Tips for Stretching Your Dorm-Decorating Dollars

on January 15, 2014

Whether you will be living on campus or off, college housing generally is pretty Spartan and often bears a striking resemblance to a prison cell. Your room will undoubtedly be in desperate need of some personality and warmth. But where to start on a limited budget?

Whether you are going for the Martha Stewart look or something a little more avant–garde, interior design doesn’t have to be expensive. Interior decorators make a name for themselves by being able to stretch their client’s dollar under some interesting architectural pressures.

You, most likely, will have a square room in which two people will live. That’s the largest hurdle – agreeing on a motif. Once you agree on that, you can start finding the elements. Try these tips to help you save while you decorate:

• Be thrifty – Thrift stores are a gold mine for items to use in your room as well as for ideas if you haven’t decided on a theme. Almost anything for a room can be found there at bargain basement prices, from curtains and bedspreads to wall decorations and lamp shades.

• Board up – Check the college bulletin boards for possible items being sold by other students. This can be the place to find a used dorm-sized refrigerator or bookshelves that are more than boards and cement blocks. Outgoing students usually want to unload their goods quickly, so prices can be negotiable.

• Shop online – Check free listing sites such as Freecycle and Craigslist daily for local items you likely won’t find anywhere else. If you’re going with a Western motif, you might find a pair of steer horns for the wall or a saddle made into an ottoman. Some of the listings will be free for the pickup and may only need minor repair or upgrading.

• Cash it – Stick to paying with cash whenever possible. Credit is costly and if bills add up, you could be making payments on purchases made long ago, long after you’ve graduated. According to finance experts, the average person should have no more than two or three credit cards in their wallet. Try not to succumb to credit offers that could carry a high interest rate.

• List it – Make a list of items you think you’ll need and try not to stray from it. There will be things you find that you think you must have. Think again. Stores in college towns will stock plenty of colorful products designed for dorm rooms—for a price. With a little effort and imagination, you may be able to reproduce the effect for much less.

When designing a dorm room for two, it is best to shop together as a team. You can play off each other’s ideas and stop one another from making an unwarranted purchase. You’ll also avoid duplication. And, in no time, that stark space will be your own and reflect the personality of those living there, all without breaking the bank.

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Transitioning from High School to College: Some Basics

on January 11, 2014

Moving from high school to college is a huge transition for any individual. It typically represents the move from childhood to adulthood, from the security of the parental home to being out on your own. And for many, college holds a mystery about it, even if their parents or older siblings have related their own experiences.

There are any number of questions high school students headed to college could have, without knowing where to get the answers. They come to this threshold with impressions flavored by their public school experiences and information that has been filtered through unreliable sources.

Here are some answers to basic questions college-bound students may be asking:

• Major concerns – Declaring a major field of study is not as much of a concern for the average freshman as it’s often made out to be. Students frequently change their major as they gain more college experience. In fact, most experts advise freshmen to use their first year to explore all their options before settling on a choice of majors.

• Buy used – Unless it is a newly published textbook that your instructor requires, it is a much cheaper move to buy a used copy from the college bookstore. Less expensive alternatives also can be found online. Or share the book with others in your class. And don’t buy the textbook too early. Discuss with others who have taken the class to see if you will really use it enough to get your money’s worth.

• Play more – All study and no play does not make for an optimum college experience. Making time for amusements is not only enjoyable, but can reduce stress and help you build friendships. Joining extracurricular sports or volunteer activities can broaden your horizons, maintain mental health, and often garner contacts you will use in your future career. If you work, take as light a load of hours as possible to meet your financial obligations.

• Use resources – Your professors and your guidance counselors are there to help, and not just with class schedules and homework assignments. When you get to class, introduce yourself to your instructor, ask questions, and take advantage of the professor’s office hours. If you go out of your way to create a connection, they will go out of their way to be of help and could become a good resource for finding a job later. Counselors can point you in the right direction if you need help in making course decisions and can give you insights on academic life.

College counselors can give you helpful hints and be your source for almost any question you have about college life—from loan applications, to medical services, to governing regulations, to finding part-time work if needed. All you have to do is ask.

