Archive for July, 2008

Your First Apartment: Things You Should Remember but Probably Won’t

When you live “on your own” in the dorms, there are a lot of things you take for granted. At most schools, living on campus means that toilet paper is provided, someone else takes out the trash, and you can borrow silverware from the cafeteria (though I can tell you they usually don’t want you to borrow that silverware).

Living on your own off-campus, in a real apartment, is totally different. Suddenly you look around at your Ikea furniture and otherwise empty apartment and realize how much stuff you don’t have (but need pretty badly). So I threw together a list of things you might not think of, but will definitely need within the first few weeks of apartment life.

Remember, this isn’t your all inclusive everything-you-need list-it’s the list of stuff you’ll probably overlook. For an obsessively detailed everything-you-need list, check out Bed, Bath & Beyond’s insane-but-useful first apartment checklists, part I and part II. And don’t forget to bring furniture.

The Bare Necessities
(a.k.a. If You Buy Nothing Else At Least Get These Things!)

  • Toilet paper
  • Soap
  • Towel
  • Shower curtain & rings
  • Trashcan
  • Plunger
  • Curtains (or at least a sheet to cover the windows)
  • Lamp & light bulb(s)
  • Fan
  • First-aid kit
  • Flashlight
  • Batteries

You may see these items repeated on other portions of the list in their respective categories. But just remember them!


  • Toilet paper
  • Trashcan
  • Soap
  • Shower curtain & rings
  • Toilet brush
  • Plunger
  • Towel
  • First-aid kit


  • Trashcan
  • Oven mitt
  • Scrub brush
  • Dish soap & regular soap
  • Towel(s)
  • Plate, bowl, cup, silverware
  • Can opener
  • Pots & pans
  • Paper towels


  • Curtains
  • Alarm clock
  • Lamp


  • Tools (at the very least, nails, a hammer, and a screw driver)
  • Power strip
  • Extension cord
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Sewing kit (for buttons that pop off or other minor fixes)
  • Laundry basket

…and last (but not least) a good sense of humor!

photo: Cat in a Box by sofa

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8 comments July 28th, 2008

Cheap & Easy College Recipes: Toaster Oven Desserts

The cafeteria has something lacking in the dessert department, so every once in a while it’s fun to try a warm dessert on your own. (I’ve even baked up cookies in my toaster oven-just FYI, the baking time is different, so watch those things closely!)

Here are a couple of fun and easy dessert recipes you can whip up in a toaster oven.


These may possibly be my favorite part of summer, so I’m pretty happy that there’s no fire pit required to make them!


Graham crackers
Chocolate bars


Preheat toaster oven to 350° F. On your toaster oven pan or a piece of aluminum foil, place two graham crackers. Put your chocolate squares on one, and a marshmallow on the other. (You should be able to fit 2-3 of these in your toaster. Toast until marshmallow gets golden brown (make sure it doesn’t catch on fire!) Smush the two parts together and eat!

(You can also do this in the microwave-on high for 10-15 seconds-but be careful because marshmallows tend to explode!)


  • Try with different styles of chocolate like toffee/caramel filled, mint flavored, almond, etc.
  • Spread crackers with peanut butter for a PB cup style Smore
  • Add sliced fruit after toasting (strawberries, peaches, or other sweet summer fruits)

Baked Apples

These toasty warm apples remind me of homemade applesauce-but better. (Adapted from this recipe and this one.)


4 apples (I prefer green ones for the tart flavor)
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tsp Ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp Butter
¼ cup chopped almonds/pecans (if desired)
Boiling water/apple cider/apple juice


Preheat toaster oven to 350° F. Wash apples, and remove almost all of the core-leave about1/2 inch of apple at the bottom (to keep the good stuff in!) Dig all remaining seeds out. Place apples in your toaster oven pan (you may have to do only 2 at a time depending on how big your toaster is).

Mix sugar, cinnamon, and nuts in a small bowl, and spoon into the holes in the apples. Top with a small dollop of butter.

Pour water/cider/juice over apples so it fills the lower part of the pan (careful of sloshing, especially when you take it out!) and cover with aluminum foil (unless your toaster oven directions prohibit aluminum foil). Bake for about 30 mins (apples should be tender but not mushy). Let cool & eat! (These are yummy with vanilla ice cream!)

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Also, thanks to everyone voting in the poll!  You have until next week to cast your vote if you haven’t yet!

photo: Smores3 by jimrubio

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7 comments July 24th, 2008

What Happens at College Freshman Orientation?

