I thought I was prepared when I left for my three-week study abroad trip to Italy. But here are a few things you should know before you study abroad:

  1. "We're not in Kansas anymore." If you arrive expecting familiarity, you're going to be disappointed. While there were aspects of Italy that really made me miss home (for instance, a notable lack of toilet seats in the public restrooms), I loved its quirks. Embrace the differences.
     
  2. It's okay to say no. When I was preparing for my trip, I felt like I was surrounded by voices saying, "Don't ever say no!" It's easy to feel a lot of pressure to have a "perfect" experience. I never made it to Rome or The Leaning Tower of Pisa. I never saw the real David because the fake one was good enough for me. Your trip is going to be what you make it. Do what makes you happy and you'll go home feeling like you had the trip of a lifetime.
     
  3. Be prepared for anything. And I mean anything. One day I was walking though a piazza near my apartment when I heard, "Oh! Beauty!" I turned to see a mime running through the crowd toward me. I stopped to see what he was doing and, to my utter horror, he picked me up in his arms and proceeded to twirl me around through the crowd. The tourists stopped to watch, cheering and clapping. Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, he planted a big, sloppy, paint-covered kiss on me, dumped me into some poor guy's lap, and shouted, "Happy Birthday!" To say that my study abroad preparations did not cover how to handle this would be a bit of an understatement.
  4. Stray off the beaten path. Definitely hit up the tourist attractions in your new country. But whenever you can, just wander around and explore. I found that it was only when I tossed my map away that I found interesting hidden shops and museums. One afternoon I stumbled across a vintage clothing shop where the owner made me a custom pair of shorts. He cut them, studded them, and frayed them right then and there (all for a smaller cost than you might think). I never would have found the shop if I'd have had my nose glued to my map.
     
  5. What happens during study abroad does not necessarily stay there. Any study abroad trip is going to come with a multitude of experiences. However, if you're not careful, you might go home with more than just memories. I went cliff jumping off the coast of Capri. At the time it seemed like an incredibly fun YOLO adventure. And it was. Jumping off of a 40-foot cliff into the ocean is an experience unlike any other. But, I paid for it when I arrived home with one compressed spine, two tilted hips, and three weeks of chiropractor visits.

Bottom Line:
Enjoy the time you have however you see fit, but be careful.

 

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Many incoming students move to campus fearing the terrible fates that could possibly befall their personal property. To inadvertently add to the anxiety, your parents may flood you with questions about your college's insurance policies. What's covered? What if the fire alarm isn't indicating a drill? What if a sneaky roommate snatches something? What if a pipe bursts?

When you move away from home, you leave a lot of comfort behind. And while college isn't some lawless place in which thievery and vandalism are the preferred pastimes, it's important to know what protections you have when something becomes missing or damaged. No worries though, these protections won't cost you much money!

Universities have dozens of insurance policies in place. Typically not a single one covers your possessions. When you rent a room in a residence hall, you're responsible for your items—even in the event of a flood, fire, or theft.

So how can you and your possessions be protected? You have two options.

  1. Check with your parents to see if their homeowners' insurance policy covers your possessions while you're away at school. If you're covered, you can put your worries to rest.
     
  2. Consider purchasing renters' insurance. Sold by most insurance agencies, renters' insurance is similar to homeowners' insurance save for the fact it doesn't protect the actual structure or building (because you don't own it).

Many students hold renters' insurance once they move into a residence hall room, apartment, or house because it offers a wide range of protections and doesn't leave the well-being of your possessions and guests up to chance. Besides safeguarding against theft and elemental damage, renters' insurance typically provides coverage if someone becomes injured inside your home (like when you're throwing one of your soon-to-be-famous house parties).

A definite perk of renters' insurance is its price. Most plans run you less than a dollar per day. When just a few cents are protecting you against the cost of visitor injuries and shielding thousands of dollars in electronics, the price seems like a drop in the bucket.

