Trying to create an airtight class schedule is hard enough—forget about throwing any type of work schedule into the mix. Without spending hours staring at a computer screen signing up for classes as new spots open and dropping classes with less-accommodating schedules, we can’t hope to have a remotely attractive class schedule—unless we experiment with online courses.

Online classes are completely different animals than traditional classes. Succeeding in an online class is easy for some personalities, yet extremely difficult for others. Regardless of your personality type or learning preference, following these five steps will help you dominate your next online class.

• Read the syllabus. Then, read it again—and again. Become so familiar with the syllabus that you start dreaming in assignment descriptions and deadlines. Often, online classes are structured to leave you with a feeling of independent study. And, since this is college, no one is going to hold your hand and remind you of critical deadlines.

• Make a schedule. Sometimes class syllabi have ideal schedules listed in them, but you know yourself better than a generic schedule does. Look at the assignments to anticipate which ones will take you the most time—and which should take you no time at all. Then, make a schedule for the semester that will give you the time you need and make sure you meet course deadlines.

• Get to know the instructor. Instructors and TA’s for online classes are often just as eager to help you as those for traditional classes—if not more. Send the instructor a quick introduction email to share your background, interests, and learning preferences. Then, be comfortable emailing the instructor your questions as the semester progresses (just make sure the questions you ask aren’t already answered in the syllabus—that would be embarrassing).

• Interact with classmates. Sure, an online class might not sound like the easiest place to make friends and build your network, but that doesn’t mean doing either is impossible. Just like traditional classes have the “smartest kid,” online classes attract students from a variety of backgrounds. Maybe you can arrange a study time with a group of classmates to make the online class more manageable. The point here? Make sure you take advantage of all of the resources available to you.

• Study. An eLearning format might be much different than what you’re used to, but it’s a college class nonetheless. Study just as much for your online class as you would for any other—maybe more. Do the assignments, ace the tests, and kick your semester to the curb.

 

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Moving away from home and not knowing anyone in your new college town can be daunting. Luckily, the rest of the incoming students will feel the exact same way.

If you live on campus it’s easy to make friends with the people in your dorm, but if you like to meet people with similar interests it’s important to venture out. Joining a club can be a great way to meet new people with similar interests. 

Here are five other reasons why you should join a club.

1. It looks great on résumés.

When potential employers look at résumés, it’s good to have activities on there that have something to do with your career. Taking interest in a club in your field of study will show employers that you didn’t just sit in a classroom, but you gained real-world experience.

2.Networking

You’ll get to meet the people who will be interviewing you, and entering the job market with you. It’s great to get to know people in the business before you enter the workforce. It could lead to job opportunities before you even finish college.

3. Assistance

If you’re struggling in a particular subject it’s possible that members of the club will be able to tutor you. They can also be there for mental support during times when you need it most, such as midterms or finals week.

4.Experience

Being part of a group in high school or college will allow you to serve in a role and gain working experience. Applying for specific jobs within a club can be your way to stand out from a crowd. Creating your own jobs might be necessary to really gain the experience you want.

5. It’s good for your grades

According to a government study, students who participate in extracurricular activities perform better academically, have better attendance and have higher aspiration.

 

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Instead of sponging off your friends for pizza, try these ways to get some cash fast.

Sell a skill. Think about what you do well. Perhaps you can tutor struggling students in your top subject or proofread papers. (note: don't ever write another student's paper) Think outside of the classroom as well. Are you good at cutting hair, washing and folding laundry, cleaning, or changing oil? Market your specific skills to your peers by promising them a great service for a discounted price. Price your work under the going rate, but make it worth your while.  (Make sure the rate covers the cost of any materials involved.)

Sell your stuff. Of course, eBay and Craigslistare easy ways to unload used clothing, furniture, books and electronics, but don't overlook old school means of selling (like posting flyers in your dorm or in other areas on campus). Selling locally is faster and buyers tend to trust more. Remember, pictures and detailed descriptions sell stuff faster. You could even sell on consignment (you can find tons of free forms online that lay out fair terms for you and the owner of the stuff). Charge less than half of the retail price, unless this is a high-demand item.

