On Surviving Your Roommates

After four years, one dorm room, one apartment, and two houses, I’ve had my fair share of roommate experiences. Over those four years I’ve had a total of 11 roommates (both of my houses were five-bedroom houses).  Although several people told me that you don’t really know someone until you live with them, I couldn’t quite understand how true the phrase was until I experienced it first-hand.

Eventually, your roommate’s boyfriend will come over, eat ramen from your favorite bowl, and you will want to dump its contents on him. You will learn very quickly that dishes in your apartment will be used by others at some point. It just happens when living in close quarters with someone. You can either talk to your roommate and set boundaries or say nothing until you are so frustrated you explode and are labeled the uptight roommate.

Talk to your roommate about sharing things. Some items are off-limits; like food. I’ve never heard of roommates sharing food work out well. Talk about what you are and are not okay with and make sure that the person who used the dish is the person who cleans it, regardless of ownership.

Your roommate will have people over to play beer pong and blare Jay-Z on a night you have to study. You will be annoyed with your roommate for being loud and not having to wake up at 8 a.m. the next morning like you do. You will also be mad you are unable to join. Try and set ground rules before situations like this happen, because if you don’t, you’ll have to put up with the noise while you study in your room or leave for a quieter place like the library or student union.

Your roommate will have different friends than you. Your roommate will meet friends in class and will make friends at work, bonding over things you have no idea about. This is a good thing; you live, sleep, shower and eat in the same air as your roommate; give them space to make separate friends so you don’t get annoyed with one another.

Your roommate will be both someone you like and someone you dislike at times. The bottom line is you have to learn how to communicate with your roommate. Instead of being mad you are the only one who does the dishes and cleans your place, ask your roommate to help or take turns cleaning with you.

Like it or not, you signed a lease and are living together for the rest of the year. Make the best of it and try to be patient. Talk to your roommate and, if need be, vent to your parents, siblings or other friends; because chances are, your roommate is doing the exact same thing.

On Learning Things You Can’t Find in Books

Coming from an intense, private college-prep high school, I was ready for the heavy load, the writing and the boring lectures. There are a few things that no amount of studying could have prepared me for.

When packing for college, there are a few approaches you can take. You can shove everything you need haphazardly into your car or meticulously pack and label. Then, as you pack to go home from college, you don’t realize how much stuff you have acquired in the last school year: the things your parents bought you when they visited, your cool aunt has sent you things, the stuffed koala your first college boyfriend won for you, and now there is no room in your car on the way home. I would suggest donating items you can live without to a local thrift store.

When shopping for school supplies, never buy anything at the overpriced University bookstore. If your University does not have textbook rental, Barnes & Noble has a rental program that costs about $30 per book with free shipping on orders over $25.

If you can’t find a job, email your favorite professors and ask if they need help in their office. Still no job? Try posting flyers at the local library for services you can provide such as mowing grass, moving help, elementary tutoring, typing, editing, babysitting, dog walking or anything else you can think of.

When doing laundry, you can use Shout Color Catchers to prevent your clothes from fading or bleeding when you forget to or neglect to sort them. If you have multiple loads, remember you can usually shove two loads of wet laundry into one dryer.

Pizza, chicken nuggets, potato soup and biscuits and gravy happen to be the only decent food that’s constantly available at my school. Pace yourself and try to find healthier options. When I had a meal plan, I spent most of it on coffee and cookies in the library and went grocery shopping for real food. Also, go ahead and buy a reusable water bottle and never pay for water again!

When all else fails, make friends with older college students and ask them for advice!

On Deciding Your Major

If you are lucky enough to know what you want you want to major in, we applaud you. The rest of us are not quite as fortunate. However, here is an important bit of information you should know that no one ever bothered to tell you when discussing your college career: It’s okay not to know what you want to do for the rest of your life.

In fact, it may surprise you to find out how good of company you are in by not knowing. According to the Northwest Education Loan Association (NELA), two-thirds of college freshman begin college without a chosen major. Even then, around sixty percent of students change their major at least once. Ohio University claims that on average students change their major three times.

Take a deep breath. Choosing a major is not an easy feat. So here are a few pointers that might help you along the way to deciding which major is right for you:

Explore your options. Most colleges offer a career exploration class that focuses on helping you decide what major you would excel in. It’s great for freshman, but upperclassmen are not out-of-place in these courses.

