CultureVolunteerism

I didn’t know the meaning of life until I gave myself over to a cause that was so much bigger than me. I can tell you to find the nearest food bank or Red Cross or any nearby organization that is looking for volunteers. I can tell you to give up your time and do service. But none of what I tell you to do will mean anything unless I also tell you the value of being a part of something that isn’t about you.

This past weekend, I attended my third THON. I know that there are other universities with their own philanthropic efforts but at Penn State, we have something called THON (otherwise known as the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon). It’s a yearlong effort to raise money to help find a cure for pediatric cancer. Every year, there is an actual dance marathon that happens one weekend in February. More than 700 people stand for 46 hours while spectators look on, standing and dancing with them. It’s an experience that I can’t effectively put into words. Its equal parts wonderful and fun, and at other times it is sad and painful. But every hour you stand there, dancing and singing along to the music, you are reminded why you are there.

Anyone can attend THON. Anyone can stand, whether it’s for six or twenty or forty hours. The effort you put into standing means so much more when you stand out in the cold and the rain and (sometimes the snow) with your cans, asking for donations. It means so much more when you help fundraise and you spread the word about the cause to your family and friends. Again, THON is something that I have been involved with for three years. I didn’t know much about it my freshman year. I didn’t even think it would impact me as much as it does now.

I went to my first THON without knowing what it truly means to do an act of service. Sure, I had fundraised and done many other things to help raise money in the past, but I didn’t know what it really meant. I didn’t know the extent of how important service is to Seizing My Youth until I actually stood for what I believed in.

I am telling you about my experiences with THON to let you know that there is so much more to volunteering than ‘doing a good deed.’ Volunteering is about helping people. It’s about seeing smiles on people’s faces and making a difference in any way that you can. Many people might disagree with this but I believe that we all have a duty to each other. We separate each other and get so caught up in politics, that we forget that we are all humans and that we all have two hands. Hands can be used for many things but they can always be used to help.

Even if it’s something as ‘tiny’ as helping your elderly neighbors around the house or picking up trash around your community, you can make a difference. If one domino can cause all of the other ones to fall, then you can be the spark that ignites the fire of change. When people see that you care, they are more likely to start caring too.

Movements need actions in order to get started. Don’t ever underestimate just how inspiring your existence is. Don’t underestimate your ability to be a catalyst for change. We are energy and hope and dreams all wrapped up into one body. And we don’t need to be anything more than that to make a difference.

It doesn’t take a special kind of person to volunteer. We are all capable of paying it forward and lending a helping hand in any way that we can. You just have to find the cause you believe in; the one you want to fight for. I know that there will be people who will read this and not think twice about volunteering. And that’s completely fine. I shared my experience simply because I believe that service has given me something. Volunteering doesn’t give you any awards of monetary value, but it does give you strength. It gives you hope. It empowers and inspires you and it puts a smile on your face even when you don’t really feel like you have anything to smile for.

Volunteering teaches you so much about yourself. It taught me many things about myself that I didn’t even know. I’ll share one of those lessons learned with you right now: I am tiny. Compared to the rest of the world and life itself, I am miniscule. Not many people know I exist or even know my name. And the change I hope to make? I might not even get to see it even though I wish for it every day. But you want to know something? The beauty of youth is that we don’t let our smallness keep us from knowing that we are and that we can be something bigger than ourselves.

Because at the end of the day, we are what we do. THON involves a lot of people but it is a reflection of me. What I believe in and what I fight for. Find that something for you. It might take some time or it might not, but once you find the thing you want to commit your time and service to, I promise you that it’ll make your life more beautiful than it already is.

Image: Pexels

Culture

Maybe you didn’t think of your college as haunted when you chose it, but as Halloween nears, let’s take a look at the 10 most haunted colleges in the U.S. Hopefully yours does not make the list, but may the spooks be ever in your favor!

1. Ohio University

According to endless articles found on Google, Ohio University kills the charts. A piece of the campus is a former lunatic asylum where extremely brutal and primitive procedures were once performed. Yikes! More specifically, Wilson Hall, a dorm with its creepy picturesque appearance, is the exact place you want to avoid. Room 428 is locked shut due to repeated ghosts and spirits appearing. Other ghosts have been reported to roam the halls of other dorms within the campus.

2. Fordham University

Ironic that Fordham makes number two on the list, as it is a Jesuit University. Kating Hall and Finlay Hall were both constructed over a morgue. Finlay residents have reported being awakened by cold ghost hands choking grasping their throats. That’s enough to get anyone’s goosebumps up. More apparitions include one in Queen’s Court dormitory where a ghost priest allegedly told a Resident Assistant (R.A.) about an exorcism he performed to rid the hall of spirits. And a little fun fact: a few scenes from The Exorcist were actually filmed on the school campus. In another freshman dorm, there is an apparent infamous ghost who haunts the showers – Moaning Myrtle much?

3. Gettysburg College

The story that haunts Gettysburg College is directly related to The Battle of Gettysburg, one of the milestones in our history. Both Confederate and Union troops stayed at Pennsylvania Hall as it was a hospital and signal post. The basement is said to be haunted by blood bathed doctors while multiple residents have all reported to spot ghosts throughout the rest of the dorm. Ready to change your views on cute Smurf-resemblances? There is an apparent “Blue Boy” in Stevens Hall who is a young orphan that has a blue (frozen-like) face.

