Dorm dynamics & &
& & by Jennifer Harrington & & & &
Going away to school can be tough. Associated with this rite of passage is homesickness, less than satisfactory cafeteria food, added responsibility and the anxiety of getting to know large numbers of new people. And it can be hard to adjust to the residence hall lifestyle. Although, it also brings opportunities -- to meet new people, learn new things, grow and change, confirm old beliefs, become an adult, and have a ton of fun. Here are a few pointers on how to adjust to residential hall life so that your college experience can be a fun and rewarding one.
Maggie Miller, a resident in Eastern Washington University's Dressler Hall, has already lived in the dorm for two years and is beginning her third in about two weeks.
"If it's your first year in the dorms, go out and get to know somebody who has been there for a while," says Miller. "They'll teach you the ins and outs. Get to know your residential advisor or hall director."
There are always tons of people around in the dorms. This can offer quite a distraction when it comes to getting homework done, and a big adjustment for students coming from small families.
When it comes to homework, Lamont Dabbs, a resident assistant in Catherine/Monica Hall at Gonzaga University, says getting homework done is just a matter of time management: "Organize a time to study and stick to that time schedule. We've got our own study lounges, but the library is always a good place to go to study." Maybe organize your class schedule so you have a chunk of time in the afternoon to get a lot done, so at night when fun is to be had, you'll be set.
Miller also goes to the library to study because, as she says, "That place is boring. There's nothing to do but homework."
Once you've got the time management down, you may also need an attitude adjustment. "I've also just learned that homework is something that has to be done," says Miller, adding that sometimes a few distractions can be a good thing. "If you've been studying for six hours, it is good to go out and do something else to break things up."
Another trial most incoming dorm-bound freshmen must face is getting to know the new roomie. Sharing a small, cramped dorm room with anybody is difficult, but doing so with a total stranger is all the more difficult.
Steve Bertram, hall director for Eastern's Dressler Hall, recommends that students call their roommates and get to know them a little before they even leave for school. Most college housing offices will provide students with the name and phone number of their prospective roommates.
"Sometimes people call ahead of time and find out the person is completely opposite from them," says Bertram. "We encourage people to get together and talk about all the differences in their lifestyles, like who needs to get up early, and who likes to study late."
As in many other aspects of life, communication is essential to co-existing peacefully in a small space.
"I didn't [call ahead] myself, but it's probably a good idea," says Dabbs. "My roommate ended up switching and not coming to school. It's also a good idea because that way you won't be shocked if he turns out to be kinda freaky or something."
Miller also thinks calling your future roommate is a good idea. "It's kind of scary when you walk into the room and have no idea of what to expect. Try and find common interests, what you would like to major in, or whatever."
Even after two roommates live together for a couple of weeks, the road to feeling comfortable with one another can be a rough one. There can often be disagreements, but the best way to avoid getting into huge arguments with each other is to talk the little things out ahead of time.
"Sit down and talk about what's bothering you before it turns into a big blowup," says Bertram. As a very last resort, Bertram says that people may be moved to different rooms if they just cannot live together.
Many students come to college used to mom's down-home cooking. If this is the case, college cafeteria food can be a bit hard to handle. If it tastes at all like something even remotely edible, it most likely isn't anywhere near good for you. This is where the saying "freshman 15" comes from.
The fact is that for lack of anything better to eat, and because it is quick and easy, college students tend to have a diet consisting mostly of junk food, causing them to gain 15 pounds as a freshman.
One way to combat the freshman 15, in addition to exercising, is to vary yourdiet a bit and find ways to cook for yourself rather than scarfing down pizza or eating in the dining hall at every meal.
"Get your own microwave oven. It will become your best friend," says Miller. "I couldn't live without all my cooking stuff. Cafeteria food is really not all that great, to say the least."
Miller also recommends getting a small dorm refrigerator and shopping occasionally at the local supermarket. At some schools, people with special dietary needs can get vouchers off their on-campus food plan, so they can go to the supermarket and shop for the foods they need.
When packing cooking appliances for school, keep in mind that most colleges don't allow cooking gear such as hot plates or toasters with external heating elements, as they can start fires. Schools usually do not allow halogen lamps, candles, incense or space heaters, either.
