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by Agnes Jasinski

It's a few months into your freshman year, and the homesickness may be setting in. Or you've found yourself at war with your first college roommate, who sneaks snacks from your cupboard when you're hard at work studying in the library.

So much of what you learn before you head off to college is related to the more rigorous academics you'll be tackling, or all the paperwork you need to fill out to make sure your financial aid application is filed completely and on time. These things are very important, and you will be faced with new adult-like responsibilities once you're on that campus. But what about the things your guidance counselors don't tell you?

Harlan Cohen, who wrote the book "The Naked Roommate, and 107 Other Issues You Might Run into in College," has been making the rounds the last few weeks to inform college students - and their parents - that a few bumps in the road are normal. He describes the more realistic picture of the first one, even two, years of college as years of "discomfort," and that students will come across situations they may not have been prepared to encounter: that overly-rambunctious roommate that stays up late and keeps you awake, or the fact that you thought it'd be way easier to make friends on a campus of more than 20,000 students, all around your age.

Cohen suggests that getting through those difficult times will only make you stronger. The bad memories you may think you're collecting now will slowly become good memories, as one day we nearly guarantee you'll be talking about the "good old days" of attending college. The uneasiness you feel now will subside, and you'll start finding your niche. Take advantage of what college campuses have to offer, because chances are, there's something for every kind of student, no matter how diverse their interests. Some of Cohen's suggestions have included speaking up to disruptive or inappropriate roommates, taking care of yourself to avoid falling into a physical, mental or emotional slump, and forcing yourself to get our of your comfort zone somethings by joining a new student group or making connections with classmates.

Browse through our site for more tips on transitioning into that first year of a new college lifestyle and dealing with common roommate problems. Chances are the things you're experiencing are pretty universal, and easily remedied with a little faith that things will get better and giving yourself enough time to adapt to a new life on campus.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Do you think you could get tricked into eating more healthy foods on campus? A recent article in the Boston Globe describes the strategies being taken by some schools in Massachusetts to get their students eating more nutritious meals and smaller portions, and it has required some sneakiness.

Most of you have probably heard of the "freshman 15," the 15 (or more) pounds that you're at risk of putting on that first year away in college when you're making your own decisions on what to eat. According to the Globe and the Nutrition Journal, recent studies have shown that at least 1 in 4 college freshmen gain an average of 10 pounds in their first semester alone. (That'd make it more like the "freshman 20.") Data like that and an increased awareness of obesity among young people has led schools like Wellesley College, Tufts University, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to take matters into their own hands by shrinking plate sizes and sneaking veggies onto students' plates. And they're not publicizing their methods, as anecdotal evidence has shown that if students are given a choice in whether to eat healthy or not, they'll usually go for the burger and fries.

Elsewhere, schools are doing things like offering miniatures of popular food items (sliders vs. burgers) and substituting fattening ingredients for more low-calories options. Getting students to eat healthy and exercise portion control is made even tougher in cafeterias, where they can often make return trips for second and third helpings with no one there to stop them. “Whatever restraining influences parents might have had when the teenagers were at home are unshackled when kids go off to college,’’ Dr. David Ludwig, director of the Optimal Weight for Life program at Children’s Hospital Boston said in the Boston Globe article.

If you're particularly worried about the choices you've been making when eating (or drinking), consider burning off some of those calories. Try to make time for a club sport or a couple hours a week at your schools' gym. Your tuition fees are already paying for your privileges to use their facilities, so you may as well visit them once in a while. And check out our site for options on healthy eating and eating on a budget, another difficult hurdle when you're looking not to order pizza for the third night in a row.


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by Emily

We're almost a full week into November, which for many students means the end of the semester is nigh. It's likely time to start working on those final papers, or at least generating some paper topic ideas. It's better to start sooner than later to avoid pulling all-nighters or finding out too late that the jerk in your English class who's writing a similar paper has checked out all the relevant books in the library before you get your chance.

But finding something new to say can be challenging, even for graduate students and undergraduate students in upper-division college courses. If the usual strategies aren't working, we've come across a couple of links that can help humanities students generate ideas for academic prose, or at least provide some much-needed levity while you're agonizing over your coursework. Note: you may not want to actually use these to write your papers, since your professor or TA is likely to see some of his or her own writing reflected in them.

The University of Chicago writing program has a tool to help both students and career academics craft a sophisticated argument without backbreaking labor: Make Your Own Academic Sentence. By simply selecting from drop-down menus of current buzzwords in literary theory, you can stumble upon a unique academic argument, and possibly lay the groundwork for a final paper! If you're not sure of just what concepts to piece together, some samples are provided by the website's Virtual Academic and his counterpart the Virtual Critic.

