Handbook of Success

By Jessie Shattuck

Last updated: November 2014

         These days, getting good grades won’t guarantee an immediate job placement or acceptance into Graduate School. With so many people going to school and having the same goals as you, competition has risen immensely. This packet will provide you with strategic advice to get ahead of the competition. If one follows this advice, one can build a resume that ultimately puts others to shame. Good Luck with all your future endeavors!


 Get Involved

Getting involved and staying active in school clubs, activities, programs, groups, etc is something that looks great on your resume, especially if it is related to your major/future career and you had a position of leadership. Not only do you have fun and make friends, you also exercise your communication skills and experience working in teams. Here are some suggestions:

 For the whole list of NIU Organizations/clubs/programs, Go to the Student Association Website: http://www.niu.edu/sa/index.shtml



 Research Projects/Office of Student Engagement and Experimental Learning (OSEEL)

Students conducting research as undergrads are able to gain relevant skills while expanding their opportunities, both academically and professionally.  As a history major, having experience in research projects (in addition to your thesis research project) as an undergrad is a phenomenal step ahead from the competition. If the project is completed and conducted well, your future employer or graduate school admission officers will see that you actually know what you are doing, and they would love to have you on board. NIU provides several venues for undergraduate research, with certain departments and schools also offering additional programs.  Students can begin hands-on, faculty-mentored research as early as freshman year. Don’t wait to do your research projects senior year. You want to have one completed on time to include it on your resume and/or applications for grad school.

 For more information, go to the website of the office of Student Engagement and Experimental Learning (located @ Evans Field House 110), Or Contact Coordinator Dr. Julia Spears (815-753-8152 jspears1@niu.edu ) . http://www.niu.edu/engagedlearning/ .

 Some Research Programs/Funding Opportunities:

Huskie Research Rookies- (For Freshmen, Sophomores, and Transfer Students) Works to link students with faculty mentors in their major or area of interest to conduct a small-scale research project. As a Research Rookie, students will learn what research looks like in their field of study.  Students will also learn how to write a formal research proposal, gain experience working alongside talented faculty, attend professional and academic enrichment activities, present their work at the annual Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day, and receive a $500 stipend at the end of the program in the spring.

USOAR- A program that funds (up $2,500) student-generated research projects while under a mentor. The Study can be conducted on campus, or somewhere else in the United States or overseas. If you are interested in studying overseas, I would suggest contacting the Study abroad office.

URAPs (Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program) - Through this program, faculty will be able to engage undergraduates in their research agendas in one-to-one mentorships and stimulate student interest in pursuing graduate education. This program is designed to encourage a broader involvement of students and faculty not only within a given major, but also, where appropriate, to encourage and support mentorships that involve faculty members with qualified, highly motivated students outside the major.

Under Graduate Travel Fund- Provides up to $300 in support to undergraduates when presenting their research or artistry at national/regional/local peer-reviewed conferences.  Student must also receive matching support from their faculty mentor, department, and/or college equal to the amount requested from the Provost's office.

EYE (Expand Your Education) Grant- (Provided by the Honors Program) can be applied for by University Honors Students for up to $1,000 in funding for study abroad, research or presentation materials related to Honors or Capstone research.





Internships are a fantastic way to obtain hands-on experience in the field you would like to get in to. It looks great on a resume, and if you like where you internshipped and want to continue your career with that business/organization, you then created a network and relationship with them so they would most likely hire you. For more information on internships and where to find one, contact the Coordinator of Internships for the Humanities Cathy Doederlein (cdoerderlein1@niu.edu  815-753-1016  Office Zulauf Hall 307). She also has a Facebook page where she keeps students updated with internships that have become available. Search Facebook for the group: NIU Humanities Majors Internships. She also has e-mail notifications.

Additional resources:

Visit Victor eRecruiting (www.niu.edu/careerservices/erecruiting/student.shtml). Post your resume and search the database for internship opportunities.

Attend the Internship Fairs (www.niu.edu/CareerServices). The Career Services Office is very useful for internships and resumes.

Read your NIU email. History majors receive occasional emails about current internships opportunities.

  1. Pursue contacts received through family and friends that may lead you to an internship opportunity with their employers.




Study Abroad

The Study Abroad Office is located in Williston Hall 417. Studying abroad should be a #1 priority to look into. The office works with over 300 programs that go to over 80 different countries, and all programs vary in price, length of time, requirements, and type. But typically even the more expensive programs cost the same as living at NIU in a dormitory, and all financial aid and loans can be applied to the study abroad programs. They will have information and resources for additional funding specifically for study abroad students (Travel grants through the honors program, use the USOAR grant from OSEEL or the EYE grant from the Honors Program to do additional research, etc) Most do not have language requirements, and while abroad you can still take transferable classes that go towards your major, minor, and general education requirements. Go to their website for more information, announcements, and to find out when their next Study abroad Fair will be. It would be a great idea to kill a few birds with one stone by doing an internship and/or research project while studying abroad (THEY HAVE PROGRAMS THAT DO THAT!). Act fast! It takes time to get passports and Visas, and applications for study abroad programs have deadlines. Most also require recommendations from professors, a mission statement, a resume, and transcripts. http://www.niu.edu/studyabroad/




Research Grad Schools Early On

It’s always best to start researching grad schools early on, so you have an idea of what to expect and what path you want to follow. Just in case, apply to many Grad schools (at least to the ones you would potentially enjoy attending), in case your first or second choices do not accept you. Compare and contrast your chosen schools by creating an excel sheet to compare their requirements, locations, funding, deadlines, fees, course work, etc (an example provided at the end of this packet). Pick schools that will fit you the best!