 

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Living on your own means you now provide for yourself. Students who are used to living in a dorm or at home are used to eating prepared meals. When you move into a house or apartment, what you eat is your decision. As a student, I got tired of spending a ton of money on fast food, and it wasn’t good for my waistline. I decided to expand my horizons with my meals.

Here are some tips to avoid the drive-thru.

Cooking with your roommates
A part of college is trying new things, so collaborate with the people you live with. Not everyone is the same type of eater. Some people enjoy fast food and others are health nuts. Keep an open mind and find out what you and your roommates can cook together. You may acquire a new taste and discover an interest in cooking new foods.

 Making meals that last
Preparing meals in bulk is a sure way to eat affordably and always have something ready to eat. Pasta is the easiest, most affordable food you can make. A box of pasta can easily feed a few people, and you’ll still have leftovers. It can be cooked in a variety of ways with chicken, beef, or with peppers, onions and mushrooms. You can use so many different sauces and noodles. Add a pre-mixed salad or some garlic bread and you have a full meal.

 Cook using a different method
Using a grill brings out an entirely different (and better) taste in food. If you’re able to have a grill at your apartment or house, you won’t regret it. My roommates and I pitched in money to buy a grill, and it expanded our cooking horizons. Burgers, chicken, vegetables; it all tastes great. If you can’t have a grill where you live, a George Foreman-style grill also works great.

Using a slow cooker is another method of making great meals. I didn’t utilize a slow cooker until my senior year, and I wish I would have sooner. It’s as easy as adding a bunch of meat, vegetables and whatever you want to spice it up. Turn on the heat and in a few hours you have a delicious meal.

 Freezing leftovers
My mom cooks often. She got in the habit of saving a portion of leftovers and freezing them for me to take back to school. She would freeze foods like pastas, soups, stir-fry, chili or anything else that tastes decent after it’s frozen. This helped me save a ton of money, and the taste of home cooking was always available.

Don’t break the bank buying food every day. And don’t limit yourself to the stereotypical college diet of ramen and mac ‘n’ cheese. Expanding your cooking horizons makes preparing meals something to look forward to.

 

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After four years of undergraduate education, the time comes when we transition into the next phase of our lives—post-graduate existence. Do we move back with our parents to work in our hometown? Do we seek a "big-kid job" in a big city? Do we enroll in a grad program?

Many students are attracted by the idea of grad programs, whether it's for the frame-ready diplomas, the possibility of a promotion or pay raise, or the opportunity to keep learning from renowned faculty. For some students, heading straight into grad studies is unrealistic because work experience is required. For others, such as prospective veterinarians, speech-language pathologists and college professors, their desired occupation is unattainable until they complete their grad program.

There are a few additional considerations you should make before deciding your post-graduate path.

  1. Finances
    It's no secret college is expensive. Luckily, most schools offer assistantships, grants, and scholarships to incoming grad students. To locate these cost-saving opportunities, you ought to explore the school's website and not be afraid to accept a role outside your department. Taking the time to ask the school's professors for tips on good places to apply for funding is another smart idea. Some would argue the best option is accepting a job with an employer that will foot the tuition bill. Of course, you can go the old-fashioned route by holding a job to save some dough for grad school.
     
  2. Knowledge
    Do you have enough background knowledge to excel in your graduate program? Would having some real world experience under your belt improve your contributions to class discussions? Having knowledge to apply to your graduate lessons will make the coursework more meaningful and impactful. That allows you to walk away with something more valuable than a diploma—expertise.
     
  3. Timing
    When is it best to attend? The difficulty of attending may grow as you attempt to schedule it into a life that already includes a job and a family, but it's possible. Did you take the time to perform the proper research? Are you certain about what you truly want to study? It may be smarter to take a break from the university scene to conduct some soul-searching to determine what (or if) you truly wish to study in grad school.

