Archive for September, 2008

Spend Your Time Wisely: Volunteer Ideas for College

Volunteering isn’t all soup kitchens and senior living centers-in fact I’m almost daring enough to propose that there is probably a nearly-perfect volunteer opportunity for everyone-but clearly there are probably a few exceptions. : )

Obviously you’ve already been accepted to college, so why should you keep volunteering after high school?  Well, if you think about it, it’s kind of a “Win-Win-Win” (to quote Michael Scott).

  • Will it help me find my “niche” around here, and help me meet new people? Check.
  • Will getting outside of myself and helping other people help me beat homesickness? Check.
  • Will it look darn good on my résumé? Check.

See? Win-Win-Win. I’d actually like to throw some more “Win”s in there because there are many, many other benefits of volunteering.  Want to give it a shot?

If You Like to Read…

  • Reading is Fundamental: Help select books for local programs, organize book events, read books aloud and/or tell stories, fundraise, and raise awareness about children’s literacy.
  • LibriVox: Volunteer to read for LibriVox, which provides free downloadable audiobooks of books in the public domain. You can even get a group of people together to read play-style with different voices for each character.
  • Read This to Me: Spend an hour or so a week reading things sent in by blind or low-vision people to them over the phone (hey, you’re on your phone all the time anyway, right?). This can be anything from a magazine article to a phone bill.
  • Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic®: Record books and/or text books for the blind and dyslexic at one of the many RFBD centers nationwide.
  • Local Library: Local libraries are always on the lookout for volunteers to help stock shelves, read at story time, or man summer reading program tables. Contact yours and see if they need any help.

If You Like Working (or Making Art) With Your Hands…

  • Habitat for Humanity: Volunteer to help build homes for the needy, either in your own community or in more exotic locales!
  • Play Music at a Hospital or Hospice: Many hospitals or hospices offer volunteers the opportunity to play either in their lobby or for their patients. It’s an easy way to share your talent and brighten a few people’s days.
  • Be an Arts & Crafts Volunteer: Community, children’s, and elderly programs are a great place to share your love of an art or craft. Search your local area for volunteer opportunities to teach art, sewing, knitting, crochet, or any other art to those around you-and if you can’t find an opportunity, make one!
  • Make Baby Blankets: If you like to knit, quilt, sew, or crochet, check with local hospitals and children’s hospitals to see if they accept donations of baby blankets. Many provide blankets to low-income families who may not have much for their babies.

If You’re a People Person (or an Animal Lover):

  • Ronald McDonald House: Ronald McDonald houses are a haven for families whose children are in the hospital. You can help out by volunteering in a number of ways: planning events, fundraising, cleaning, hosting game or movie night for the families, or even bringing by treats, snacks, or dinner.
  • Holding Babies: Did you know that many hospitals actually have a spot for volunteers who want to hold babies? Many babies born prematurely or abandoned need physical contact during their developmental stages. Contact your local hospital (or children’s hospital) to see if they have a spot for you. (This does tend to have a waiting list… The hospital near my apartment has a wait of 2 years!)
  • Big Brothers & Big Sisters: Make a big impact by doing little things-hiking, cooking, playing basketball, or even just hanging out-with a kid who needs a friend. It can be as little as 4 hours a month.
  • Animal Shelter/Veterinarian Office: Animal shelters and veterinarian offices are often glad of a helping hand washing and walking animals, cleaning, feeding, etc. Call around your area and see who needs you!

If You Want to Search for Yourself…

  • Volunteer Match: Search out volunteer opportunities in your area from a huuuge list!

photo: Together 1 by  flaivoloka

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3 comments September 29th, 2008

How to Deal With Your First Big Breakup

Back in August reader Sangeeta suggested that I write an article about coping with a breakup in college.  I thought it was a great idea, especially because I still remember how much my own first breakup hurt

This is my personal advice (basically, this is what I tell my closest friends) about what helped me get through, so take it with a grain of salt and feel free to add your own thoughts & ideas in the comments.

Take Some Time Off.

Making the “just friends” thing work without taking a break from each other in between can be painful-and it can really mess with your head.  After my first boyfriend and I broke up, we kept in touch by email for quite a while-and both of us kept feeling like maybe we would get back together.  We never did, and it really prolonged the pain of the breakup to keep talking and hoping. Also-take off your promise ring or whatever little memento you keep on you all the time, and give back the box of his or her stuff you’ve got scattered around your place.

