Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lions and Tigers and Books, Oh My

The summer is flying by, isn't it? Even though you may still have sand between your toes and everything you wear smells a little like sunscreen, now is the time to start thinking about books for the fall.  Discovering the cost of books is kind of like finding out that Santa Claus is your Uncle with a stupid fake beard.  You're shocked. A little angry.  And a wee bit sad.

Take heart, there is an answer for this dilemma:  You can buy used or international textbooks.  You can also rent.

Buy used. Similar to finding a place to live, the sooner you start looking, the better.  There are a lot of used books out there but you have to do the footwork to find them.  There are also many places to find used books- most of them online.  I have successfully and easily used, ebay, and  I'm sure there are many other reputable sites, I'm just not personally familiar with them. Make sure and compare prices.  I've noticed that some used textbooks are listed at more than the cost of new.  Huh?  Also, consider shipping costs.  You must read the ad carefully to make sure you are really getting a good deal.  And finally, double check the expected arrival of your shipment.  You may have to pay extra to get the book to you before school starts.

International edition textbooks. It's virtually the same book but with some slight differences and at a cheaper price.  Here is a link to some good info on international textbooks.

Rent.  If you are going to rent you need to take very good care of the book.  That means not using it as a place to set your Starbucks or as an umbrella to keep your hair from frizzing in the rain.  If you are like me and can only read while also holding a pen and underlining everything, this might not work for you.  The book needs to be returned in the same condition that it was rented to you or you will have to buy it.  Yikes. My daughter recently discovered these cool little Post-its that also have lines on them for keeping notes.  That would be a good way to mark your place and take notes without damaging the rented book.

There is a little "yeah, but"  to this whole "shop early, get a deal" plan. What if your financial aid money doesn't come in until AFTER school starts and you can barely afford to buy shoelaces at the dollar store, much less an $80 textbook? (Yes, a used one can be that much and more.)  I know it happens because it's happened to me and my daughters. The problem is that you are then short on time to get your books and often the used deals are gone.  It's possible that if this is your situation you will be stuck buying the new edition at full price.  There are three other options though.

One: The professor can make the assigned textbook available at the college's library. You can then borrow the book. For free. Make your school's librarian your new best friend.  They are there to help and will let you know what the limits are to borrowing the textbook.  Sometimes professors have their head's in the academic clouds of their brilliance and so they forget this day-to-day stuff.  Just ask! It won't hurt for you to ask-- politely, of course-- if the professor would make the book available at the library.  

Two: Share a book with a classmate. If you find someone you feel comfortable with, you can suggest that you share the textbook, including the cost. Obviously, this takes a lot of trust, so you may need to wait to use this strategy once you're classmates have also become friends. 

Three: Look into whether there is an e-book edition that you can download.  This will save you money but will only work if you are really comfortable reading and studying without a good old fashioned turn-the-pages textbook.

Finally, I want to encourage you to remember your goal: To get an education. Your education will require having books and, yes, the books are expensive.  Keep your eye on the goal, take a deep breath, and remember how you survived knowing that Santa Claus  is your dad's brother who eats too much bean dip during the Super Bowl.

You were bummed, but then you remembered how much you love your uncle.  

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Not By The Hair of My Chinny Chin Chin Part 2

Many students for a number of reasons, need to find—gasp—an apartment. This sounds like a big deal and it can definitely feel overwhelming if you are young, without credit, and worrying about when your financial aid money is going to come. The solution to this problem goes back to developing relationships. Often students find housing the same way people find jobs now--networking. This is where your efforts to connect with different campus organizations will help you. Start early in the spring semester telling people that you are looking for off-campus housing.  The more people who know that you are looking, the better.

Start saving early.  You will need money for your first months rent and for a security deposit. A security deposit is money the landlord hangs onto until you move out; it’s the landlord’s “security” against you breaking or damaging something in the apartment.  

To make sure you get the security deposit back when you move out, I suggest two things: 1. Don’t break or damage anything! (You are allowed what is called “normal wear". In other words, the carpet doesn’t have to be perfect, but it shouldn’t look like you re-built a Harley on it either.) 2. Take your smartphone, or borrow a camera with a date stamp capability, and just before you move in, walk through the apartment and take photos.  Make sure the date stamp feature is turned on. You can take a reliable friend with you too as a witness that you took the photos on that day.  Take pictures of the general condition of the apartment and especially any damage. This way you will be able to show the landlord later that this damage existed before you got there.