If you decide graduate school is still the right choice for you, be sure you have the stamina to survive a few more years of hitting the textbooks, listening to lengthy lectures, and writing even lengthier essays.

 

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Life as a transfer student is a little different than an incoming freshman, regardless of whether you started at a community college or are coming from another university. There's a lot going on--financial aid, figuring out your living situation--but you're not the first person to go through it. Here's my advice based on my experience going from Macomb Community College to Central Michigan University.

A New Atmosphere

At first, campus is overwhelming. There are more people, more buildings and stronger traditions. Don't hesitate to embrace all of this. You're now part of it.

Freedom at Last!

Living alone, maybe for the first time, is one of the biggest changes. All of a sudden you're making your own schedule, calling the shots and experiencing the first true feeling of independence. Embrace this. University life isn't all academics. It's a chance to develop as an adult (and have a little fun).

Soak Up as Much as You Can

Don't be afraid to ask questions to get familiar with campus. After all, you're in a learning environment. If you're wondering where a building is, what there is to do or where to find help for classes, don't hesitate to ask. Learn everything you can about your school. It's good conversation material for friends and family.

Making New Friends

You probably miss your hometown friends, but university life is a chance to meet people who will share some of your most cherished memories. Don't be afraid to talk to people. Everyone around you is united by the same university pride. Involve yourself in student groups, be open-minded and get to know everyone you can.

Heftier Workload

Learning to manage your time is important to success. You're spending more for tuition, so take classes seriously but have fun with them. Keeping a planner will help you make time for studying while trying to experience life outside the classroom.

Dreadful Exam Time

There's more pressure at a university than at a community college. The first few exams may seem like a life or death situation. It's all part of the game and it's normal to feel this way. Study hard, pay attention and take notes. The process of taking an exam will become automatic once you find your rhythm. You'll find university life works in patterns. During exam time, everyone is studying so don't feel like you are missing out on any fun. Celebrating that A+ is awesome.

Stay the Course

Get involved, participate in events, and say yes to every exciting (but safe) opportunity you can. One day it will be hard to believe there was a time you felt like a new student.

 

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Just like on-campus life, living off-campus has its pluses and minuses. My freshman year at Arizona State University, I was supposed to live with my friend on campus, but decided at the last minute to live off campus in an apartment. In hopes that it may help you make your decision on where to live, here's what I learned from that choice.

An advantage of living off-campus is having an increased sense of freedom and more privacy. You don't share a typical-sized dorm room with another person; you can have your own room and sometimes bathroom. A perk for me was the full-size kitchen. I didn't have to rely on cafeterias or microwaves for my meals; I could cook one myself in my own kitchen, often for less.

I also relished having my own bathroom I could keep as clean as I wanted. (The dorm room I was supposed to live in had a bathroom shared with an adjoining dorm room. Four girls were set to share that bathroom.) Other dorms have community restrooms and showers.

With freedom and privacy comes responsibility. I had to handle my bills separately, rather than have the entire semester's living costs already paid in the beginning at the dorms. I was also responsible for all of the cleaning and grocery shopping that comes with living on your own.

As Ohio University's website notes, there can be more control over costs while living off campus. You pay your living expenses in monthly payments rather than a larger lump sum. You also can choose a lower-cost apartment, get roommates or live with parents, which I did a few times during college when I was between apartment leases.

A negative of off-campus life for me was missing out on the social aspect of dorm-room life. It was more difficult to make friends my freshman year because I was off-campus during many of the social functions and I didn't have a chance to participate in as many spontaneous outings with fellow students.

I also had to deal with commuting to campus and paying for parking, which was expensive. I missed out on the ease of hopping out of bed and walking to class; I had to wake up earlier in order to give myself enough time drive to school, find a parking spot, take a shuttle from the far-away parking lot to campus and walk to class. It also wasn't as easy to take advantage of campus perks like the gym and computer labs.