My Tip: Even if you plan to be friends, let them know you’re going to take some time-a GOOD amount of time, not just a couple days-in which you don’t interact with each other. If you have to, ignore your ex’s calls, block him or her from your IM, and filter his or her emails to go to your spam inbox-and don’t feel guilty about it.  You need this time to let yourself start healing. (P.S. The “just friends” thing is REALLY hard.)

Keep Your Brain Busy.

Why is it that just when you’re feeling okay the most random thing-a paperclip, the smell of a banana muffin, or commercial-suddenly reminds you of your ex?  Well, if you were together (or on the phone/IMing/emailing with each other) day in, day out, for months or years, your brain has naturally formed a lot of ties with him or her. And every time you remember that you can’t share the best joke or a story about your mom with your ex, it feels like you got sucker punched.

My Tip: To keep your mind from wandering back to painful places, try to keep as busy as possible.  Go out with friends, really dive in to your school work, and/or take on more hours at your job. Join a club. Meet new people. Explore your college town!  There are still going to be things that trigger that memory switch, but the distraction will help you in the long run.

Vent, but Don’t Wallow.

The first few days are really hard.  You probably want to just crawl under the covers and mope.  Feeling like that is okay, but wallowing in that feeling-basically sitting around feeling sorry for yourself-isn’t going to help.  Also, if all you talk to your friends (or dates) about is your ex boyfriend or girlfriend, you might notice that people don’t want to hang around you as much.

My Tip: Check in with friends about how you’re feeling-especially if you’re feeling particularly depressed-and let them help you out of it, but don’t let yourself go off on a rant or throw a pity party every time your BFF is around. If you’re having a lot of trouble coping, consider talking to a counselor about it.  Most colleges offer free psychological services to their students, from a psychologist to support groups, and they can be really helpful (and more anonymous, which often makes things more comfortable).

Wait it Out (and Be Open-minded)

Breakups are hard-there’s just no way around that-and the hardest part is that it takes a while to feel better. Wait it out, and be open to new experiences. Go on dates, hang out with friends, and try new things (in a healthy way).  Don’t sit around hoping you’ll get a phone call or an IM from your ex-after a while you really will start to feel better.

photo: Hole in the Heart by biewoef

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3 comments September 25th, 2008

5 Reasons Why Office Hours are Your New Best Friend

Office hours-that little block of time during which your professor is actually available to talk to you, one-on-one, about (almost) anything you want.  Dropping in for just a few minutes could be the best use of your time this week (and next week… and the week after…).  Here’s why…

  1. You Want an A. If you want to get an A in a course, attending your professor’s office hours can be one of the easiest ways to get there.  Here you finally have the time (and smaller group or even one-on-one setting) to ask the professor questions.  Discuss problems you are having in the class, get suggestions for how/where/what to study and hey, if you’re feeling brave, ask some questions about the upcoming test.
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  2. You’re Applying for a Scholarship… or Med School. Guess what scholarships and med schools both want?  Letters of recommendation.  How can you get a good one if you’re sitting in a lecture-hall-sea of faces?  Well, you probably can’t.  Spending one-on-one time getting to know your professor will make him or her more likely to be comfortable writing you one of these letters at the end of the quarter or semester. They’ll know what kind of student you are, what kind of person you are, and hopefully feel a friendship towards you that makes them want to help.
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  3. You Might Learn to Keep Your Eyes Open. If you’re having trouble staying awake in class, one sure-fire way to keep yourself alert is to make sure the professor knows your name.  You’re not going to want to doze off if there’s potential that your grade could suffer-or you could get called out in the middle of class. Not the most fun way, maybe, but certainly effective!
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  4. You’ll Meet New People. You may be attending office hours for other reasons (like to get in the running for an internship, for example) but you could be surprised how enjoyable they can be.  You may find yourself enjoying your newfound friendship (or mentee-ship) with your professor, and if his/her office hours are popular, you’ll meet other like-minded people from similar courses. The conversations that break out during these more casual meetings can be a lot of fun.
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  5. You… Um… Still Want an A. Let’s say you’ve been attending office hours for a few weeks, clearly making an effort in the class, and you mess up on a test.  Office hours are the perfect opportunity to discuss this discrepancy with your professor-whether you’re hoping for a curved grade or just need help figuring out what went wrong, this is the time and place to discuss it.

