Step Away from the Microwave

Growing up, including while you were in high school, you likely had the luxury of a parent cooking for you on a regular basis. Each morning, you had breakfast ready to go before school, a lunch packed (or lunch money ready), and dinner waiting for you when you returned home. If you’re at all like me, you completely took this for granted.

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Even during my first year of college, I didn’t realize how nice it was to never have to cook for myself. I lived in my college’s dorms, so I had a meal plan, meaning that anytime I wanted to go to the cafeteria, I knew there would be a variety of options waiting for me when I arrived. My sophomore year, when I lived in my sorority house, we had a chef who cooked all of our meals. Again, I never appreciated how nice it was to have hot meals available 24/7.

That is, until my junior year. That is the year I moved into a house, and I had to start grocery shopping, cooking for myself, and cleaning my own dishes. This was not something I was prepared for. At first, I did what many people do the first time they grocery shop for themselves — I bought all junk food, which was awesome for about two weeks until I started to feel sick.

Even after I put down the Cheez Its and mint chocolate chip ice cream, I noticed something: I began to buy food that required either no or very little preparation. I bought food like cans of soup or frozen chicken nuggets, which I could just throw into the microwave, or yogurt, which I could simply grab and go.

This food, while not as bad for me as the junk food I had been eating, was not providing me with proper nutrients. Home cooking is important for overall health, and can save you money in the long-run. Nothing brings out the nutrients in food like freshly preparing a meal, and frozen meals (often packed with chemicals, salts, and other preservatives) do not count as healthy substitutes! In addition, if you believe you can get the same benefits of home cooking by eating out, I implore you to add up how much all of those $5 meal deals cost you.

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I, of all people, understand that life gets in the way. We get busy and don’t have the time or energy to prepare meals for ourselves at home. So don’t worry, because there is nothing wrong from grabbing a salad or sandwich from your on-campus deli every once in a while, nor is there anything wrong with the occasional Lean Cuisine — so long as neither of these become your go-to routine.

Instead, spend some time each week meal-prepping or learning a new recipe. Once you learn the basics of cooking, the task doesn’t seem so daunting. Planning out your meals ahead of time, and putting time and energy into preparing your own food can incentivize you to eat healthier. As an added bonus, preparing a home-cooked dinner can be a super romantic date. And let’s not forget that all the money you save can be applied to your weekend shenanigans!

What will be the next meal you learn to cook? Tell me on Twitter and I might retweet you!

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Yes I Read… But Not Because I Have To

It’s Monday night. You just finished the worst day of the week. You could really use a way to relax. So what do you do? Do you open up a bottle of wine? Well, obviously. Do you draw yourself a bubble bath? Perhaps. What about cracking open that book in your nightstand?

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Why would I want to jump right into studying after a long, stressful day?” But the type of reading I’m referring to is not related to studying. I’m talking about reading for pleasure.

Many people, especially college students, are so overwhelmed with other types of reading that they forget how pleasurable reading a good book can be. Last summer, I got back into pleasure reading, and I’ve noticed a few things:

1. I feel more relaxed every day.

There is nothing like unwinding with a good book. Reading is such an easy activity; it allows me to take my mind off of all my stresses and just enjoy one simple pleasure. When I put aside time to partake in a relaxing activity, I feel stress-free both while I am reading and in all other aspects of my life.

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2. I sleep better each night.

I tend to read just before bed. Unlike watching TV, which requires a bright light to shine on my face, reading requires only a simple book. Reading is soothing, and relaxes me enough to fall asleep. When I awake, I feel happy and refreshed, which doesn’t always happen when I opt to watch TV before bed.

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3. My brain feels sharper.

Also compared to watching TV, which is a completely mindless activity, reading requires me to use my mind to read and interpret the words in front of me. You may think that would actually wind me up before bed, but as I said, it doesn’t. While I’m reading, the only thing working is my mind, which not only relaxes me, but keeps my brain sharp every day.

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4. My schoolwork has improved.

