7 Tips for Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner as an International Student

On the fourth Thursday of November every year, Americans observe Thanksgiving Day, a secular national holiday centered on giving thanks. The first Thanksgiving occurred in the 1600s when the Pilgrims and America’s indigenous people (also known as Native Americans) came together for a feast to celebrate the harvest and other blessings.

Though some things have changed since that first “harvest feast,” the holiday still centers on gratitude, and celebrating with friends and family over a shared meal. Dinner is the main event on Thanksgiving, and for many Americans, their traditional Thanksgiving dinner consists of: roast turkey, turkey stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, corn, dinner rolls, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Of course, many Americans will have other dishes and desserts to commemorate the day, and will also participate in activities such as watching football on TV or going to see a local game, or watching the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on TV (or in-person if you live in New York City).

Regardless of what’s eaten, what’s watched, or how it’s celebrated, at its core, Thanksgiving is really about coming together with friends and family and reminding ourselves how much we have to be thankful for. As long as you’re reflecting and giving thanks, you are celebrating Thanksgiving.

If you’re interested in hosting your own Thanksgiving feast, we’ve gathered seven tips to help you celebrate the holiday:

Plan out your meal as far in advance as possible…

Start by figuring out your menu at least the week before (if not earlier) and determine what supplies you’ll need. Some things to start thinking about:

  • What food and ingredients you’ll need for the recipes you want to make
  • How many dishes and utensils you’ll need for your dinner guests
  • What sort of space do you need to host all of your guests — will you require more chairs or another table?
  • What time you want to host dinner

By starting to plan out the details of Thanksgiving Day, you’ll have a better idea of what you need to prepare and host the meal, and also means you have a game plan for grocery shopping, as the stores get crowded in the week leading up to the actual day. Planning ahead also means you can give your friends or family members enough time to make arrangements or to contribute and help you prepare.

…Including purchasing non-perishable items ahead of time

In addition to planning out your meal as far in advance as possible, try to buy as many ingredients or supplies as you need in advance too. For example, many families will purchase cranberry sauce pre-made in a can, which is something you can buy early. By purchasing some items well ahead of Thanksgiving, you can ensure that some of the ingredients or supplies are in stock and readily available for purchase.

Incorporate your own culture and traditions

The original Thanksgiving brought together the Pilgrims and the Indigenous people in America – each group coming from very different cultures. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, you too can bring your own culture into this American tradition to make it distinctly yours. Consider some of your own favorite traditions or holidays and the food and rituals that accompany them. Is there something you can incorporate into your Thanksgiving meal? Maybe it’s choosing one of your favorite dishes that could pair well with some of the traditional Thanksgiving foods. Maybe it’s adding a course that represents your culture, or playing games that you typically associate with a holiday from home. It’s okay (and encouraged) to make Thanksgiving a holiday that is personal and special to you.

Accept help!

One of the best things about Thanksgiving is that it brings people together, so if you’re nervous about cooking the entire meal yourself, ask for help from the people you’ve invited. Encourage American friends to bring their favorite dish, or ask your fellow international students to contribute a dish that’s from their culture to complement the meal. You don’t need to do it all on your own, and oftentimes the meal is that much more enjoyable when you have friends and family sharing their dishes and participating in the cooking.

Create a cooking schedule

Cooking a traditional Thanksgiving meal — with the turkey, all of the side dishes and desserts — is certainly a big undertaking, and one that requires a plan. Just the turkey itself can take several hours to cook, so you’ll need to plan when and how you’ll cook your other dishes with this in mind. Many dishes can be prepared completely or partially the day before (or in some cases, even a little earlier) so that you are only finishing or re-heating those dishes on the day of Thanksgiving.

Set the table the night before

If you have the space and are able, set your table the night before the meal to save yourself some extra steps on Thanksgiving. Lay out the utensils your guests will need and any other necessary dishes, so that you can be ready to serve and eat. This will save you time, and also cut down on any commotion in the kitchen during the meal.

Focus on enjoying the deal and your meal — not perfection

This is definitely the most important tip we could give you. Like we mentioned at the beginning of the post, Thanksgiving is about giving thanks and being with your family and friends. It’s not about having the perfect table set up or the perfect meal. Don’t stress out too much about getting your mashed potatoes just right, the turkey taking a little too long, or having to fit a lot of people into a small space. What matters most are the memories you’re creating. Enjoy the work you put into your meal and be proud of yourself for bringing your friends or family together.

How to Write a US Address

Whether you’re trying to get food delivered from Uber eats, providing an address to your parents, or trying to order a free SIM card, it’s important to understand how to input a US mailing address to ensure all packages, mail, and late night food cravings arrive at the right destination. Though it might seem obvious, US mailing addresses are a little different than those in your home country. Understanding each component needed for an accurate address will prevent delays or returns of your parcels, which is why we’ve outlined the requirements below for your reference.