Living off-campus can sometimes mean living with parents. This typically saves lots of cash, with free rent, laundry, and meals, depending on how generous your parents are. You may have to deal with less privacy, but the trade-off is that you know what the living situation will be like. Lastly, you won't have to deal with purchasing new decor or appliances to outfit a dorm room, as you likely have everything you need for your bedroom.

 

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We instill trust in faculty members, relying on them to help us become professionals. As a student, I can say getting to know my professors helped me get through classes, find an internship, and get the most out of the college experience.

Here are my tips on building relationships with your professors:

Understand who they are
It's important to learn what kind of person your professor is. Every professor is unique; Some like to be addressed as "Doctor," some prefer being called by their first name, and some seem like as much of a friend as they are an instructor. It's also okay to become friends with your professors.

Use their office hours
Professors have office hours for a reason, so show your face once in a while. Whether it's discussing a grade, asking for help or just saying hi, utilize the opportunity because it is a simple way to show some extra effort (and may pay off with a borderline grade). Pay attention to your class syllabus to find whether they prefer meeting by appointment or if dropping by is acceptable. They will appreciate your attention to detail.

Don't be afraid to ask questions
One of the phrases we've all heard through our educational careers is, "There's no such thing as a stupid question." Although I can think of a few, your professor will appreciate your effort if your questions are relevant to the subject. More often than not, there are other students with the same question who are too afraid to ask. Raising your hand at least once a class will help you stand out among your peers.

Learn about their involvements
A lot of professors are involved in on-campus or student-run organizations. If they are involved in something that interests you, attend a meeting and give it a try. This will open up networking opportunities with other students and can showcase your talents outside the classroom.

Embrace the networking
Meeting other professionals in your field and leaving a good impression is important during college. Professors have connections from previous jobs, former students and acquaintances. Prove your ability to them and maintain a good relationship. They just might introduce you to someone who could offer you a job someday.

Don't hesitate to get to know your professor and build strong relationships. It's never a bad thing to be on somebody's good side, especially the people who are contributing to your success.

 

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When I was working as a college prep coach for a group of high school juniors, I had the opportunity to take my students to tour several different college campuses. They were normally an inquisitive group, so I had high hopes about the great questions they would ask on our campus tours. However, when our first tour guide asked if we had any questions, they all suddenly went mute. At first I was surprised, but then I remembered that when I was in high school touring college campuses, I didn't ask a thing either. If only I'd had that recollection earlier.

It's a shame that students don't ask more questions on admissions tours, because these trips around campus are usually led by current undergraduates at the college, meaning that it's an opportunity for students to get the kind of firsthand insight about campus life that they're not going to be able to get anywhere else -- and I'm not just talking about finding the coolest hangouts or learning how to get away with skipping class (though those can be valuable, too).

To help out future incoming classes, I've compiled a list of 10 key questions that you should ask a guide on an admissions tour.

  1. What's your favorite class you've taken in college and why?
  2. What's the most challenging class or professor you've had? Do you feel like taking this class was worth it?
  3. What do you know now that you wish you'd known as an incoming freshman?
  4. What are some of the most popular things to do on the weekends? Do most students stay on campus or go home?
  5. Does the college have any student traditions that are actually followed?
  6. Do most students live on-campus? If not, where do most people live?
  7. How's the food in the dining halls and is a meal card really worth it?
  8. How much time do you and your friends typically spend on homework during a normal week?
  9. What is the one thing you really wish you could change about the school or your experience?
  10. What was the most challenging thing about adjusting from high school to college?

BOTTOM LINE
This is obviously not an exhaustive list -- there are plenty of other things you could ask your tour guide about academics, campus activities, or any other aspect of student life -- so if you think of other questions while on your admissions tour, don't hesitate to ask. Most tour guides got their job because they are good communicators and are knowledgeable about their school, so they would be glad to elaborate on anything you want to know.

