Two Degrees and No Student Loans: Part 3 *Tips for Making the College Experience Amazing!*

Hello again! I am back after completing my GRE studying and taking the test this past weekend (HOOORRRAAAYY!). This means I finally get to reflect on one of the best experiences I’ve had in my 25 years of life: COLLEGE!

Yes, you heard me right! College (also referred to as “university” in many places of the world) was one of the most freeing and passion filled times of my young life. It gave me time to develop and grow in ways that I never thought I would and it gave me a different outlook on my educational experience! So today I am going to share a few tips for making your college experience AMAZING!

Tip #1-Research: Before you ever step foot on your college campus, you should do a little research on the organizations the school has to offer. Also, research the new city you will be living in. Before I went to college, people told me I wouldn’t have any time to join clubs and organizations like I did in high school. Let me tell you a little secret: THEY WERE WRONG! In college, you will want to join organizations to socialize, network, do something meaningful, and above all HAVE FUN! You cannot study 24 hours a day, so join a club or two! Also, you will want to leave campus so know what the city has (or doesn’t have) to offer you!

Tip #2-THOU SHALL FIND YOURSELF A MENTOR– You heard me right! Yes, you are an adult now, but you don’t know everything. Having a professor or staff person at your school who you can talk to and ask lots of important career questions to is crucial for helping you navigate the college experience. Remember, your mentor does not have to be your academic advisor (mine surely wasn’t). A good mentor will listen to you and encourage you, but also critique you and challenge you to do better. The best way to identify potential mentors is to first know yourself. What are your goals? What sort of career do you want? Now identify a few professors that could possibly help you figure out how to make those goals a reality and start communicating with them. Let them know what you are interested in by visiting them at office hours or talking with them after class.

Tip #3 Find three places– There are three very important places on your college’s campus and you’d do well to know where they are- The Counseling Center, The Career Center, and the Tutoring Center. Find each one of these and remember where they are. Also, USE THEM!  Don’t be afraid to use the help your tuition dollars pay for on your campus!

Tip #4- Stay on campus as long as you can– Every college campus is different but the EASIEST way to get connected to your campus and other students is to live on your campus. It seems silly but you will be surrounded by an academic and intellectual environment (with access to the library for late night studying) and a highly social environment where you can talk to people and share your ideas freely! Remember: You are only young once and you can only enjoy campus life as an 18-25 year old person when you are 18-25 years old. Don’t miss out on that opportunity!

Tip #5- Practice a healthy lifestyleTake this from the girl who gained 20 pounds in one year of college-Remember that you aren’t going to have your mom making sure you eat vegetables and fruit anymore. On practically every college campus there is a cafeteria that will offer a variety of meals and you are paying for those meals. Use them to your benefit! Eat a balanced diet and be careful not to make too many late night trips to McDonald’s and IHOP! Also, practically every college campus has an athletic facility (aka gym) where you can work out or play sports like badminton and basketball! If you’ve never exercise regularly this will be a great time to start! It’s not only a good way to get into shape, but a great stress reliever as well!

Tip #6- Positivity– Surround yourself with positive people who want to see you succeed!  Make sure you are deliberate in the kinds of relationships you take part in. The people you have the most contact with should be those who make you happy and believe in you. If a person is constantly negative around you, you will eventually feel the effects of that negativity. Be careful with who you give the title of “friend” to as well. Learn to be comfortable in reassessing relationships and making changes when needed.

Tip #7- Find the opportunities– Don’t be afraid to ask about summer internships and programs and organizations that may help you reach your goals of graduating! Use summer jobs and campus jobs to build your skills and network with others. Jobs like resident assistants often can get you a paycheck and/or a free room!  Also, attend a conference in your field of study or your intended career field. All majors will have a conference you can attend, so ask your professors about them. Also, ask if your department if there is funding for students to attend conferences. These conferences are CRUCIAL for information and networking within your field (and non-stop FUN!).

Remember: College is not just about attending a class and getting a degree, it’s also about developing and growing as a human being! 

Links: Make your college experience AMAZING! Programs you should know:

McNair and Student Support Services (think Upward Bound for college students)

-http://www2.ed.gov/programs/triomcnair/index.html

-http://www2.ed.gov/programs/triostudsupp/index.html

CIC (for those thinking about graduate/professional school: summer internships at Big Ten schools and so much more!)

https://www.cic.net/home

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Two Degrees and No Student Loans Part 2

Finally! Finalllllly! I’m back to write this second part of my college (or university to the rest of the world) journey and how I stayed completely debt free of student loans throughout that journey! The GRE studying (this is another story for another time) has been keeping me swamped and consuming my life, so I apologize for the slow writing schedule!

