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Jamie Ballard


How to travel when you’re a broke college student

Sir Richard Burton once said, “The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.”

He’s right! Traveling is a wonderful way to create once-in-a-lifetime, totally awesome experiences. And everyone older than you has probably told you that the time to do so is now, when you’re young.

The problem is that when you’re young, you’re usually not swimming in excess funds. It can make the concept of traveling seem out of reach or impossible. But fear not! Here are 4 ways you can travel on a shoestring budget.

Take advantage of being a student!
When you’re a student, people are practically lining up to give you discounts on everything from airfare to plane tickets to accommodations to food. Depending on where you want to go and the time of year, StudentUniverse often has some sweet deals on airfare, hotels, and activities in your country of choice. And if you’re really gung-ho about exploring the world, consider studying abroad through your university. Sometimes your financial aid and scholarships can be used towards a semester or summer abroad – it’s worth looking into. Plus, there are tons of study abroad scholarships available to students who are actually taking classes or doing research abroad, rather than just spending a week there.

Have a cultural exchange with Couchsurfing
Couchsurfing is a website where you can find people across the world who are willing to provide accommodation in their homes for travelers. It’s a wonderful way to meet a local from the area you’re traveling in, and he or she can often provide advice or suggestions on what to do while you’re there. Though it’s technically free of charge, it’s strongly recommended that you thank your host in some way: make them dinner or bring them a souvenir from your home country, for example. And try not to treat it just as “free accommodation,” many couchsurfing hosts are interested in cultural exchange as well.

Volunteer your time in exchange for a place to sleep
There are so many ways you can volunteer in exchange for accommodation (and sometimes even food or guided tours as well). HelpX is a fantastic resource for this – you decide where you want to go, and what kind of volunteering you want to do: work in a hostel, an organic farm, a construction project, etc. HelpX provides a list of hosts who meet your criteria. Most hosts ask for only a few hours of your time every day, leaving you with plenty of time to explore the area. World Wildlife Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) also offers similar opportunities. Many of these hosts request a longer stay, usually 2 weeks minimum, so this may be a good idea for a summer vacation.

Volunteer with a cause
If you can find an overseas charitable project that speaks to you, pursue it! Organizations that need volunteers to help build a school in Nicaragua, or teach English in the Philippines will often provide you with a place to stay, transportation while you’re there, guided excursions and more. Though there is usually a fee associated with these types of programs, it is (often) a nonprofit group. So you can hold fundraisers and gather donations to help you along your way, which you can’t reasonably do for your spring break trip to Paris, for example.

These are just a few of the ways you can travel around the world without taking out loans or going into debt. If you’re dedicated enough, you’ll find a way to go on the journey of your dreams!

Why should you volunteer?

5 ways volunteering benefits you

Many college students have the desire to do good and help their communities, but there’s something blocking them. Maybe it’s a heavy workload, balancing school and a job, lack of time, lack of transportation, lack of resources, or any number of things. Having priorities is a good thing, and you shouldn’t feel bad for focusing on your own success. Academics are important. But what if I told you that volunteering would benefit you more than an extra three hours of studying per week? And that despite the fact that volunteering requires time, it actually makes you feel more productive?

Here are five reasons volunteering benefits you.

1) It makes you feel healthier. Studies show that people who spent time volunteering somewhere have lower rates of depression, better functional ability, and have higher self-confidence than people who don’t volunteer.

2) It can be a huge career asset. Employers want people who will represent them well in the community. Volunteering also shows potential employers that you care about improving the world, and aren’t afraid to take on new challenges. You can even try to find volunteer opportunities in your desired job field – it’s an easy way to gain experience. Additionally, volunteering could help you gain important contacts.

3) It makes you feel more productive. Despite the fact that volunteering is another thing on your to-do list, it makes you feel efficient, which makes you feel less stressed and hurried. This makes you feel more productive.

4) You learn or develop new skills. Next week, I’m volunteering at a in-house donation center, kind of similar to a thrift store. I have no retail experience, but after I volunteer there for a while, I’ll know at least a little bit. Maybe you have no experience with food handling, but if you volunteer at a soup kitchen, you’ll be well on your way!