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Two-Year College vs. Four-Year College: A Primer

on January 7, 2014

Completing college is seen as a vital necessity for getting ahead in today’s economy. But costs for a four-year college degree keep skyrocketing, putting pressure on families to find ways to trim expenses even when they have college scholarships, grants, and loans available. Enter the two-year college as a option.

Although there are a growing number of fields that can be accessed with a two-year college degree, known as an associate’s degree, these colleges are increasingly being used as a cost-saving measure for those seeking a bachelor’s degree or higher. In fact, spending the first two years of school at a local community college can make a dramatic difference in the college experience in more ways than just lowering tuition fees.

Before making the choice to sink your money, time, and effort into a four-year institution, it might pay to take a look at what community colleges are all about. They have changed since the days when they were simply junior colleges or technical schools. Consider, for example, these aspects of the modern two-year school:

• Save time – More and more employers are accepting graduates with a two-year degree for entry-level positions. This means you can get started on a career faster and with less debt, if any. Careers in the health care industry, law enforcement, computers, mechanics, and other fields are open to those with associate’s degrees. In addition, industries are teaming up with community colleges to provide training for specific job skills they need.

• Save money – Tuition at community colleges tends to be a mere fraction of the first two years at a four-year institution, meaning college loans will cover more costs and may not even be needed. States are making sure that community college credits are completely transferable to state schools as well as a slew of other colleges and universities, both public and private. You can check in advance to be certain your local community college fits with your long-term plans. In addition, you also will be able to save on room and board and transportation costs.

• Upgrade grades – Other students who may want to consider community college as a first stop are those who have a less than stellar academic record from high school. This will give them the opportunity to improve their transcripts before applying to a four-year school. In addition, community college will give students a chance to learn about the way things are done in a college setting while still in familiar territory.

• Learning opportunities – Community colleges often have internship and apprenticeship opportunities that they have arranged with local businesses and organizations. This can allow the student to network for future contacts and learn about their career choice from the inside.

Before taking the college plunge, examine your needs and career goals and see if starting off at a two-year institution could fit into your plans while saving you money.

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Living On or Off Campus: Making the Choice

on January 3, 2014

Living on your college campus can be a vastly different experience than off-campus housing. Both bring their own set of positives and negatives, so making the choice is really a matter of deciding what elements are most important to you.

In making the choice, it’s best to be honest with yourself about your habits and what type of atmosphere would be most conducive to academic success. After all, even though you want the opportunity for relaxation and entertainment, college does require some solid study time.

So, take a good look at the pros and cons of each option before making your choice:

• Pro on-campus – Living on campus gives you easy access to classes and to campus activities, and thus can give you a better sense of being a part of the college community. Meeting new people with similar interests is easier. You won’t have to worry about traffic or parking. And the college will have packaged all your expenses into a single bill.

• Con on-campus – Room and board can be higher than an off-campus arrangement. And there is a feeling of never being able to get away from it all, particularly because it can seem you are always in the midst of a crowd of fellow students. Most colleges require that you have a roommate and share bathroom facilities.

• Pro off-campus – You may not have to have a roommate, so you could have more space and not have to share a bathroom. The location might be better suited to your non-college life, such as your job commute or proximity to family. The apartment complex won’t close for summer vacation or other holidays. And if you do decide to have a roommate, it doesn’t have to be someone from college. Rules on this and visitation in general will be much more lax than in the dorm.

• Con off-campus – You’ll need to commute and perhaps pay for parking when you can find it. These added costs, including gas and car maintenance, will need to be added into your computations. You may not feel as connected to the college experience. The apartment management may not be geared to understanding student needs, including late student loan checks.

Other pros and cons will depend on the type of apartment you seek out. Some are the equivalent of off-campus dorms and are arranged to cater to the student population rather than the general public. So, contact with school activities and related entertainment may not be much of an issue.

The choice of on- or off-campus living is a personal one not to be made lightly. Be sure to look at the decision from all sides so as not to make a mistake that could affect your academic success.

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Safety at College: Do’s and Don’ts

on December 28, 2013

Campus life is, more than anything, a fun time of making new friends and having new experiences. Too often, though, those experiences can involve unsafe circumstances where students become the victims of assault, theft, accident, or fire.

