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Rationing Your Refund Check

by Jessica Seals

The first day of classes means new professors, new classmates and a completely new routine. It is also about the time that universities distribute refund checks to students. Refund checks are extra funds that are left over after all school fees have been paid. These funds are the result of excess scholarships, grants and loans. Refund checks can come in handy, as students can use the extra money to buy a laptop, food, books or to pay off another loan. Some students, however, are not wise with their money and are left scrounging for pennies before the end of the semester.

I always hear students complaining about how they do not have any money left from their refund check long before finals roll around. They chose to splurge on clothes, the newest Droid phone, expensive restaurants or they spent money on friends. Buying a few extra “fun” items is not something that should necessarily be avoided but you should maintain a budget and be conscious about how much money you are spending. I have taken money from my refund check and separated it into two separate bank accounts. The money in my savings account rarely gets touched unless it is an emergency and the money in my checking account is what I use on a daily basis. I keep less money in the checking account so I am not tempted to spend more than I intend to.

While in college, it is especially important to learn how to manage your money. If you get a refund check back from the school, this could be your chance to start learning how to do so. You will feel great knowing that you will not be labeled a broke college student!

Jessica Seals is currently a senior at the University of Memphis majoring in political science and minoring in English. At the University of Memphis, she is the secretary of the Pre-Law Society, the philanthropy chair of the Phi Kappa Phi Student Council and a member of Professional Assertive United Sisters of Excellence (PAUSE), Golden Key Honor Society, Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, Sigma Alpha Lambda Honor Society, and Black Scholars Unlimited. She also volunteers to tutor her fellow classmates and hopes to attend law school in the near future.


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Scholarships – Are They Really Worth My Time? YES!

by Jessica Seals

A typical soon-to-be college student’s priority list probably looks a little something like this:

But wait!!! With all of the excitement of starting college, students can forget to get their finances together to pay for it all! Many students don’t realize that they can eliminate student loan headaches simply by starting the scholarship application process early. By doing so, students have more time to get their application materials together and apply for more scholarships because they are not rushing to submit everything on deadline day.

From my own personal experience, I found it advantageous to apply for scholarships early. I joined websites like Scholarships.com so that I could keep track of deadlines and scholarships that I qualified for. I sent it all of my materials early and when I started receiving letters that began with “Congratulations!” it made the time that I spent applying for scholarships worthwhile.

Another bit of advice that I found helpful was applying for scholarships even if the amount seems small. During my freshman year of college, I applied for the new member scholarship for the Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society despite the fact that the award amount was $300. Nothing could make my smile turn into a frown that day because winning the scholarship meant that I wouldn’t have to pay out of pocket for books in the upcoming semester.

My final advice: Apply for as many scholarships as possible because you might just be what the scholarship committee is looking for. Even the smallest award can help pay for something!

Jessica Seals is currently a senior at the University of Memphis majoring in political science and minoring in English. At the University of Memphis, she is the secretary of the Pre-Law Society, the philanthropy chair of the Phi Kappa Phi Student Council and a member of Professional Assertive United Sisters of Excellence (PAUSE), Golden Key Honor Society, Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, Sigma Alpha Lambda Honor Society, and Black Scholars Unlimited. She also volunteers to tutor her fellow classmates and hopes to attend law school in the near future.


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Challenging Yourself in High School Has Vast Future Rewards

by Julius Clayborn

I began my high school career at EXCEL-Orr High School but quickly realized the school was not doing enough to prepare me for post-secondary success. At the beginning of my sophomore year, I transferred to Urban Prep Academy and though my collegiate dreams were now within reach, the transition was not easy. I was met with much opposition and had multiple run-ins with many of the students. I was torn: Here I had this great opportunity but these external factors were taking an academic and emotional toll on me. I began to regret transferring and eventually regret school altogether.

Luckily, I found solace in my extracurricular activities such as debate and youth activism club. These things helped me realize my full potential and made me believe that there was something greater in store for me. Transferring quickly went from the worst decision I had ever made to the best, especially when it came time to start applying to colleges. Initially, I saw more challenges – Will I get in? Can I afford tuition? – but my worries were put to rest just as fast: We had an entire class period dedicated to college preparation and the application process, which is where I found out about the site you’re reading right now. Not only did I get accepted to a fantastic school, I also received enough scholarships and grants to pay for it.

