Lesson VII: Public Transportation

Being a constantly struggling college student (financially at least) one of my best investments was a bus pass, needless to say there are times when I have to have my car to drive but I try to use the bus when possible. Buying a bus pass is a small but efficient way to save money on transportation costs because it saves you gas money and wear and tear on your vehicle. Keep in mind that if you go to college in a rural area then this might not be the best option for you but if you go a school in a metropolitan area most public bus lines will take you anywhere you need to go. Let’s look at a few different scenarios…

Student A – Joe

Joe is a commuter student who goes to BusyTown Community College, he drives to school everyday with a commute that’s about an hour long. Joe realizes that in an average week he uses at least a full tank of gas (and sometimes more) which even in his fuel efficient car costs that’s $20 of gas per week. So in a typical month Joe spends between $80 – $100 just in transportation alone and the expense is getting to be too much for Joe.

Student B – Jane

Jane is a student who lives on campus at Bigcity University. Jane has a car to use when she drives home on holidays but because she is on a budget she does not have a lot of extra money to spend. Jane realizes that when she leaves  campus its usually to go to run errands like going to the grocery store, pharmacy or to hang out with friends at a near by coffee shop. Jane has a part-time job at a restaurant but doesn’t make a lot of money, so she starts looking at her spending to see if there is anything she can do to save some money.

So in theory Joe and Jane could be any college student in America and there both facing financial issues and are looking at alternative methods of transportation. I would reccomend to both of them to look into their local/state public transportation and see what’s available to them and if the cost is worth it. Students fail to realize that public buses often have pick up spots near their college and go to a lot of the popular destinations that they’re looking for at a decent price. Students also don’t know that their schools may have free or reduced fare bus passes available to them if they just ask for it. I know that an unlimited use, monthly bus pass for my state’s public bus lines is $56 (at the time of this publication) but after a little begging and pleading for the past year my college is offered half price monthly passes for students and packs of single use tickets at half price too but I know many other colleges who offer this and some even offer free tickets for their students and most of them don’t even use it! So lets take a look at our two students and their transportation situation.

Student A – Joe

Joe did a little looking and found out that his college bookstore sells half price, monthly bus passes for students and he finds a bus stop not that far from his house. He decided to buy a pass at $28 (half price) and instead of spending roughly $80 – $100 a month on transportation to and from school he is now spending only $28! That is a savings of between $52 – $72 a month or $624 – $864 a year!

Student B – Jane

Jane also looked into pubic transportation and found out that she could buy packs of single use tickets from her college bookstore, she isn’t sure if she wants to make the jump from using her car to only using the bus yet but she is willing to give it a try. Her roomate even suggested that they split the cost of a monthly bus pass and take turns using it to help cut down on how much gas they use, which is another good idea.

It all comes down to what is best for you, obviously this won’t work for everyone but if you have a fairly regular schedule and do a lot of driving you may want to look into getting a bus pass (especially if it is at a discount or free) and try to cut down on your carbon footprint. Plus when your on the bus you can be lazy and take a nap or actually be productive and use the time to study!

Lesson VI: Packing the Essentials — Part Deux

In my last entry I discussed what you would need for the classroom while at college and back by popular demand I present “Packing the Essentials — Part Deux” which is the collaborative list of all of your dorm/housing needs.

We all need to wear clothing right? Well I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard from students who forget to pack any socks or have packed their entire wardrobe and don’t have room for anything else. Keep in mind where your going to school when you pack, chances are if your going to a school in New England your going to need more cold weather clothing than if your going to a school in Hawaii. Another good rule of thumb when packing is if you haven’t worn something in 2 weeks then leave it at home. With that said don’t forget this stuff…

Underwear — undershirts, underwear, bras, socks, pajamas, a bathrobe.
Everyday Wear — jeans, t-shirts, long-sleeve shirts, belts, a light jacket, sweaters, sweatshirts, dresses, skirts, a cap/hat.
Cold/Warm Climate Wear — a raincoat, an umbrella, a pair of gloves, a pair of earmuffs, a scarf or two, a bathing suit, tank tops.
Formal Wear — This is in case you go to a job interview or formal event, you should probably only need one of each. A dress shirt, tie, slacks, a pair of dress socks, an evening dress, a pair of panty hose.
Shoes — You will need at least one pair of casual shoes, athletic shoes, dress shoes, flip-flops (for the shower), heels, flats.