US addresses are written based on most specific information to least specific information. Addresses consist of:

  • The recipient’s first and last name
  • Street number and name (address line 1)
  • Apartment or unit and its number (address line 2)
  • City, state and zip code (include all of this on one line with a comma between city and state, but not zip code)
  • Country

We’ll share what each component of an address means so you know why you need it and where to find it.

Recipient

Okay, this one is easy. Who will be receiving the package or delivery? Make sure to include first and last name. If you’re sending the package or delivery to more than one person, include both first and last names of the recipients.

Address lines

The first address line should include the number of the house or building where you live, and the name of the street you live on. The second address line is only applicable if you live in an apartment or building with multiple units, in which case you should include the specific apartment, suite, or unit number.

Think of it this way: are there other apartments in the building? Are there individual mail boxes for your neighbors? If you live in a house at 123 First Street with your family, you’re the only inhabitants so the mail will likely make its way directly to you. However, if you live in an apartment at 123 First Street that has other units inside, you are not the only inhabitant so you’ll need to include “Apartment #1” or “Unit 3” depending on how your building identifies individual units for its inhabitants.

City

Another easy one! See, it’s not so hard. You’ll need to include the name of the town or city you’re living in.

State

On the same line as the city, you’ll want to include the name of state to which you’re addressing the letter or parcel. There are 50 states in the United States. You can spell out the entire state name or use its abbreviation, which you can find a list of here on the United States Posal Service (USPS) website: https://pe.usps.com/text/pub28/28apb.htm

Zip code

Zip codes are really important in ensuring proper mail delivery. A US zip code is at minimum five digits long, with an optional four-digit add-on (that provides extra detail but is not required for delivery.) You can find the right zip code for your address using this link from the USPS website: https://tools.usps.com/zip-code-lookup.htm

And yes, the numbers do actually mean something. The first digit represents a part of the country, the second and third digits represent a region within that part of the country or in that section of states, and the fourth and fifth digits represent a group of delivery addresses within that region. The zip code provides the deliverer with that specific yet crucial information to ensure successful delivery; without it, you’ll risk non-delivery or even having your mail returned to you.

Country

If you’re sending mail to a US address from an international location, don’t forget to list the US as the final line in your address.

A few more tips
  • According to the USPS, “Automated mail processing machines read addresses on mailpieces from the bottom up and will first look for a city, state, and ZIP Code. Then the machines look for a delivery address. If the machines can’t find either line, then your mailpiece could be delayed or misrouted.” This is why it’s crucial to have every part of the address (and ensure each part is accurate).
  • If you’re sending a letter or package, you can include a “return address” on the top left-hand corner of the parcel or envelope. A return address is simply the address of the person sending said letter or package. If there is an unsuccessful delivery, the post office or other delivery service may return the letter or package to your return address.

Giving Back on a Budget

Happy Pride Month, folks! As the world opens up, you’re probably planning how to budget for that music festival (hello, Outside Lands), a pair of shorts (Everlane, anyone?), or just the increasing amount of “drinks!!” invites in your Google calendar. This Pride Month, though, is as good a time as any to start thinking about philanthropy.

That’s right: philanthropy. As in giving some $$$. You might be thinking, “HellooOoOOooo, I’m broke?? I have nothing to give, and even if I did, I could never give enough to make a difference.” That, my friend, is where you’re wrong.

According to MarketWatch, most people give around 3-5% of their income to charity (although many people donate much more). For you, that could just be $5, which is equivalent to:

  • A little bit less than a coconut water from the dining hall
  • A little bit more than a bag of Boom Chicka Pop 
  • Basically a Venti Caramel Macchiato from Starbucks

You get the point. But what’s all this have to do with Pride?

Pride month is a reminder to honor LGBTQIA+ folks near and far. It’s a celebration of queer culture and history. It calls us to remember all the folks who died fighting for liberation (like Marsha P. Johnson) and uplift those still in the fight (like television writer Janet Mock, deputy director for transgender justice at ACLU Chase Strangio, and many more). Pride is also a call to support LGBTQIA+ folks with cold, hard cash.

If you identify as an ally, how can you contribute? Start by either making a one-time donation or, if you’re able, set up an automatic monthly donation to the organization of your choice (even if it is just $5). Here is a list of LGBTQIA+ led organizations currently needing donations:

If you identify as LGBTQIA+, June could be your month to treat yourself and focus on self-care. That could mean going out for a nice dinner, unwinding with some Netflix, or hitting up your local Pride parade. Honor whatever you need right now.

However you identify, we stand with you.

