Thanksgiving Break: Keeping Costs In Check

Thanksgiving BreakAs November rapidly approaches its end, college students are counting down the days until the brief Thanksgiving break where they’ll finally have the chance to relax, watch football, recuperate from tests and reunite with family.

And while Thanksgiving offers much needed respite from the academic, extracurricular and social rigors of campus life, Turkey Day travel can easily make a dent in your wallet, cause you to fall behind on school work or simply eat away at your valuable time. So, here are four tips to help you minimize travel costs, keep up in the classroom and save some precious time.

1. Travel on Thursday. Thirty-seven percent of Thanksgiving travelers opt to depart on Wednesday, making it the busiest travel day of the weekend. By heading home on Thanksgiving Day instead, you’ll score lower airfare, avoid the airport rush and enjoy a traffic-free road trip. And if you hit the road by Thursday morning, you’ll still arrive at your destination in time for the Thanksgiving feast.

2. Carpool (if driving). Although, at under $3.00 per gallon, gasoline costs are at a recent low, its cost doubtlessly add up when you’re on a road trip. To mitigate these expenses, find other students who are heading in your direction and share the journey. That way, you’ll be able to split the cost of gas and get some roadside company. Plus, as a bonus, you’ll get some karma points for lessening your impact on the environment.

3. Stay on top of your schoolwork. Thanksgiving has managed to sneakily wedge itself in the short lull between midterm season and finals week. And while you may still be breathing the sweet air of liberation after weeks spent slaving away under the tyranny of midterms, it’s dangerous to get too used to your newfound freedom. Using the entire break to kick back and become one with your parents’ sofa may catch up with you once you’re back in the lecture hall. Don’t push all your schoolwork aside for after the break. Rather, do a little bit of work each day to stay in motion, academically speaking.

4. Remember to relax. Though keeping up with school is definitely a priority, it’s also important to spend time reconnecting with high school friends and family. While you may put currency into being a good student (and rightfully so!), make sure to put an equal emphasis on being a good child/sibling/grandchild/friend/ and put that extra effort into striking that fine balance between academics and home life. So no matter your academic will, be careful not to lock yourself in your room with your chemistry textbook for the entire long weekend and be sure to dedicate time to the people who matter and made your education possible.

College: Balancing your Budget

College Student BudgetAs a college student, you’ve likely found yourself living on your own with little to no income. Perhaps your parents help you out financially, or perhaps you’re working part-time to pay for your day-to-day wants and needs. Either way, you’re most likely living life on a budget while studying for your degree.

Since living on a budget can feel pretty straining, we’ve compiled a list of a few helpful techniques to aid you in tracking your finances and minimizing your spending.

1. Check your bank accounts regularly and frequently. When you pay with plastic, it’s all too easy to lose track of your spending. It’s important to pay attention to your accounts at all times and know exactly how much money is in your account and be sure that all your bills are paid. This way, you can avoid finding yourself with sudden and surprising debt.

2. Keep a spreadsheet of your expenses. Add your purchases to your master list immediately afterward. By logging all your expenditures, you’ll be able to oversee all your spending, even if you’re paying in cash. Additionally, as a bonus, this system will help you see where you can cut down on your spending, should you go over your budget.

3. Divide your weekly budget into amounts for food, rent and fun. Knowing exactly how much you need to spend will help you calculate the precise amount of disposable cash you’ll have left for a shopping trip, a night on the town or your birthday party. By splitting these expenses into separate categories, you’ll ensure that you don’t overspend.

4. Before spending money, as yourself “do I really need this?” We all want things, and there are a lot of things on which we can spend our money. But when you’re on a budget, it’s dangerous to indulge yourself too often. Before making a purchase, determine whether this is an item that you’ll use, or some fad that will sit in the closet. Of course, it’s alright to splurge every once in while, but it’s important to know your limitations.

5. Instead of spending money out, plan a fun night in. Time out on the town can really do some damage to your funds. Rather than going out to dinner, a movie or whatever other activity you have in mind, organize a homemade dinner with friends.

6. Pack a lunch. After spending your entire day on campus, you’ll inevitably get hungry. In the midst of your busy day-to-day student life, it’s always tempting to buy a hot lunch on campus. But $10 per day adds up. You can lower this daily cost by packing your own homemade lunch and/or carrying snacks along with you.

College Thanksgiving: Remember to Say Thank You!

Being Thankful As the holiday season quickly closes in, college students around the US count down the few short weeks until they’re home enjoying their Thanksgiving turkey with family.

And while it’s always nice to see your family again, your relationship is different from the days when you lived at home. Now that you’re in college and you’re surviving life on your own, you may feel as if you’ve earned the right to think of yourself as an independent adult. After all, you do you own laundry, make your own meals and set your own alarms.

Most importantly, you set your own rules. Over the last few months, you’ve done as you please, when you please. Sure, your parents have been great, but you’re a grown up now and you get to do what you want. Right?

We frequently maintain the mentality that once we leave our parents’ house, we’re free of our obligation to follow their rules—whether at home or away. So whether we find ourselves back home with the same curfew from high school or at school with a weekly call quota, these old rules may seem a little juvenile.