Make stuff to sell. Look for a need you can meet. For example, if the bleachers at your school are really hard and the campus store doesn't sell any stadium cushions make up a few in your school colors with some original art, mark them up for a sufficient profit and get busy selling. If you are in need of some other good ideas, check out Etsy for DIY projects.

Sell a little of yourself. Search online for "plasma bank" to see if there's one near your campus. Typically, blood banks accept only freely offered blood. Visit bloodbanker.com/banks to find paying blood banks.

While none of these gigs is going to pay your tuition, you can still use them to score a little money for a night out with friends. So get busy and see how easy it is to earn a few quick bucks.

 

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ScantronI grew up in the Netherlands and, like most other European children, I had to learn multiple languages from an early age. I learned Dutch, English, French, and German in school. Unfortunately, when I came to the United States to attend college none of this really seemed to matter and I was told that I had to take two years of a foreign language to complete my bachelor's degree.

"But I am foreign," was my response, to the very unhelpful lady in the admissions office who told me to learn a foreign language. My foreign-ness didn't seem to matter to the university.
It wasn't until I spoke to an adviser in the German language department that I was told that I could take a placement test to get me into a higher level German course. (My university didn't offer courses in Dutch.) The test cost $80 and took about an hour. After the test I was told I would have to take only one more term of German, instead of six. This means that by taking this one hour test I saved around $3,500.

After my test I had to pleasure of going back to the admissions office and smugly handing my results over to the same woman.

Schools often have placement tests for students who are enrolling in college for the first time. The main subjects are usually reading, writing and math, not specific department courses. However, apparently, this woman didn't get the memo that in reality many departments do offer tests for students with transfer degrees or experience from universities in other states, and they are often willing to let students take these tests for a small fee.

By testing out of subjects you learned in high school, or at a different college, it is possible to save thousands of dollars on tuition and fees. Even if you don't do very well on the test in the first go around, most universities will let you retake the test. Make sure that you do study for the placement tests though, because there is often a limit on the amount of times you will able to retake these.

Even though it may cost you a little bit of money up front, take it from someone who saved $10,000 on her education by taking placement tests: it's absolutely worth studying for.

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My roommates' argument for renting a house instead of our apartment was a convincing one: We'd be more autonomous, we could make keys for our trusted friends, we wouldn't have to live with obnoxious neighbors on the other side of the wall, we would have free parking. Against my initial reluctance, I agreed.

A year later, we're all back in apartments, and we may not rent a house again for a long time.
There are good reasons to rent a house, but it's far different from apartment life. There was a lot we didn't foresee about renting a house, and the benefits don't always outweigh the drawbacks.

I learned that lesson the hard way--so you don't have to.

First, the benefits:

Space. In our apartment, you had two options: The one common area or your bedroom. In a house, there were two yards, a porch, the upstairs living area, the downstairs living area, the kitchen and a few other nooks and crannies. If you need your space, a house can be a blessing, and it was for us.

Autonomy. Our apartment building had strict rules about copying keys and required an electronic fob to get in the front door, measures not uncommon among apartment buildings. That made having friends over a hassle. At our house, we could let someone in the front door and make keys for people we trusted.

For us, that was where the advantages ended. Onto the rough parts, and what to watch for:

Cost. We knew a house would cost more, since our landlord wasn't paying heat or hot water, but we figured it couldn't be too bad. After a few $300 heating and electric bills, ant traps, weather-proofing supplies and basic home repairs, we figured we had figured wrong.

Lesson: Find out how much non-rent costs will be by getting utility estimates and talking to local homeowners about maintenance. Be liberal with your estimates so there are no surprises.

Security. I know I was all excited way back two paragraphs ago about the easy access to our front door, but that didn't come without risks. We had to buy a locking mailbox after we had checks worth hundreds of dollars stolen, and we had more than one bar patron get too close for comfort.

Lesson: Talk to your landlord about secure mail options, and be diligent about locking down when you're not expecting anyone. If you ever feel unsafe, call the police.

Landlords. We should have seen the red flags from a mile away, but we were so excited that we missed them. In an apartment, you have your fellow tenants as stakeholders. When it was us against our landlord, it was our word against theirs, and he had a relationship with our city. We had more than one rodent living in our walls, and that wasn't the worst of our problems.