This post is brought to you by Deserve and has been re-published on the CampusSIMS blog with Deserve’s permission. Deserve is a digital-first, mobile-centric, highly configurable credit card solution that uses machine learning and alternative data, Deserve partners with universities, associations, financial institutions, fintechs and modern consumer brands to develop, rapidly deploy and power white label and co-branded credit card programs for any audience. The cloud-based platform also provides millennials and Gen Zs fair access to credit products and the tools to achieve financial independence. They’re award winning EDU card offers great benefits for international students without Social Security numbers and domestic students. Cardholders can receive Amazon Prime Student on Deserve, 1% cashback, no international transaction fees and $0 annual fees. For more information, visit deserve.com.

Credit vs. Debit

No one can grow a money tree for you, but you already have the seeds to plant your own.

The biggest secret of the ultrawealthy is that many of their fancy toys—cars, boats, houses—probably weren’t bought with their own money, at least not at first. With proper money management, anyone can finance their way to the lifestyle they want.

The key to accessing that money (at a low interest-rate) is pretty simple: have good credit. Now, talk of debit vs. credit might sound a little confusing at first, but it’s relatively easy once you understand the basics.

First thing’s first: what’s the difference between a debit and a credit card? Well, both are little pieces of plastic that live inside your wallet and can be used in place of cash but the similarities roughly end there.

Debit cards act like cash. When you swipe your debit card, your own money is transferred instantly from your bank account to the seller. No debt is involved. Debit cards are useful for getting money out of ATMs and they typically don’t have fees added for regular use.

Because debit cards use the money you already have, it’s important not to charge more than you have in the bank. If you do, your card may be declined or you may be charged an overdraft fee, a penalty for using more than you own.

Credit cards are based on a different principle: you’re paying with the bank’s money. This is how the wealthy appear even wealthier. Buying on credit allows you to make purchases now and pay them off when you’re ready. At the end of each month, you can pay either the total amount or minimum amount required on the account to avoid late fees. Credit cards often come with perks, like cash back or freebies (hello Amazon Prime Student!).

An important facet of financial freedom is having a good credit score. A credit score is essentially a measure of trust, and paying your credit card bill on time is one way to build it. Banks, insurance companies, and landlords want to know if you’ve made good financial choices in the past and paid back owed money on time. Does the car dealership trust you to pay back the loan on that Ferrari? Your credit score will give them a good idea.

This fancy little number increases as you build good credit or decreases if you miss out on payments. Having a high credit score opens a lot of doors, from getting a better house loan to landing a job. Debit cards don’t affect your credit score, but using a credit card wisely can help you build it.

Beyond building a credit score, credit cards typically have more built-in security than debit cards. Unauthorized purchases or fraudulent charges on your card are covered by credit card companies and typically reimbursed much faster than debit cards. Credit cards often come with insurance on purchases and may even insure your cell phone. They’re also great for emergencies. Next time you get a flat tire on your new car, you can charge the towing fee to your credit card and pay it off later.

Because credit involves money that is not your own, it’s important to use credit cards responsibly. This means only charging what you can afford to pay back and being mindful of taking on debt. As rapper Kendrick Lamar sings, “Money trees is the perfect place for shade.” In order to grow your tree, however, you must regularly water the roots.

Do your best to pay off your credit card bill as quickly as possible so the interest doesn’t add up over time.

Choosing when to use a debit or credit card is up to you. Many people prefer to use credit cards when traveling to earn rewards and to maintain the extra layer of security against fraud. Credit cards can also be useful for bigger purchases that you can’t pay off in full right away. Debit cards are handy for any situation in which you would normally pay cash or for purchases where you don’t want to receive a bill. Finding a system that matches your comfort level while also building your credit score is the best way to go.

Legendary investor Warren Buffet echoed Lamar’s sentiments when he said, “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” In other words, developing responsible money habits like building good credit can have large returns in the long run.
Both debit and credit cards are useful to own, and most people have both. It’s great to get financially savvy early on so that you can plant your own money tree and benefit for years to come.

At Deserve, we’re here to help you invest in your independence and manage your money wisely. Be sure to visit our Credit Education learning platform to get into the nitty gritty of financial independence.

This post is brought to you by Deserve and has been re-published on the CampusSIMS blog with Deserve’s permission. Deserve is a digital-first, mobile-centric, highly configurable credit card solution that uses machine learning and alternative data, Deserve partners with universities, associations, financial institutions, fintechs and modern consumer brands to develop, rapidly deploy and power white label and co-branded credit card programs for any audience. The cloud-based platform also provides millennials and Gen Zs fair access to credit products and the tools to achieve financial independence. They’re award winning EDU card offers great benefits for international students without Social Security numbers and domestic students. Cardholders can receive Amazon Prime Student on Deserve, 1% cashback, no international transaction fees and $0 annual fees. For more information, visit deserve.com.

