here, you can read descriptions that provide an overview of the course and information regarding examination and proctoring details, additional remarks, and course materials. In some cases, there is a link to a sample syllabus, where you will have a chance to learn even more about a course’s content.

2. Plan ahead and watch for course prerequisites

As you progress in your degree, you will discover that much of your upper-level course work will require prerequisites. Because some courses are not available every semester, you will want to plan two to three semesters at a time and know the prerequisites for your future courses. You will find each course’s prerequisites on the Schedule of Courses.

Always check your schedule in eLion after adding courses to make sure they are actually on your schedule. Some courses are controlled, which means they are not open to all students. If it does not add and there are available seats, check with your adviser to see if you need permission to add the course.

screenshot of where prerequisites appear within the Schedule of Courses

The highlighted portion shows where you would find prerequisites in the Schedule of Courses.

3. Create a manageable and balanced course schedule

Online course work requires a significant time commitment, so be sure to consider:

  • World Campus students report spending between 8 and 12 hours per week on assignments, readings, and other learning activities for each 3-credit course.
  • Some subjects may come more easily to you, whereas some may be more challenging and take more time. Be sure to balance these as much as possible.
  • If you are working to fulfill both general education and major requirements, consider creating a schedule with both types of courses.

4. Work with your academic adviser

Your academic adviser will work with you to understand your prior academic experience and future goals, and will have specialized knowledge about your degree program. Your adviser will also be able to confirm that your course selections are appropriate, so never hesitate to reach out with questions or to seek advice about course planning.

If you have other tips, we’d love to hear them! Post them below in the comments, or email us at

Online Education, Unlimited Options

September 19th, 2014 by

Some of us Penn Staters are all set for the fall semester and have already started new routines to incorporate schoolwork. One new routine I started two weeks ago is getting up at 6:00 a.m., walking my new Australian Shepherd puppy for about an hour, and playing with her as the sun rises!

Sebhia Dibra and friend standing on ledge in front of a forest

My friend and I enjoying our time in Florida

They say great achievers start their day doing something they want to do for themselves — not necessarily checking emails or opening up random apps on their phone. It could involve exercise, preparing food, or doing something you love. This sets the mood for entire day. So, if you aren’t doing this already, I recommend starting your day doing something you love – it will help you stay positive, focused and on track.

As autumn approaches, I can’t help but think of my life before my recent move and how much has changed. Earlier this year I packed up my things in Brooklyn, New York, and flew down to Florida. It was at the end of February — when New York was still cold and still snowing. For some time, I had wanted to live somewhere warm, along the Pacific or Atlantic coast. And in November of 2013, I was able to finalize this decision.

While in New York, I had been teaching on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. In February, I started saying goodbye to all the kids who made my heart melt every day. One very special 4-year-old, named Adam, was one whom I spent quality time with in the morning. Adam is a brilliant child, far ahead of his class, and always looking to learn — even at 8:00 a.m., the wee hours of the morning!

At this hour, we usually went over maps, shapes, and math. Math — his favorite subject by far — was attended to constantly. He would remember dates from a year ago, and on what day they fell on — at random. He also knew how many days were in each calendar month, could add large numbers and count beyond 100. At only 4 years old, Adam adapted well to new challenges, puzzles, and stories. His family is from Israel, and I can only think of the uncomfortable feelings involved regarding everything currently happening overseas. I am happy he is in New York, safe, and I am happy his education and his abilities continue to thrive.

This brings me to the thought of how my education at Penn State has become not only an experience, but a huge part of my life and my identity. Buddhists say that to become truly one with life, that one should not be attached to objects, things, or ideas. I’ve found that oneness in a different way, though. A part of my education and learning is through a university which enables me to travel — and learn — at the same time.

Penn State comes with me, wherever I go.

Working diligently towards a psychology degree, I am able to meet people all over and experience different types of culture. This is the most rewarding experience for a student. Upon enrollment, I had a choice of attending Penn State in Pennsylvania, or attending World Campus. My choice was World Campus — as I am naturally very motivated and disciplined, which is very important for a student pursuing an online degree.

Upon moving to Florida — specifically — Sarasota — I find myself in bliss. The weather is just how I expected it to be and more than half of my New York wardrobe lives in my closet. (Good when the wardrobe consists of sweaters, heavy pants and thick socks!)

black dog sitting on a beach

My dog, Kai, taking in a beautiful day on the beach in Florida

I meditate on the beach every night, and listen to the waves in peace. I am also making connections along the way, meeting amazing people and learning that no matter where you are — you are connected to everyone, everywhere. I find myself missing my family at times (they are from New York) but I am lucky to be able to continue dreams of education and of personal pursuits — such as work, writing, adventure, and a new puppy.

I hope you take this time to understand you are not limited as a World Campus student — but completely unlimited. Visit any country and, if you like it, stay there for a while! World Campus enables us to be able to work and have a flexible schedule.

Taking risks, such as traveling, will enable you to live life. As a true Robin Williams fan, in his respects, I end with this quote from the movie Hook in 1991, “To live. To live would be an awfully big adventure.”

Now do something extraordinary.

