The Commuter’s Guide to a Successful 1st Term


One of the most unique things about Portland State is that it’s a commuter campus. A huge fraction of students drive, bike or use public transportation to get to class. Here are the orientation team’s top 5 tips to make your first term a success!


You can rent out a locker for $30 per term, or $65 per academic year (they are large lockers so split it with a friend). It can be convenient to store workout clothes, extra chargers, books, supplies and a pillow and blanket.


For commuters, drivers specifically – if you can schedule your classes to be on the same two or three days you can buy a Tuesday Thursday or Monday Wednesday Friday pass and save quite a bit of money! However, they sell out so always buy passes on the day they go on sale. Both of those passes also include weekend parking!

Early Means On-time

Whether you are driving or using public transportation, always account for MAX delays, traffic, and time for finding parking. Even though you have a parking pass, you never know when an extra large truck will park in an extra small parking spot, taking up two spots. Also, parking structures will be really packed for the first few weeks so make sure you account for more time than you think for parking. Leaving a little early will ensure you are on time to class and if it takes you less time than you thought, then you have time to get coffee, tea or breakfast.


Commuters may have to start their day a little earlier than those who are living on campus. During Viking Days, its a great idea to get acclimated to the new sleep schedule. You will thank yourself later. You may also want to start getting used to getting to campus how you plan to during the school year and attend some awesome Viking Days events!


For some, living away from campus may seem like finding a connection and making friends would be difficult. Attending Viking Days events the week before classes begin is a great start. Make friends in classes by finding or forming weekly study groups in some of your classes. Getting a job on campus is also an easy way to make friends.

Check out our blog: New Student Guide to Portland Transit.

Top 3 Tips for Time Management


Preparing for college classes can be daunting, but establishing a time management system early on, or even before classes begin, can help quite a bit. This system can commonly change, based on what classes you are enrolled in, or what other responsibilities you may be juggling in any given term. Here are the top 3 Tips from students that can help you succeed in your first term of college.

Find a planner that works for you:

Planners come in all shapes, sizes and styles. It’s important to keep in mind what you need from a planner. If you want to writing quite a bit of information, a larger planner is probably the best option. If all you need is a place to compile due dates, a smaller journal may work best.There are all sorts of options at stores like Target, Barns & Noble and office supply stores. At Orientation, all new students receive a student planner will all sorts of important information about PSU. Free online sources like The Passion Planner are also a great option where you just print out your pages and can customize them to how you like. Many students rely on Google Calendar either as a complete planner, or as a supplemental aid for the alerts option.

Situate the syllabi:

Most professors use D2L to post their course material. Either a professor will email the syllabus in advance, or it will be available through D2L on the Sunday before the term starts, or the first day of class. Once you get your hands on the syllabus, put all exams and major project deadlines in your planner of choice. Some professors will go into major detail of everything that is due, but some assignments will be subject to change so you may want to wait until class starts.

It is also important to keep all syllabi available by either attaching it to your planner, taping it into the inside of your note taking notebook for each class, or pin them to your wall. You never know when you will need to look at it.

Color your day:

Color coordinating your planner is a great way to stay organized. If you are new to color coding, the best thing to do is start with maybe 3 color categories. One common split is doing a color for Work, School, and Other. Once you get used to color coordinating these three, you can start moving up to splitting these categories and adding more colors if necessary. Make a color key on an index card to act as a bookmark so you can keep track of your spot in your planner as well as keep track of your color code.

Sticky notes are also really handy for adding additional notes about assignments directly into your planner if there is not enough room. Another way to use sticky notes is to use different colors to mark the things you are working on. For example, use three colors for ‘done’, ‘urgent’ and ‘turn in’.

We’re Here to Help You Create Your Scholarship Strategy


We know you’ve got a lot going on. With homework, after school jobs, extracurriculars, friends and family, (maybe a Netflix binge or two) it can be hard to imagine that you’ll have time to apply for college.

In an effort to make life easier for you, we put together some tools and tips to help you get started on your Portland State University admission and scholarship applications with as little stress as possible, leaving you with plenty of time to watch televis-, uh, get caught up on school work.

What do I need to know?

The deadline to apply for PSU Scholarships is December 1.

  • Scholarships are opportunities for free money you can use to pay for college. Scholarships can come from many different sources. 
  • There are many different scholarship types. Some scholarships are merit or skill-based, while some depend on how you are involved with your community, and some are based solely off financial need. It’s important to search for scholarships that most closely match your strengths and interests.
  • It’s a good idea to apply early. Many scholarships have early application deadlines, with most opening in the fall and closing quickly for next school year. This means that scholarship applications need to be submitted nearly a year in advance of when you plan to start school. The earlier you apply the more likely you are to get more money, and who doesn’t want more money?

What do I need to submit?

