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Archive for the ‘College Life’ Category

The 5 Biggest Mistakes in Making Your New Year’s Resolutions

iStock_000011106099SmallThe good news is that people your age are over twice as likely to keep their new year’s resolutions than people your parents’ age. The bad news is that the majority of college students will still fall short. So what makes these resolutions seem so easy on January 1st and so hard on January 2nd?

Here are the five biggest mistakes you can make when setting a resolution:

1. You have a goal but not a plan.

“I want to lose weight.”

This might be the most frequent resolution, and I’m willing to bet it’s the most likely to fail as well. The problem is that losing weight is a great objective, but it’s not very meaningful as a resolution if you’re not focusing on how you can lose weight.

Weight loss isn’t something you do, it’s something that happens because of changes in exercise and diet. Instead of aiming for an ideal weight, set clear-cut objectives about eating and working out. BMI isn’t always the best way to measure health anyway, so it’s better to focus on the factors over which you have direct control.

2. The resolution is too general.

“I want to cut back on drinking.”

That’s great. But what does that mean? No more liquor? No more than two drinks in a night? Giving up alcohol entirely? (more…)

What’s the Worst Final You’ve Ever Taken?

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Every once in awhile a final comes around that just plain kicks you in the butt, no matter how long you’ve prepared or hard you’ve studied. Here are the Bookbyte team’s worst finals experiences.

Holly

My worst final was my hardest, but not necessarily the one with the lowest grade. One of the projects I had for a Layout class was to design and produce a magazine, with each person in the class in charge of one spread. I elected to be editor of the magazine, and spent many long days in the computer lab making sure that the magazine was taken care of. We went through countless rounds of revisions, and since I was in charge, I had to be there the whole time. I’m pretty sure I had several 12+ hour days, working on it between my classes and my job. I barely remember sleeping. It was such a relief to be done with it at the end of the term!

Chris

My worst final goes back to high school. While I definitely took harder tests in college, this was the only time I gave up in the middle of taking something. It was the AP Government exam. Our teacher was close to retirement and had totally checked out. He would cut out early almost every Friday afternoon to play golf. His classes often started on the topic of government, but would drift off into college sports or unrelated life advice. Needless to say I learned almost nothing, and this was largely reflected in the answers on my test. I finally snapped when I reached a question that said: “Define the term ‘logrolling,’ in the legislative sense.” I wrote: “Logrolling is the process by which lumberjacks transport timber downstream.”

logrolling

Jesse

By far, the worst final I ever had to take was in the one and only online class I took while in college. It was my Statistics course, the last math requirement I had to take, and we simply had to have everything completed by x date by 9am. Well I decided to wait it out and take care of the other classes that I perceived to be more important and not do any studying or reading. So in the span of six hours I had to take 12 quizzes, a midterm and my final. After each quiz and test I would get my score and my cumulative grade would show so I could see my progress. I finally completed all the quizzes and the midterm at about 4:30am with four and a half hours left before the deadline. But I’d still need to ace the final in order to get an ‘A’. I decided to sleep for two hours and then just try to crank out the final. It was the epitome of cramming, procrastinating and sleep deprivation all coming to a head. I’d never felt so satisfied with getting a ‘B’ in my life!

Jaime

I took course in Conservation Biology one year, but the professor who normally taught the course wasn’t around that year. So, instead. it was covered by a professor who wasn’t too familiar with the subject. During the course, he omitted a ton of stuff from the original professor’s lesson plan. But during the final he still used the original professor’s final word-for-word. Meaning everything he omitted from the lesson plan still showed up on the final. Everyone failed it.

Doby

The worst final exam I have ever taken was for my Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy course. I was the only student in the large class who was not a biology major or pre-med (I was an English major at the time). I was way out of my element, so I had to accept that I would be at a constant disadvantage. It was bloody hard work, especially for just a damned elective, and I found myself in a grim state of mind during dead week as I faced a final exam unlike any I’ve taken before. Before me was the prospect of learning the Latin names, origins, and insertions of >80% of a cat’s muscles, and I had to demonstrate this ability by locating them with tiny pins on the lab specimen I had meticulously dissected over the last month. It seemed an impossible task. I was in the class only because I thought the evolutionary history of vertebrates was ‘cool’.

