Thursday, February 24, 2011

Scholarships and Financial Aid

A lot of you still in high school may be absolutely dreading this time of year, especially as a forward-thinking junior or senior, because it is scholarship season. That means a lot of meeting with your guidance counselors,  asking your favorite teachers for letters of recommendation, essay-writing, form-filling, non-procrastinating and deadline-remembering; and don't think for a moment that getting to college ends this process.

If you have really generous family or have stumbled upon a glorious, four-year scholarship, I commend you on your good fortune, but warn you not to just shill it away. And if you are not so fortunate, then I must say I am in the same boat as you.

The main forms of paying off college are scholarships and grants, work study, working, and loans.

In my case, the scholarships I was awarded senior year were able to be held for a year; this really helped ease some tensions about my plans to take a year off between high school and college. (I highly suggest this option if possible, so check if the scholarships you are looking at have this option available). While this definitely helped for my freshman year, I must now look to next fall, and my financial possibilities.

Over the long weekend I decided to take advantage of my free-time and start looking for scholarships to apply for. The first step was going to the local library, and spending some quality time in the stacks. I came across the book, Peterson's Scholarships, Grants, & Prizes 2009 (there's a 2011 copy out now, too). Within this book I was able to look for scholarships for my specific areas of interest, as well as some general scholarships for the average broke college student. You can also go to the Peterson's website for more goodies.

I also went back to my email and dug up the password to my and FastWeb accounts. When you sign up, you create a profile that will help limit what sort of scholarships are brought to your attention. It's a great way to find scholarships and other prizes, but it is still ultimately up to you to follow through and finish everything you need to apply with...on time.

Remember that most colleges have their own financial aid opportunities as well. Western Washington University helps students apply for campus-run scholarships automatically. You don't even have to worry, you just receive a letter saying you were awarded such and such scholarships and are asked to accept or decline the awards. It's a very nice thing they do over here. Also, work study positions are available to students that qualify, and they are very understanding: I applied and was awarded work-study money, only to find that my first quarter was squared away without it. So, I emailed them and was able to let that opportunity be passed on, but still have my name on the list for future quarters.

Of course, I am also taking summer quarter off, so I am going to be working a lot to save up more money. This was definitely a good thing, as I was able to save money last summer (as well as find a new career path, but that's another story). If you don't have a job at the moment, start applying to new places, or contacting your old employers to see if they'd have you back--being of course that the reason you aren't currently working for them is that you were away to college, and not fired or let go. (Hint: If you're in good standing, use the fact that you're already trained to try and win your ex-employer over).

And then, there is of course the final option: selling your soul to a bank for a loan. Just because I am writing to a broad audience, I will go ahead and say that if needed, taking out a student loan is certainly a viable and successful option for paying for long as you remember that one day you will have to pay it off (more than likely years from now). Personally, it is one of my goals to go through college without having to take out a loan, as my feelings coincide with those of J Cole:

"Hell nah, got a degree, but what that cost you?
You make a good salary just to pay Sallie Mae"
--J Cole / "Blow Up" / Friday Night Lights (mixtape)
[Great music, by the way, if free hip-hop mixtapes are one of your cups of tea]

Now then, back to more writing, calendar-checking, asking for letters of recommendation, and money-searching for next year. Good luck in your search as well!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Studying habits

So, I haven't had time to sit down and think of a topic to write about this week because of two exams--and I'm actually holed up and studying right now. I think a brief break should be doubly helpful--my mind will get a rest, and I can now scrounge up a last-minute topic to blog about.

When you're in high school, you have a very consistent schedule of classes Mon-Fri, ~8-~3, then sports or club activities, work, homework, friends, etc., bed. In college, this won't always be the same. Classes fluctuate, and so do my plans for those days, but I always find time to sit down and study / finish homework. Granted, I don't have to do the homework or pass the test, but then I'd be paying WWU just so I could fail--I'd much rather get my money's worth, so I try to do as well as I can in my classes.

[If you're going to college on someone else's dime, be considerate; and if college just isn't your cup of tea, change coffeehouses!]

I've recently discovered how convenient it is to do homework and studying outside of your dorm room. You can easily remove some of the distractions in your dorm, such as Halo: Reach or Call of Duty: Black Ops, watching TV, browsing the internet, roommate, wanting to sleep, etc.

Of course, when I go to the study-cubby, I bring my laptop for music and internet--so I still have some distractions available--but in the different environment I can say slacking off becomes a little less tempting; and thus my work and studying gets accomplished.

One of my floormates says when he has a project or essay to finish, he locks himself in one of the small study rooms (that used to be typing rooms, back when typewriters were the norm), and just goes to town on it. Of course, without windows he never knew what time it was when he would finally emerge. 

My roommate also has a pretty cool way to study: he tweets. He'll start going through his readings, and tweet a random fact or example he's having trouble remembering. It's one way to have your mind connect something it is learning to a few actions (like reading, typing, and writing), so it can be recalled in different ways. At the moment I am doing the same thing on my Tumblr account.

When studying for a big exam, remember that last-minute cramming can be detrimental to how you perform the next day. Instead, skim over your notes at least a week before your exam, and little by little it will be committed to your memory. Also, I learned from psych class that you should have the same amount of sleep and caffeine in your system as you would a normal class of learning and lectures. (Subtle things about how things are processed in your mind; it's a fun class).