For most scholarships you will likely need to complete three to four components:

  1. Scholarship Application – This form is for your personal information, things like classes you are taking, grades, where you’re from, etc.
  2. Responses to Essay Questions – This is your chance to introduce yourself and highlight your experiences and achievements.
  3. Letters of Recommendation  Most students submit at least two from key influential professionals in your life that can speak to your character and accomplishments and want you to succeed. Got questions about asking for Letters? We can help!
  4. Interview – Some scholarships request an interviews with students. Check out our tips below on how to prepare for your scholarship interview and impress the committee. Remember to smile big!

How do I find scholarships?

Search for them! There are TONS of people and organizations just waiting to give you free money, you just have to find them first. To help, we have a great tool to
search for scholarships. You can narrow your search using:

  • Categories – Scholarships are often assigned category. This option allows you to identify and search the categories that you feel are most relevant to you.
  • Keyword(s) – Your school may assign a keyword to a scholarship (things like your major or test scores). This option allows you to search that keyword field.
  • Description and Scholarship Name – You can simply search the description or name of scholarships to see if they contain words that you might deem suitable (e.g. Biology).

Tips for Searching for Scholarships

Get Search, Application or Essay Help

PSU Scholarship Workshops

Open to all students, the Office of Financial Aid holds Scholarship Workshops every Fall term to help students create effective scholarship applications.

Check out their presentation from the most recent set of workshops.

All workshops are held on campus at the Smith Memorial Student Union, Room 238

PSU Advising & Career Services Workshops

PSU’s Advising and Career Services offers a selection of workshops aimed toward helping you choose a major and career, answering your questions about internships, preparing you for interviewing, perfecting your resume and cover letter, and more. No need to sign up in advance, just arrive in their office prior to the time the workshop is scheduled to begin.

Visit the PSU Writing Center

The Writing Center aims to help writers at any stage of the writing process, from brainstorming to the final draft. When preparing for a session, reflect on what you want to focus on the most. It is helpful to bring two drafts, one for you and one for the consultant. Also, if you are working on an assignment for class, bringing a copy of that assignment is preferable. Visit the PSU Writing Center website for more information and to schedule an appointment.

Schedule an Appointment with a PSU Financial Aid Counselor

Scholarship Interview Tips

  • Practice in as realistic a setting as possible.
  • Arrive on time, dressed appropriately.
  • Answer questions truthfully, decisively, positively, and with relevant information. Don’t hesitate to say “I don’t know” when you need to, and try to be ready for unusual questions that may be designed to see how you react.

How to Write a Request for a Letter of Reference


Some scholarships require letters of reference, which means you will have to reach out to some people in your life who know about your work ethic and personal achievements. If you’ve never done this before then it can be a daunting task.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on getting that perfect letter:

  1. Identify influential professionals in your life that challenge and inspire you.
  2. Ask them if they would be willing to write you a letter of reference for your scholarship application. (See example email message below. Use this reference request draft to reach out to them.These people may be high school counselors, mentors, academic advisors, coaches, teachers or college professors, leaders in a faith community or staff in a community or volunteer organization. These people should NOT be family members or personal friends of yours.
  3. If the scholarship you are applying for has specific requirements, ask your reference to highlight how you meet those requirements. Remember, the people writing your letter want you to succeed, and would love nothing more than to rave about your accomplishments.

Take a deep breath, and let’s write an email. It’s not scary, we promise.

Email Subject: A request for a letter of recommendation  

Email Body:

Dear [Name],

I am applying for the [scholarship name] scholarship and I am contacting you to request a letter of recommendation in support of my application.

I have included an updated resume that will give you a better idea of the classes and activities that I have been involved with.

I am hoping that you could focus on different aspects of my background, character, academics, and activities so the scholarship committee will get a broad sense of my life, skills and achievements.

Thank you for considering my request for a letter of recommendation. Please let me know if I can provide you with any other information about my recent activities or this request. Your support means a lot!

This letter is due on [date]

[Tell them how to submit the reference letter]

Thank you again!


[Your name]

Don’t forget to attach your resume! Including your resume allows your reference to write specifically about you and how great a fit you would be for the scholarship. There is no such thing as too much detail.

How to Write a Scholarship Essay

Starting an essay for a scholarship application can be difficult. We’ve created a strategy to help make it easier and move along faster! Let’s get started:

Write Your Profile: Write a short description about you. Explain why you’re great. Include your strengths, accomplishments, goals and unique characteristics. This may seem obvious but it can be one of the toughest parts to put into writing. It’s incredibly important for you to talk about yourself using a clear story. This will shine through in your essay and help you find relevant scholarships unique to your strengths.

Develop an Outline: This is the foundation of your essay. Preparing your outline before you get into the meat of your story will help you visualize your story from start to finish before putting too much time into writing the specifics. This will help the writing move forward with purpose!