4. Wells College

Imagine having an entire dorm floor being used as an infirmary for your school? Well, that is precisely what happened. As a permeating flu epidemic infested the area, an entire dormitory floor had to be evacuated to be used as an infirmary. Today, residents state that they have witnessed ghost nurses roam the halls. In Morgan Hall, an ardent security guard strolls the dorms while in Zarbriskie Hall and Glen Park Mansion, ghosts are said to aggressively haunt the halls with palpable weapons. My advice: sleep with both eyes wide open.

5. Pennsylvania State University

Penn-Staters, or, one of every 117 Americans, your lovely campus is haunted. Betsy Aardsma, the most famous ghost on campus resides in the basement stacks as she was stabbed to death there in 1969. Students have described seeing red eyes, hearing screams, and even being gripped by a presence in the library. I would call this a valid excuse to avoid the library. Botany Building is the place where green-thumb phantoms get malicious if the plants aren’t cared for. In Brumaugh Hall, lives an ax murderer ghost – watch out, friends.

6. Kenyon College

A picturesque gothic building is just what it looks like: eerie. In 1949, nine students died in a fire causing there to be nine vexed ghosts in the dormitory halls. There are apparent unexplained toilet flushes and light flickers with screams to make the environment that much cozier. Bolton Dance Studio was once a swimming pool and in turn, students have reported sightings of mysterious wet footprints and showers turning on. In Caples Hall, there is said to be a woman who badgers residents by banging furniture against doors. Now that’s something to report to R.A’s!

7. East Tennessee State University

“The most notable ghost on campus?” Sidney Gilbreath, the first president of the university. She is said to flickers lights and slams doors and windows in Gilbreath Hall. Call her a theatre phantom since she likes to be present in rehearsals in the building’s theatre. Consider that, theatre majors! Other infamous presences include Marble Boy and Sink Girl, who roam the Clement Hall dorms. In Yoakley Hall, a long-gone girl who committed suicide jumping, haunts the halls with her shadowy silhouette.

8. Huntingdon College

In the U.S’s country, Alabama’s Huntingdon College houses the notorious Red Lady who committed suicide in Pratt Hall. She is the epitome of the object of a scary ghost book as she glows the hall with an evil red light… medieval-supernatural-scary, if you ask me. The Ghost of the Green is also the soul of a suicide victim and he tugs at clothes and is any girl’s ultimate nightmare as he tousles perfectly done hair. The last ghost is Frank the Library Ghost who roams the stacks in a towel. Sounds like a bizarre ghost story to add to the books!

9. New York University

Glamorous, respected, and haunted. Preoccupied with busy New York students, NYU also hosts homage to the spirits of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire victims. The building that housed the factory is now NYU’s Brown Building of Science. The 9th floor, especially, is said to be the spookiest as it is heaving with roaming spirits. Lastly, Brittany Residence Hall is also where the soul of a young girl who fell down an elevator chute resides.

10. University of Notre Dame

George Gipp has elevated Notre Dame onto this list. The Gipper was locked out of his dorm after a night of late night party endeavors. As a result, he passed out on the steps of Washington Hall and consequently caught pneumonia and died due to the frigid Midwest night. Ominous echoes stretch down the Washington Hall not by the Gipper, but by an accidental death of a construction worker or music student who had died. Although these are not the only ghosts on campus, they’re enough to keep you stray from Washington Hall this Halloween.

Hopefully this Halloween you won’t come across any of these campuses, but if you happen to, stray away from the sinister halls and libraries aforementioned, as if unnerving Halloween stories weren’t enough. Happy Halloween!

Image: marada

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

Here at Carpe Juvenis we live and breath Seizing Your Youth, and for that reason our community is filled with people who both chase their dreams and pursue other passions. Co-founder Catherine is currently a senior at the George Washington University where she focuses on Women’s Studies and Political Science. Last Spring she had the opportunity to take a Graduate class called “Gender & Violence” from Professor Chai Shenoy. An Attorney Advisor for Peace Corps, the Co-founder of Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS) in Washington, D.C., and an adjunct professor at GWU and WCL (WHEW!) this is one incredibly driven woman. As a creative activist, Professor Shenoy has worked for over ten years on national and local anti-violence initiatives through multiple platforms. She has represented survivors of gender-based violence and fought for their rights through policy creation and training of professionals and specialists in every field. As a professor she instills a sense of confidence in her students that they, too, can make a positive impact on their communities and help to end gender-based violence. It is a privilege to introduce to you Chai Shenoy.

Name: Chai Shenoy
Education: JD, American University, Washington School of Law; BA, UCLA
Follow: Twitter | LinkedIn | Collective Action for Safe Spaces

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define “Seizing Your Youth”?

Chai Shenoy: I think that there are different definitions. For a lot of us, seizing your youth is about taking what is available to you and making use of all the tools that you’ve been brought up with, and that the community has given you. Then it’s about really going beyond your potential – seeing how you can go and actually address some of the issues that are coming up in the community. I think that young people are who can solve many of these issues that we are facing today. Without them we won’t be able to solve so many things that we hear about like dating violence, sexual assault, issues around power and privilege, issues around environmental concerns that are now causing so many wars and famines. I think that for me seizing your youth really means taking all of those resources and diving into what you’re here for.

