The Extremist's Guide to Getting Ahead in the College World

Today's world is a far harsher world than that which our parents grew up in- Everybody's fighting over something (jobs, oil, etc.) and prices are skyrocketing to new highs; Studies show that the average person is twice as busy today as people were fifty years ago, (yes, it's changed that much!) and despite the wonders of technology, most things haven't gotten any easier. So, when college students venture out into the world for the first time, full of grand dreams and high on their newfound sense of freedom, it's not surprising that so many of them fall, and fall hard.

Sure, there have been attempts to address this- many of them wonderful and incredibly useful. Financial aid, scholarships, work-study programs; there are hundreds of people and organizations just waiting out there to help students, some of them free, while others are more along the lines of a necessary evil. (I.E. student loans.)

There have also been guides; I'm sure you've probably read or heard it all, from the "don't buy designer just because mom does" to the "I lived on ramen for four years," but there's never been a gritty, realistic guide that incorporates all the essential aspects of being a successful student during your stint at college, be it two years, four years, or even eight years; Hence, the birth of the Extremist's guide, an article coming from someone who's been in, around, or involved indirectly with the college system for almost all of his life.

That being said, sit back and do what any good college student does: Take notes!

First rule: Save money!

You've heard this before, right? That's because it's fundamental to your survival as a college student. Most people will tell you to shop around (that's very important!) And buy stuff at thrift stores (It's not "gross" as long as you wash your clothes and don't buy your underwear or socks there!) But the average college student might compromise by spending the saved money on something frivolous, like movies or an extra six-pack. Resist the urge! Remember: The more money you can save anywhere in your life, the more money you'll have to spend on what really matters, your education, and trust me, every little bit helps, even if it's pennies. (they add up!)

Look for opportunities to save; classic examples of things to try cutting back on
(in terms of expenses,) are things you don't need to survive. Try these tips:

Electricity: If you've got your own place (Roommates are a good thing! They help cut your costs considerably!) try leaving the lights off as much as possible. Only keep important things plugged in all the time (i.e. your alarm clock, phone, computer, etc.) and try to resist the urge to use an air conditioner or heater all the time. A good way to work the temperature out is to block any cracks (i.e. where the window or door meet the floor/sill) with towels or clothes (Works as good as insulation!) and set the temperature up (or down) a few degrees every day or so until it's as close to the house's natural temperature as you're comfortable with. Given some time, your body will adapt, and it won't be so bad as if you just suddenly stopped using it. Remember, every little bit helps, and the more you live like a person from the stone-age, the more you'll save on electricity!

Gasoline: Roll as much as possible. With gas prices rising, you want to get the most fuel efficient car you can find. Sure, a lot of bravado comes with owning a big, red, gas-guzzling duelie, but you'll have the last laugh when your ugly econo-box is getting upwards of 30 miles to the gallon. You can improve this by easing on the accelerator, as opposed to rocketing off at stoplights or out of parking lots by pushing the pedal to the floor; drive in the slow-lane if possible, and try to go 45-50 MPH whenever it's reasonable (and legal!) Let inertia carry your car down hills and on down the road, keeping the brake for required stops only. This also helps you save your brakes- did you know that the average set of brake pads costs between 40 to 60 dollars? That's a tank and a half (or two!) of gas, right there in a simple component. Also- It helps to stay out of the shops. Pick up a Chilton manual (or consult a parent/friend) if your car starts acting funny. Chances are, it'll be something simple that you can fix with some tape, a screwdriver, and a wrench. (Unless you own an old clunker that runs terrible anyway!) Imagine the embarrassment of getting towed to the nearest repair shop and being charged fifty bucks just because something as simple as a battery-cable came loose…

Food: No, you don't have to live on ramen, (thank the maker!) But ten cents for a meal now and again does help ease the cost of living. (Or, buy some vegetables to spice things up; carrots, potatoes, and celery are good choices, to make that ramen into a 15-20 cent meal that tastes twice as good!) The biggest key is to live fresh and eat at home as much as possible. The produce aisle and the meat department are wonderful places in a store, and you can generally get everything you need for a low price there. Always buy in bulk if it's cheaper (like in the case of meat!) and stick with what's on sale, even if it isn't filet mignon. Big portions can be cut up into individual portions and frozen for future meals. (They keep for a long time!) Stay away from quickmeals and fast food. Why? Because it's unhealthy, digests too quickly, and is a lot more expensive than just buying food and cooking it yourself. You've gotta eat something that sticks to your ribs (Oatmeal and rice are great examples!) Remember, you are what you eat!

Things around the House: Now, I know that when you move out of your parent's basement, (or attic, or hallway, etc.) you're probably going to give them all their furniture back or sell it so you can buy new furniture; While this is "cool", it's not very cost effective. Take as much furniture as they're willing to give you, (and you're able to transport cost effectively) and buy the rest at a thrift store or a yard sale. Classic example; when I moved out, I strapped my desk to the roof of my car (something that would have cost close to $200 to replace) and picked up a gigantic (and beautiful) desk (retail: $300-500) that I still have, plus a neat little coffee table (Retail $45) with a fancy glass top, all for a grand total of $40. At the very least, I saved over five hundred dollars right there, had I bought them brand new, and that's five hundred dollars that was free to go to books, tuition, etc. Remember! Second-hand is your friend, unless it's smoke.

Budget: Figure out (as soon as possible) how much it costs you to live per day. It isn't hard, just take a forth of your total monthly costs, divide that by seven, and voila! You have a figure that represents about how much you have to make per day (on average) to survive comfortably. (It's usually between $25 and $40, but the lower you can get it, the better!) If you look at each day that way, it's easier to look at ways to cut back on costs, because not only does it give you a good idea of how much it really does cost to live, but it makes that $7.00 six pack look a lot more expensive!

