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The Undergraduate's Guide to College Part Three

Updated on April 30, 2013

Are you tired of this introduction yet? Well too bad! You have to endure this one more time. Ahem… June is right around the corner and everyone knows what that means: time for graduation. There are two reactions from that single word; one is a surge of ecstasy tantamount to earning your driver’s license and the other is anxiety so severe they’re shaking like a cocaine addict going through withdrawal. For the former, good to see you have confidence, but you haven’t a clue what you’re getting into. For the latter, relax, it’s not like the principal’s last words on graduation day are going to quote The Divine Comedy: “Abandon all hope.” But it’s no surprise if a high school senior is feeling either of these feelings. You’re stepping ever closer to adulthood and this is the true test where everything you do does actually matter. Scared yet? Well you should and you shouldn’t be, because as a college graduate, I’m here to give you a list of things to do while you go to college, whether it’s the miniature and almost intimate community college or it’s the monolithic private university that makes up the entire town it’s located in. With a few tidbits of information for your usage, not only can you survive college relatively unscathed, but you’ll also have built an impressive resume for that job you want or that next level of secondary education.

Finally we reach the last leg of our “survival series” and this one revolves around finances. Don’t worry, there’s no accounting or algebra involved: only money. College is expensive no matter where you go, although when comparing prices you will see some accumulate to a small fortune. But we’re not going to talk about tuition itself; instead, we’re going to talk about getting your moneys worth from the resources included in your tuition and what you’ll need to use your money for.

Mind your health. If you thought high school was essentially a giant Petri dish, then your college campus is essentially a battlefield using germ warfare. Thankfully, instead of having little access to washing your hands and needing a permission slip to see a nurse when you’re hacking up a lung, you will have free access to numerous bathrooms on campus, hand sanitizer dispensers, and a medical center, all partly paid for by the students’ health fees. What am I saying here? I’m saying you have got to make sure that you are taking care of yourself. Your health is key to your education, mostly because when you’re sick, your main job is to get well and then your assignments will sink lower on the to-do list. Your campus can offer medical help, such as the option of being vaccinated for the upcoming flu for a small fee, condoms can be given away for free on request, and there is even psychiatric care if you deem it necessary. Remember, these are optional when you are officially a student; they cannot force you into any of these things and you may choose if you do or do not want to undergo any of them. And if you aren’t already covered by your parents’ health insurance, an additional fee can give you health insurance provided by the college. Or, if your parents cover you, you can waive that fee and save a couple of bucks for books (we’ll get to that soon). Either way, you will have some form of safety net when you’re trekking the tightrope of college health. Because of these precautions, you have to make sure you are in the best state of health you can be. Sick days are limited by the administration, usually between two to three days, or a week’s worth of classes. Professors are sometimes a little more lax with them and others are strictly by the book or worse. Regardless, they will explain their personal policies in their syllabus, or the summary of the course within the semester. Some will ask for notice and others don’t want to know unless it is a long-term absence, usually by illness that requires bed rest and prescription medication; in that case, talk to your professors in advance. At the end of it all, when it comes to your health, it is all on you one hundred percent. You can make whatever decisions you want that you feel benefit you the most. So if you want to come into class with a nasty cold, by all means go for it and if not, feel free to stay in your home or dorm room. You’ve already paid for your education; how you utilize your time there is up to you. Either way, you are in control of your health and no matter what, it isn’t cheap but it’s necessary.

Buy books early. Ever been to a college bookstore in September or January, the beginning of the fall and spring semesters? It’s a mad house to say the least, with an innumerable amount of students waiting on line for a shot, not even a guarantee, of buying a book required for a course. The reason people buy around this time is because they usually receive their syllabi, or the overall view of the class throughout the semester, which includes the list of books you will either need in order to pass or would be strongly recommended in order to gain a better understanding of course and materials. Luckily since we live in the age of technology, each school usually has an online system for such measures, allowing professors to post such printable material. With the syllabus now online before the first class of the semester, now you have your shopping list already. On top of that timeliness, you can reduce your stress even more by shopping for your books online. You can check on Amazon, Ebay, Barnes & Noble, or your campus’s bookstore for the available texts and their prices, and that’s just naming a few of the cornucopia of options. And when you use your campus bookstore, you have the option of having them shipped directly to you (like every online retailer) or you can save money by picking them up in-store. True, the cost of new and even used books is, quite frankly, insane. At the low end, a book can cost twenty dollars and at the high end, a book can cost two hundred or more dollars. However, if you’re low on funds for whatever reason you may have, there is the option of buying used books, where the price will be cheaper compared to a new book and, for a potentially beneficially addition, there may be well-made notes to help better your understanding of your works. At the end of the semester, you can try and sell your books for a few bucks, but there is no guarantee that they will take it back for whatever reason and even if they do take it back, expect only single figure sums for each book (yes, it is a scam but you don’t have much of a choice in buying them). And for those really strapped for cash, you can sign up to rent books at a discounted price, more so than simply a used book; however, if you do rent books, you will be under a contract that requires you to bring the books back at a set date at the end of the semester, or else you’ll be hit with additional charges. Yes, it is a major expense but, like healthcare, it’s a necessary expense: if you don’t have the books, you don’t have a good chance at a good grade.