If you've got a great academic sentence, but no research area to apply it to, a recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education can help with that. James Lambert's article "Heteronormity is Hot Right Now" provides some helpful (and hopefully humorous) guidelines for humanities grad students on declaring their research interests (and possibly finding topics for their first seminar papers). Both of the above are also great for answering that question about your academic interests in your grad school application essays.

As a bonus for grad school applicants, the above links are likely to teach you some new (and obscure) vocabulary, so that's even more of a time-saver for studying for the GRE. However, if nerd humor is not your taste, but you are concerned about getting papers started early and beating the finals week frenzy, you may want to check out our college resources on study skills.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Two Chicago-area community colleges are using zombies to urge students to consider their options before applying solely to four-year schools. Harper College and Elgin Community College, with some help from email provider Abeedle.com, are using a cartoon short featuring fictional high school seniors Lynette and Theo in a common predicament among the college-bound: to save money, or not to save?

In the short, Lynette goes to community college, is free of student loan debt, and uses the money she saved to become a filmmaker and purchase a sporty convertible. Theo, on the other hand, chooses the four-year university, and is depicted wandering around with the other "college zombies," saddled with a large amount of debt.

This isn't the first time the zombie hype has hit college campuses. The University of Florida recently posted a zombie preparedness plan on its e-Learning website, alongside more likely disaster scenarios. But this is a unique way to address the high costs of higher education and invite students to examine all of their options when considering where to go to school.

Enrollments at community colleges have increased by about 25 percent over the last year, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. The big decisions aren't only about filling out those college applications, but figuring out how you're going to pay for tuition at your intended school. If you're concerned about how you're going to cover the costs, consider a community college where you'd be able to complete your general education requirements and then transfer to a four-year college if you want that traditional college experience. Many community colleges and trade schools specialize in certain fields, so narrow down your college choices by your intended field of study, as well.

If you know community college isn't for you, there are other ways to save. Compare the costs of in-state versus out-of-state tuition. Depending on your home state, you could still go to a state university that is far enough away that you get that "away at college" experience, while still enjoying the perks of in-state tuition. (In-state tuition is often half that of out-of-state tuition. Do the numbers!) Whatever you do, don't assume that college is out of your reach because of the costs. While paying for college can take some creativity and persistence, it can be done, especially if you have some scholarship money padding that financial aid package.


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Alternatives to Going Home for Thanksgiving

by Agnes Jasinski

Not everyone will be saying grace and sitting down to football and multiple helpings of turkey and pie on Thanksgiving Day tomorrow. Some of you will be spending the holiday in the dorms, or elsewhere on campus. Perhaps you're an international student who doesn't celebrate the holiday. Or maybe home is too far away to justify the costs of flying back for both the turkey dinner and winter break. You may then be wondering how you can make the most of your time off from class. Well, don't fret. You won't be the only one seemingly stranded, and there are on-campus alternatives to the traditional Thanksgiving Day meal.

If you know of others sticking around for the holiday, consider getting together. Your college could be hosting Thanksgiving Day-related events for students like you who are staying in town. Or, if you feel like you'll be missing out on that home-cooked meal, consider a potluck with those other students to eat on a budget. You don't need to break the bank for a Thanksgiving meal, especially if you're sharing the duties, so look for tips on Thanksgiving on a budget. Pick up the boxed stuffing and canned cranberry sauce rather than making things from scratch like  Mom might. If you're in the dorms, consider checking out the Thanksgiving meal deals on campus. If you're really lucky, you've made a good enough friend who wouldn't mind having you over to their family's Thanksgiving. Don't be shy about taking leftovers back to the dorm, which you'll surely be offered if you play the "I miss home" card.

Take the time to get acquainted with your college. You've probably been in too much of a rush balancing work and college or getting used to larger loads of homework to appreciate what the student center has to offer, or that new walking path on the outskirts of campus. Explore your surroundings, so that you have plenty to share when your friends come back from their long weekends home.

Study at your own pace. You'll probably have finals week on your heels shortly after this mini-break is over, so take advantage of a quieter campus and emptier student lounges to get the bulk of your studying done before everyone comes back and the chances of procrastination and distraction are greater. Enjoy the time off, but try your best to be productive, too. You'll feel a lot less stressed than everyone else when they're cramming and pulling all-nighters before their big exams.