What did I do? Something out of character: I studied with a classmate. Hitherto I had never studied socially, but I was in over my head and I reluctantly agreed to host a study session with a nice girl who sat next to me in lab. I felt a weird confidence rising in me after hours of her pedagogic scoldings, and after the intense, collaborative study session I had none of the pre-exam angst that had been haunted me. The fear of abject failure had been replaced with a confidence bordering on arrogance.

How did the exam go? It went well. Very well in fact, better than many of those pre-med kids and biology majors.

It was the worst final exam I have ever taken because it was my first experience with exam-induced fear so demoralizing that it causes paralysis and extinguishes any hope of (academic) survival. But, it was the best exam I had ever taken as it taught me that, with a friend to help me along, when the scholastic shit hit the academic fan I could duck & roll and come up swinging. The caffeine helped too.

5 Ways to Procrastinate More Efficiently During Finals

Credit as always to Bill Watterson.

Credit as always to Bill Watterson.

How is doing research for a paper like procrastinating? Both existed before the internet, but now you can do them both so much faster.

Imagine you’re a college student trying to put off working on your finals in 1992. All your on-hand entertainment is restricted to physical media. Your CD of Nirvana’s Nevermind. Your VHS copy of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Your Super Nintendo with Super Mario World. Fast forward 21 years and you can stream thousands of songs instantly through Spotify, watch hundreds of movies instantly on Netflix, and buy hundreds of games instantly through iOS or Steam. It’s a procrastinator’s dream come true and greatest nightmare.

If you can watch a movie instantly instead of putting on your coat, driving to Blockbuster, finding a movie, and coming home, that means you should be able to spend less time on your movie break, right? Even if you know that’s technically true, it’s hard to force your brain to accept that logic.

Our brains will always seek out the path of least resistance, which leaves students with two options: (1) drag your brain kicking and screaming into forced productivity or (2) trick your brain into thinking it’s not working on that thing you don’t want to do. Here are a few ways to pull off option #2.

Approach your work from a new direction

Let’s say you’re working on a paper. You’ve been sitting in front of your monitor for the past two hours and all you’ve managed to do is type, delete, and retype the first sentence about 100 times. Stop what you’re doing. If you know you’re not getting anywhere, there’s no point in doing the same thing over and over again.

Instead, ask yourself new questions: How will the first paragraph after the intro begin? How do I want my paper to end? What citations am I going to use? How do you format an online article in APA style again? Don’t worry about whether or not what you write is final, just search for that point of entry. It’s always easier to work on a paper after you’ve started.

Change your surroundings

The ideas you have in your dorm room are not the same as the ideas you have in the library. When you start feeling stagnant, consider a change of scenery. This can be an effective way to slide from procrastination into increased productivity. Bring your laptop on your coffee break and set up a new work space in the cafe. Just make sure to commit at least an hour or two to the new setting, otherwise you’ll just get restless.

Unlock achievements

The video game industry has figured out that people crave feedback from the things they accomplish, however meaningless. Use the same trick on your own brain. Come up with a list of achievements for your paper. Write 500 words. Complete 5 pages. Finish the bibliography. You can do the same for studying. Memorize 50 Spanish verbs. List all the regions of the brain. Keep a checklist next to your work space and make a mark each time you “unlock” an achievement. It sounds silly, but you might be surprised at how quickly your brain is tricked into registering each achievement as a reward.

Give yourself more (yes, more) things to do

Taking finals is the academic equivalent of a marathon. You have to maintain a steady momentum if you want to make it til the end. That’s all the more reason not to burn yourself out focusing on a single, seemingly insurmountable task. Instead, make a list of around 6-10 things to do. You don’t want too few, because then it’ll be too easy to put them off. You don’t want too many, because then you’ll feel overwhelmed.

Your goal is to maintain the feeling of constantly moving forward. That’s essential to keeping your brain from rebelling. Even if one of those things is something as minor as cleaning your dorm or apartment or selling the textbooks you don’t need anymore, you’re still squeezing a little bit of productivity out of your procrastination.