 

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Dorm food. Those two words can elicit terrifying visions of undercooked pizza dripping with yellow grease and hotdogs drenched in ketchup. The good news is you don't need to compromise your dietary integrity while living on campus.

As a resident assistant for two years, I've coordinated numerous programs on smart eating within any college cafeteria, dining hall or residential restaurant. No matter what name your school uses to brand its dining commons, the food is more than likely identical.

Here are my keys to smart eating on campus:

Menu planning
Most college dining programs offer online menu information, including the day's offerings, its ingredients, even its sodium content. There is no shame in heading to the Web to find out which dining hall is serving which foods that day and making your decisions accordingly.

Portion control
During the first few weeks of college, the buffet-style serving counters in most residential restaurants have the ability to make eyes glow in awe. Try not to go overboard. I suggest bypassing the cookie counter and grabbing an apple instead. And for the love of your arteries, give the soft-serve ice cream machine a break. It will be there throughout your entire stay, so there's no need to build a sundae at each meal. Make it a treat, not a routine.

Tab keeping
Which foods are available every single day? Which oils are being used at the cooking stations? When the dining hall's only hot "vegetables" were buttered corn and fried fingerling potatoes, I'd make my way to the salad bar to fill one small dish with the olive oil intended as a dressing and another with red peppers, broccoli and other veggies. After combining and sautéing the ingredients at the make-your-own omelet station, securing a bed of wild rice from the counter serving fried fish, and gathering some nuts from the ice cream toppings bar—voila!—I was enjoying stir-fry.

Of course there's always another route to healthful eating in the dining hall, and that's by speaking up. Fill out a comment card, complete an online dining survey or even schedule a meeting with a cafeteria manager to suggest your improvement ideas.

Follow these rules and there's no way the thought of a college cafeteria will paralyze you with fear.

 

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Deciding whether to live on-campus is a major decision that can have an impact on your college experience. But how will you know if it's right for you? Here are some things you should know about living in the dorms before making your decision.

Dorm life has its perks. First, it eases social interaction thanks to activities. Students are in constant contact with others, so it can be easier to make friends. Some universities have major-specific dorms that unite people in the same area of study, meaning you'll have even more in common with the people you live around. This may also facilitate forming study groups.

Some studies suggest that being on campus enhances academic performance because you'll be in close proximity to advisers, computer labs, and libraries, just to name a few services. Kent State University says that students who live on campus are more likely to remain enrolled and had a higher average GPA.

Services for residents abound. Laundry facilities, maintenance staff, a recreation room, gym, study rooms and libraries are all nearby. Another benefit is the security. Campuses have patrolling security or police officers, and residence halls have someone manning the desk at the entrance at all times. Security escorts are usually offered for students as well, and access to the dorm is usually via an ID card or badge or key.

You'll never have to travel far to eat on campus. Residence halls usually have at least a cafeteria or many dining options nearby. Some campuses have meal programs in which you paid a certain amount per semester for a certain number of meals. Arizona State University, for example, has the option of buying unlimited meals to as few as 8 meals per week, and you pay for it with your housing.

Dorm life takes away the responsibility of paying bills because the living expenses (including Internet and cable) are usually paid in full at the start of the semester. One of the biggest benefits is not having to commute to school and find parking. Some campuses offer suites and larger apartment-like dorms for students as well.

Residents pay a price for the convenience of living on campus. The price is usually space and privacy. Guests have to check in, and there may be a limit on how many guests are allowed in your room. Often dorm rooms don't have kitchens, so you're limited to whatever you can make in a microwave.

Another drawback can be the rules, depending on how you look at it. Some colleges may have rules about the opposite gender being in the dorms past a certain hour or at all. There may also be quiet hours, after 10 p.m. for example.

And while the social aspect of dorm life is a benefit, it can also be a drawback. When roommates don't get along, it can be a distraction from course work.

Bottom Line: Dorm life is not for everyone, but it can make your first year away from home memorable.

 

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