CJ: What initially sparked your interest around women’s rights and activist work?

CS: I grew up in a family where my mother had a major role in my life and became my role model. She came from a culture where women aren’t necessarily given equal footing as men, and when she immigrated to the United States she continued with her passions, which are the sciences. She told me that you really have to fight for what you think is right in this world.

CJ: When and where did you discover your passion?

CS: It wasn’t until college that I figured out what I love doing. There are a lot of different things in this world happening to equalize women and children, but on my college campus I wasn’t really seeing that. There was so much unspoken violence; people weren’t talking about dating violence and sexual assault. Soon I became really vested in that work and in working with youth. While I considered myself at that time to also be a young person, I knew that I wanted to continue working with the population that tends to have the best ideas but who also have the worst advocates. You could definitely see that when it came to gender-based violence on campuses, and it was brushed off as an issue that was just part of youth culture and was accepted as the truth. Let’s say, for the sake of those critics, that gender-based violence is the truth – do we really want that to be part of our culture? That critical thinking came from how I was raised. I was told that I should be questioning right and wrong, and to have a strong moral ethic. Equality is important and we need to have it.

CJ: As the co-founder of Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS), how did you and your team transform CASS from a blog to a dynamic organization?

CS: To be quite frank, it happened very organically. It was really the community that utilized social media in a way that allowed voices and experiences to be heard. Sharing an experience of public sexual harassment by a stranger can happen once you’re at home, or in a safe environment. So our community in D.C. asked for us to start to do trainings on this, and it morphed into a lot of offline activism with an online presence, because that’s where community is.

CJ: You attended the Washington School of Law. In retrospect would you have made the same commitment now? What would you have done differently?

CS: Yes, absolutely. I would have been wiser about financial aid, looking for scholarships, and being more prepared about the fiscal responsibility that comes with any higher education. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I started to acknowledge that I have a fear of money and then needed to do something about it. I got a financial adviser and started to ask questions like “What are my fiscal goals in life?” That’s really the only thing I would be wiser about now – the fiscal impact. But with that said, law school for me opened up a variety of things. First it opened up my mind to critical thinking in a very focused way. I was critical thinking about applying legal structure to where I wanted the law to go, or making policy recommendations for youth rights, gender-based violence issues for teens, and education. All of those things were and are very important to me. Law school also opened up my eyes to the variety of jobs for people who have the skills of critical thinking. I would never replace going to law school. I think it was a magnificent choice, especially coming to the nation’s capital. It’s a beautiful place to be for people who are willing to push themselves and be challenged.

CJ: As an adjunct professor at the George Washington University and WCL, what do you hope your students take away from learning about gender-based violence?

CS: That they can be change makers. That you yourself can help stop the culture of violence. You don’t have to dedicate your entire life to it by becoming a lawyer or an advocate or a social worker, you – just as an average person – can stop somebody or question someone when they’re making a joke that is sexist or has an undertone of gender violence. Or when you raise your own family consider talking about the dynamic of how to raise a male, female, or transgendered child. How do you make sure that we continue to have conversations about ending gender-based violence? I hope that my students can walk away feeling empowered that they can do something. You yourself can make a difference.

CJ: Could you please tell me a bit more about your work with the Peace Corps?

CS: I should give the disclaimer that anything I talk about related to Peace Corps is from my own personal capacity and I’m not a Peace Corps representative. What attracts me about working at Peace Corps is the fact that it’s a federal agency organization that has a social justice mission to help people understand the United State’s culture, and for us to understand other countries’ cultures as well. One of the things I love about it – and this is going to sound odd – is that gender-based violence happens everywhere. It’s not unique to one region of this world. Sadly it’s a common thread amongst all of our cultures, and being at Peace Corps to work on sexual assault and gender-based violence issues has been such a privilege and an honor. Seeing how a federal agency can help a victim of sexual assault, and empower her or him to seek out services and make sure that they complete their goal of being a Peace Corps volunteer – that’s really our mission. We’ve spoken about gender-based violence as being an impediment, for example, to finishing college, it’s a reason why people leave their jobs, or potentially become isolated from their families. We don’t want the sexual assault or gender-based violence incident to be why anyone walks away from Peace Corps with. We don’t want that to be the defining moment, so it’s an honor to work on policies that hope create an empowering atmosphere for a victim of gender-based violence.

CS 2

CJ: How do you maintain – or seek to maintain – a work-life balance?

CS: It’s an everyday struggle, but I also think that there’s a false narrative we build when talking about work-life balance. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has said that they’ve achieved that balance, male or female, with or without children. I think what you can do is acknowledge your limitations. Something that I’m learning about myself is that you don’t have to do everything all at once. You’ll be able to do everything that you want to do, it just won’t happen all at once. I think that in this fast passed social media world we see people doing things that we want to be doing, and we judge ourselves. I’m coming to realize that it’s us breeding our own notion of thinking we need to be doing things that we don’t need to be. You’re all right as long as you can live, and have a life, and be living out your passion or passions. So I don’t really think there is such a thing as work-life balance.