Many of you have been through orientation (and maybe a few years of college) already–if that’s you, feel free to share your experiences in the comments–but lots of new high school grads are preparing for the big day (or week) already.

I felt like a fish out of water at college orientation: I felt nervous and out of place–the campus was so big, there were so many people, and I had to make so many seemingly huge decisions–it was overwhelming. Part of that was because I didn’t know what to expect, and the other was because I didn’t know how to approach it-so I’m going to give you a taste of both.

What to Expect

So, what’s orientation all about anyway? It’s different at every school. In fact, it can be as short as one or two days, or as long as a week. Some schools have you visit mid-summer, and others have orientation the first week you live on campus.

The point of it is to help you get into the swing of things on campus-learn where to go for food, study time, help with classes, etc. as well as the rules and procedures you need to know your first few weeks. It’s also geared towards It generally includes the following (or similar) activities:

  • Sitting in on some lectures about what to expect from college, how your courses work, which resources are available to you on campus, student health info, etc.
  • Splitting off from your parents (they’ll get their own series of orientation talks, and possibly head back home on their own).
  • Spending time with other entering freshmen, usually in a small group lead by an orientation leader (an older student who goes to your school).
  • Eating at the cafeteria.
  • Info session from current students about college life.
  • Socializing/fun activities with other entering freshmen like sports, dances, and school spirit activities.
  • Placement exams to help ensure that you start in the right level of programs like math and language.
  • Meeting with an academic advisor to get an idea of what courses you should start off with.
  • Registering for your first set of classes as a college student.
  • Sleeping in a dorm room/setting up your assigned dorm room and meeting your roommate.

Here are a few orientation calendars from different schools that will help you get an idea of the how daily scheduling goes at orientation:

What You Might Be Feeling (Don’t Worry, it’s Normal!)

Ironically, orientation can actually be a little disorienting at first. You’re taking a big step by entering college, so if just attending orientation makes you feel a little off-balance, know that it’s normal (and it will pass). Once you get into the swing of real college life (not just games and lectures about financial aid), you’ll be able to get more comfortable in your environment.

Next Time: More Cheap & Easy College Recipes (Check back or subscribe here!)

photo: Teens by Bina Sveda

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6 comments July 22nd, 2008

Your First Apartment: How Much Will the First Month Cost?

How Much Will My First Apartment Cost?

Just exactly how much does it cost to get your first off-campus apartment? Well, your first month’s costs might be a little bit of a shock if you don’t know what to prepare for–there are a lot of little extras that month that won’t be part of your regular monthly bills (just one more reason to have a roommate or two… or three). Read on to find out what you need to look for to figure out your bills for that first month…

Application – approx $30 to $50 per app

Unlike your parents, your landlord-to-be won’t just take your word that you’re good for the monthly rent-you have to fill out a formal application AND pay a fee so they can check your credit rating. (See, I told you your credit score would be important).

If you don’t fit their monthly income qualifications and need a co-signer like Mom or Dad, he or she will also have to fill out and pay for an application. You (and your roommates if you have any) should foot the bill for your co-signer’s app, too. Since they’re putting their credit score on the line for you, it’s common courtesy.

First Month’s Rent – varies by location and apartment size

Oh the joy of scraping together a month’s worth of rent before you even move in (you’ll probably have to pay this well before your move-in date!). Hopefully you’ve saved your summer earnings, because this could be a sizeable bill.

My first off-campus apartment-a 2br/2ba in San Diego-cost $1,600/month. That meant that I and each of my 3 apartment-mates had to cough up $400/mo. But then again, San Diego is one of the top 10 most expensive cities to rent in, so unless you’re living in New York, LA, or another metropolis, you probably won’t be paying that much.

Check out sites like,, and to get an idea of average pricing for rentals in your area.

Security Deposit – approx same cost as 1 mo rent

This is basically security for the landlord–this fee is for any damage you do to your apartment over the course of living there. If you take good care of your apartment, you will probably get a good portion of this amount back.

Last Month’s Rent – same as 1st mo rent

Most apartment complexes in my area don’t charge this, but every once in a while you’ll come across a lease agreement that requires you to hand over the last month’s rent early, too. Personally, I’d recommend looking for an apartment that doesn’t require this fee upfront.