What Is Networking? And How to Do It

You’ve heard the word before: networking. You have probably heard it from your professors or the Career Center at your school, and you most definitely have heard it in relation to some sort of event promising “networking opportunities.” But no matter how much you hear the word, you might still not be sure what it is — or even how to do it — so we’re offering some insight into what networking is, why you need to network while at university, and how to network effectively.

What is networking?

Networking is really just a fancy term for: “meeting new people and building relationships,” but with a mutual understanding that you can draw on those relationships for career advice or help. When someone talks about a “networking event,” it just means that the event is an opportunity to meet people who might be good resources as you explore career options or set career goals. Usually, at a “networking event,” you’ll be able to meet people in careers you aspire to have, or at companies you aspire to work for. When you meet people while networking, you might discuss your own career goals and ambitions, and learn more about how they navigated their own career path.

However, just because something is labeled a “networking event” doesn’t mean that those are the only opportunities to meet people who could become invaluable to your own career journey. If you’re out at a school event with alumni, faculty, or staff, then you can meet people who might be able to provide the same sort of career help as if you were at a networking-specific event. In fact, as you travel to new places, join clubs or start jobs, and make new connections and friends, you will naturally build relationships with people who might be able to help you with your career questions and journey. Conversely, you may become a resource for those connections as well, as they may turn to you for advice or insight into job opportunities.

Why do you need to network?

We know why building relationships is so important in other parts of your life. For example, your friends and family are there when you need help in all aspects of life. Your classmates are there when you need help studying or better understanding the course material to earn a good grade. So why should you network?

With networking, you build relationships with people who can help you navigate your career path. You can call upon these connections when you notice that they work for a company you’d like to work for, or if they have pursued a career path that you’re interested in. They can give you advice if you are looking for the best way to excel in your current job, such as addressing questions about getting a raise, going from an internship to a full-time job, or anything that comes up in relation to your career path and goals.

By building a robust network of business connections, you are securing helpful resources for your professional life. If you’re trying to secure an internship or a job after graduation, especially as an international student, you can ask the people you meet through networking if they have any leads for job opportunities, or if they can provide advice as you navigate the visa process. These connections may be able to help you better understand what the process is like timing securing your visa with securing your job, or they can point you in the direction of resources that could help you.

Ultimately, the people you meet through networking are there throughout your career journey – whether that’s in your first job after college, or as you pursue new opportunities in the years that follow. You maintain those relationships – and continually build new ones – to keep your network strong and relevant to your professional life’s needs.

How do you network?

The easiest way to network is by attending networking events hosted by your university (whether virtual or in-person). Often, the Career Center at your school will invite local businesses or alumni to attend an event and give students the chance to learn more about different job opportunities, what it’s like to work in certain career fields, and anything else that can help students with their professional life after graduation. You can also attend Career Fairs that are more obviously tied to your job search, but can still be an opportunity to meet new people, even if you’re not looking for a job at that exact moment. By attending a Career Fair, you can add new contacts to your network, and reach back out to those contacts when you are ready to job hunt or if you are looking for more information into that particular company or field.

Outside of your Career Center, sometimes university clubs or organizations, or even academic departments may also host similar events to assist students in creating these connections. They might label these events as networking events, but also look out for “career nights” or any time the club, organization, or academic department brings in a speaker or hosts another event. People from a relevant industry may attend regardless of whether it’s specifically for networking, and you can still introduce yourself to other attendees and add them to your network.

When you are at these networking events, there’s no need to be self-conscious. Everyone there understands that this event is to meet new people, and other attendees are likely there to grow their own network. Introduce yourself and be prepared to answer questions about: what you’re studying, what career field you’d like to pursue after university, and what you are most passionate about. If you get nervous meeting new people, you can practice your answers in advance, and you might consider developing an elevator pitch (a brief overview of your skills, experiences, and career goals) to make it easier to respond to these questions.

Another great way to maintain your network is through LinkedIn, of course. LinkedIn can be a great resource for reinforcing the relationships you make and grow through networking events or other opportunities for meeting people relevant to your career interests. After you meet someone through an event, ask if it’s okay to exchange contact information and then later, you can add them on LinkedIn. If there is someone you had a particularly good conversation with, make sure to follow-up with a thank-you and keep in contact with them to maintain the relationship – similar to how you would with a friend you might want to keep in touch with.

Networking doesn’t have to be scary or complicated. Just remember: networking is just another term for connecting with people who have career goals, experiences, and skills that you are looking to have or want to grow. And this is a mutually beneficial relationship! As you advance through your own career and develop your own skills and experiences, others can rely on you to help them as well.