5) You meet new people and gain valuable experiences. Most people go about their day with a filter on – school, work, friends, etc. Don’t you think it might be time to shake things up? Volunteering is a great way to build connections in your community and experience new things for yourself.

20 fun date ideas (for when you're tired of dinner and a movie)

1) Rent a canoe or pedal boat and take it out on a lake.
2) Go see an outdoor movie (generally common this time of year)
3) Find a meal you can cook together and make it. Then dress up, set out some candles and enjoy your home-cooked meal.
4) Turn on one of those TV music channels, or a local radio station, and dance around the living room, being silly.
5) Actually go out dancing. You can take lessons at many places, or just go freestyle!
6) Get ice cream and go for a really long walk.
7) If you’re near enough, go to the beach. (Bonus points if it’s nearing sunset.)
8) Do something athletic. Go for a run, go ice skating, go rollerblading, go play soccer in the park – get up and move!
9) Find a neighborhood or town that you’ve never gone to and go explore. Wander through shops and parks and attractions, and stop at the first restaurant that catches your fancy.
10) Build a giant fort. Make out in a giant fort.
11) Go bowling. Some campuses have bowling lanes on campus, and even if you don’t, there’s probably one nearby.
12) Look up events happening in your area and pick one to attend. Try and find something you’ve never done before.
13) Find a live concert at a coffeehouse or open mike night.
14) On a similar note, if there’s a band your significant other loves, surprise him or her with tickets to see them in your area (provided you have the budget for it.) Don’t tell your SO what your date is, just tell them to be free because you’re taking them out somewhere special.
15) If you guys are into reading, go to a bookstore and pick out a book to read together.
16) Go mini-golfing or to a driving range
17) Learn to play pool and go out to a billiards place or a bar or anywhere else that has a pool table. You can play one-on-one, or bring friends and play in teams. To up the stakes, make the loser buy drinks or food.
18) If you’re of age, go on a free tour of a local brewery or winery and pretend to be much classier than you actually are.
19) Go be a kid again and spend a day at the amusement parks
20) Find local farmers markets or street fairs in your area and check them them out.

A few words to the wise: When it comes to fun dates, people like to be surprised. Tell your date enough so that they’re not improperly dressed, and then surprise them with a hike or a walk on the beach.

Happy date night!

Get a Job

How to land a job when you have no experience

It’s one of the most frustrating things you’ll encounter on a job search. They want you to have experience before they give you a job, but how can you get experience if they won’t hire you? It’s a problem that many high school and college students bump into, but it’s not an obstacle that’s impossible to overcome. Here are several things you can do to land the job in spite of your inexperience.

Figure out why you’d be a good fit. You probably applied to this job because you need the money, but also because you think you could be good at it. If it’s a retail opening, you might highlight that you’re organized and like helping people. If it’s a barista opening, you can share your passion for a good cup of coffee and desire to share that enjoyment with others. If it’s an assistant position, you can point out that you’re timely and an excellent writer. Figure out why you want the job, and what will make you the best choice.

Share your non-obvious experience. Okay, so you’ve never actually worked an official job before. That doesn’t mean you’re totally inexperienced. Think about your community service – is any of that relevant? Maybe you haven’t worked in a daycare before, but you did volunteer with the kids summer program at the YMCA, for example. You can also highlight your extracurriculars if they’re significant to the position you’re applying for. If you were the treasurer of a club at school, mention that when you apply for a money-handling job. Jobs aren’t the only form of experience!

Write an outstanding cover letter. The HR person at the job you’re applying for is sifting through dozens of resumes and cover letters. You need to make your application stand out from the rest. If your resume is a little empty, then an strong cover letter might be what moves you from the reject pile to the interview pile. Make it captivating and unique, while still being succinct. Have several people look over it, and don’t be afraid to ask for criticism. Additionally, most schools offer a career center, where staff members can read over your resume and cover letter and tell you how to improve it.