Pet Deposit

If you plan to have a pet (I’m talking dog or cat, not a goldfish) you’ll probably have to put down an additional security deposit–AND pay extra each month. The initial deposit will probably be a few hundred dollars, but could be up to $1,000; the monthly amount will depend on your apartment complex.

Utility Deposits

In addition to monthly bills, utilities and such like gas, electricity, water, trash service, internet, phone service, and cable all tend to require start-up fees. Some cable, phone, and internet companies will waive your start-up and installation fees, so be sure to ask them to when you sign up!

You can probably expect the following amounts for the rest of your start-up fees: For gas and electric, you can approximate about $75/ea, trash service will vary (and is sometimes included in your rent). For more realistic pricing for your area, check with your landlord.

Parking Fee

You may also have to pay for a parking sticker or parking space assignment. Usually this is a one-time fee, but in larger cities you may see a monthly fee for parking.

photo: New York Fire Escape by JeryPank

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3 comments July 14th, 2008

Don’t Spend, Swap: Trade Books & DVDs for the Price of Postage

Now that it’s summer and you finally have time to read (I mean non-textbooks) and clear out your Netflix queue, it’s probably a lot more tempting to spend down your summer savings on paperbacks and DVDs.

I used to buy used books & movies off of, but with shipping even that can get pricey. In the past few months I’ve relied on our local Goodwill bookstore for cheap books (they’ve been in really good shape, too!), but I’m thinking of trying out the online book-swap (or DVD-swap) scene.

How it Works

There are quite a few sites that offer swap services, and they’re all (basically) free. Most of them work like this:

  1. You sign up for their website (for no charge).
  2. You list 10 books/movies/CDs/video games that you have and are willing to trade.
  3. You list 10 books/movies/etc.that you want to get.
  4. You mail a book/movie/etc. you have to someone who requests it. They give you feedback when they receive it.
  5. You earn points (ways to earn vary, but usually sending a trade out to someone else means you earn a given number of points).
  6. You trade in points for books/movies/etc. that you want. Someone mails it to you, and you give them feedback.

You should check out each individual site for specific details on how trades work-some function a little differently than this.

Where to Trade

I haven’t used one of these sites yet, but after some research (via Google and some of my other daily blog reads) I came up with several options:

* found via The Simple Dollar

So far I’m leaning toward SwapTree, because it has a good rep (as far as I could tell) and it lets you trade all kinds of things. If you’ve used any of these, please share your feedback!

photo: silence by benedeki

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1 comment July 10th, 2008

Pre-med Basics: MCAT Study Tools

Studying for (and taking) the MCAT is definitely one of the biggest hurdles any pre-med student faces, so it’s no wonder students put it off. It’s big, it’s important, and it’s intimidating! Who wants to deal with that?

Once you’ve finished breathing into a paper bag, though, you’re probably going to want to study. Remember to give yourself ample time to prepare (I’d say 6 months is ideal during school… sorry!) so you can take your study time in segments. Here are a few MCAT study options:

Free Help

Maybe it’s because they made you hand over $210 to take the MCAT, or maybe it’s just philanthropic, but either way, the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) offers a free MCAT Practice website. Just enter your email address and you get access to a database of 1000 previously used MCAT questions and solutions, sample essays, and other helpful tools. Kaplan also offers a free practice MCAT.

Price: Free

Of course, the AAMC is not above selling you practice tests, either. $35/ea for 1 year of access. If you plan to sign up for a study course these will probably be included.

Books, Books, Books

There are a huge number of study guides for the MCAT out there, so if you feel comfortable learning from a book this could be a good option for you. They can be helpful, and cost much less than taking a prep course. Check out Kaplan’s MCAT 2007-08 Premier Program or Examkrackers MCAT Complete Study Package, which both got good customer feedback on Amazon-or head over to your local bookstore and flip through some study guides to get a feel for what you need.

Price: The books listed above are about $80 each

Tutoring & Classroom Courses

Tutoring and other MCAT prep courses can be expensive, but they can also be very worthwhile (if you’re willing to put in the effort). Several well-known test prep centers offer MCAT prep courses. Princeton Review’s MCAT Courses allow you to choose between private tutoring, group tutoring, or a classroom course. Kaplan’s MCAT Courses offers all those options, plus the option of completely online MCAT prep (great if you have a weird or changing schedule).

Price: $1000+

Good luck!

photo: be healthy 2 by lusi

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2 comments July 8th, 2008

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