The campus police and the resident assistants in dormitories are there to keep order and to minimize the hazards posed by gathering so many young strangers together, many who are away from home for the first time. But there are many things that the college students themselves can do to limit their risks.

Some of these are obvious, such as locking up your bicycle or locking your dorm room door when you’re gone. Others are suggestions from experts that the student or their parents may not have considered. They include:

• Fire safety – There are an estimated 1,800 fires in dorms every year. And colleges typically will provide a list of approved or unapproved items you can bring to school with you in an effort to reduce those numbers. There are steps you can take in addition, including having a fire extinguisher handy, buying appliances that will shut off automatically, and making sure not to overload electrical outlets.

• Be alert – We’d like to think that the college campus is a place of safety. But, in truth, you should never walk anywhere without a buddy. And pay attention to your surroundings. Don’t be preoccupied with texting or playing games on your smartphone. But do keep your phone on and immediately accessible in case of emergency. When you enter a classroom for the first time, make sure you take note of all emergency exits.

• Limit alcohol – Alcohol is often a part of the college experience. But it also is connected to many campus crimes and acts of violence. So, treat it with respect and know your limitations. And don’t ever leave your drink unattended where it could be doctored with some unwanted drug.

• Be prepared – Colleges are required to keep statistics on the incidences of crime on campus and to make those figures available to the public. Check with your college. Or, if you haven’t selected a college, these figures should be included in your decision making. You may also want to take a self-defense course as an elective, either while you are still in high school or as part of your physical education requirement in college.

• Don’t panic – Being prepared will help you if an emergency does arise by lessening the chance you will panic and do something foolish. Review all the information provided by the campus police or the safety office so you will know how to react appropriately in an emergency.

Attending college is enough of a challenge without opening yourself up to being the victim of a crime or accident. Spending some time to learn how to avoid emergencies is the best way to ensure your safety on campus.

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5 Tips If You Absolutely Must Pull an All-Nighter

on December 21, 2013

No matter how studious you are in college, it seems the all-nighter is inevitable. The image of a student hunched over the books or laptop, swilling coffee by the gallon, is as much a part of campus life as the kegger and the homecoming parade.

Experts give any number of reasons to avoid working through the night, whether you are in college or beyond. The inevitable will happen, they admit, but don’t make all-nighters a habit. According to them, persistent sleep deprivation can result in:

• Increased depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorders
• Loss of the mental restorative benefits of sleep and its aid to memory
• Decreased capacity to learn
• Weight gain
• Poor decision making

As much as a student may try to keep regular study hours, though, there will come a time when an all-nighter becomes a must in order to complete an important paper or to study for an unscheduled exam. In that case, there are a few tips to follow that can minimize the damage and maximize the chances that you will actually accomplish the goals you’ve set for the night:

Skip the coffee – Stimulants like Red Bull and the old standard, coffee, can keep you awake but at the cost of a major crash when you halt your intake. Instead, try drinking cold water every half-hour or get a natural energy boost from vitamin C, peanut butter, and sports drinks or other foods with a high amount of electrolytes.

• Take naps – All night doesn’t have to mean ALL night. A little sleep is better than none. So, rest your eyes for a few minutes or an hour at a time.

• Make your move – On the flip side of napping, take a small break each hour and get up and move your body. This can including putting on some music and dancing, stretching, or doing a few pushups.

• Limit distractions – While you’re working, turn off your electronics, including your phone and the television. Don’t check your email. It’s not the perfect time to do a load of laundry or anything else that will take your mind away from the task at hand. Stand up and then sit back down in your chair to refocus yourself.

• Avoid sweets – Just like with the caffeine crash, sugary foods will give you an initial boost, or a sugar high, which then goes away and may make you more drowsy than you had been before. Instead, keep your sugar level on an even keel with apples. But, you could be better off avoiding eating much at all.

Success in college can sometimes involve staying up all night to prepare for class the following day. But all-nighters should always be the exception and not the rule, whether in college or in business.

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Cutting the Cost of College Living: A Few Pointers

on December 16, 2013

With all the money worries college brings – tuition, books, rent, student fees – a major concern will be finding ways to cut costs. One way to make a difference in expenses is in the way you live your daily life. There are ways to trim living costs that will put a decent dent in your bills without forcing you to live on bread and water.