Put one last thing on your list you’ll never get around to doing

I’ll admit it, this is kind of a weird one, but it’s always worked for me. Maybe there’s just some part of my lizard brain that is always happy with getting my things-to-do-list down to “good enough.”

Whenever I’m planning out the day, I always put more on then I’ll be able to do. That way, I always feel like I’m slightly behind, which, strangely enough, always helps me stay on track. It’s a way of preserving momentum from one day into the next. I’m never completely finished, but I’m always completing tasks as a way of putting off other upcoming ones.

Should All Tests Be Open Book?

Posted by Reddit user snerro

Posted by Reddit user snerro

A thread on Reddit with the above image kicked off an interesting discussion by teachers and students on the value of memorization in education. As often happens with stuff we find on Reddit, we carried the discussion back into the office, and not all of us were on the same page. Here’s what we thought:

Gavin

I’m a big promoter of practical testing. I don’t think ‘multiple guess’ tests really show anyone what you know or how well you can apply that knowledge, but mostly if you are a good test taker or not. Out in the real world you are rewarded for your ability to problem solve and find the answers, rather than knowing an answer from memory. Furthermore I am also a fan of portfolios vs. test scores to showcase one’s knowledge and achievements. I would say I strongly agree with the puffin.

Jesse

While having an open book test could encourage resourcefulness, you still have to know, roughly, where in your notes or text the answer can be found.  To me, it sounds like you’re taking the risk of spending more time on the back end, during the physical test, than on the front end by actually knowing and understanding the material. If I’m having open heart surgery do I want my surgeon to have an anatomy chart open on the table while he’s cutting me open? Or how much time does it waste when your cashier has to look up each and every code of every item you purchase? I’ll take my chances on a med student that’s been forced to memorize everything or general edu student that’s taken the time and effort to memorize their class materials over someone who hasn’t.

Justin

I’m not a fan of standardized testing as I don’t believe it accurately reflects one’s intelligence. People in the real world are allowed to use their resources, pool their knowledge with others, collaborate and problem solve to come to a conclusion. I think the meme is accurate in that memorization is not education; memorization is just one of many tools that you have. One’s score or overall intelligence shouldn’t be solely tied to that.

Holly

Textbooks can be a convoluted mess. I always thought that I would do a better job on a test if it was open book, but I spent so much time searching for answers that I would skirt the line of completing a test on time. Cramming for a test only helped me to take tests faster. Memorizing enough information to answer correctly or with an educated guess always proved successful for me, so I didn’t have a problem with it. I disagree with the advice puffin. Yes, it’s true that in real life you have an opportunity to ask someone for help. But it’s also important to have a base knowledge in place.

Chris

I don’t think this issue is as much about the merits of memorization as it is about whether or not a test is well-designed. The point of a test is to apply knowledge, sure, but writing a persuasive essay, making an educated guess, and solving for X are all different valid ways to apply knowledge. That variety is important, since each type of test exercises a different skill set. I wouldn’t ever argue that all tests should be open book, but I think they get too needlessly stressful when they’re designed in a way that tries both your ability to recall and your ability to apply, like an art history final where you need to remember exact spelling for Islamic art and artists. (This one happened to me, extra ridiculousness points because those names and terms were transliterated from Arabic anyway.)

What do you think?

These Obamacare Ads for College Students Can’t Be Real, Right?

As the provisions in the Affordable Care Act start rolling out, the state of Colorado decided to spread awareness with one of the most confusing ad campaigns I’ve ever seen.

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Let’s catalog this ad’s many crimes against humanity:

  • Stealing the tagline and font from the “got milk?” campaign, which may very well be older than the models used in this campaign.
  • The “word” “brosurance.”
  • The sentence “Don’t tap into your beer money to cover those medical bills.”
  • Attempting to turn the perfectly good “Thanks, Obama!” meme into a tagline for insurance.
  • A website that is genuinely called “doyougotinsurance.com.”
  • The combination of calf-high white socks and American flag shorts.
  • The combination of backwards baseball cap and tank top.
  • The “word” “brosurance.”