How to Talk to Your Professor about a Bad Grade

Listen. It happens. Sometimes even when you try your best on an assignment, you still don’t manage to get the grade you were hoping for. You might be disappointed and angry, feeling as though you deserved a better grade, but going to your professor accusing him or her of giving you the wrong grade isn’t the best approach. Instead, we want to offer you a step-by-step guide to discussing your grades (especially when you don’t get the grade you want) with your professor (or teaching assistant in some cases) in a productive way that helps you earn better grades in the future.

Step 1: Review your professor’s grading rubric

Before you even meet with your professor, you should re-examine your test, essay, or assignment, and any instructions, criteria, or rubric associated with it. Professors use rubrics (or other assignment criteria) to “define academic expectations,” “ensure consistency in the evaluation of academic work,” and “as scoring instruments to determine grades or the degree to which learning standards have been demonstrated or attained by students.” Sometimes your professor will set these standards in their syllabus in regards to all assignments, while other times your professor will provide individual criteria for what they’re looking for in each individual assignment. If you’re reviewing a test with multiple choice or similar questions, you may not have a rubric, but it’s possible the teacher may have provided insight into how he or she would be grading an open-ended question.

It’s always important to review your professor’s criteria before each assignment so you have a clear understanding of what he or she expects from you to earn an A (or the best overall grade). If your professor doesn’t provide this, it’s good to ask him or her before you begin your assignment. In this case, as you’re reviewing your work after receiving the grade, review any information your professor has given you regarding what constitutes “A”-quality work and compare that to the work your produced. Does your assignment meet the criteria your professor outlined to achieve the grade you wanted? Did you follow all instructions related to the assignment? If the answer to either of these questions is “No,” then you can begin to understand why your professor gave you that grade. If you’re still confused about your grade, then it warrants a conversation with your professor.

Step 2: Review your work and circle areas where you have questions

After reviewing your work in relation to the grading criteria, you should circle, underline, and/or highlight areas where you have questions. If your professor provided any feedback on your assignment that you disagree with or are confused about, you should mark those as well, and consider why you disagree. This is not to say that you should be preparing to argue against your professor’s feedback or comments. You should be coming from a place of understanding.

For example, if your professor said your thesis statement didn’t establish a strong argument and you think it did, consider why you think your thesis establishes a strong argument, but also consider what your definition of a good thesis statement is. You might want to make a note to ask your professor to help you understand what constitutes a strong thesis statement, and where you could have improved yours. It’s important to reflect both on your professor’s feedback and comments as well as why you are confused by it and/or disagree.

When you are ready to talk to your professor, this will help you focus the conversation and also give your professor some insight into your concerns. Remember: you do not want to be defensive. You are not going in to argue against your grade. You are going in to have a dialogue regarding your professor’s standards, how your assignment compares, and what’s needed to be done to earn the best possible grade on this assignment and in future ones.

Step 3: Schedule time to talk with your professor

You might feel compelled to confront your professor immediately after receiving your assignment back and viewing the grade, but it’s better to take some time to process, review your work (as per Step 1 and 2), and then schedule a time to talk with your professor when ready. If your professor offers office hours, you can always drop by during those designated times, but you can also approach your professor after a class or send him or her an email to request a discussion. It’s best to phrase your request as exactly that: a discussion of your grade, rather than phrase the question more defensively regarding why you got a bad grade.

For example, you can say something like: “Hi Professor. After receiving my assignment back recently, I was hoping I could schedule a time to speak with you regarding my grade. I’d like to get a better understanding of your feedback and my mistakes, and get insight into how I can improve in the future. Thank you for your help!” Be sure to include your name, email address, as well as the class you’re taking from that professor, and perhaps even be specific about what assignment you’d like to discuss.

Once you and your professor schedule a time, make sure you have the assignment in question, as well as any notes or references (like your rubric or syllabus) that will help in your discussion. This ensures a more successful discussion because you can refer to your assignment and point out particular areas where you have any questions. Your professor will also appreciate your preparedness.

Step 4: Approach your conversation with an open-mind vs. being defensive

When it comes to the actual discussion of your grades, do not enter your conversation looking to change your professor’s mind or being defensive about your work. It’s important to be realistic: you will likely not walk away from this conversation with a new grade. However, you will walk away from the discussion having a better understanding of what you needed to do to earn a better grade, and how you can accomplish that on your next assignment. When you meet with your professor, you can simply start the conversation by thanking him or her for agreeing to review the assignment and answer your question.

Then, you can move on to saying that you had some questions about the assignment and your grade, and were hoping you could walk through them together. As you review together, take notes (either on the assignment directly or in your own notebook) and ask questions. If you want some more clarity into something your professor is saying, now is the perfect opportunity to ask him or her to go into a deeper explanation. If you disagree with something your professor says, fight the inclination to be defensive and instead explain your perspective and ask if they can help you better understand where there’s a disconnect.

