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Making Time Your Friend Instead of Your Enemy in College

by Mary Steffenhagen

Some days in college feel like a battle against the clock: We students are constantly at the beck and call of our class schedule, homework and the professors who assign it. Add a job on top of that or perhaps an internship, sprinkle a few friends in here and there, squeeze in a few meals and the day is already gone! Believe it or not, it doesn’t have to be that way no matter how busy you may find yourself: It all depends on the way you organize and prioritize, and you’ll often find that it’s the little things that count most.

I’ve found that doing things the night before (and I don’t mean homework!) can save loads of time and worry. Try setting out your clothes, packing your meals (if you commute) or putting together your necessary class materials before you go to bed rather than in the morning before class. If you end up running late, you’ll still shave off crucial minutes; plus, it’s easier to make sure you won’t forget anything if you check it over twice.

Draw out your general weekly schedule and stick it somewhere obvious. I have found that being able to actually see where your time is being spent is incredibly helpful as opposed to just going day by day in a planner. Block off the times you know you’ll be in class, take advantage of the empty spaces and you’ll soon get into a groove that allows you control over your time.

I multitask...a lot. Say you’ve got a lot of reading to do – try finding it in an audio format and listen to it while you work out, do laundry or drive. All those obnoxious little activities that must be done can do double-duty if you need them to.

If you still feel overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to make time for yourself. Skip a class if you must, put aside the obligations and homework and just take some time to relax. All the planning in the world is no use if you’re simply too overworked. It’s OK to throw the schedule out the window every once in a while and do what makes you happy. Time is a precious thing – even more so in college, it can seem – so make the clock your friend rather than your enemy!

Mary Steffenhagen is a junior at Concordia University of Wisconsin who is majoring in English with a minor in business. She hopes to break into the publishing field after graduation, writing and editing to promote the spread of reliable information and quality literature; she is driven to use her skills to make a positive impact wherever she is placed. Mary spends much of her time making and drinking coffee, biking and reading dusty old books. In an alternate universe, she would be a glassblower.


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Popping the Bubble: How to Keep Up on Current Events in College

by Mary Steffenhagen

The crisis in Syria! The Bradley Manning sentencing! The fracking debate! Yet another random act of violence!

The media bombards us with information and news every second of every day – a sensory overload of grim stories and political biases. It's overwhelming but college can become a sort of bubble, a relaxing retreat from the cares of the outside world. You don’t see the news unless you turn on your own TV or radio or follow a news site or newspaper. With all the other fun things to do, who’s got time to be depressed and bored by other people’s problems?

It’s incredibly easy to feel that what you see on CNN doesn’t affect you – a college student in America – but it does. You may not live in a small village in the Middle East but actions cause ripples and what happens across the globe may, in any small way, touch your life. Some events will affect you directly. For example, President Obama recently signed a bill to restore lower interest rates on student loans: This directly affects you and me, who will now be paying a 3.4 percent interest rate on our loans as opposed to the previous 6.8 percent.

Current events are nearly always incendiary topics as well. You will encounter a diverse range of people in college with a diverse range of ideologies...and a shrug and a “Whatever, I don’t really care about that” won’t get you off the hook in discussions anymore. It’s important to know where you stand and even more important to do your research, so as not to form a hasty assumption. First off, it will help you not to look like a buffoon or needlessly offend others and secondly, being able to form and articulate a well-thought argument is an invaluable skill!

Lastly, being cognizant of “the outside world” is an important development in the whole messy process of becoming an adult. Forming opinions, arguments and worldviews – and having them challenged – is a necessary part of life...especially in an environment such as college, where it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them. So don’t let college become a bubble and cut you off from the vital circulation of ideas and news. Get (and stay) informed!

Mary Steffenhagen is a junior at Concordia University of Wisconsin who is majoring in English with a minor in business. She hopes to break into the publishing field after graduation, writing and editing to promote the spread of reliable information and quality literature; she is driven to use her skills to make a positive impact wherever she is placed. Mary spends much of her time making and drinking coffee, biking and reading dusty old books. In an alternate universe, she would be a glassblower.


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Mending Your Pockets: Suggestions for Saving in College

by Mary Steffenhagen

As a college student, it can sometimes feel like your pockets are riddled with holes. Most expenses are necessary but cutting the ones that aren’t isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Like most big projects, it's all about knowing how to use your resources to your advantage.

If you haven’t done so already, create a budget. Thankfully, you don’t have to do any of this manually – there are websites that do it for you. I use Mint.com, which is helpful because it links right to your checking account, sends weekly updates by email and, best of all, it’s FREE. There are options for adding budget and saving goals and the site breaks down your spending so you can see what’s going to entertainment, food, school and the like. Once you have your budget squared away, half the battle’s already won!

Despite your best efforts to prune expenses, perhaps you still feel like your university always has its hands in your pockets. The price of textbooks can be a shock once you get your syllabi and if your professors direct you to the university bookstore, you’ll almost certainly be spending more money than you need to. Amazon Student is always a useful option for textbooks and free shipping but there are also some great sites where you can get books used: I use BetterWorldBooks.com and HalfPriceBooks.com a lot. Think about renting books as well, perhaps for the core classes you would never use again. Half.com is a good resource because it links up to your university – sometimes even right down to your class – to help you find what you need for less.