Because I’m taking that time each night to sharpen my mind and relax, which helps me sleep better, I am better prepared to take on the school day. Each night, I give myself a few hours to study before diving into the books I read for fun, which gives me incentive to study efficiently. And after focusing on boring books for hours on end, it’s nice to read about something I enjoy.

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5. I’m happier and more invested in my personal life.

While you’re in college, everything in your life can feel like it either has to do with getting a good grade, getting a good job after graduation, or partying. It’s nice to set aside time to partake in an activity that is just for your enjoyment.

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So, my friends, I urge you to put down those textbooks (after you finish your studying), pick up a good book, and enjoy the simple pleasure of reading again! What will be your next book? Tell me on Twitter and I might retweet you!

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Why I Blog

As my loyal followers may recall, I began this blog last October as an assignment for a journalism course I was taking at the time. Students in my class were instructed to create a blogs on a topic that sparked our interest, and that we believed had a niche audience. Having just started my fifth and final year of college, I couldn’t help but think of what a unique experience I was in.

Most college students adhere to the four-year plan — that is, they have their lives together and actually graduate “on time.” My story as a super senior is by no means unique, as I have plenty of other friends who also spent over four years completing their undergraduate degrees. However, being a fifth year student certainly does not comply with the “norm,” and I believe puts me in a position to offer some realistic advice to fellow undergraduates.

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As I began writing about everything from homecoming and tumbler cups to staying healthy in college to finals, I truly fell in love with the concept of blogging. I get to translate my thoughts and personality into words for you all to read and (hopefully) enjoy. Although this began as a project for school, it has grown into something I adore, and that I hope helps undergraduates both at my alma mater and universities across the nation. Having gained an appreciation for blogging over the past few months, I couldn’t imagine my life without it.

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During my final semester, I’ll be posting each Monday and Wednesday about cooking in college, internships, reading for pleasure, how to avoid all-nighters, and more. Who better to get college advice from than someone who has not only lived through it all, but is also still in college herself? That’s right, no one. You’re so welcome.

So stay tuned, devoted readers, as there is plenty of advice coming your way in the next three months as I finish up my degree and prepare for the real world. (Wait, when did this happen?)

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What type of advice would you like to read about life as a college student? Comment below or tell me on Twitter and you might see a post about your topic very soon!

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Advice from a Graduate: “Take Your Time”

It’s a conversation that I am all too familiar with. Someone asks me, “So, are you graduating this semester, or…?” leaving the question open-ended, as if I don’t have a plan for my future, or as if I’m somehow ashamed that I’ve chosen to remain in school for a fifth year. I find this conversation amusing for a few reasons.

First, I actually feel more confident now than ever before in regards to what my future holds. Maybe this victory lap is exactly what I needed to realign my priorities and figure out what’s next. Second, I find that the people who ask me this question tend to be the same people who don’t have their own lives quite in order yet. How about we take Miley’s advice and not judge each other, kay? Thanks.

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The thing I find most amusing about this conversation, however, is the general reaction I receive when I tell people that I’m in school for a fifth and final year. The general consensus tends to be, “Take your time!” *See also: “There’s no rush,” “Stay as long as you can,” and “That’s normal.”

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Among those who reassure me that my life is not some sort of disaster-in-the-making is my good friend, and former Van Wilder himself, Elliott. Elliott graduated from the University of Nevada in May 2012 after an impressive six-year college career, when he was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. He now resides in San Diego, Calif., where he works 50 hours a week at a PR agency, lives with his girlfriend, Lisa, and often reminisces on his college days.

Being just two years removed from the college scene, Elliott is in a perfect position to provide valuable insight to undergraduates who want to make the most out of their college experience.

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EC: What does your typical week look like nowadays?
ES: Work from around 8-6ish, go home, eat dinner with the girlfriend, usually catch some TV or play some video games, then get in bed around 10. Occasionally I’ll go to happy hour with some of my coworkers from the agency, but that’s only about once a week.