Lesson: Research your landlord beforehand. If you can, learn from our mistake. The next time I rent a house, I'll pick someone who lives locally and works with a rental company, instead of a single person who owns a single property. If there are problems, document them and seek legal help.

I'm soured on the experience for now, but if I can find a place that I don't have to share with bats, rats, and squirrels, I may rent a house again.

Searching for an apartment can be overwhelming, and trying to find a nice place to call home while sticking to a budget can get tricky. Before you begin your search, consider these tips for determining how much your apartment will really cost you and how to find the best place without going broke:

Do your homework.
Before you even begin your apartment search, make a list of everything you are looking for in an apartment. This way you'll know what questions to ask the landlord while you're checking the place out. The next assignment is researching your prospective area. Know the average rent prices so you know what to expect. You might find that the next town or neighborhood just a few minutes away has significantly lower rent.

Consider the amenities.
Many apartments offer amenities that could end up saving you money. For example, an on-site gym can save you hundreds per year on a pricey gym membership. A business center can save you the cost of paying for Internet, a printer, ink, and paper. Some apartment communities offer discounts at local businesses, free events for residents, and much more.

Know all of the costs.
While your apartment's amenities may help you save, the extra costs can do some damage. First, know what utilities are included, if any. If they aren't, ask your landlord what the average price is for a unit your size so you can determine what your monthly bill will be. Parking may also become an expense, especially if you're moving to a large city.

Factor in location.
The location you choose for your apartment can severely affect your cost of living. For starters, how close are you to your job? If you are choosing to live further away, you'll have to include the costs of gas and transportation. If that's the case, you might choose an apartment near public transportation to save on commuting. How close are you to affordable activities and entertainment?

Consider downsizing.
When I rented my first apartment, I opted for a second bedroom because I thought I'd really need the extra space. I soon realized that while it was great for occasional company, it was not worth the extra money each month. I much would have rather had a little smaller space but an extra $200 a month to save or go out and have fun around my area.

Look for a deal.
Before you sign the lease, look for a deal. Rental websites like Apartments.com and ApartmentGuide.com often offer move-in deals if you say you found that apartment through their website. They may waive your first month's rent, give $100, or even throw in a new TV.

Compare many different apartments during your search to see what's out there and to see what various places offer. While rent may be cheaper at one place, once you factor in these above issues, it may not be the best place after all. Be flexible, but also be sure you're getting what you want so you'll be happy in your new home.

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Motivated college students have the opportunity to gain valuable work experience, earn dollars, and grab the all-important connection through campus employment. With a little guidance through the varied landscape of on-campus jobs, it's possible to build a resume and build out a skill set in four years of working upward through campus positions. If you're among the 40% of full-time students who are employed while in school, read on.

Start small, build up
Scanning through the hundreds of work study or student-focused job openings on a large university campus can be staggering. Every school, department, building, and affiliate entity needs student staff to help run day-to-day operations, with jobs related to customer service, data entry, office assistance, research, teaching, or marketing.

For the first-year student, some positions are out of reach. But don't fret your first-year head. Aim for an office or department that is relevant to your major or interest areas, and apply for related positions. Planning to major in marketing? Look for a listing--any listing--in the campus marketing office or journalism school. That first position is a way to meet the people who work in the office, and a potential step to future employment as a writing or public relations assistant. Students who work the system can leave campus in four years with a degree, and a four-year-long career path.

Work those connections
Key to finding employment after graduation, a healthy list of references who can speak to your specific work record are a chief benefit of student employment. Focus on establishing treasured workplace attributes--dedication, follow-through, time management, and organization--in daily duties at every campus position. With those pieces in place, more responsibility and a handy job reference could be coming your way.

Finding the balance
Hours-per-week commitments vary widely across different kinds of campus employment.
Class schedules, departmental budgets and work-study standards frequently cap student positions between 10 and 15 hours. Additional employment, student involvement, and maintaining a semblance of a social life throw up additional impediments to turning in a full time card.