    Oh, and if you did something stupid like sleeping through a test, you’re more likely to get some kind of forgiveness from a professor you know than from one who’s never even noticed you in class.

photo: Lunch dreaming by qute

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3 comments September 22nd, 2008

Ridiculously Easy Ways to Kick Distractions for Productive Study Time

I always meant to be productive during finals week. Really. I scheduled, I planned, and then when it came down to it, I suddenly gave in to this incredible urge to write 6 blog posts and thoroughly clean my room. After all, cleaning my room was important, right?

Eliminating Distractions

A truly useful study hour (or week) means a lot of will power-and if you don’t have a lot, you have to make things a little easier on yourself.  Here are my top distraction factors of college life, and how to tackle them. Be warned-these are REALLY easy, and REALLY obvious. The hard part is following through!

  • Problem: Studying is Boring. Compared to the party down the hall, the new Will game your roommate is playing, and all those DVDs stacked over your desk, studying is BORING.

    Solution: Change Venues. You know what makes studying seem more interesting? A silent school library. You’ll start studying just to escape the monotony of all that QUIET! So go somewhere quiet and subdued so you can focus in on your study material-and make sure you don’t enable yourself with other distractions like…

  • Problem: The Internet. Talk about the biggest distraction ever. Aside from surfing, you have email, IM, MySpace/Facebook/etc., blogs (to write or read), YouTube, and millions of online games to distract you.

    Solution: Um… Turn Off the Internet. *GASP* Can you imagine being cut off from the net?!? It really is the easiest way to avoid distractions though–even if you put up an away message, you’re still going to be tempted to check people’s profile messages, scan through Facebook, and check your email every minute or so. So if you have wireless, turn off your card. If you’re plugged in, pull the Ethernet cable. You can do it!

  • Problem: Sleepiness. If only you hadn’t stayed up all night watching Simpson’s reruns with your BFF! Maybe then you could focus on your OChem instead of cat napping face-down on one of the library computer keyboards!

    Solution: Sleep & Learning to Stay Awake (without Coffee). So, first and easiest solution, is to get a good night’s rest before you start studying. If it’s too late for that, then learn the secrets to staying awake while you’re studying (you can see more tips here, too). Remember, caffeine is a bad way to go because your body can get dependent on it.

  • Problem: Cell Phones. Maybe you’re ignoring calls, but just one more text message wouldn’t hurt, right…?

    Solution: Again… Turn it Off. Sometimes the temptation is too strong-your crush is calling, your roommate is texting, you just want to download one more ringtone… So turn your phone off. I know it feels like severing a limb, but at least you can turn it back on when studying is over.

  • Problem: Hunger. How are you supposed to study when your stomach is growling?

    Solution: Snacks & Food Breaks. College students are notorious for NOT eating during study time, but this is a BAD idea. Your brain needs fuel if you want it to work. If you’re in for the long haul, you have a couple of options. First, bring (healthy!) snacks like granola, nuts, fruit, etc. (cheese puffs aren’t going to give you the energy you need). Second, take a break and head over to the caf for a meal. That’s the time to turn on your cell, meet up with a friend, or pull out the Sudoku for a little break from study time.

  • Problem: Music. Some people study better with music on, others just start lip-synching, head-bobbing, or buying more music on iTunes.

    Solution: Leave Your Headphones at Home. On purpose. When you head off to your quite study zone, you’re going to find yourself very unpopular if you try to listen to music without those babies-which is the perfect motivation to leave your tunes off.

Didn’t I say these were ridiculously easy? Think you can do it?

photo: Library of Light by  hhsara

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4 comments September 18th, 2008

I Slept Through a College Test—Now What Should I Do?!?

Just when you think you’re really getting the hang of the whole college thing, you wake up one morning and realize you’ve completely slept through part (or all) of a test. A big one. And it’s a massive percentage of your grade. What should (or can) you do?

Run Like Crazy

What I mean is, if you’re lucky enough to wake up before the class time is over, jump out of bed and run across campus to your classroom, ASAP. (Note: this might mean showing up in Scooby Doo pajama pants-I don’t know what to tell you about that.) If you can get to class while the test is still going, your professor may allow you to take as much as you can finish within the remaining class time.

If you get this opportunity, go for it! Remember, a 50% F is better for your course grade than the 0% F you’d get if you just rolled over and kept sleeping. Any points are better than no points!

Contact Your Professor ASAP-and Beg

If you’ve already missed the entire test, get to your professor ASAP. In person meetings are best, but if he/she has already left campus, use whatever other methods you have (phone, email) to get in touch in a hurry.