Research the company. If you do get called in for an interview, congratulations! Make sure you do your research on the company and position you’re interviewing for. Try to work in specifics of the company in your interview answers. For example, when they ask why you think you’d be a good fit for them, you can reply, “The work you’ve done with Jones Corporation to amp up their social media by creating a Twitter account is the kind of thing I’m interested in.” At the end of the interview, make sure you have at least one question for the interviewer – it shows that you’re interested and knowledgeable.

Do college rankings really matter?

Forbes recently released their lists of the best colleges in America. They base the rankings on a number of factors, including student satisfaction, graduate success, and graduation rates, among other factors.

My school, San Diego State University, ranked 262 on the overall list, and took the number 18 spot for Most Entrepreneurial Universities, as well as the number 18 spot for Top Value Colleges. People are pretty excited, and it’s definitely an honor for our school.

But it does get me to thinking – do these rankings really matter?

I don’t mean to belittle the hard work that the people at Forbes put into creating this list, and I certainly appreciate all the work universities and colleges put into creating a positive environment for their students. But I do question whether or not the rankings can really tell prospective students about the school.

When I was applying to colleges, I obsessively looked up everything I could find about the schools that I was interested in. If there was a list, ranking, or student review of the school, I read it. But if I had based my decision only on the rankings I found, I likely would have ended up in a small private liberal arts school on the East Coast, garnering mass amounts of debt and wondering how people deal with snow.

And while the small private liberal arts school is a good option for a lot of people, it simply isn’t for me. I love my sprawling campus, where the temperature rarely dips below 70 and the beach is only 15 minutes away. I love that there are so many things to do and see on campus and in San Diego, and I love that there will always be a part of the city I haven’t yet explored.

College rankings don’t tell you about the new friends you’ll make when you’re standing outside your dorm at 3 a.m. because someone pulled the fire alarm again. They don’t tell you about the parties you’ll attend or the crush you’ll develop on the guy across the hallway or the professor you’ll really bond with. They don’t tell you about the way the sky looks on a Friday afternoon when you’re blessedly done for the weekend, and how the trees sway brighter. They don’t tell you about the exhilaration you’ll feel as you run across campus at midnight and jump in a fountain you aren’t supposed to.

There’s also a part of me that doubts the rankings because I think you can be living a miserable life at a top-notch school, or truly enjoying yourself and creating important things and memories at a lesser-recognized college.

College rankings tell you facts about the school, but they can’t tell you experiences. Those you have to make yourself.

Why Los Campesinos! is the coolest indie band you should listen to

My high school boyfriend introduced me to Los Campesinos, and made me many a mix CD featuring their songs. While the band’s lyrics may not be suited to a lovey-dovey high school relationship, I like to think they suited us well during our breakup, if nothing else. And in the throes of bitterness, they provided succinct, clever lyrics that epitomize love lost and regrets accumulated. As my former boyfriend said (though he may have stolen it from a YouTube comment, “Los Campesinos is for the eternally horny and the eternally angsty.”

Here are some of their greatest lyrics, for your enjoyment.

“Honestly, you’re an absolute waste of time
Craving attention with your self-deprecation
I’ll tell you one thing:
It’s spot on and I’m better.”
-The End of the Astrisk.

Honestly, this one is here because I started to write an article about relationships, and it involved the word “astrisk,” which reminded me of this song. But this lyric is so damn cool, how can you not include it?

“A heart of stone,
rind so tough it’s crazy,
that’s why they call me the avocado, baby”
– Avocado, Baby.

The first song released from their newest album, Avocado, Baby struck a chord with everyone who’s felt they were less passionate or devoted than their partner or love interest. Which pretty much sums up my year. Not to mention, lead singer Gareth is just so damn cool in the video – what’s not to love?

– This is a flag. There is no wind.

This has been my thought process many a time, in many situations, so I feel it’s only appropriate to include it here, as my life motto. I think it’s applicable to almost any situation. Feel free to yell it occasionally, as they do.

“Writing sleeper hits for all these weeping dip shits,
turning tricks for cheap kicks where I can.”
– She Crows (Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #4)

I like this one simply because I feel like the band is addressing their fans in the most honest, direct way possible. I’m a weeping dipshit, as is the only other Los Campesinos fan I know. May we all live long and prosperous lives.