CJ: Do you think that the career advice to “Follow your passion” is good or bad?

CS: It’s very dependent on the person and what they need to be doing in his or her life. For someone who can follow his or her passion and have a day job that helps cultivate that passion, that’s great. But at the same time not everyone has the privilege to follow that passion and get paid or be reimbursed for it. But I think you have to do something that will make you feel vested in yourself. When you vest in yourself you vest in the community. That’s where so much local change and the ripple effects of change happen.

CJ: What advice would you give your 22-year-old self?

CS: I think I would say have faith in yourself more than anyone else in this world. I think we always question ourselves, especially in our twenties. And all of it is part of the normal developmental process, but you’re asking yourself a lot of deep questions. What am I doing with my life? Why am I here? How do I get to where I want to go? Those are all really deep and meaningful questions. Get to know yourself. You are your own best advocate.

CollegeCultureEducationSkills

Here are five guidelines I’ve learned while sharing a suite in college. Whether you’re in a suite with multiple people or just have one roommate, these tips will come in handy!

1. Set Rules

The first and probably most important thing to do with the people you’re living with, whether that’s a single roommate or suite mates, is to set rules and boundaries. Put things out in the open so that arguments are less likely to get out of control later down the line. For example:

  • Whether you prefer morning or night showers.
  • When it’s okay to have visitors and how much time in advanced warning to give each other.
  • If and how food and personal items should be shared.
  • Whether outdoor shoes are allowed to be worn in the bathroom.

2. Take Time to Spend Time

Whether you’re best friends with your suite mates or not, it’s important to take the time to not be strangers, and to continue to get to know each other. Whether that entails going out, ordering takeout and eating together, or watching a Netflix marathon is up to you guys. Maintaining a good relationship with your suite mates and creating a comfortable environment to share feelings is a key to making living in the same space so much easier and enjoyable!

3. Clean Up After Yourself

Make sure you don’t leave a trail or crumbs in the common room or scatter your hygiene products all over the bathroom counter. Being respectful of your suite mates’ space sets a precedent for them to do the same for you.

4. Group Chat

Create a group chat on your phone or on Facebook. This open line of communication saves you all time, and makes living with so many people so much less of a hassle! Sharing simple plans through text (like when you’ll be taking a shower or going to get food at the dining hall) will allow you to all be aware of what you’re up to and prevent conflicts.

5. Always Ask

Whether that’s asking if it’s okay to steal the bathroom for a half hour to take a shower or if it’s okay to have a friend stay the night, it’s always a smart – and considerate –  idea to check if it’s okay with your suite mates. The more you make an effort to respect their privacy they’ll respect yours, and you can avoid miscommunications by making sure to get the thumbs up from your suite mates. When in doubt, ask.

Overall, living in a suite is a lot of fun whether it’s a suite of four people or eight. As long as you’re respectful of each other, having a suite can be a real advantage and a great opportunity to form a close group of friends that are likely to last a lifetime.

Image: Flickr

CollegeEducationHigh SchoolLearn

Everyone has that one teacher or professor that they just can’t stand – the one who seems to glare at you whenever you walk through the door, or maybe they don’t look at you at all and ignore you when you raise your hand. Everyone has one of those, but then there are the opposite kinds of teachers.

When you meet a teacher who isn’t a bore, a bully, or bothersome, you should get to know them. Maybe you already have a good friendship with that teacher, or maybe you’re on neutral terms but you’d like to get to know them better. It’s not sucking up or becoming the teacher’s pet. A genuine, solid, friendly relationship is a really reliable and comforting thing, and there are a few reasons why.

Mentorship.

When you become friends with a teacher, you’re more likely to get help from them for your assignments or projects. You need an advisor teacher? There you go. You’re struggling with a project and you’d like some tutor time during a lunch break or after school? Most likely, they’ll be willing to help. A lot of people don’t consider asking their teachers for help, but it shows your commitment to the class, and in return they will see your efforts.

*Keep in mind: when you apply for college, you need those teacher recommendations…

Advice.

Teachers have gone through high school and college. They’ve experienced the turmoils of teenage angst, the sense of confusion (“What am I going to do with my life?”), and everything in between. Most likely, they have gone through or know someone who has gone through what you are experiencing, and you can ask them for some life advice. You might get some interesting stories from them.

Connections.

You never know who your teachers know, especially college professors. When you’re looking for an internship or a job, even a side job such as being an assistant or babysitting, your teacher might know someone or somewhere that needs someone like you. Not only can your teachers recommend you, they can directly get you in touch with people at your future internship or job. Sometimes I feel icky asking for things like that, but I get offers without asking too, and that’s a great feeling. It means that the teacher/professor really thinks you can do it. Part of it is because they’ve gotten to know you so well.

Friendship.

Well, this one is a given. After graduation, you’re going to go to college or go work and you’re going to find yourself wondering how so-and-­so is doing. Once you’ve reached that comfort level with a teacher or professor, you can actually go get coffee or dinner with them. Once a year, I would meet up with an art teacher from high school to see how she is doing. Over the span of years since I’ve met her, she’s gotten married and had a son. Just as you would feel happy for a bestie who’s gotten married, there’s a soft spot inside for a teacher who was good to you, too.