EC: Compare that to your typical week as an undergraduate.
ES: I was also working most days the last year or so, so I would be going to work and class all day Monday through Friday, but I would be going out a lot more often on weeknights. Also, I was doing university and Greek events throughout the week — always kind of running around.

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EC: If you could, would you change anything about your college experience?
ES: I honestly wouldn’t change anything. It’s funny how, looking back, a lot of things you stress out about in college can end up being insignificant. The experience you get both inside and outside of the classroom is the most important part of attending college, and I definitely feel I made the most of it.

EC: Be realistic, there isn’t anything you would change?
ES: I guess I wished I had a better idea of what I wanted to do earlier so that I wouldn’t have taken so many unnecessary classes.

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EC: Do you think that college students should try to graduate in four years?
ES: No. 4 years is just too quick. Don’t be in a rush to leave college and start the rest of your life, because the rest of your life doesn’t start right after college. It’s a rough road going from graduation to career, and you need to be ready for that.

EC: If you could give just one piece of advice to undergraduates, what would it be?
ES: My advice would be to talk to your professors — actually get to know them because they’re there for a reason. That, and you should definitely skip class at least once a month just to hang out and get drunk before 11 a.m. Take your time.

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What are your thoughts on my conversation with Elliott? Tweet them to us @its_elliott and @misserincollins and we might retweet you!

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Why You Should Get Involved on Campus

It’s often said that what learned outside the classroom in college is just as, if not more important than what’s learned inside the classroom. What’s so unique about college is that you are exposed to all new types of people, experiences, and cultures, which ultimately help you gain a better understanding of yourself and your place within the world.

While in college, for reasons you might not even understand, you might identify with someone who, on the surface, seems to be so completely opposite of you. Maybe you’re exposed to something that you’ve never tried before, but you find yourself truly enjoying it. So, you question why it was in the first place you were so hesitant to interact with these unfamiliar people and experiences.

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During your time in college, you come to understand the influences in your life that pressure you to think certain ways. You may realize that you believed things before that simply aren’t true, or that you were closed off to new experiences.

College is no time for that. It is not the time to find a comfort zone and remain safely within its boundaries; it is the time to broaden your horizons and discover yourself. What better way to do that than to connect with your peers through on-campus organizations?

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Most universities offer hundreds of unique clubs and organizations to their students, including social sororities and fraternities, multicultural sororities and fraternities, academic or honors-based sororities and fraternities, intramural, club, and NCAA sporting teams, student government, students newspapers, and a variety of clubs based on academic focuses, professional achievement, campus events, philanthropy, personal skills and background, extracurricular interests, political affiliations, relegion, and more. Most universities offer on-campus jobs, leadership positions, and roles as orientation guides. Each undergraduate student is bound to identify with at least one of his or her university’s on-campus organizations. If you don’t, however, what’s to stop you from starting one based off your personal interests?

The benefits of being involved in an on-campus organization are infinite. Since you’ll be submerged in the heart of your university, you will constantly be in the know about upcoming events, news, and so on. You’ll have fun while getting to know other students just like you, students completely different from you, potential students to whom you can showcase your amazing university, alumni, esteemed faculty and members of the administration, and members of the local community. You’ll likely establish incredible friendships and build connections that could help you down the road (anything from getting out of a parking ticket to a new job).

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We were all told time and time again in high school that universities look for students with more than just good grades — they want well-rounded students who participate in extra curricular activities. The same goes for companies looking to hire recent college graduates — they want to hire people who are more than just brains, and who have applicable skills. After all, those people will be your future colleagues one day, and will have to spend eight hours a day, five days a week with you. Do you really think they want to hire someone who has no life outside of school or work?

Knowing that you are contributing to the improvement of your university will give you a newfound sense of pride for your alma mater. You’ll learn what it means to be a part of a team, and if you get the chance to take a leadership role within your organization, you’ll gain invaluable life skills that can only be learned through practice. Above all, you’ll make the most out of your far-too-short time in college, and you’ll make irreplaceable memories!