For example, to resume the thesis statement example, if your professor says you didn’t establish a stance for an argument, and you think you did, ask your professor: “Can you explain how I could have better established a stance on this topic? How can I craft a better thesis statement for next time? Do you have tips for making sure my stance is clear and easily understood by the reader?” These questions still help you get to a place of understanding but are far less defensive than, “Why isn’t my thesis good enough? Why is my thesis wrong?”

Step 5: Ask what you can do better next time

As you review the assignment with your professor, or after you have gone over all of your questions and your professor’s feedback on this assignment, you then want to shift the conversation to what you can to ensure a better grade on future assignments. If you have your syllabus available or already have an upcoming assignment due, you might ask your professor to review the rubric or discuss what he or she is looking for in a successful assignment. If you have questions about the criteria, now is the time to ask.

For example, if your upcoming assignment includes a presentation in front of your class (whether on Zoom or in-person) you might discuss what makes for a successful presentation. You might ask what parts of the presentation are most important to the professor – speaking out loud in front of the class, or the prepared component that you turn into your professor (like a paper or presentation slides).

Ask as many questions as needed to help you feel confident in understanding what’s required for a good grade. Remember that your professor can’t give you the answers or help you prepare your assignment, but your professor can certainly steer you in the right direction.

Step 6: Accept your professor’s advice and move forward

At the end of your conversation, your professor may have decided to adjust your grade or it may remain the same. However, it’s important to thank your professor and accept their decision either way. As you encounter future assignments, or even as you’re tackling current ones, you can always schedule more time with your professor for help as needed. Not only will this show your professor that you are invested in doing well in his or her class, it will likely help you earn a better grade.

3 Tips for Starting Your Semester Off Right

At the start of a new semester (or new school year), we all have every intention of being the best student we can possibly be. We buy our textbooks and tell ourselves we’re going to start our reading early; we make sure we have folders, highlighter pens, and every note-taking accessory needed; and we even promise ourselves that this is the year we stop procrastinating. Yet, all of those things are easier said than done, especially when the school year hasn’t quite begun. Once our academic, social, and work obligations begin, suddenly, all of those promises we made to ourselves become that much more difficult to keep. That’s why we’re sharing tips for starting your semester off strongly (yes, even during a pandemic), so that you can maintain all of that positive momentum and earn good grades.

Tip #1: Actually read your syllabus.

You know that piece of paper or PDF your professor distributes at the beginning of the semester with all of the due dates, assignments, and class rules? Yeah, that’s your syllabus, and yes, you should definitely read it. In fact, we recommend reading it multiple times. Your syllabus helps you keep track of due dates, but it also helps you understand what your professor’s expectations are to earn that A. Oftentimes, if you have a question about the class, an assignment, or a rule, the syllabus is able to answer it for you. You’ll want to reference your syllabus throughout the semester, so keep it accessible (and safe).

Tip #2: Make sure you are aware of every deadline and due date

Depending on your professor and syllabus, you’ll know when every one of your assignments, exams, and essays will be at the start of the semester. That is some pretty valuable and important information — you can see into the future! And you should use that information wisely. Utilize a digital planner (like your calendar app or a productivity tool) or a good old-fashioned paper planner and start marking down all of those due dates and deadlines.

Just as importantly, you’ll want to also mark down when you have other obligations as well, like your work schedule, club or organization meetings, that weekly call you have with your parents, or even some time for self-care, even if all of these things are virtual for the near-future. This will ensure you know how to manage your time properly amidst all of the things you have to do. You’ll be able to plan when you need to get work done, and also when you need time for recharging.

Tip #3: Get help as soon as you need it – not just before test day

In a perfect world, you’ll be able to understand all of your assignments and the content of upcoming test materials and complete them without any questions or difficulty. Unfortunately, when you’re learning new materials and juggling a full course load (on top of any other extracurriculars), that doesn’t typically happen. This is why you need to utilize the resources you have available to you when something becomes too challenging for you to tackle on your own. Whenever you reach a point in the semester where something just is too confusing or you’re having trouble completing an assignment, ask for help — don’t wait until right before the due date when it could be too late. Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re “giving up” or that you’re a “failure” for needing help; it means you recognize when getting another perspective, or having someone help you review your work can help you overcome any hurdles of understanding.