So the last time I wrote about what kind of student I was…now it’s time to write about my experience when searching for the perfect college to attend after graduating from high school and what I learned very quickly that allowed me to maximize my funds and stay debt free,

(Disclaimer: This is MY personal journey and everyone’s college journey is different! I hope that I can help you by pointing out a few things I did to stay debt free and have an AMAZING undergraduate experience!)

When I was 16 years old, I was convinced that the perfect college for me was Baylor University in Waco, Texas. It was a private school and for some reason I was drawn to it! I can’t remember why I really wanted to go there but I am sure it was for the same reasons most students want to go to a certain college or university (reputation of the school, getting away from the hometown/mom and dad/ everyone in your school, etc. etc.). My parents were quick to point out that living in another state and attending a private school would prove to be very costly across four years, I’m sure at the time I (mentally) rolled my teenage eyes and just wrote off what they were saying as overly-involved parenting.

Of course, eventually I learned my dear old parents were right. I looked at the average tuition costs of Baylor and other big name, out of state schools and knew that unless I wanted to take out some serious loans (or completely ace the ACT or SAT) I’d need to have a backup school or two (or three) in mind.

So here are my tips for the  college/university search:

0. Okay before we get started, I  need to tell you a little secret: At this point in your high school life, you need to get to know your school counselor (also called the “guidance counselor”)! They know everything about the ins and outs of going to college and will be a big help when you need to know about the FAFSA and everything else! Start getting to know them now, if you haven’t already! If for some reason, your school counselor is apathetic towards your goals, find someone else that can help you (see tip 3).

1/2.– Now that you know the school counselor, ask them questions about scholarships and financial aid you may qualify for. Also, get familiar with searching legitimate websites for nationally based scholarships (website link below).

1. Be Realistic- You should consider several schools. Use the graduate school mentality: Pick a few dream schools, pick a few schools you know you will most likely get into, and pick some safety schools that you wouldn’t mind attending if all else fails. Get that spreadsheet ready and evaluate these schools based on financial aid (including student jobs), the availability of any majors you’re interested in, student organizations, gyms, dorms, cost of parking, off campus life… well you get the picture!

2. Prepare for those standardized tests and KEEP THAT GPA HIGH!  This is one of the most important things about preparing to go off to college! You want to get some institutional (offered by the college) scholarships? You want to qualify for private scholarships? Well, hit the books hard and use your resources! Seek out tutoring when needed and ask your school’s counselors about test prep classes.Today’s students have the internet as a huge resource available to them! Websites like Khan Academy are offering free and low cost prep for SATs and help and practice for many high school subjects. Start thinking about the ACT or SAT your sophomore year and definitely take the test at least once during your junior year!

3. Network!- You are never too young to network and it can be so simple! Talk to your teachers, stay after class and ask a few questions! When you are participating in school clubs, get to know the teacher who advises the club and be active (take on a leadership role or organize an event!). Talk to the people at your summer job! Volunteer in your community and get to know people who can potentially write your letters of recommendation! Remember: the next new person you meet could very well be an alumni of that college you are eyeing! Learn to find new ways to relate to people, you never know who can help you (or who you can help!).

4. Schedule a campus visit and ask your school’s counselors about any visits your schools may sponsor. This is very important! You need to get a feel for the college campus and the students! Make an appointment to meet with professors or students in the major you are interested in (and even ask to sit in on a class or two!). Don’t forget to ask questions and don’t be afraid to ask actual students about their experiences with housing, staff and faculty, financial aid, etc.

5. Not everyone is financially endowed. Consider working in the summertime (and during the school year if you can manage it) to not only build those marketable skills, but to save money up for the costs of taking the ACTs and/or SATs (and make sure check for testing fee waivers online) and applying to colleges. Also, start a savings account and start saving towards your college life. (Learn those money management skills now and learn how to make your own budget!)

Important links:

Khan Academy for homework help, SAT prep (new and old test), and generally building new knowledge -https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/sat

Fastweb for scholarship/grant searches (remember never pay anything to receive a scholarship)-http://www.fastweb.com/

Upward Bound- a high school program that helps low income and/or first generation college students prepare for college-http://www2.ed.gov/programs/trioupbound/index.html

ACT website-http://www.actstudent.org/

SAT website-https://sat.collegeboard.org/home

Part 3-  Thriving in College- this post will be a little less about money and more about the awesome college life!