Don't forget about your family. If Thanksgiving is typically a big deal at home, but you just couldn't swing the costs of the trip, make sure you check in once in a while over the next few days. Chances are your family will be missing you just as much as you're missing them, and while you don't want to be moping around or hiding away in your dorm room the entire weekend, you want to make sure everyone knows you're thinking of them. Talk about how excited you are about the upcoming winter break, and your plans for your own alternative Thanksgiving Day on campus. It could be a pretty good time if you're a little creative.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Stressed about finals? Pet a puppy. That's what one college is urging students to do to relieve their stress over finals week.

A student group at Chapman University will station a group of puppies outside the school's main library next week as part of operation "Furry Friends for Finals," inviting studious students passing by to take a minute to pet the pooches. The group, the Active Minds Club, promotes mental health, and believes that the "puppy therapy" will help their worried peers relax a bit, and maybe even smile.

In an article in the Los Angeles Times today, Jennifer Heinz, an organizer of the event and a Chapman University sophomore, described the way her poodle-Maltese mix helped her keep things in perspective, even during the most stressful times of her college experience. "Dogs are always so happy and want to play, and that helps make you happier," she said in the article.

Using animals to relieve stress isn't a new idea. There's a lot of research out there showing that therapy dogs in particular have a marked positive effect on the people in hospitals, nursing homes, or in crisis situations they're "hired" to comfort. Dogs have also been used in motivating children to read, improving the communication skills of the disabled, and generally improving the quality of life of the sick and depressed. The dogs providing Chapman's student population with some much-needed puppy love include 10 Malteses, Yorkies, pugs and dachshunds, and will be provided by a pet group based in Torrance.

What kinds of things is your college doing to help you de-stress during finals? Many schools have events set up post-finals as a motivator for students once they reach the finish line, or host special meals outside of the usual cafeteria fare for those too busy studying to make decisions on what they'll be having for dinner. If you're worried about the studying getting the best of you, look through our site for tips on beating the finals week frenzy. It may seem right like you'll never get everything done that you need to, but winter break is just around the corner, so take a breather, get yourself organized, and pet a puppy if you have to.

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Tags: Just for Fun , Study Skills , Tips

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by Agnes Jasinski

Yes, the weather outside is frightful for many of you, and some of you really do have no place to go in the wake of the first big snowstorm of the winter season.

For the first time in 45 years, the University of Wisconsin at Madison canceled a full day of classes following a declared snow emergency that kept all but emergency services indoors during the worst of the blizzard Wednesday. According to the National Weather Service, more than 19 inches of snow fell in Madison earlier this week. The last time Madison saw that much snow was in 1990, when the school's chancellor offered the students a half day after realizing that it was improbable students would arrive in class on time - and in one piece. The last time a full day of classes was canceled was in 1965. The snow total was just under 7 inches that day, but it fell on top of freezing rain that made things that much more dangerous for Madison students and residents.

Des Moines was also hit hard this week, with a number of college closures, including at Grand View University and all Des Moines Area Community College campuses. And it isn't just mounds of snow that's causing problems, either. Montgomery County Instructional Center of Ivy Tech Community College in Lafayette closed this week due to power outages following a bout with winter weather.

While we shouldn't be surprised at all by winter's arrival, especially in Midwestern states that get heavy snowfalls on an annual basis, it has been interesting to see the range of ways administrations are notifying students of school closures. The University of Wisconsin notified students and staff using not only mass emails and website announcements, but through Twitter, a social networking tool that has grown in popularity among not only college students, but college classrooms.

So what does a college student do on a snow day? If you're in Madison, you may have taken one look at the weather inside and stayed indoors with a mug of hot chocolate. Or you were a little more adventurous and you're like the students who went sledding on "borrowed" cafeteria trays this week. Either way, don't feel guilty about a break from your day-to-day. Madison students' snow revelry was short-lived. They were back in class Thursday and studying hard for final exam week.


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by Agnes Jasinski

For the first time in history - or in admissions officials' memories - Yale University has offered admission to a set of quadruplets. Ray, Kenny, Carol, and Martina Crouch of Danbury High School in Connecticut haven't yet decided whether they'll be attending the Ivy League school, but they've already made history just by receiving those acceptance letters.

In an article in The New York Times recently, the quadruplets describe being shocked by the news. While they were all hoping for that best-case-scenario of all being admitted to Yale, they were ready for at most one of their brothers or sisters being admitted, and the awkward scenarios that would follow. Jeffrey Benzel, the dean of admissions at Yale, called the quadruplets' applications "terrific," and that the school hoped they would attend.