Besides money, the other thing you may need  is a co-signer. This is someone who has good rental and/or credit history and is willing to sign the lease along with you. Your co-signer is on the hook for paying the rent if you flake, which of course, you are never going to do.

Often landlords or apartment management companies want to begin the lease before the school year starts.  You will need to pay up front for the first month's rent and deposit often before financial aid comes to you in the fall.  Again, this is one of the advantages to living in a dorm.  The school will defer (put off) your housing payment for your dorm until financial aid money clears.  In other words, you can move in without having paid as of yet.  This same principle won't work for off-campus housing. This doesn’t mean you can’t do it but you will have to plan ahead.  

Remember, it was the smart little piggy that planned ahead, put in the extra work, and built her house out of brick.  That Beast could huff and puff all he wanted, and she was still safe and warm, studying for her biology final.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Not By the Hair of My Chinny Chin Chin Part 1

Remember the story of the Three Little Pigs?  There were three pigs. And one wolf.  Each pig built a house out of a different material.  The first built her house out of straw.  The second out of sticks.  Needless to say, the first two pigs didn't survive a visit from the wolf.  The last little pig was smart and built her house out of bricks. 

To tame the college beast you must build your housing out of bricks--metaphorically speaking. You want the strongest solution for you. 

Securing housing varies for every student because every student has different needs and every school has different housing options. If you live at home, you are lucky. I know it might not feel like that when your mom or grandpa or auntie is telling you that you better get your hiney into bed as if you were still five year's old. But it is very nice to have the security of  home during college and is one of the many benefits of attending a community college. For other students, living at home is not an option and even if it were they'd rather live on a park bench than live at home. You know who you are.

Many schools have dorms but the truth is more and more schools—if they provide housing at all—only guarantee it for the first year. (No worries.  My next post will cover off campus housing.) At schools that provide housing past the first year some students are content to commit to a second year of dorm life.

Here is my highly scientific formula for dorm happiness:

cool roommate(s) + respect+ common interests + common educational goals = dorm happiness. 

Notice nothing in the equation says anything about the size of the room or whether the shower is down the hall or if the dorm was built in 1921 or 2012. Dorm happiness has everything to do with relationships. This is one of the great benefits of dorm life. You learn how to get along with people, all different kinds of people, just like you will when you go into the working world. 

So, if you find you find yourself at home or in a dorm, be thankful that it's one of the strongest brick houses of them all. And when the wolf says, "Little pig, little pig.  Let me come in. Or I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house in." 

You can say to the beast, "Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin."

 Or there's always the classic California response, "Whatever, Dude."

Next post?  House of Bricks Part 2 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I ASKED for this???

Back in the 60s, a couple of psychiatrists took a look at a bunch of medical patients and tried to figure out if there was a link between their illness and the stress in their lives. Their study resulted in the development of something called the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. Basically, the scale contained a list of stressful events.  The thing I always found interesting is that some of the items on the list are good things, things we celebrate and even work for in life.

What does this have to do with taming the College Beast, you ask? EVERYTHING. Because everyone knows that the Beast lives off of STRESS. It seeks it out and chews it up, shaking its wild head, tearing into the meat of life. The Beast eats stress for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And it is no better fed than your first year of college where stress is served up at every turn. Here are a few of the items listed on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale that apply to the college experience. Take a look at this list and assess what these stress items have in common.

Change in living conditions
Change in residence
Change in school
Change in social activities
Change in sleeping habits
Change in eating habits

To quote--minus the profanity,of course-- the drill sergeant in the movie Forrest Gump:
“You're a …genius! That's the most outstanding answer I have ever heard.”

Yes, you got it right. Change. Change is really stressful and it is one of the biggest hurdles for first year college students.

Life can change quickly under miserable conditions. Perhaps our mom or dad loses their job or the dog we've had since we were five years old gets sick. Wham. Things are spinning. Life has happened TO us again. It's miserable, yes, but we often know how to handle it when life happens TO us. Plus, we don't feel shy about asking for support for the bad stuff. It's different though when we have worked hard for a happy event, like graduating from high school and achieving our dream of going to college. We only have ourselves to blame. We worked hard and what do we get for our efforts? Change.