I think a lot of students forget what they will need for bedding and linens when they leave for college because they go from living at home with a big comfortable bed and fresh sheets to a university issued mattress with some mysterious stains from the last person that used it. But with a few comforts of home the cheap college mattress can be livable.

a mattress pad/topper, a bedspread, blankets, pillows, sheets, pillowcases, towels, washcloths.

TIP #1: “Bed in a Bag” is a bag that contains a matching set of sheets, pillowcases and bedspread, its usually pretty affordable and something that you can find at most big-box stores (Walmart, K-Mart, Target) It usually saves a little money then if you buy each item separately.

TIP #2: Invest in a good mattress pad/topper, they can really make you a lot more comfortable. Although they range in price and quality its well worth it to shell out a bit more money for a good one and save yourself some future back pain and discomfort.

Try to remember to pack as many of theses things as you can but if you forget some of them its not really a big deal because most college campuses have some sort of grocery store, convenience store or pharmacy near by so you can pickup anything you forgot.

cologne/perfume, shampoo, conditioner, dental floss, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, hairbrush/comb, hair spray/gel, tissues, nail clippers, q-tips, razors, shaving cream, soap/bodywash, lotion, makeup, nail polish, nail polish remover, mouthwash, a hairdryer, a shower caddy, feminine products.

First Aid
Having a first aid kit or at least a few medical supplies is always handy for those minor cuts and scrapes and that killer headache you get when your… studying… yeah studying late at night.

a few different size band-aids, aspirin/pain reliever, contraceptives (that’s right, no excuses for forgetting this one), cough drops, decongestant, hydrogen peroxide, sunscreen, a multi-purpose antacid (like maalox or pepto-bismol), thermometer.

School Supplies
In my last entry I mentioned what supplies you would need to bring to class. Needless to say you might need a few more supplies for projects or whatever that you might not feel the need to tote around with you from class to class.

an alarm clock, a calendar, highlighters, paper clips, a ruler, a pair of scissors, stamps, a stapler and staples, tape, a cork bulletin board/dry erase board, a dictionary, a thesaurus, a book of grammar, a book of quotations, desk lamp, sticky notes, a computer and printer.

Storage and Furniture
Lets face it living in a dorm room is like living in a matchbox and then having to share it with someone else so space can’t be wasted. Before you buy furniture find out what things you school includes in their rooms. Some dorms will have closets and some will include a dresser, most of now include a desk and chair. Its better to find out ahead of time and save yourself some money.

baskets, bookshelves, hangers, hooks, a trunk, a wastebasket, sliding storage boxes, a laundry basket, shelving, milk crates, lighting, a nightstand, an entertainment center/tv stand, lounge chairs, a desk and dresser (if they’re not provided.)

Electronics & Appliances
This is really hard list to come up with because every college has there own requirements for what electronics and appliances they allow because of the fire hazards. So be sure to go online or call the department of student housing to know what they allow before showing up at school with your hot plate, candles and halogen light bulbs. In general I will try to list only what most schools will allow in their housing.

a telephone/cellphone, a television, a small refrigerator, a stereo, a microwave, a fan, a coffee maker, a dvd player, a mini-vacuum.

Miscellaneous Items
This is all the stuff I couldn’t really find another category for but stuff that you will end up needing (its usually the most forgotten stuff too.)

duct tape, batteries, an extension cord, a surge protector, a small tool kit, headphones, a water filter pitcher, mugs/cups, utensils, plates, bowls, a water bottle, snacks, a flashlight, a camera, posters, picture frames, storage for CD/DVD’s, an area rug, an iPod/mp3 player.

TIP #3: If the windows in your room don’t have blinds or some form of window covering then consider getting some kind of window covering for your privacy (curtains or panels work best.)

TIP #4: If you are going to get a job while your in school or have some sort of medical situation you will probably need a few forms of identification like your social security card (or have the number memorized), driver’s license, bank account information and health insurance card.

After neglecting any homework I’ve had for the past few days to search and come up with this list I think I’ve found just about everything a person would need to pack for college, but if anyone has noticed that I’ve forgotten anything or has some other items to add feel free to comment and I will add them on.

Lesson V: Packing the Essentials — Part Uno

When its time to go back to school a lot of us have a hard time deciding what to pack . The problem is that most students find themselves either over packing and including tons of things they don’t need or under packing and being stuck with only one pair of underwear or only a mound of mismatched socks. But fear not fellow frosh and sophes (I’m assuming that by the time you’re a junior you have probably already figured out what you need and what you don’t, but if you don’t you can keep reading too.) I have made a list of stuff that you will need both for the classroom and the dorms.