“Shout at the world because the world doesn’t love you.
Lower yourself because you know that you’ll have to.”

The title. The words. Perfection? Maybe not, but it certainly feels realer and rawer than anything I’ve ever known. What is life if not a collection of miserabilia?

“Ok, I’m a little bit drunk and I mean just a little bit
No lush in denial, only rather coquettish”
– I Just Sighed. I Just Sighed, Just So You Know

My Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday night motto. No one seems to know what a lush is. Or coquettish. #turnup

Go listen to everything Los Campesinos has ever recorded, then come back here and tell me your favorite lyrics. I have many more favorite lyrics, but these are a few that come to mind. If you ever get the chance, see this band live. I saw this band at Treasure Island and GAMH – truly phenomenal. What are your favorite lyrics?

Moving into my first “adult” house

I just moved into a new place, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m living with five of my friends, a few blocks from campus in a beautiful house. In the weeks leading up to my move, I purchased lots of things – organizational files, pens, a nightstand, some vanilla candles, and more. And then we moved in, and I realized how much I still had to get. Bowls, cups, pans, silverware, knives, a closet cubby, a wastebasket, and those are the practical things I can think of off the top of my head. Too bad I have $38 to my name, and don’t get paid til later this week. Had I budgeted better (did I actually need vanilla candles before I moved in?), I might have found myself in a better financial position. Here are some things I wish I had thought of before I moved into my new house.

Make a list. Even if you’re a frugal spender, you may find yourself drawn in by the “Home Essentials” section at Target. “I do need these heart-shaped lanterns for my room! And this organizing tray is so cute and will definitely keep me organized! Oooh, and these patterned towels are way prettier than the ones I already have.” And then, you end up leaving Target with these things, but without things like silverware. Or hangers.

No, no, no.

Make a list and stick to it. Write down the essentials that you need immediately. There are some things that can wait until you get paid, or your parents toss you some money (hopefully). Prioritize the boring things and save the fun stuff for later.

Utilize your resources. I got lucky, in that someone I knew had recently updated their kitchen and was planning to get rid of plates, bowls, cups, silverware organizers, oven mitts, and pans. I intercepted and managed to get a good stock of stuff for my kitchen. See if you might be in a similar situation, or if your parents have extra stuff stashed away in an attic somewhere. If nothing else, hit up a thrift store or a dollar tree. You might not get matching plates, mugs, and bowls – but is that really important to you?

Have your essentials ready to go. Nothing’s worse than spending a few hours moving boxes and driving around in the 90 degree heat (thanks, San Diego!) only to get into your new space and realize that you don’t have the things you need. Like a shower curtain, shampoo, and conditioner to take a much-needed shower. Or food. Do a bit of shopping, or bring these things with you in a box labeled “Essentials.”

Make sure you have adequate storage. Bins might be my new favorite thing. Stacking bins that fit in your closet or under your bed are the best. Closet cubbies and built-in shelves are the best. Spacious drawers are the best. Storage places, you da real MVP.

With these tips, you should be ready to make your new house or apartment a real home.

For-profit schools: Are they worth it?

With all the issues facing Corinthian Colleges Inc. recently – they’re closing 85 campuses and selling 12 others – for-profit schools have been at the front of many people’s minds. CCI owns Heald, Everest and WyoTech schools, and students at those schools are worrying about how to continue their educations.

For-profit schools saw 1.8 million students enrolled in 2011. Since then, enrollment has slowly and gradually declined, thanks to many for-profit schools being closed, sold, or exposed as engaging in fraudulent marketing.

There are many benefits to for-profit schools. They often offer more flexible schedules, and allow students to graduate quickly. Additionally, for students who have a very specific trade focus, for-profit trade schools sometimes offer degree or credential programs that are competitively priced, and take less than a year to complete.  They’re considerably more flexible, and focus largely on job training.