What’s your favorite way to stay involved with your university? Send me your pictures on Twitter and I might retweet you!

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Dos and Don’ts: Freshman Year

Do: Break out of your comfort zone and say “yes” to each new opportunity that presents itself. You never know what amazing friendships and memories are waiting to be made. If you’re afraid, remember that everyone else is new, too. Let loose and have a good time. After all, you are in college.

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Don’t: Let partying get the best of you. Drinking, partying, hooking up, and generally shirking your responsibilities can lead you down a slippery slope to dropping out. Especially in the era of social media, this type of behavior can really come back to haunt you. Keep track of your online reputation, and manage your time well so that you can graduate with both a meaningful degree and an abundance of incredible memories.

Do: Feel a sense of accomplishment for being a part of the small percentage of the population that is actually partaking in higher education right now. Speak up on campus and stand by your convictions. Not only were you selected out of thousands of applicants, but you then elected to further your education, and that is seriously something to be proud of.

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Don’t: Think that makes you better than the people actually surrounding you right now. You’re all at the same school, no matter how or why you arrived there. Oh, you were your student body president in high school? Cool, bro, good for you. Oh, you were the homecoming king, too? No one cares, dude — not your peers, and certainly not your professors.

Do: Take the time to make your new dorm or apartment into a little home. Now that you’re no longer living under your parents’ roof, it’s important to have a little sanctuary that’s functional and makes you feel happy. Surround yourself with inspirational quotes and old photos, and make the space truly yours.

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Don’t: Waste precious time and money going overboard on decorations. Sure, right now you probably think that your new Bob Marley posters or sorority letters basically sum up your entire personality, but you might feel a lot differently one year from now.

Do: Participate in Greek rush. Even if you decide not to join a house, you’ll end up meetings tons of people who are friendly and have great advice. Who knows? You might even fall in love with one house that ends up changing your life.

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Don’t: Pretend as if you’re too cool for anything, that’s a thing of the past. The most successful college students are the ones who aren’t afraid to let their guards down and get involved.

Do: Be yourself and build relationships with the people around you — roommates, hall mates, pledge sisters or brothers, classmates, teammates, RAs, TAs, professors, advisors, coaches, baristas, the chefs in your cafeteria, and even the people standing next to you in line at the bookstore — they’ve all either been where you are or are going through the same things as you right now. People are generally very receptive to sincerity and politeness, and love to share their stories and wisdom with others, so this is no time to be shy. You never know what small connection could help you out down the road.

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Don’t: Be closed-minded. College is about exploring the world beyond your high school bubble. Listen to what others, even those who are completely different from you, have to say — you might actually learn something. In addition, people can usually tell when someone isn’t being genuine, so don’t try to be someone you’re not.

Do: Remember that you’re actually in college to get a degree. Go to class, use on-campus resources, become friends with your professors, and set aside time each week to study and do homework. Do what works best for you.

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Don’t: Freak out over one bad grade — it isn’t a death sentence. If it’s one test or paper, politely approach your professor about improving your grade; they’re usually more understanding than you might assume. If it’s one class, remember that you can always retake it later. If you do retake a class, don’t fall into the same habits as before. Only you know your personal learning style, so play to your own strengths.

Do: Spend time on campus. It’s where all of your friends are, and you (or your parents) are paying a lot of money for you to be here. You only have four(ish) years before you have to give it all up and join the real world. College has so much to offer, and none of it can be experienced by staying holed up inside a dorm room eating Cocoa Puffs and playing Grand Theft Auto.

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Don’t: Forget to take some downtime in between your crazy schedule. Suddenly spending so much time around others can be a bit overwhelming, and even the best of us have to spend some time alone. If you really need it, don’t be afraid to ask your roommates for a little bit of privacy.

Do: Check in with your parents every once in a while. They miss you a lot and want to know that you’re doing alright. Whether it’s a simple call to say that you love them, a Sunday dinner, or a weekend at home, you’ll find that making time to really connect with your parents will make you feel whole again. You’ll probably even notice yourself bonding with them in different ways than you previously imagined possible.