Find the balance between scheduling commitments up front, and avoid late-semester academic and work-life headaches. For students taking a heavier workload, keep in mind:

  • Schedule everything, including free time. Carve out time for class, work, homework, sleep, and fun in your schedule each week, and stick to it.
  • Work ahead. Though they are the bread-and-butter of many a student, last-minute paper writing and study sessions can undo a busier schedule.
  • Take some time. Always leave a little room to actually enjoy being a college student.

In addition to fleshing out an academic resume with real-world working skills--you don't want to be that person who thinks the copier is broken when it is in fact just not turned on--campus employment can give you a network full of professional (or soon-to-be so) people who can vouch for you when you're looking to land a post-graduation gig.

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Once considered a hobby of Internet geeks and anarchists, a new online currency called Bitcoin has made a splash in the news recently. In early April, speculation about whether Bitcoin might be the next great currency of the future caused the market value for a single coin to spike from $20 to above $250. As the price settled back down to around $115/coin, some of the hype died away. But the question still remains: What exactly is Bitcoin? And why are people willing to invest their life savings into it?

What Are Bitcoins?
Here's the deal: Bitcoins are a type of online currency that exist and are traded as secure, encrypted addresses. Bitcoins can only be traded and stored in specialized software. Bitcoins are also a peer-to-peer currency--they are traded directly between users, not processed by any sort of central bank or administrator. The network is completely decentralized, making this one of the world's first forms of totally democratic, free-market currency.

How Are Bitcoins Created?
The Bitcoin transaction log is monitored and updated by a network of users. These users are responsible for creating and securing records for each transaction. Successful transactions generate new coins. But this process (called "mining") isn't really a quick way to get rich off Bitcoins--it's labor-intensive, and requires a computer that can handle huge computations.

Why Use Bitcoins?
Bitcoins are the first currency designed expressly for the Internet. They can be traded across borders or countries easily, with no need for conversion. And because there is no third-party required to process transactions, paying with bitcoins is essentially surcharge-free. Compare this to credit cards, which tax every transaction, or online services like PayPal, which typically take around 3% of the payment in processing fees.

So, Are Bitcoins A Smart Investment?
As shown by the past few weeks, the real-world Bitcoin market is extremely volatile. Although there are a lot of reasons to be excited about the future of Bitcoins, investors have concerns as well--some relating to security, and some to utility. Because the network is completely decentralized, there is no one responsible for regulating the currency.

And Bitcoins can only be spent at websites that accept them. While some larger companies have recently begun accepting Bitcoins as a form of payment--such as WordPress and OkCupid-- the coin has yet to be widely adopted. (Although it is extremely popular among websites oriented toward illegal activity, since Bitcoin transactions are more difficult to trace than credit card payments.)

The Bottom Line
The Bitcoin network still has some kinks that need working out before Bitcoin can be considered a viable currency, or a sound investment. But the Bitcoin marks the beginning of an important trend. As the Internet continues to shape the way we shop, my prediction is that an alternate online currency will be in place sometime in the near future--if not Bitcoin, than something following its lead.

Photo from GlenCooper via cc

 

It's true. The job market's dreary these days--at least it seems more young people are ditching the search for biweekly paychecks and making their money project-by-project. Because freelance income can be erratic in frequency, and Tax Day can become a migraine rather than just a headache for self-employed workers, here are some pointers to help the self-employed track their finances.

Create an invoice system. Not all clients will provide you with invoices to fit their accounting systems, so it's best to develop your own. Look up simple invoice templates and send one after every job you complete, with an invoice number you can make up to form your own series. Then, record every invoice number, with a project description, in a spreadsheet. Include the date of completion, payment expected, and payment due date, as well as any expenses you may have incurred to deliver the service.

Be clear. When you input an amount in the "payment expected" cell of your invoice spreadsheet, make sure your client is expecting to pay you just as much. It's wise to politely confirm the terms of payment via email before starting to write an article or embroider a show costume. Depending on your expertise, familiarity with the client, and comfort level, you might be able to negotiate a higher payment. Whatever amount you two decide, get it in writing, and keep it in your records.