Being friends with a teacher is an amazing thing. They’re helpful and reliable, and there is so much to be gained from a solid friendship. At the very least, it beats having to ask that grouchy math professor from junior year for a recommendation. Do your best to appreciate what your teachers are doing for you. If they aren’t so great, well, you can get through it. If they’re amazing, here’s your chance to get to know someone really interesting. Who knows, maybe they can help you out one day over a cup of tea!

Image: Bunches and Bits

Education

Deciding what college to attend can seem nearly impossible when there are so many options out there. Of course factors like what major you want come into play, but what if you’re not sure what that is yet? Here are some things to consider to make the process of choosing the best school for you a little easier.

1. Distance

A lot of us think we want to be as far away from home as possible when going to school, but make sure you seriously consider this. Being close to home may mean being close to family, but it also means being close to friends. Decide how far you want to be from the people you’ll miss. Also, consider if you plan on staying on campus or commuting, as this definitely plays a huge role in the schools you can choose from.

2. Cost

Unfortunately, college is ridiculously expensive. Check out the tuition and room and board costs for schools that you’re considering! Make sure to talk to your parents to see if they can help you with school financially. That conversation will help you figure out the amount you’re able and willing to spend on college.

3. Size

Personally, I find the idea of lecture halls pretty intimidating, so when I was looking for a school I knew I didn’t want a huge campus. Consider whether you’d rather have small classes and individual attention from teachers, or if you feel you would do better in a larger class like a lecture hall! It’s all personal preference and up to your learning style.

4. Location

Where the school is located is very important. Is it in the city, country, or a suburban area? Whatever you prefer, be sure to check out the area outside of your school. It’s always nice to be in a place where there are things to do, and especially where it’s safe when you’re off campus.

5. Extracurricular Activities

Check out the sports and clubs that campuses offer. If you’re interested in Greek Life, make sure they have chapters and houses. Also research about other activities like the school newspaper or a lacrosse team. You never know what you’ll feel like doing!

When you narrow down your options, make sure the check out the school for yourself. One of the most important things is making sure you feel at home when you actually step foot on campus.

Happy college hunting!

Image: Stephan Dann, Flickr

Education

People will tell you that your high school years make up the best four years of your life. And then when you’re headed off to college, they say your college years are the best four years of your life. So, I’m here to tell you that high school and college equate to the best eight years ever. However, in order to reach the final majestic years, it’s crucial that you conquer the (sometimes) brutal application process; and since you’ve most likely already taken the SAT’s/ACT’s, your next step involves actually considering where you want attend. I know, you’re either the person who knows exactly where they want to go or you’re like me, a baffled wanderer that spent so much time focusing on perfecting his or her profile that once ambushed with the time to apply, it seemed to come out of nowhere.

So, seniors, here are a few tips to help you crawl out of that hole and pinpoint just where to begin.

1. What’s your major? Or, what field are you leaning toward?

Scary question – I’m aware – but choosing can actually be quite simple. Make a list of the things you do during your free time and your favorite subjects in school. Do you live that book worm life? Do you keep up with Psychology Today or The Economist? Do you constantly re-decorate your room or photograph everything with the potential to be in National Geographic? Are you an avid blogger? How about a vlogger? Do you happen to obsess over fluctuating stock prices or do you get sucked into the world of science with the latest bio-tech advancements? Grace Coddington fans, is Vogue your bible? Maybe you are infatuated with the military and its affiliations, and in that case, you can actually join any of their many branches or check out military schools.

Reflect on the kind of person you are. Are you a right or left brained thinker? Are you inclined to thinking creatively or logically? Analyze your personality – introverted or extroverted? Do you prefer routine or flexibility, serenity or a good dose of adrenaline? Do you thrive when under pressure? These are all pointers to single out what area you’d be best at. If you need further help, Google a couple of career quizzes. They are fairly helpful at underscoring your strongest traits!

2. Think about school size and location.

Now that you have an idea of what it is you want to do, check out schools that specialize in those fields. This will allow you to really excel in your track and use the ample resources many colleges offer. Find out the college rankings – do the schools you are looking at meet your prospects? Make sure that academically, the schools you pencil into your list meet or exceed your expectations.

Next, consider the location. Keep in mind that there are infinite things to consider with location. Each place has its own culture, tradition, and WEATHER- ha, that’s a big one. I certainly did not consider weather when choosing Boston. Ask yourself these questions: are you comfortable with what you have now or do you want something different? Do you prefer the city, suburb, or the country?  How about a place that transitions through the four seasons? Or would you favor a place that experiences hot/cold extremes year-round? (If you are by any chance thinking about South Florida, yes, it offers fabulous tanning weather all year, but its humidity calls for the ultimate death of hair).

How about size? Think of your current high school and decide whether you want something similar, larger, or smaller. Most importantly, do you want to leave your hometown, and does that entail moving across the country or moving one hour away? Location is an excellent way to narrow down your choices. When you finish your list of schools, look up their acceptance ratings and classify them as either “safety schools” (the ones you’re sure you’ll get into) or “reach schools” (the ones that you think your chances of being accepted are slim, but possible).