If you are really serious about going to a certain school, make the effort to actually visit it, no matter how far it is. Contact and talk to the professors you’d be working with at the grad school personally, so when they go through all the applications, yours will pop out because they will remember your face. Ask them about their projects and share how interested you are in contributing and being and asset. Be sure to watch for grad school prep seminars offered by the OSEEL Office:


Some sources for finding and researching grad schools:

The NIU History Graduate Program: http://www.niu.edu/history/graduate/index.shtml




The GRE- Start Studying Early

Start becoming familiar with and start studying early for the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). Your score will heavily influence your ability to get into the graduate school of your choice. To sign up for the test, you have to go to their main website: http://www.ets.org/gre (The website also provides a lot more detail about the test). They give you 3 hours and 45 minutes to take it, and it costs $160 (if you show financial need on the website, the fee can be waivered). The GRE tests you on your verbal reasoning (your ability to analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained from it, analyze relationships among component parts of sentences and recognize relationships among words and concepts.), quantitative reasoning (Measures problem-solving ability, focusing on basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis.), and analytical writing (Measures critical thinking and analytical writing skills, specifically your ability to articulate and support complex ideas clearly and effectively.). Once you’ve finished the test, you tell them what grad schools you want your score to be sent to. Your score is good for 5 years. You can re-take it as needed, but you will have to pay a fee each time.

 Some resources that can help you prep for the GRE:




Get To Know Your Professors!

         Getting to know your professors is one of the most crucial pieces of advice this handbook can provide. When it comes to being a historian or going to grad school for history, it’s not always what you know, but WHO you know. Building a relationship with professors that have the same concentration as you does have multiple advantages:

  • They can provide the best advice on getting into the schools you want.
  • They can become a model of what you want to do someday. What was their path? What did they do to get where they are today? Copy them! But keep in mind that times change, so ask them what you can do to best imitate their paths.
  • They can be great mentors for research projects
  • They write the BEST RECOMMENDATIONS! For Grad schools and future careers, letters of recommendation are 100% required. Going up to a professor you had a class with a couple times but never really talked to, and then asking for a letter of recommendation…… they might refuse to, but if they don’t, their letters will be short and possibly thrown out by people reading your application.

How to build that relationship:

  • Sign up for their classes. Participate as much as you can and talk to them after class to discuss the material.
  • Ask them to be your mentor for research projects
  • If you are in the Honors Program, ask if you can earn honors credit in their class so you can have more one-on-one meetings with them.
  • Visit their office hours! They have them for a reason! They become sad when no one wants to visit them. Talk to them about things they’ve written, discuss things you’ve learned that has to do with their historical area of interest. Discuss new discoveries you read in a magazine, etc.




Some Additional Resources

Career Services: They have counselors that assist students with career decision-making, the internship/job process, job fair preparation, resume and cover letter development, interview skills, networking strategies, and graduate school search. The Career Resource Center is located in the Campus Life Building 235. To schedule an appointment with a career counselor, call 815-753-1641 between 8:00am-4:00pm. To have your resume or cover letter critiqued, just walk in. To have a mock interview, call 815-753-1641 to make an appointment. To enhance your job interviewing skills and to do mock interviews online: http://www.perfectinterview.com/niu/.

The NIU Writing Center: It’s a given that if you are a history major, you have to learn to be a good writer. Well the NIU Writing center can help you with just that. Most upper level classes require you to have good grades on your papers in order to pass the class, AND grad schools require that you provide writing samples from your undergrad classes, so preferably you should give them papers you did well on. The writing center can also assist you with resumes and mission statements for grad school and future careers. Over all they help you pre-write your papers, organize your ideas, practice large-scale revisions, and learn to proofread and edit. I suggest making an appointment with them EVERYTIME you finish writing a paper. Make an appointment by calling 815-753-6636. They are located in Stevenson South, tower B in the basement. They also offer Skype sessions. Call them for more information on how to set up these Skype sessions.

KNOW YOUR LIBRARY! The Founder’s Memorial Library here on campus is an excellent resource for all research projects. First place to start is to go to their website: http://www.ulib.niu.edu/ . Search books, e-books, essays, other databases, etc. If the library does not have a book you are looking for, it allows you to borrow from another University library (it’s called I-Share). If you use I-Share, the book will arrive at the circulation desk of our Founder’s Library in less than a week. To research History books specifically, click on (from the main site) “Research By Subject”, and under Humanities click on “History”. A list of databases will then appear. This page was created by Jim Millhorn of the Founder’s Memorial Library. If you get stuck finding sources, he is your man to contact.   millhorn@niu.edu , office: Founders Memorial Library, rm. 52, phone # 815-753-1054.