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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 who 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 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 Getting Books

It doesn’t matter which college you go to, you’ll usually always be left penniless by the prices of books offered at your campus bookstore. What’s more, some professors insist on using the latest editions, which most of the time are a waste of the little money you already have.

When a class requires expensive books with many editions, it may be better to contact the professor before the first day of class and ask if it would be all right if an earlier edition could be used instead, this will save you a lot of money over your college career.

One motto to live by when searching for books, is “never settle.” If you settle with the first price you see, especially those from the campus bookstore, chances are you’ll be paying too much. Whenever the list of books for the next semester came up, I’d find its ISBN (the multi-digit number above the barcode) and search different sites for the best deal. The best deal you’ll probably find are from rental sites — sites that lend you the book for the semester or longer, and will be only a fraction of the cost. Then again, it may be better to buy a book that you may use again within your major, just be sure to make the best choice either way.

Though they do not rent books, I have known Amazon to have books for sale cheaper than rentals, but as most used book sales are done by everyday people and not by Amazon itself, I have heard stories of people having problems, like getting the wrong book. It can be a gamble, but usually it pays off nicely. Then there’s Chegg. Probably my favorite and go-to book-rental site. According to the ticker on my Chegg account, I’ve saved a couple hundred dollars and that’s always a plus. There are many other book-rental sites, like AbeBooks and BookRenter that I’ve heard great things about, but have never had the pleasure of using. In the end, it all comes down to how well you search for the best deals, and who knows, maybe you’ll find prices better than any of these; just don’t settle.