3. Apply and visit!

Apply, apply, apply to all of the schools on your list! Yes, some have dreadful supplements; yes, some require multiple essays; and yes, others require additional forms. But take on the task – you will thank yourself later. Visit the schools if you can! Admission officers like to see that you are interested and while you’re there, schedule an interview! Call the admissions office and schedule an appointment beforehand to set up an interview on the day of your campus tour.

If you are unable to visit, set up a phone interview. Also, immediately after you have finished the interview, always remember to snail-mail a brief handwritten “Thank You” letter to your interviewee. “How come?” you ask. Demonstrating manners increases your chances of being remembered during the decision process, and college admission officers they will highly appreciate this minimal effort (which could end up making all the difference!).

4. Do your research.

Once you’ve received your batch of large envelopes, put to use your savvy research skills – you know, the ones you have picked up from social media. Sometimes the slightest details make the biggest difference, such as what financial aid each college offers or takes. Grants? Scholarships? FAFSA? Apply to any opportunity and you’ll be surprised at how cooperative many schools are with your needs.

Aside from finances, look up their student life. How’s their school spirit level? Are there any clubs that look interesting? Is Greek life a major component in their culture? What courses do they have available for your major? Check out their food options and research school reviews from current students. Maybe even revisit the school if you need to, but it is essential to open your mind up to new things and refrain from setting limits on things you have never experienced before. Leaving your comfort zone is the key to getting the best out of any experience, especially this one!

Choosing between 4,000 colleges can sound quite intimidating, but the process is also a great process of self-discovery! It takes self-reflection, exploration, and determination. And don’t forget that wherever you wind up, there are two things every college guarantees: 2:00 a.m. library visits and glorious day naps.

Travel

This is amazing! It’s your first summer in New York City. You’re here for pre­-college classes, checking out universities, taking summer courses, interning, working, or simply shopping, eating, and being a tourist. It’s the city that never sleeps, a place romanticized by movies and glorified by those who live here.

Well. Sort of. If you know anything about NYC, you know it has its rough patches. New Yorkers are known for their direct and fast paced attitudes, always rushing around stylishly but quickly. In the summer, the tempo of the city changes. Tourists flood in and some New Yorkers leave. But those who stay, like yours truly, are forced to weather through some of the not­-so-­pleasant things about being in NYC in the summer. These are a few things you should know before coming to New York City.

1. It is hot.

That explains everything. The grouchy taxi drivers. The simmering concrete. The wet sensation under your arms and the uncomfortable chill of the train if you’ve been sitting too long. NYC summers are hot. Commuting feels nasty. This year has been pretty tame, but usually the temperature hits triple digits. NYC summers are hit­-the­beach, break-­the-­fire­-hydrant, egg­-on-­the-­sidewalk hot. Advice: drink water, stay indoors or have indoor trips until 3pm­ish, and pack lightly. Mornings around 7-­9am and evenings around 6-­8pm are commuter hours and you don’t want to be stuck next to the sweaty businessman and a woman with her crying baby. I recommend that you do your summer intensives or other courses during a more relaxed time in case you have to lug supplies or textbooks around. If you insist on going outside, keep the heat in mind.

2. Watch out for mosquitoes.

Yes. Mosquitoes. Did you think that being in a city full of skyscrapers and asphalt would save you from those little monsters? You’re sadly mistaken. I sit here telling you to beware of the mosquitoes, but I have five bites on my legs just from walking to the grocery store. What’s so unique about NYC mosquitoes? They’re intense. My friend from the West coast says that they are nastier biters here than where she’s from, so be warned!

Even as a seasoned New Yorker, I haven’t overcome this itchy nightmare. It does not matter who you are or where you’re going. If you breathe and if you have blood, you’re going to be mosquito food. You can either simply accept that you’ll get bitten (as I have) or you can avoid going outside, especially at night. The crazy thing is they seem to be everywhere, even indoors and in the middle of the day. They cling to people’s clothing, and with all the moving around, it’s no wonder they are everywhere. There are bug sprays and lotions you can use to keep mosquitoes away, but there really isn’t an escape. Best of luck.

3. Avoid moving­-in nightmares.

If you’re a college student looking to live outside the dorms for the semester, you better find an apartment, and fast! Students who are coming back for fall are going to start moving, or moving back, and you want to make sure you find somewhere to stay during this rush. Start looking for places now and if you’re lucky, you’ll find something you like within your budget.

New York is a great place to spend the summer if you know your way around. Even if you don’t, you’ll get the hang of where you are and what trains to take quickly. There are a lot of things to do and see, and as long as you’re aware of how to take care of yourself, you will be just fine. Remember to stay hydrated and to take it easy. Enjoy the city, and make it a summer to remember!

Image: Unsplash

CultureTravel

I am sitting in a crowded waiting area in the Houston airport when the sheer immensity of what I am doing truly hits. I try to do something – anything – to distract myself. I chew my nails. I stare at the smog and the airplanes out of a window covered in tiny handprints along the lower half. Finally, I take the tiny antique compass my boyfriend presented to me as a parting gift out of my backpack and flip it over and over in my hand as I mentally review my plans.