However, most students at for-profit schools end up paying more money in tuition and fees than students at two-year or four-year universities. Subsequently, many students take out more loans, and end up in debt more often than students in any other sector of education. They also default on these loans more quickly. What’s more, many students report being unable to find a job after they graduate, despite some schools promising a 100 percent job placement guarantee. And when they try to talk to a counselor, they find no one is willing to help.

The schools are primarily a business, rather than an institution of higher learning.

If you’re considering attending a for-profit school, there are some things you should keep an eye out for. Firstly, you shouldn’t trust a school representative who tries to rush you into signing up without all the information, tells you it’s an opportunity that must be taken now, or tells you their school has a 100 percent job placement guarantee after graduation. You should also be wary if the salesperson dodges your question or doesn’t provide clear information. Before you enroll, you should always do your research, including resources not connected to the school. Figure out the prices as compared to similar programs at other schools – you may be surprised.

While I’m not generally one for following the crowd, in this case, I would consider the fact that community college enrollment continues to grow while for-profit universities are bleeding students.

Illegal Internship

When is an unpaid internship illegal?

Internships are an important part of almost any career. Whether you’re in liberal arts, engineering, mathematics, or media, an internship is practically a prerequisite to get a job after college. If you’re lucky, you can find a paid one, but for those of us who start smaller, unpaid internships could be a good stepping stone.

However, you’ve probably also heard a lot of commotion about unpaid internships and how they can sometimes be illegal. Some places offer course credit in lieu of minimum wage pay.

The U.S. Department of Labor declares that there are six standards that must be met for an intern to work unpaid.

1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar training which would be given in an educational environment;

2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;

3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;

4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;

5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and

6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

If all of these standards are met, then no formal employment relationship is made, essentially meaning that the unpaid internship is legal (since minimum wage and overtime laws don’t apply to the intern).

You also want to check with your school. Many offer internship classes in exchange for course credit. However, if you accept an unpaid internship outside of the class, this can sometimes jeopardize your ability to enroll in the class later – be sure to check first!

If all else fails, you can usually take an internship with a nonprofit agency. Most of the time, school rules prohibit for-profit internships without course credit, meaning nonprofits are fair game (and a great way to build your resume).

If you’re in doubt about whether or not your potential internship is legal or not, do your research before accepting it.

Watch out for these financial aid schemes

As the cost of college continues to rise, students and their families are growing increasingly desperate for financial aid of any kind, as they struggle to avoid loan debt or bankruptcy. Therefore, it’s understandable that many families are willing to jump at any offer that comes their way. Unfortunately, scammers are beginning to take advantage of this desperation, and are cheating students and parents out of hard-earned college savings.

There are several red flags to look for when considering financial aid offerings.
Some scammers will guarantee the student a scholarship in exchange for an advance fee so that they don’t “miss out on the opportunity.” Others will ask for access to a checking account to “ensure eligibility” and then charge the student without his knowledge or consent. An extremely common scam is a company that purports to handle all financial aid paperwork and make sure the student is eligible for aid, in exchange for a processing fee. (The FAFSA is the only application that can officially determine aid eligibility).

There are several ways to keep yourself safe from these types of scams.

Don’t apply for scholarships that you have to pay for. Legitimate scholarship organizations will almost never require you to pay to enter. Any organization that does is likely a scam, and you’re better off looking at one of the thousands of scholarships available without an entry fee.

Be cautious of any “guaranteed or your money back” offers. Scholarships are virtually never a guarantee. They’re usually based on an essay or some measure of academic performance, and it’s impossible to know who you’re up against, making a guaranteed scholarship impossible.

Do your own research. A financial aid scammer is going to say whatever they think will convince you to fork over your money, even if they’re blatantly lying. Don’t just take their word for it, do your own research on the organization and what they’re offering. Ask a lot of questions if you can. But always remain cautious, as scam organizations can very easily set up a website with fake winners, produce false documents, and create other things to make it seem real.

Use legitimate resources. There are hundreds of websites that can connect you to scholarships you’re eligible for. Sites like collegeboard.org or StudentAid.gov can help you figure out a way to pay for college.

As the adage goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your gut and don’t be afraid to walk away from sketchy-seeming financial aid offers. It could save you thousands of dollars.