Some of these methods work best for college students simply because you are a college student. You can make a play for people’s sympathy and ask for their help by giving you a break on the price of various goods and services.

But the bulk of these techniques, once learned, will serve you well after you leave college and head out into the great, wide world of work. Most first jobs won’t be paying top dollar. So, learning to live within your means while in college will be a major benefit to you in the future.

Some of these techniques are ones you’ve probably heard before, but that only means they are tried and true:

• Never pay retail – Always buy used whenever you can. This goes for everything from textbooks, to cell phones and electronics, to cars. Rent the things you won’t need permanently. Use the library. Share items with others and split the cost – the cost of a pizza for dinner, for instance. Thrift stores can hold some treasures in clothes and accessories. Of course you’ll need to make sure the used items are in good shape, but the savings over retail are often substantial. A car, for example, loses much of its retail value within the first year.

• Don’t take credit – Credit card bills can last much longer than your college career. Resist the high pressure sales schemes of your friendly banker who wants to entice you into that high-interest-rate card they seem to reserve for college students. Don’t have more than two or three credit cards with your name on them and cut up any cards over that number. Avoiding credit debt will more than pay off in your post-college years.

• Make a deal – If your car needs repair, you need a haircut, or you’d really like tickets to that new movie, ask for a discount. Don’t be shy, and admit you have tight money constraints. You’d be surprised how many people will cut you some kind of deal. Also, barter. Trade something you do for what you need done. Offer to help a student who’s good in auto mechanics with his chemistry studies. Dog-sit for your hair stylist and mow the lawn for your landlord. This should shave some dollars off the things you need.

There are bound to be other ways to save money while you’re living the college life. Be creative and remember that it costs nothing to try to cut corners. It could become a habit.

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Tips for Making Life with a Roommate More Livable

on December 12, 2013

Living with your new college roommate will be the first big test of your ability to adapt to challenges and exist in the adult world. You and your roommate are, after all, different individuals with separate histories, different likes and dislikes, and sometimes distinctly different ways of doing things.

Whether you choose to live with an existing friend or to take your chances with a new face, sharing space with another who is your equal, not just a little brother or sister, will be a whole new world. As a result, living in peace is a goal that can sometimes seem out of reach. Short of giving up and finding another roommate, and possibly going through the same ordeal all over again, there are ways to work together and make the situation livable.

For example, if your roommate will be someone you’ve never met before, it would be to your advantage to communicate with them prior to arriving at the dorm or apartment. See what details of life you can share with each other. Get to know their major likes and dislikes and something of their life experiences so there will be fewer surprises.

In addition, consider these helpful hints for making the most of the roommate situation:

• Set rules – There needn’t be a written contract, but you should make it a point to settle some ground rules before the sun sets on your first day together. Some of these may entail study time, lights–out time, when guests are permitted to come over, bathroom schedules, and so forth. Set out where you will each keep your belongings and do your best to stick to the agreement.

• Show respect – This means more than respecting someone else’s belongings and space. Remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is particularly important in a roommate situation. You may not always, or even often, agree. But you will go a long way to maintaining peace if you respect your roommate’s opinions and decisions as you would want yours to be respected.

• Be helpful – As part of your ground rules, you will have probably divided up chores. But be open to helping out when needed. If your roommate is overloaded with school work, for example, offer to take on some extra duties. Or quietly take your leave so they can study without interruptions. You can then expect the same consideration in return.

• Communicate – Above all, don’t let problems fester by trying to ignore them to avoid confrontation. The two of you should be able to nip problems in the bud if you discuss them calmly instead of letting them build until they become poisonous to your arrangement. If one of you is slacking off on cleaning or sharing living costs, for example, it’s better to shed light on the subject and reinforce your cohabitation agreement.

Taking on life with a college roommate can be a test of your patience and understanding. But using some insights you’ve probably learned from your parents can go a long way to making that life easier.