I’m going to Guatemala. Alone.

My brain immediately abandons its momentary calm to take up its current emotion of choice: wild, unbridled terror and self-doubt.

But why? What do you really expect to gain? What if you get hurt or lost or—

The flight attendant calls my row. I get up.

University is almost synonymous with travel. Almost everyone lucky enough to have funds to spare during college leaves town at some point. Whether through a school exchange, a volunteer opportunity, or even just a newfound proclivity toward North America’s vast abundance of music festivals, college students are constantly in transit. A desire for new experiences coupled with low standards for accommodations and food open student travel up to many opportunities that the average traveller might find rather unattainable. But the one type of travel that a college student might be wary of approaching is solo travel. Just the thought of solo travel is daunting to all but a few herculean souls, and I will be the first to admit that I still think of it that way, even after over two months spent in rural parts of Guatemala.

My first few days in the country are thoroughly overwhelming. Though I have some knowledge of Spanish from previous travels in Latin America, I had never realized how much I relied upon the collective knowledge of my fellow travellers. No one is here to fill in the blanks for me, or to tell me that the butchered sentence I’m constructing is incomprehensible. My destination is very specific – a shelter for stray dogs (an epidemic in Guatemala) in a small town about an hour outside of Antigua – but the directions I have are frustratingly vague. They involve steps such as looking for a specific pedestrian overpass and hiking up dirt roads while keeping an eye out for a set of green metal gates.

When I arrived at Animal AWARE, I was shown to a “casita” (literally, “small house”) where I would live for most of the next two months. The casita consisted of a tiny, narrow, drafty room with two beds, and a bathroom where I took the coldest showers of my life, often standing outside of the water and washing one limb at a time. There were 300 dogs and 80 cats at the shelter at that point, so every open space was taken up with animal enclosures. This meant that the casita itself was bordered by two dog enclosures. The dogs would wake us at quarter to six every morning without fail. Sometimes, during the night, strays from town would sneak onto the property, eliciting an eerie crescendo of howls as they ran past each enclosure. I often felt sorry for the cats trying to lead their quiet lives amid the chaos.

As the weeks went on, I began to get used to my surroundings. Slowly, I came to appreciate the true beauty of solo travel: you’re almost never really alone. Everywhere I looked, people were surprisingly happy to help. The owners of the shelter, Xenii and Martin, often came by the casita to offer me leftover food, bottles of waters, and a constant supply of books. My success in acquiring a cheap cellphone that I could use to call North America was the result of effort on the part of several staff members at AWARE. One particularly impressive 17 year-old girl (also travelling alone) showed me how the convoluted Guatemalan bus system worked. And of course, my family provided immense support along the way, responding to my sporadic communication with tips, advice, and encouragement. Eventually, I came to realize that there are no secrets to travelling alone, just guidelines. Certainly be safe – I was constantly aware that I was travelling in a very dangerous country. But also, importantly, be open – for every person who would do you harm, there are many who are willing to take you into their homes, feed you, give you a bed, and try to help you make the most of your time away from home.

Returning was surreal. I had gotten used to cold showers, abysmal plumbing, and the constant noise of 300 hungry dogs. My little brother seemed to have grown at least a foot in my absence. My bed seemed a hundred times more comfortable than usual, and I was able to finally, finally, have some of Vancouver’s excellent sushi. I was able to look at the rest of my university career with some much-needed clarity, and I finally decided on my major. But most important to me was the confidence my travels inspired – most challenges, when compared to travelling alone, don’t seem quite as impossible.

EducationSkills

Whether you’re in high school or college, online summer classes can be a great way to catch up on material that flew by too quickly or beef up your credit hours. During the summer, you’re more likely to be taking less than a handful of classes rather than a full semester or quarter’s worth, which means you still have the opportunity to have some fun and spend time with friends and family.

Altogether I have taken four online summer classes through my university over the course of twelve weeks (six weeks per summer session over two summer). I decided to take two more classes online this summer because I absolutely loved the scheduling freedom they gave me during the active school year. I had more choice in what I wanted to take because I completed twelve credits of required classes.

Although I’m a big fan of online classes, I’ll admit they can be tricky when it comes to logistics and expectations. The first time around I was much more overwhelmed than I was this summer having already understood what I was in for. So I’ve gathered up the most important lessons and tricks I’ve learned to help you not only survive your summer classes, but to win at them along the way.

Check-in Daily

Consistency is key. Be aware of the reading you should be doing and papers you need to be writing. If you are anything like I was last summer, you might forget to check your school’s online portal for a few days only to realize that you have an assignment due the next day. You don’t need to spend hours scouring through the site every day, but you should be spending five minutes every morning checking in on assignments for the week and exact due dates so that nothing simple slips through the cracks.

Pay Close Attention to Details

Different professors have different guidelines. I’ve had teachers who assign work on the same due dates but at different times, even based on different time zones. If you live in California and are taking an online class from a professor in New York, keep in mind that your 3 PM is already his or her 6 PM. Don’t let the small details trip you up. Hit those submission deadlines because losing little points here and there can ultimately cost you a full letter grade.