In this entry I will cover the classroom needs, in the next entry I will cover the dorm/housing needs. Needless to say the next entry will probably be a bit longer.

Bare Basics
This is the absolute minimum you are going to need for your classes. I say with all the emphasis necessary: DON’T BUY THESE THINGS FROM YOUR CAMPUS BOOKSTORE. This is because 9 times out of 10 the bookstore is way more expensive than your local office supply store. The only exception to this are your textbooks which you can buy at the bookstore if you like but if you take a look back at my Buying Textbooks entry then you will see that most likely you can find textbooks for a better price than at the bookstore.

Pens/Pencils/Writing Utensils

I’m hoping that this point most of this stuff is pretty self explanatory, if it isn’t then perhaps now is a good time to ask yourself how you got into college.

Some Extras (In Most Cases)
In most classes these would be considered extra things but it all depends on what major your taking and where your taking it. If you’re some sort of math major at MIT then your more likely to need this stuff then a liberal arts major at your local community college. The best way to find out is to look up your course requirements at your school and ask around to find out what other students are using.

Calculator — It depends on what classes your taking and what your going to be using it for. In general, I always like having at least a basic calculator with me no matter what class I’m taking just in case I need it. But if your taking Advanced Calculus or Engineering or something then your probably going to need one of those TI graphing calculators that can like launch rockets and stuff. Just keep in mind that if your going to be getting one of those advanced calculators you might have to shell out anywhere from 100 – 150 bucks (but on the upside I hear now you can go online and pick out all these funky colors and stuff.)

Tape Recorder — This is in case you have trouble taking the notes as the professor is saying them or your likely to forget something they have said. I think having a tape recorder is a good idea (especially if your in a smaller class) so you can always go home and listen to parts of the lecture you might have missed (or maybe fell asleep during.) Just one bit of advice is that you always should ask the professor if they don’t mind being recorded (most will give you the ok on it) but if they say no you have to respect their right to not be recorded. On that note, I once had a professor that told me she didn’t mind being recorded or having me take notes on my computer but she copyrighted everything that she taught and so if any of her students ever tried to use what she said in a book (without her permission) or against her for some reason she did retain the right to sue them. Needless to say I was a little on edge from that point on. So be sure to ask first if you’re going to record a professor.

Laptop — Some students opt to use a laptop in place of the traditional pen and paper for taking notes. I have used both the pen and paper approach as a well as using a laptop computer. I found that I am able to type faster much faster than I write and I am more organized with my notes if I take them on the computer. Not to mention the fact that my computer is able to make clean-cut colorful charts, graphs and diagrams and I could never make trying to draw freehand. With all of the software out there, having a laptop can be especially helpful for students who have majors in art, education, medicine, music, science and technology. Like a tape recorder you have to ask the professor of the class your taking for their permission to use a computer to take notes during their class. Some professors find that laptops are a distraction during their lectures and prefer students not use them. I have found that most professors don’t mind me using my laptop as long as they don’t see me playing games while they are talking and that I don’t distract the other students. If you do decide to use your laptop be sure to mute the sound, charge the battery and try to sit in the back of the class if you can (it also helps keep the prying eyes of your peers off your screen.) If you want to find out more about how to choose a laptop for school be sure to check for a future entry.

Check back for “Packing the Essentials — Part Deux” in the next entry which will cover what you need to pack for your dorm/housing needs.

Lesson IV: Buying Textbooks

At the time of this entry, most colleges/universities have already started the spring semester of 2008. With the start of any new semester means the joy of buying severely overpriced textbooks that (for the most part) you will never use again once the class is over. Here are three facts about buying textbooks that every student should know:

A. Textbooks are one of the most expensive out of pocket purchases you will have to make every semester.
B. The campus bookstore is likely to be the most expensive place to buy books.
C. If used textbooks are available, buy them! If the professor says you don’t need a book, don’t buy it!

Unless you have money falling out of your pockets and can afford to buy all brand new textbooks straight from of the campus bookstore, then you will probably be looking to find the best deal you can. But there can be a lot more to finding a good price then you might think (just ask a grad. student in the medical field.) Being that were living in the age of technology with the internet at most peoples’ fingertips, taking the time to search can make the difference between spending a fortune on books and getting a really good deal. I’ve come up with a list of some tips on finding the best deal on textbooks both online and offline.