I think this is the proper length of a post (and break session), so now I will resume studying. Now, all I have to do is stay up until at least 1 a.m., wake up at my normal hour, and not caffeinate myself until after my class--just like any normal day. Everything works out eventually.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Graffiti on Campus

I've recently been re-intrigued in the sometimes subtle (and almost-always controversial) art of graffiti and urban / street art. Last week, the Associated Students showed the 2007 graffiti-documentary Bomb It, and there seems to be an increase in "unofficial art" on campus. So this is more than a relevant topic for this week.

First off, I have to at least touch on the fact that there is a debate raging about whether graffiti is art, vandalism, or knife's-edge between the two. Personally, I feel that graffiti can be art that expresses feeling and adds color / life to the environment it is in; regardless of legal-status. At the same time though, the type of graffiti is a big factor for me.

I don't count people quick-tagging / scratching their names as art. Sometimes it catches my eye because the style and colors of the tag are intriguing, but for the most part it isn't art in my eyes--It's just someone trying to put their name somewhere. This may be a bias on my part (granted, there are some really well done name-tags), but I've come to associate that type of graffiti as a visible form of territory-claiming, name-bombing, as well as gang-related activities.

The type of graffiti that usually interest and lure me to them are tags, stickers, stencils, murals, and message-driven. All of these (as well as name-bombing) can be found around the campus of Western Washington University, and technically speaking, it is all illegal (as in, it hasn't been commissioned by the campus).

I don't believe this reflects poorly on WWU--practically any social center will undoubtedly have graffiti in one form or another; whether its blatant or subtle. There will always be people trying to influence their surroundings through graffiti in one form or another.

Just over this weekend, I actually went photo-hunting for all of the graffiti / urban art that I could find on campus. I was able to get a lot of pictures, and have started to post them on my Tumblr (NWArtist) under the # (hash-tag) WWU Urban Art. If you have a Tumblr and have taken photos of urban art on WWU campus, please post and tag them accordingly; I'd love to see what you've found.

Some examples of my finds are:

What I found through this hunt is that the campus is very clean for the most part, and the graffiti tends to be subtle, not in places of high traffic, and centers around smoking areas and less-patrolled areas. True, there are exceptions to this trend, but it is still good news that the "artists" are for the most part respecting the overall feel of the campus--and I think this reflects upon WWU and it's populace, but in a positive manner.

Of course, there's a daring student with chalk every once and a while...

[All photos by me, from my Tumblr]

Friday, February 4, 2011

Dorm Life: Laundry

Coming onto a college campus, I must admit that I had zero to little experience washing clothes. At home, my mom always did it, and the one year I offered to do it some of the time she told me not to worry (a miscommunication about me wanting to learn, but I let it drop). Suddenly, last quarter I was living away from my family, and needing to do laundry. 

Like a lot of students fresh in college, with parents living nearby (aka <3.5 hours drive-time), I went home the first few weekends to see people (and secretly get my laundry taken care of). This only lasted so long, and I eventually wanted to do laundry myself, be independent and my own man--so I had one of my friends supervise the process.

 For those of you unfamiliar with campus washing (or washing in general), you load in your laundry (colors or white load) into a machine, add your detergent, select the type of wash, pay, and wait.

The washing machines are actually quite spacious, and the dryers are larger still, so you can get a lot done in one go. Most people seem to do two washing loads (separate colors), and then pile everything into a single dryer. They're also very efficient--there's even a label saying use 1/4 of the recommended detergent if you aren't using some eco-friendly, super-efficient soap.

On campus here, every student is given a Laundry Card that already has $1.75 loaded on it--enough for one load of washing and drying ($1 and $0.75, respectively). These cards can be reloaded with cash or credit / debit cards at the dining halls, where there are special machines for it. But beware, you can only load them while the dining hall is open--so keep track of your card's balance so you aren't texting your friends at 11 p.m. asking if they have enough on theirs so you can dry your double-load. (Yes, I actually did this. I was only a quarter short, and they only take the cards).
Doing laundry takes time and consideration of those around you:
Learn the ebb and flow of your building's "laundry cycle"--my friends wait until Sunday to do laundry; but so does everyone. It's best to go when no one is also washing, so you know you'll have a dryer ready when you're clothes are all clean. Keep in mind a washing cycle is ~40 minutes, and drying ~60. These are "estimates" as the machine-minutes are faster / slower than real minutes. Sometimes 1 MIN left may actually mean 10 minutes of waiting awkwardly. Basically, do laundry when you don't have anything but free- / study-time for at least an hour and a half.

Other tips:
  • There's a rubber seal around the door that catches everything that falls out from people's pockets--lint, hair, chapstick, and money (I found $7+ last quarter this way).
  • Safety-pin sock pairs together so you don't magically lose just one sock. (Saw someone do this and it blew my mind).
  • Make sure things like socks are not still rolled up going into the dryer, or else you may have to resort to something like this to get them dry.

This may take cooperation with your neighboring floormate.
A quick, clever, and efficient fix--

--that looks kind of artsy from below.

Please comment any other tips / tricks / stories you have about laundry (especially on campus).