The quadruplets have all also applied to the University of Connecticut and a number of other institutions separately. In the New York Times article, they describe the pros and cons of all attending the same school. “It might be fun to go somewhere where I’m not ‘one of the quads,'" said Kenny, who has also applied to Princeton University, Williams College, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Pennsylvania. The cost of attending an elite private university is also a large factor. The kinds of financial aid the quadruplets receive from each school they've applied to could very well make their decisions for them.

The New York Times' education blog The Choice revisited the quadruplets' story this week after a number of comments from readers over the weekend suggested that the siblings only gained admission to Yale based on their minority status. (Their mother is Nigerian, and their father is white and from Connecticut.) Their applications, however, were solid. According to the New York Times article, their class ranks ranged from 13 out of a class of 632 (Kenny) to 46 (Martina). They also had impressive standardized test scores. Carol scored a perfect 800 on the verbal portion of the SAT.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Michigan's ABC School of Bartending and Casino College has been capitalizing on out-of-work career-changers with classes in training potential new employees for new casinos planned across the border. Unemployment rates remain significant in Ohio, the site of the future casinos, despite a more positive economic outlook for 2010, and those looking for jobs with earning potential - casino dealers may make up to $60,000 a year - and a change of pace are learning to deal cards and count poker chips, among other tricks of the trade, at the casino school.

Many at the school hope to leave the school prepared for the more than 7,500 potential jobs at casinos to be built in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo. A recent article in the Chicago Tribune says nearly 200 Ohio residents have come through the school's doors over the last two years. Students pay the base price of $1,000 to get through nearly 300 hours of training for a dealer certification, spending about 40 hours a week with current and former professional dealers. (The tuition increases if the students wish to learn more beyond properly counting chips, managing a game and dealing blackjack and basic poker.)

While the certification isn't a requirement of casino jobs, the students at the school feel their participation in the program could give them a leg up in a hiring process that will be undoubtedly competitive no matter the state's job outlook. The college has been so successful that it plans to open locations in Cleveland and Columbus next spring. In the Tribune article, John Pifer, who directs the Sacramento, Calif.-based Casino College, described the gaming industry as a field that "survives all economies."

The schools are good examples of certificate programs tailored to prepare residents of a community or state for local employment options. The Midwest has a number of technical schools specializing in automotive fields that have both suffered and thrived depending on changed in the auto industry. Other places offer certificates for those, like many of the students at the casino school, who have lost their jobs or are looking to build up their resumes. The Chicago Botanic Garden offers a horticultural therapy certificate program through a partnership with Oakton Community College. The focus of that program is on-site education with hands-on training in the field of horticultural therapy. Northern Essex Community College offers a certificate in sleep technology, a program that focuses on teaching students how to diagnose sleep disorders.

Many community colleges offer certificates in accredited programs that could help you land a job in even the toughest market, or to specialize a degree you may already have in your chosen field of study. If you're interested in adult programs or returning back to school to learn a new skill, consider your local options, as they may cost you less and even have ongoing relationships with local employers that hire a large number of applicants from those schools.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Peter Backus had been single for about three years when he decided not to exactly do something about it, but to find out why he had been so unlucky in love. The result was a paper called "Why I Don't Have a Girlfriend: An Application of the Drake Equation to Love in the UK."

Backus, a 30-year-old doctoral student in economics at Britain's University of Warwick, found that the reason was in the odds. Using the Drake Equation, typically applied to determine the odds of extraterrestrial life in the universe, he found that his odds of finding that woman of his dreams on any given night to be 1 in 285,00, or a 0.0000034 percent chance.

The equation assumed the following: only half of the women Backus would be interested in are single themselves, and Backus would only get along with 1 in 10 of those. (Backus only considered women in London.) Just 1 in 20 women were considered attractive by his standards, and the same number considered him attractive as well, something Backus joked in his paper was "depressingly low." Also included were the traits Backus looked for in a woman - a university education, an age between 24-34, and physical attractiveness. Based on those criteria and results, finding a girlfriend was fortunately about 100 times easier than finding an alien. (The Drake formula was originally used to determine that there could potentially be up to 10,000 civilizations in our galaxy.) Still, the odds weren't that good - only 26 women in London, where Backus lived, fit the profile of a woman Backus would date, and vice versa.

He ends his paper with this: "Make of this what you will. It might cheer you up, it might depress you. I guess it depends on what you thought your chances were before reading this." Single college students, don't panic yet. Despite the odds, Backus has found a girlfriend in London since, and one who meets all of his named criteria. Consider also that those numbers were specific to Backus. You may have a better chance wherever you are, your criteria may differ, or you may just be more attractive to the opposite sex than Backus. Or you may just consider this "data" for its entertainment value.

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