Pretend You’re at School

When you sit down to do work, pretend you’re sitting in the library. Ignore the fact that you’re probably at home with temptations all around you—the bottom line is that you are doing real work for a real class that will factor into your transcript.

Think Big Picture

As important as classes and grades seem, try not to get too stressed about these online classes. It is summer, after all. Give yourself a pat on the back for taking the initiative to get ahead and be proactive! These tips will hopefully relieve some of the stress and help you enjoy your accomplishments.

What are your tips for conquering online summer classes? Let us know!

Image: Picography

Education

You’re in! After months and months of studying for the SATs or ACTs, maintaining your grades, filling out applications, writing essays, asking for recommendations, and impatiently waiting, you have finally earned a spot in one (or a few!) of the schools from your college list. Even after all that work, the hard part still may not be over. Unless you already know exactly where you want to attend school and have no doubts whatsoever, picking which college to attend can be a very stressful decision. When I was picking between a couple of schools, I visited them both again so I had a fresh perspective. Of course, I ended up transferring colleges, but I learned a lot from that experience and have a better idea of what to think about when deciding on a college.

These are the critical factors to consider once you have been accepted to college…

What Do You Want to Study?

This can be a tough question. You don’t have to declare your major until the end of sophomore year, and unless you have a direct path you want to follow, you should spend your initial semester exploring new topics and being open to a major you might never have thought of before. However, it is important that you take a look at all of the classes and majors offered at each school to be sure that there are at least three topics of interest to you. Think about which professors you would want to learn from, the types of classes offered, and the major requirements. These classes will be a major time commitment when you are at college, so choose a school that has departments that best correlate with your interests.

Visit the School Again

You might change a lot in the time between when you first visit a school and just before you graduate high school.

Talk to Current Students

If you visit the school again, be sure to talk to as many students as you can. Most students are willing to offer their opinions and advice. Ask lots of questions about their experience at that college to get a feel for if it will be the right fit for you. If you don’t have the opportunity to visit the school’s campus, read up on college blogs to get a sense of what the students are like. You may even be able to reach out to the school to see if they have the phone numbers or email addresses of students who would be willing to share their experiences at that college. It will be helpful to hear real life situations to see if you relate or not.

Talk to Alumni

Speaking with people who have graduated from a school you are looking at can be very helpful to see what their experiences were like, as well as what they are currently up to. Maybe one alum has a job somewhere you would love to work, or in an industry that fascinates you. You’ll get a very honest opinion from alumni because they have completed their schooling and have had a couple of years to reflect on their experiences.

Small versus Large

You probably thought about this when you were first creating your list of schools to apply to. I encourage you to think about this again. If you applied to both small colleges and large universities, take a moment to think about the environment that you learn best in. Do you prefer a smaller class size where you can get more attention from the professor, or do you enjoy being surrounded by hundreds of interesting classmates with a variety of opinions and experiences? The size of school really does have an impact on both your educational and personal experiences.

Financials

College is expensive. Period. If you received Financial Aid or Scholarships, congratulations! That’s amazing. However, if you did not, thinking about the cost of college is very important. Not only is the tuition an important aspect of this budget analysis, but also think about travel costs to and from college to home, food costs, and living expenses when you are living on your own. These vary for everyone, but the little things do add up and can play a crucial role in your decision making process.

Career Services

Let’s face it, you probably want a job when you graduate. Or an internship for the summers while you are still in college. Or maybe even a part-time job while you are attending school. Do some research and figure out which schools in your ‘Accepted List’ have strong and well-connected career service centers. These college career service departments usually have their own websites. Take a look and find out whether the school will help you with interviewing, job placement, and resume writing.

Extracurriculars

What kinds of clubs and organizations are available on campus? Do some research to find a couple of clubs that you might want to join on your first day. Are you playing sports or want to play a club sport? You should make sure your school of choice offers that. Have you always wanted to be a part of student government? A language club? Volunteer services? Browse through all of the offerings and think about what you might want to be a part of.

Study Abroad

Most schools offer study abroad, and many have incredible programs. Instead of asking generic questions such as, “Do you have programs in France or Spain?,” ask specific questions that will actually affect you. “Which study abroad programs are best for the topic/major that I am interested in?” Certain study abroad programs are stronger than others in certain departments, and you want to make sure your school can provide those options and assistance when the time comes to apply. Some schools have reputations built around their study abroad programs. If traveling and studying outside of the U.S. is important to you, then you should pick the school with the strongest study abroad program.

Personal Preferences

There is no question that you have personal preferences when it comes to which school you want to attend. Maybe you applied to a wide variety of schools so that you would have many options to choose from. If so, then this is very critical. Think about the things that really matter to you, besides the educational aspect. Do you want a campus or a more urban campus? Do you want to be in the suburbs or the city? How far do you actually want to travel to get home for the holidays? Does the school attract a certain type of person? Are there exclusive groups? Do you want to be at a school with or without a Greek system? To be taught by T.A.s or not to be taught by T.A.s? There are many small decisions that go into making the overall decision, so do not overlook your personal preferences.

Act Now

Don’t wait until the day before you have to commit to a school to think about these decisions. If you do, you will feel rushed and may make a decision you will come to regret. While you can always transfer, do you really want to do the entire application process all over again? Take it from me, it’s not fun.