Make sure you know what resources are available to you at your school’s library, and look into whether your school offers tutors in various subject matter. Many schools have things like math or writing centers whether other students and professors can help answer your questions. Another excellent resource is your professor’s office hours. They dedicate time each week that’s exclusively for helping their students navigate their class and assignments. If you have a TA (teaching assistant) for a class, reach out to them too. All of these resources are there to ensure you aren’t struggling through a class; they can help you feel confident that you can understand class material and tackle assignments. If you do this throughout the semester ahead of your assignments and tests, you’ll be better positioned to earn a good grade at the end.

What to Consider When Going Back to School During the Pandemic

As we all watch the news and check our email inboxes for the latest updates from our universities, we are still wondering: what will going back to school look like this fall? Many schools have already made their decisions about whether they will hold in-person classes or return to a virtual schedule, but that still doesn’t bring a strong sense of safety or security. Still, all students must make the best decisions for themselves. To assist you in your considerations and preparation for a return to campus (or to the virtual classroom), we’ve compiled a list of what to consider for going back to school:

Safety of your living situation

In the age of COVID-19, when we say “safety” of living situation, we mean: what is your ability to social distance and minimize use of shared spaces or living resources? If you’re living on-campus in student housing, find out what safety measures your school is taking to ensure your space is properly sanitized. If you’re living off-campus in an apartment building, talk to the management company. Aside from the obvious mask-wearing, consider how you can utilize these shared spaces or resources during times where there might be lower usage so you can maintain a safe distance from others when possible.

Safety and practicality of your classroom or study space

Similarly, safety measures will likely decrease the number of spaces where you are able to study, and how you’re able to attend in-person classes. If you’re virtual, try to find a private space in your home for studying, free of distractions. For those attending class in-person, get information from your school, as well as your individual professors, about how they will ensure you can attend class as safely as possible.

Access to healthcare and other health-related resources

We can’t talk about health and safety without also considering what your access to healthcare services will be like. Make sure you know where the closest health clinic is, as well as its hours and what services it provides. It’s important to know where and how you can get tested for COVID-19 in the event you feel you were exposed to the virus. Some schools may also require that you sign up for health insurance to attend school, so make sure you look into the best plan for your needs.

Communication with family and friends

With so much uncertainty, it’s important you’re able to stay connected and informed throughout the semester. Your school will be able to provide you with WiFi or Internet, but for all of those times you need to make a call, a text, or you venture off campus, be sure you have reliable phone service to keep your family or friends updated as to how you’re doing. Having a U.S. phone number is especially important in the event of an emergency, as it will allow you to contact your school or the services that you need. Make sure you are signed up with reliable phone service ahead of the semester so that you can be safe as soon as you step foot onto campus.

Participation in social activities

Starting school inevitably means meeting your classmates and other students, and wanting to spend time with them. Given restrictions on gatherings – which varies by state – you’ll need to be conscientious of not only the rules in your local community, but on your campus and at your school. Have honest conversations with your friends about prioritizing safety. It might seem as though things are safe in your on-campus bubble, but gathering in groups is still a risk, and you and your friends may need to rethink how you plan to come together and socialize.

Going back to school should be an exciting time. Normally, a new semester brings anxiety or stress stemming from things like the new situations you’ll encounter, adjusting to new professors, and meeting the expectations of the curriculum. However, this year, as a student, you’ll have to grapple with the unknowns and uncertainty that comes with starting the semester during a pandemic. While it certainly can be scary to think about, if you arm yourself with information and knowledge about how to keep yourself safe, you can still have a successful semester. Just remember that doing your best is sometimes enough, and that you have other students in your community that will be facing the same challenges.

What You Should Look for When Comparing Universities Online

When considering which university is right for you, the ideal scenario is being able to visit each one in person and get a feel for the place, see for yourself what it is you like and dislike, as well as meet face-to-face with potential professors and students. Unfortunately, visiting universities in person can be expensive, arduous and in the current climate, risky for one’s health.

Thankfully though, many of the most important resources for comparing universities and colleges are freely available online. However, with such a wealth of information for each institution, what should you be looking for when comparing universities online?

Program Content and Structure

Perhaps the first thing you should decide on is which course you intend on studying. Once this is clear, it becomes far easier to compare colleges and universities.

When comparing courses, consider not only the content (two courses with the same name can have vastly different curricula) but also the structure. How many modules are there to take? What freedom do you have in choosing? What will the average week look like, lots of lectures or more individual study time? What degree of practical work compared to theoretical? How many hours of teaching time will there be? Your preferences for each will be key in making a decision.

Assessment

Some degrees will assess you heavily by expecting lots of essays to be written. Others may have lots of exams, or practical tests, others may have presentations or group work. Compare course assessments and see which play best to your strengths, but remember: you are at university to test your limits and improve. It may be worthwhile testing yourself and choosing a course that will push you out of your comfort zone.