Once you’ve got your prof’s attention, explain your situation. (Don’t lie! It has a way of biting you in the tail.) Admit openly that it was entirely your fault, and if you have extenuating circumstances, let your professor in on them. Ask if there is anything at all you can do-if you’re lucky, you’ll get to take the test or do some other project. Unfortunately, you’re at the mercy of your professor.

Damage Control (and More Begging)

Now the typical professor probably won’t feel that someone who slept through his/her test deserves a shot at making up those points, so if you get a “No” thank your professor for his or her time and let it go-for a bit. Then go in for damage control. (This will work best if you’ve actually been attending/taking interest in a class… and even better if you’ve been getting good grades).

Write a brief but to-the-point email to your professor, apologizing for your irresponsibility, and once again thanking him or her for speaking/corresponding with you earlier. Then go ahead and mention your strong points in the class-whether its participation in class discussion, perfect attendance, or a stellar essay you just got back-and explain that you’d hate to have to start from scratch. Ask once more (politely) if there is anything you can possibly do to help save your grade. Don’t be pushy, be humble.

Weigh Your Options

Even if you write the best apology/begging email ever, your professor may still be unmoved by your plight. If this is the case, you need to weigh the merits of your remaining two options:

  1. Stay in the Class
    If you still have the chance of getting a passing grade, it might be worth it to stay in the class.  (You should calculate the points possible and any curves to find out if you have a shot). You’ll probably have to work really hard to get good enough grades to balance out your missing test score, but done right it would mean no “Drop” or “Incomplete” on your transcript-and you wouldn’t have to retake the class.
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  2. Drop the Class
    If your professor won’t budge, there’s no extra credit, and even perfect scores on the remaining assignments and exams won’t help you get at least a C, you might want to consider dropping the class. If it’s after the “Drop Deadline” you could receive an “Incomplete” on your transcript-you have to decide if that’s better or worse than a D or F grade. If you’re having trouble, consult your academic advisor.

Whatever the outcome, deal with it as best you can, and then forgive yourself. Everybody has stories of college mistakes-just make sure you learn from yours!

(Oh, and if you’re having trouble staying awake even during class, take a look at these tips about how to stay awake in class and staying awake while studying!)

photo: Alarm Clock 1 by woodsy

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6 comments September 15th, 2008

Stay Healthy This School Year (Really)

You’ve heard of the freshman fifteen-that pesky extra 15lbs that lots of students put on in the first year of college-but there are way more health issues than that for college students.  Here’s how to keep yourself fit, even with limited time, space, and funds.

The Freshman 15 is Not a Goal-or a Curse

Translation? You still have to eat right, even if Mom isn’t hovering over your dinner plate. As I’ve mentioned before, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s every night isn’t the key to good health.

So what should you be eating?  The simple answer is to shoot for moderation in all things.  Try to eat the right amount of servings for each food group (remember the food pyramid from 5th grade?), but don’t go overboard with one (too much of a good thing-even too many veggies or too much meat can be too much for your body!)

Even if you do end up putting on (or dropping) a little weight accidentally, don’t feel like you’re doomed!  Switching to a healthier diet and adding some exercise can help you wear away those pounds.

For more info, check out these college eating resources:

Exercise (Even in a Small Space)

Most college campuses offer free use of their gym and sports facilities to students, so you should definitely take advantage of all the great stuff there.  But if you find yourself feeling to sluggish to go outdoors (or there’s just too much snow to bother jogging), here are a list of dorm room workouts you can do in that 8×8 floor space you call home:

Want to know the easiest way to get exercise without noticing?  Walk to class instead of taking a shuttle. It really makes a difference.

Prevent Brain Drain

The pressure and competition of college courses, coupled with homesickness and increased personal responsibilities can be hard on you-it wears you down, tires you out, and sometimes overwhelms you.  To help keep your mental and emotional health strong, I recommend that you:

  • Eat well & exercise (see above)
  • Get enough sleep
  • Learn how to relax & fall asleep when you’re stressed
  • Stay away from depressants like alcohol, especially if you’re already feeling down
  • Make use of free counseling services on campus (academic and psychological)
  • Attend support groups (many campuses have them for free!)
  • Strike a balance between work and play
  • Make at least a rough schedule and stick to it
  • Keep within your budget
  • Know when to quit

photo: Fruit Bowl by woodsy

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4 comments September 11th, 2008

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