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The Best College Roommate: Friend or Stranger?

on December 8, 2013

Given all the decisions and choices to make in beginning a college career, one you may prefer to leave up to the luck of the draw and your school’s housing office is the choice of a roommate. But, if you do have the opportunity to make the choice yourself, there are some things to consider before deciding between living with a friend or someone new.

The choice between a BFF or a stranger is deeply personal and, of course, depends on the individuals and the situation involved. Is this future roommate a true friend or just someone you know from school? How much can you find out about the newcomer before you settle in together?

Here are some positives and negatives to consider with both situations:

• Pro friend – Obviously, the first thing to recommend a friend as roommate is familiarity. You are friends because you share something: a history, a hobby, or other interest. The familiarity can also ease homesickness. And you have a built-in friend as you get to know new people and your new surroundings, so you can approach the college experience as a team.

• Con friend – Living together is different from sleeping over or meeting up. This is when you’ll find out if your friend’s habits could be enough to test your friendship and perhaps even mean the end of it. If you are a neat freak and your good friend is a slob, it could become a serious issue, although it obviously didn’t matter before. Talking these things out should be easier with a friend. And there can be enough time to make other living arrangements before a final break is inevitable. But, before making a final decision to room with your friend, ask seriously if it is worth the possibility of losing that friend.

• Pro stranger – Living with a stranger automatically takes away the danger of losing a good friendship should cohabitation prove difficult. At the same time, it could be the perfect chance to make a new, trusting friendship because you will get to know and hopefully work through any personal disagreements that living together exposes. And, setting ground rules ahead of time will be less likely to hurt anyone’s feelings.

• Con stranger – Not knowing the person you are to room with means you are left to the whims of fate as to whether you can get along. You could be complete opposites in personality and outlooks. Your roommate could be an extrovert with friends coming over all the time, while you prefer a night with a good book. Or they could stay up late, while you are an early riser.

There is no certain answer to the question of whether it would be better to room with a person you know or take your chances. Just be aware of what is at stake, both pro and con, in the realm of maintaining or creating friendships.

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Dorm Life: Learning to Share

on December 4, 2013

Not all the education offered at colleges and universities is confined to the ivy-covered halls and classrooms. Learning about life away from the nest and coping on your own are major lessons that come from the college experience.

Possibly the first and most daunting lesson comes in learning to live with others, particularly if you are going to be living in a dormitory. This type of sharing is far different from life at home, even if you shared a room with a younger sibling. Here you will be in a community of equals, with only a resident assistant – another college student – to turn to in times of conflict.

In a dorm, you will not only be sharing where you sleep, change clothes, and study. You also will be waiting for your turn in the showers and to use the communal washer and dryer. Depending on the setup, you could be sharing an oven and refrigerator with several dozen people.

Imagine the students with whom you attend high school. Now imagine living with them – friends, acquaintances, and strangers alike – from morning to night and on weekends. That’s when you truly get to know the habits of others, particularly the annoying ones.

So, in order to survive dorm life, a resident must cultivate patience. After all, you probably have annoying habits, too.

There are other, more practical tips that can smooth the rough edges of life among equally uncertain residents. Consider these:

• Personal property – Unless you absolutely can’t live without it, it’s best to leave your most valuable or valued possessions at home with Mom and Dad. Concerning what you do bring: Label everything so there will be no question of ownership. This could mean sewing in labels, using a marker, or even using an etching pen on bicycles or other metal items. It’s not that your dorm mates are thieves. But things have a habit of finding their way from room to room, only to be left behind, forgotten.

• Cleanliness – Remember what your mother said and clean up after yourself, particularly in a shared bathroom. Consider the one using the room after you. Respect your roommate’s space and keep your clothes and accessories in your area. That also will lessen the risk of misplacing valuables.

• Rules – On the subject of roommates, it would be best to contact them before heading to college to find out about them and their likes and dislikes. You can also start laying out a list of ground rules concerning lights–out times, guests, study times, and the like. This might be easier to do by email than face-to-face.

• Openness – Leave your dorm room door open whenever you can. This indicates you’re friendly and available for chats or to help with homework or other problems. It can also open yourself up to making new, lasting friendships.

Dorm living can be not only survivable, but can be one of the more entertaining and educational of your college experiences. Just approach it with a few rules and a lot of patience.

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