Weigh time and expenses against payment. It might be worth pushing for a larger amount if your project will be costly and time-consuming on your end. If you were an hourly employee, you'd be paid for as long as it took you to write a consumer's manual. Consider that when accepting payment for a freelance assignment. And if you're starting a set design project that will have you driving through town to buy supplies, you should factor gas, mileage, and tolls into the price you'd like a client to pay you.

Keep those receipts! Even freelancers who aren't lucky enough to get reimbursed for work-related expenses should archive their receipts. Transportation costs can be valuable tax write-offs later on--think about the wear-and-tear on your car, shoes, or bike--as can be some everyday commodities you might overlook. If you're a freelance writer, you have to stay current on trends, news, and pop culture. That's why you can write off your cable, Internet, and phone bills as work expenses. Keep track of every dollar you spend through the year and find a good accountant to decipher your monies.

Plan out your payment time. If someone wants to PayPal you a few hundred dollars immediately after you design a website, consider sticking with them. But plenty of companies still rely on snail mail to pay freelancers. Read any contributor agreements you sign carefully and ask how long checks usually take to arrive, as well as with whom to follow up if payment is delayed. Knowing when to expect your money will help you organize your bill-paying.

Freelancers know everyone's work rhythm is unique. So, when you look over these tips, pinpoint the aspects of invoice and receipt organization that you will truly adhere to. It might be the least fun part of life as a free agent, but the money you'll save through methodical bookkeeping will surprise you.

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There's a sense of pride-in-ownership that comes from making a vehicle purchase, but the amount of car a buyer can get for his dollar might be a bit underwhelming. According to Edmunds, a monthly car payment should only account for a maximum of 20% of a buyer's monthly take-home pay. With an income of $1,000 per month (close to the take-home pay of a full-time minimum-wage employee), that gives you a $200 monthly payment. That's not much car. And on top of that, you'll need insurance (expensive stuff if you're a young driver), plus maintenance and repair costs (which could be significant if you end up with a clunker). But there are some interesting options other than buying that will help you get around.

Mooching from friends
Instead of buying a car, why not borrow a friend's car? Borrowing is basically free--except for the price of gasoline. Any maintenance and repair costs that aren't directly related to a borrower's use of the vehicle are the responsibility of the owner. As attractive as car-borrowing may sound, it presents two major problems:

  1. Finding a friend who will consistently lend a car out is difficult, since people usually have their own cars for a reason--go figure.
  2. Check with the insurance provider: If you're frequently borrowing the car, or using it for long periods of time, there's a chance you'll be driving without any coverage. Yikes. Surely we can find some less-risky options.

Leasing your dream
Leasing is like a long-term rental. Ownership of the vehicle is never transferred, but the rights to operate it are given to you for a specific period. Although lease payments are generally much cheaper than monthly payments on a purchase would be, leasing a car isn't as simple. According to Edmunds, a lot of variables need to be evaluated when shopping for a lease: lease length, amount due at signing, number of miles allowed per year (usually 12,000), monthly payment, and whether gap insurance is included.  

Leasing a car has some excellent benefits: some leases come with maintenance packages, covering routine maintenance like oil changes and tire rotations. What's more, leased vehicles are covered under manufacturer warranty--no more worrying about how to afford to turn off that check-engine light. The major downside to leasing is that a lessee gains no equity with lease payments. At the end of the lease, the vehicle must either be returned to the dealer, or purchased for the residual price on the lease agreement.

Zipping around
Renting a car isn't only appropriate when on vacation. A traditional rental is normally short-term with daily rates starting around $20 for economy vehicles. Most rental companies offer long-term options with lower rates.

The traditional rental isn't the only way to rent, though (and it may not be the best, either). Services like Hertz On Demand or Zipcar let anyone get a car when it's most needed. Simply open an account by entering some demographic information and your credit card number, then wait for a membership card to arrive in the mail. Once you get your card, you can unlock and hop into a vehicle near you and use it for as long as you need. These services typically charge by the hour, and have daily mileage limits. For anyone who only needs a car once in a while, this option might be the most affordable and the least risky of them all.

Choosing to buy, borrow, lease, or rent is a decision based on personal priorities. Whether you value driving a flashy new vehicle or saving your money for something else will determine how you pay for your next car.