And since we’re all so anxious to grow up, reverting back to these parentally enforced regulations can feel both stifling and insulting.

It’s important to remember that despite all this uncomfortable tension and the conflicting viewpoints, our parents only have our well being, and a little bit of sentimentality, in mind. They only want us to come home safely, to do our best and to stay on track. And they definitely don’t want to feel like we don’t need them anymore. They are our parents, after all.

And let’s face it, we really do need them.

Many of us forget the hard work (and sometimes loads of money) that our parents invested in guiding us to our so-called independence, and we’re often so busy reveling in our newfound freedom that we forget to appreciate the people who made it all possible.

While you might feel okay about spurning study hour for a party, it’s vital to understand that your college education is not all about you, and you’re not the sole force in getting you there. Generations before you have struggled, sacrificed and spent so you can obtain an education.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have a good time in college. Of course, you should make the most of those four short years not only academically, but also socially. Just be sure to stay on top of your schoolwork and keep in mind that though college should definitely be a good time, you are primarily there for the academics.

So this Thanksgiving, let your parents know how thankful you truly are for their support, be it financial, emotional or academic.

College Admissions: SAT vs. ACT

sat vs act One of the most important things you will do as a high schooler is take a standardized test; more specifically, the ACT or the SAT. Each test, lasting approximately four hours long, will help colleges determine if you are a strong candidate for their school.

Deciding which test to take could be challenging because while they seem the same, the two exams actually test you on very different things. Universities accept either of these exams equally so in the end, the one you scored higher one would probably be the better alternative. But before you decide which test you want to focus on, read the following comparisons in order to evaluate which test would be most beneficial to you.

1. The SAT has ten sections while the ACT has five
While they’re both almost equal in length, the SAT has twice as many section as the ACT. The SAT splits its reading, writing and math into smaller sections and disperses them throughout the test while the ACT has four long sections as well as an optional writing section at the end. If you prefer to space out your subjects and brake your work into smaller bits, the SAT might be better but if you like to immerse yourself into the subject and get it out of the way, the ACT would be more helpful to you.

2. The ACT has a science section
It certainly came as a surprise to me but the ACT does indeed have a science section. You don’t necessarily need to know any scientific information to get a high score (although it wouldn’t hurt) because this section mainly tests you on how well you can locate information based on graphs, charts and hypotheses. I find this section to be the hardest but several friends of mine complete this section on practice tests and receive a full score. Try to complete a practice science section or two to see if you would be interested in this form of assessment.

3. The SAT has more vocabulary than the ACT
The SAT is vocabulary heavy. Meaning that there will be about five to eight vocabulary questions in each reading section. If you are good at memorizing definitions, the SAT could be a better option.

4. The ACT questions are more straightforward but have a stricter time limit
Many say that the questions on the ACT are easier to understand than those on the SAT but it’s important to keep in mind that the ACT has a harsher time limit. For instance, in the writing section, you are given forty-five minutes to answer seventy-five questions. SAT questions are more complex and require more time to think. An example from the Princeton Review of the same question posed on the SAT and the ACT:
SAT: What is your view of the claim that something unsuccessful can still have some value?
ACT: In your view, should high schools become more tolerant of cheating?

5. How colleges look at these scores
Universities tend to look more closely at the individual sections of the SAT rather than the ACT, where they prefer to look at the composite score. Excelling in one subject while being weaker in another could still give you a strong ACT score. The same scenario could happen with the SAT where your scores will not be added together, easily highlighting your strengths without having them weighed down by your weaknesses.

After you compare and decide which test would give you the highest score, I still recommend that you take both tests. I focused on the SAT for most of my junior year because I thought that it was the test for me but after taking the ACT once in my senior year, I realized that my score went up dramatically. Don’t rule either test out but it would be helpful to set some sort of priority for either exam so that your free time is not completely taken up by studying.

This is a guest post by Noa Livneh, a high school senior in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Dealing with College Midterms

Dealing with College Midterms It’s October. You’re finally settling into your new college surroundings. You are comfortable in your new home, content with your new roommates and alright with being away from home. But just when you start to ease into the school year, you suddenly find yourself hit by a wild storm of heavy-duty midterms.

In college, midterms are no joke. They’re not usually something to simply write off, and a low score can spell the end of your hope for an A in the class. With so much riding on a single test, it’s tempting to shut yourself off from the light of day and become a dormitory vampire and rely only on ramen noodles and coffee for sustenance.

And though this extreme might feel like the right way to go when your future depends on next week’s chemistry midterm, it is important to remember that it IS possible to be successful without cutting yourself off from campus life.

Finding a good balance between your academic life and your social life is important for many reasons. Not only will polarized habits isolate you from your college peer group, but they’ll also make for unhealthy tendencies in the work world and take a toll on your happiness.

Balance is vital for your mental health. By shutting yourself in to spend all your waking hours in front of a textbook, you will inevitably make significant sacrifices to your social life. By allotting time for both friends and coursework, you can keep up your grades as well as your mood, even in the midst of midterms.