Workshop it Out. Universities and colleges also hold workshops for career placement. These are generally free for current students and can be a great way of getting a feel for what path you should take.

Take a Test. There are loads of websites and quizzes geared towards helping you decide what career paths you may enjoy. These are great because they use personality questions to determine like-minded career choices and are free. Here are a few to sample: CareeerPath and CareerTest.

Audit a Class (or Two). Auditing a few classes that deal with your major. Auditing is when you sit in for a class with professor approval without getting credit for the class. It gives you a taste of what you will be doing in the future. It’s also a great way to network and meet folks who will be going into similar fields before you graduate.

Work for It. Internships you will be working hands on with real companies doing real work. While a lot of internships require a student to be at a junior or senior level, you can find plenty of companies that will accept younger students. Not all internships are paid, but the experience and padding of your future resume will be well worth putting in some unpaid time.

Do what you love. The money will follow. This advice might be the hardest of all to swallow, but it is important. No one wants to work forty or more hours a week doing something they hate, so don’t compromise now. Invest your education into something that interests or inspires you even if you don’t think you can get that weekend vacation house in the Hamptons from it. It will pay off in the long run.

On Staying Physically Fit

Getting to the gym can be a strenuous task.  Just thinking about being winded and our bodies aching afterward can turn a lot of us off. In this post I intend to explain some ways that may get rid of that haunting feeling whenever someone says the word “gym.” There are tons of benefits to staying in shape: you don’t have to do it alone, there are easy ways to stay motivated, and you don’t have to be there for five hours at a time. Stay on task and you will be in and out faster than you can say Oxford English Dictionary!

Part of the college experience is seeing what life is like without anyone reminding you or telling you to do anything. We don’t have to get up and exercise, but there are plenty of reasons to get up and go. Working out is a great stress reliever. In college, we deal with constant due dates, annoying room mates, evil teachers and a million other things that stress us out. Holding on to the built up stress from all these things is unhealthy. Getting in a good workout can help release some of that anxiety. Working out will also help focus your mind on the designated tasks at hand. Which will help eliminate things like wandering unproductive thoughts and sleep reading. Sleep reading is when you are reading something, but you are thinking about something else therefore you are not retaining the information. That is the worst way to study. Go to the gym and come home with your energy focused on what’s important. Stay with your workout, you’ll start to look better and feel better about yourself.

Good friends can make you feel better in almost any situation, so why not go the the gym with them? Going to the gym with a friend gives you a good sense of urgency. Nobody wants to disappoint a good friend. You will make sure you’re at the gym, ready to workout and you may push yourself a little harder just because you know your friend is watching. Now, this doesn’t have to be a competition, but having a friend or a gym buddy is good motivation to stick with your regiment.

Staying motivated is a common issue especially when your workload begins to pile up. Your work is the most important thing, that’s why you’re in school, so it’s easy to skip workouts when a semester begins to pick up momentum. That’s not a problem, the problem comes when you are using your workload as an excuse. You don’t have to be in the gym for hours at a time. You can get in a great workout within 30-45 minutes. There are plenty of regiments online to use and I’m sure if you ask someone at your school gym they can recommend something for you to do.

Lastly, go to the gym with the betterment of your health in mind. Don’t get discouraged by other people! That means don’t worry about the behemoth that can curl the service desk, don’t worry about the slender goddess that has been running on the treadmill at top speed for an hour and a half, and don’t worry about the guy walking around with a shirt that exposes his nipples just because he can. You can’t let things like this bother you because that is who these people are. Get in, do your workout and get out. Just like you don’t want anyone to judge you, don’t judge anybody else. Tolerance is a two-way street and it is only fair if there are no exceptions to the rules. College is not the easiest time to stay in shape, but there is no excuse for not trying to stay in shape at the very least. Put aside time to go to the gym and you will love yourself at the end of the semester.

On Making it all Four Years

Congratulations! You have completed high school, now you are off to college, full of hope and promise, ready to face the world.

Or are you?

If I had just asked myself that simple question, am I ready for college?, I could have saved myself time, money, and hardship.