Finally, when going off to college, it's important to know what to bring. Use common sense, but there are a few things that might not spring to mind. For instance, pictures of home, family, friends and pets are always good to have.
"Bring something that would be a comfort to you if you start to get homesick," says Miller. She also says that class notes from high school can sometimes help you prepare for certain freshman level college classes.
Bertram recommends that students call their roommates before leaving home and find out what they are bringing so that there are no doubles of certain things.
"If you are both bringing a microwave and a TV, things can get kind of crowded."
Miller and other college students across the nation have found duct tape to be of great use. Many dorms are made of brick or cement, and this sometimes includes the walls separating the rooms -- probably for some reason like cutting down room-to-room noise. Duct tape can be very useful when it comes to hanging posters or pictures of friends and family.
In fact, when I was living in the dorms, I once heard the saying -- "Duct tape is like the force. It has a light side, a dark side and it holds the universe together." Never was a saying more true.
Dabbs tells students to bring something a little more abstract: "Come with an open mind. Be willing to talk to people and meet people. I think that helped me out when I was first adjusting."
(Personal) Econ 101 & &
& & by Sheri Boggs & & & &
You're about to embark on the adventure of your life. Chances are you've lined up new clothes, and if you're dorm-bound, some pre-requisite room accoutrements like a tiny-yet-powerful CD player and new bath towels. By now, if you're like most college freshmen, you've received at least a handful of credit card applications to go along with your newfound adult status. While initially the pre-approved applications are the most exciting thing to come along since, well, graduation, you know better than to start applying for every credit card within reach. Or do you?
"I think that especially with the incoming freshmen, they really have no idea of what it costs to go to school and live," says Ellen McCullough, a financial aid representative at Eastern Washington University. "I think it's very easy for them to fall into a debt rut."
Although Eastern is one of the most affordable four-year universities in Washington state, many students simply could not go to school without the assistance of financial aid.
"Eastern is a very diverse population; we have quite a number of what we're going to call non-traditional college students. We're going to have around 8,200 full-time equivalency students this year, and of those, we're processing probably 7,000 files for financial aid," says McCullough. "In some cases, financial aid does not completely pay for everything. So the students are using a combination of resources."
At the considerably more expensive private schools, getting financial aid is as de rigeur as taking the SAT.
"We look at our total estimated cost of attendance, which is tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and personal and transportation expenses," says Tim Henning, a financial aid advisor at Gonzaga University. "Our estimated cost of attendance for this next academic year is $26,610 for a dependent student residing on campus. So to come up with that much money, usually students have to have resources from a number of different places."
While the stereotype prevails that wealthy parents fund the schooling of their private university-bound children, Henning says that the reality is more often that of students and parents taking out loans and finding other ways to fund the rising costs of tuition.
"What is required is typically borrowing, usually on the student's part and sometimes on the parents' part," says Henning. "And it often requires working. When I went to college 20 years ago, you could work all summer long and earn between two and three thousand dollars, and that would take care of the next nine months. Now, it doesn't even come close anymore."
Even buoyed by a reasonably healthy bank account and a good financial aid package, many students can find themselves sinking into debt with alarming ease. Once tuition and books have been paid for, students are pretty much left to find their own way in monetary matters.
"We really encourage financial responsibility on the part of all students, and in being responsible, you really should have a budget and pay attention to how you're spending your money," says Henning. "But this is really a new thing to a lot of 18-year-olds. When you're living in the residence hall with a combination of students from all kinds of socioeconomic strata, then you see kids with a lot, and you see kids with not a lot, it's real difficult to make decisions about how you should spend your money."
For many college students, the financial realities of getting through school require outside help.
"I used to do counseling at the University of Idaho in Moscow, and we found that there was a tremendous need for our services there," says Mark Harnishfeger, president of Consumer Credit Counseling of Spokane. "Our people would do one day a month, and we had no trouble filling up the time slots."
The need to fit in and have the coolest stuff can become an unforeseen pitfall. "My past financial aid work included work at universities where there were sororities and fraternities," says Henning. "Often you would see kids that were struggling financially who, for a variety of reasons, chose to join those kinds of organizations. But there were all sorts of social pressures to get new clothes, and all the stuff that goes along with it, and it can cause some real problems."