Academic Reputation

There are two things to consider here, the reputation of the institution as a whole, as well as of the particular course you plan on studying. Both can often be compared in some of the world’s most popular ranking lists, such as Times Higher Education, or the QS university rankings.

Location

Would you prefer to live in the city or somewhere more rural? In your spare time, would you prefer hanging out by the beach or going skiing in the mountains?

The area in which you choose to study is always important, though especially so if you plan on studying abroad, whereupon you not only have to choose a region, but the very country itself.

Entry Requirements and Affordability

When comparing universities, it’s also important to be realistic about your chances. When comparing universities, you should be checking the entry requirements like the grades or experience required, language requirements and tuition fees, to make sure the course is affordable.

Of course, when applying, it’s good to push oneself, but remember to have a back up to fall back on if things don’t go to plan.

Student Life

Many institutions have clubs and societies for students to join, which can make it a lot easier to find friends with similar interests, as well as a good way to pass your free time. It’s also important to see what is available to do outside of university though, whether that be the nightlife, events, particular places of interest or local towns or cities to visit.

Style of Institution

Some universities have a particular reputation for excelling in individual areas. This one produces lots of politicians, and this one lots of successful entrepreneurs, for example. Some will have a particularly vibrant nightlife scene, while others excel in spotting excellence. This sort of reputation may not always be made clear on a university’s website, so make sure to search and read through message boards or social media.

Student Satisfaction

Another common metric often included in rankings lists is student satisfaction. While this can be useful (especially when weeding out some of those with the lowest satisfaction scores), bear in mind that students can base their satisfaction on any number of things, which these results do not always make clear, so if two universities have similar scores, don’t let this affect your decision too much.

Prospects After Graduation

Compare the percentages of graduate employability (as well as how many go into further study), as well as the types of employment they have found and how much they are earning. Do these percentages reflect your own plan post-graduation?

Finding the right place to study can be a long and tricky process, but luckily there are lots of resources available online, such as Viva-Mundo.com, which guides students that wish to study abroad.

6 Ideas for a Safe and Social-Distanced Summer

This summer is certainly going to be unlike any other. Many states are easing up on their stay-at-home orders, while still imposing restrictions to prevent and brace for potential second waves. Whether you remained in the U.S. or are in your home country, we know that you’ve likely had to make adjustments to your summer plans. Because of that, we’ve devised a list with ways you can still have a great summer and prepare for the fall while being safe and maintaining social distancing guidelines:

Enjoy the great outdoors

If there’s one place you can likely safely social distance, it’s outside. With the wide expanse of the great outdoors, you can leave enough room between yourself and others while enjoying a change in scenery. With so many parks, lakes, and beaches in this country, there are a seemingly endless number of choices for anything from hikes or walks, swims, recreational activities, or even just lounging. If you live in the city and are going to a local park or outdoor area, you might want to try going during off-hours to avoid too many crowds, as it will be more likely to be congested.

Take a road trip

Do you have a car? Roll the windows down, create a summer playlist, and go for a drive! If there’s a scenic route in your area, map it out and drive to somewhere you may have driven by, but never had the time to stop and really see. Not into listening to music? Consider downloading an audiobook or listening to a new podcast. Don’t forget to pack yourself a sandwich, snacks, and beverages for when you need to take a break. Bonus points for snapping awesome selfies at all those picturesque spots you see along the way.

Take an online class

By now you have become accustomed to taking online classes, so this summer could be a great opportunity to keep the momentum going. If you have time in your summer schedule, sign up for a class or two to get ahead on your academic track. This could free up time in future semesters to take a class you might not normally have been able to fit into your schedule, to take a class outside of your major, or to even pursue an internship for credit instead.

Try that new thing you always wanted to do

See a cool do-it-yourself (DIY) craft that you’ve always wanted to attempt? Have you wanted to start an herb garden? Have you been meaning to learn how to play that guitar you purchased a few years ago? With many of our usual summer activities cancelled or postponed this summer, you might finally have some free time to pursue a new hobby. As an added bonus: picking up a new hobby might help you discover something that can help you relax, recharge, and de-stress.

Support local businesses

Your favorite restaurants, entertainment venues, shops and other businesses have taken a huge hit throughout the pandemic. Show them some love by ordering takeout, doing a little shopping, or even participating in any virtual versions of their offerings. This is a great way to stay connected with your local community and ensure that your favorite places are still in business after the pandemic.

Practice self-care

This might be one of the most important things you can do this summer, especially in the wake of feeling isolated during the pandemic and watching the news as protesters in the U.S. fight against systemic racism. While it’s important to stay informed and educated about current events, it can sometimes have adverse effects on your mental health. Be sure to make time for yourself to decompress and step away from the news. Do the things that help you de-stress and relax so that you can help your community, and enter into your fall semester ready to go.