Have change and small bills at hand. At one point or another, our parents tell us to make sure we have a small amount of money to carry with us at all times in case of an emergency. This is when that piece of parental advice really sinks in, especially if you commute to school. Here are two scenarios that you may encounter, the first not so common and the second way too common. First, let’s say you do commute; luckily for those who do, there are designated lots for those who pay either a semester or a year fine that allows you to park your car there, but there are no guarantees in actually getting a spot. In the beginning of the semesters, you might have to stalk and fight for even a chance at a spot. Worst-case scenario, you may have to go to one of the pay lots, where there is an hourly rate for as long as your car is parked there. Rarely does even eight hours or more accumulate to twenty dollars, but it can add up over time and use, though luckily in small bills. But this is the least likely event of two to transpire; the other is one you know all too well. For the second scenario, let’s say you’re starving and you have only a limited amount of funds (not exactly a shock for a college student whether a commuter or a resident on campus). The school, thankfully, has you covered with a cafeteria and at least one coffee shop containing the usual café food sorts, such as muffins, bagels, sandwiches, and the like. Some campuses have chains such as Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and possibly a burger joint or diner. Other campuses have their own diners and food trucks. Maybe you have less than what you would like, now what? The last resort is not a favorite among the minds of today, but you may have to sate your hunger with what’s within the vending machines. Okay, so it may be an exaggeration of the direness of resorting to processed foodstuffs, but they aren’t exactly food in the healthy or traditional sense, not that it matters to the college-aged and starving palate. But when you have the choice of either hunger or eating junk food, you’re going to pull out those dollar bills and quarters as if you were heading towards a tollbooth. Always have that little stash of small bills on hand for whatever financial hurdle you’ll have to jump; it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

Use the resources you paid for. Notice all those little fees that go with your tuition? Nobody likes additional fees, but there is a good reason behind all the additional charges; they entitle you to reap the full benefits offered by the institution. Remember the medical center and all that? That’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what you can use during your time there. One of the biggest hassles is printing out all of those papers, whether it’s an assignment or reading material for a class or two. Luckily for you, your fees offer you access to copy rooms and their printers. Granted, you start off with an initial allowance and if you run out, you’ve got to pay for the rest out of pocket. In the long run, isn’t that cheaper than all the ink and paper you have to buy for home? But if that’s not a concern of yours, maybe you’re more interested in fitness. With your fees already paid, you will have access to the gym on campus. From the funding a college usually gets from donations and/or tax dollars along with your tuition, you can bet that there will be excellent gym equipment for either those who want to get big and ripped or sleek and toned, even a pool for those who want the best full body and cardio workout. Not to mention that since part of the institution will require some sort of physical education to complete your degree, you can be sure a faculty member will be there for help. If there isn’t a teacher there, you can be dead certain there will be other students to give you a few tips and new exercise ideas whether you like or not. Sure there’s bound to be tennis courts, tracks, and the occasional field or baseball diamond, but they can be occupied by the teams of your campus. So if you want that gym membership, you’ve already got for all the semesters you attend college. Remember that tip about clubs and that little tidbit about the Student Government Association? Well, because of that fee, you have a right to have your voice heard by your student body by that little amount of money you’ve spent. And, probably the most important detail of all, campuses will have their own Wi-Fi system and not everyone can access it, usually people who do not work there or are not enrolled there. But since you are, you can access their personal wireless connection without any problem for most days. It’s great to have this not only for studying but also for that well-deserved study break derived of funny online clips and streaming music. All of this and more included in the entire bill is all the more reason for you take full advantage of the money you paid for; you won’t regret it.

Money is the root of all evils but you can’t deny its necessity. From the large sums to the small sums, money is important to any college. Running a university is similar to running a business; it requires money to run. Even state-run schools require money from their students to make the school run for their students, faculty, and administration. Luckily for you, some of the money spent will go to your benefit, aside from allowing you to gain knowledge in your preferred field. You may not want to spend anymore after paying that painful tuition bill, but you will. Don’t forget the perks included in your dreaded tuition that don’t make so bad.

This concludes the entire Undergrad’s Guide. To those reading who are entering college, I wish you the best of luck for September. To those reading who know those entering college, pass down this knowledge along with your personal pearls of wisdom to guide them through this rewarding albeit chaotic era. See you in the fall.

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