One of the biggest mistakes many struggling students make is to turn to credit cards. Unfortunately, they're as easy for college students to get as a bus pass. In addition to credit card offers stapled to classroom bulletin boards, many university student union buildings have tables loaded with tempting free stuff the college student can get just by filling out a credit card application. And that's not even counting the offers students get in the mail.
"We certainly discourage all students from having a credit card, but when they just see it everywhere -- and those places make it so easy for students to get credit -- it's impossible to be able to keep that kind of stuff from students," says Henning.
"I would advise students to be very, very careful when you take out loans," McCullough offers. "Do not take out all the loans that you're being offered if you don't need them. We have some charts out here in the lobby that show students if you take out this much money, this is what you're going to be looking at paying back, and it's a real eye-opener. They need to look at what happens if, when I leave school, I can't find that great job with my degree. What am I going to be looking at as far as entry level income in that type of area, and am I going to be able to afford to live and make these loan payments?"
For students who find themselves up to their armpits in debt before they've even hit second semester, there are ways to get the waves of financial instability under control.
"I know that some of our offices send students off to credit counseling for help," says McCullough. "And we do have support services here at Eastern for those people who find themselves in trouble."
Knowing when to ask for help is the biggest key in keeping a minor problem from blowing into a major disaster.
"You know, the hard part, in any situation -- whether they're a student or a non student -- is somebody just admitting that they need help," says Henning.
The best advice is, of course, not to get in trouble in the first place.
"You just have to be frugal," admits Henning. "The financial aid director at Notre Dame always said, and he's been quoted for this, 'Live like a student now or live like a student later.' It's one or the other."
Learning the basics of money management provides a good grounding for adult life. "I would suggest that they put together some kind of budget prior to the school year after having thought through what they'll need money for," says Consumer Credit Counseling's Harnishfeger. "This way, they have something they can use as a template. There should always be a certain amount of discretionary money, and it's good to have some wiggle room, but the key is learning that you don't get everything that you want."
Consumer Credit Counseling offers a 12-part course called "Credit When Credit Is Due," which Harnishfeger says is ideal for college students. "Many of the aspects we deal with in the course are ultimately aspects the students will be dealing with as young adults."
The course is $70, but Harnishfeger says that financial counseling is free, and students can come in for help in setting up their budgets either before they leave for school or by finding the Consumer Credit Counseling offices in their school's community. "One of the best pieces of advice we can give is to stick to your budget," says Harnishfeger. "Try to establish for yourself: Do I really need to buy this thing, or do I just want it?"
& & Thinking you'll save lots of dough by buying your books online? & & Not necessarily. It all depends on whether your campus bookstore, like the one we visited, already discounts your textbooks by the standard 5-10 percent. We checked a list of textbooks from a regional campus bookstore against the two leading online textbook companies, Bigwords.com and Varsitybooks.com, and discovered that the prices were pretty close. Once you add in shipping costs, the online companies are often more expensive than your college bookstore. Bigwords.com's lowest shipping starts at $1.99 per item, up to $9.95 for standard three- to seven-day shipping. Varsity books has the better deal of $4.95 for the entire order, no matter how many books, for delivery in a week or sooner. If you decide to shop around online, your best bet is to write down your textbook's ISBN number in addition to the title to make sure you're pricing the right edition. It's also quicker as you can just type in the number at both websites and be taken directly to that book.
Chemistry: The Science of Change 3rd edition
Campus Bookstore: $109 new
Bigwords.com: $105.92 new; $79.44 used ($1.99 shipping per item)
(flat shipping rate of $4.95)
Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction
Campus Bookstore: $13.71 new
Bigwords.com: $13.71 new;
Varsitybooks.com: $14 new
The Story and Its Writer, 5th edition
Campus Bookstore: $47 new
Bigwords.com: $46.59 new; $34.94 used
Varsitybooks.com: $45.97 new
Managing Human Resources, 3rd edition
Campus Bookstore: $87 new
Varsitybooks.com: $80.17 new
Western Civilization, Volume A; 4th edition
Campus Bookstore: $57 new
Bigwords.com: $52.58 new; $39.43 used
Varsitybooks.com: $54.10 new
-- Sheri Boggs