Check around your college town to find out if any business offer deals for students who present their IDs. Restaurants, grocery stores and even locally-owned businesses often participate in such deals – it’s good PR, after all – and if you truly can’t curb your shopping urges, try visiting thrift shops and consignment stores.

Saving money won’t happen overnight – it’s an ongoing process. Starting tweaking in increments and you’ll have those pocket holes mended in no time!

Mary Steffenhagen is a junior at Concordia University of Wisconsin who is majoring in English with a minor in business. She hopes to break into the publishing field after graduation, writing and editing to promote the spread of reliable information and quality literature; she is driven to use her skills to make a positive impact wherever she is placed. Mary spends much of her time making and drinking coffee, biking and reading dusty old books. In an alternate universe, she would be a glassblower.


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Becoming a Commuter Student

September 5, 2013

Becoming a Commuter Student

by Mary Steffenhagen

Living on campus is almost a necessary rite of passage for the college freshman. “Don’t miss out on the full college experience!” you’re warned, enticed with stories of spacious dorms, fantastic parties and few rules. Sure, living in the dorms can be fun, exciting and new but it also has it downsides: expensive room and board fees, a mandatory meal plan with food usually not worth the cost, lack of privacy or the risk of a bad roommate. Being a commuter student, on the other hand, isn’t as difficult as it seems: Your school probably has commuter lockers if you have a lot of books, packing a lunch is cheap and quick and carpooling is an efficient way to travel with friends.

I lived on campus for my first two years of school and experienced all the downsides listed above to varying degrees so this year, I am living at home and commuting. In some cases, the pros and cons were obvious. Did I want to pay thousands for a meal plan rather than eat with my family for free? No. Would I rather share a small space with three girls instead of having my own familiar bedroom? No. But would I like to be closer to campus than have the 40-minute commute I now have each day? Yes. I was reluctant to commute at first but I found that the time spent would be made up for and then some by the money I would save. If living at home for a year or two is an option for you, consider it! You’ll save money that you can put toward paying off any student loan debt or – who are we kidding – buying stuff you actually want when you want it.

If a long commute doesn’t interest you but you’re still looking to live off campus, it’s not too late to begin the apartment search. It is possible to find a nice place with affordable rent: College towns often have complexes with student budgets in mind. Splitting rent is an easy way to keep costs down and this time you get to choose your own housemate!

When you live off campus and commute, your time feels more like your own and it doesn’t have to revolve around what’s going on at school. If you’re feeling the itch to leave campus, check out your options and see what’s best for you!

Mary Steffenhagen is a junior at Concordia University of Wisconsin who is majoring in English with a minor in business. She hopes to break into the publishing field after graduation, writing and editing to promote the spread of reliable information and quality literature; she is driven to use her skills to make a positive impact wherever she is placed. Mary spends much of her time making and drinking coffee, biking and reading dusty old books. In an alternate universe, she would be a glassblower.


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Research Papers? You Got This! Part 2

by Mary Steffenhagen

Last week, I wrote about research techniques and tips that I've found useful for preliminary research for a paper. Now it's time to start writing!

You have sources and a direction in which to head but you won’t go anywhere without a strong thesis. A strong thesis states your idea concisely and directly. It should be very specific but also something that is not beyond argument – your paper will be proving a point and disproving others – so starting off with “I argue” is a good way to state your thesis confidently.

Quotations from your sources, especially your primary source, are the excellent additions to strengthen your arguments. Don’t let them overpower your own voice, though; if you’re quoting every other sentence, back off a bit. You can still include that information if it’s necessary but try paraphrasing it (with attribution, of course) and injecting your own viewpoint. Use quotations to point back to the thesis and, like the thesis, make sure they are strong and not just in there to bump up the word count (although quotes are great for that if you really need it).

Assuming you have the bulk of the paper down, write your conclusion and intro. The intro is incredibly obvious once you have the body of the paper done – after all, your ideas are concise and flow together in a real format. It goes without saying that the intro is crucial: It has to seize and hold your reader’s attention and present your thesis. Your conclusion is equally important and you shouldn’t just summarize what you’ve already said. Think of these sections as your answer to “So what?” Make your reader see why your argument (and all the work you’ve done) is worthwhile.

Next come the dreaded citations. Whether it’s APA, MLA or Turabian, I’ve never known anyone to enjoy citations but they are crucial to correctly attributing your sources. (Remember, inadvertent plagiarism is still plagiarism.) The Purdue Online Writing Lab is an excellent resource when you are unsure of how to cite something and I often use Calvin College’s Knight Cite to format the source information for me.

It should come as no surprise that your next step should be proofread, proofread, proofread. Get a friend to read your paper over, too, as new eyes catch mistakes better than eyes that are used to seeing them.

Lastly, print it off, smell the fresh ink and breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe there’s even time tonight for a few hours of sleep! I hope what I have learned from writing a plethora of research papers will make your process less daunting and more worthwhile.

Mary Steffenhagen is a junior at Concordia University of Wisconsin who is majoring in English with a minor in business. She hopes to break into the publishing field after graduation, writing and editing to promote the spread of reliable information and quality literature; she is driven to use her skills to make a positive impact wherever she is placed. Mary spends much of her time making and drinking coffee, biking and reading dusty old books. In an alternate universe, she would be a glassblower.


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