Society forces the concept that students must go to college immediately after high school, while the knowledge obtained in the past four years is still fresh on their young minds. What society fails to realize is that many young people are not ready for the trials of higher education at eighteen.
High school prepares you to go to college, which is only half of the higher education experience. The other half, making it as an adult, involves life skills high school fails to cover. You may have the education and intellectual ability, but without the maturity, you will crumble in the first semester. The main components a young adult must master to make it on his own are financial responsibility, self motivation, and job skills.

As a teenager, I was blissfully unaware of the ugly side of money: bills. I never paid a bill in my life until I moved out, and unfortunately, neither does the majority of today’s youth. Even if your tuition has been covered by scholarships, there is still the cost of books, living expenses, etc. Without the knowledge of budgeting, these bills can pile up and suffocate you. The best advice I can give is to make a small investment in getting a financial advisor to teach you how to handle money. It will pay off in the long run, and save you from a whirlwind of stress.

High school teachers drill due dates, test dates, study guides, and homework into student brains, something the students often take for granted. They grow to expect it; they have no incentive to study on their own. This poses a problem for today’s college Freshman. Teachers will no longer baby the students, reminding them of every test, project and assignment. And, worse of all, no more study guides. You must study on your own will, sacrificing the free time we all crave.

You go through college with the expectancy of getting a job, but you must get a job to make it through college. Part time jobs may be hard to find, but most colleges offer on-campus positions to help students. These jobs are much better than off campus jobs, simply because the employers will be more understanding of your class and study needs when you need time off. The best way to make it is to get a job or paid internship in your field of study. For example, a Journalism major could apply for the college newspaper staff. The more experience in your line of work you gain through college, the easier it will be to get jobs in the real world.

College is about more than just school. If you learn to master academics with other imperative life skills, you will master all four years of schooling and beyond.

On Where to Live While in College

Going away to college can be significantly more expensive than living at home. The main reason for this is the cost of rent for an apartment or dorm. Some students are fortunate enough to be awarded scholarships that pay for housing, but unless your grades are among the top percentage in the country, you’ll be paying for it on your own.

When deciding on where to live, you must first consider everything you will be paying for while living off-campus that would otherwise be part of your housing payment in the dorms. The money you pay towards on-campus housing usually covers air-conditioning and heating, water, electricity, internet, and cable (Research the college you might attend to see what they provide). Make sure to take every expense into account to make sure one is more financially viable than the other.

From my experience, and what I’ve heard from others, on-campus housing is a lot more expensive than living off-campus. Apartment prices will vary depending on what part of the country or state you are in, but if you split the rent with one or more roommates, you’ll most likely be paying less than you would in dorms. If you are lucky enough to go to college with a friend you can split rent and utilities with — that will probably be your best bet — but if not, you might find it worthwhile to live on campus to make friends and possibly move out with them the following year.

Also, If you plan on living far enough from campus that would require a significant commute, be sure to think about the price of a parking pass or bus pass and the time it will take to get to class. A friend of mine thought to ask the manager of a restaurant near campus if he could park behind their establishment; his request was accepted and now parks there for free and makes the short walk to campus. Be aware of agreements like this that could save you time and money.

Remember, with off-campus living comes the chance of you becoming lazy and blowing off school because of you don’t feel like making the commute. So if you are the type of person that might fall into that sort of mindset fairly easily, I would suggest living closer to, or even on-campus to avoid this behavior and possibly flunking out.

On The Importance of Knowing Your Secretaries

Students often forget that their department or major has secretaries and that these secretaries are paid to help them. Many fellow students I know dash right past the front desk in the Psychology building to hunt down a professor they have had when they have a general departmental question and forget the smiling men and women who are sitting there ready to give an answer. I’m not saying it’s bad to talk to a professor when you have a question that could just as easily be answered by a secretary, in fact building a personal relationship with a faculty member helps a lot and may be a topic I will write on later, but professors are busy. Unless he or she is your academic advisor, you should consider just going to talk to your department’s secretaries, and here’s why:

1. If you were going to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant known locally for its great Mexican food for the first time, you would do well to spot someone who looks like a regular and ask them what they think the best dish on the menu is. Secretaries are these regulars and when you first arrive at a new school as a freshman or a transfer, you’re the newbie who doesn’t know what to order. Secretaries exist to help you figure these things out and they have their finger on the pulse of your department. They know the class schedule like the back of their hand and they probably know the class schedule for the upcoming semester before you do (and possibly even before some of the professors do). If you have questions about the mechanics of finishing your major on time, certainly talk to your academic advisor but check with the secretaries too. There may be a class offered in the upcoming semester or over the summer that you don’t know about yet.