If you find yourself dissatisfied with your high school’s curriculum, don’t sit idly by: Challenge yourself by taking harder courses or transfer, like I did. It may be difficult at first but any struggle will be well worth it in the future.

Julius Claybron was born on Chicago’s South Side in the Harold Ickes public housing projects. At the age of five, he lost his father to diabetes and was raised by his mother and grandmother, who helped him to enroll in Urban Prep Academy, a public all-male college-preparatory high school, during his sophomore year. Julius started to read at the age of two and still enjoys escaping in books during his spare time. He will begin his freshman year at Cornell University this fall, where he plans to double major in psychology and English literature.


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Where to Work on Campus

by Kara Coleman

While many students have been working part-time jobs since they were in high school, others are juggling work and school for the first time. On-campus jobs make this transition easy, since your boss will be willing to work around your class schedule. Whether you live at home and commute to your college or you live in a dorm 3,000 miles from home, on-campus employment is available. Here’s just a sampling:

Bookstore Associate: Your school’s bookstore needs people to run cash registers, answer phones, stock shelves and help students locate books they need. This might be a good job for you year-round if your school offers summer courses.

Tutor: At the community college I attended, free tutoring is available to students through the Student Support Services office. Tutors are paid by the school and set their own schedules during the hours the office is open. This guarantees that tutors’ work schedules do not conflict with their class schedules. If your college doesn’t offer a tutoring program, consider starting a private tutoring business.

Ambassador/Tour Guide: My school offers scholarships to students who participate in the ambassador program. Ambassadors are expected to be present at career fairs and charity functions and give campus tours to prospective students. Find out if your college offers scholarships or other types of financial aid for ambassador or tour guide positions.

Campus Security: Some colleges let students work for the university police department. Duties may include directing traffic, inspecting grounds and buildings for safety, and assistance during emergency situations. This is a great opportunity for criminal justice and law enforcement majors...or anyone looking to keep their campus safe!

Student job opportunities vary from school to school – at some universities, the editor of the school newspaper is a paid position! – so visit your college’s website or ask your advisor about potential on-campus jobs for you.

Kara Coleman lives in Gadsden, Alabama, where she attends Gadsden State Community College. She received the school’s Outstanding English Student Award two years in a row and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa. She plans to transfer to Jacksonville State University in August 2011 to study communications with concentration in print journalism. Kara’s writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children’s book author through Big Dif Books. In her spare time, Kara enjoys reading, painting, participating in community theater and pretty much any other form of art.


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Where to Buy and Sell Textbooks

by Kara Coleman

It’s important to s-t-r-e-t-c-h your money as far as it will go when putting yourself through college and one way to do this is by exploring your options for buying and selling textbooks.

Your campus bookstore is the most obvious option but it's also the most expensive. One good thing about campus bookstores is that some will allow books and other school-related items like notebooks and calculators to be covered by grants and scholarships. Some bookstores sell both new and used textbooks and allow students to sell their books back to the store for cash at the end of each semester...but you only get back a fraction of the amount you actually paid.

Since your fellow students are in the same boat you’re in, ask around for a specific book that you need. One guy sold his $200 Spanish book to me for $100 and a girl I know let me have her $70 math book for $30. It’s also a good idea to swap books with friends if they are taking a class that you took last semester and vice versa. That way, everyone saves money.

The Internet is your friend so check around online to see what sites have the best prices on what you need. I have friends who routinely order their textbooks from Amazon.com, Half.com and Betterworld.com. (These are great places to sell your used textbooks as well.)

If you don’t want to buy, consider renting your textbooks for a semester from Chegg.com. I did this last year and I think it’s a great idea. At the end of the semester, Chegg emailed return address labels to me and there was no charge to ship my books back to them.

Kara Coleman lives in Gadsden, Alabama, where she attends Gadsden State Community College. She received the school’s Outstanding English Student Award two years in a row and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa. She plans to transfer to Jacksonville State University in August 2011 to study communications with concentration in print journalism. Kara’s writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children’s book author through Big Dif Books. In her spare time, Kara enjoys reading, painting, participating in community theater and pretty much any other form of art.


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Immigration Law Passed in Alabama

by Kara Coleman

On June 9th, Alabama governor Robert Bentley signed what supporters and opponents alike consider to be the toughest law on immigration in the nation.