1. Buying books before or after the first class.
The question of whether you should buy your textbooks before or after the first class is an age-old one. You will always have the students who buy their textbooks as soon as the list comes out. They will defend their decision by saying that they are able to get what remains of the used textbooks from the campus bookstore before they run out and that on the first day of class they will not have to worry about not having a book. Then you have your students who will not even step into the bookstore until after the first class. They will defend their decision by saying that they save money because some professors will change which book they want their students to use or other professors will say that students do not need a book at all. Up until this point I always had my textbooks before I came to the first class but I’ve decided to take my chances and wait until the first class before I get some of my books (in desperate hope that some professors will say I don’t need any book at all.) Both choices have their upsides; the only way you can choose which is right for you is a matter of trial and error (all apart of the college experience.)

2. If you have financial aid then use it!
At some colleges the financial aid that you receive (whether it comes from the school or sent to the school on your behalf) can be used to buy your textbooks, unfortunately this usually means that you need to buy the books from the campus bookstore. In situations like this, you should use your financial aid and do your best to find as many used textbooks from the bookstore as you can and keep all of your receipts in case you don’t need the book and want a refund. Financial aid may have deadlines and other stipulations so buying your textbooks as soon as possible is recommended.

3. Buy used books.
Always check your campus bookstore to see if there are any used editions of the books your looking for, but you can also find out if at your school any students are running a book exchange (although many book exchanges businesses that are started don’t end up lasting long) its worth it as a consumer to check it out. You could also try talking to one of the students who took the course your going to be taking last semester and see if one of them is willing to sell their old book to you. Chances are they will be willing to get rid of it and you will be paying them more than the bookstore sell back rate so it’s a win-win situation. Websites like Myspace and Facebook are making the process of book exchanging easier than ever before, just check out your schools page on either website and see if anyone has posted any books for sale. If you cannot find any used books offline in your area then my next suggestion would be to check online.

4. Search online for books.
If you go to Yahoo and type in “college textbooks” or “new and used textbooks” or countless other keywords to search for cheap textbooks you will find literally millions of hits. I have taken the time to sort through some of the links I have seen and been told about by other students. I have selected five of the “major” online new and used textbook sellers and performed a search of ten textbooks for their availability and pricing at each website and here’s what I’ve found.

Amazon — Amazon not only had every book that I searched for but for the most part it had the lowest prices and most used books available. I would give it a 5/5 because of the availability and pricing.

Barns & Noble — Barnes and Noble had most of the books I searched for and the prices were in the middle range (if you are a member you will receive some good savings) but it also had very few used books. I give this a 3/5 because of the limited used books and the midrange prices.

eCampus — eCampus had all of the books I searched for and was second in prices to Amazon but had fewer used books then Amazon. In would give it a 4/5 only because it didn’t have as many used books as Amazon.

PhatCampus — PhatCampus had only a few of the books I searched for but the prices weren’t too bad, however I noticed that the books I searched for were only available in used condition. I would give it a 2/5 because it lacked the books I searched for and were only available used.

Textbooks.com — Textbooks.com had some of the books I searched for and some of the prices were comparable to eCampus and Amazon but was also limited on the number of used books. I give this a 3/5 because it only had some of the books I was searching for and not a lot of used books.

Keep in mind I only searched for ten books and that is by no means a perfect sample but it gives you a little idea of what’s out there. I would still suggest that you do multiple searches at different places in order to find the best deal on the books you need specifically. If you have stories of success or failure with any of these websites or just some textbook buying tips in general feel free to comment.

Lesson III: Choosing Courses

If your at all like me (a procrastinator born and bred) then you wait until the very last minute before you end up doing anything, including picking classes. But fear not, this advice that I’ve put together can help both the prepared student and the lazy last-minute student in the task of choosing courses.

1. Review your course catalog.
First you should be looking at your college’s course catalog for courses you’re interested in and look for what courses you need for your major (this includes your prerequisites and gen. eds.)

2. Speak with your adviser.
The entire purpose of an academic adviser is for them to help you find out what classes you need to take so you can get the education your looking for. Your college pays them so they can be there to help you when you need it; part of your tuition pays for their service. So why not use it? Call or walk into the admissions department and make an appointment to speak with an adviser. Even if you already know exactly what courses you need to take and what your doing for the rest of the year, it never hurts to have a talk with an adviser about your plans (they might have some helpful tips or information about your major that you haven’t heard about yet.) Not to mention the fact that the advisers often have access to materials and contacts that you might not.