This is satire, right? It has to be. I refuse to accept this as a real thing. This was put together by people who are secretly criticizing healthcare reform, right? It has to be. Please tell me this isn’t real. The world isn’t that sad of a place.

But wait, there are other ads in the campaign that weren’t written by crazy people.

mom

Okay… that’s weirdly normal. Now I’m even more confused. The message here is “You shouldn’t have to go shopping for medical help. You should get medical help when you need it,” whereas the message of the last ad was “Who needs a liver when you’ve got easy access to a healthcare brofessional? #YOLO”

What are you trying to do here, Colorado? Do you just have a really low opinion of college students? Do you even have a plan, or are you just throwing models on white backgrounds and freestyling the rest?

10 Halloween Costumes You Can’t Avoid This Year

Every year, there are a handful of costumes (usually something topical) that dominate Halloween. This is especially true in college, where the resources you have to throw together a decent costume are usually pretty limited. Last year, if you overlook the typical pirates and Marios and other costumes that never go out of fashion, you got around 25% Mitt Romney, 25% Barack Obama, and 50% Bane from The Dark Knight Rises.

Here’s our list of ten costumes you’re basically guaranteed to see walking around this year, ranked on the Heath Ledger as Joker Terrifying Scale.

Daft Punk

  • Costume: Biker helmets, gloves, shiny jackets
  • Why this costume? Because this was the year that everyone on the planet suddenly remembered how much they liked Daft Punk.
  • Terrifying Level: 0 Heath Ledger Jokers

North West

  • Costume: Diaper, shutter shades
  • Why this costume? You might be surprised at how many college students jump at the opportunity to dress like a baby. When it’s a famous baby that’s easily recognized with the addition of cheap props, you have a dream costume.
  • Terrifying Level: 0.2 Heath Ledger Jokers020p_joker

Lance Armstrong and/or A-Rod

arod

Source: USA Today

  • Costume: Biking jersey or Yankees uniform, fake muscle suit, Livestrong bracelet or t-shirt that says “Biogenesis”
  • Why this costume? It was a bad year to be world-class athlete caught cheating.
  • Terrifying Level: 0.4 Heath Ledger Jokers040p_joker

(more…)

Your Class Schedule Isn’t Enough to Get You a Job

99% of resumes divide their information into two sections: Education and Work Experience. There’s a reason for this. Potential employers want to know about your education to see what your interests are, what your talents are, if you’re generally pretty smart, and if you have a nice looking institution to put next to your name. They want to know about your work experience so they can tell how you’re able to handle the day-to-day responsibilities of a workplace and if you can meet the minimum requirements of the job.

iStock_000009629000XSmall In other words, employers look at your education to know who you are. They look at your work experience, on the other hand, to see what it is you can do.

Despite this visible distinction right on the resume, many entry-level applicants, especially the ones who have impressive higher education credentials, think leaning on their education will be good enough.

I don’t care if you aced all your classes at Harvard. If you aren’t showing off outside interests, experience, or ambition, you’re not offering your employer very much at all.

So how do you fill out those non-education chunks of the resume? By volunteering, working odd jobs, and extracurriculars. I’m sure you’ve heard this advice before, but I’m going to try to be as crudely practical about it, based on my observations, as I can. Hopefully that’ll provide a fresh perspective.

Volunteering. Aside from all the good altruistic reasons for volunteering, from a purely strategic perspective, volunteering is a great way of getting work experience without competing for the job position beforehand. It doesn’t matter all that much what you’re doing, but if you want to show that you can show up to work on time, follow instructions, and work well in a group, give up a few hours to a soup kitchen, a youth group, or whatever other charitable labor you can find.

Working odd jobs. Work experience doesn’t have to mean a corporate position with benefits, 401(k)s, and regular salaries. Anything you can get paid for doing (as long as it’s legal) counts as a job. So if you need to show that you can hold your own in a professional setting, mow some lawns, paint some houses, or weed some garden beds. If you do it enough times over the course of a couple months, then you’re technically “freelance.”