The law, due to come into effect on September 1st, requires police officers to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect might be illegal if they are pulled over for some other reason. (It’s also a criminal act to harbor or give a ride to someone who is in the country illegally.) Alabama businesses are required to use the E-Verify database to check the immigration status of their employees and businesses that employ illegal aliens could have their business licenses suspended or even revoked.

Opponents of the bill are honing their attacks on the fact that public schools will be required to check the residency status of their students. Jared Shepherd, an attorney with the ACLU, said he is concerned illegal immigrants will not send their children to school out of fear of being arrested. One of the bill’s sponsors, Senator Scott Beason of Gardendale, said that particular section of the bill is intended to gather information about how many illegal aliens attend Alabama public schools, and the cost of educating them. In fact, the bill specifically states that “primary and secondary education” is a public benefit that does not require residency to be verified.

In the 1982 case Plyler v. Doe, the United States Supreme Court ruled that illegal immigrants could not be denied a public education based on their status. The writers of the immigration bill studied Plyler v. Doe previously, and the state bill contains no provisions violating it. Also, because of the way this bill was written, if one section of the bill is ruled to be unconstitutional, the rest of the law will still stand. “We want anybody who wants to make their home here to be able to do so,” says Representative John Merrill. “But we want every one of them to do it the right way.”

As a lifelong Alabama resident and current undergraduate student, I don’t believe this law will impact me personally – I am a citizen and every international student I know is either part of an exchange program or recently obtained citizenship – but I can see how it might hinder illegal students from wanting to pursue or continue higher education. The real test will be when the law comes into effect in three months.

Kara Coleman attends Gadsden State Community College, where she is a member of Phi Theta Kappa and has received the school’s Outstanding English Student Award two years in a row. Kara’s writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children’s book author through Big Dif Books. In her spare time, Kara enjoys reading, painting, participating in community theater and pretty much any other form of art. She plans to transfer to Jacksonville State University in August 2011 to study communications with concentration in print journalism.


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The Unofficial Mini Transfer Guide

by Kara Coleman

Sometimes transferring can be tricky. If you attend the same four-year university from the get-go, you can pretty much follow a checklist of all the classes you need to earn your degree. If you transfer from a two-year school to a four-year school or from a public school to a private school, however, what happens then?

In Alabama, I am able to use the STARS (Statewide Transfer and Articulation Reporting System) guide. From the STARS site, students can search their major and find all of the basic courses required for their major by all schools in the state. Then they can view degree requirements specific to the school they plan to earn their degree from. Certain courses required to earn an associate degree from a community college may not necessarily be required to obtain a bachelor’s degree from a public or private four-year university, so let your advisor know as early as possible if you want to graduate from your community college or just transfer.

Try to have a transfer plan from your first semester. Life can be unpredictable – I have a friend who attended a four-year university, got married over the summer and is now transferring to a different school closer to her new home – but if you have a plan from the beginning of your college experience, you’ll have a better chance of all your credit hours counting toward your degree. Most college students change their major at least once (I started as an English major but now plan to graduate as a communications major) so if this applies to you, consider changing your original major to your minor. All of those extra lit classes that I took will apply towards my English minor so I didn’t waste any time or money.

Find out if your state offers a STARS-like guide and, above all, talk to your advisors! Let your field advisor and a transfer advisor know of your plans; they’ll help you make the best decisions for what classes you should take to achieve your goals.

Kara Coleman lives in Gadsden, Alabama, where she attends Gadsden State Community College. She received the school’s Outstanding English Student Award two years in a row and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa. She plans to transfer to Jacksonville State University in August 2011 to study communications with concentration in print journalism. Kara’s writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children’s book author through Big Dif Books. In her spare time, Kara enjoys reading, painting, participating in community theater and pretty much any other form of art.


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The Dos and Don’ts of Job References

by Kara Coleman

Picture this: You’ve got a brand new diploma in your hand and are applying for your dream job or, if you’re not quite there yet, you’re trying to find a job to help pay your way through school. In addition to your resume, you’ll need references who can vouch for your abilities. Since companies usually check three references for each prospective employee, here’s how to pick the best individuals to speak on your behalf.

Don’t list family members or your best friend as references. Have you ever seen an “American Idol” audition where the contestant sings horribly but their mother argue with the judges and claims their child has the most beautiful voice in the world? The same principle applies here. Your family wants you to succeed so they’re only going to say positive things about you. Your references should be based on professional opinions so instead of listing Mom and Dad, list a professor in your field of study, a previous employer or a board member/faculty advisor for a service organization you are currently involved in.