The thing to remember is that really awesome changes, even the changes we asked for, are mega-stressful too. And, just like during the hard times, it's okay to ask for help and support during the amazing times. So who is on your support team? Make a list of people and let them know what you need. For you, that list might include a friend, a teacher, or your school counselor. :)

Ask for support even during the good times and you will have the Beast eating right out of your hand.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Alepho's Magic

Saturday I had the good fortune to hear an inspirational speaker named Alephonsion Deng. Alepho, as he is called by friends, spoke to counselors at CSU San Bernardino about his experience as a small boy in Sudan. His story is a remarkable one of survival and I strongly recommend his book called They Poured Fire On Us From the

Alepho said many things that I thought were important but one thing that really stands out in my mind is his story of beginning his education in a refuge camp. His teacher there in the camp told him that having an education is like having magic. I like this idea that education is like magic. It is the key that opens up doors to a life that is even greater than we imagined for ourselves.

I know many of you have faced difficult times, especially in the last few years. You worry about money. You worry about your families. You worry about your future. Worry is the biggest beast of all. Alepho talked about this too. About how we can get walled in, blocked off by our past. He said that at times, he would be in school but he wasn't truly THERE, he was caught in the past. His way out? He would remind himself to come back to the present. We can face down our fears, our worries and our losses by staying focused on what is happening right now. Right now you have the opportunity to have an education. Stay focused on that.

Alepho faced many obstacles to his education. The beasts he faced were very real. One night a lion attacked while he and the boys were sleeping. His challenges exceed any that I have ever heard. He is living proof of the resilience of young people and the power of education.

When Alepho finished speaking Saturday, I had a chance to speak with him. I asked him what his plans are. With his skill as a communicator I thought that perhaps he planned to speak to ever larger audiences or write more books. His answer:

“I'm going to college.”

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Q is for Questions

I remember when I was four years old I was extremely angry with myself because I did not know how to read. I saw adults reading and so I thought that I should know how too. I would look at the books, and turn the pages and pretend, but I could not figure it out on my own. I needed to be taught.

This is true for everything in life and at every age. Just a year ago, I was invited to participate in my university's research symposium. The only problem: I didn't know what that meant. I actually wrote one of my professors an email and said “What's a symposium?” (A research symposium is an event where researchers, whether they are students or instructors, share their research with others and engage in conversation about their work.)  I laughed about my naivete at the time but I know it can feel uncomfortable to ask a question, especially when it seems like everyone else knows the answer. (Believe me; they don't.) The point is, regardless of whether we are 4 or 24 or 94, we are still learning.

When taming the College Beast it's important to give yourself permission to simply not know. You have never done this before. There is no way you will magically know all of the tricks to tame the Beast. But you will learn what you need to over time. Your secret weapon? The weapon that will defeat all obstacles?

Ask questions!

Ask and ask and ask some more. And when you don't understand, take a deep breath, remember that you are still learning and ask again.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Beast and FAFSA Deadlines

The Beast likes to try to outsmart you. One of the Beast's best ploys is something called DEADLINES.  Deadlines are a little scary.  I'll give you that.  There is the word "dead" in it after all. 

But you can still win this battle. It's not too late. Since I'm writing this in April, I don't want you to panic if you have not done your FAFSA.  You can still fill it out.  It is important in the future though to fill out the FAFSA as close to January 1st as you can.  The reason for this is that it puts you in line for the money.  Many students wait until their parents (or they, themselves) have filed their taxes before filling out the FAFSA.  FAFSA allows you to estimate the amount of money your family has made, and once you have filed your taxes, go back into the online form and correct the information. This year there is a really cool application that FAFSA offers called the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.  It is a way to connect your IRS tax return with the FAFSA and it makes things easier for you. Check it out!

According to the FAFSA website, in California you have until September 2, 2012 to complete your FAFSA to qualify for additional community college awards. Click on "Deadlines" on the FAFSA homepage to find the details for your state. FAFSA also encourages you to print out your online confirmation page when you are done. I'm assuming this is to prove that you completed it by the deadline. Also, make sure and check with your college's financial aid department and ask what their deadlines are because every college is a little different. 

The best way to conquer deadlines?  A calendar.  The Beast hates calendars.  All calendars. It doesn't matter if you use your smart phone, the free calendar your grandmother gave you from her insurance agent, or the back of your hand.  The Beast cowers at calendars. So write down or enter your deadlines and keep yourself alive in the face of the College Beast. 

Until next time...Grrrrrrr!!!