Extracurriculars. After your first one or two jobs, the structured things you did with your spare time aren’t going to matter very much. You’ll probably cut them out of your resume altogether. However, before that first job, the extracurriculars are not optional. They’re an essential part to the overall story of you as a professional. Whatever field you want to work in, you’ll need to prove that your interest in it runs deeper than the minimum credits required to get your degree. And you’ll need these extracurriculars, once again, to show off your ability to handle the basics of a professional setting: showing up on time, handling responsibilities, and working well with others.

Carpe Diem When Building Your Perfect Schedule

Checking scheduleMapping out your college schedule is always a tug-of-war between short-term and long-term gain. You don’t want a schedule that’s too hard or too easy (because that just means you’re putting off the hard schedule for later). You need to keep in mind the delicate balance between core requirements, credits for your major, and electives. Even if you map everything out in advance, your best laid plans could go awry when the classes you were eyeing all get scheduled at the same time.

When I was an undergrad, I developed a strategy early and held fast to it for the remainder of my four years: Try as many things as possible, avoid commitment as long as possible. First, I didn’t declare my major until the last possible minute. This was for two reasons: (1) I wanted as much time as possible to try everything first. (2) At my school, if you entered declared, there were certain freshman year required intro classes. Declare later and you could skip those, leaving more time for more interesting material.

The other piece of my long-term strategy was knocking out core requirements as quickly as possible, trading a comparatively tedious first year for more freedom down the road. It mostly worked out well, especially since I decided to go for a double major by the end of my sophomore year, so I needed all the room I could get credits for two majors before the end of the four years.

While the plan worked to a point, I made a big mistake by not leaving myself any wiggle room to do things on a whim. This screwed me out of a number of courses that needed to be taken sequentially. Since I’d eaten up my first two years with checking off the essentials, I didn’t have leave myself much time to work up to some of the higher level courses in my majors.

The second mistake was more tragic. My Medieval Lit course was run by a Prof. Wilson. Easily one of the best instructors I’ve ever had. He spoke seven languages (half of them dead ones). He could recite the first 100 verses of Beowulf from memory. In Old English. He was the sort of professor who could go off on tangents and loop them back around to the main topic. He could bring current events into a discussion of Pilgrim’s Progress and make it feel organic. He was passionate about what he did and you could feel it every time his class met. (For your mental picture, he might have been played by Richard Attenborough.)

When Prof. Wilson announced he’d be teaching a course called Heroic Literature, I couldn’t believe I could get credits for something so tailor-made to my interest. It would be a cross-cultural examination of the idea of literary heroes. It was a course of his own design, so no one else in the department was really qualified to teach it.

But I had my strategy, so I held off, opting to take it next time it came around so I could take care of more boring stuff first.

Near the end of the semester, Prof. Wilson was nowhere to be found. A few other professors in the department took over his classes for the remaining weeks. Eventually, word leaked: Prof. Wilson had a particularly aggressive form of cancer. He was diagnosed in November and passed away shortly after the New Year.

I wish I’d taken more classes with the guy. I wish I’d thrown my plans out and just gone with my gut. But I didn’t.

That’s my advice to anyone mapping out plans for the future. Not just for college, but for anything in life. If there’s something you truly want, go for it. Never put off the things you’re most passionate about. You never know if the only day is today.

Scholarships Replace Parents As the #1 Payment Source for College

The amount of money parents contribute to their kids’ college education is dropping. Or, more accurately, it’s struggling to keep up. As recently as 2010, parents paid for 37% of the total money spent on college education around the country from their own income. Three years later, that amount has dropped 10%, with grants and scholarships now taking over a greater percentage of the heavy lifting.

Student Borrowing 18%, Parent Borrowing 9%, Parent Income & Savings 27%, Grants & Scholarships 30%, Relatives & Friends 5%, Student Income & Savings 11%

How college was paid for in the 2012-2013 academic year. Source: Sallie Mae

Simply put, the cost of college is increasing faster than parents can afford to keep up with it.

To fill the gap, more students need to take out loans (14% in 2010 has become 18% in 2013) or simply fit the bill for their education from their own income and savings (9% in 2010, 11% in 2013). It’s to the credit of colleges and universities that these numbers aren’t much higher than they could be. They’ve upped how much they spend on scholarships and grants, as well as simply offering more full-rides and other financial support, in order to keep the burden on students from getting too overwhelming.