2. Secretaries are people persons—at least normally, exceptions do exist and that’s too bad—unlike some of your professors or, god forbid, your academic advisor. Remember, professors are paid first and foremost to teach classes and do research and some may have spent too long reading broken-spine editions of Kierkegaard, peering through microscopes, or roughing it in Papua New Guinea cataloguing new language groups to remember how to speak one-on-one with a student. They are experts in their given field but sometimes can also get lost in them. Secretaries are used to organizing things and presenting them to inquisitive first-years. They have their feet on the ground. Go to them first.

3. Professors can be notoriously hard to catch in their officers or when they have free time. Often times you need to first set up an appointment to meet with them anyways. Secretaries, on the other hand, are always around. Professors might only show up on campus to teach a night class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but secretaries are usually always around nine-to-five, Monday through Friday. In fact, I’ve noticed that secretaries are one of the only groups that maintain normal business hours. The surest and easiest way to get a question answered in person is to go talk to a secretary. No appointment necessary.

4. Secretaries have candy. I’m not joking with this one, but you may not see my point yet so keep reading. I’ve noticed that most secretaries have a bowl of mint candy or chocolate kisses on their desks and combine that with the smiles they usually wear and the general air of approachability they exude and I have to ask: why wouldn’t you want to go talk to a secretary if you have a question? Professors can be scary sometimes, especially if they’re one of those overly bookish types that I mentioned earlier or if you are flunking out of one of their classes. Maybe you just feel like you have a dumb question. Secretaries are nice people (again, usually) so go up to their desk, grab yourself a mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and ask away. No question is too dumb. Maybe you don’t get your question answered, but hey, free candy.

5. If you take advantage of talking to your department’s secretaries whenever you can, even just to say “hi” now and then, you could begin to feel like a regular (if we continue with the hole-in-the-wall restaurant metaphor). This is a bit easier at a smaller school or in a smaller major when they are going to have an easier time remembering your name, but the advantages might be greater if you go to a larger school or are in a larger major. All of a sudden you become a familiar face around your department’s office. Don’t become a loiterer, but be a regular. Professors and deans—who often will have their offices in the same vicinity as the secretaries—will bump into you more and you can remind them who you are and what classes you had with them as you pass by. With any luck you could end up exchanging greetings with them when you see each other. This semi-personal contact is good, and feeling like a natural part of your department is even better—especially at a big school. This keeps you from getting lost in the crowd, which is very helpful for getting on the top of waiting lists for classes, finding out about internships or research assistant positions as soon as possible, or getting letters of reference from professors who actually know you as more than just a name on a class roster.

On Organization

If you ever plan on graduating in a timely manner, you’ll have to be organized. Luckily for you, I have my fair share of time-tested organizational tips that will make you a more efficient student and help you graduate on time.

Growing up, my mom often had a daily planner to keep all her appointments and events in one place and boy did I think that was nerdy. I couldn’t have been more surprised my freshman year when I was given a free one in an orientation goodie bag and decided to fill it up with the information in my syllabi; like due dates of assignments, tests, quizzes and papers. It wasn’t long until I found myself going back to it regularly to check things off that I had finished and to make sure I was on-track in each class. I kid you not, getting — and properly utilizing — a daily planner will greatly increase your likelihood of passing classes and graduating on time.

On almost the same level as daily planners, accordion file folders are well worth the few bucks you’ll spend on them, considering the amount of time and frustration they’ll save you later in the semester. These things are pretty self-explanatory, it’s a binder that folds out like an accordion to let you easily store papers from multiple classes into their own slots so they don’t get mixed together. They also come with little tags you can put class names on to be better organized. Much like an accordion, it folds back up nicely and conveniently so you can take all your papers to campus while keeping them neatly organized.

