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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Many college-bound teens shudder while considering the possibility of rooming with a stranger. Fears tend to stem from nights spent watching movies dramatizing negative roommate situations to blockbuster proportions.

Take, for instance, "The Roommate," (2011), wherein a young co-ed is assigned to live with a sweet person who, in time, reveals herself to be an obsessive, violent roommate from hell. While having a roommate who starts dressing like you, assuming your identity and harming your friends—you know, the ones she thinks are stealing you away from her—is unrealistic, a few roommate road bumps are not.

As a two-year resident assistant, I've learned many times over which steps can help a roommate friendship flourish and which actions serve as a social poison.

Take a good look at these tips. They could preserve your sanity and even help you foster an unexpected friendship.

  1. Be proactive
    Chat with—not only Facebook creep on—your roommate(s) as soon as you're assigned. You'll get a feel for each other and even plan who will furnish the room with big-ticket items. Once on campus, chances are high your RA will conduct a roommate agreement. I conducted dozens during my tenure and can say with confidence that they work.

    The agreement—in which roommates share thoughts on borrowing items, quiet times, overnight guests, etc. and then agree upon living standards—forces disclosure of your pet peeves and expectations before a single problem arises. This way, if a roommate violates the agreement, a conversation can be had more easily, and, if necessary, the RA can step in.
     

  2. Ask permission
    Roommates can possess some neat trinkets; that doesn't mean you should touch or try them on while that person's showering. Even items that may seem more communal like dish soap or a printer shouldn't be used without permission. An easy way to avoid having to ask permission: be proactive and discuss allowed use of each possession within your roommate agreement.
     
  3. Check your attitude
    Tackle issues with a "let's solve this together" mentality, not the "I'm going to win this" one. Should a problem arise, address it head-on. Don't let it fester because tensions will only balloon. If you approach each encounter with a levelheaded, in-it-for-everyone mindset, you'll more likely find solutions to your roommate woes. If you approach an issue with a sense of competitive superiority, you're bound to leave upset and the issue will remain unresolved.

Another simple way to encourage good relations is to spend some time (note: I didn't say "every waking minute") together outside the room. Catching a movie and grabbing lunch in the dining commons are simple ways to gain an appreciation for each other.

 

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When I started my freshman year, I felt like I was just pretending I knew how to be a college student while everyone around me seemed to have it down. By the end of my senior year, I had a much better grasp on it, but there were a lot of things I learned as an upperclassman I wished I'd known before starting freshman year.

Here's 4 essential pieces of advice that I wish had been passed along to me at the beginning of my college journey.

  1. Apply for as many outside scholarships as you can.
    When I was a senior in high school, my English teacher made everyone in our class apply to at least one scholarship each week, and I, along with every other student, rolled my eyes and groaned. We applied to the easiest scholarships possible -- the ones that just required you to enter a name and email address -- to avoid the agony of writing essays and submitting transcripts.
    Once I started college, I realized that it would have been a lot smarter to look for smaller essay competitions or niche scholarships that I had a better chance of getting in order to cover some of the cost of my liberal arts school. Scholarship aggregators like Fastweb and College Greenlight are useful tools to search for those relevant awards.
     
  2. Join extracurriculars, but don't get carried away. When I went to my college's Activity Fair, I was convinced that I was going to join about 10 different clubs. After just a few weeks, I'd boiled down those activities to just a few that I really wanted to do. Extracurriculars look great on your resume, but take on too many and you'll get burnt out, have no free time, and struggle with your academic workload.
  3. Get to know your professors. This doesn't mean sucking up -- it means intelligently participating in class, asking questions when you need clarification, and attending your professor's office hours when you need more help. This way you'll get more out of the class, and you'll also be forming a relationship with a professor who can then write you a strong letter of recommendation when you're applying for grad school or your first post-college job.
     
  4. Don't jump headfirst into a major. Focus on getting your general requirement classes out of the way during your freshman year -- this will give you a sampling of your school's different departments and provide you with a better sense of what you're interested in. 55% to 60% of college students change their major at least once (I was one of them), so don't feel like you need to immediately commit to something.

BOTTOM LINE

Be flexible and willing to learn as you go along. Keep my previous four tips in mind, but know that the college experience is different for everyone, and you will figure it out once you throw yourself into campus life.

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Learning is something I love. I often feel most powerful while grasping a topic, wrestling with it, and then creating something new with that information . With the continuing democratization of information and education consistently evolving, there are more resources than ever before to increase our skills. Here are nine tools to help you learn more, starting now.

EdX
Sometimes I wonder what the professors at other schools are like--how they teach, what they focus on, and if I might have learned differently if I went to their university. EdX gives you that chance by having a selection of courses taught by real professors from all over the world. You have Harvard, Berkeley, MIT and a host of other global universities all at your fingertips. Great news.

Coursera
What would you learn if you had unlimited options? Coursera puts that question to the test with a huge variety of courses that span almost every academic discipline. There are millions of people taking their courses, so you get to join a vibrant community of learners, thinkers, and doers. All you need is an internet connection and some curiosity.

Degreed
How we measure education is changing at the speed of light. But one thing's for certain: learning is a lifetime endeavor, and a "transcript" should be built to reflect how we learn in the 21st century. Degreed compiles all the courses you have ever taken online or offline, into a fluid document you can share with the world.

Udemy
Life is all about the moves you make. Udemy is built to make sure you get the best information when you start to make those moves. They have an incredible library of e-learnings and presentations on every subject from yoga to photography design.

SkillShare
Learning new skills can help make you irreplaceable. Skillshare lets you learn by doing. The teachers are professionals, so you are getting advice from people who are making and doing exactly what they teach.

CreativeLive
I am not talented when it comes to art, but I love to learn how I can incorporate more creative concepts into my life and work. CreativeLive specializes in trainings and classes that give anyone with artistic talent a place to learn and grow.

CodeAcademy
Learning how to code is definitely a career upgrade. Companies are always looking for designers and developers with programming skills. CodeAcademy makes it simple and fun to learn the basics, and has all types of resources to take your skills to the next level. The site works if you are a pure novice, or if you want to brush up on your techniques to keep them current.

Udacity
If you learn visually, then Udacity was made for you. It offers interactive courses from world class instructors and business leaders, in easy to navigate chunks that fit into your hectic schedule. After you satisfy your requirements, you get to a certificate that lets you show the world what you learned and accomplished.

RedHoop
There are lots of places to learn new things. I think Redhoop is quickly becoming the Google of online learning. It indexes thousands of courses (including most mentioned here) and organizes them by topic and cost. With over 7000 courses and 1600 of them being free, there is definitely something there for any type of interest. New courses are added everyday so go check it out!

 

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