3. When your choosing classes figure out why your taking them.
It seems like a simple enough concept but some students don’t take the time to think about it. If you have to take a class for your major then there isn’t much to think about (it’s just something your going to have to do) but if your considering taking a class just because your interested in the subject, try to find out if you can have it be as an elective credit for your major. If the course can’t be counted as any sort of elective credit, try asking yourself if taking the class is worth the time, money and effort it will require (which is not to say that taking a class just for fun isn’t perfectly fine.)

4. Ask around about the course and professor.
Talk to your friends and ask around campus to find out what other students thought of a class and the professor who taught it. Was it so boring that the students were falling asleep during the lecture? Did they find the professor unapproachable for help? Its questions like that which are good to find out ahead of time. Keep in mind what you will be hearing are opinions and not necessarily facts so its just a small thing to take into consideration. Having trouble finding people who have taken a certain class or had a certain professor? Websites like Myspace and Rate My Professors feature ratings and reviews on professors so its easy for students to talk to each other about their experiences on a larger scale.

5. Do some searching.
Most college websites will provide links to or a directory of faculty websites. If you search through the directory of faculty and find the professors website who will be teaching the course you want to take, you may find that they have posted a syllabus or more detailed description of the class. You may find out that the class isn’t exactly what you bargained for (before it’s too late.)

6. Even if a class is full, don’t give up!
This is especially for the procrastinators out there who wait until the last minute to sign up for a class only to realize that every section is full. But remember there is still a glimmer of hope. At many colleges the policy of course overrides are allowed. An override is if a professor is willing to sign a form that allows an extra student into the class when the class is full then the college will allow you to take the class and get credit for it. Keep in mind though that not all professors are more willing to sign an override slip for one reason or another (and excessive begging is not a good idea.) However, some professors are more willing to sign an override if some of the other students don’t show up on the first day (there’s usually at least a few of those people.) The best plan is to speak to the professor (or the department head) ahead of time and they might sign the override before class starts or they may ask you to show up to class the first day and they will do the best they can to squeeze you in. But as I have said this may work but don’t expect miracles, some professors make a policy of not writing overrides and some courses simply don’t have enough room or materials for more students then originally planned.

Lesson II: Managing Your Finances

Unless your an trust fund baby with a few of Mommy and Daddy’s credit cards on hand then your likely to have to watch your finances while in college and for the rest of your adult life. Otherwise you will end up on permanent diet of ramen noodles and using empty milk crates as major furniture pieces (no offense to anyone who has a fondness for ramen and milk crates.) So while your still in school and don’t have too many major expenses (I know we have expenses but its only gonna get worse folks.) A while back I found an article on Get Rich Slowly by J.D Roth that talks about money tips for college students, most of it is common sense but its things that you really should be thinking about and doing. I will highlight some of the really important tips with a few of my own suggestions and provide a link back to the original article.

In the original article J.D breaks down the tips into the categories of Money Management, Organizational and Planning, Campus Life, Personal Life, Decision Making and Money Making so that’s how I will discuss them.

Money Management

“Don’t get a credit card unless you need one”, “Save and then splurge”, “Pay your bills on time”

College is the start of our adult lives, its when we start to have to pay “real” bills and start to have “real” expenses. Personally, I’m using this time to build a solid credit history. I try to keep my expenses to a minimum and pay my bills on time. I have two credit cards and although I don’t “need” them I do use them often but only as much as I can pay off at one time. The author made a statement that he didn’t think college students should have credit cards. I personally believe that if you can use a credit card responsibly, by only making purchases that you can pay off in full at the end of the billing cycle then you are probably ready for a credit card. If you don’t think you are ready to handle having a credit card yet or can’t afford to have one yet then don’t tempt yourself by getting one. You have to realize that you can’t spend more then you make and you have to keep on top of your payments or you will snowball into debt and your credit history will be shot to hell. If you do get a credit card (whether its because you need it or you want to establish a good credit history) make sure you shop around for the best plan, start off with a low credit limit and keep track of all the purchases you make with the card. I found that using a separate checkbook ledger just to keep track of your credit card purchases and payments works really well (if your a member of your local bank they will usually give them away for free!)