Keep in mind that these numbers are percentages of total money, not of students. In other words, 18% of total amount spent on education last year came from student loans. It’s not that 18% of students took out loans. The actual total number of students graduating with some sort of  debt? Nearly two-thirds.

So what can a student do? Not much, unfortunately. Basically, you can be very grateful to your parents for what they’ve done and go out of your way to find scholarship opportunities. Obviously it’s going to vary greatly from individual situation to situation, but here are a few general pointers:

  • Even if your parents are paying for college, apply for some scholarships. There are tons of them out there, and your parents will certainly appreciate any money you save them.
  • Weigh your options with student loans carefully. While often necessary, they can be very tough to pay off for young professionals. On the other hand, taking the income hit you’ll get from not getting your ideal degree might leave you just as strapped for cash through your 20s.
  • There are a lot of great scholarship resources out there, but no single, completely comprehensive search engine, so don’t limit yourself to Google. Ask around. If there’s some sort of local community group, church, synagogue, mosque, sports team, etc. that you’re a part of, your odds of getting their scholarship are definitely higher.
  • Don’t just look during the summer. Most scholarships are offered year-round, and the earlier you look the more likely you won’t miss an application deadline.

STEM Students Can (and Should) Dream Big Too

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It’s a tough time to be a student. Landing a halfway decent job is always a struggle, but recent graduates have to deal with a weak economy and devalued degrees, all while more and more of them need to take out loans and find other methods of paying for their education.

Students, you get hit with a flood of advice at all times. (I realize the irony of saying this while being another of many voices telling you what to do.) Lately, there’s been popular refrain among post-graduation advice: get a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) major and earn more money. Just look at these headlines: “Face the Facts: STEM degrees earn the highest paying jobs,” “STEM jobs pay more, reduce the wage gap between men and women,” “STEM Workers are in High Demand.” Study after study indicate that STEM jobs pay better than other fields and that investing your time in something like art, English, or God forbid, theater, is not a wise investment of your tuition dollars.

As an English and art major myself, it goes without saying that I’m not too keen on seeing my chosen areas of study get put down so often, but that’s not what this article is about.

I think there’s a danger in the tone we’ve set about discussing STEM degrees and jobs. The narrative in so many articles (and in many a Reddit thread) is that STEM students are inherently more valuable, that they do serious work, while we liberal arts majors play around with frivolous things. The tone is dismissive, condescending, and accordingly, really, really easy to ignore. Specifically, by focusing so much on money, we’re doing a disservice to the aspects of creativity and inspiration that can exist in the hard sciences.

That last part is the problem. Very few college students choose their area of study according to future earning potential. And telling them over and over again about the money isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. Why? Because students are going to study what they find interesting, engaging, and exciting on a day-to-day basis. Future potential money is not as much of a motivator.

The more students think of STEM as the practical and stable area of study, the less the field fosters imagination. And that’s a real problem with the current American attitude towards science. There’s an obsession with practical application of science and a decreased focus on programs that don’t have immediately accessible real-world applications, like NASA or particle physics. Politicians and bureaucrats are overly concerned with the short-term return-on-investment of the sciences, and inherently distrustful of science of science’s sake. Unfortunately, it’s the latter that usually leads to great leaps forward, either through happy accidents or by making little bits of progress that can be carried, football-like, further down the field by later researchers.

Only one in a million of those dreams ever need to come true, but as a society, we aren’t doing enough to foster STEM dreams. Dreams are being dominated by the people who want to write the great American novel or become a world-famous actor or musician.

Most people with STEM degrees aren’t professional scientists, just as most English majors aren’t professional writers. But the ultimate reason for going to college only half lays with the question “What job can I get with this degree?” English majors mostly aren’t writers, but studying literature and the written word inform their broader world view, teach them to appreciate the arts, and help define the person they will be and the work they will do in a thousand unknowable ways.

Studying the sciences is no different. If we want more students to study STEM, we only need to show them how much they’ll get out of a STEM degree. Not the money or the degree, but curiosity, engagement, and that one in a million chance of finding something, not really practical, but really cool.

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