Finally, and what I think should be the base of your organizational system to success(™ coming soon), is the arrangement of your main study area. It’s important to have a desk dedicated solely to your school work. Make sure it’s always mess free to avoid distraction, and in a place where you can completely drown out all other stimuli to focus on your work. Facing a wall is an easy way to get rid of visual distractions, but sometimes drowning out the noises of your house, apartment or dorm can be slightly more challenging. For that, I would plug my headphones into my laptop and go to Simply Noise, select a tone and volume I liked, and go to work. With this noise generator, I often found myself taking fewer breaks and feeling my thoughts flow more smoothly, ultimately finishing my papers faster than I would otherwise. I tried listening to my own music library, but quickly found myself jamming out to the music and not doing any work. Everybody sings alone in their cars, so sitting alone at a desk will probably yield the same result. Good luck.

On Dining Halls and the Freshman Fifteen

One of the most obvious problems facing incoming freshmen who are planning on living on campus is the struggle of nutrition and of learning to control their own eating habits. Most schools attempt to thwart this conundrum by offering various meal plans that allow students to purchase meals at the various dining halls located on campus.

As time has progressed, most student bodies on campuses across the country have led initiatives to force their schools to offer healthy options for students. The problem is that along with the promising nutrients of all the healthy options, students seem to have little to no control over their own consumption.
Healthy Options at the University of California, Irvine Dining Hall

From my own experiences in the dining hall, I would often see students bypass the leaner options and head straight towards the pizza and burger station. My freshman peers would walk to their tables with multiple plates of food, washing their greasy meals down with endless cups of the various sodas that flowed freely. Even if they were full halfway through the meal, they would most often continue eating the food they had gotten in an effort to not waste anything. After months of doing this they easily put on quite a few extra pounds.

So, what is the easiest way to fix this? I need to preface this by saying that I am in no way a dietitian or nutritionist, but simply a student who successfully made it through the first years of college in a relatively healthy state. The main way to combat this overconsumption is to simply only grab a single plate of food at a time. This forces you to have to continually choose whether or not you want to eat more, rather than simply having all of the food in front of you. Most dining halls that I have visited are wholly fine with students going back and forth between tables and the food areas, so no additional charges are levied. Getting into the habit of forcing yourself to a single plate can easily help keep off the excess weight.

Students who live on campus are offered meal plans of various sizes, and most of my fellow students made the expensive mistake of purchasing the largest meal plan. It is easy to have the mindset of “Of course I’ll need to be able to eat at the dining hall three times a day!” More often than not, you’ll skip a meal each day because of classes, outings, or just pure apathy. Unless you are absolutely certain that you’ll need to eat in the dining hall for all three meals each day, go for a smaller and ultimately cheaper plan. Almost everyone I knew at the end of each school quarter had extra meal points remaining, which was a complete waste of money.

Living away from home for the first time can be an amazing experience, but it is easy to ruin your body and time by eating terribly in the campus dining halls. Avoid the pitfalls of overpaying and always remember to stick to a single plate.

On Time Management

In case you feel as though you’ll be overwhelmed by college, relax; it’s easier than you think.

Most colleges require around 15 units a semester (or 12 units a quarter) to graduate in four years. Units can typically be understood as the number of hours a week you will be in class. If you compare that to the 30-35 hours a week spent in high school, there should be no reason you shouldn’t graduate in a timely manner. Yes, classes are harder than those you took in high school and will require more time for homework, but given the amount of free time you get, it’s more than reasonable.

Accordingly, if there’s one thing you will need to get used to in college, it is the amount of free time you’ll have. Getting a job will help offset the free time and besides; there are few things better than a steady paycheck, whatever the size.

One of the main problems I saw in college, was the ways in which students abused their free time. As soon as classes got out for the day or for the week, my classmates would immediately immerse themselves in partying or video games that would last until hours before class began again, leaving little to no time for studying or homework. I’ve witnessed numerous people fail classes because they were not able to find time to put in the work, despite the substantial amount of time they were given.

When I would get out of class, I would head back to my apartment and finish most of the homework assigned to me that day, and only after that I would feel ready to begin socializing with friends. This routine worked well for my first year, then I began giving myself a little more leeway as I became more comfortable with it and because my work hours didn’t always allow me to do so. Regardless, I still completed assignments and papers as soon as I could. I would suggest you try this first semester to avoid being overwhelmed by deadlines and due dates, instead of waiting until it’s too late. After you get used to this system, try adjusting it to see what works best for you.

Now don’t get me wrong, partying and hanging out with friends is great, but there is a happy medium between socializing and studying. Though it may vary from person to person, it is out there, and finding it for yourself is well worth the satisfaction.