Social Life: Okay, I've saved this one for last because it's the hardest, and should be considered optional at the least and advisory at the most. A definite way to cut back on funds is to become a "nerd." Spend time away from home in an area where you can get things done, enjoy comfortable temperatures, and be free of the distractions of money (The library is a good example) Tally up how much you spend on drinks, gasoline used for recreational purposes, trips to the movies, etc. Sure, friends and lovers are important, but don't go overboard. Remember: Every hour you spend somewhere other than home is an hour less electricity you're burning, but also remember to keep perspective; having too much of a social life has the nasty effect of draining your cash and lowering your grades. (Low grades always look bad when you're applying for scholarships, jobs, extracurricular activities, or softsoaping your relatives for a cash kickdown.)

Second Rule: Don't Sell Yourself Short!

Ok, here's the hard, short middle of it all.

It's important to remember that opportunity is your friend! How did people like Bill Gates and Donald Trump get to the top? By exploiting opportunities! Use as much of your free time as you can looking for new opportunities- Classic examples include Financial Aid, (Most people qualify for at least some kind of aid!) Fee Waivers, Scholarships, and other jobs. (I.E. Better jobs, supplemental jobs that pay for production [like writing!], and temporary gigs that fit with your schedule [like running booths at fairs])

It's important to keep your eyes open! There really are people out there just looking for an excuse to pay you, but they aren't easy to find (If they were, someone else would have already gotten there, right?) Flaunt your strengths, brush your weaknesses off as inconsequential, and always remember to smile. You'll get more with a toothy grin and a kind word than with a blank stare and a muttered "um… well." Remember, you're worth something, you're better than the average guy, and dagnabbit, it's time you went out there and proved it!

Third Rule: Get good grades!

No, it's not easier said than done. The biggest thing to consider on the road to becoming a good student is knowing how your mind works. Now, that doesn't mean you have to be a psychologist or a neurosurgeon, it means that it's important to discover the best method for you to understand any given material. For me, it means going over the material again on the same day, at a comfortable pace, with music playing, and with enough time afterwards to relax a little bit and think about something else while it "digests", then showing up a few minutes early to class so I can go over whatever I'm having trouble with right before the test or quiz. I've had friends and relatives that get the best results doing everything from listening to death metal with a beer in hand while studying to meditating before and after reading the assigned material. It's all about you, and how best you absorb what the instructor is trying to teach you, because when test time rolls around, it's what's in your head that counts, not what's in the book.

It's also important to get to know your teacher! Remember, they're people too, and that extra handshake in the hallway or that few kind words before or after class can get you a long ways. If the teacher knows who you are, and knows you're an okay guy/gal, it could mean the difference between grades. That being said, it always helps to talk to your instructors outside of class, not just about the material, but about shared interests as well. You don't have to be the teacher's pet, or an overachiever, but getting to know the person holding your grades hostage is always a good idea.

Ask lots of questions: Very, very important! It doesn't matter how dumb the question may sound to you, it's the teacher's job to answer it, and your job to ask it. Besides, I guarantee there'll be someone else in your class who's wondering the same thing. If you can't do it for you, do it for the little guy, the guy who's too shy to ask himself!

Copy the blackboard: Anything that the instructor feels is important enough to write on the blackboard is important enough to be put into your notes. This includes graphs, and anything else he/she draws up there or illustrates using their arms and hands. (Case in point, I've had instructors who never drew diagrams, only acted them out, right there in front of the class.) …And don't forget about lists! If your instructor ever makes a list during a lecture (i.e. "there are three things that…") or says "This is important to know," make sure to write it down! It'll probably be on the next exam.

Avoid procrastination: A friend of mine once said "Procrastination is an Evil Bunny." Sounds ludicrous, I know, but it's very true. Procrastination may seem like no big deal, even somewhat fun, but the truth is, if you "embrace" it, it'll bite your legs off! (Like the evil bunny) So, avoid procrastination like the plague, or rather, like an evil bunny. Then you can laugh when it chews on someone else. (Just kidding!) Besides, the more work you get out of the way, the more time you have for fun! Or, if that doesn't work for you, think about it this way: Students who are ahead in their schoolwork by a few days or even a week do better in class overall. Reading ahead is important, and it'll put you in the top five (in terms of your class) if you practice it. Besides, if you're a week ahead and you come down with a nasty flu, you've got up to a week to recover before you start falling behind!

And last, but most certainly not least, keep a good mind set! You'll never succeed unless you want to, unless you believe you can, and unless you have faith in yourself. If you think "Man, this stuff is too hard, I'm going to fail, I might as well just go out and get hammered," then you've lost the battle, because that's what education really is, a battle. If William Churchill would have said those same words the first time things started to get hard in Britain during World War II, they'd have been crushed by the Nazis, unless someone new, with a "can-do" attitude stepped up to the plate to take his place. The education system isn't about luck, it's about knowing how to be at the right place at the right time, all the time, and earning the grade you feel you really deserve. If you always set your sights just to pass, that's all you'll do, and if you aim to fail, that's all you'll do. It takes a brave soul to aim for a perfect grade, and it takes an even braver soul to achieve it. Find the strength within yourself to seize the day! You'll never be able to go back and try to do it over again without wasting time, and time is one of the most precious resources you have at your disposal.

So there you have it! The three major rules to success in the college world, and three good pointers for a successful life. (Instructors are a lot like bosses; keep that in mind.) As long as you can eat good, for a low price, keep your eyes open for opportunities (go out there and make some connections, baby!) and keep a positive mind set through even the worst of times, there's no limit to what you can do. So set your sights high, and remember: There is no day like today; make the best of every step toward your own glorious future. Succeed!


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