Saturday, January 20, 2007

Moving On...

I have decided to move this blog to a different host. I really like Blogger and appreciate it for hosting College for Dummies but I think the service Wordpress will better suit my needs now, so the new link is HERE. Thanks everyone!


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Lesson VI: Packing the Essentials: Part Uno

For many of us it’s almost that time again to go back to school and so we begin packing our necessary supplies. 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 (most of) your classes. I say with all the emphasis necessary: DO NOT BUY THESE THINGS FROM YOUR CAMPUS BOOKSTORE. This is because 9 times out of 10 the bookstore is much more expensive than your local office supply store. The only exception to this is the textbook 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 oh lets say… a nursing major at CCRI. But the best way to find out is to look up your course requirements at your school and ask around what other students are using.

Calculator -- As I mentioned 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 incase 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 incase 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 do say no you have to respect their right to not be recorded because what they are teaching you (especially the words they use to describe the lesson) they do have the rights to. 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 (not only because of the tapping of keyboard keys) and prefer students not use them. For the most part I have found that my 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.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Lesson V: Buying Textbooks

At the time of this entry, most colleges/universities will be starting the spring semester of 2007 in a few weeks. With the start of any new semester means the joy of buying severely overpriced textbooks. Even students who are starting their first semester will know these two basic facts about buying textbooks:

A. Textbooks are likely be one of the most expensive purchases you will have to make every semester.
B. If you can, be sure to buy used textbooks.

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 students’ fingertips, taking the time to search can make the difference between spending a small fortune on books and… well not spending a fortune on books. 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 my textbooks (in desperate hope that some professors will say I don’t need any textbook 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 financial aid that you receive (whether it comes from the school or sent to the school on your behalf) your school may tell you that in order to receive any form of compensation for your textbook expenses you must purchase your textbooks from the campus bookstore. In situations like that, you should use your financial aid and do your best to find as many used textbooks from the campus bookstore as you can. Financial aid may have deadlines and other stipulations so buying your textbooks as soon as possible is usually 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 sellback rate so it's a win-win situation. 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 huge 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 only noticed that the books I searched for were in used condition. I would give it a 2/5 because it lacked the books I searched for and were only available used. -- 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 textbooks.

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 specific books your looking for.

Best of luck with your textbook hunting! Please leave a comment if any of my tips have helped you or if you have any other new/used textbook seller websites that you have found any success with.