Scholarship Deadline Approaching: Jane Ireland Student Fund

September 8th, 2014 by

Monday, September 15, 2014, the deadline for the Jane Ireland Student Fund scholarship, is fast approaching! This scholarship is open exclusively to current undergraduate degree students attending Penn State World Campus in the spring or summer semesters who have the following:

  • a minimum of 24 credits in their World Campus program
  • a cumulative GPA of 3.2 (or higher)
  • a FAFSA on file with the Office of Student Aid demonstrating financial need

Along with the application, students must provide a personal statement, essay, and one letter of recommendation from a professional reference. Please visit the World Campus Scholarships page for details and an application.

More than 10 years ago, academic adviser Jane Ireland initiated the student fund as a way to assist students who have difficulty paying tuition. The fund has grown continuously and is supported solely by World Campus staff members, faculty, and students who want to help others pursue their Penn State education from a distance.

Faculty Focus: Finance Professor Simon Pak

September 2nd, 2014 by

With experience ranging from physics to economics and finance, Dr. Simon Pak, associate professor of finance, brings a wealth of knowledge to teaching online courses at Penn State World Campus. We caught up with him recently to learn about his background (including his stint as a taxi driver), why he decided to teach at Penn State, and what swayed him to value online education after his initial skepticism.

Penn State professor of finance Simon Pak

Dr. Simon Pak, associate professor of finance at Penn State

Tell us about your background, and how you ended up teaching at Penn State.

I actually started out as a physicist. People tend to think finance and physics are very different, but they’re quite similar and use a lot of the same math. And, believe it or not, I used to drive a taxi cab in Manhattan in the summer of 1972.

Do you have any shareable pictures from your time as a taxi driver?

I do, but I don’t think my wife would like if I shared them.

I’m sure she has your best interests at heart. Now, I understand that you have worked for some prestigious organizations in your career. Tell us more about them.

I worked at the World Bank in Washington, DC, for four years before moving to California to pursue my Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California, Berkeley. Shortly after, I moved back to New York to begin working at the NYU Stern School of Business. Later, I worked at Florida International University for 17 years, and then 12 years ago I came to Penn State.

I came here to the Great Valley campus because it’s in the middle of the Great Valley Corporate Center, and the campus is part of the corporate park. Within a few minutes’ drive, there are 8 or 9 companies with over $1 billion annual revenue, and more than 150 companies with over $100 million in annual revenue within a 30-minute drive.

Does working in a corporate park help with your teaching?

Yes — the Master of Finance program is focused on practical business fields and finance. I try to make connections with people in the finance area. I’m working closely with the CFA Society of Philadelphia, which is the most prestigious finance organization in the area. As a result, our curriculum is tightly aligned with the CFA’s goals.

How long have you been teaching for World Campus specifically?

In the spring of 2013, we had our first cohort in the Master of Finance program. There are ten courses in the program, and I’m teaching two of them: BUSAD 526 (Current Issues in Corporate Finance) and Finance 513 (Speculative Markets).

I heard you were somewhat skeptical about online education at first. Can you tell us more about that?

Sure. I was mostly skeptical about student engagement in online courses, because there’s no face-to-face interaction. But I realized that our students are great with technology. They get to know each other and communicate with each other.

I also promote engagement through email responses. When someone asks questions, I respond to everyone, which encourages everyone to talk to their classmates. I’ve found that in terms of grasping the understanding of course material, online is as good as, and sometimes even better than, face-to-face classes.

What have you learned from your students?

Our students are highly motivated and hardworking. In one course I teach, students are expected to build a valuation model from a 10K report from a company, which includes financial statements, income flow, balances, and more. When we analyze various companies, there are many issues to consider. My students have come up with fascinating analyses, and have found information that I had never even thought of!

What inspires you as a teacher?

When I see a motivated student — a really passionate student — I try really hard to deliver the knowledge that they are seeking. I always give feedback and reasons why something they’re doing is incorrect, and also encourage and acknowledge what’s right. I consider it my responsibility to give good feedback that they can apply later on.

This is very rewarding for me, when i see students very excited to gain more knowledge, and apply knowledge they learn in their lives.

What about your life outside of the classroom? What do you do for fun?

I like to listen to classical music and take trips.

Favorite food?


What movie could you watch over and over?

An Affair to Remember.

Thanks, Simon! Have more questions for Dr. Pak? Post them in the comments section below.

8 Ways to Better Use Your Computer to Your Advantage as an Online Student

August 22nd, 2014 by
Image by Ginny via flickr

Image by Ginny via Flickr

by World Campus HelpDesk Staff

As an online student, your computer is probably one of the most important tools you use. To help you make sure you’re getting the best performance and productivity you can from it, World Campus HelpDesk staff members offer the following tips:

1. Know your shortcut keys for your operating system — using keyboard shortcuts can save you time and effort in completing tasks that might otherwise require a mouse or other device.

2. Keep the software you use up to date. If you use a PC, make a point of routinely running and installing Windows Updates. In Windows 8, in Apps View, search for “windows update” and then select “check for updates” to run the process manually. In Windows 7, open the “Start” menu and then search for “windows update” and select “check for updates.” Install these updates once a month at a minimum.