Organizational and Planning

“Track your spending”, “Make your budget”

These are really good tips in general for anyone who is trying to manage their finances. If you can get yourself into the good habits of keeping track of what you spend and making a budget early on then it can last you a life time. Making a budget can be as simple as listing your total monthly income and your total monthly expenses (this includes expected expenses as well as variable expenses.)

Campus Life

“Buy used textbooks”, “Live without a car”, “Take advantage of campus activities”

Keeping yourself busy academically and socially will prevent you from making purchases out of boredom rather than necessity. Before you buy you textbooks from the campus bookstore (which can be ridiculously expensive) be sure to look at off campus bookstores and online stores, although you will find most books cheaper online be sure to watch out for shipping and handling (the fees can be killer.) More information on buying textbooks will be covered in a later lesson. The only tip that I have an issue with is “Live without a car.” If you live on campus and can find a on campus job then living without a car is possible. But if you have a job off campus, have other commitments off campus or are a commuter then living without a car isn’t possible. I am a commuter to my campus so living without a car isn’t possible but I do use the public bus lines to go to school often which saves money on gas and less wear and tear on my car. Basically, if you can live without a car then by all means its a good idea, but if you can’t then look for other ways to save on traveling expenses such as carpooling or public transportation.

Personal Life

“Get involved”, “Eat healthy”, “Limit vices”, “Have fun”

Everyone knows that being a college student is much more then just going to school. Its about the college experience, a new school in a new place with new friends and new experiences. Getting involved on campus is a great way to meet people and can be a lot of fun. To stay on top of your game academically, try to limit the vices, stay healthy and go easy on the booze and drugs.

Decision Making

“Make smart choices”, “When buying something, ask yourself “Do I need this?”

This stuff really is common sense and stuff you should be doing already. But then again… We all know that college is usually filled with a lot of dumb choices and impulse spending. Just try to make most of your choices smart ones and try to think about how much you need something before you buy it.

Making Money

“Spend less than you earn”, “Be an outstanding employee”, “Learn to invest”

In the original article the author mentioned about having a part-time job. In my opinion I think that college students should have some form of a part time job while in school (whether its on campus, off campus or an internship.) I think that it helps balance out all the time in class, it gives you some money to work with and chances are you might be able to find one that has to do with your major. The only thing I would have added to the list was that while investing is important you should also be putting a small portion of your weekly earnings into some form of an interest-earning savings account that you don’t touch. This is in case of an emergency or to save up for a future large purchase (such as rent for an apartment or a car etc.)

To read the original article check out, 27 Money Tips for College Students

Lesson II: The “Freshman Fifteen”

If you’ve ever been to a college or have even read about going to college then you have probably heard of the famed “freshman fifteen” a college myth that has existed since your parents were in college (although in the past it has been known as the “freshman five” or “freshman ten”.) Sure, there are articles and even books that talk about the “freshman fifteen”, but if your looking for just some basic information and tips on how to avoid it then here’s my rundown.

The “freshman fifteen” is the theory that while in your first year of college students will gain fifteen pounds because of the increased calorie intake and decreased exercise levels. Now while the “freshman fifteen” is (for the most part) a myth it does contain some truth.

MYTH: Everybody gains weight their first year, it’s just a part of the “college experience”.
FACT: It’s true that many college students will gain some weight during their first year in college (although studies have differed on the exact average, the range seems to be from 4 – 8 lbs.) That is not the case for everyone. In fact, there have been stories of some people who have used the freedom and opportunities of college to lose some extra pounds. With the right diet and exercise you can maintain your current weight (and even lose some of those extra pounds you were hoping to get rid of.)

MYTH: Only lazy, couch potatoes who don’t play sports will gain weight during school.
FACT: It’s possible for any student to gain weight while in college. Many students who were very athletic in high school but could not continue to be in college will find their favorite pair of “sexy jeans” fitting a little too tight and begin testing the limits of a relaxed waist band and this may only be because of the decreased activity levels.

MYTH: You can lose up to fifty pounds on the “beer and pizza” diet!
FACT: Actually that’s not a myth, I have pictures as proof if you want to see…. Hopefully, you can tell I was just kidding but don’t be surprised if you hear tons of fad diets that involve stages of complex math and eating just vegetable broth and weak tea.

So now that you have an idea of what the “freshman fifteen” is and isn’t, the question is “How do I prevent it?”