As you grow up, you’ll find this delicate balance to be important in your work life as well. Connecting with people is part of achieving success, and by focusing 100 percent of your energy on working solo, you’ll cut into your time for networking, socializing and honing those valuable communication skills.

And obviously, hiding away from your friends can take a toll on your social life. And really, what is college without good friends?

But staying social during midterms doesn’t mean that you should go out partying the night before the test. Naturally, as we all know, some amount of sacrifice is necessary.

Of course, this ‘sacrifice’ and a ‘good balance’ entail something different for every person. Figure out what proportion of studying vs. socializing works best for you and plan your test season accordingly. Stay away from extremes on either end of the spectrum, and you’ll be able to maintain a successful college career both academically and socially.

6 Tips for Paying off Student Loans

Tips for Paying Off Student LoansThere’s no doubt that a college education is pricey. Currently, the average cost for a private school is $44,000 per year (including room and board). Over the four years it takes to earn a degree, that adds up to $176,000–more than three times the average college graduate’s annual salary of $52,000.

So, you have to wonder, how is it mathematically possible for anyone to pay off such hefty loans on an entry-level salary?

Paying off student loans isn’t easy, but it’s definitely possible. With a little strategic planning and a lot of self-discipline, you can slowly but surely pay off your student loans. Here are six tips to get you on the right track when it comes to dealing with student debt (and any debt).

1. Do the math. Sit down with a pen and paper, or an app, and add everything up. Come up with a final number of what you owe right now, and given your interest, what you’ll owe five years from now.

2. Run the numbers. Figure out exactly how much of your salary is left after you’ve paid for rent, groceries, travel and any other necessities. Then calculate the bare minimum of what you need to pay off (hint: the magic number that will bring your debt down rather than letting it build up).

3. Make a plan. Determine how much you can expect to pay off each year and plan your personal budget accordingly. That way, you’ll know exactly what percentage of each paycheck you’ll need to dedicate to shrinking your debt.

4. Give yourself a reasonable deadline (and keep your budget in mind!). It could be three, five or ten years down the road, but it’s helpful to commit to an end date. So even if you’re a little strapped for cash one month, you’ll keep your deadline in mind and make it up when you’ve got more money at hand.

5. Prioritize your spending. It’s always important to know what’s truly necessary, but never more so than when you’re living on a budget. Don’t indulge yourself too often, and make wise choices in your spending.

6. Save some money for later. While you’re likely very anxious to be debt free, it’s important not to put all your savings toward the past but to also prepare for the future. Sure, it can be hard to multi-task by simultaneously paying off debt and building savings, but a bulky savings account is just what you’ll need to avoid taking out loans again.

While paying off debt is never easy, it is definitely doable. With a little planning, patience and persistence, you’ll find yourself debt-free in a few short years.

Halloween in College: 4 Tips for Staying Safe

College HalloweenAs a kid, Halloween meant candy, costumes, trick-or-treats and pumpkin carving. You’d count down the days until the 31st of October, passing the time creating pathetic excuses for Jack-o’-lanterns. And when finally, Halloween arrived, you’d stay out “late” filling giant sacks with cheap candy, then savor your spoils for the next six months (or until your parents secretly finished it all).

The Halloween of days gone by was something sweet, simple and sometimes spooky. But as you grow up and head off to college, you’ll see the innocent Halloween that you knew and loved morph into an entirely different animal.

Of course, that’s just part of growing up. It’d be a little weird for an 18-year old to go from house to house trick-or-treating anyway, right? (More power to you, if that’s your thing!) But on campus, Halloween usually entails little more than skimpy costumes and heavy drinking.

Sure, this activity is rather ordinary for the American college campus. Though somehow, the combination of costumes and the typical party activities makes for an exceptionally rowdy time.

And while everyone loves a party, it’s important to celebrate responsibly. The swollen crowds of intoxicated college students can lead to some unnecessarily precarious situations. Here are a few precautions you can take to celebrating safely:

1. Choose a costume that you’re comfortable wearing. Your wellbeing starts before the party does; don’t feel pressured to slip into something skimpy just because other people are wearing barely-there costumes. If you’re uncomfortable with showing skin, then don’t—it’s as simple as that.

2. Use the buddy system—go to the party with a friend and be conscious of each other’s whereabouts the entire time. This might seem like a bit of an inconvenience, but Halloween gatherings in college have a tendency to be especially chaotic and should anything happen to you, it’s smart to have someone who will notice and do something about it.

3. Go easy on the drinks. In overcrowded Halloween parties, it’s essential to be coherent and aware of your surroundings. Obviously, swilling mind-altering beverages is not a great way to stay alert. And as a bonus, by remaining lucid, you’ll likely prevent yourself from making any number of bad decisions.

4. Tell a friend when you leave. Ideally, you should always be walking with at least one friend at night. But since that’s not always possible, opt for the next best arrangement: communication with friends. Let a friend know when you leave the party, and send a text when you get home.

Halloween can be a fun opportunity to dress up and socialize with friends. Just make sure you do so safely.