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Don’t: Visit home each and every weekend in college. The closer your parents live, the more tempting this can be. It’s important to feel that distance, though, as it will help you become a stronger person in the end. It’s natural to feel homesick, especially in the beginning, but it will become easier with time. Home will always be there when you need it, but remember that you’re also making a new home at school.

Do: Take advantage of the student health center. Get free flu shots, hand sanitizer, birth control, and check-ups. College campuses, especially dormitories, are teeming with germs and diseases.

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Don’t: Forget to take extra precautions, like wearing flip flops in communal showers.

Do: Go out of your way to be a good roommate! Clean up after yourself and take time to get to know the person or people you’re living with. You may even end up becoming life-long friends.

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Don’t: Be passive aggressive. If you make a mistake, apologize. If you have a problem with your roommate, or the two of you have a disagreement, acknowledge it immediately and honestly; it will save you a lot of pain in the end. If an issue with a roommate persists, talk to your RA before a bad situation escalates into a serious problem.

Do: Use up each and every swipe into the cafeteria and food buck possible, even if it means helping out a starving upperclassman. I can’t stress enough how much money you or your parents pay for your college experience, so take advantage of it fully!

Don’t: Fall into the cafeteria trap. It’s too easy to put large-portioned, unbalanced meals onto your plate, go back for seconds, or even thirds, and then get dessert. Don’t think that all those bowls of cereal in between classes, sugary cranberry vodkas, and late-night Jack in the Box runs don’t add up. Oh, what, you’ll go to the gym “tomorrow?” Isn’t that the same thing you’ve been saying since August 21st? Ever heard of the “Freshman 15?”

Do: Date around in college, even if you date someone you know is wrong for you.

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Don’t: Go into college with the mindset of finding your future husband or wife — you’ll probably miss out on a lot of fun, and more likely than not, you’ll be utterly disappointed. Also, don’t go into college with the mindset of sleeping with everyone you meet. Nobody likes a person with a bad reputation, and the risks involved are simply not worth it.

Do: Take advantage of student discounts on events, gyms, travel, electronics, clothing, food, textbooks, and more. This article has a list of hundreds of brands, like Apple, Chipotle, Amazon, and Kate Spade, all of which offer discounts to college students. Register with UNiDAYS to verify your student ID and receive promotions in your email inbox. Keep in mind that many local businesses may also offer specific discounts to students at your university, so check on campus for promotions and deals.

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Don’t: Forget that, in order to save money, you have to spend money. Discounts may be great, but in the end, you don’t want to buy so much discounted merchandise that you end up breaking the bank and having to call Daddy to beg for more money.

Do: Take pride in your university, even if it wasn’t your first choice of school. This is your new home for the next few years, and its name will one day be written on your license plate frame as you drop your future children off at soccer practice. The sooner you come to embrace it, the happier you will be. Love your school; you are now a part of its legacy.

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Don’t: Bash other schools. Sure, rivalry football games are fun and you get to tease your opponent. The moment you cross the line from classy to trashy, however, is the moment everyone loses respect for you and your university. Wearing your school’s name comes with the responsibility of upholding its reputation, so don’t be a bad sporting fan and don’t act pretentious about how great your school is. If it’s truly that great, others will know so without you having to spell it out for them.

Do: Keep this all in mind as you embark on your journey through college.

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Don’t: Sweat the small stuff. We all make mistakes; it’s whether we learn from them that really matters.

Throughout your time in college, you’ll come to find that you learn just as much outside of the classroom, if not more, as you do in it. You’ll discover things that you could not have possibly understood before, and you’ll come to realize why you wouldn’t have understood them then. You’ll learn so much about yourself, others, the world, and your place in it. You’ll laugh, cry, dance, sweat, hate, love, learn, try, and dream, and you’ll discover first-hand why everyone says that these are the best years of your life.

Have an embarrassing freshman year story? Tweet it to me and I might retweet you!

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