1. Make a plan and allow yourself to fail.
The best offense is a good defense. If you go to school with a plan of how you want to eat and keep active then you are more likely to stick with it. When you think about your plan make sure to include time for breakfast, lunch, dinner and plenty of sleep (while you sleep you create a hormone called leptin which regulates fullness.) If you make your plan so rigid and unforgiving that you don’t allow yourself some room to fail once in a while then you will ultimately give up on it. Allow yourself to be rewarded for your hard work when you stick to your plan and try not to be too hard on yourself if you stumble and fall once in a while. With the stress of a new environment and a tight schedule even the best of plans are bound to be tested.

2. If you have a meal plan then use it!
If your living at school with room and board then that means you have some form of a meal plan with the college’s cafeteria. Why go out and spend money you probably can’t afford to lose on fatty, unhealthy fast food when you have meals included in your room and board? Now I’m not gonna lie, there’s plenty of stuff in that cafeteria that’s not anywhere close to healthy (burger and fries anyone?) but there’s always at least a few healthy choices (usually a salad bar and sandwich/wrap making section.) Just try to load up on the fresh fruits and veggies, drink plenty of water and remember the magic words “portion control”.

3. Go easy on the booze and drugs.
While it’s not wise, a lot of people feel that college is the time to drink and do drugs while their bodies are still young enough to handle it. Just keep in mind that besides packing on the extra pounds, excessive drinking and drug use will wreak havoc on your vital organs and most likely create some huge academic problems.

4. Get Active!
One of the main causes for the “freshman fifteen” syndrome is because when a lot of students start college they put exercise and fitness on the back burner and weight gain follows. Exercise is a great way to keep your spirits high, clear your mind and helps to manage stress. One problem that students have is finding a sport or activity that is right for them. But fear not, one way or another there is a way for every student to be active whiling juggling a busy academic and social schedule.

For those who love sports and group activities — Every college has some sort of athletic department and so there will be sports activities available. With all the sports that are played today you are likely to find a sport and a team for you. Many colleges will offer teams in different divisions for students with different athletic skill levels (so for those of us who aren’t going into the big leagues can still have fun too.)

For those who love to workout alone or aren’t into sports — For every institution of higher learning that has an athletic department will also have a gym. Most will have at least your basics: free weights, a stretching room (maybe for yoga or pilates) and a plethora of machines just waiting for students and faculty to use them. Most schools will allows free (or largely discounted) memberships for their students, faculty and even family members of the faculty. The plus about going to the gym at your school is that it is likely to have more “student friendly” hours which allow you to come and go as you please and plenty of help/tips from the staff or fellow students.

For those who hate to play sports, go to the gym or workout in general — You might the type of person who doesn’t feel like setting out time every day/week for planned exercise. Or you could have an irrational fear of the gym and hate the idea of team sports. Probably some deep seeded trauma from your childhood? But who am I to judge. The best suggestions I could give is for you is to walk, run, bike or skate (if allowed) to anywhere you want to get around campus. With all the hiking back and forth from class to class, the dorms or anywhere else you need to go, burning calories shouldn’t be a problem.

5. Don’t skip meals or try any other crazy diet ideas.
Everyone knows that being in college means your going to have a busy schedule with plenty of late night studying (or other activities) so some people will forget to eat breakfast or skip a meal. Just don’t do it. It’s a fact that skipping meals (especially breakfast) causes your metabolism to slow down and stops you from using the nutrients from your food effectively. College is also not a time to try crazy dieting ideas (skipping meals, taking pills, binging and purging, not eating at all etc.) If your having serious problems maintaining a healthy weight or have a negative self-image you should first consult a medical professional before trying any kind of change of diet or exercise. For some people the pressure of the college environment seems to be the perfect catalyst to develop certain psychological and medical conditions that can affect more then just your weight.

6. And finally… Try to prepare for the unexpected.
The joy of being in college is in all of those really late nights you will have to pull to finish term papers, the really early classes that are always on the opposite side of the campus and the countless number of hours you will be stuck in the library doing research. Chances are that eating right will probably be the last thing on your mind in situations like that. So its best thing to do is to be prepared for the unexpected by having a small but health snack and bottle of water with you when your on the go and be sure to take time out to eat.

Keep in mind that this information isn’t meant to replace the instructions of your primary care provider or dietitian but only some common sense tips to try to help you stay healthy. If your looking for more advanced information on nutrition and how to eat sensibly I would suggest you start your search by reading some reviews for nutrition books from Amazon and looking at your local/campus library.