Do talk with your potential references before you list them. Tell them what you are applying for and why you wish to use them as a reference. This may be stating the obvious but only list them if they give you permission to do so. You should also consider asking them the types of questions you think your prospective employer might ask them; if their feedback isn’t entirely positive, you can always find a different reference.

Don’t list your references on your resume. Rather, have the names and contact information of your references typed out on a separate sheet of paper. Not only will it keep the length of your resume down but you’ll look prepared and confident when you offer up your list without hesitation.

Kara Coleman lives in Gadsden, Alabama, where she attends Gadsden State Community College. She received the school’s Outstanding English Student Award two years in a row and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa. She plans to transfer to Jacksonville State University in August 2011 to study communications with concentration in print journalism. Kara’s writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children’s book author through Big Dif Books. In her spare time, Kara enjoys reading, painting, participating in community theater and pretty much any other form of art.


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Pell Grants, the Debt Ceiling and You

by Kara Coleman

If you’re one of the more than nine million undergrads who depend on Pell Grants to pay for school, you have probably been pretty anxious over the past few weeks.

This past February, the United States House of Representatives passed a Continuing Resolution which would slice the federal budget drastically. One of the programs to be affected by the cut is the Pell Grant program. The maximum amount of funds available to college students would be lowered from $5,550 to $4,705 and the changes were set to take effect for the 2011-2012 academic year.

Students were able to breathe a sigh of relief when the Pell Grant program, which has long received bipartisan support from the Senate, was able to avoid major cuts after all. The debt-ceiling bill passed earlier this week will limit overall discretionary spending to $1.043 trillion in the 2012 fiscal year. Since that’s about $7 billion below the current level of spending, how will students be able to receive their maximum Pell Grants? Grad students will be the ones taking the hit. At the moment, graduate students with federally subsidized student loans don’t have to be concerned with interest until after graduation but under the new plan, interest on these loans will begin to accrue while they are still working towards their degrees.

National Economic Council director Gene Spurling says of the bill, “This is a compromise budget, but one that we believe makes the necessary room for the most important investments in winning the future in innovation and research and education.”

How do you feel about these changes? For those with dreams of advanced degrees, are you already researching alternate funding options for graduate school?

Kara Coleman lives in Gadsden, Alabama, where she attends Gadsden State Community College. She received the school’s Outstanding English Student Award two years in a row and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa. She plans to transfer to Jacksonville State University in August 2011 to study communications with concentration in print journalism. Kara’s writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children’s book author through Big Dif Books. In her spare time, Kara enjoys reading, painting, participating in community theater and pretty much any other form of art.


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Is Not Struggling a Struggle?

by Kara Coleman

Recently, 22-year-old Taylor Cotter published an article on The Huffington Post about her success since she graduated from college in May. The odd thing about Cotter’s piece is that she doesn’t take the angle of a success story in a struggling economy – she feels that she should be struggling more!

Cotter talks about how many of her friends are working part-time jobs, living at home with their parents and/or having diets consisting mostly of Ramen; she feels that she is missing out on the post-college twentysomething life by having a ‘real job’ and a 401(k). Some readers – including myself – are appalled by Cotter’s tone. It seems to me that it would be the dream of every college student to find a full-time job directly after graduation but Cotter almost seems remorseful that she made herself marketable to companies who would hire her.

I have been living at home with my parents and working part-time jobs ranging from lifeguarding to tutoring to retail over the past few years to supplement educational costs. Now that I am preparing to move into an apartment with my friends next month, I know full well that I’ll be eating my fair share of peanut butter sandwiches and cereal; while I’m excited to begin this next phase of my life, I’m more so look forward to the day when I have a full-time job – the same situation Cotter is essentially complaining about.

Isn’t that what college is for? Teaching us how to go from being dependent children to self-supporting adults? Or I could be wrong: Maybe it’s a time to either live with your parents or eat Ramen noodles. What do YOU think?

Kara Coleman graduated from Gadsden State Community College with an Associate of Arts degree and she is currently studying communications with concentration in print journalism at Jacksonville State University. Kara's writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children's author through Big Dif Books; she is also the editor-in-chief of JSU's student newspaper, The Chanticleer.


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