If you use a Mac, select the Apple icon and then select “software update.” To ensure that updates are made automatically, go to “System Preferences” and then “App Store” and make sure that “Automatically check for updates” is selected, as well as each of the three options below that selection.

Update Java, Flash, and Quicktime as updates become available. These programs will periodically check for updates after they are installed. Some browsers may also update them automatically.

3. Create a separate login profile just for your course work. Windows and Mac systems both allow you to set up multiple login profiles. This will allow you to keep your work or personal files separate from your school files. This may be especially important if you share a computer with your family or others in your household.

4. Dedicate a web browser to use only for course work if you prefer. This is another effective way to keep your school activity separate from personal or work activity.

5. Back up your files regularly by copying them onto a USB flash drive or external hard drive, to keep from losing them if there is an accident or system crash.

6. Contact the HelpDesk immediately if you have a problem during a timed quiz or exam, even after hours, since an email or voice mail will have a date and time stamp. This will create a record of your efforts to get assistance in case you are unable to complete your exam.

7. When submitting attachments to a drop box, try selecting your submission after it is ready to confirm that the file is attached and readable.

8. Take advantage of the free technology resources Penn State provides to students:

  • Provides antivirus protection and other downloadable tools
  • WebApps: Provides programs that can be accessed on most mobile devices
  • WebFiles: Allows you to access and manage your files and copy files from other services like Google Docs, Dropbox, and SkyDrive
  • Box at Penn State: Allows you to store and share files securely online
  • Lynda: Offers online training for commonly used programs

Students can contact the World Campus HelpDesk at any time with technical support questions or for help with Penn State systems.

How-to: Forward Penn State and ANGEL Course Email

August 18th, 2014 by

Hey there!

So, you got everything set up and are starting classes?


Which one – WebMail or ANGEL?

Yes, they are two different things.

WebMail is your Penn State email that is used for official correspondence with the University.

ANGEL email is designed for correspondence between you, your professor, and your classmates.

How can I log in to one place to check both mail systems?

One way you can do that is to forward both emails to an existing email account like Yahoo or Gmail. You can go to and log in. At the bottom-middle of the page there is a link for “changing your email forwarding address.” Simply click on it, and then enter the email address you want your Penn State email forwarded to, and click the “change” button. All email from that time on will get forwarded to the email address you provided. Make sure the email address you enter is accurate because if you put in an email address that is incorrect or invalid, your email will be forwarded to the ether, never to be heard from again. You can find more information about your Penn State email accounts by visiting the IT electronic mail website.

Do I have the option to use an email client?

Another option is to set up an email client such as Outlook or Thunderbird to pull the email from your WebMail. Then, you will forward your ANGEL email to your WebMail, which will result in all your email being delivered to the email client. The IT Knowledge Base can provide you with instructions for setting up email clients for both IMAP and POP3 configurations.

How can I set up the email on my phone or other devices?

When using a smartphone or tablet, you can find instructions for setting up the native email client to retrieve your Penn State email accounts.

How can I forward my ANGEL email?

Forwarding your ANGEL email is a little bit harder but still can be done. The IT Knowledge Base can provide you with instructions for forwarding your ANGEL email. Forwarding your ANGEL email will forward a copy of the email to the email address specified and leave the original in the Course Communicate tab in ANGEL. You can watch some tutorials about ANGEL including using the ANGEL email tool by visiting the World Campus website.

Keep in mind that ANGEL email forwarding is a one-way street, so for example, even if you can receive your ANGEL email in your Gmail inbox, you can’t reply to those messages. To do that, you’ll need to log into ANGEL and use the ANGEL email tool. Setting up email forwarding can be a useful way to receive notifications when you receive ANGEL email, but be aware, you can not use it to reply.

Remember, if you ever have any questions or need assistance with doing any of this you can contact the World Campus & Continuing Education HelpDesk.

Well, I have to get back to work. Looks like there are quite a few students with questions for the HelpDesk.

Stop back anytime.


Did You Know: Course Registration is a Two-Step Process

August 15th, 2014 by

Did you know that scheduling your courses is only the first step in registering for the semester? Penn State actually has a two-step registration process:

  1. Schedule your courses.

    Student working online

    Image by Jennie Faber via Flickr

  2. Pay your tuition bill or confirm that you’ll be using financial aid.

After you schedule your courses, you will receive your semester bill and then you can pay the bill or confirm that you’ll be using financial aid. Even if you have a zero balance on your bill, you still need to complete this step. World Campus will notify you if you schedule courses but do not pay your bill and complete your registration.

You have until September 8, 2014 to complete your registration for the fall 2014 semester. If you do not pay your bill and complete your registration by this deadline, you will be canceled from your courses.

You can do both steps — schedule your courses and pay your bill or confirm your financial aid — in eLion. Check our step-by-step instructions to see exactly where to go and how to complete these actions.

If you’re not sure whether you’ve completed your registration, you can check your registration status in eLion. World Campus will also notify you via email if you still need to complete your registration. If you do not complete your fall 2014 registration by September 8, you will be canceled from your courses.

For more information about completing your registration, read our Frequently Asked Questions.