Fill In Your Outline: This is the hard part. If you have a good outline, it will move along much faster. Use the outline below and fill in the gaps. Elaborate on your story, provide examples of your achievements and experience that are fluid and concise. A great writing resource is the Purdue OWL Writing Guide

Beginning | Hello!

Begin your essay by addressing the scholarship committee directly. Don’t go generic here! Be as specific to the scholarship name or agency as you can. A direct address with a specific scholarship or agency name will personalize your essay and level up your application!

Dear [Scholarship name or agency] committee,

Thank you for taking the time to read my application. I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to introduce myself and present my accomplishments.

Remember, your essay is your chance to introduce yourself and make a first impression so make sure that your essay is clear, concise and quickly gets into your story. Read your essay out loud. If you’re not past your greeting and introduction within a few seconds, circle back to edit.

Middle | The body of your essay: Your story

Take a 1-2-3 approach to crafting your story:

  1. Past: What experiences, challenges, influences, passions, goals brought you to this point in your academic and life journey?
  2. Present: You are here! But why? Why PSU/Your Major/This School/Community etc.
  3. Future: Put it all together: Where are you headed? With your past experiences informing your current goals, where are you headed? What’s the next big step?

End | That’s a wrap!

Close your essay by explaining how this scholarship will help you achieve your goals. Don’t go generic here, list specific goals that will help you get to where you’re trying to go.

You only need to craft one solid, core essay. Once you build your core essay, you can use it for multiple scholarship applications with simple updates.

Get Search, Application or Essay Help

Sign Up for a PSU Scholarship Workshop

  • Thursday, October 20, 2016 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM – Location SMSU 238
  • Friday, October 28, 2016 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM – Location SMSU 238
  • Monday, November 07, 2016 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM – Location SMSU 238
  • Tuesday, November 15, 2016 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM – Location SMSU 238
  • Wednesday, November 30, 2016 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM – Location SMSU 238

PSU Advising & Career Services Workshops

PSU’s Advising and Career Services offers a selection of workshops aimed toward helping you choose a major and career, answering your questions about internships, preparing you for interviewing, perfecting your resume and cover letter, and more. No need to sign up in advance, just arrive in their office prior to the time the workshop is scheduled to begin.

Visit the PSU Writing Center

The Writing Center aims to help writers at any stage of the writing process, from brainstorming to the final draft. When preparing for a session, reflect on what you want to focus on the most. It is helpful to bring two drafts, one for you and one for the consultant. Also, if you are working on an assignment for class, bringing a copy of that assignment is preferable. For more information, review our tips for a successful session. Schedule an appointment.

Schedule an Appointment with a PSU Financial Aid Counselor

The Choice to Transfer to PSU Was Easy

I’m a senior studying international development studies. My home town is Mexico City, but I have lived in Aloha, OR for about 16 years. I have two brothers. I’m actually a twin! My brothers and I are first generation college students. My older brother graduated from PSU last year and my twin will be coming to PSU this fall, he’s transferring from PCC. I’m a Student Ambassador and I’m a mentor with the GANAS program. For fun, my friends and I like to cook and eat all types of food like Vietnamese, Korean, and BBQ. On the weekends we get together and cook big meals.

I have lived in many different places within the United States and internationally so I am not a stranger to making new friends and finding my place within a community.  Even still, I was nervous about transferring to a new school. There are many factors that can affect your decision to transfer colleges.

For me, I wanted to be confident in my decision to transfer and know that I was making the best choice to prepare me for my future plans. I always knew I wanted to go to school in a city where I would be surrounded by lots of activities and cultural events, so Portland was a great fit for me. During my decision making process, I met with student ambassadors on tours and orientation leaders. They had so much excitement about the programs and the school that I knew I wanted to be a part of it. The affordability factor was one of the main reasons that I transferred and PSU made the transfer process really easy.

To sweeten the deal, I was offered a scholarship through the GANAS program (Gaining Awareness and Networking for Academic Success). This program not only helped me financially, but it was also an important support system that helped me get to know people and feel like I was part of a community. In GANAS, students engage in cultural activities and connect with PSU programs that offer resources with a small cohort of other transfer students. It was a great way to meet new people, make connections on campus, and share the experience with other transfer students.

My advice to transfer students is to get involved in different programs and activities on campus if you want to make the most of your time and be successful. By getting involved, I have made friends, gotten scholarships, worked in various departments on campus, and even made connections for internships and jobs for when I graduate.

Transferring to a new environment, making new friends, and creating a whole new life can be overwhelming, but college can be some of the best years of your life and you have control over where you spend those years. If the only thing standing in your way on making the best out of your college experience is the transfer process, please speak to an admissions counselor today!

If you have questions about transferring, check out the Transfer Student website or reach out to your admissions counselor.